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In Daddy’s Custody by Kelly Dawson – Sample

Chapter One

Jade

My whole body lurches forward as I retch, again and again, into the gutter. There’s nothing left in my stomach to expel, but that doesn’t stop it from trying. Behind me, I can feel my father-imposed bodyguard watching me, disgust seeping from his every pore. I can’t actually see him from where I’m crouching in the gutter, but I can feel him. His eyes boring into me. Judging. Surely I’m not the only person he’s seen vomiting in the gutter before? If I am, he’s in the wrong line of work. This is Hollywood. This is what spoiled little rich girls like me do. We party too hard. We ingest too many dodgy substances. We imbibe far too much alcohol. Then our bodies react, very un-glamorously.

I kneel there, weak, dizzy, the world spinning. My bodyguard doesn’t help me up. He just stands there, sneering at me, his hands in his pockets.

Flashes go off all around me. Paparazzi with nothing better to do, and Mr. Useless makes no attempt to stop them. In fact, although I can’t be certain, I’m pretty sure he steps aside, giving them a better view. Bastard. Who does he think he is, letting them take photos of me in this state when he’s meant to be protecting me? Funny how he’s so happy to take my father’s money, but doesn’t want to do the very job he’s been hired to do: protect my father’s only child.

Woozily, I scramble to my feet and stagger to the car, collapsing into the back seat. The tinted windows mean they can’t see me in here, but it’s too late. The damage is done. Mr. Useless pretends to be chivalrous by opening the door for me, but he opens it far wider and leaves it open far longer than necessary, so all the paparazzi can get their shots. I think he’s actually enjoying this, if the smirk on his face that he isn’t even trying to hide is anything to go by.

It’s all over the internet by the time I wake up just past noon. Why? Why is my being off my face in the wee hours of the morning so fascinating?

I’m summoned to Richard’s office far too early. Well, it’s my father’s office, really, but he’s away making another movie somewhere, and Richard, Dad’s close friend and business partner, is in charge of things—and me—in the meantime. Not that I need taking care of. I mean, I’m an adult. But neither Dad nor Richard sees it that way. He’s obviously seen the headlines, and he’s not happy about it. I don’t know why. It’s not like this is new for me, vomiting in gutters and making the papers. People need someone to gossip about and judge to make themselves feel better about their miserable lives, and right now, I’m that person. I really don’t care. Let them talk, if it makes them happy.

Although Richard knows I like to sleep late and haven’t even had breakfast yet, he doesn’t care. He wants to see me immediately. No, I may not make coffee first. No, I may not eat first.

I do both.

Then I wander slowly into his office nearly two hours after he requested my presence.

He’s waiting for me. Newspapers are spread out before him, open on the desk, overlapping each other, so many the entire desk is covered. There are dozens of headlines and pictures, but they all say essentially the same thing: I’m a wreck.

Child Actor Spectacular Fall From Grace

From Galas to the Gutter: Jade Owens’ Disgraceful Downfall

From the Heights of Fame to the Depths of Shame

Leading Lady Turns Party Girl

Actress Goes Off the Rails

From Calamity Jane to Cocaine Jade

This one bugs me. WTF? I was never Calamity Jane.

Not very many words, but so many photos. So. Many. Photos.

Some are grainy, some are clearer. Some only show me in the distance, but some have been zoomed right in. Showing my smudged mascara, lipstick smeared all over my face. My hair tangled, wild. There’s even a close-up of me wearing only one shoe. All photos from last night. There’s plenty of me vomiting in the gutter. Even more of me sprawled in the back seat of the limousine. But there’s also a few from earlier in the night, and now I understand why Richard is worried: somehow the paparazzi got into the private party and snapped me snorting cocaine through a rolled-up hundred-dollar bill. A fairly regular occurrence, but something I’ve been able to hide, until now. There’s another photo taken later that night, but before the gutter incident, of me dancing around a pole with my shirt off. I was pretty good, too, if I do say so myself. A stupid, drunken dare coming back to bite me.

