Tugging at my black skirt, I sit on the plain gray upholstered chair. It’s a standard waiting room chair with a metal frame like at a doctor’s office or the employment center, but the blip in my gut reminds me it’s neither of those places. My heart pounds so loudly I’m sure it’s audible. Not that anyone else sits in the empty room but me. Thank God! Yeah, just me and the million butterflies erratically fluttering in my belly.
A shuffle behind the office door makes me lick my dry lips and swallow hard. There’s a twinge low in my abdomen. Frisson. My breath sticks and I watch the door handle with the intensity of a deer in headlights. Is it moving? I decide it’s not and nibble my lip. It would be easier if it was.
The wait is killing me.
I’ve never done anything like this before. I close my eyes and concentrate on breathing. In out, in out. Slow and steady. My gut is as tumultuous as the sea during a storm, but it’s nothing compared to the weakness I feel in every limb. There’s something else too. An exhilaration. A secret thrill I’d be embarrassed to admit. Hell, I’m finally taking control of my life. True, in a peculiar sort of way, but one I’m confident will work.
Mr. Smith is a disciplinarian.
I gulp air out loud just thinking the word. Disciplinarian. I’d seen his ad while drowning my sorrows at Expressions Tattoo Parlor. As the buzz of the gun vibrated my chest and stung my shoulder, I’d read:
Lacking self-discipline? Longing for help getting your life together? Need a strict, stern, and encouraging leader to motivate you to meet your goals? I’m The Disciplinarian and I guarantee results. Email Mr. Smith for a no-obligation consultation.
And here I am. In The Disciplinarian’s waiting room having hot flashes like a menopausal woman instead of a twenty-eight-year-old being held hostage by my father’s will and the basic living allowance I’ve been given for one year. After that, if I can’t prove I’m a woman capable of taking care of myself, I lose every penny of his millions.
Clenching my teeth, I look toward the exit. Part of me doesn’t want to fulfill the will’s clause. Part of me wants to fail simply to prove he and his money can’t control me. But the truth is, I’ve been on a path of self-destruction for years. I should have grown up a long time ago. So I’ll meet the requirements of my father’s will and then… I don’t know what then, but it’ll be something epic—something to show him I win.
I win? What the hell? How do I win against a dead man? I feel a wave of grief hit so hard I can’t find my breath. But I don’t grieve for a loss; I grieve for what I never really had. A throat clears in the next room and I find the air I’ve been depriving myself of. I straighten my back in the chair. With Mr. Smith’s help, I’m going to prove that I can take care of myself.
After our initial email, Mr. Smith and I came up with a plan. He’d made a list of simple rules and I’d agreed to them all. They were things he didn’t compromise on. My health and safety were non-negotiable, but with the rest we’re starting slow. My first goal—make a realistic budget and stick to it for a week.
At the time, the idea of punishment was theoretical, abstract. With the threat of discipline, I figured I’d get my act together. I certainly didn’t expect to fail, let alone so soon, but now here I am. In a room waiting to be called into Mr. Smith’s office to be punished. Another noise behind the wall makes my gut dip and my breath quicken and then I recall how I earned this session with Mr. Smith.
Emily Wellard had been looking down her perfect nose at me, pleading for the dying whales and with my too-tight designer gown squeezing me like a sequined boa constrictor and the flashing cameras, I made the quick decision to donate. But it wasn’t until I saw Owen Holloway, my father’s friend, lawyer and my secret crush, talking with my stepmother, the former supermodel Denzi Marlow, that the donation became sizable.
How could I not agree to give a donation? One way bigger than Denzi’s. One that made me look better in my gown than I felt. One that made Owen look at me instead of my nemesis. It didn’t matter that his look was a raised brow and pressed lips.
I let my face fall into my hands. I had let one stupid decision eat up my condo fee allowance for the next six months. How long did it take to get evicted from a condo?
Finally the door opens.
I can’t look up. My chest constricts and I stare at my expensive shoes that do nothing to hide my chubby ankles. You can do this, I coach myself. Blood pounds in my ears and I stand but still look at my feet. My mouth is so dry I can’t swallow. What will he do? Will he simply lecture me? Or will he bare me, bend me across his desk, and strap my ass?
“I believe young ladies need a firm hand, Miss Jones. I also believe in corporal punishment. Spankings, Miss Jones, paddlings, strappings, and even switchings when they’re necessary.”
