I can’t believe I signed the contract.
I keep telling myself I’m not a whore. Not really.
I’m a good girl. I’m a good girl. I’m a good girl.
It’s for a good cause. A worthy cause.
I can—and will—do this.
Despite my mantras, fear and doubt creep around me like icy tendrils. My stomach feels cold and heavy, and a ball of ice is forming in the center of my being.
What will he be like?
More important, what will he do to me?
For an astronomical sum, I’ve been promised to Trent Lavigne. A thirty-year-old billionaire Chicago businessman who’s willing to pay whatever it takes to have one date with me. His, for an entire evening, to do with as he pleases. In exchange for selling my soul, I’ll be rewarded with money that I need.
I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.
Overwhelmed by the task at hand, I focus on the dollar signs that will soon be flooding my bank account.
I hand the massive pack of paperwork over to Gretchen, a woman in her mid-forties with a sleek blonde bob and a killer sense of fashion. Her silver earrings brush her shoulders as she reaches out to takes the papers.
She looks down, scanning the pages to be sure I’ve signed in all the right places. Satisfied with my work, she stands from her chair, smoothing her black Chanel suit as she does, even though there’s not a wrinkle on her body.
She holds out a perfectly manicured hand to me. “Ashe Barnes. Welcome to the family.”
I don’t know about that…
I smile what I hope is a warm smile and shake her hand. “Thank you.” Her skin feels cold against mine.
“Let’s go over a few logistics, shall we?”
“S-sure.” I try to keep the trembling from my voice but it’s no use.
“Here. We’ll go to the parlor where we’ll be more comfortable.” She holds out a hand to direct me from the small front office of the massive estate. There’s no one around but she calls out, “Barker. Tea and coffee in the parlor, please.”
When I pulled up to the open iron gates in my little red hatchback, engine clanking all the way, I was mesmerized by the beauty of the place. Trent’s sprawling country estate is more like a little village than a home with its winding paths and buildings dotting its acreage. The mile-long pebbled drive is lined with massive oaks, their thick trunks standing guard over the property.
I crawled down the drive, craning my neck and taking in all I could see of this mysterious estate. The outlying acres host gardens, barns, meadows filled with wildflowers, their messy beauty a stark contrast to the manicured grounds surrounding the main building, a stone mansion with not a fleck of loose paint tarnishing its perfect face.
Now, as I walk through the home, I lose my breath. It’s gothic and dark but beautiful and welcoming at the same time. The marble staircase curves up from the left and the right, their smooth wood handrails joining one another at the top, like open arms, meeting under a large stained-glass window, sunlight bursting through its colorful panes and dappling over the stairs.
I’d love to walk up those stairs, run my hand over that shiny handrail, and to tour this incredible place, but I’m not invited and so I follow Gretchen into the parlor.
The room is huge—almost too big, its size foreboding—with massive arched windows framed in dark wood. They overlook the orchard, rows of trees bearing fruit, butterflies and bees flitting about their day under the warm sun. A stark contrast to the icy tension I feel as I take a seat in a regal-looking chair upholstered in blood-red velvet.
Gretchen sits across from me, a low glass table between us. There’s not one fingerprint on its surface.
When my shift ended last night and I was walking back to my apartment, a sleek black SUV pulled up to me when I was about a block away from the shop. I was handed a note, instructing me to be at this location, at this time. Despite my reservations, I came. I wait for her to reveal more about her boss and how I came to be here this morning, but she doesn’t.
“So. Tell me a little bit about yourself. Trent didn’t say much. Only that he was taken with you. And, to see if you were… available.” Her brows raise and she leans forward when she says the word available, like she wants to put air quotes around it.
I get it. Available. Code for willing to prostitute myself.
Which, she quickly learned, I was.
“Um… let’s see.” There’s really not much to tell, but Gretchen seems like an important player in Trent’s world and I don’t want her changing his mind. I try not to lie, and besides, I’m a terrible liar, so I choose to embellish.
