Caris stepped into the front door of her family’s estate and grimaced distastefully. The house was garish and pretentious, and she had hated living there for the short time she had, as a child. The place even had its own ballroom and it made Caris cringe at the tackiness of it all just walking in. It even smelled like her wealthy family, plastic and sterile.
When she had purchased her own place, her mother had sobbed, cried, and begged her to buy something in the same neighborhood. What Aileen Walker wanted Aileen Walker got. Thankfully, the interior of her own house was vastly different from this monstrosity of ostentatious opulence.
Her face never lost its grimace as she took in her mother floating gracefully in her direction. From the look on Aileen’s face, she was irritated, and normal women would have stomped, but Aileen Walker was grace and elegance and so she merely slid along the floor in tiny steps and even her heels made no sound. Considering Caris knew she grew up in a trailer park, the transformation of her mother over twenty years had been staggering.
“Where have you been? Dang it, Caris, you look like hell.” She leaned in and sniffed at her, recoiling in disgust. “You didn’t shower?”
“You called me half an hour ago and demanded I get here now. I was in my garden. I made a forty-minute walk in,” she glanced at her Fit Bit, “twenty-six minutes.”
“You could have driven the five minutes, Caris. This is important.”
“Mother, an emergency on your part isn’t necessarily the same emergency on mine.” She rolled her eyes as her mother dragged her down the hall towards her stepfather’s home office. “Why does Garth need me anyway? I’m a defense lawyer not a corporate lawyer and he’s too tightly wound to have ever done anything even remotely illegal.”
Her mother spun and looked at her, her bleached eyebrows furrowed, “Garth is a good man.”
“Yes, he is.” Caris agreed with her. The man was allegedly a god damned saint and he and Caris had butted heads since he had married her mother when she was barely eight years old. His need for things to be just so, perfect with no flaws and the desire for a child to obey rules to the letter had never melded with her free-spirited heart. Secretly, she was convinced he was scheming and horrible and boiled newts in his basement. Nobody was as pure as he claimed to be.
Her mother reached up, lifted a wiry tendril, and made a face which set Caris’ teeth on edge. “You could have at least straightened your hair.” She sighed, “you should go see my hairdresser and have her tone it down for you.”
“I’m sorry my hair is so offensive,” she slapped her mother’s hand away while noting her mother’s perfect platinum blonde hair didn’t have a single strand out of place. “Anything else you want to shred me on before we enter the throne room?”
“Stop being so antagonistic.”
“You’re the one who called me on a Saturday morning, which, by the way, is my first one where I’m not in the office in a month, and demanded my presence.”
Her mother gave an impatient shriek, not a sound to usually escape Aileen’s lips, and then yanked her arm again and hauled her towards the office. She unceremoniously pushed Caris through the door.
Caris stood just beyond the threshold and immediately felt her stomach drop at the sight in front of her. Garth was sitting behind his desk in the position he used when he was trying to intimidate someone. She’d seen it too many times to count and it never ended in something good for her.
Her younger sister Maris was seated like a tiny wallflower version of her mother in a corner of a leather sofa. Her mother had loved giving them rhyming names, but they were so different in personality and looks it was nearly a joke. Her sister was sweet, polite, and rarely spoke even when spoken to due to incapacitating social phobias. Maris was as tall as Caris but willowy, with pale blonde hair and bright blue eyes and a face as innocent as she was. She wasn’t stupid, but she had zero common sense, never had to do anything for herself and, at eighteen years old, she’d rarely left the confines of her home. Caris loved her desperately, but the girl was trapped under her parents’ thumbs. She was sure if her parents weren’t in her way, Maris Walker had the potential to be amazing.
Then there was Killian Young. Killian was the son of Garth’s best friend and business partner, who had been killed in a car accident when Killian was a teenager. Garth had taken him under his wing and had been the father Killian had needed when his was no longer around. Caris felt annoyance rise in her chest. Another one of Garth’s pet projects, but Killian had enjoyed being taught the ropes of running corporate America. In this room sat two of the wealthiest men in the country and Caris couldn’t stand either one of them.