The thrill low in my abdomen at the thought of being spanked turns to a low thrum or a deep flutter maybe. Whatever it is, it’s sexual and I’m mortified.
“I don’t have all day, young lady. Let’s go. In my office, now.” His words sound distorted, but they erase the arousal and my nerves spark to life again. The voice is familiar even with blood pounding in my ears. No, it can’t be, I tell myself. I’m only imagining it.
My knees shake, but I stand tall. This is what I need to get my life on track. This will help me become a woman who doesn’t need to rely on her inheritance to live. A woman who can make her own way in the world instead of walking in the shadow of her famous father.
“Miss. Jones, I’ll be pulling out my dawdling paddle if you don’t move more swiftly.”
That’s when I look up…
Two weeks earlier
I step into Dad’s office. The house is too quiet and still, but Dad’s office is the worst. It reminds me he’s gone. I feel a lump in my throat even though he was never much of a father to me. When he was home and I was there to visit, both of which were rare, he was always on the phone, typing madly on his laptop, or pacing with a scotch in his hand learning his lines.
I used to watch him, in awe of his energy. Even in his late sixties, he had more energy than I do in my late twenties. The empty office makes my stomach ache. Not only at the loss of the Hollywood legend, and my father, but at the last conversation we’d had. His words echo in my mind.
“Jordan, you’ve got to grow up. It’s time you start making something of yourself. You can’t live off my hard work all your life. I won’t be around forever and the way you spend money…”
I swallow the hurt the memory brings and walk to his leather chair, putting my hand on the smooth surface. He didn’t mention the money I made as a child star in a popular sitcom and two blockbuster movies. Maybe because he forced the roles on me, but more likely because my mother took off with the money when I was twelve.
He was right about one thing though. He wasn’t around forever. I feel my legs give way and I sink to the carpet near his chair. In my blurred vision I can see the cubby beneath the desk and remember hiding under it with my dolls while he worked. One of my stepmothers or my nanny would be searching for me, but I just wanted to be near my dad even if he didn’t notice I was there. I only got to stay with him a few times a year because he was usually on set somewhere too far for me to visit and when I was older and my mom was gone, he put me in boarding school.
He’d provided for me though, spoiled me with material things. I can’t survive without him now because he gave me everything I ever wanted. Especially after my mom ditched and he became my only parent. Everything but him.
It’s Owen’s voice at the office door. My heart thumps.
Owen… my dad’s lawyer and friend. He’s much younger than my dad was but still a lot older than me; almost twenty years older.
And I’ve been in love with him from the moment we met—a few months before my nineteenth birthday when I stayed at my father’s place the summer before university.
“I’m in here.”
I peek through the desk at him and see his tall sexy form. His serious brow makes my chest flutter, and his stern blue eyes beneath turn my limbs to jelly. His lean, but muscular body walks boldly toward the desk.
“Jordan?” He shakes his head but it seems to be in amusement. “Are you under the desk?” He’s brilliant and well-spoken, and I could converse with him for hours. I’d always been drawn to his patient kindness and firm demeanor, but once I was out of university, my thoughts turned from innocent to erotic and when he scowled at my attention-seeking antics and told my father I needed a firmer hand, my fantasies went to a whole new level. I’ve imagined him lecturing me in his smooth voice and drawing me over his lap for a spanking. A sensual shiver shoots through my body and I’m glad to be unseen beneath the desk.
I always craved boundaries and pushed limits. I wanted real attention. I wanted someone to stop me from my behavior. I wanted to know someone cared about me enough to want what was best for me. My father only brushed off what I did. But Owen… Owen never let me get away with my immature decisions.
I take a deep breath and crawl out from the desk, looking up at him.
Owen gives me a small concerned smile, which only makes my eyes well with tears. He walks to me and sinks into a squat. When he touches me, tucking my hair gently behind my ear, electric tingles scatter through me. The familiar masculine scent of sandalwood and musk makes me feel safe and secure. My belly flutters when he cups my face and I blink back the tears.
“Sweetheart, I’m so sorry, but this isn’t the time to be playing under your father’s desk.” He cocks his brow in humor and his warm voice makes a lump rise in my throat. No one understands my pain or what I need like Owen.
