Page 82 of Corrupt Kingdom

“When the flowers bloomed that summer, my mom spoke to me. A woman who hadn’t spoken to me in months spoke. From then on out, I knew the pain was worth it. Let me show you.”

I think about her words for a while and then with reluctance reach out to her. Hand in hand, she leads me to the greenhouse. As soon as I step in, the smell hits me. The smell that reminds me of Sybil.

She’s everywhere in this room. So much so, I feel like I’m suffocating.

“I have to leave,” I say, emotions clogging my lungs.

“Let me help you,” she says, and she hands me the shovel and leads me to a fresh pot filled with dirt.

“This dirt is the beginning of something new. Think of your sister, of all she thought of you, and of how she protected you, and grow something in her honor.”

I close my eyes, afraid to show emotions, but with my eyes closed, I see everything Ivy said I would see.

I see my sister laughing, smiling, living.

Opening my eyes, I dig. I break through the earth, through the pain. I can feel my eyes becoming moist, but I don’t cry. Instead, I live.

* * *

After divulging so much to Ivy, I sequester myself back in my office. It’s not that I said much, but she saw a part of me I have never shown anyone before. It felt like I took a knife, cut my heart open, and bled all over the dirt I planted in.

Feeling vulnerable is not a feeling I like to have, nor is it one I want a repeat performance of. Which leads me to the here and now, sitting behind my desk under the guise of working.

You’re avoiding her.

I’m building my walls back up because I will be useless to her in this state. It’s bad enough that I have yet to come up with a viable plan on how to bring the asshole down.

My fingers drum on the wood surface of my desk. The one thing I know is I have to be smart about it. He won’t come out for just anything. He’s heavily guarded at all times.

It’s not something I can’t do, but it’s not ideal.

My thoughts are cut off by the sound of footsteps, I look up to see Ivy leaning in the doorframe.

“Penny for your thoughts.” She smiles.

“There isn’t enough money in the world to tell you some of the terrors, I think.”

Her smile fades, turning into a thin and tight line. “What can I do to help you?”

“Take my mind off things.” Before she can object, I motion to the chessboard. “Play me?”

“Okay.” Her voice is low.

The board is set up, and I let her go first. She’s gotten better. Her moves are calculated, and analytical. She’s no longer thinking in the present, she’s steps ahead. She maneuvers her pieces around the board as if she were playing for years, the way I would have if I were her.

When it’s my turn, my brain is not here, I’m far off, thinking of what the future will be. But that’s my demise, because my mistake will be her win.

Again, it’s her turn, and I follow, but it’s too late for me.

“Check,” she says, surprising me yet again.

The thing to remember is even acting on the best plan can bring a negative outcome. I thought I knew the right move, but in the end, Ivy backed me into a corner.

It reminds of taking Ivy. At the time, I thought I saw five steps ahead, but I could never anticipate how I would feel for her down the line, how much I would want to protect her. She might have been the pawn, but the more I know her, the more I see her as much more.

She’s the queen.

* * *

An hour later, she’s gone to garden and I’m picking up my phone, Z answers. “You ready for the boat?” I can hear the bite in his voice. He’s not happy.

He doesn’t understand why I’m dragging my feet. Why I haven’t solved shit yet.

Good thing I’m the boss, so he really doesn’t have to understand.

“Not yet.”

“It’s time, boss.”

“Oh, so you do remember who’s boss?”

He’s silent, and I think he might cut his losses and not push his agenda. I know he has one. It’s not much different from mine. We all have our own, but ours just run in the same direction. It’s actually how Z came to be my employee.

“We going to use the girl?” he asks.

The idea of using Ivy doesn’t sit well with me. Not after everything. She makes me feel too much, and while a part of me hates that she has opened up this part of me that I’ve wanted closed, I’m not willing to risk her.

“No,” I answer.

“It’s a solid plan to lure him in. He’s keeping her for himself . . .”