Killian was drop dead gorgeous. Blue eyes which could penetrate a soul from fifty yards. Blonde hair always kept at a perfect length, which means it would never touch his collar or his ears. A tall strong body which obviously spent a lot of time at the gym and, Caris noted for the millionth time, really big feet. It was the only thing she was curious about. Her experience was big feet, big package and Killian Young easily wore a size fourteen shoe. He’d been the captain of the basketball team and the baseball team, and he’d been homecoming king and just like Garth, was a paragon of virtue and saintliness. Saturdays he spent at the soup kitchen, and she was sure his alter ego was someone who chased muggers away from little old ladies. He also was boring as f**k. He could render her unconscious into a deep dreamless sleep in about two minutes of opening his mouth. He was six years older than Caris, but she believed she had lived far more than this dolt ever had.
“God Caris,” Killian wrinkled his nose at her. “Why are you wet?”
“Why am I here?” Caris ignored the man, plucking at her dampened t-shirt, and looked at Garth. “I was pruning my roses and I left my shears in the middle of the garden. I need to get back before it rains and rusts them out.”
“Can you not be hostile for ten seconds?” Killian asked his voice somehow both a monotonous yet scornful tone. “You need to learn your place, Caris.”
“My place?” She turned twisting her lips to look at him with disdain, “you want to clarify your statement and fast before I simply leave.”
“I only meant, Garth is your father and the least you can do is show him some semblance of respect.”
“I’m not used to faking anything Killian, unlike the women you bed.” She retorted smartly and looked back to Garth ignoring the hiss of surprise at the insult, “dad, spill it. I can tell from your stance you’re delivering news I’m going to be annoyed with. Stop sugar coating it and give it to me.” She waved her fingers at him as if beckoning him to come closer.
“Fine, you’re going to marry Killian.”
“Like f**k I am,” she made a face as if suggesting she’d rather lick razorblades and chase it with vodka.
“Language Caris,” her mother finally released her arm as if now the bad news was delivered there was no need to hold her daughter back. “Ladies do not use such language.”
“I’m not a lady, neither are you, and this is bullshit.”
“I don’t like it either,” Killian offered, his blue eyes looking her up and down as if she was grotesque.
“You,” she pointed at him, “can kiss my size fourteen ass. You,” she glared at Garth, “are off your rocker. Mom, you should get him to a doctor who deals with senility and soon.”
“The board of directors does not want to appoint Killian as CEO because he’s thirty-three and unmarried.” Garth stated as if it explained his irrational demand.
“Not my problem.”
“Caris, you will do this. This benefits the family and will continue to provide income to you.” Garth’s face had grown a ruddy shade of red at her belligerence, his furry white eyebrows mashing in the middle of his forehead.
She made a face, “I haven’t taken a dime of your money since I left boarding school.”
“Money gets deposited to your account monthly,” Killian grumbled, “I’m the CFO. I’ve personally seen to the deposits.”
She shrugged, “I wouldn’t know. I haven’t looked at those accounts since I was sixteen.”
Killian looked at her with his lips twisted, obviously believing she lied, “you get five-thousand-dollar deposit to an account every month and you’re trying to suggest you don’t spend it?”
“I’m not suggesting,” she mocked the word, “anything. I’m stating flat out, I haven’t touched it.”
“Not the point,” Garth interrupted the beginnings of an argument. “I don’t care if you touch it or not. You will do this for your family.”
She flicked her hand at Maris and her mother and then him, “you three are my family. He,” she grimaced at him, “is not. His problems with not meeting the minimum qualifications of being CEO is not my problem. Also, what kind of archaic system requires the CEO to be married?”
“Being married demonstrates stability and commitment. Killian has not had any serious relationships and because of this, they are questioning his ability to commit to the role of CEO. At thirty-three years of age, they feel he’s too young, and so they question his ability to be committed to the job of running the company single-handedly. His drive to be successful has kept him from having a meaningful, long-term relationship with anyone so now it’s a catch twenty-two.”
“Sucks to be you.” She shrugged unapologetically at Killian, “I on the other hand am very much in a relationship.”
“You are not.” Aileen rolled her eyes.
