By: Ella James



There’s a window unit humming in the office, and that’s all the sound in the world as I try to straighten out my clothes. My shirt is pushed almost over my head, and my bra is shoved above my breasts, pushing them down and out, as if they’re on display for him. My skirt is jacked up past my belly button. I tug it down to my hips and put my bra and blouse to rights. My panties lie on the cement floor, a slip of red silk he just…annihilated.

My hands shake as I bend to pick it up.

He’s leaning on the desk, just watching me. My jaw tenses and I can feel pressure build behind my eyes when I remember that night, so long ago, at the house party. The way he brought me a cloth.

I move to tuck the thong into my bra, and he steps to me, snatching it away before I even pull the neckline of my blouse down.

“Mine,” he says flatly.

I think I may hate this—the way my eyes widen, the way I swallow whatever I might normally say and just let him have it. It isn’t that I want to submit to him so much as I just can’t seem to form coherent thoughts here in this little room. He fills it way too thoroughly.

Up and down, my gaze flits over him. I’m like a computer program trained to map this man’s body. I note a thick scar on the back of his right hand, a fresh, pink lightning-bolt-shaped scar just underneath his jaw. His face is different. Well, of course. I can see every change, because it’s been years since he’s appeared in a magazine or on TV.

By any account, he’s gotten even more handsome. Harsher, yes, but also more filled out: his cheekbones higher, lips more rapt, his eyes darker, more cunning. His hair is shorter now, nothing to tug.

In his black pants and shirt, he looks like the grim reaper. Not the Hollywood kind. Everything about him has turned realer. I can feel it.

I press my lips together and try my best to turn off my feelings. If I don’t, I’m afraid I’ll cry.

“I don’t know if I can do this.” Why? Because despite the way he man-handled me, my body is still craving his. Part of me wants to push my skirt up again, lie down on the cold floor, and let him fuck me until I can’t see straight. But the other part of me—the emotional part? That part wants to run.

“You just did,” he says. “You bought him a reprieve of one day.”

I lose my battle with my tears. They fill my eyes and threaten to streak down my cheeks. How did you get like this? I want to ask, but it’s a stupid question. Prison: that’s how.

He blinks, and I can’t stand how beautiful he is, how wrong he is in this setting. How wrong it is that he just hurt Holt. Maybe Holt did cheat him. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned Holt isn’t the perfect “Dad” I used to think he was. But that doesn’t erase the wrongness of what Cal—Ricardo—Beast did to him just now.

“I really don’t know you at all, do I?”

“Of course you don’t. Why would you?”

I swallow and avert my eyes. Just because that night was pivotal for me doesn’t mean he should remember me.

I manage to blink away my tears. I wrap my arms around myself and get the nerve to look at him again. “What are the terms of this?” My voice is soft. My gaze on him is ginger. Because he kind of hurts my eyes.

“Whatever I say they are. Every day, for three hours.”

I shake my head. “I can’t.” I have such an easy, safe way out. “I have to find a job.”

“This is your job.”

“No, I mean I really have to get a job. I have…bills.”

He turns around and plucks a pen and a sticky note from the desk. He props the pad of yellow Post-Its in one big palm and looks up at me. “What’s your bank account number?”

I laugh—just a little bit, despite myself. “You think I know that?”

He arches one dark brow. “No?”

“Not right off.” I move my arm to dig into my purse, then realize I didn’t bring it with me. I turn a slow circle. There’s my brown leather clutch, on the floor by the door. I scoop it up and pull out the business card that has my bank account number written on the back.

I cup it in my hand and look back up at him. “What are you going to do with it? I mean…exactly?”

“I’m going to put money in it, Angel.”

I bite my lip and try to think of how to get my point across without coming out and saying that I’m broke. “I need to be sure it’s enough. For me to…do this. And not find another job where I’ll be treated better.” I can feel my cheeks heat a little, and it makes me feel ridiculous. Why does he affect me this way? If I feel this way every time I come here, I’m going to get broken.

“I’m not a hooker, you know. I care about my dad, but I’m not having sex any time you ask me to. I’m not that kind of person.”

He closes the distance between us with supernatural-seeming speed. His hands are on my face, bringing my eyes level with his. And his are blazing.

“What kind of person aren’t you, Angel? The kind of person who fucks without a thought? Who spends half of the day flat on her back, being pounded to oblivion? Or is it me? You’re not the kind of person who fucks someone like me?”

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