The bar was hundreds of conversations told in loud voices, all of them competing with the loud music playing on the piano.
A sharp smell of alcohol wafted through the warm air, mixed with the scent of perfume and sweat. My empty stomach churned, something distasteful settled in my chest and eventually, crawled up my throat, threatening release. She had signed the papers. It was my turn. I was selling my soul to the devil all in the name of saving the things my parents held dearest. Their company and their freedom.
My hands trembled when I took the pen from the man, my mind was restless, unable to fathom why my father had taken the loan from such a dangerous man. Now I was paying the price. For a second, I felt my soul slip out of my body, I was drained of happiness, and sadness hung over my head like a dark cloud unable to shift. The man glared at me again, the crease in his brows reminding me of the deal. Forty percent shares of my father’s company would be signed off to his niece. It was a lot cheaper than the loan my father had taken from the man four years ago. A hundred million dollars to save our company but all he did was drive it straight to ruins, selling my freedom with it.
I breathed, scribbling my signature on all four sheets. The marriage certificate and the contract of signing over part of my shares. After my father realized he was losing it all, he thought making me the biggest share holder in the Carter-Wright organizations would solve all his problems. Now forty percent of my seventy had been signed over to his niece, making her the largest shareholder. The man needed our company as a front for his dirty businesses and using a union between his niece and I was almost the perfect cover.
“It is nice doing business with you, Mr. Carter.” malicious grin spread across Casimo’s lips. His real name was Rhys Pearce but he was rarely called that. It was just Casimo, the ruthless. An English man with a sad past that now, ruled billion dollar companies with an iron fist. “I bought you two a nice home in Atherton. Consider it as a wedding gift. Adelaide, why don’t you go wait in your husband’s car so he and I can have a little chat.” he added.
Despite the cruelty in her uncle’s sneer, physically, Adelaide was a lovely person. I first saw her on a winter evening. It was a Christmas eve party thrown by my parents three years ago. Thinking about it now, it must have been that evening when my father made a mistake of taking money from this malicious loan shark. The party was overwhelming as expected, I just turned eighteen and a much craved outing with my friends was needed but no, I was stuck with rich business men and women.
I slipped out of the party to our garden and there she was, standing in mom’s flowers, her beautiful skin glistening in the moonlight. Waves of midnight black hair flowed down her back and her pink gown had taken precious time to accentuate her perfect curves. She still smelt of the same pure beauty and innocence but now all the attraction was gone. Just anger. I was filled with anger for her uncle and for her for not resisting this whole sham of a marriage.
She backed off her seat, dressed in a black pants and an oversized crop top with black sneakers.
“Aren’t you going to say goodbye to me, honey?” Casimo stopped her and she rolled her eyes skyward.
“I’ll see you later,” she muttered and kissed his cheek quickly. I watched as she weaved through the crowd of people in the bar and disappeared.
“You know how important your family is to you, Mr. Carter. How you’ve heroically stepped up to pay your father’s debts to save him and your mother from jail?” he talked, slowly cutting his stake with a knife. “I will do worse things for my niece. You have no idea the lengths I will go for her. She’s my little girl, my only family so you can imagine how precious she is to me. If I get any complains, our little partnership will be over. You will pay with blood if I see her cry.”
“I know how to fulfil my end of the deal. Now it’s your turn, leave my family alone.” I practically growled. He gave me a stern look, before nodding.
“You have my word.”
He pulled a paper out of his pocket and slid it to me on the table. “This is the address to your new home. Have a pleasant evening, Mr. Carter.”
I grabbed the sheet and made my way out of the bar. As I got out, I filled my lungs with the autumn air and took my phone out of my pocket. My mother was calling.
“Mom,” I answered.
“Oh sweety. I’ve been so worried.” she panicked. “How did the meeting go?”
“I tried to make him extend the time. I pleaded for a year to pay him back but he didn’t agree. Either I paid the one-fifty million or sign over the company. It’s all gone, ma,” I said, hearing the cracks in my voice. “We’ve lost everything.”
“You did everything you could and I’m so sorry we dragged you into this but your father—”
“Sold my freedom,” I interrupted. “If it was just him going to jail. If he hadn’t put you too in this situation then I would let him rot in prison.”
“Hey!” she began to scold me but I had no regrets. What kind of self-righteous man would put his son’s liberty up for bargain. “I know what he did is inexcusable and I’m not defending him but he’s still your father. At that point, he saw no way out.”
“So he used me and I knew nothing about it. None of you said anything!” Suddenly, my low tone was getting higher and higher. “I graduate from the university only to find out our company is bankrupt, we’re deep in debt and an arranged marriage all planned out for me.”
