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From New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today Bestselling author Pepper Winters comes The Indebted Series.

“I own you. I have the piece of paper to prove it. It’s undeniable and unbreakable. You belong to me until you’ve paid off your debts.”

Nila Weaver’s family is indebted. Being the first born daughter, her life is forfeit to the first born son of the Hawks to pay for sins of ancestors past. The dark ages might have come and gone, but debts never leave. She has no choice in the matter. She is no longer free.

Jethro Hawk receives Nila as an inheritance present on his twenty-ninth birthday. Her life is his until she’s paid off a debt that’s centuries old. He can do what he likes with her–nothing is out of bounds–she has to obey.

There are no rules. Only payments.

Age Rating: 18+

Note: This story is the author’s original version and does not have sound.


Indebted by Pepper Winters is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.



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Read the full uncensored books on the Galatea iOS app!



From New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today Bestselling author Pepper Winters comes The Indebted Series.

“I own you. I have the piece of paper to prove it. It’s undeniable and unbreakable. You belong to me until you’ve paid off your debts.”

Nila Weaver’s family is indebted. Being the first born daughter, her life is forfeit to the first born son of the Hawks to pay for sins of ancestors past. The dark ages might have come and gone, but debts never leave. She has no choice in the matter. She is no longer free. Jethro Hawk receives Nila as an inheritance present on his twenty-ninth birthday. Her life is his until she’s paid off a debt that’s centuries old. He can do what he likes with her–nothing is out of bounds–she has to obey.

There are no rules. Only payments.

Age Rating: 18+

Note: This is the author's original version and does not have sound.


THE WORLD WAS a dangerous place, but I was worse.

The human race left the dark ages behind—technology improved and ruined our lives in equal measure, and the devils in society hid with better camouflage.

As the years rolled by, and we left our barbaric ways behind, people forgot about the shadows lurking in plain sight. Men like me morphed into predators in sheep’s clothing.

We preyed on the weak with no apology, and everything landed in our fucking laps. Civilization cloaked us, hiding the animals at heart.

We traded caveman mentality and murder for suits and softly spoken curses. I hid my true temper beneath a veil of decorum. I mastered the art of suave.

People who knew me said I was a gentleman. They called me distinguished, accomplished, and shrewd.

I was all of those things, but none of them. We might live in a civilized world, but rules and laws didn’t apply to me. I was a rule-breaker, curse-maker, life-stealer.

The projection was a farce—but even the worst of us had someone who owned us. Whether family, honour, or duty.

I’d embraced my inner barbarian, yet was governed by a hierarchy and when the Hawk matriarch snapped her fingers, we all came running.

Including my arsehole of a father, Bryan Hawk.

There, in the cigar and cognac laced library, I learned a truth that forever changed my life.

And hers.

My family owned another.

An IOU on their entire existence.

Who gave a shit why a wealthy family called the Weavers were indebted to us? Who gave a damn that they’d royally fucked off my family and earned the wrath of my ancestors?

All I cared about was the news I’d inherited something more than just money, possessions, or titles.

My twenty-ninth birthday gave me a pet. A toy.

A responsibility I didn’t want.

Debts I had to extract from unwilling flesh.

A job to uphold our family honour.

Nila Weaver.

One mistake six hundred years ago put a curse on her entire family.

One mistake sold her life to me in a mountain of unpayable debt.

I inherited her.

I preyed on her.

I owned her life and had the piece of paper to prove it.

Nila Weaver.


And my task…

devour her.


Read the full uncensored books on the Galatea iOS app!



“TOLD YOU THIS collection would be your break, Threads.”

I smiled, not taking my eyes off the model prancing down the runway. My stomach churned like an overworked loom with stress and adrenaline.

“Don’t jinx it. There’s still the couture collection to go.” I flinched as the model sashayed too much, wobbling in the insanely high heels I’d buckled to her feet.

My cell-phone buzzed in the only place I had available in this dress—my cleavage.

No, no. Not now.

I’d been waiting to hear from him for two days. Lying in bed in the fancy hotel, willing my phone to chime, granting me the intoxicating rush of flirtation. But nothing. Not a peep.

A month of this…what was this? It wasn’t a relationship. Liaison? Nameless courtship? I had no name for the craziness I indulged in. I panted for scraps of communication like a high-school wallflower.

It’s time to end it.

Another message vibrated, shattering my willpower to ignore him with his impeccable timing—as usual.

“You know the couture line will raise the roof. Stop being modest.” Vaughn nudged my shoulder with his.

Ignoring my brother and the suddenly heavy cell-phone, I winced as the model flicked her hair pirouetting at the end of the runway, before flouncing away in a whirl of pink silk.

Too much attitude for that dress. I shook my head, stopping the inner monologue that never shut up when it came to models flaunting my creations.

“I don’t know anything anymore. Stop nettling me, V. Let me focus.”

Vaughn scowled. “I don’t know why you’re so worried. Cheque books are already open. You’ll see.”