Her eyes lay heavy on me, expectant. “Yes?”
“I’m enrolled in classes at the School of the Art Institute.” Was. Doesn’t it count as being enrolled when you had to drop out and then couldn’t afford to come back? “I work at the coffee shop on Fifth—the one where your boss saw me, I guess?”
She gives one curt nod. All business, not even wasting time on a longer nod. “Yes. That’s right.”
I continue. “Ah… I like to draw?”
Her mask of professionalism wavers for a moment, a flash of interest in her gaze. “That’s nice. Do you have anything you can show me?”
I pull my drawing pad from my bag. “Sure.” It feels weird to share this with a stranger, but what choice do I have? I need her to like me.
I turn to a page somewhere in the middle, my more recent work. It’s a pencil drawing of a battle between angels and demons. Gothic and terrifying and yet hauntingly beautiful. Like this place. I lay it the pad on the table before us.
She examines the page with wide eyes. Her gaze flits from the paper to me, then back again. “You drew this?”
It’s taken her by surprise. The little whore has talent. Who’d have thought?
I smile and nod. “Yes. I did.”
“It’s… incredible.” She traces the outline of a feathery wing with the pad of her finger, her red nails sparkling under the lights. “Are there more?”
I can only whore myself out so much. Everyone has a limit. I’ll not show her my other drawings, the ones I’ve sketched of people I love.
“There are.” I take the pad, slipping it back in my bag. “Another day?”
A pinch of respect forms in her features. She gives another tight nod. “Absolutely.”
Feeling like I have the upper hand, I ask my own question. “So, what’s he like? The boss?”
“First of all,” she peers at me like I’m a child, making me squirm in my seat, “Trent does not like to be called the boss.” I can tell she’s just itching to do the air quotes again.
“Noted.” I give a nod.
She continues, her tone brimming with authority. “He’s a successful businessman, making a living running trade overseas from his hub in the city. He comes from a long line of entrepreneurs. He took over this quaint country property when his parents moved to Venezuela when he was twenty and he has lived here ever since.”
“He sounds… important.” I don’t say what’s on my mind. To have this much money and not be able to get a date the old-fashioned way? He must be gruesome to look at. I stare at her, raising a brow, hoping she’ll sense my question, maybe give me an idea what he looks like.
A short man wearing a suit moves quickly, entering the room with a silver tray in his hands. This must be Barker. He sets the tray down, offering Gretchen a deep bow. His eyes flit to my face, then away.
“Thank you, Barker.” Gretchen dismisses him with a wave of her hand.
He leaves as quickly as he came in.
“Tea?” she asks, holding up a pale blue china teapot.
The delicious aroma of freshly brewed coffee fills the room. My eyes go the steaming French press. “Actually, I’m more of a coffee girl.”
She sets the teapot down, pouring us both a cup of coffee. I add cream and sugar to mine, stirring the mug with the spoon that’s offered to me. Gretchen drinks hers black. “You passed the first test.”
I look up from my mug. “Excuse me?”
“I can’t respect a woman who chooses tea over coffee.” She gives a laugh, but it comes out more like the sound of a challenge.
I take a sip of the drink. “This is delicious. The best I’ve had. And I work at one of the busiest coffee shops in the city.”
She smiles. “It is the best, isn’t it? It’s from Trent’s family’s roasters in Paris.” She’s warming to me.
Damn—a man who loves coffee as much as me. One point for mystery psycho stalker billionaire. “Is there anything else I should know?”
“Trent has… tastes.” She sets her mug down, locking gazes with me. “Ones you will need to accommodate. It’s all in the contract, but you didn’t bother to read it, did you?”
That icy, creeping feeling comes back, dancing along my spine, making the hairs on the back of my neck rise. “No. I didn’t.”
“Just be ready.” She smiles a slow smile, like that of the Cheshire cat. “For anything.”
