His for a price(2)

By: Caitlin Crews

And what’s left of them—of us. He didn’t say that last part, but he might as well have. It echoed inside of Mattie as if he’d shouted it through a bullhorn, and she heard the rest of it, too. The part where he reminded her who was to blame for losing their mother—but then, he didn’t have to remind her. He’d never had to remind her and he never had. There was no point. There was scarcely a moment in her entire life when she didn’t remind herself.

Still. “This is a major sacrifice, to put it mildly,” she pointed out, because the thoughtless, careless, giddily reckless creature she played in the tabloids would. “I could view this as an opportunity to walk away, instead. Start my life over without having to worry about parental disapproval or the stuffy, disapproving Whitaker Industries shareholders.” She studied her brother’s hard, closed-off expression as if she was a stranger to him, and she blamed herself for that, too. “You could do the same.”

“Yes,” Chase agreed, his voice cool. “But then we’d be the useless creatures Dad already thought we were. I can’t live with that. I don’t think you can, either. And I imagine you knew we had no other options but this before you came here today.”

“You mean before I answered your summons?” Mattie clenched her shaking hands into fists. It was better than tears. Anything was better than tears. Particularly because Chase was right. She couldn’t live with what she’d done twenty years ago; she certainly wouldn’t be able to live with the fallout if she walked away from the ruins of her family now. This was all her fault, in the end. The least she could do was her part to help fix it. “You’ve been back from London for how long?”

Her brother looked wary then. “A week.”

“But you only called when you needed me to sell myself. I’m touched, really.”

“Fine,” Chase said roughly, shoving a hand through his dark hair. “Make me the enemy. It doesn’t change anything.”

“Yes,” she agreed then, feeling ashamed of herself for kicking at him, yet unable to stop. “I knew it before I came here. But that doesn’t mean I’m happy to go gentle into the deep, dark night that is Nicodemus Stathis.”

Chase’s mouth moved in what might have been a smile, had these been happier times. Had either one of them had any choice in this. Had he done much smiling in her direction in the past twenty years. “Make sure you tell him that yourself. I’m sure he’ll find that entertaining.”

“Nicodemus has always found me wildly entertaining,” Mattie said, and it felt better to square her shoulders, to lengthen her spine, as she told that whopper of a lie. It felt better to make her voice brisk and to smooth her palms down the front of the deliberately very black dress she’d worn, to send the message she wished she could, too. “I’m sure if you asked him he’d list that in the top five reasons he’s always insisted he wanted to marry me. That and his fantasy of merging our two corporate kingdoms like some feudal wet dream in which he gets to play lord of the castle with the biggest, longest, thickest—”

She remembered, belatedly, that she was talking to her older brother, who might not be as close to her as she’d like but was nonetheless her older brother, and smiled faintly.

“Share,” she amended. “Of the company. The biggest share.”

“Of course that’s precisely what you meant,” Chase replied drily, but Mattie heard something like an apology in his voice, a kind of sorrow, right underneath what nearly passed for laughter.

Because his hands were tied. Big Bart Whitaker had been an institution unto himself. No one had expected him to simply drop dead four months ago—least of all Bart. There had been no time to prepare. No time to ease Chase from his flashy London VP position into his new role as President and CEO of Whitaker Industries, as had always been Bart’s ultimate intention. No time to allay the fears of the board and the major shareholders, who only knew Chase from what they read about him in all those smirking British tabloids. No time to grieve when there were too many challenges, too many risks, too many enemies.

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