Richard is sitting there at Dad’s desk just staring at me. He looks heartbroken. Not angry, just sad. Disappointed. Instantly, I feel guilty. I hate seeing his sadness. His anger—rare as it is—is easier to deal with. I can get defensive then, justify myself. But I can’t do that with his sadness. The disappointment I see haunting his eyes tells me in no uncertain terms that I am a failure. A waste. I bite back my guilt. Richard has always been there for me—he was the one I turned to when Mom died—and he’s always believed in me. In my potential. And now I feel like I’ve let him down.

He doesn’t say anything at first, just looks at me sadly and points to the chair at the other side of the desk. I don’t want to sit down because I’m really not in the mood for a lecture. My head pounds and I feel sick. This isn’t just a normal hangover, this is worse. Far worse. But he points to the chair again and the sadness in his eyes compels me to obey.

He still doesn’t say anything; he just sits across the desk from me, his fingers steepled under his chin, leaning forward with his weight on his elbows, looking me up and down sadly. An eternity passes and still he doesn’t speak. I’m quiet too, because what is there for me to say? Does he want me to say I’m sorry? We both know that’s not going to happen, and it would be pointless even if I did. I’m not sorry. I wish it didn’t upset him so much, but I’m not going to stop my partying ways. Cocaine and alcohol have a far stronger hold on me than Richard’s sad expression does.

I want to snap at him, to tell him that if my father was here more often, instead of off making movies in exotic locations all over the world, I might be better behaved, but there’s no point. It’s not Richard’s fault Dad is never home. And while I love him dearly, having Richard’s approval doesn’t make me as happy as partying does.

Finally, he shuffles the papers around on Dad’s desk, burying most of the headlines, clears his throat, and looks me dead in the eye. I squirm. He looks far more serious than I’ve seen him in a long time. He’s got his powerful Hollywood Entertainment Lawyer expression on, and when he looks like that, I know he means business. Not usually with me—I have him very successfully wrapped around my little finger—but in general. Just like my father, Richard is a highly respected man in Hollywood, rich and powerful. Lesser people than I am fall over themselves to be in his presence—for the movie deals he can hook them up with, mostly. My father is a genius with movies, and Richard has contacts everywhere. Plus, he’s in business with my father. Dad is the one on set, and Richard does all the contracts and financial stuff. I think that’s how it works, anyway. I’ve never really paid much attention to either my father’s or Richard’s business affairs.

“Your father is making a movie in New Zealand. I’m finalizing the details for him now.”

I nod politely. Why is he telling me this? Does he think I care? I don’t. I mean, I’m not acting in it, so it doesn’t affect me. And Dad travelling all over the world to make movies isn’t a new thing; he’s been travelling for work for as long as I can remember.

“We’ve cast the starring roles already, but there’s a supporting role for you.”

I swallow hard. “Oooookaaaay.” I draw out the word and my voice rises in pitch at the end, perhaps asking a question: why? I haven’t acted in a movie in years. I used to be a child star, but once I hit my late teens and discovered partying, I’d been fired from set after set. Nobody wants to work with me. And by that, I mean literally nobody. Not actors. Not directors. Not even the makeup artists. I should be ashamed by that, but I’m not.

I raise an eyebrow at Richard. “Won’t that cause a revolt? Dad will have actors walking off his set.” This is not an idle prediction; it’s happened before.

He shakes his head, like he knows something I don’t, and smiles. I don’t like this. I think he’s about to say something I really don’t want to hear.

“No. Filming doesn’t start for a month, but I’m sending you there now to give you plenty of time to sober up.”

The way he says it, so matter-of-factly, like it’s a happening thing and not completely outside the realm of possibility, makes me laugh. It’s short. Sharp. Sardonic. He can’t actually think this harebrained idea of his is going to work. Surely?