I nod, suck in a breath, and wipe my face. I don’t have to worry about makeup because for once I didn’t bother. Instead, I’d wrapped a pashmina shawl around my head and shoulders, wore huge sunglasses, exited through the maintenance entrance of my building, and went through the back door of my father’s. The media knows today is the reading of the will so the vultures are scavenging for the perfect sound bite. Today more than any other day, I wanted to be invisible.
He helps me to stand and I look up, staring a little too long at Owen’s face. His dark hair is interwoven with a tinge of silver at the sides and the crinkles around his eyes indicate both an easy humor and a wisdom that comes from experience. My gaze roams his body, over his muscled physique, broad shoulders, and crisp suit. Today he wears dark gray with a gorgeous silk striped tie, something designer that brings out the blue of his eyes.
Lawyer to the stars, he always looks spectacular. Although he’s overshadowed by the famous people he represents, it’s still important to him to look good. Today he’ll be reading my father’s will.
“I knew I’d find you here, and I wanted to talk to you before the reading.” He smooths his large hand down my arm. A tremor runs through me. “It’s about the will.”
I hold my breath.
“I don’t want you to be shocked,” he says.
“Okay,” I say in an exhale and wait for him to explain, but Denzi Marlow and my previous stepmother, Lucinda, breeze into the room arm in arm interrupting us, their bright chatter and expensive perfume preceding them. It seems Father’s lovers have formed a bond. I want to puke. The smiles on their faces prove they never loved my father for more than his fame and fortune. Yet they’d always had his attention.
“Aw, my sweet Jordan.” Lucinda drops Denzi’s arm and comes to me, all false sympathy painted on her actress’s face. “Honey, you can’t wear this.” She plucks at my baggy tee and then looks scandalized at the lack of proper polish on my bare toes. God, who cares if my toenails aren’t painted?
I look at Denzi’s Jimmy Choos, gather a breath, and look away. Whatever.
“I’m getting changed here,” I say, stepping away from the woman who once locked me in a closet and told my father I’d gone home so he’d still take her to the opening of one of his films. Little did she know he would have taken her anyway—hot women always trumped illegitimate daughter. The only reason I put in the effort of looking nice was because my father absolutely hated when I made the worst dressed list or the cover of the tabloids looking like ‘riff-raff.’ It made him look bad and he’d cut communication completely for weeks after. Not even his staff would be allowed to speak to me.
I quickly slip past the stepmothers and head to my childhood bedroom where I’d put my clothes. At first, I hear Owen follow me, but Denzi stops him. A stab of jealousy hits when I hear Denzi’s voice, like a smoky confection, attempting to lure him from me. She has always looked at Owen with predatory lust. Even across the dining room table when he stayed for meals. Once I spilled my wine on her ‘accidentally’ to stop her before my father noticed.
I roll my eyes and jog up the steps. In my childhood bedroom, I look fondly at the stuffed animals on my bed, the pink duvet, and the shelves full of animal documentary DVDs and books. It was my temporary haven when I visited my father—the one place I could be completely myself, decorated by his assistant who knew me better than he did. The only people that ever set foot in here were the maids, the nannies (when I was young), and me. Therefore, in this room, there was no judgment, no one pushing me to take another role in a movie or sitcom, no cameras, and no reporters. Though I’m grown now, I still remember my childhood room with fondness. And more than anything in this moment I want to dive under my duvet and lose myself in a dreamless sleep until everything is over.
When I’m dressed and giving myself one final look over in the mirror, Owen knocks.
“Can I come in, Jordy?”
My heart pounds. He hasn’t called me that in years.
“Come in.” I gather my breath, straighten my dress, and try to ignore the excitement dancing inside me from him being so near me in the room. I glance at him through my mirror and the room shrinks as his eyes find mine. Heat spreads through me as his intense stare ignites my core. Sometimes I imagine I see something feral and needy in his gaze too.
He looks at me appreciatively. “You look just as you should. Like yourself. No pretense.”
I nod, but don’t speak. Smoothing my simple black wrap dress, I watch him sit on my bed, tugging his suit pant legs up. I lick my lips, squelching the mental fantasy I’ve indulged in way too much. God, I have to rein in my imagination. In my mind’s eye I envision straddling him and kissing his mouth. Heat turns to a deeper burn inside me. I want to be his. I want his stern, commanding voice telling me what to do.