I never had a bit of the upper hand, did I? I’m his property, this total stranger. I have no power. And the man has… tastes… whatever that means.
I’m due to meet him in exactly thirty-six hours.
The dark closes in on me like a fog. Only the air isn’t wispy and dense. It grows stronger, surrounding me, tightening around my lungs and my throat until I can no longer breathe. I can’t move my arms. I can’t move my legs.
That’s when the screaming starts.
I bolt upright, gasping for breath.
Another dream. To be so powerful, to control so many, and yet, to be powerless when it comes to my own mind.
Sleep is unachievable at this point. I check the clock. Three a.m. My alarm would be going off in an hour anyway, so it’s no great loss.
I stand, stretching toward the ceiling, pain shooting through my body. The scar running from my hipbone to my chest throbs. I deepen the stretch, wanting the pain. It burns like fire.
I do the exercises I’ve been commanded to do by my over-eager physical therapist—a boy too young to even grow a proper beard, the patchy hair on his chin pissing me off every time he lifted my arm over my shoulder for the past year. When I’m done with that, I move on to my own daily workout, strength-training exercises using my body weight to keep strong, followed by a five-mile run on my estate.
The air is cool, the sun nowhere to be found as I make my way through the orchards, along the wall of the garden, past the stables. I think of her and I run faster, until my lungs are burning and legs feel like jelly.
She’s due to arrive at eight o’clock sharp.
Why did I do it?
I have no need to pay for sex. When you’re as rich as me, women throw themselves at you. And I have no desire for a relationship. ‘Fuck ‘em and forget ‘em’ is my motto. No need to complicate this already complex life with attachments.
I slow to a jog, winding my way back toward the house. I don’t know what came over me yesterday when I saw her.
I needed a break, a moment amongst real people. I left my downtown office building to fetch my own coffee. It’s always brought to me. Brewed fresh from beans roasted on my family farm in France. Two creams, two sugars, piping hot. But I needed a change.
Poppy, my young, scatterbrained yet incredibly organized secretary, insisted I stay put and that she would order the coffee for me, nervously pushing the pink plastic frames of her glasses further up her freckled nose as she reminded me that I get cranky when I go out there.
I cut my gaze at her, reminding her, “I’ll do as I please.”
When I stepped out of my pristine lobby onto the stink of the muggy, packed streets, I remembered why I don’t do this, but I couldn’t turn back. Poppy would get no end of satisfaction knowing she was right—well, no, she’s as humble as they come, I’d be the one having to live with the knowledge that I was wrong—so I press on. I’ve heard my interns speak of Café Leche, the best coffee shop in town according to them.
What do they know of real coffee?
I try not to judge, reminding myself not everyone has access to their own French roastery. Coffee roasting is a complex process. The heat must be carefully applied to green coffee in an effort to transform the magical elements contained within each seed—sugars, proteins, acids—into delightful aromas of roasted nuts, malts, chocolate, fruit, and more.
I oversee the process, traveling several times a year to ensure the quality of the bean. These kids who work for me have no idea what real coffee is. And I’ll not share mine with them. They wouldn’t appreciate it.
I pulled directions up on my phone, making my way through the mass of people. Green and white striped awnings hung over big square windows, the name Café Leche carefully painted across the glass in gold letters. I stared inside, debating whether to go in, or just go back to work and tell Poppy she was right, when I saw her.
But even now, I can’t shake that strange bolt of electricity that tore through my heart at the sight of her. My heart actually skipped a beat and despite my daily vigorous workouts, I thought I might be having a heart attack.
I don’t know what it was about her that took my breath away, but she did.
Average height. Average proportions. Brown hair that curled at her shoulders. Pretty brown eyes. Nothing spectacular.
Then she smiled.
And the whole world lit up.
She handed a customer their cup of coffee and in that moment, I knew I had to have her. If only to keep that heavy, foggy cloud at bay for one night, I wanted her.
