Excerpt Ruin by Laurelin Paige

Sep 192019
 

Ruin (Slay #2) by Laurelin Paige

With her heart literally in his hands, Celia will have to try and bargain with a devil.

Edward Fasbender is my captor.

Trapped on this island he owns everything on–including, it seems, me.

He told me he would break me, but I thought he meant in the bedroom. It turns out Edward is playing a completely different game.

And he won’t stop until he’s ruined me.

Ruin is book two of four in the dark and edgy Slay series. Rivalry should be read first

Excerpt Ruin (Slay #2) by Laurelin Paige

INTRODUCTION
Edward

I’d never believed in idle threats. When I told someone I intended to harm them in some way, I was always prepared to back it up.

I was prepared to kill Celia.

I just hadn’t decided yet that I would.

Rather, I had decided, and now I was having second thoughts.

I wasn’t a man who had second thoughts. I was a man who honored my commitments, both to myself and to others. Always. That was how I’d climbed out of the depths of poverty, how I’d risen out of nowhere, against all odds. I decided, and I did. Case closed.

There were always obstacles to overcome. Every goal worth achieving had some unaccounted for hindrance along the way, usually showing up at the most inopportune time. That was how progress worked. Steps forward, a step back. The trick was to not get caught up in the stumble. Take a breath, find balance, then proceed.

But Celia Werner wasn’t just a rock on the pathway. She hadn’t just tripped me up. She hadn’t made me simply stumble. She was a ledge, crumbling under my hold, and no matter how I dug my fingernails into the ground at her feet, I was beginning to fear I might fall.

It was possible I already had.

My mistake had been in fucking her. There, in the grip of her orgasm, when she was vulnerable and real, it was impossible not to see what could be between us. I hadn’t even topped her that first time, not really. I hadn’t probed into her psyche beforehand the way I normally liked, hadn’t brought her walls down, hadn’t taken her to ruin, and still I’d slipped in somehow. Slipped in behind her facade where she was unguarded and defenseless, and the authenticity of what I found there was overwhelming.

It wasn’t supposed to have been like that.

There’d been a plan. A scheme years in the making, an improbable scheme at that, and yet everything had fallen into place, as though even the stars believed in my operation of revenge. She’d accepted my ridiculous proposal. She’d been satisfied with a prenup. She hadn’t made a single bit of effort to redraft her will and trust.

It had been too easy. Every obstacle on the way had been met and breached without incident. When she’d shifted, I’d shifted with her. Without effort. It had been a cakewalk. Logistically, anyway. I’d known she’d be sharp and wily and fierce. I’d prepared for that.

What I hadn’t known was that I’d like it.

Like her.

Did I like her? It was hard to accept if I did, but I couldn’t deny there was something there. Something raw and out of control, yet identifiable as its own, unlike so much of what I’d grown accustomed to feeling in the near three decades that had passed since my parents’ deaths.

I hesitated to say it was a nice change, only because of what that would mean for the future of my scheme, but it was a change. And, if I were honest, I liked the change.

Before her, there’d only been blackness inside. Not because I had felt nothing, but because I felt too much. Too much anger, too much regret, too much heartache, too much love. Too much responsibility.

Too much everything.

And it all mixed together, all the individual too much of emotion until it was impossible to distinguish one from another, the same way a child’s overzealous watercolor project turned into mud with the application of too many colors.

That was how my feelings existed inside me—as mud. Darker than that, though. An inky blob. A black hole. The perception of black holes very often is that they are large areas of nothing, but they’re just the opposite. They are the densest objects in the universe. They suck at the life around them. They tear apart any matter that comes close to them because of their massive gravity.

That was what I was inside before her.

My emotions had mass.

My emotions had gravity.

My emotions were capable of tearing a person apart to ruin.

CHAPTER ONE
Celia

It was bullshit.

I called him on it too. “Bullshit.”

As terrifying as the words were coming from Edward’s mouth, “My little bird, I intend to kill you,” that’s all they were—words. He didn’t mean to kill me. Of course he didn’t. He wanted me off balance, that was all.

He stared at me for a beat, the anger he’d exhibited a moment before easing into something else. Something calmer, more controlled, yet just as vehement.

Without taking his eyes off me, he settled into the chair behind his desk. “I can understand why you’d choose not to believe me.”

