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“If Sarah Atwood were killed…” My father seemed pleased by the implication. “The trust would transfer to her mother. As Bethany’s husband, Sarah’s power of attorney would defer to me. So, Nicholas, if you wish to save your little whore, I’d recommend finding her soon.”

“And what would you do to her if I did?”

“She knows what she must do. First, she sells the shares—that’s non-negotiable. Then she’d have a choice.”

“You’ve never given her a choice.”

“She can either be bred, or she will be killed.” He rapped his fingers against his desk. “And, son? I think that decision might be harder for her than you believe.”

“You will not hurt her.”

He held my gaze. “I’ve acquired a taste for her pain. I’m sure I’ll sample it again. Soon.”

No more madness. I heard all I needed to hear. I stood, wracked with the ache of my broken ribs and enough internal bruising to piss blood. My father ordered his guards to escort me from the office.

“Board meeting tomorrow, Nicholas. Tricky vote. I’ll need your support on those few employee terminations we’ve discussed.”

I gritted my teeth. Seven hundred employees weren’t a few. Whatever legacy I’d inherit smoldered in the wreckage of his leadership.

I turned to the door, but I didn’t move quickly enough. The pleasure in my father’s voice gurgled like an oozing wound.

“I’m sure she’ll return soon, son.” He laughed. “And she’ll have so many stories to tell you.”

My father’s guards forced me into the elevator, but I waited until the doors closed before sinking against the mirrored wall. I attempted to check my ribs in the mirror. Twisting to untuck the dress shirt agonized me. I imagined what I’d see instead.

I escaped into the parking garage but waited until I was in the car before dialing Max on the pre-paid phone.

He answered after one ring.

“What’d you find out?”

I hid the pain. “He doesn’t have her.”

“You sure?”

“I have two broken ribs and instructions on how to vote at the meeting tomorrow. He doesn’t know where she is. Sarah’s still alive. She’s okay.”

“Then where the fuck is she?” Max asked.

Good question.

His voice lowered. “And why the hell is she running from you?”

Better question.

“Are you ready to move?” I clutched the steering wheel. “Tonight is our best opportunity. Not many people in the office.”

Max swore. “I’m ready. Got a problem though.”

“I don’t want to hear the word problem.”

“Reed hasn’t picked up his packages.”

Son of a bitch. I slammed a hand against the console. My ribs immediately punished me.

The silenced pistols, unregistered and imported from Max’s contact in Mexico, waited for their first and only use. We left the helicopter on the Bennett Corporation roof, fueled and serviced. I’d pilot. Max would contain the cargo. Once we reached the yacht, Reed and I arranged for a drop in the deep, darker parts of the ocean. Ten million dollars, but they promised discretion.

They also wanted it in cash. And if Reed hadn’t secured the duffle bag…

“Where the hell is he?” I spat my words. “What’s he doing?”

“Hasn’t said. He’s gotta get there in less than an hour. I knew we couldn’t count on him, Nick. He’s still fucked up from raping Sarah.”

Goddamn it. If he wants to atone for it, this is the only way.”

I seized my primary cell phone as it rang. Reed’s name flashed over the display.

“Hold on. I found him.”

Max swore. I answered the call.

“Nick.” Reed spoke slowly, too steady. “Something came up.”

“You have a job to do,” I said.

“I know.”

“Where are you?”

“Getting ready to board a plane.”

“A plane?”

“Listen to me. Something important happened. Get out of San Jose. Meet me at my house.”

“Reed—”

“I’m not fucking around.”

I had two broken ribs and not nearly enough patience for his games. “What about the plan?”

“Forget it.”

“We won’t get this chance again. Not for a while.”

“Call it off. Believe me. We might not get this chance again.”

Reed hung up. I swore again before returning to Max.

“Reed’s out,” I said.

“Should we do it alone?”

We couldn’t. I organized it for three men. Each of us had our part.

“He said to meet him at his house,” I said.

“On the coast?”

“Apparently.”

“What about Dad?”

“He said this was bigger.”

Max hesitated. “What do you think?”

No greater injustice existed than my father’s beating heart. I grunted.

“Call it off. We’ll have other opportunities.” I stared through a darkened windshield, to the private elevator to the executive floor. “He thinks he’s untouchable.”

“He is. You know the risks.”

And I was willing to bear them all. The frustration beat at me from the inside, punishing that which already bruised and bled.

It had almost been over.

And we risked it all to see it done.

But I knew what would happen as a result. The investigations. The money. The will.

The company.

We might have lost everything. I prepared to trade my freedom for hers.

If it even mattered. She was an Atwood. She probably found a way to destroy us all in her own twisted revenge.

I had trusted her. For the first time in our relationship, I trusted her.

And she betrayed me. She kept the shares. She damned me to a board that would kill me for my treachery just as they’d slit her throat.

It was becoming too difficult to keep track of the favors and excuses. She owed me an explanation. I owed her a life free from pain and suffering. One of us would break first.

“We’ll meet at Reed’s place,” I said. “And he better have a damn good excuse for ruining this.”

“Are you sure?”

“Killing Dad is the only way I can keep Sarah safe. If that doesn’t prove how much I love her, then nothing will.”

“What if she doesn’t want you?” Max asked. “What if after all this bullshit she’d decided to split, save herself, and fuck us all over?”

“It won’t happen.”

“Why?”

The simple truth heated my blood and stilled my heart.

“I will have Sarah Atwood. Not because she belongs to me, but because I cannot exist without her.”

Three knocks rattled the hotel door.

Hamlet growled. He remembered what happened the last time someone came for me.

My chest squeezed. Monsters didn’t live in closets. They roamed free in the world, hunting and torturing their victims with gnarled fingers and a sing-song sickness in their voice.

But the man knocking wasn’t evil. He was the one Bennett I’d face without shattering under the weight of the truth. It wasn’t Darius’s perverted crimes that frightened me anymore. It was what they’d think of me once I faced the shame.

What Nicholas would think.

My hand trembled as I checked the peephole. I recognized the sea-green eyes, but I opened the door with the chain, just to ensure he was alone.

The baby wasn’t the only consequence of my naivety. Paranoia conquered me. And distrust.

Reed waited until the door swung wide. Then I was captured in his embrace.

“Hi, Re—”

I stuffed my tears into the roiling pit of nausea in my stomach. Reed squeezed me too hard. I dug my fingers into his shoulder and hoped I wouldn’t reveal the pregnancy in a most undignified manner.

Reed didn’t smile. He touched my face, kissed my forehead.

“Jesus Christ, Sarah, we were worried about you! Where the hell have you been?”

     

 

2011 - 2018