On your knees. Unbuckle my belt. Suck me hard, Jordan.
And I want to obey his every word and earn the pleasure he’ll give as a reward.
Hands on your head. Spread your legs. Come for me, Jordan.
Owen clears his throat and I blink the sexy imagery away, my cheeks heating in embarrassment.
“Your father changed his will a few days before he died, Jordan. It was a significant change.” His eyes are steady on mine; the imaginary fire I sometimes see isn’t there. The seriousness in his expression makes my gut sink. He rubs his smooth chin, his eyes tight as he continues. “I disagreed with his decision, but only because he should have done it when he was alive.” He looks at me sternly, and the breath whooshes out of my lungs when his voice sharpens. “He spoiled you with material things, and now he’s left you to deal without any guidance.” He touches my chin. “You needed attention, Jordan. And love. Not to be handed credit cards with unlimited funds to make up for his inattentiveness.”
I swallow, nodding, his seriousness about the will sinking in. “What exactly do you mean he changed his will?” Panic is rising in my chest. I feel dizzy and breathless. “Did he cut me off? Is he giving everything to her?” I can’t bear the thought. I pace the room, my grief making me crazy. How could he? I’m his blood and Denzi never loved him, but she sure as hell got more attention from him than I ever did. I grind my teeth and grab a crystal bear from my dresser before I whip it across the room. It shatters into shards and tinkles as it lands on the hardwood floor.
I grab another figurine, intent on destruction to rid myself of the ache in my heart, but before I can throw it, Owen’s next to me. He grabs my wrists and stops me.
“Jordan, enough!” His sharp tone and firm grip effectively end my tantrum. My pulse pounds beneath his palms.
God, Owen, just spank me and end the angst that burns in me. The hurricane of thoughts, the volcanic eruption of fears and plague of anxieties… quiet it all.
He removes the trinket from my hand and sets it back on the dresser. My heart thuds faster in my chest at the stern warning in his voice as he continues. “He didn’t cut you off. There are just some conditions to your inheritance.” He pulls me against his sturdy chest and wraps his hand in my hair, holding my head against him. Even in my grief and distress, my body responds to his touch. It’s more intimate than ever before. I can’t think. I can’t breathe. I’ve always wanted to be held like this by him, and I can’t help but close my eyes and wish this would last forever.
“Do you understand me?” The stern, corrective tone of his voice makes need thrum through my body. I nod against him. “He was a self-absorbed man, Jordan. But I know he loved you. He just showed his love by giving you things. But in doing so took away your ability to make your own way. He was trying to right his wrongs before he died.” His hand smooths my hair and I release a breath, cherishing the feel of our chests pressed together and his gentle caresses.
The neglected insecure little girl craving care in me battles with the sexual being inside that wants him like only a woman can.
“He should have given you more attention and less material things, sweetheart. That’s what you needed from him.”
Shock makes me eyes burst open and body jerk back. My mind’s suddenly focused on one of his sentences.
He was trying to right his wrongs before he died?
“Wait. What?” My hand flies to my mouth. “Did he know he was going to die?” The high pitch of my voice isn’t muffled by my hand. I stumble back but he catches me, spins us and sits on the bed, pulling me onto his lap. I’m sitting on Owen’s lap. God. I can feel his firm thighs beneath my legs, and my body quivers in response, but then my mind snaps back.
“He indulged himself as much as he did you.” Owen’s finger traces my cheek. “He was also a workaholic. Not a good combo. He knew his heart was bad. They told him it was a ticking time bomb if he didn’t get bypass surgery.”
“And why the hell didn’t he get the surgery?” I yell, trying to stand, fury boiling my blood, but he holds me tighter. “How could he do this!” Tears wet my cheeks but they’re not sorrowful, they’re angry. “How could he leave me?”
But my mind answers my question before I can hear Owen’s.
He couldn’t leave you if he was never really there.
Owen pulls me tighter against him. “I asked him the same thing, sweetheart. He didn’t want to go down like a frail old man. Image was too important to him. The most important thing to him. You know that. Look how upset he was by being turned down for lead roles lately.”
“Owen, everyone’s here.” Denzi’s voice is impatient behind my door. I clench my jaw and suck in any remaining tears I need to shed. Owen shakes his head, ending our embrace.