“Because you’re dramatic and full of nonsense threats? Yeah. Pretty unbelievable.” Almost as unbelievable as the fact that I was standing before him half-naked, covered in his cum since only a handful of minutes before his ominous declaration, he’d fucked me, wildly, claiming my body as his as he did.

I’d loved it. I’d even loved the painful and intense spanking I’d received that had precipitated the fucking.

He’d loved it too. I had no doubt of that. He might hate himself for loving it, for whatever reason I couldn’t know, but there was no faking that he’d been into it.

Which made his stupid threat more hurtful than frightening. “You have regrets about fucking me, fine. But be a grown-up about it. Childish taunts are not your style.”

I snagged a fistful of tissues from the box on his desk and reached around my torso to wipe the sticky mess he’d made on my backside as best I could before pulling on my bottoms. Wadding the tissue up in a ball, I threw it into his lap.

So maybe childish taunts were my style. Quid pro quo and all that.

With my jaw set, I crossed my arms over my breasts and met his steady gaze.

Edward let the ball of tissue fall from his lap to the floor, barely giving it a glance as he leaned back in his chair. His lips curled slowly. “You continue to fascinate me, little bird. I’ll give you that. And you are correct. Childish taunts are not my style. Which is why you should be most assured that I mean what I’ve said.”

So he was going to cling to that then. How immature.

Unless he actually meant it.

A shiver crawled up my spine. I shook it away. He was trying to get under my skin. He’d only win if I let him.

The best move was to ignore his scare tactics and focus on what he’d given me—an admission.

“Why did you call me that?” I knew the answer, but there was a chance I could be wrong. That the nickname was a coincidence.

“I’ve just told you I plan to kill you, and you’re more concerned with the name I’ve given you. Fascinating indeed.” He was good, I had to give him that. I’d often held onto a ruse way past the time it should be surrendered, but never with such commitment.

Never so convincing.

“Just stop. You don’t mean it.”

Edward cocked his head slightly. “Don’t I?”

“You don’t. You’re trying to scare me.” But my mouth felt dry and my hands were sweaty despite the fact that I was only wearing a bikini in an air-conditioned room.

“Is it working?”

Yes.

But what I said was, “No. Now I’m just pissed off.”

His grin widened. “That makes two of us.”

He didn’t need to tell me. He’d been mad before I’d even entered the room, deservedly so, after I’d pushed him all day, openly flirting with his staff. It had gotten me what I’d wanted—him. Inside me. Unleashed and unbridled.

I’d told myself I wanted him so I could win The Game, but it had been a lie. I’d just wanted him, and having had him, I wanted more of him, and for the first time in years—in a decade—I could see a future for myself that didn’t center around the games that Hudson had taught me so well to play, that didn’t involve lies and manipulation. A future filled with instead of the nothing that had lived so long inside of me.

I wanted Edward, but it was painfully clear that, no matter how much he might want me back, he wouldn’t allow it.

I was scared, yes, and pissed. But mostly hurt.

I remembered this emotion. I remembered rejection. I remembered this kind of pain.

I’d rather play The Game.

“Why did you call me that?” I asked again, more sternly, as though I had power to make any demands. So he’d made me feel things. I didn’t have to acknowledge that. I knew how to be empty. I could be empty again.

Edward rested his ankle on his opposite thigh, a more casual posture than I’d seen him take before, the nonchalant behavior adding to my unease. “Why did I call you that just now or why did I call you that before?”

Before. It was so vague. He’d called me “little bird” twice now in this conversation. His reference to before could simply mean the first time tonight, and not the time he’d said it to me outside The Open Door. It was a clever tactic, refusing to give anything away. Requiring me to be the one to admit that I’d been there that night or let the mention slide.

I considered it for only a handful of seconds. While I hated being backed into a corner as I had been, I wanted answers more. “How did you know it was me?”

My disguise hadn’t been perfect the night I’d attended the sex party and seen him there as well, but it was a stretch to think that anyone would have realized who I was. My hair had been dyed. My outfit had been specifically one I’d never wear. I’d worn a mask that fully covered my face. A feathered mask of a dragon that Edward had mistaken for a bird.

More likely it hadn’t been a mistake but a deliberate choice meant to knock me back a peg or two.

