Suddenly - Ella Vos
Unravel Me - Sabrina Claudio
All Night - Kristin
Down In Flames - Ella Vos
Breathe Me - Sia
Rise Up - Andra Day
The frigid December air hit me as soon as I stepped out of my parents sleek black limo. When my black stilettos hit the ground, I felt the effects of the negative degree weather wrap around my body and caress my skin.
Lights were flashing in my eyes as the sound of my name echoed through the streets of Manhattan. It only made me wish even more that I was at home, snuggled underneath a warm blanket, sipping on my favorite wine with my best friend.
Standing not too far in front me were my parents, Carla and Mike Witham.
My mother with her fire-red hair and her petite frame looked even more dainty underneath Mikes large stocky build. She fit right into his side like a glove, their bodies connected at the hip.
The two were a powerhouse in the publishing industry, building their company from the ground up. Their tenacity and sheer determination was the reason they were here today. An event gala to discuss the new publishing house they established in Paris.
I hated attending these events, simply because it was boring and it was always the same bullshit. Nothing ever seemed to interest me and everyone continuously talked about how excited they were for me to take over some day. I was quite adamant that I wasn’t going to, but it was like nobody listened or even cared about how I felt.
I wasn’t interested in books, I was more interested in people.
But not these kind of people. It irritated me when all people wanted was to line their pockets, it didn’t make sense to me. I knew money was an important aspect of life, but I felt like some people put too much importance on something so trivial, when there were more important things to be dealt with like world hunger and poverty.
“Riley, look over here!”Someone shouted from my right side.
Photographers and reporters continued to shout my name as I made my way down the red carpet. I blew them all a kiss, my red lips pursed as the lights flashed. The sparkling silver Ralph Lauren I had decided to wear drug across the carpet. It hugged my curvy body perfectly and accentuated my already large breasts. I knew perfectly well how to enhance parts of my body so that I looked desirable. It was a trait I so easily grasped from my mother.
She was so beautiful, men always fell to her feet. They wanted her attention, regardless of whether it was negative or not. I aspired to be that kind of beautiful at a young age. I was well aware that it wasn’t healthy, but I wanted it, and by god I was going to have it. So when I hit puberty and I was graced with a body women would envy and men would salivate over, I wasn’t going to complain. I used it to my advantage, regardless of how shallow or vain that might make me.
I entered the event not far behind my parents and made a bee-line for the bar.
I'm going to need some liquid courage if I'm going to make it through the night, I thought as I approached the bar in the far left corner at rapid speed.
"Scotch, on the rocks please." I said as I leaned up against the sleek dark wood.
"Wow." A deep voice said from down the bar.
A man with ash blond hair was seated at the far end of the bar, his gray suit tailored to him perfectly. He peered down at me, his icy blue eyes raked over my appearance.
The bartender handed me my drink and I took a sip. I closed my eyes as I savored the feeling as the cool drink slid down my throat and warmed up my stomach. “Wow what?” I questioned as I locked eyes with the man in front of me. His exquisite eyes were met with a sharp jaw and thin lips. He was beautiful to look at, so it was easy for me to keep my eyes trained on his.
"I just didn't take you for a girl who liked hard liquor." He said as he swirled what was left in his cup.
"I'm full of many surprises." I replied with a slight smile. I took another sip of my drink, making sure that he was watching as I swallowed the scotch.
The man turned to me and gave me a sly smile as he stood up from his seat at the bar. Even in my heels, the man stood quite taller than I was. But, I was fairly short, so it didn’t take much to tower over my five feet.
"Care to fill me in on some of those?" He asked as his eyes scanned up and down my body.
"If I did, I'd have to kill you." I winked as I downed the rest of my drink and slammed it on the bar.
I abruptly turned and walked away from the obscure man. I made sure to sway my hips back and forth so that he would be staring at my behind the entire time. I made a mental note to search this man out after the event was over so we could do a little more than just talk. I wasn’t one to pass up on a one night stand with a handsome gentleman, and he looked exactly like my type.
After I was out of sight, I searched for my parents. They were seated at their reserved table, discussing business with an older gentleman I didn’t recognize.
I never made it a habit to learn the names of people important to my parents work life. It seemed irrelevant to me. The only person I ever got along with and knew well was my parents assistant, Gary.
As I approached the table, my mother gave me a quick disapproving look, and indication of a discussion we would be having after the event was over. I sighed internally, knowing that my mother was going to get on my case about drinking. I was twenty-three, it was perfectly fine for me to have a drink or two.
When I took my seat the lights began to dim and the chatter slowly came to a halt. As the event started, a noise rung out amongst the crowd. It bounced off the walls and sounded sort of like firecrackers. I could see the confusion on not only my parents face, but the rest of the guests as well.
Suddenly, screams echoed through the event hall. Chairs were being pushed and the sound of feet hitting the floor became more and more louder the more people got up from their tables.