“I’m so so sorry, Dallas. Your father and I didn’t mean for it to happen this way. We thought we’d be able to pay him back. Forgive me,” she cried.
“Don’t cry.” I sighed.
“Casimo sent some men to our house to pack your things. We couldn’t stop them,” she added, still crying on the phone.
“I’ve to go, I’ll call you later. I love you.”
Without waiting for a reply, I hung up and exhaled. I brushed my fingers through my dark brown hair and pulled the roots with a groan. Casimo didn’t make his intentions clear but I knew exactly what he was planning. Carter-Wright Organizations was bankrupt. Thirteen group of companies spread across the globe had lost it’s funding and to save my company. I married into one of the richest family in the world, making me the gold digger. It was the perfect cover.
I walked to my car and noticed her slouching beside it, her arms folded in front of her chest. She hadn’t said anything the entire evening, and it made it a lot harder to tell if she was enjoying the whole process or was as miserable as I was. I got into the driver’s seat with fire in my belly, unable to keep my mind off the one thing that was taking away my sanity. I was married.
I snapped back to reality when she knocked on the car’s window. The doors were locked and I couldn’t help but think that opening them and letting her in meant letting her into my space. I exhaled again and opened the door. She quickly took her seat in shotgun and her gaze was fixated out the window for the rest of the trip. The ride was filled with an uncomfortable silence, either of us not wanting to engage in a humane conversation. I was hoping that was how the entire time we had to spend together as a couple would be like. I wouldn’t have to deal with my pretentious wife always getting in my way.
I pulled into the driveway of my new home and Adelaide was the first to get out. She drew in a sharp breath as I got out of the car. I saw tears drop off her chin before she brushed her fingers on her cheeks. I looked at her for a while as I took my laptop bag out of the backseat and strapped it on.
We both walked to the porch and seconds flew by as I stood there waiting for her to open the door. She never did. She just stood there with me, her arms still folded, occasionally glancing awkwardly at me.
“Do you have the keys?” sprang from my lips softly and I watched as she looked behind her with her big brown eyes enlarged.
“Are you talking to me?” she asked, genuinely surprised.
“Do you have the keys?” I enquired again.
My gaze filtered around where she stood, wondering how she could be so oblivious to what kind of keys we needed that particular moment.
“The keys to this house we’re currently standing in front of, freezing to death,” I said, in my self-deprecating sarcasm.
“Oh.” she had a brief moment of eureka then shook her head slowly. “No. I thought my uncle gave it to you with the address.”
“Why in the world would he—” I stopped and drew in a breath. “Okay. Call your uncle and tell him he forgot to give us the keys.”
“Okay.” she nodded and took out her phone from her pants’ pocket.
Was this all part of an elaborate plan to get rid of me and keep my family’s company? I notched my left eyebrow up a notch as she rested the phone against her ear.
“Put it on loud speaker.” I demanded.
With confusion etched on her face, she tapped the phone’s screen and cleared her throat.
“Uncle Rhys,” she called.
“What did he do?” Casimo asked, making me roll my eyes.
“Nothing. We forgot the keys to the house. Can you please let one of your guys bring it,” Adelaide said, she gave me a small smile and spun around so I was faced with her back.
“He’s on his way.”
“Thank you. I’ll see you later.” she hung up and turned back to me. “Good news. Someone is bringing us the keys.”
“Hooray!” I grumbled underneath my breath and sighed.
So we both stood and waited, listening to the sounds of our heavy breathing against the raging wind. I dug my cold hands in the pockets of my long jacket and puffed out a breath. Adelaide rubbed her arms countless times and I would be a complete idiot if I offered her my jacket. She had given up on creating warmth with her hands and decided to do something much worse. She hummed the tune of the tubular bells from the horror movie, the exorcist. As if she didn’t notice we were standing in a dead silent neighborhood in the middle of the night. I shut my eyes briefly with a loud exhale and shook my head.
I watched from the corner of my eyes as she wouldn’t take her eyes off me. Perhaps she thought from where she stood, it would be impossible to for me to notice she was staring but I could feel her gaze burning into my skin.
“My parents are dead,” she blurted out and I looked at her. Her lips were parted as if she wanted to say more but didn’t have the right words. “Just so you know,” she whispered.
“Let me tell you something. This isn’t a friendship, not even an acquaintance. This is business so stay the hell out of way and I’ll stay out of yours, do I make myself clear?” I asserted firmly. The headlights from a car shone brightly as it pulled into our driveway but I kept my eyes on her and she kept hers on me.