Still, as he’d demeaned me with the nickname, I’d believed he’d done so as a stranger. To discover that he’d known all along was the real blow to my esteem.

He studied me, his hand rubbing over the scruff of beard on his chin—the Van Dyke that I’d suggested he grow—and for a tense instant, I thought he might deny knowing what I was talking about. That would be just like him, wouldn’t it? Get me to confess and then refuse to acknowledge it.

But if the thought had crossed his mind, he didn’t go with it. “I think the better question,” he said, “is how did we end up at the same party together.”

The rhythm of my heart stuttered, two beats coming so fast that I could actually feel them against the inside wall of my chest. He hadn’t just known it was me. He’d known I’d be there.

Now that was terrifying.

And exciting.

And impossible. How the hell had he known? I ventured a guess. “You had me followed.”

“Did I?” His brows arched inward as though he were trying to recall the details of the event. So fucking performative. “I believe I was there first.”

“Then you figured out I was going to be there. Somehow.” I threw up my hands, already tired of the tug of war.

Perhaps in response to my impatience, he threw me a bone. A clue. “How did you end up at that party?”

“I was invited.”

“By whom?”

“By…” Oh, fuck.

I quickly went over the circumstances that had led me there that night. Having learned from Blanche that Edward liked kinky parties, I’d gone searching for one he might attend, putting a call out on kink-related forums under an anonymous username for such events.

One person had reached out in response, inviting me to join The Open Door, an underground organization that hosted weekly sex parties. I’d been wary about accepting, worried that the membership fee would be traced to my bank account, but I hadn’t for a minute been concerned about the stranger who’d invited me.

Had FeelslikePAIN been Edward?

I needed to sit down.

As soon as I sank into the chair facing his desk, I regretted it. My ass had cooled down, but sitting reignited the sting of his severe spanking.

Not a chance I was letting him know that.

“That’s impossible,” I said through gritted teeth, bearing down through the pain. “That couldn’t have been you. You couldn’t have known that username was me.”

“Are you sure?”

With my elbow propped on the arm of the chair, I ran my fingers across my forehead. “This is tedious, Edward. Would you just tell me?”

His lips twitched in a way that suggested my impatience amused him, which only made me more irritable. Of course. As he surely knew it would.

Abruptly he sat forward, setting his elbows on the desk and clasping his hands together, tucking all of his fingers in except the two pointers, which he steepled together and aimed in my direction. “How about you tell me something?” he asked, his expression wicked with curiosity. “How did it feel to watch me that night?”

“What do you mean?” Sneaky, exhilarating, conniving. Was that what he was after?

“How did it feel to watch me touching another woman? Making another woman come in front of you.”

My stomach dropped as simultaneously the space between my thighs began to buzz. Against my will the memories crashed into the forefront of my mind. He’d sat across from me, his eyes locked with mine as he’d assisted the woman on his lap in masturbating to orgasm.

“Sasha,” I said mindlessly. “Her name was Sasha.” Because concentrating on that point was safer than answering him. Even the question had heated my face, not because it was humiliating to be asked—though it definitely was—but because both the memory and the forwardness of his inquiry aroused me, much to my annoyance.

“Her name doesn’t matter. It only matters that she wasn’t you. Tell me how you felt.”

She wasn’t you. It came off as a deliberate slap in the face.

The pointed comment also brought my emotions from that night into vivid focus. I’d been vulnerable then. I’d felt exposed, and that was with a disguise. A pointless disguise, it turned out, but I hadn’t known that at the time.

Just thinking about what he must have seen in me in that moment made my skin crawl.

There was no way I could share those feelings with him. They were too personal. Too real, and here, under the intensity of his gaze, there was nothing I could hide behind.

“I’m not doing this,” I said, as I stood up and turned to leave.

“Sit down, Celia.”

The command was sharp and sinister, a verbal lasso wrapping around my torso, holding me in place. I was only a handful of strides away from the doorway. So close to escape.

And yet I couldn’t go.

I didn’t generally have a problem defying him. I could now. Easily.

Only, as blasé as I’d been throughout our conversation, I actually was scared. More than I wanted to admit, even to myself. I didn’t believe that he would kill me, necessarily.

Just.

What if I was wrong?