“New Zealand is different than here. You won’t have the paparazzi following you, for starters. You’ll be able to recover in relative anonymity.”

I laugh harder. This whole idea is preposterous.

Then Richard gives me a smug smile that I haven’t seen before. “You haven’t even heard the best bit yet,” he tells me, and I freeze. There’s something in his tone that scares me. Like he knows a secret that I’m not going to like, and he’s enjoying every bit of my discomfort.

I hold my breath. Whatever he’s about to say, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to hear it. In fact, I’m almost certain I don’t. But he doesn’t give me a choice.

“I’ve hired you a manager.”

My jaw about hits the floor at the same time the office door opens behind me. I’m too afraid to turn and have a look, but heavy footsteps pique my curiosity. I can’t resist. Richard rises to his feet, and I twist sideways to see a tall, broad-shouldered man reach out to shake his hand.

“Jaxon Herewini,” he says. He’s a giant. His hair is as dark as his suit but there’s the tiniest smattering of grey at his temples. He’s spiked it up with gel a little bit to give the illusion that he’s young and hip, but he’s not. He’s old. Well, older than me, anyway. By a good decade, at least. Actually, he’s probably pushing forty. But damn, he’s handsome. My heart skips a beat when I look at him and it’s hard to drag enough air into my lungs. This man is by far the sexiest I’ve seen in a long time.

I shake my head, trying to comprehend what is happening. Trying to regain control of my traitorous body that’s acting in ways it shouldn’t. I definitely should not be drooling over a man in front of Richard.

But then his words sink in and my blood runs cold. “Hang on. A manager?” It doesn’t matter how good-looking this guy is; if he’s my manager, not just a run-of-the-mill slightly useless bodyguard, I don’t like him.

Richard is still standing, having just shaken Mr. Giant’s hand, and he smiles that same scary, smug smile.

“Yes. A manager. He’s going to be overseeing every aspect of your life for the foreseeable future.”

I open my mouth to say something, but no words come out. I think I’m too shocked to speak. All I can do is sit there in disbelief.

“This cannot be happening,” I mutter.

Mr. Giant steps back into the shadows as Richard sits back down and fixes me with a steely stare, but there’s still sadness in his eyes, too. He’s trying to hide it, but I know what disappointment looks like; I’ve been seeing it for years, written all over his face. I thought I was immune to it. Turns out, I’m not.

“I will no longer stand by and watch you destroy yourself, Jade,” Richard tells me firmly. “Your father and I thought all you needed was time, so we gave it to you. But you’re intent on following the path to self-destruction, and we won’t allow it. Not anymore. So, I’m putting a stop to it. Jaxon will be in charge of you from now on.”

“But,” I interrupt, and Richard holds up his hand to stop me.

“You will be flying out to New Zealand this afternoon. Jaxon will be accompanying you. Everything you do, you will run by him first. He will be responsible for every choice you make. He will be getting you clean, Jade. Clean, sober, healthy, and working again. He will help you find your potential.”

I’d sucked in a huge breath of horror at the first sentence out of Richard’s mouth, and I’d unconsciously held my breath the whole time he talked. Now I let it out in a loud rush and close my eyes, pressing my fingers to my temples. This isn’t real. It can’t be. I’m dreaming, right? I’ll wake up soon. I lean against the big desk that belongs to my father but that Richard is currently occupying, willing myself to wake up from this nightmare. Begging the universe or whatever fates have put me in this awful position to let me go.

“No.” It’s only a whisper, but it echoes how broken I feel inside.

“Yes,” Richard confirms. “Now stand up and meet Jaxon.”

Shakily, I get to my feet. I don’t often obey orders, but right now I’m too shaken to do anything else. I turn, holding both the desk and the back of my chair for support. I don’t trust myself to stand up without hanging on to something. I feel like I’m about to faint from shock.

