His for Revenge(7)

By: Caitlin Crews

That was perhaps a bit too harsh, the part of him that wasn’t deep in a fire of whiskey reflected.

“No offense taken,” she said, her voice as merry as his had been cool, though Chase wasn’t certain he’d have apologized, if she’d given him the chance. Or that she wasn’t offended, come to that. “I’m delighted to be of service.”

“I know why Ariella was doing this—or why she said she was all right with it,” Chase said then, bluntly. “She quite likes a hefty bank account and no commentary on how she empties it. Is that a family trait? Are you in this for the money?”

Did he only imagine that she stiffened? “I have my own money, thank you.”

“You mean you have your father’s.” He toasted her with his bottle. “Don’t we all.”

“The only family money I have came from my grandmother, as a matter of fact, though I try not to touch it,” she replied, still smiling, though that warm gold gaze of hers had iced over again, and Chase knew he should hate the fact he noticed. “My father felt that if I wouldn’t follow his wishes to the letter, which involved significantly less school and a lot more friendly games of things like tennis to attract his friends’ sons as potential boyfriends-slash-merger options, I shouldn’t have access to any of his money.”

“Your sister makes defying your father her chief form of entertainment,” Chase said, focusing on that part of what she’d said instead of the rest, because the rest reminded him of the many steps he’d taken to make sure that, while his father might have employed him, Big Bart had never supported him. Not since the day he’d turned eighteen. And he didn’t want that kind of common ground with this woman. “She told me so herself.”

“Yes,” Zara said calmly, her gaze steady on his. “But Ariella is beautiful. Her defiance lands her on the covers of magazines and the arms of wealthy men. My father may find her antics embarrassing, but he views those things as a certain kind of currency. In that respect, I’m broke.”

Chase blinked. “I’m very wealthy,” he pointed out. “In all forms of currency.”

“I didn’t marry you for your money,” she said gently. “I married you because this way, I can always remind my father that I sacrificed myself for him on command. To a wealthy man he wanted to control. Talk about the kind of currency Amos Elliott appreciates.” Her mouth shifted into that smile of hers that did things to him he didn’t like or understand. “He isn’t a very nice man. It’s better to have leverage.”

Chase felt caught in the endless gold of her eyes then, or perhaps it was the near-winter afternoon outside the window that seemed to be some kind of extension of them, the sun brilliant through the stark trees and already too close to the edge of night.

“Are you looking for a nice man, then?” he asked quietly. From somewhere inside himself he hardly recognized.

“It would be difficult for you to be a worse one than my father,” Zara replied in the same tone. “Unless it was your singular purpose in life and even the briefest Google search online makes it clear that you’ve had other things to do.”

Was she being kind to him? Chase couldn’t fathom it. It made something great and gaping hinge open inside of him, too near to all that darkness he knew better than to let out into the light. He knew better than to let anyone see it. He knew what they’d call him if they did. He called himself that and worse every day.

Monster. Murderer.

He had blood on his hands that he could never wash clean, and this woman with eyes like liquid gold and the softest mouth he’d ever touched was being kind to him. On the very day her vicious father had lashed them together in unholy matrimony.

“I sold my own sister into her marriage because it benefited the company. I sold myself today.” His voice was colder than the December weather outside. Colder than what he kept locked inside. And all those things he hid away swelled up in him then. Those memories. Those terrible choices. The day he’d lost his mother on that South African road where he’d made the choice that defined him, the choice that he still couldn’t live with all these years later. To say nothing of the truth about his relationship with the father he felt he still had to prove himself to, even now, when Big Bart Whitaker would never know the difference. “You’ll want to be careful, Zara. I’ll ruin you, too, if you let me.”

She studied him for a moment, and then she smiled, and he didn’t know how he knew that this one was real. Even if it felt like it drew blood.

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