With my chin held high, I returned to my chair, wincing as my ass touched the surface. “There. I sat down. But only because you’re going to give me answers. How did you figure out that was me on that forum? And why did you want me to go to that party?”

Edward sat up to his full height, his eyes narrowing as he stared at me. Into me. “Let me be clear,” he said with cool authority. “You are not in a position to ask to see my cards. It’s your turn to show yours, and, if I’m satisfied after I see them, I may choose to show you some of mine.”

I swallowed hard.

Though his face remained perfectly composed, his hands were in fists resting on the desk, and I couldn’t help but suspect that he was trying very hard to control his rage. “Now, answer my question.”

“And if I do you’ll give me answers?” My voice sounded weak, and for good reason, since I’d basically just been told he was in charge and stop defying him or else.

I seemed to have a real problem with authority.

Edward appeared to find that problem amusing. His lip twitched as though trying not to smile. “Perhaps. But I’m not answering anything you ask until I’m happy with what I hear from you.”

“Nothing,” I said stubbornly. “I felt nothing.”

“If you’re not going to be honest, then you might as well leave, which will not only end the discussion now but any possibility of discussion in the future.”

Whether he meant that this was the only time he’d be willing to talk or that, later, I would be unable to talk, I didn’t know.

Either way, he’d trapped me once again into answering.

“It was hot,” I said, with obvious annoyance. “Okay? The way you touched her was hot.”

“And?”

Jesus Christ, he was impossible.

“And dirty.”

“And?”

“I don’t know…” I shook my head, trying to guess what he might want me to say. “Unsettling.”

“And…?”

“And mean. And manipulative. And exciting. And if you want something different from me, then I don’t know what it is because I haven’t read the Guide to Pleasing Edward Fasbender, and I’m going to need the CliffsNotes.”

“I want you to be honest.” His tone said his patience was wearing thin.

Well, mine was too. And honesty? That wasn’t something I’d been good with in a long time, let alone emotions.

At my hesitation, he prodded. “Close your eyes, Celia, and stop trying. Just imagine I’m touching her now. I’m kissing her. My mouth is on her breasts. My hands are on her cunt. Inside her cunt. Now, tell me what you’re thinking.”

My eyes were closed, and I could see it all like it was happening right then. I could feel the twist in my stomach, the rush of blood in my ears, the pang of envy.

I opened my mouth and let the words fall out. “I wished it were me you were touching.”

And with that admission, I knew in my gut that whatever answers he gave me, if any, or whatever move he made next in this stupid fucked-up game, it didn’t matter.

I’d already lost.

CHAPTER TWO
I heard his chair move before I opened my eyes, and when I did, he wasn’t sitting behind the desk anymore. He was easy to find. He’d moved a few feet away to the mini bar. I already knew that the amber-colored liquor that poured out of the carafe into the tumbler was brandy.

When the glass held two fingers of liquor, he brought it over to me. “That was good,” he said as he held his offering toward me. “Was that so hard?”

Was it hard to admit that I’d wanted him?

I’d been openly trying to seduce him for weeks. But I’d been able to convince myself that my only reasons for doing so were to win. Now, with my plans exposed and The Game out of my mind, it was different. It was hard. It made me weak.

I hated it.

“I hate you,” I said, snatching the glass from his hand, pretty sure I meant it, vehemently, even, despite not having felt anything passionate for years. I brought the tumbler to my lips and took a long swallow. My stomach was empty, and I didn’t really want the drink, but he’d made a point to pour it and bring it over, which meant he thought I needed it, and I didn’t have the energy to argue about it.

And maybe I did need it.

Edward hadn’t moved from my side. He lifted his hand and ran his knuckles across my cheek, a gesture so unexpected, I almost flinched.

“Would it make you feel better to know that I wished it had been you I was touching too, my little bird?”

My skin felt hot, and not from the liquor. I hated that too—how my body reacted to him. How it lit up at his touch, how his words sent my stomach fluttering and my heart racing, my organs not caring that he was a controlling asshole or that he (supposedly) wanted me dead.

Well, I wasn’t my body.

I leaned away from his hand, wrapping one arm around myself while the other kept the glass near my mouth, a pathetic shield of sorts. “Stop calling me that. I’m not your anything.”