Another message arrived, sending my phone into throbbing excitement. Even my phone got excited when he texted.

My heart fluttered. A hot flush covered my body remembering the last sentence I’d received from

Kite007. I’d made the mistake of reading it just as I boarded the short flight from England to Spain.

I don’t need to know what you look like to get hard—guess where my hand is.

Of course I couldn’t help myself. Because I was a sex-starved woman surrounded by over-protective men. I replied:

I don’t need to hear what you sound like to get wet—guess where my hand wants to be?

I’d never been so blatant. With anyone. The moment I sent it I freaked out, wishing I could unsend.

I’d spent the trip in a confused state of arousal and denial. And never received a reply.

Until now.

I hid my flush, pretending nothing enticing taunted me on my phone. I loved my father and brother—so damn much—but if they knew…the proverbial shit would hit the fan.

“Oh, God.” I clutched my heart as another stick-thin model paraded down the catwalk, failing to show off the intricate peacock-blue dress to its advantage.

“No one will buy it if they can’t see the potential of the design.”

Vaughn sighed. “You worry too much. It’s stunning. Anyone can see that.” His dark eyes landed on mine. “Allow a thrill of pride—just once, Threads.

“It’s going perfectly, and I couldn’t be prouder of you.” My twin brother draped his arm over my shoulders, tucking me against him.

Considering the word ‘twin’ meant mirror image, Vaughn was taller, better looking, and overall more vibrant than me.

He made others envious with his natural beauty, while I made others feel beautiful with dresses sewn with twenty-four carat gold and dyed with exclusive inks costing a small fortune.

I supposed that was my talent: making others feel worthy while he sold products thanks to his allure. Mirror image alright—the direct opposite.

“You’re a model. Why aren’t you showcasing my clothes?”

Vaughn laughed. “My figure doesn’t look good squashed into some sequinned frock. Create some decent clothes for males, then I might stoop and be your headline act.”

I thumped his arm. “You know I don’t have the drive to stitch suits and boxer-shorts. I keep telling you to go into business with me and create a men’s line. There’d be no stopping—”

Vaughn rolled his eyes. “Can’t afford me.”

I scowled. “Afford you? I’ve heard a perky pair of boobs and sex will buy your attention for at least a weekend.”

He pointed at my small chest with a glint in his eye. “I see no perky pair and…gross, Nila. You’re my sister. Why the hell are we talking about sex? You know we were raised better than that.”

I didn’t want to laugh. I didn’t want to lose the wound-up tension from my collection, but Vaughn never failed to earn a lip-twitch.

I sighed, shaking my head. “Sex, shmex. You’d be lucky if I hired your scrawny ass.”

He smirked. “Who’re you calling scrawny?” He waved at his tall frame. “My skills are on the other end of the camera.

“As my track record states.” His perfectly straight teeth flashed—daring anyone to deny the truth.

I used to be jealous of his deliciously good looks. My brother was rich brocade while I was boring calico. But now, I was proud.

I might be graced with a body requiring embellishment by other means than fate, but I knew the secrets of illusion.

I’d spun magic with a sewing machine since I was a little girl, stepping from the shadow of my family’s name, carving a small slice of greatness for myself.

“Well if the show tonight flops, at least you can bail me out with all that cash you’ve earned thanks to your god-like looks.”

A laugh barrelled from his mouth, loud but still hidden by the sultry fashion show music.

The dark room hid the large crowd but couldn’t disguise the heavy press and body heat of numerous buyers, shoppers, and catalogue procurers.

Vaughn squeezed me tighter. “Nila, I’m warning you. I want a smile. You’ve worked on this for months. Stop being so damn pessimistic and celebrate.”

“I can’t celebrate until the last model has shown their garment and not tripped over their arse in a seven thousand dollar dress.”

My phone buzzed again.

I froze, cursing my twisting stomach and the fire-bolt to my core. Kite007. The nameless teasing male who had more power over me than any other man. A stupid secret crush. With a stranger no less.

It’s a sad day when I’m emotionally invested in a fantasy.

I should never have replied to the incorrectly sent message a month ago.

Then I might’ve directed the small energy I had left after working so hard and find a real man. One I could kiss and flirt with in person.

The jagged pain lashed again. Rejection. I’d asked Kite, after a late night volley of messages, if he’d be interested in meeting.

So…I was wondering…I’m sitting here drinking a glass of wine and thought you might like to do that sometime? Go out for a drink, in person, together?

I’d pressed send on the jumbled, awkward sentence before I lost my nerve. I’d never asked anyone on a date before—it nearly gave me a heart attack.

He’d never replied. Silence was his usual reaction to dealing with something he didn’t want to discuss—only to message a few days later on a completely different subject.

Where sexual innuendoes were hard for me, Kite007 was a master. He used it as a weapon, making me forget we had no depth to our conversations…not that they were conversations.

When he did reply, it’d been a clever mix of teasing and emptiness—reminding me not to read into this shallow form of communication.