Deep brown eyes stare back at me. His full lips are straight. His nose is bent, like it’s been broken before. Laughter lines frame his eyes and mouth. Tiny wrinkles furrow his forehead. He wears a suit and tie, but I’m sure that’s a tattoo peeking out the very edge of his shirt collar, on the left side of his neck. His skin is brown. Not like my spray-on tan, but deeper. Darker.

Jaxon extends his hand to me. Tribal tattoos swirl over his wrist, just visible because the sleeve of his shirt rode up with the movement. If this had been anyone else, I’d be swooning right now. I’m a sucker for tattoos. The tattoo ends halfway to his knuckles on the back of his huge hand, still waiting for me to shake. I don’t take it.

“You hired a… a… Neanderthal to take care of me?”

Jaxon frowns. “My people are not Neanderthals, miss. We’re more civilised than you, if recent headlines are anything to go by.”

His voice is deep. Sexy. As I expected. His accent isn’t American.

“So where are you from then?” I’m fully expecting him to tell me he is from Papua New Guinea or Samoa or the depths of Africa somewhere. Where primitive people still live in isolated villages without electricity or any modern conveniences.

“New Zealand.”

“New Zealand has Neanderthals?”

A wry smile plays briefly across his lips. “I’m Māori.”

He obviously realised I wasn’t going to shake his hand because his smile disappears, to be replaced with a stern expression and his hand drops to his side. Somehow, the stern look he’s giving me makes him even sexier. I swallow back the hard lump in my throat blocking my air. I will not fall for this man.

“I don’t need a babysitter,” I declare, but even I can hear the whine in my voice. I’m totally out of my depth. I’ve never faced a situation even remotely like this before and I have no idea what to do. I don’t know how to fight against this, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to stand here and take it, to let my life be turned upside down. I’ve got places to go, people to see, things to buy, a reputation to maintain. I’m staying right here in the Hollywood Hills. I’m certainly not going halfway around the world on Richard’s whim. And even if I was going to, I definitely wouldn’t be going today. I fix him with a bored stare. “Are we done here? I’ve got things to do.”

I turn, fully intending to walk out of here and get on with my day, but the solid, sexy mountain of a man Richard hired blocks my way. I try to move around him, but he sidesteps, blocking me.

“Get out of my way,” I snarl, but he ignores me, trapping me very effectively in the office without even touching me. He doesn’t need to. He’s huge, and he’s between me and the door. There’s literally nowhere for me to go. I could try barging my way through him, but even I’m not that stupid.

“Sit down, Jade,” Richard says softly, but he says it as more of a suggestion than an order, so I ignore him. I probably would have ignored him anyway, if I’m honest, but it’s much easier to ignore him when he phrases his commands like an option instead of a requirement.

“Sit down,” he repeats, a bit more forcefully this time, and Mr. Giant is still right there blocking me, so I sigh loudly, exaggeratedly, letting it be known that I am deeply unhappy about this, and I flop down into the chair.

Chapter Two

Jaxon

“You’re on a fast track to jail, Jade. There’s only so much the lawyers can do. You fly out this afternoon. I’m sorry, my love, but you’ve left me with no other option.”

“No!” Jade yells, leaping to her feet. “No! I’m not going!”

“I’m afraid you don’t have a choice.”

“You cannot make me do this!”

She spins on her sexy red heels, presumably intending to storm out of the office, so I shift slightly, using my body to block her way. Without even slowing down, she ploughs into me, using her shoulder to try to barge past, but I’m not giving in. No, this young lady is not getting the better of me. In me, she has definitely met her match.

“Get out of my way!” she screeches, her voice high-pitched and whiny. Grating, like fingernails on a blackboard. She tries to duck under me, but I grab her, blocking her way with my body and taking hold of her upper arms, restraining her easily.

“Sit down,” I command.

“Let go of me!” she screams, fighting against my grip. I tighten it. “Get your hands off me!”