“It’s why he married them,” he says coldly, eyeing the door.
“Please tell me that bitch is getting nothing,” I whisper.
Owen’s brow cocks. He’s never approved of my cursing. “She wasn’t a good wife, Jordan, but he still loved her. And watch that mouth, little girl.”
I grit my teeth even though my body heats at the correction. I’ve got to play it cool.
“Go and get cleaned up, Jordy. It’s going to be a hard day.”
He leaves me to wash up and reapply my makeup. I splash water on my face and try to quell the heat that Owen caused to rise in me. I have to get through this. And then I can move on.
The plush home screening theater holds around fifty people, but at the reading only the first few rows are occupied. Owen sits in a chair off to the side of the screen facing us. A laptop rests on his legs. Denzi and Lucinda sit in the very front.
The rest of the seats are filled by my father’s long-time staff and a few others I don’t know. Our housekeeper and cook, Mary, her two adult kids, my father’s personal assistant and bodyguard sit in the middle of the first row. George, our gardener, the pool guy, Walter, who taught me to swim, and the lady that kept our house full of fresh flower arrangements all turn to smile or wave at me. I’m last to arrive so I sit alone in the third row. I’m more comfortable alone anyway.
Owen clears his throat and everyone, including me, turns to him. He looks directly at me and smiles encouragingly. My heart kicks up a notch, both because his smile is as charming as they come and because it’s genuine. Owen is one of the very few genuine people I know. In fact, the only others sit in this room with me. Excluding the steps, of course. And my best friend, Riley, who would be here to support me if I let her.
Owen’s smile also evokes the pull of arousal in me. Seeing him up there and in charge only fuels my desires. I shake my head slightly to end my thoughts of him. It’s the reading of my father’s will.
Owen reads the parts of the will pertaining to the other people first. Even though Denzi and my father were still married, apparently he knew it was over and since he’d insisted on a pre-nup, Denzi’s at the mercy of his will.
“You have a year to live in the house, after that it will be put up for sale. No work or renovations are to be done without my approval.” Owen clears his throat. And for the final reading of her portion, he slows his voice. When he tells her of the sum she’s getting, her face pinches in anger. Although to any normal middle class American it’s a windfall, to Denzi the number’s an insult.
“This is outrageous!” Denzi stands, looking like a bull ready to charge. Her face is red and an ugly vein I’d never noticed before swells purple on her forehead. “He can’t do this!” Her shouts echo and Owen stands too. His broad shoulders square and he crosses his arms.
“Is that your signature?” He nods toward the pre-nup on the screen. She growls but when he pulls up several pictures of her in undeniably indecent positions with another man, she stops a moment. Before any of us can take our eyes off the screen, she throws her high-heeled shoe. It flies over Owen’s head and stabs the screen with its ridiculously long heel. Gasps and startled shouts ring out in the room.
“Enough! Have some respect for John’s daughter and his friends.” Owen’s deep, growling voice makes the tantrum-throwing Denzi freeze. It also makes my heart pound.
“You’re lucky John died before these pictures came through because if he’d had the actual proof you’d have gotten nothing. He was suspicious though, which is why he was having you followed by a private investigator. You can leave now, Denzi.” He dismisses her. Thankfully, it seems she’s trying to save face, because she gives a pert nod, spins and walks in a lopsided one-shoe waddle out of the screening room.
“The next person that throws a fit will be forcibly removed.” Owen looks at the remaining step, Lucinda. His expression’s so firm, he looks like one of those beautiful Greek statues. Lucinda has a sneer on her face. I’m pretty sure she’s only staying to see what my father gives to everyone else so she can report back to her best friend, Denzi, but she’s entitled to her place among us because my father had been allowing her residence in one of his properties and that had to be dealt with.
I roll my eyes. This day is turning out to be a flipping circus act. I’ve wished for the ground to open and consume me on numerous occasions, but today I want it more than usual. Maybe I’ll take my inheritance and move to a deserted island.
Owen continues, and I zone out, imagining my island paradise… with Owen.
“Jordan?” I blink at my name being called. Swallowing hard, I wonder if I’ve been smiling as I fantasize. Owen is giving me a warning look to pay attention so I straighten. Everyone else is staring at me queerly.
“Did you hear me?”