“Au contraire. You are my wife.” He circled back around toward his chair, and I immediately missed the warmth of his skin against mine.

Or my body did.

I wanted him as far from me as possible. Him on the other side of his desk was good. It was the farthest I’d likely get him until this was over. Until he decided he was bored with the conversation and let me leave.

If I was being forced to stay, I damn well meant to take advantage of the situation. “How did you know that was me on the forum?” I repeated my earlier question. “Even if you knew my IP address, it’s supposed to be blocked to others on that site.”

A loud clap of thunder boomed overhead. I glanced toward the window in time to see the flash of lightning that followed it, showing a thick layer of clouds covering the sky and sheets of pouring rain.

I was so surprised to realize it was storming that I almost missed Edward’s response.

“…is blocked. But I had software installed directly on your laptop that captured all your activity.”

What?

He had my full attention now. “How the fuck…?” Quickly my mind searched for the answer to my own question. How would he have gotten to my laptop? Who would have…

“Blanche,” I said, her name coming out like a curse word. “You used Blanche Martin. She sent that email to me with those pictures that I, stupidly, downloaded. I should have known! It was awfully convenient that she’d shown up at the same time you did.” Stupid, stupid, stupid!

“That’s not a bad guess, but no. Not Blanche. She was a strange coincidence. When I saw you with her at Orsay, I actually thought you’d had the upper hand on me.”

It was a relief to know Blanche hadn’t been my mistake. And I still needed to know how he’d gotten into my laptop, but now I also had to know what I should have learned from Blanche that I didn’t. “What did I miss? She couldn’t tell me anything about you, except that she’d heard rumors that you liked kinky parties.”

“I was wondering what gave you the idea to go looking for me on those forums.”

“A lot of good that did.” I realized I’d admitted more than I’d meant to. “And I wasn’t looking for you. Who said I was looking for you?”

His expression said he wasn’t fooled. “It seems you formulated a whole plan to bring me down based on that little snippet of information. From your internet searches on consensual versus non-consensual sexual practices within marriage and the law surrounding those practices, I surmise you had intended to use what you assumed about my sexual proclivities to your advantage.”

I was fucked, and I knew it.

But I’d never been good about letting things go when I should, and I clung to my innocence like he was clinging to his I’m-going-to-kill-you stance. “That’s an awfully big assumption. Narcissist much? Not everything is about you.”

“What else were you using the information for?”

“Maybe I was researching for a friend. Or writing a dark romance book.”

“I’m sure that’s what it was.” His mouth twitched as though he were trying not to smile. “You weren’t at all hoping to get me to, let’s see, what exactly did your digital notebook say? ‘Wives assaulted through non-consensual sexual practices have a strong case for nullifying prenuptial agreements.’”

Yep. Totally fucked.

My cheeks heated. I took another swallow of my drink, hoping the burn could wash down some of the humiliation of defeat.

“I’m intrigued about just what it is you imagine that I do in the bedroom, Celia. And offended that you think I don’t require consent in my relationships.”

“Yeah, well.” I’d never presumed anything about consent. The truth wasn’t what mattered in my games. “Your word against mine.”

“Ah. So that’s how you intended to play it. I was right on that then.”

I mentally kicked myself. I was giving more than I was getting, and that needed to change.

In an attempt to reassert myself, I turned the conversation back to the information I really wanted. “If it wasn’t Blanche who got you to my laptop, then who?”

He shook his head. “It’s my turn to hear from you.”

Cue eye roll. “You already seem to know everything about me. What do you need me for?”

“Which was what started this conversation in the first place, wasn’t it?”

A chill ran down my spine. I intend to kill you. His words echoed in my brain. He sure knew how to retaliate against a bratty statement. I had to give him that.

And, as ridiculous as it was, his tactic was working. I was afraid of him. More afraid than made me comfortable.

Why was that also a turn-on?

And how the fuck did he get to me?

“Renee.” The answer hit me like a ton of bricks, spilling out of my mouth on impact. “Oh my God. You got to Renee.”

“You make it sound like I took a hit out on her. It wasn’t like that at all.” The squint of his eye said he was pleased—either with himself or that I’d guessed right, I wasn’t sure.

Whichever it was, it encouraged me to follow down the rabbit hole. “Somehow you got her to upload something on my computer for you.”