She kicks out at me, probably aiming for my balls but narrowly missing my shin instead. I don’t even have to dodge her, her foot misses its mark all by itself, and this serves to infuriate her further. She glares at me ferociously, like it’s my fault she can’t aim, and tries again to wrench her body out of my grasp. I don’t let her go. Not now that I have her so nicely contained. It seems that she might be learning who holds the balance of power here.

“Richard!” she yells, tears brimming in her eyes and her voice high-pitched in fury. “Make this brute let go of me!”

Richard sighs. “Sit down, Jade.” He sounds tired. Tired and sad.

Not surprisingly, she doesn’t sit down. I get the impression that obedience is not one of her personal qualities. If I had to guess, I’d say she’s been using her status and beauty to get what she wants for years. Unfortunately for her, I’m swayed by neither looks nor money. I bend down so my mouth is close to her ear. “Do as you’re told,” I growl.

“No! You’re not the boss of me!”

She increases her struggles, twisting and writhing and tugging, but I’m not letting her go. Instead, I get right up close to her face, tugging on her arm to pull her closer. Our faces are mere inches apart, and I fix her with my steeliest glare. Looks like I was wrong; she hasn’t quite learned yet. But she will.

“On the contrary, little girl. Richard has hired me to oversee all aspects of your life. That includes curbing your atrocious behaviour. Now sit down and listen to him. Unless you’d like to find out what happens to naughty little girls?” I use my sternest voice and raise one eyebrow, hoping this will be enough to warn her that I mean business.

It’s not.

“Fuck off.”

As quick as a flash, I transfer my grip from her upper arm to the back of her neck and press her down over the big desk, her cheek smooshed into the newspapers, giving her a very close-up view of her very unflattering images. Photographic proof of just how far she’s fallen. Evidence that she truly does need a handler. The newspaper her face is buried in muffles her scream, but her frantic struggling lets me know in no uncertain terms that she’s very unhappy with being in this position.

Drawing my hand back, I crack it hard against her ass. If I have to use childish discipline to get through to her, I will. I whack her again, even harder this time, and the loud crack echoes around the office and bounces off the walls. Her defiant scream of protest is every bit as loud.

I hold her still and wait. Is she going to accept her punishment, apologise, and do as she’s told?

Clearly not. She pushes up against my hand, using her whole body weight, and kicks out at me, probably aiming for my nuts once again but missing me completely by miles. I do have to admire her tenacity. Lesser women than she would have ceded to my authority by now.

“No, little girl, this is not how it works,” I growl, landing three fast, hard slaps to the back of her thigh, one on top of the other to intensify the pain.

“Richard! Make him stop!”

It’s obvious she’s hurting—her voice is filled with pain. But not just pain, there’s something else there, too. Desperation? There’s a definite pleading tone in her cry.

It’s interesting how she calls out to Richard to save her, rather than asking me for mercy directly. Ideally, I want her to accept my authority, but that’s probably asking a bit much, a bit too soon. So I smack her again, an upwards swing with the full weight of my arm behind my hand, catching her low on the underside of both buttocks, the force of it jolting her forward, shifting her face further into the newspapers on the desk. They should serve as a reminder of why she’s in this humiliating position, getting her butt spanked. But they don’t seem to.

“Owww!” she yells, twisting against me. I tighten my grip on the back of her neck. “Ow! Let me up, you brute! Fuck you!”

That does it. In just those few words, this has gone from a warning to behave to a full-on punishment. She needs to learn, right now, that language like that, especially directed at me, will not be tolerated. I need to show her that I mean business. I land two viciously hard punishment-strength smacks right across the fullest part of her backside and she puts her head down, hiding her face, and whimpers.

Across the desk, Richard stands up. I can’t read his expression. He’s not angry, per se, but he’s obviously not happy about the turn of events. More than anything, I think he looks sad. He holds up his hand. “That’s enough.”

