The Pawn(8)

By: Skye Warren

Gabriel subdues me with another hand on my wrist.

One step forward and he backs me into the wall. The rich wood paneling is cool through the cloth of my shirt. His body radiates heat at my front. I shrink against the unforgiving wall as if I can get away from him. He closes the space until we’re a breath away.

“I was going to say you forgot your coat,” he murmurs.

Then I see my trench coat draped over his arm. He’s doing something nice, and I just freaked out at him. God, I’m so messed up inside—fear and shame churning in my stomach. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re right to fight me. I’m not a nice man.”

And he was the one to suggest the auction. His hands are still holding my wrists against the wall, and I realize how exposed I am. “Are you going to let me go?”

His lips brush my temple. “Soon, little virgin.”

“Don’t call me that.” My voice trembles only a little, revealing the turmoil inside me.

“What else should I call you? Princess? Darling?”

“You could call me by my name.”

He dips his head, his mouth right by my ear, his voice just a breath. “There’s only one thing I’m going to call you. Mine.”

The possession in his voice makes me shiver. “Never.”

But a little voice inside my head says, Not yet.

He steps back with a quiet laugh. “You can run away, little virgin. But you’ll come back.”

I’m very afraid he’s right.

Chapter Two

There used to be gardeners working outside and the part-time chef in the kitchen. Maids working under the direction of the housekeeper. Ten thousand square feet of French architectural splendor doesn’t tend itself.

When the scandal hit, things got even louder.

The phone rang constantly with Daddy’s lawyers and business partners. The long street leading up to the cobblestone driveway became a gauntlet, teeming with reporters. There was even a protest once, with posters that read Clean Up Corruption and Get Out of Tanglewood.

Once-rounded bushes have grown wild, casting jagged shadows on empty pavement.

No one greets me as I walk through the front door. I follow the faint hum of machinery down the hallway and into my father’s bedroom, where a hospital bed has replaced the crackled leather chairs in front of the fireplace.

Rosita looks up from her book with worry. “How was it?”

“Oh, it was fine.” I told her I had a meeting with some businesspeople.

She doesn’t know the specifics, but she knows we’re desperate for money. The empty rooms where oriental rugs and antique furniture used to sit are proof enough. I’ve sold everything, scraping every last penny from my late mother’s loving decorating. Only my father’s bedroom remains untouched—except for the IV drip and health monitors that help keep him alive.

I touch my father’s hand, the skin papery. “Did he wake up?”

She glances at my father’s resting face, her expression sad. “He had a few minutes of awareness soon after you left, but the drugs put him to sleep again.”

Sadness is better than wariness, and definitely better than hatred, the way most of his former staff looked at him during those dark days. He had given them each a small severance package, which was nullified by the court once reparations were ordered. Millions of dollars of reparations depleted every one of his accounts.

And then he’d been attacked, beaten nearly to death.

I know on some level he deserved those things. The censure, the debt. Maybe even the beating, by some morality standards. But it’s hard to believe that when I see him struggling to breathe.

I dig through my purse for the bills tucked inside.

Rosita puts her hand over mine. “No, Miss Avery. It’s not necessary.”

It’s easier to force a smile now that I’ve had practice. “It is necessary. And it’s fine. Don’t worry about me.”

She shakes her head, dark eyes mournful. “I’m not blind.” A pointed glance at my body. “I see how skinny you’ve gotten.”

I cast a worried look at my father, but he’s still asleep. “Please.”

“No, I can’t take your money.” She hesitates. “But I can’t watch your father either.”

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