I clutch the envelope to my chest, shifting in front of the door a moment before I open it. Just a few inches. And there’s my mother smiling back at me.
All at once, I feel utterly ridiculous.
This is my mother, the woman who raised me. I’ve lived with her for eighteen years. We’ve had our ups and downs but there is no reason to feel so nervous. Maybe it’s the pregnancy already causing my stomach to act up?
I push the door open wider and step outside.
Her smile disappears.
There’s a second car. One I didn’t see before. A silver Rolls Royce parked farther down the driveway, the engine still running.
Something cold presses to the side of my head. “Don’t make a sound,” says a man’s familiar voice.
Oh God. My mother…she’s not alone. There’s a tall imposing figure that was standing just out of view. Without turning my head, I swing my eyes in that direction. And I find Winston Creed smiling at me, smug and collected. Well used to aiming guns.
“Why…what do you want?” I whisper, my entire body beginning to tremble. “Mom, why are you with him?”
To her credit—I guess?—my mother does seem kind of sheepish. But not sheepish enough, apparently, since she has no issue grabbing the money and plane ticket out of my hands, her mouth moving as she flips through the bills, counting it. “I’m sorry, Maisy. He offered me money if I could bring you to him. He’s been camped outside the apartment for days, but you never showed. So when you called, I had to take the opportunity.”
My mind struggles to play catch up. “I…I don’t understand,” I say, trying my best to remain calm. “What do you want with me, Mr. Creed?”
I hear rather than see him lick his lips. “The men are demanding a repeat performance. They’re willing to pay through the nose for a chance to be your leading man this time. Seven figures a pop.” My skin crawls and I know he’s checking me out, right there in front of my mother. My mother who just sold me out. “You made quite an impression, little lady.”
“What’s he talking about, Maisy?” my mother asks, fanning herself with the plane ticket.
Indignation clogs my vocal passages, making my words sound strangled. “You brought him here without even knowing what he wanted from me?”
“He offered a lot of money,” my mother explains, though she looks nervous now. “What does he mean…repeat performance?”
I close my eyes. “I accidentally ended up at one of his sex parties last Friday and…I had no choice to participate. It’s a long story. One I thought was going to end happy.” When I open my eyes, the image of my mother is blurred through an onslaught of tears. “I can’t believe you would do this to me. How can you be so greedy?”
My mother opens her mouth to respond, but Winston interrupts. “Get in the car, Miss Whitaker. The men are so worked up for a taste, they’re willing to break protocol and have a meeting in the middle of a weekday. Hasn’t happened in decades.” He trails the gun down the side of my face. “I plan to test the goods myself once I’ve made my money on it.”
Acid fires up my throat and I almost hurl on the steps.
“You can’t just kidnap me,” I gasp. “You can’t j-just—”
“I can do whatever the fuck I want. If you decide to talk, it’ll be the word of a social-climbing teenager versus the most powerful men in the state. Men who regularly donate to law enforcement and line the pockets of judges.” He gives me a little push off the steps. “Now get that high-priced piece of ass in my car.”
“Jack is going to find me.” I turn toward the house, frantically searching for a member of the staff. “Help!”
That is the last word out of my mouth before a rag soaked in something foul is clapped over my mouth and I vanish into unconsciousness.
I went a little overboard on the diamonds.
The floor of the limousine is a collection of little blue bags tied with white bows. Necklaces, bracelets, earrings. A tiara—couldn’t help it. There’s an engagement ring the size of fucking Montana in my pocket and I’m dying to get home and slip it onto her finger.
Legitimately. Without being coerced.
I can’t believe it.
This girl I marveled over from afar for months, gut sick over not being worthy enough to touch her…she was already planted in my heart. Forever. But then she found a way to dig into the deepest chamber, expose me, teach me things about myself I never would have known. Redeem me. For so long, I’ve operated under the belief that I’m an unlovable son of a bitch, but if Maisy wants to be with me, I must not be all that bad. And I’m going to get better. I’m going to learn what makes her so good, so forgiving, and apply it to my own actions.