I’m barely settled into my chair when an instant message comes through. It’s from Cesare. All it says is:
Why the hell does my stomach drop then twist painfully? Is it about me giving my notice? It has to be—he can’t know, not so soon. I look to Hannah, who is engrossed in the report she’s writing, doing that mumbling thing she does as she’s typing. Heart pounding, I push up from my chair then make my way to Cesare’s office. I knock, I hear him say come in. My palm is sweating as I turn the knob then push the door open. He’s leaning back in his chair. For the first time in what feels like forever his eyes are meeting mine. They give nothing away.
“Have a seat, Ms. Jeffries.” He gestures to the chair in front of his desk.
Slowly, I sink to the edge of the chair. “Do you need something?” I feel it now: a heady satisfaction surrounds him. He smiles, it’s blinding, it’s scary. The hair on the back of my neck goes up.
“Maybe I should be asking you that. Do you need something, Ms. Jeffries? Was there a difficulty in your personal life?” Oh god, my heart stutters. “It must have been an enormous difficulty to run into twenty-five thousand dollars. I take it the matter has been resolved?” His tone is of concern, of solicitation, with just the faintest twinge of sarcasm. I don’t respond. I can’t. “The matter has been resolved, has it not?” I don’t move an inch. “Ms. Jeffries, I asked you a question. The reason why you needed twenty-five thousand dollars, has it been resolved?”
I nod, just once. I hate the tears that pour out of me as I blink. It’s clear he’s not happy about them either. “Ms. Jeffries, this isn’t a speeding ticket where you’ll get away with a warning if you turn on the waterworks. You stole twenty-five thousand dollars from my company, from me.”
“I gave it back. I only needed it to make a trade. I can pay you interest if you want it.” The words come out of me before I can swallow them. “Bethany was being blackmailed. If I didn’t pay fifty thousand dollars her entire future, everything she worked so hard for was going to get flushed down the toilet by a malicious brat.”
His eyes narrow. “You made a trade with that money? Are you crazy? In this volatile market, you could have lost everything.”
I shake my head. “I’ve made this trade three years running every quarter and it’s never gone against me. Your twenty-five thousand was safe—I made even more this time around. I’m sorry, I’m already quitting. Isn’t that enough?” I plead.
He cocks his head as he studies me. His eyes run over me slowly, so very slowly. It’s back, the heat I haven’t felt in so long, burning me from the inside out. “No, it’s not enough, not nearly enough. I’m going to need twenty-five thousand dollars’ worth of recompense in the form of you.” A plain manila folder is pushed toward me. “Option one: I pick up the phone and make a call to the police and give them that file that details every step of your removal of funds, unapproved, into your grandmother’s account. Or option two: You agree to give yourself to me when I want you, how I want you, as often as I want you.”
This is supposed to be humiliating, I’m almost sure of it. Yet, his words cause a rush of wet heat to flood my core. What is the matter with me? Lydia’s words come rushing back to me as I fight not to fall on my knees screaming option two, a thousand times option two. Cesare needs to feel like he has the power, he needs to be in control. I had already told him I wanted him, would take him whatever way he was wanted me. Yet as a virgin, somehow I had the power of obligation over him; now he has the power all over again. Forcing a deep breath, I meet his eyes, glowing with fierce hunger. “What if I don’t meet your usual standards? With my lack of experience and everything?”
“Let me worry about that. All I need from you is a willingness to please. I’ll take care of the rest.”
Hell yes, I’m willing. God, I’m such a slut. I nod, too embarrassed to meet his eyes. “Okay.”
“Okay, what?” I swear he purrs the words like the tiger Dante once compared him to. I’ve caught a tiger by the tail—now what the hell do I do with him? No sudden movements flashes as a shiver runs up my spine.
“I’m yours, any way you want me.” A dark eyebrow goes up. “As often as you want me. I belong to you.”
“You’ll withdraw your letter of resignation. I’ll deal with Dante. At noon you’ll leave early, to go home and get packed. Movers will be at your home at two. Pack everything you will need for the next twenty-five days. You’ll be living with me in order for you to be within easy reach to fulfill the whenever I want you, as often as I want you portion of the agreement.”
Living with him? I get to keep my job too? “I have a dog. I can’t leave him at home.”
He sighs then shrugs. “Bring the dog. He won’t be sleeping in the bed. I’m not willing to share my bed with a dog.”
I shake my head. “Me either, he sleeps in his own bed at the foot of the bed on the floor. Um, how long am I keeping my job for? The twenty-five days or…” I’m almost afraid to ask the question, yet I need to know.
“For now, the twenty-five days. I’ll look into moving you into another position, where you don’t have access to money, maybe as an admin in our legal department.” He says the last drily. I fight not to blush and lose.
“I’m sorry, you don’t know how sorry I am. I have never so much as taken a penny from one of those take a penny leave a penny things. But this was for my sister, and I can’t say I wouldn’t do it again.” I shrug. “It was her whole world at stake—hers seemed more important than my own at the time.”
He’s quiet for so long, I can’t take it anymore and look up to meet his eyes. We connect and he sees into my soul. Every secret I have ever had he knows, every lie I’ve ever told is revealed to him. “For the next twenty-five days, I’m your whole world.”