Although I had no idea what was going on, I instantly shot up from where I was seated.
"Mom, Dad." I grabbed my mother who was sitting next to me and was reaching for my father when the noise rung out again.
It was a sight unlike anything I had ever seen before. My father’s body jolted and then fell limp across the table. The white linen cloth turned red as the blood squirted out of the wound that now occupied a space on his back and his chest.
"No!" The blood curdling scream ripped from my mothers mouth.
It was like time slowed down for a minute and I was unable to comprehend what was really happening. I just stood still as chaos moved around me in slow motion. The memories of my father flashed before me, all the birthdays, Christmases, thanksgivings, everything. The feeling of all of that being ripped from me was so unbearable it was torture. My heart pounded in my chest, I felt that, but everything else went numb.
Another gun shot rung out through the crowd and it jolted me back to reality. My mother had run to my father and was shaking his lifeless body, her eyes were filled with tears. I ran over to her and yanked her shoulder.
"Mom!" I yelled as I violently shook her. "Mom!"
My mother turned to face me, the mascara and eyeliner she had put on just a mere two hours ago was running down her face in black streaks.
"He's gone." I said as calmly as possible. "We have to get out of here."
I didn’t wait for her response, I just grabbed her arm and left my father behind.
We weaved through the crowd and towards the nearest exit. It didn’t matter to me that I was shoving people out of my way. I had already lost my father, I wasn’t going to lose my mother too.
As soon as I was about to make my way through the front doors, the man from the bar stepped out in front of me. He looked different somehow.
“What are you doing?” I yelled as I tried to shove past him. “Get the fuck out of my way!”I gripped my mothers hand tight as I stared into the mans eyes.
"Did you miss me?" He said as he waved a gun in front of my face. His eyes turned sinister, like he was possessed by something demonic. There was no trace of sanity in his eyes, he just looked menacing.
The reality of what was going on hit me like a ton of bricks. This man was here specifically to kill me and my family. The realization that I was going to die was so surreal. I didn’t expect to die that day, had I known I would have done things differently.
People always say, live like you were going to die tomorrow, but what if you die today? Does it still count?
"Why?" was all I could ask before I heard one shot, then two, then nothing.
I woke to the sounds of a heart monitor beeping in rhythm. My eye sight was fuzzy and my entire body ached from head to toe. There was multiple cords hooked up to various parts of my body that made it nearly impossible for me to move.
"Whats-?" I said groggily.
"Oh thank god." I heard my best friend Jamie say with relief.
Jamie jumped up from her seat next to my bed and engulfed me in a hug that made me wince.
"Sorry." Jamie said as she continued to hug me.
"What's going on?" I said. My mouth was extremely dry and I could barely talk. My throat was scratchy and it was killing me. I pointed to a glass of water that was sitting on a eating tray next to my bed. “Water.” I croaked.
"You don't remember?" Jamie said as she handed me the glass.
In that moment, the events of the last night I remembered flashed in front of me. The glass of water slid through my fingers and hit the ground with a thud, the water spilled everywhere.
I turned and gave my friend a dumbfounded look. "My mom? Dad?"
Jamie didn't have to say anything, I could see it in her eyes.
It felt like the life was sucked out of me, like someone ripped my heart out and stomped all over it. My whole body clenched as the sobs ripped from my throat and echoed through my hospital room.
It was like my entire world stopped turning that day, and I wish it had stayed that way.
“I don’t care!” I shouted into the phone. I ran a hand through my long auburn hair and set my other hand on my hip as I listened to Gary on the other end. “Just get it done, whatever you have to do, do it.” I huffed as I slammed the phone into the receiver.
I turned to Jamie who was sitting in the tan plush chair across from my unusually large desk. This desk would have suited my father, but it just made me look even more tiny than I already was.
Jamie scanned my face and gave me a disappointed look, something she knew I hated the most.
"Don't look at me like that." I said as I plopped down into my seat.
"You need to calm down Riles." Jamie spoke with a soothing yet firm tone.
I knew I was being harsh, but it was the only way anyone would take me serious. After my parents passed away, someone had to take over and I refused to let it be anyone but me. But since I lacked the expertise and the knowledge, everyone thought I wouldn’t be able to fill my parents shoes.
It honestly didn’t matter to me that I was unprepared for the job or that I really had no idea what I was doing, I was going to make it work no matter what. It’s what my parents would have wanted.
"I am calm." I replied, my brows creased in frustration.
"It doesn't sound like it." Jamie shifted in her seat, her blonde hair falling over the back of the chair. "Tell me what happened."