“No. She simply gave me access to it. I did what I needed to from there.”

Dammit. Really? Renee? She’d worked for me for years. We’d never been close, but I’d thought we had a decent boss/employee relationship. “She just handed it over to you? Without any questions? Did she know what you did to it?”

I wasn’t so naive as to be surprised by betrayal, but still. This discovery came as a shock.

Edward waved a hand in the air, dismissing my questions. “It’s not important.”

“Not to you, maybe, but to me, you better believe it is.” When he shrugged, I pressed on. “Did you pay her off? Is that why she quit?”

He studied me again as he considered his answer, or whether he would answer at all. “Nothing so nefarious,” he said finally. “I offered her a better opportunity, and she took it.”

“Did you sleep with her?” It was another thought that left my mouth as soon as it entered my head, and I was surprised by the gnawing in my chest that accompanied it.

He leaned forward abruptly. “Do you care?”

I asked, so of course I cared, and no matter what I tried to say, he knew it. It was a victory for him, but it felt like an even bigger loss for me.

Especially because I still didn’t have the answer, and not knowing bothered me. Almost as much as the idea of Edward sharing his hands, his mouth, his cock with Renee.

I pushed down the sudden urge to cry. I wasn’t used to losing, and I was pretty sure I had. I didn’t even know how to lose. How to act, what to say.

And I didn’t want to lose.

I turned my head toward the windows where the storm pressed on with torrents of rain. “What was even the point of all of it? Why did you want to see what was on my computer? Why did you care? To convince me to accept your proposal?”

I switched my attention back to him for his answer.

“Whatever it took to nudge you in that direction, yes.” His eyes hooded. “You should know I’d been prepared to do a lot more.”

My breath tripped in my chest. He hadn’t meant it to be seductive, he couldn’t possibly. And yet I felt the sharp pang of desire low in my belly.

My reaction said more about me than his statement said about him. Said things I didn’t want to know.

I forced myself to focus. “All to get to Werner Media? You have your own company. Why does my father’s matter so much to you?”

“It just does.”

It was my turn to study him. His blue eyes were as set as his jaw. He gave nothing away but determination, no matter how I searched for more.

No matter how I wished he’d give more.

It was beyond stupid that I cared. Stupid and downright irritating.

I crossed one leg over the other and lifted my chin in defiance of him and my feelings. “Well, it was all for nothing because you’re crazy if you think I’m suggesting my father let you helm his company now.”

“As if you’d ever planned to do that in the first place.”

No matter what I had to say, he had to one-up me. No matter what my hand, his was better.

And, frankly, none of his motivations made any sense. “If you didn’t think that I would ever convince my father to select you—the whole point of our marriage, according to your proposal—then why did you put so much effort into getting me to marry you?”

“I believe I’ve already given you that answer.” He sat back in his chair again, cool and smooth.

I considered the answer, his threat. I was sure he wasn’t serious, because, mainly, who did that? Who schemed to marry a prominent woman and then killed her?

But if he really never believed I could further his chances with my father, and yet he’d gone to all those lengths to make sure I did indeed marry him, then what had he hoped to gain? What had been his plan?

There was only one answer that made logical sense, as impossible as it was to believe.

“You can’t kill me,” I said, my voice more steady than I felt. “People would notice.”

“I expect people to notice.” Edward picked up a fountain pen off his desk and twirled it absentmindedly. “I have a first-rate funeral planned. I expect many will attend, even though it will be held in London. I don’t have time right now to go to the U.S., which I’m sure your parents would prefer, but that isn’t theirs to decide. It will be a nice event, I assure you. I’ve even saved you the coveted spot in the family plot next to my parents.”

No. He didn’t mean it. He didn’t mean any of it.

But my stomach twisted all the same, and bile rose to the back of my throat, because even if he didn’t mean it, it was an awfully deranged scenario he’d painted.

A scenario that I didn’t intend entertaining a minute longer.

I stood up and glared down at him. “You’re a sick asshole, you know that? A perverted lunatic, and I don’t have to listen to this.”

I set the brandy tumbler on his desk and spun toward the doors, determined to make it out this time.

“Did I say you could leave?” His voice boomed through the room with as much fury as the thunder outside, and something in his tone, something that he’d only hinted at before, suggested very strongly that he wasn’t to be disobeyed.

