The Pawn(6)

By: Skye Warren

Scott gives a short nod, acknowledging that horrible truth. “His money still paid for your pretty shoes, didn’t it? The yoga classes that built that beautiful body?”

And my father paid a terrible price for that money. I still remember him bloodied, broken. Someone sent men to break him. Was it the men that my father double-crossed Gabriel Miller for?

Or was it Gabriel Miller who ordered my father beaten?

I force my shoulders back. “You said you could help me.”

Whatever happens next, I’ll face it with honor, with courage. With the same sense of strength I believe my father had. How had he taught me about honesty while lying the whole time? The James name used to mean something, and I’m trying to maintain the last shreds of our dignity.

“Take off the coat,” Gabriel says, his tone almost mild.

Everything inside me turns cold, bones frozen, breath a cold blast of air in my lungs. “Why?”

“I want to see what I’m working with. Don’t worry, girl. I’m not going to touch you.”

With shaking hands I untie my coat and let it slide from my shoulders. There are indistinct murmurs from the men around me—approval, interest. I have the sudden sense that I’m in the center of a bullfight, a stadium full of spectators hungry for blood.

Finally I meet Gabriel’s eyes, and what I see is a fire of desire, red and orange and yellow. The blaze scalds me from four feet away. The businesslike clothes I chose to wear don’t show much of my skin, but they show all of my shape. The flame of his hunger licks over my breasts, my waist, down my legs.

“Lovely,” Damon Scott murmurs. “But a beautiful body isn’t enough. You need to know how to use it.”

I shiver. He owns a string of strip clubs all over the city. “I can…learn.”

Something flashes in Gabriel’s eyes. “You don’t know how to please a man, girl?”

There had been stolen kisses, furtive touches in the darkened hallways outside society parties. Justin had pushed me, but I had pushed back. Something had always kept me from letting him have sex with me. And then my family name was disgraced.

You have to understand, Avery. I want to be a senator someday. I can’t do that married to a James now.

That was the day after the indictment.

In light of that impersonal phone call, I knew our relationship wasn’t about respect. It wasn’t about love either. Definitely not pleasure. No, I have no idea how to please a man.

“I’m a virgin,” I say softly, sadly, because even if this ruins everything, I can’t lie about it. Not when Gabriel Miller has confessed to killing men who lied.

Not when it would be so easy to confirm.

Damon Scott’s eyes widen, and something sparks in them, interest where there had been only denial. “A virgin, Avery James? Are you serious?”

A flush turns my cheeks hot. It might seem strange for a nineteen-year-old woman not to have sex, but I went to St. Mary’s Preparatory Academy in high school, an all-girl’s Catholic school. My father was protective, only allowing me out at night to society events he also attended. By the time I left for college, I was already engaged to Justin.

Gabriel makes a low sound, almost a growl. “She’s serious.”

Damon Scott looks conflicted. “She’s too young.”

“You have younger girls dancing at your fucking clubs.”

Except they aren’t talking about dancing. The thought makes my heart stop. They’re talking about selling my body for sex. My virginity. “No,” I whisper. “I won’t do it.”

“You see,” Damon Scott says. “She won’t do it.”

Gabriel’s gaze sweeps over my body. He meets my eyes, his expression intent. “She doesn’t have a choice. It’s the most valuable thing she owns.”

It’s not a thing, I want to scream. This is my body.

Except he’s right. It’s the most valuable thing I own—the only thing of any value left after the criminal fines and restitution had been paid, after the lawyers and the bill collectors.

Challenge burns in Gabriel’s eyes. He knows how desperate I am. He’s the one who made me this way. Does he enjoy seeing me brought low? I wasn’t the one who betrayed him, but like Scott said, it was still his money paying for my tuition, my clothes.