He had summoned her. She’d known he would find out – he had eyes and ears everywhere but it never stopped her from disobeying him. It was all part of the plan to get what she wanted.
Stumbling down the dark corridor of the underground London club towards his office, she barely registered her stupidity. Determination and too much alcohol were getting in the way. She had a loving family at home, people who treasured and loved her, made her feel wanted and valued. She knew deep down that there was no good reason to be exposing her body and mind to this sordid, seedy underworld. Yet she did it again tonight. And she’d do it again tomorrow night.
Her stomach turned as she approached the door to his office, her alcohol-drenched brain only barely functioning enough to make her hand lift and take the handle of the door. On a little hiccup and another stagger in her ridiculous stilettos, she fell into William’s office.
He was a handsome man in his late thirties, with a head of thick hair that was beginning to grey at his temples, giving him a distinguished salt-and-pepper fleck that matched his distinguished suits. His square jaw was harsh, but his smile friendly when he chose to flash it, which wasn’t very often. His male clients never saw that smile. William chose to maintain the hard front that made all men quiver when in his presence. But for his girls, his eyes always sparkled and his face was always soft and reassuring. She didn’t understand it and she didn’t try to. She just knew that she needed him. And she knew that William had developed a fondness for her, too. She used that weakness against him. The hard businessman’s heart was soft for all his girls, but for her, it was complete mush.
William looked to the door as she stumbled through, raising his hand and halting the serious talk coming from a tall, mean-looking type standing over his desk. One of his rules was to always knock and await instruction to enter, but she never did and William never reprimanded her. ‘We’ll continue this soon,’ he said, dismissing his associate, who left without delay or protest, shutting the door quietly behind him.
William stood, straightening his jacket while stepping out from behind his huge desk. Even through her alcohol-induced fog, she could see the concern on his face with perfect clarity. She could also see a hint of irritation. He approached her carefully, cautiously, as if he was worried she’d bolt, and gently took her arm. He placed her in one of the quilted leather chairs opposite his desk, then poured himself a Scotch and handed her some iced water before taking a seat.
She didn’t feel scared in the presence of this powerful man, even in such a vulnerable state. Bizarrely, she always felt safe. He’d do anything for his girls, including castrate any man who overstepped the mark. He had specific rules, and no man in his right mind dared break those rules. It was more than their life was worth. She’d seen the result and it wasn’t pretty.
‘I told you no more,’ William said, trying to sound cross, but he only achieved a tone drenched with sympathy.
‘If you don’t set them up for me, I’ll find them myself,’ she slurred, her drunkenness injecting some spunk into her small frame. She threw her bag onto his desk in front of him, but William ignored her lack of respect and pushed it back toward her.
‘Do you need money? I’ll give you money. I don’t want you in this world any more.’
‘That’s not your decision,’ she countered fearlessly, knowing damn well what she was doing. His straight lips and the darkening of his grey eyes told her she was succeeding. She was forcing his hand.
‘You’re seventeen years old. You have your whole life ahead of you.’ He stood and made his way around his desk, sitting on the edge in front of her. ‘You lied to me about your age, you’ve broken endless rules, and now you refuse to let me put your life back together.’ He took her chin and lifted her defiant face to his. ‘You’ve disrespected me and, worst of all, yourself.’
She had no answer to that. She’d misled him, tricked him, just to get close to him. ‘I’m sorry,’ she mumbled quietly, breaking free of his hold to take a long swig of her water. She didn’t know what else to say and even if she could find the words, it would never be good enough. She knew William’s compassion for her could tarnish the respect he’d earned in this underworld business, and her refusal to let him fix her situation – a situation he felt responsible for – was only risking that reputation further.
He knelt in front of her, his big palms resting on her bare legs. ‘Which one of my clients broke my rules this time?’
She shrugged, not willing to share the name of the man she’d tempted into bed. She knew William had warned them all to stay away from her. She had misled him as much as William. ‘It doesn’t matter.’ She wanted William to be angry at her continued disrespect, but he remained calm.
‘You won’t find what you’re looking for.’ William felt like a bastard delivering such harsh words. He knew what she wanted. ‘I can’t look after you,’ he said quietly, pulling down the hem of her short dress.
‘I know,’ she whispered.
William took a long, tired breath. He knew she didn’t belong in his world. He didn’t even know if he belonged any more. He’d never let compassion interfere with business, never put himself in situations that could ruin his well-respected standing, yet this young female had stamped all over that claim. It was those sapphire eyes. He never let sentiment get in the way of business either – he couldn’t afford to – but this time he’d failed.