24 Two Deals

1597 Words
“It doesn’t matter,” Howard said, tightening his grip around her waist. “Let’s go.” “No, I want to know,” she insisted. “What deal are you backing out of?” A long, tense silence filled the room. Her aunt and cousin smiled like cats that had eaten a canary and her uncle scuffed his loafers against the carpet. Howard’s face was emotionless as always, but his entire body was tense beside her. “What deal?” she repeated. Howard swallowed hard, “Your uncle and I made a deal a few months ago. He claims he upheld his end, but only technically.” Understanding filled her with a horrible sinking feeling. Her stomach dropped and her head spun. She wasn’t sure how she knew, but she knew. “I was the deal, wasn’t I?” she asked calmly. No one answered, but the guilt on their faces was answer enough. Her heart hammered as she looked between their faces. Slowly, everything began to make sense: the strange and sudden proposal, the rushed wedding, her aunt and uncle’s weird insistence that it happened. Of course, she knew that people often arranged marriages for financial gain, but this wasn’t an ordinary consensual arrangement—it was a cold business deal. Her voice shook as she said, “Just wondering, how much was I worth to you? How much did you sell me for?” “I didn’t sell you—” Lawson began. “One billion,” Howard said. Acidic bile rose in her throat. Without thinking she jerked away from Howard’s grasp and charged up the stairs, running the same familiar path she’d traveled during her teenage temper tantrums. She raced into her old bedroom and slammed and locked the door before collapsing onto the bed. Her body shook but her eyes stayed dry. She’d managed to escape Noah, only to find herself married to a man who bought and sold women like some sort of medieval slave trader. A part of her had hoped that maybe Howard cared for her, that the tour of his stables and the concern about her health and the gentleness in his eyes meant something. She shook her head—she’d been stupid to believe that. She was just an object to him. She dragged herself off the slightly dusty bedspread and began to pace the room. As she walked, she thought about her situation. She had already suspected that Howard was a controlling, jealous monster—was it really so much worse that he thought he could buy women? Despair gripped her, twisting her lungs and insides together. Somehow, it was much worse. She crossed the room and stared at herself in her old mirror. She had to get away from him—there was no telling what a man like him would do. She gazed at her reflection, wondering how the young woman in the mirror could look so calm when everything was such a mess. Absent mindedly, she smoothed her rumpled hair and squared her shoulders. She would get away from him, but not before she took back everything that was rightfully hers. She crossed the room and pressed her ear to the door. Muffled voices rose up the stairs from the dining room and she held her breath to listen. “Well the cat’s out of the bag now,” her uncle said. “So I don’t see any reason to change the terms or conditions. You can’t deny that—” “I said no,” Howard said. “We’re family,” her uncle continued. “And this is a family business. You heard how passionate our Izzy is about it.” “I heard quite a lot from her,” Howard said, a warning note in his voice. Melanie’s voice rose louder and shriller than the others, “Everyone is understandably emotional, but let’s sit down and talk through this calmly. We have some lovely cigars that just got in from Cuba and some fine Scotch my husband has been waiting to break into.” “No,” Howard said. “My wife and I are leaving.” The conversation fell silent and Isabel heard footsteps on the stairs. She jumped as someone pounded on the door with enough force to shake it in its frame. “Come on, we’re leaving,” Howard shouted. “One second,” she called. “Just gathering a few things. I’ll meet you downstairs.” She opened her jewelry box and found nothing but cheap silver and gold pieces. She rolled her eyes—of course Melanie and Janet had picked through her jewelry the second she left the house. She slammed the box shut and grabbed her laptop from the drawer in her desk. Another knock sounded at the door. “I said I’d meet you downstairs,” she shouted. “Please, Izzy,” her aunt’s voice called. “Let me in.” Reluctantly, she stood and unlocked the door. Her aunt crept into the room and then gently closed the door behind her. “What do you want?” Isabel asked. “I want to talk to