“Um, no, sorry.” My face heats and I try to block out the faces staring at me, but Lucinda smiles widely, making my gut drop as if a boulder has suddenly landed in it.
“He said your father’s only giving you a basic living allowance for one year, and if you don’t show that you’re capable of taking care of yourself, you get zip! Nada! Zilch. Only one of the ways in which Denzi’ll get everything.” She laughs and my face grows hotter. I swallow again, harder this time as tears prick behind my eyes and the lump sitting in my throat doubles in size. I can’t believe my father showed his disappointment in me like this—in front of everyone, and especially to the women who never thought I was good enough to be his daughter.
I blink a few more times and try to clear the emotion bursting inside me.
“Lucinda, leave.” Owen points at the door. “You no longer have business here. You got the condo so go.”
She laughs. “That’s okay, I’ve heard enough.” She stands and shoots me a saccharine smile.
“See you around, honey.” Her smile falls, but there’s still a glimmer in her eyes so I brace myself. “Oh, but maybe not.” She covers her mouth and her eyes squint in false sympathy. “I don’t use public transportation.” With that she leaves the room, leaving me practically gasping for oxygen.
Owen comes to my side, as does Mary. “You okay?” he asks.
“I’m fine.” I shoot a hard glare at him. “What does she mean about Denzi getting everything?”
He sighs and his shoulders fall. “If anything were to happen to you before your conditions are met or if you don’t meet those conditions…” He shoves a hand through his hair and his jaw clenches. “Yes, your inheritance goes to Denzi.”
“What?” Again, I can’t breathe. I can’t swallow. I’m dizzy with anger.
“It’s going to be okay,” he soothes. “I’ll help you.” He looks to the door. “I’ll make damn sure she doesn’t get your money, Jordy.”
“I’m not a child, Owen. I’m twenty-eight and I can take care of myself… I will take care of myself!” He doesn’t deserve my anger but I give it anyway. The only person I’m angry at is myself. Okay and my dad, but only because I was never good enough for him.
He’d made that clear since the paternity test showed I was his.
“Jordan, I need to explain your father’s wishes to you.” His expression is hard. His patience is wearing thin. I want to feel him take control, to stop me from spiraling but I turn away so he can’t see the need I have for his authoritative dominance. Dammit! I need to stand on my own two feet!
As I walk out of the house, my head high, I ignore Owen calling me. The cameras flash. I cover my face automatically. Before I do though, I catch a glimpse of Lucinda and Denzi talking to the worst paparazzi and vlogger of all. Kari-Anne Bowing and her cameraman. She’d been pointing out my flaws for the last ten years as if she has some vendetta against me. They come straight at me.
Kari-Anne has a hugely popular celebrity vlog, but freelances for the grocery aisle trash papers too. Her assistant, Greg, is short and thin, and seems to be able to squeeze into places most of the others can’t. They manage to cut through the crowd of other paparazzi and media to get to me first.
“Is it true, your father cut you off? Are your carefree days of spending Daddy’s money over?”
“How do you plan to support yourself?”
“Are you broke?”
“Where will you live?”
The questions pelt me like hail, stinging as I run to my car. Just as I climb into my seat and grab the door to slam it, Greg gets there. His camera jams into the door so I can’t close it.
“Why do you deserve this over us?” he asks hoarsely.
He doesn’t holler at me in a rush like the others. He speaks in a harsh whisper as if the question between us is private. It takes me a minute to shove him out of the way and shut the door because the words and his passionate, angry expression confuse me. Had I even heard him correctly?
I slam the lock button and lean back in my seat, taking a second to catch my breath, feeling safer hidden behind tinted glass. Greg’s video recorder is still rolling and Kari-Anne’s camera flashes brightly, but I know they can’t see me.
How would I support myself? I don’t even know the amount of the living allowance my father’s estate will pay me. Will I need to find a new place? Or is the condo still mine? How will I get a job? I certainly couldn’t act now. My father was the reason I got those roles. And I’d be laughed off the audition stage if I tried. I have the fashion sense of a gerbil and curves no designer will touch.
I rub my face and ignore the pounding on my windows. I know there’s three hundred bucks in my wallet and it’s practically burning a hole in my bag. I need to do something reckless, something rebellious.
I start the engine and peel out of the curved drive, leaving everything behind in my proverbial dust.
I’ve always wanted a tattoo.