I don’t think it is—I don’t think it’s anywhere near enough—but out of respect for the man paying my salary, I immediately let go of his spoilt brat of a charge and step back. The second I do, she turns to run.

“Jade!” Richard’s voice is sharper than I’ve ever heard it before, and it brings her up short. “Sit down.”

“But…”

“Sit,” I growl. With a bit of luck, she’ll be too scared to disobey.

The wince on her face is unmistakeable as she slowly lowers herself in the chair, her arms taut on the armrests, taking much of her weight.

“Good, you’re learning.” I know she wants to turn around and slap my smirk off my face. It’s written all over her body language. But, sensibly, she doesn’t. Instead, she ignores me completely and fiddles with the corner of one of the bits of newspaper hanging over the edge of the desk.

Across the desk, Richard sighs. “Your father has spoiled you, girl. We both did.”

Jade doesn’t respond, but a flicker of acknowledgement passes quickly across her face. Obviously, she’s not under any delusions there. That’s one good thing, at least. People who can’t see that they’re spoiled are the hardest to train.

“And that was a mistake.” Richard sounds even sadder now than he did when he first hired me, and he sounded plenty sad then.

“You’ve got no discipline. No structure. No job.” He pauses, like he’s waiting for Jade to argue, but she doesn’t. “Starting today, that changes.” He pauses again, but she still doesn’t object. Hmmm. Maybe I spanked her harder than I thought. Either that or her attitude is far easier to adjust than I was expecting it to be.

“Letting you have access to your earnings at such a young age was a mistake,” Richard continues. “You blew all your own money long ago, Jade. Now you’re spending your father’s. It’s about time you learned to stand on your own two feet. Jaxon will help you.”

“Fine,” she snaps. “Can I go now? Places to go, people to see and all that.” She waves her hand airily and gets to her feet, trying hard to give the impression that she’s got far more important things to be doing and really doesn’t care about Richard’s orders. But I can see her trembling. It’s only her pride that is holding her together right now. She cares, all right. Even if she is doing her best to hide it.

But Richard shakes his head. “No, Jade, you may not go. I don’t think you heard me when I said you’re flying out to New Zealand this afternoon. You don’t have time to go anywhere or do anything or see anyone.”

Her horrified gasp is audible. She’s clearly not used to Richard enforcing his authority. “No. I’m not…”

“Yes.” Richard interrupts her. “You’re under your father’s financial care, so you’re subject to his conditions. Those conditions are Jaxon, and New Zealand.”

I don’t hear it, but I see her throat move when she gulps. I’m assuming she’s not used to her father being so determined. She should be, though. It’s not like he got to be this successful by being a total pushover. He’s obviously decisive and stubborn when he wants to be. It’s a crying shame he wasn’t more decisive with Jade when she was younger. If he had been, maybe I wouldn’t be standing here awkwardly now, behind the stunning, infuriating girl whose ass I just smacked. The ass my palm is itching to smack again.

“I’ll leave his care then,” Jade whispers furiously, her voice cracking. “I’ll get a job!”

Across the desk, Richard smiles. “That’s what we hope for you, my love. But that’s not going to happen here, is it? Right now, nobody in Hollywood will touch you. You got fired from the last three sets you were on. You’ve got no work ethic, you do too many drugs, drink too much alcohol. Jaxon is going to stop all that.”

I’m going to give it my best shot, I think wryly. But I absolutely am not making any guarantees. I might know how to handle brats, but Jade Owens is a brat of the highest order, and that’s being generous.

“I’m not addicted,” Jade insists quietly, and I stifle my scoff. She may not be addicted to cocaine—or even alcohol, for that matter—but she’s clearly addicted to something. Drama, maybe? Attention?

“I just like to use them occasionally!” she clarifies, a bit sheepishly, I think.

“Yes.” Richard nods. “But that occasional use”—he put air quotes around the word occasional—“is interfering with your ability to work and act like a normal, responsible adult. That’s why your dad’s got you a role in his movie. You can’t get fired because he’s the boss, and you’ve got a month before filming starts to get yourself clean and your life back on track. Have a holiday, do some sightseeing.”

