His for Revenge(6)

By: Caitlin Crews

He eyed her for a moment, then eyed the bottle. “Half.”

“Ah.” She nodded. “I thought you might be drunk.”

“Why aren’t you?” he asked, not caring that the dark rasp in his voice gave away far too many of the things he needed to keep hidden.

“Sadly, that wasn’t on the list of options I was given when I woke up this morning and was informed Ariella had flown the coop.” Her impossibly golden eyes gleamed with something almost painful Chase didn’t want to understand, but her voice was still perfectly cheerful. It didn’t make any sense. “I had to fight for a single cup of coffee in all the panic and blame. Asking for something alcoholic would have started a war.”

He felt something very much like ashamed again, and he didn’t like it. It hadn’t occurred to him that she might find this marriage as unlikely and unpleasant a prospect as he did, and he didn’t know why something in him wanted to argue the point. Like it made any difference who wanted what. They were both stuck now, weren’t they? Just as her father had intended.

And it didn’t matter to him which Elliott sister was stuck with him in Amos’s handiwork. It made no difference to his plans. No matter what Zara’s mouth did to his peace of mind.

Chase decided he didn’t particularly care for any of these thoughts and took another long pull from the whiskey bottle instead. Oblivion was the only place he truly enjoyed these days. He’d considered permanently relocating there, in fact. How hard would it be to lose himself entirely in this or that bottle?

But he never did it, no matter how many nights he’d tried. Because the fact remained: the only thing he had left of his father, of his parents and his family legacy, was Whitaker Industries. He couldn’t let it fall entirely into Amos Elliott’s greedy hands. He’d already compromised and merged companies with the man his father had considered a better son to him than Chase had ever been. He couldn’t sell it now. He couldn’t step aside.

He couldn’t do anything but this.

Chase took another drink from the bottle, long and hard.

“Where is your sister?” he asked, with what he thought was remarkable calm, under the circumstances.

Those golden eyes cooled considerably. “That’s an excellent question.”

“But you don’t know?” He let his gaze track over that face of hers, her pale skin blending into the white veil that billowed around her, reminding him of a bird’s plumage. He found he was fascinated by the fact her voice remained the same, so unassailably polite, no matter what her gaze told him. Her mouth bothered him, he decided. It was too full. Too soft and tempting. Especially when she smiled. “That’s your position?”

“Chase,” she said, then hesitated. “Can I call you that? Or do you require that your arranged brides address you in a different way?”

He let out a short laugh, which shocked the hell out him. “Chase is fine.”

“Chase,” she said again, more firmly, and he had the strangest sensation then. Like this was a different time and there truly was an intimacy to the use of proper names. Or maybe it was just the way she said it; the way it sounded in that mouth of hers. “If I knew where Ariella was, I wouldn’t have shoehorned myself into this dress and married you in front of three hundred of my father’s closest friends, neighbors and business associates.” She smiled at him, though those impossible eyes were shot through with temper then, and he understood that was where the truth of this woman was. Not in her practiced smiles or her remarkably cheery voice, but in her eyes. Gold like the sunset and as honest. “If I knew where she was I would have gone and found her and dragged her to the church myself. She is, after all, the Elliott sister who agreed to marry you. Not me.”

He watched her mildly enough over his whiskey bottle, and noted the precise moment she realized she’d devolved into something like a rant. That telltale color stole over her cheeks, and he watched it sweep over the rest of her, down her neck and to parts hidden in all that explosive white. He found he was fascinated anew.

“No offense taken,” he said, forestalling the apology he could see forming on her lips. “I didn’t want to marry either one of you. Your father demanded it.”

“As a condition of his agreement to back you and your new COO, yes,” she said. “Your new brother-in-law, if I’m not mistaken?”

“Nicodemus Stathis and I have merged our companies,” Chase said, as thinly and emotionlessly as he could. “And our families, as seems to be going around this season. My sister tells me she’s blissfully happy.” He wondered if Zara could see what a lie that was, if that was what the slight tilt to her head meant. If she knew, somehow, how little he and his younger sister Mattie had talked at all in the long years since they’d lost their mother, much less lately. He shoved on. “Your father is the only remaining thorn in my side. You—this—is nothing more than a thorn-removal procedure.”

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