I gave a tired sigh and opened the drawer on my desk. I flipped through a few files and then pulled out a manila folder and dropped it onto the surface. I opened it up and handed Jamie a thick manuscript. "I had Gary go out and meet with a prospective client, Mr. Andersen. Apparently, he also has an offer from Yale Publishing that is causing him to be weary of my offer. He is very good, and if I were able to get him to sign with Witham Publishing, it would greatly increase my credibility."
Jamie skimmed through the manuscript and then set it back on the desk. "He is good. What are you going to do about it?" She asked as she folded her hands in her lap.
I stared into my best friends bright blue eyes and felt lost. I was used to that feeling now.
"I don't have a clue." I replied defeated.
"Yes you do." Jamie sat straight and reached across the desk and grabbed my hands. "You are capable of doing this. I know you can, so tell me. What are you going to do?"
Jamie’s persistent faith in me pushed me to keep going. If I didn’t have her by my side, I would have gave up a long time ago. It was already too much seeing my employee’s giving me the sympathetic look every time I held a meeting, or the quiet whispers that happened when I left a room and everyone thought I couldn’t hear. It was overwhelming and hard, but Jamie kept me grounded and kept pushing me forward. I loved her for that.
"I can offer to meet him myself? I think if I was able to make it more personal he might be persuaded to pick us instead." I shrugged my shoulders.
Jamie shook her head with enthusiasm. "That sounds great. You should do it."
I released my best friends hands and then grabbed my cell phone off my desk. I placed a quick call to Gary instructing him to contact Mr. Richard Andersen and set up a meeting at a local café. I would meet him and convince him that I was the only reasonable choice and then I would be set. Yet, the more I thought about it, the more nervous it made me. I could feel my body tremble as I talked to Gary. My mind was running a thousand miles a second with different scenarios, none of them ended in a good way.
After what happened to my parents, I didn’t go out anymore unless I was accompanied by my friends or security. I never found out why Brock Wagner wanted me and my parents dead, but I didn’t ask too many questions either. I didn’t attend his trial or get up on the stand and testify. So many people thought that was cowardly of me, but I couldn’t force myself to do it. It was too hard.
I figured I’d be more comfortable if my security team escorted me, so I typed out a quick text to Pete, the head of security and a long time family friend.
I stood from my desk and gave my friend a triumphant look.
"You got this Riles." Jamie said as she watched me grab my things and exit my office.
When Pete pulled up to Georgie's, a small bakery-cafe located in the heart of Manhattan, my heart started to pound.
"Would you like me to come in with you, Ma'am?" Pete asked from the front seat. His hazel eyes scanned my face.
"No, I'll be fine. Thank you." I gave him a tight smile as he stepped out of the car and walked around to my door to let me out.
I gave him an appreciate smile as I slid my hand in his and he helped me out of the SUV. I could see all the woman passing by stare at Pete as he closed the door behind me. I couldn’t blame them, Pete really was a good looking man. He was tall and muscular, his biceps filled out the white t-shirt he was wearing and the tattoo’s that decorated his forearms made him look dangerous and mysterious. His dark black hair was cut short and helped emphasize is heart-shaped face and sharp nose. There was once a time when I was extremely attracted to Pete, but nothing ever came of it and it slowly subsided.
The sounds of Manhattan would be overwhelming to foreign ears, but to me it was soothing. The sound of traffic mixed in with people talking on their cell phones was unlike anything else but it was home, it was happiness and I loved it.
I gathered myself and walked into Georgie’s without a backward glance. The sounds of Manhattan were now replaced with Adele softly singing in the background. The smell of freshly brewed coffee and muffins wrapped around me and caressed the delicate spot in my nose.
I quickly scanned through the crowd and came across a man that resembled the description Gary had given me of Mr. Andersen. I held my head high and walked towards him, the sounds of my heels clicking on the linoleum kept my mind from running places it shouldn’t be. I tried to exude as much confidence as possible, something that came so easily to me months ago but was now a difficult task.
When I stopped directly in front of the man, he looked up at me and gave a shy smile. “You must be Ms. Witham.” Mr. Andersen stood up from his seat and extended his hand towards me. His dark brown eyes looked me over as I grabbed his large hand and gave him a firm hand-shake.
"It's great to meet you Mr. Andersen." I said as I pulled out a chair and took a seat. I grabbed his manila folder from my purse and then set it on the table. I opened it and sifted through the papers until I came upon the proposition. "I understand you have some discrepancies. I'd love to discuss them with you and come to a conclusion we both can be satisfied with."
"That would be great Ms. Witham, but I'd like wait for Mr. Yale to arrive." He said with a knowing smile.
I felt like I was just smacked in the gut. I was more than prepared to meet with Mr. Andersen, even though it took me quite a bit of courage and a pep talk, I did it. I wasn’t prepared for this, however. I didn’t plan on bartering over Mr. Andersen with a man who clearly knew more about this business than I did.