Still refusing to be beaten, Jade lifts her chin proudly and meets Richard’s stern gaze. I admire her spirit. She’s nothing if not stubborn. Sergeant Lance would call it fortitude, but he always was given to optimism.

“And if I don’t want to?”

“I’m afraid you don’t have a choice.” Richard sounds so final, as though this whole thing is a done deal and whether or not Jade wants to go along with it is irrelevant.

“Of course I do!” she scoffs. “I’m twenty-two years old! I’m not a little child! You can’t tell me what to do anymore!”

I don’t even try to hide my smirk. Her utter indignance makes her voice rise in pitch so she sounds young and bratty, exactly the same age as the little child she’s adamant she’s not. It’s cute. Or it would be, if I didn’t have to curb it.

Richard leans back in his chair and crosses his arms over his chest before fixing Jade with a stern stare. “If you refuse my intervention, you’re on your own. I’ve already talked to your father and cut off your credit cards. Jaxon has a card to take care of all your needs, but if you walk out of here, you leave with nothing. Your father will not support you any longer.”

This will be interesting. My smirk widens. It’s obvious Jade thinks he’s bluffing. I watch, my arms folded casually across my chest, as they stare at each other across the desk. An entire conversation seems to happen between them, held with nothing more than looks. A conversation I’m not privy to.

Jade slinks back in her seat. It appears that Richard has won. I would wager that this is the only argument with Jade he’s ever won in his life.

“Do my cards not work at all?” she asks pathetically.

“No.”

“But what about shopping? My beauty treatments? My nails? My hair?” Her whining grates on my last nerve. Do women bring out that specific tone specially to make us cave?

“Jaxon will take care of all that,” Richard assures her. “They do have shops in New Zealand. And restaurants. I’m sure they even have beauty parlours.” He smiles, and I’m not sure if he’s amused or mocking. Both, probably. The man clearly has a sense of humour, because this has to be hard for him.

“You’ll have to behave yourself if you want to avail yourself of them though,” I announce, quite enjoying the showdown. “So far you don’t seem to be very good at that.”

Instantly, she turns to glare at me. “Nobody asked you,” she snarls.

I wink. “I’m the one with the credit card.”

“I haven’t said I’m going yet,” she reminds me furiously.

I just shrug. It’s really no skin off my nose whether she comes or not. If this job doesn’t work out, there will be more. But I can’t resist baiting her. The asshole within me sometimes just begs to get out. Although, if I’m honest, there’s a tiny little part of me that will be sad if she somehow manages to bring Richard around to her way of thinking. There’s something about the feisty brat in front of me that I’m attracted to.

“You will.” Even to my own ears, I sound like an asshole. I really need to work on that.

Panic flashes briefly across her face. The aftereffects of too much partying, too much alcohol and cocaine? Or just the thought of flying to New Zealand with me?

She leans forward against the desk and puts her head in her hands while Richard opens one of the drawers of the huge mahogany desk before tossing a slim plastic folder onto the newspapers in front of her.

“Your ticket.”

Jade looks up. “What happened to Dad’s private jet?”

Richard frowns. “Nothing happened to it.”

“But I can’t use it?”

He shakes his head. “No.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’re flying commercial. I think it will do you good to be treated like a normal person instead of a Hollywood princess.”

Richard’s description is apt. Very apt. It’s just as well she doesn’t turn in her chair to look at me right now because she’d probably slap me if she did. The grin of approval on my face is a mile wide. But it fades somewhat as Jade sinks back into her chair, totally defeated. I might be an asshole, but even I can have compassion for someone who is clearly confused and hurting. She really should have been given discipline long before this. As amusing as this is, it’s really unfair on her.

“You just want to punish me,” she whispers dejectedly.

Richard doesn’t answer.

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