I never even went inside the shop.
I was in a mood the rest of the afternoon, snapping at Poppy so badly she was nearly in tears by the end of the day. I blamed it on lack of caffeine. But the real reason I was so terrible was that unsettling burning of desire set deep in my bones, putting me on edge.
Swallowing my pride, I apologized to Poppy, sending her home early with a hundred-dollar credit to one of those dinner delivery services. I took the peace and quiet to play on my computer, turning over every stone, found every fact I could about the girl.
Ashley Barnes, goes by Ashe but I prefer Ashley. Address 321 Turner Street, Apartment 309. She’s twenty-one, of Italian descent, and has a deep love of pasta. Had a pretty decent GPA, majoring in creative arts, minoring in interior design at the arts college she attended until about a year ago, when she dropped out, taking a full-time assistant manager job at the coffee shop she had been working part-time at. She moved from a dorm room to her current hovel of an apartment.
No idea why she dropped out. Surely a career in design would be more lucrative than steaming milk for lattes. Living relatives, two: a mother and a sister. Her mother lives outside of town in a matchbox of a house.
I know trivial facts as well. She won the art contest at her high school four years running. She volunteered every Saturday at a local homeless shelter, teaching a painting class to anyone who wanted to attend. At the age of eighteen she had a high school boyfriend turn into stalker when she broke up with him to attend college.
The restraining order still stands.
She has an incredible amount of debt attached to her name; no wonder she signed my contract so quickly. Nothing frivolous on her credit card statement like other girls her age. The purchases are mostly grocery store and discount store charges, and medical bills.
Lots of those.
She loves chocolate and flowers, art and coffee. She doesn’t have much free time to enjoy them since anytime a shift opens up, she takes it. She’s working sixty-hour weeks.
Just like me, only I’m making millions. She’s making pennies. Other than her debt, with such a shit apartment and an old rattling death trap of a car, I can’t help but wonder what she’s spending her meager salary on. It’s certainly not her clothing—her uniform is jeans and a tee shirt.
She wears it well.
I want to do bad, bad things to that sweet, innocent girl.
Gretchen figured out the rest.
I want to see her wearing nothing but the mark of my cum between her thighs. My heart races, that damn pang running through me. I tell myself it’s from the run, not from thinking of her.
Now I glance at my watch as I enter the back kitchen door of the estate.
Only twelve hours to go.
The damn zipper on the dress is stuck. Shit. I’m going to be late. I shimmy as best I can, trying to bring the shiny material of the gown together in the back, hoping to relieve the tension and loosen the zipper.
It’s no use.
I scramble from my shoebox of an apartment to my neighbor Tabby’s unit. Three brisk knocks from me—our code—and the door flies open. She stares openly at me from behind the thick frames of her glasses. Her frizzy hair is like a halo around her face.
“What,” her eyes scan me head to toe, “the fuck are you wearing?”
She knows me for my jeans and tee shirts. Now I’m dressed in a blood-red, floor-length, curve-hugging, neckline-plunging, backless, no-bra piece of couture ready for the red carpet and black four-inch stilettos.
“I don’t know, but can you help me get into it? Please?” I teeter on the heels, turning around for her to zip it.
“Come here.” With a twist and a yank, she brings the zipper up to my waist. “Damn. Your ass looks like a million bucks in that dress.”
A million bucks—that’s what it feels like he’s paying for this ass.
“Thanks.” I smooth the gown down, looking it over. It’s a perfect fit. Gretchen had me send over my measurements last night, and this evening, the gown arrived with the black leather heels. There were no undergarments with the package, so I assumed and went without.
Tabby gazes at me with big eyes. “You sure about this, Ashe? You can still back out.”
When I got home yesterday, I spilled the whole story to her. About how I received the strange note, went to the estate and met with Gretchen, and about the whole indecent proposal. I just didn’t tell her the price tag.
