His for a price(7)

By: Caitlin Crews

“You know very well that you did not do anything remotely like your best,” he said evenly, with only the faintest hint of old tempers and half-remembered harsh words in his voice. “You made it your business to shame your father. I would say you shamed your family name, but we both know your brother had that well in hand. How a great man like your father managed to raise two such useless, ungrateful, overly entitled children remains one of life’s greatest mysteries.”

Chase was right. Her father might have agreed with Nicodemus while he’d lived, but Mattie couldn’t let herself live down to those low expectations any longer. She could smell the leather again, feel the heat of the South African sun. Then the screech—

“Almost everyone is useless, ungrateful and overly entitled in their early twenties,” she told him, forcing herself to face him, to hold that judgmental gaze of his, and not try to jerk out of his hold. She suspected he wouldn’t let go, and then what? “The trick is not remaining any of those things.”

“Some of us had far more serious things to do in our early twenties, Mattie. Like survive.”

So pompous. So full of himself. But better that than he know anything real or true about her. That was the only way she was going to make it through this.

“Yes, Nicodemus,” she said with an exaggerated sweetness he couldn’t mistake for anything but sarcasm. “You’re a self-made man, as you’re the first to point out at every opportunity. Alas, we can’t all be you.”

His fingers flexed against her arm and she hated the arrow of fire that shot from that faintest contact straight into her sex. She hated that her body had never cared how dangerous this man was, no matter how panicked her brain might be.

He’d proposed again when she’d been twenty-four.

Mattie had been dancing for hours in a dress that was really more of a wicked suggestion with a few cleverly placed straps, a cheeky selection for a night out in London. Then she’d walked outside the club to find him waiting there at the private, paparazzi-free back entrance, leaning up against a muscular little sports car parked illegally in the alley with his arms folded over his powerful chest.

For a moment, Nicodemus had only stared at her, his mouth a sardonic curve and his dark, honeyed gaze alight with a fire that did not bode well for her.

But Mattie hadn’t been a teenager anymore, so she’d dug out a cigarette and lit it as if his presence didn’t bother her at all. Then she’d blown out a stream of smoke into the cool night air, like it was a defensive weapon she could use against him.

“Why bother with those pointless scraps of fabric at all?” he’d asked her, his voice a scrape against the night and a scrape straight down the middle of her, as if his words had their own claws. “Why not simply walk around naked?”

“It’s cute that you think it’s your business what I wear,” she’d said with deliberate nonchalance. As if he’d bored her. She’d wished, not for the first time, that he had.

Nicodemus’s gaze had slammed into her then, making her feel hollow. Dizzy. As drunk and as dangerously out of control as she’d been trying to remain during these blurry, pointless, post-collegiate years. It had reminded her who and what he was. Harshly.

“Oh,” he’d said dangerously. “It’s my business, Mattie. It’s all my business. All the men you let touch you. All the nights you flaunt that body of yours for the world to see. The courtesan’s ring in your belly you show off every time you let them photograph you in various states of undress. That tattoo I warned you not to put on your body. Those filthy cigarettes you use to pollute yourself. Believe me, it’s my business.”

He’d straightened from his obnoxiously hot car while he spoke, and then he’d stood over her, one of the few men she knew who was taller than she was despite her dramatic heels, and she’d told herself she hated the way he made her feel—that shivery, panicky, out of control fire that had burned through her when his dark eyes had fixed on her.

He could take everything, she’d thought then. He could take all of her and she’d be lost, and then what happened when he discovered the truth? What happened when this fire was gone and there was nothing between them but the awful truth of what she’d made happen?

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