I had heard of Mr. Alexander Yale numerous times, but I was unaware of how big a role he played in my parents lives until I took over. At twenty-eight, Alexander Yale had amassed a publishing company that was the second largest in the world, right behind my parents. That explained the competition he had with my parents.
I had seen him in magazines and he's been on the top 10 bachelors list five years in a row. He was New York’s most eligible bachelor, yet I couldn’t really understand why. Despite his good looks, he was a pompous asshole with a god-complex. There was nothing appealing about that.
It wasn’t until he walked into Georgie’s that I knew why. His chocolate brown hair and caramel brown eyes were met with a jaw-line so sharp it could cut metal and a nose shaped like that of Adonis. His high cheek bones and thick eyebrows reminded me of model, someone who belonged on the cover of magazines. His three-piece Armani suit was tailored perfectly to his toned body, the top button of his white dress shirt was left open, just giving me a glimpse of what he looked like underneath. I quivered with excitement, the overwhelming need to run my fingers across the smooth skin was almost too hard to control. His strong broad shoulders filled out the suit jacket it ways that made my insides heat up. The sleeves of his jacket were rolled up to reveal his olive colored skin and a dust of dark brown hair across his forearms.
He captivated the entire room. As soon as he walked in, it was like every female went quiet as they watched him make his way over towards me and Mr. Andersen. He had a presence about him that was unlike anything I had ever seen before. He exuded confidence and control, his steps seemed calculated and were executed with a precision so delicate it was almost angel-like.
Only then could I understand why women dropped to their feet for him, regardless of his reputation as a playboy. Even I was wondering what he would look like underneath all of those clothes, even though he looked pretty damn good with them on.
"Mr. Andersen." He said as stopped in front of our small table in the corner of the cafe. His voice was deep and cultured, like he had been around the world more than once. He then turned his gaze on me and burned a hole right through me. "You must be Ms. Witham." He extended his hand and I put my hand in his.
His strong hands engulfed mine as we stared into each other. It was like he could see right through me.
I was at a loss for words so I just nodded my head. He released my hand and grabbed an empty chair from the nearest table. He pulled it up to our table and sat right next to me.
His scent wafted under my nose, a smell of cologne and something else, musk maybe. I suddenly felt aware of every part of my body as the warmth of his closeness became more apparent.
"Okay." I finally said as I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. "Let's get down to business." My voice came out as barely a whisper as both of them looked at me.
The feel of Alexander’s eyes grazing over my body made me all that more nervous. I had chose to wear something a little more form fitting today, so I knew that I looked good, but now it was out of the ordinary for me to dress that way, and I was wishing I hadn’t gone with something so revealing.
"Well." Mr. Andersen said as he cleared his throat. "I think both of you are great choices for me. I'm just having trouble choosing because both of you have offered me something worthwhile. While Mr. Yale has offered me more money, Ms. Witham has offered complete autonomy."
"I would be willing to give you more money if that would please you." I said calmly as I tried to ignore the sharp gaze from the man beside me. "What would you like?"
"Fifteen-thousand upfront, fifteen-thousand after it's published."
I sat quiet, my brain tried to wrap around the amount of money he was truly asking for. "That's quite a bit." I replied.
"It's what Mr. Yale has offered me."
I turned to look at Alexander, a sly smirk plastered on his face. Arrogant bastard.
"Then I will oblige."
Two can play this game.
"Mr. Yale, is there anything you'd like to say?" Mr. Andersen and I turned to Alexander.
I tried to focus on some kind of blemish, something to distract me from his beauty, but I couldn't find anything. He really was perfect. His plump lips pursed at the question.
"We've already discussed, Mr. Andersen. I already told you that I can't give you complete autonomy like you'd like. It just isn't possible." He replied.
I creased my eyebrows in confusion, why wouldn’t he be able to? It's a simple request, and I was sure that if he agreed to it, Mr. Andersen would settle with him instead of me.
"Then I will have to decline your gracious offer."
I could feel the excitement bubble in my stomach, but it was also tinged with frustration. It felt like Alexander didn't put up a good enough fight, like he just handed him over to me. I knew I had won, but it felt like I didn't.
"I appreciate your consideration." Alexander stood from his seat and put the chair back at the table he took it from. "It was nice meeting you." He turned his gaze on me and extended his hand. I placed my hand in his and he brought it up to his face and placed a light feather kiss right in the center of my palm.
When his lips brushed my hand, it sent an electric current through my body and caused me to shiver uncontrollably. He released my hand and gave me a smile so sexy, it nearly made me combust on spot. He turned to walk out, snagging the looks of all the female patrons all over again. I watched as he exited the building and got into his car and drove off.
I finally turned to Mr. Andersen and gave an apologetic smile. "I guess I will be re-writing your proposition then." I said shakily. "I'll have it faxed to you, how does that sound?"
"Sounds perfect." Mr. Andersen said as he pulled his lips into a tight smile.