It’s not a million. But it’s pretty unbelievable.
Tabby’s my safety, promising to call the cops if I don’t return in twelve hours. Gretchen told me that under no circumstances would I be spending the night, but who knows how long he’ll want me for?
“Yeah, I’m sure. Don’t make it any harder for me.” My voice softens. “You know why I have to do this.”
She nods. “I know. I know. All for a good cause.” She offers me a somewhat sincere smile. “Besides, isn’t true feminism about making choices for yourself? However slutty those choices might be.”
She pokes me in the ribs and I bat her away. “Okay, I’ve got to go. There’s a car meeting me downstairs in…” I check the clock on her wall, “shit! Ten minutes ago.”
I scramble to turn.
She gives my ass a swat. “Knock ‘em dead, kid!”
“I’ll try.” I teeter off to my apartment, grab my purse, and try to make it down the stairs without breaking my neck. Halfway down, I want to give up and slip off my shoes, but the sticky floors make me reconsider and I press on.
Outside, there’s a silver Mercedes SUV looking terribly out of place in our run-down neighborhood, trash blowing by its shiny chrome wheels. A man I recognize as the driver who handed me the note the other day stands by the door. “Ms. Ashley Barnes.”
“Just Ashe.” I breeze by him, sliding across the leather backseat. My silky gown is thin, the cold of the leather creeping over my ass. I peer around the car, eager for a glimpse at my meal ticket. “Where is Mr. Lavigne?”
“He’s awaiting your arrival at the yacht.” The door closes.
“Ah, okay…” I try to think of how far we are from the lake. I’ve not been since moving out of my mom’s house outside the city. “How long is the drive?”
“About a half hour.”
Thirty minutes. Damn. I was hoping he’d be in this car, that I could get the first part of this night out of the way right away—meeting the man who bought me. But he’s not here and now I have too much time on my hands.
Nerves and doubt creep in, making my gut twist and my head feel light. I should tell the driver to stop the car. I should go home. But my mind travels to my just cause and I grab the door handle till my knuckles turn white, forcing myself to stay seated.
I can do this. I can do this. I can’t do this.
Deep breaths, Ashe. Only I can’t take a deep breath because this damn dress is so tight around my waist, pushing my breasts up to the sky. My shoes pinch and a damp nervous perspiration dots my lower back. Everything suddenly feels so wrong. Tears burn at the backs of my eyes.
This man is a monster. Who does this? Who offers to buy someone, demands what they wear, whisks them off to a yacht…
My scrambled thoughts quiet as we pull up to a dock. That’s a… yacht? The boat looks like its own city, it’s so big and tall. I stare up at it, wide-eyed, wondering what’s in store for me.
Then I see him.
He steps out from the shadows and he’s nothing like I pictured him. The older, balding, paunchy, creepy gazed man I imagined is nowhere to be found. This man is… gorgeous.
What on earth does he want with me?
I mean, sure I cleaned up nice in couture but get rid of the dress and I’m just your average woman. I don’t even wear makeup.
And this man is not only crazy rich, but he’s also a god.
He wears a black suit, perfectly fitted for his broad shoulders and narrow waist. He stands, hands clasped behind his back, waiting. His thick, dark hair is combed back, his handsome face a mask of stoicism, save for the flicker of a muscle dancing along his tight, chiseled jaw.
I get the feeling he doesn’t do a lot of waiting.
The driver opens my door. “Ms. Ashe.”
“Thank you.” I take the hand he offers me, grateful for his help in these shoes. I stand there a moment, taking it all in. The man, the yacht, the early night breeze as it caresses my face.
Our eyes lock.
My breath catches in my throat. I’m scared. His eyes are dark and what’s behind them—he’s so serious, I feel my hands shaking.
Then he speaks. “You’re late.” His voice is deep, his tone deadly calm but irate.
No, he doesn’t do a lot of waiting.