Frustrated, I whirled back around to face him. “What is it you want from me?”

He was standing now. At his full height, I was very much aware that he was bigger than me. That he was stronger than me. That we were alone in a storm, and I was helpless, if he wanted me to be.

And he very much wanted me to be.

“Sit down,” he ordered, the narrow focus of his eyes daring me to defy him.

I took two reluctant steps toward the chair, but stopped when I remembered the tender state of my ass. “I’d rather stand, if you don’t mind.”

“I do mind.” His flash of teeth told me he knew exactly why standing was my preference. And that, for the same reason, he was determined I sit.

I paused, deciding.

“Sit,” he said again, his voice so controlled that it sent dread coursing through my veins.

I sat down, wincing openly this time as I did.

Edward remained standing, peering down at me with a smug smile.

He liked that. Having me uncomfortable. Having me hurt. The glint in his eye paired with his evil smirk gave him away. That’s how much he liked it.

From the hint of color in his face, I would even go so far as saying that it turned him on.

I’d maybe have feelings about that if I weren’t so rattled. If I weren’t so scared.

“You want my father’s shares,” I said, thinly, stating the obvious so I could have time to think. “That’s what this is about. How will killing me get you that? They’re his shares. They aren’t in my name.”

“They weren’t. But as of nine days ago, on the date of your marriage, they now belong to you.”

My stomach dropped, and I could feel the color drain from my face. I’d forgotten that. How had I forgotten?

“No one knows that.” My voice was nearly a whisper.

His knuckles pressed into the desk as he leaned into them. “I’ve done my research, too, sweetheart.”

It was a change my father made to my trust years ago, when he’d thought I’d marry Hudson Pierce. Some stupid loophole he’d found to avoid paying taxes. His shares would be transferred to my name at the time of my marriage. He’d never expected to actually give up control of Werner Media, though, until he retired. That was supposed to be protected by my prenup, and it was.

A prenup didn’t do anything, though, in a case of death.

Oh, God.

He wasn’t bluffing. He meant what he’d said. He really did mean to kill me.

There was something Edward didn’t know, however. If he did, this whole scheme of his would be null and void. He didn’t know that Hudson Pierce secretly owned more shares than my father. My father didn’t even know it. If Edward was after control of Werner Media, killing me would get him close, but it wouldn’t get him where he wanted to be.

If I told him now, would he realize the futility of his plan and let me go?

Possibly.

It would also make me worth nothing. And now that he’d threatened my life, he couldn’t let me walk away and not expect repercussions. I was fucked if he didn’t know the truth. I was doubly fucked if he did.

I folded my hands in my lap, aware that they were shaking, hoping he didn’t see how much. “So…what? You just come back from this honeymoon a single man?”

He paused only for the space of a breath. “It had been the plan.”

“And now?”

“Now, I’m willing to renegotiate.”

Hope rushed through me before reality set in. “There isn’t anything you can offer that will get me to sign those shares over to you. Threaten me all you want. I’m not handing over my father’s company to his arch nemesis.” My father would kill me if Edward didn’t.

“Forget the shares for the moment.” He tossed the subject away casually, as though we were talking about bed linens instead of the state of my life. “Let’s talk about what you’d planned to do to me. You wanted to convict me of some sexual crime, but to do so, you would have had to endure whatever it is that I prefer in the bedroom. I’m guessing that you still don’t know what that is exactly.”

“Uh.” It was difficult to focus on anything but my predicament, so I focused on the effort. Bedroom. What he likes there. In truth I didn’t know exactly what he did with his lovers, but wasn’t the gist obvious? “I have some thoughts.”

“I’m sure you do,” he said, patronizingly. “But let me tell you so you know for sure—I like to see a woman broken down.”

I shook my head. “Whatever that means, I have no doubt I could have handled it just fine.”

He lifted his hands off the table and thrust them in his pockets, once again towering over me at his full height. “Let’s find out,” he said.

“I don’t know what you’re saying.” I was starting to get a headache and the lack of food was getting to me. I needed things spelled out.

So Edward started spelling. “I’m saying, that’s my deal. You want to live? Then let me break you down.”

Make sure to check out Laurelin Paige’s webiste here.

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