“I am too,” she thought of Reed and the date she’d been on the night before. It hadn’t been mind-blowing but at least she’d had an orgasm.
“Then how come we’ve never met him.”
“Because I like him and I would never subject a nice guy to any of you,” she mocked them.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Killian growled at her.
She lifted her eyebrows at him, “it means I don’t bring guys home to meet my parents, not ever. It’s a rule I have.”
“How many guys have there been?” Maris finally spoke and asked curiously, her eyes as blue as their mother’s rounded with interest.
She pretended to count on one hand and then moved to the other and then laughed, “who knows. College was a trip.” She turned to her mother, “I’m going home. When you are all back in possession of your faculties and -”
Garth interrupted her angrily jumping out of his oversized leather chair, leaving it spinning behind him, in an uncharacteristic display of temper. “Caris Rowena Walker, you will do this. You will end whatever relationship you’re suggesting you have with whatever man you’re dating, and you will marry Killian. There are billions of dollars on the line. If I don’t get him in as CEO, we are going to get bought out by a rival company.” As she opened her mouth he huffed, “and before you say it’s not your problem, you are twenty-seven years old, and you are the most suitable choice. You are smart, you have a job you’ve been at for many years, and you are stable.”
“Though you’ll need to quit your job once we have children,” Killian commented dryly as he looked at his fingernails.
“I’d rather f**k a goat than spawn your brats,” she spit out and ducked away from her mother’s slap. “I’m not doing it.”
Garth sighed and then sat down gingerly in his seat, once again the consummate controlled man who rarely displayed temper or any emotion at all. “Well, Aileen, it appears you were correct. She is not going to agree. We will move forward with plan B.”
“I’d prefer not to,” Killian spoke slowly as if there could possibly be something far worse than marrying Caris.
“Go with plan B,” Caris agreed and moved to walk out of the office no longer being held back by her mother.
“She’s only eighteen. If we portray this as a long-term committed relationship, I’ll appear a child molester.” Killian’s words mocked her.
Caris slowly turned back to look at the man who was eying Maris with open aversion and noted he appeared as disgusted as she felt, “Come again?”
Killian flicked a glance in her direction and Caris noted once again how he was always wearing perfectly fitted three-piece suits and almost always in a tie. He was buttoned up perfection and as he looked back to her little sister, obviously thinking of how he was going to make it work with a teenager, she felt like walking over and mussing his perfectly coiffed hair out of spite. He’d probably melt like the wicked witch under water.
“You cannot be serious! You are not marrying Maris.” She heard Maris’ immediate sigh of relief. “See, she doesn’t want to do it either.”
“This is not a discussion we can have with someone outside the family Caris and so if you refuse, then the next and last resort is Maris.”
“She’s a child!”
“She’s eighteen and legal.” Garth spoke back calmly, “and she knows the importance of the situation. She’s willing to do whatever it takes.”
“You’d pimp out your child?”
“This doesn’t have to be a death sentence for her. She’ll be well-provided for and taken care of.” Garth held her gaze without any remorse in his expression. He was at peace with what he was suggesting. “I’m convinced a marriage of convenience can blossom into love.”
“And I’m convinced this entire room is full of deranged people.” She clenched her fists at her side in frustration.
The silence in the room punctuated her statement. She waited for someone to jump out and tell her it was all a joke.
“Caris, we could lose everything,” her mother whispered suddenly. “We could lose our home.”
“It’s a house. You can buy a new one. You can’t buy dignity or pride back and if you sell her off, you’ll have lost both!” She stared at her mother, “you are really going along with this?”
“Yes, I will do what is best for our company, my husband and Killian. It’s billions of dollars Caris. Surely you understand the ramifications of this kind of money. I have to go along with what is best for the company.”
“But not what’s best for the children you actually birthed?” she glared furiously at her mother. She turned back, knowing she had no choice. They had played their trump card in suggesting Maris and knew she’d capitulate. “Fine. Whatever. I’ll do it. This is me saving my kid sister from being trafficked like a f*****g hooker.”
Garth eyed her seriously, “you’re being dramatic.”
“To think I said to mom you’re a goddamn saint. I change my mind. The devil doesn’t have s**t on you.”