“I guess I am.” I make my way toward him, my palms sweating. I don’t hold my hand out to greet him. He’s too far and my hand is too damp from nerves. “Nice to meet you.”
“Hello, Ashley.” He looks me up and down. Tingles dance behind the trail of his gaze.
“Ah—it’s just Ashe,” I say.
“I prefer Ashley.” He stares at me, daring me to argue. I don’t. “And Ashley?”
“Yes?” My voice comes out as a squeak.
“I don’t do late.”
“Okay. Point taken.” A few more wobbly steps and I’ll be within an arm’s reach of him.
One… two… three… almost there. The tip of the stiletto gets caught in between the wood planks of the dock. I go flying.
“Shit!” My ankle turns and I fall forward.
“Whoa.” He reaches out, grabbing me in his strong arms. “Walk much?”
I go to think of a snide remark but I’m frozen, staring up at him. The scent of his cologne wafts around me, masculine and clean. The heat from his hands transfers to my bare skin as he grips me. We’re so close he’d only have to lean down to kiss me.
He lets me go.
Without a backward glance, he walks toward the boat. I guess this is where I follow a stranger into the night, hoping he’s not a serial killer. Taking a deep breath, I move forward.
And almost tumble once more. The pointy heel of my black stiletto is stuck in the floorboards. I’m trapped. And he’s almost to the boat.
“Ah… a little help here? I’m stuck.” I tug at my foot but it’s no use.
He turns, one dark brow cocking to the heavens. “Seriously?”
“Yes. Seriously.” What’s his problem? He’s the one who wanted me. Now his face is wrinkled with disdain.
He looks at me as if debating whether to call the whole thing off and leave me there with one shoe. After a hefty sigh, he comes to my rescue.
He goes down on one knee before me. “Hold still.”
His hand slips under my dress, up my bare, just shaven and moisturized leg. My skin feels hot where he holds it. My hand goes to his broad shoulder to steady myself.
He flinches when I touch him. An instant wave of humiliation crashes through me. Am I that undesirable?
He slips my foot from the shoe, holding it in the air so it won’t touch the ground. With his other hand, he gently wiggles the shoe, back and forth so as not to damage it as he extracts it from the dock.
He succeeds, slipping it back on my foot. “Try to be more careful.” His tone is annoyed, harsh, but when his eyes meet mine, I wonder if I’d imagined the flinch.
There’s something there between us, an energy, a tension, and it makes an excited curiosity warm my belly.
He stands, wrapping an arm around my waist. “Come.”
The warmth oozes from my belly, creeping through my core, heating me between my legs. He guides me to the boat, offering me his hand as we reach the stairs.
I slip my hand in his and his fingers close around it, big and strong and warm.
I feel almost protected. Then I remember how I got here, how a man with too much power and money demanded me and got me. I swallow back the shame and climb the stairs.
When I reach the top, I’m mesmerized by the view. The setting sun is just about to disappear, beneath the rippling horizon of water. A woman with a perfectly groomed bun wearing a uniform-like outfit, a white button-down shirt and black pencil skirt, offers me a glass of champagne and I accept. I take a long sip of the crisp, bubbly liquid, and smile.
If I’m going to sell my soul, I’m going to enjoy it. If I can. A lot of that depends on my host and what he has in store for me. For my body.
I sneak a glance at him. He stands tall, his jaw clenched with irritation, an attribute I’m beginning to find incredibly sexy. My pussy clenches, my body out of sync with my worrying mind. I feel that oozy warm sensation of arousal between my thighs. If this keeps up, the silk dress will be ruined. I press my thighs together, taking a deeper sip of my drink.
The breeze comes off the water. Modern classical music plays softly, piped in over the speakers on the boat. I can do this. The champagne is kicking in. I’m just beginning to relax when he reaches over, taking my glass from me.
His eyes are cold, his tone ice. “It’s time you find out what happens to little girls who keep me waiting.”