It took her a second but she nodded as she swallowed. “Yeah. I’m sorry.”
A man I recognized from the bar earlier got out of the car, jiggling the sets of keys in his hand with a wry smile at Adelaide.
“Adele, Casimo apologizes for the delay.”
“Oh it’s fine, Parker. Thanks for bringing the keys.” she took it from him and opened the doors, going inside and turning on the lights.
Everything had that distinctive, brand new smell, including the red oak floorboards that offered a rich reddish color and unique grain to the house. I systematically scanned the place, from the large plasma and white couches in the hall to the large display of a wine casing at the bar down the corner.
“Your uncle wants me to stay here and keep guard. I’ll be outside if you need me.” this Parker bodyguard guy gave Adelaide a warm smile before leaving.
Adelaide was first to go up the stairs and I followed closely behind her into the first room she found. As she opened the closets filled with clothes, I noticed a grey shirt that could have been mine. Eventually, I saw that half of the closet was filled with my clothes. I was too tired to move all of my stuff out of that room so instead, I settled on taking what was needed. Adelaide stepped aside when I approached her. I yanked out the nearest pjs I got my hands on and made it to the door. If Casimo thought I would ever sleep in the same room as his niece, he was out of his mind. Not that he wasn’t already.
“Goodnight!” she said and as response, I slammed the door.
I picked one of the four rooms left down the stairs and after putting my bag on the huge bed, I headed straight to the bathroom. I took my clothes off and stepped into the cold shower, breathing much slower now. Today hadn’t been my best day. I had saved my parents from jail and sold my freedom in return. Hopefully, being married to Adelaide wouldn’t be bad as jail, I mused as a form of comfort. I braced my palms on the tiled walls of the bathroom and lowered my head, water fell from the artistically twisted shower and ran down my body, soothing every inch of me that was sore.
I pulled away from the wall when I heard a soft thud in my room. I turned off the shower to hear another noise.
“Who’s there?” I shouted.
“It’s me, Adele!” she shouted back and I sighed. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“What do you want?” I grabbed a neatly folded towel on the rack and wrapped it around my waist. I stepped out of the shower but refused to get out of the bathroom.
“I was going to order pizza and I was wondering if you’d want anything?”
“No. Get out!”
“Are you sure?” she questioned. “They have everything. If you’re not in the mood for pizza, I can order Chinese or—”
“I said no. Get out!” I insisted.
There was a long silence, then I heard my door slam. I ran my fingers through my wet hair and pulled the roots. Immediately I freed the curls from my fingers, they fell and stuck to my moist skin. I groaned painfully and shook my head, suddenly feeling a headache in my brows. I took another towel and dried my hair as I left the bathroom into room. The towel slipped from my waist and fell to the ground but, I wasn’t nude for much longer. I grabbed my pajama pants from the bed and put it on before unzipping my bag pack and taking my laptop out. I switched on my device and bright colors glared off my eyes.
My stomach growled and I squirmed on the bed to try to silence the rumbling. I looked at the clock on my laptop and realized it was just two minutes past eleven. I had two cups of black coffee in the morning and that was about it for the day. I spent hours on the phone with clients, plausible investors and my parents’ dearest friends, hoping they’d help pay off the debt but eventually, you realize your friends aren’t really your friends. Especially in your time of need. I tried to keep my mind off the hunger for over thirty minutes, going over and over the company’s financial records, trying to figure out where it all went wrong, but my head was preoccupied, my senses invaded by the sweet scent hot pizza; Adele’s pizza must have arrived already. My eyes glazed over as I imagined a large box just waiting out for me but I quickly shook my head and cleared my throat.
I heard the soft susurrations of footsteps outside my door and I straightened on the bed.
“Thank you so much for the pen, Parker,” Adele whispered right after as I pinched the bridge of my nose.
Next, I heard scribbling noises, as if she was writing down something on a hard paper. I got off the bed and slowly made my way to the door, placing my ear gently on the wood frame, hoping to hear her better but what came after that was a knock on the door. On instinct, I grabbed the knob and swung it open, only to catch her in her shorts and spongebob crop top, fleeing away from my door, running as fast as she could up the stairs.
“Freak,” I murmured softly when she slammed her door.
Something caught my eye on the floor, a familiar scent hit my nostrils. At the foot of my door was a large box pizza and next to it lied a an extra large bottle of coke. I leaned down and picked both up then went on to read what she had written on it.
I know this isn’t how most guys imagine their wedding night but just in case you get hungry. Goodnight.
I puffed out a breath, looking at the creepy smiley face she drew. It was definitely not how I imagined my wedding night.