The Pawn(5)

By: Skye Warren

“Desperate times,” I say because my predicament isn’t a secret.

“Desperate measures,” he says slowly, as if tasting the words, treasuring them. “I’m not in the habit of giving money away for nothing, even to beautiful women.”

I find myself searching the darkness for golden eyes. For courage? Whatever the reason, strength infuses me like a thick gulp of brandy. “What do you give money away for?”

Damon laughs suddenly, the rich sound filling the room. The other men chuckle along with him. I’m their source of entertainment. My cheeks flame.

The man with golden eyes doesn’t crack a smile.

Damon leans forward, obsidian eyes glinting. “In return for even more money, beautiful. Which is why you have a problem. That high school diploma isn’t going to count for much, not even from the best private school in the state.”

It wouldn’t. And who would hire a James when my father has just been convicted of fraud? Part of me still refuses to see the truth. I keep flinching away from it. Every time it hurts. “I’m smart. I’m willing to work. I’ll figure out something. I just need time.”

Time to keep the creditors at bay, time to pay for my father’s medical care. Time to pray, because I don’t have any other options.

“Time.” He gives me a crooked grin. “And how much is that worth to you?”

My father’s life. That’s what hangs in the balance. “Everything.”

Golden eyes watch me steadily, measuring me. Testing me.

Mr. Scott huffs an amused breath. “Why would I hand you twenty grand that I’m never going to see again, much less interest?”

More than twenty grand. I need fifty. I need a miracle. “Please. If you can’t help me—”

“I can’t,” he says flatly.

Golden Eyes reclines, face half in shadow. “That’s not quite true.”

The whole room stills. Even Damon Scott pauses, as if seriously considering the words. Damon Scott is the richest man in the city, the most powerful. The most dangerous. Who can tell him what to do?

“Who are you?” I say, my voice shaking only a little.

“Does it matter?” Golden Eyes asks, his tone mocking.

Righteous anger mixes with desperation. I’m already in a free fall—why shouldn’t I spread my arms? “Who are you?” I say again. “If you’re going to decide my fate, I should at least know your name.”

He leans forward, the light adding amber to his lambent gaze. “Gabriel,” he says simply.

My heart stops.

Scott smiles, his eyes crinkling with pleasure. He’s relishing this, anticipating it. It’s almost sexual, the way he watches me. “Gabriel Miller. The man your father stole from.”

Gabriel Miller smiles faintly. “The last man he stole from.”

Oh, and he made sure my father could never steal again.

Never do anything again.

Pinpricks against my eyes. No, I can’t cry in front of them. I can’t fall apart at all, because my father is lying in a bed, unable to get up, hardly able to move—because of what this man did.

This is the man who turned my father in to the authorities.

This is the man who caused my family’s fall from grace.

I push down the knot in my throat. “You—” A deep breath, because it’s taking all my self-control not to launch myself at him. “You’re a murderer.”

If Scott is the king of the underworld, Gabriel Miller is a god. His empire extends across the southern states and even overseas. He buys and sells anything worth money—drugs, guns. People. My father warned me to stay away from him, but then why did he secretly take bribes? Why did he betray Gabriel Miller, knowing how dangerous he was?

My father isn’t dead, but without a heavy dose of pain medicine, he wishes he were.

“I’ve killed men,” Gabriel says, standing to full height. I can’t help but step back a little. Would he hit me? Worse? His eyes narrow. “When they lie to me. When they steal from me.”

Like my father did.

That same sense of falling turns my stomach. I know I should be terrified, and I am—but I’ve been locked up in a cage my whole life. Part of me enjoys the wind against my face. “I didn’t steal from you.”

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