you,” her aunt said. “I know things have been complicated, and sometimes your uncle and I have failed, but we always had your best interests at heart. We love you and tried to do what was best for you every step of the way.” “Oh spare me,” Isabel said. “What do you want?” “I want you to help us,” her aunt said. “We need Howard’s investment or the company will fail. Maybe you can convince him to stick to the deal.” “Why would I do that?” she asked. “Because you care about the company,” her aunt said. “It’s your father’s legacy, after all. I know you don’t want to see it fail.” “What’s in it for me?” Isabel asked. “Let’s say I persuaded Howard to invest, what would happen next? Uncle has already driven the company to the brink of collapse once, how do I know he won’t do it again?” “What happened with the company was beyond his control,” her aunt said. “A stupid girl like you can’t possibly understand the way the market works.” She pretended to consider her aunt’s words, “No, but I can understand the way he works.” “What does that mean?” her aunt asked. “It means I want insurance,” she said. “If I’m going to stick my neck out and convince Howard, I want to get something out of it. And spare me the sob story about my dad’s legacy. Uncle has already destroyed that. I want money—now, not later. And I want a college education.” “You know we can’t give you what you’re asking for,” her aunt said. “Please be reasonable. The family is living on a very tight budget right now.” “Oh yes,” Isabel said dryly. “You only had half the caviar and lobster you normally do at lunch today.” “Don’t be childish,” her aunt snapped. “We had to put on a good façade for Howard.” “Oh and you’re eating instant ramen and canned beans for every other meal?” Isabel asked, thinking of Samuel and Maria. “You people have never worked a day in your life—you’re leeches and you wouldn’t know the first thing about budgeting if it slapped you in the face.” Her aunt clenched her manicured hand into a fist. Isabel watched with detached amusement, wondering if her aunt would actually swing at her. Slowly, her aunt lowered her fist. “I already offered you my credit card,” her aunt said. “It’s all I can do.” “What’s the limit on the card?” she asked. “Three million,” her aunt answered. “That’s it?” Isabel asked. “You want me to arrange a billion dollar deal for you and all you’re offering me is three million?” “It’s all I can offer you right now,” her aunt said. “But once the company turns around, I’ll make sure you get your ten percent.” “Fine,” Isabel said. “And I want you to arrange for me to go to university as well. Surely Uncle can still call in some favors somewhere.” “Of course,” her aunt said. Isabel sighed and opened her hand for the card. It was a weak promise, but it was all she had. Her aunt and uncle both knew she didn’t want to see the company fail. Her aunt held out a platinum card and Isabel grabbed it and slipped it into her pocket. “This is quite the leap of faith for you,” she said with a smile. “How do you know I’ll be able to convince Howard to do what you want?” Her aunt squinted at her, “I know you want to save your father’s company, so I’m sure you’ll find a way. Besides, the man was willing to pay one billion to get you—you might not have to be that creative.” Isabel swallowed the bile that rose to her throat again. She didn’t want to imagine what she’d have to do to persuade Howard to invest the money. The thought of his hands on her body had once sent thrills of excitement shooting through her, but now her stomach churned. She’d done worse things in her last life for Noah, but she’d sworn she’d never live that way again. She turned from her aunt and stuffed the laptop and a few clothing items into a small suitcase. She zipped it shut, pushed past her aunt and headed down the stairs. Howard waited at the bottom, his brows knit in an impatient expression. “Ready?’ he asked her. She nodded and he reached for the suitcase, his cool fingers brushing against the top of her hand. She flinched and let him take the bag before hurrying toward the door. “Come back soon,” Melanie called. She refused to give them the satisfaction of looking over her shoulder. Only when the door car door had clicked shut, did she glance through the heavily tinted window. Her aunt, uncle and cousin stood in front of the house, waving and smiling as if they owned the place. She dug her fingers into her palms and closed her eyes. They would pay. 
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