I’m in a meeting and all I can think about is your nun outfit. You wearing underwear today?

Yep. That stopped my wishful thinking of meeting him in person.

Untangling myself from Vaughn, I pretended to scrutinize the remaining models while I indulged in the very first text I received.

The one that began it all.

Tonight won’t work for me, but waiting will only make you wetter. Be a good girl and don’t argue. I’ll make sure to reward your patience.

A shiver worked its way under my expensive gown. I’d never received a message like that. Ever. And it wasn’t meant for me. I imagined some lucky woman looking forward to her reward.

I tried to delete the message—I really did. But after twenty-four years of being hidden away from boys, I couldn’t help myself.

My reply was utterly ridiculous.

I’m afraid you’re talking to a nun who understands nothing of sexual hints and not-so-subtle suggestions. Patience to me is payment after waiting for a microwaved chocolate pudding.
Wet to me is the brief enjoyment of a shower before the slave labour of my job.
If your intention was to make me (an unknown stranger who could be your mother-in-law or an arthritic eighty-year-old) wet and impatient, perhaps you could bribe me with sugar, a hot bath, and a night off from work—then perhaps I’ll obey and ‘deserve’ your veiled insinuation of pleasure.
(By the way…if you haven’t guessed, wrong number.)

And so began a mistake that I had no intention of stopping.

I groaned under my breath, never failing to suffer a wash of embarrassment. I had no idea where the flippancy came from. I wasn’t a nun—but I wasn’t far off.

Thanks to the two permanent men in my life, dating was a rare event.

A curvy model coasted down the runway in my favourite creation of cream lace, Victorian collar, and external bustle. I intended to head the trend of a historical fashion comeback.

“That would look better on you.” Vaughn’s husky voice cut through the graceful music.

I shook my head. “No chance.” Looking down at my small cup size and overly trim frame, thanks to my obsessive running, I added, “You need femininity to pull off a corset like that. I’m a rake.”

“Only because you exercise too damn much.”

Only because I have you and father stopping me from getting exercise in sexual form. I didn’t believe in self-pleasuring…running was my only hope at a release.

The model spun in place, swirling her train before disappearing up the catwalk. I suffered a moment of envy. It would be nice to have boobs and hips.

Vaughn’s strong fingers caught my chin, breaking the unlockable stare I had on the strutting model, guiding my non-descript black eyes to his vibrant chocolate ones. “We’re going out tonight.

“Hitting the Milan night clubs.” The low lights around the runway made his skin glow with a natural dusky tan. His blue-black hair was the one beautiful thing I shared.

Thick, dead straight, and so glossy people said it was like looking into black glass.

My one saving grace.

Oh, and my ability to sew.

And flirt with a stranger on an impersonal device.

My phone buzzed—a reminder my inbox had something delicious for me to read. And it would be delicious.

Dammit. The urge to look almost broke my self-control. What the hell was he doing messaging me? We knew nothing about each other. We shared nothing but dirty fantasies.

My mind once again jumped back to the first relay of texts.

Shit, you’re a nun? Sorry…what’s the correct term of address…sister? I apologise for the incorrectly sent message. Despite your Godly perfection and sheltering, you deduced correctly.
It was in fact very sexual. The woman in mind would never be welcomed into a sanctity such as yours.

I’d had no reply to that, but he’d sent another twenty minutes later.

Sister…I need absolution. I find myself consumed with the image of a sexy nun stripping and sliding into a hot bath with chocolate sauce on her lips.
Does that make me the devil, or are you for making me lust for someone I shouldn’t?

For the first time in my life, I’d felt the rush of power and need. This unknown man lusted for me. He’d replied based on what I’d sent.

He’d been right about the blushing, but only because I was sheltered, not because I’d decided to dress in black and white garb for the rest of my life.

I came from rainbow fabric; I drank textile ink as mothers’ milk. I learned to sew before I could walk. I could never become a nun, purely because of the boring fashion choices.

My fingers shook as I messaged him back.

I’m blushing but happen to be wearing something a lot more interesting than black and white or a boring shift.

I had no idea what made me reply. I’d never been so bold and he was taken—obviously. He’d been messaging a girl.

Oh, see…you can’t say things like that to a complete stranger who mistakenly messaged a hot nun who doesn’t conform to the dress code picked out by God. Tell me.
Tell you what?
What are you wearing?

And that was where I freaked. He could be a ninety-year-old pervert who’d tracked down my number from one of my runway shows to stalk me. Nothing was as it seemed in today’s world.

I hope you find the person you were trying to contact. Enjoy your night of sexual torture. Goodbye.

I’d closed my phone and done exactly what I’d said. Microwaved a chocolate pudding and slid into a hot bath. Only to be interrupted by a reply.

And another.

And another.

I lost count of how many messages I received. I managed to ignore him for five hours, but then my innocent soul became corrupted by a man I’d never met.

“What do you say?” Vaughn pursed his lips, accenting his well-formed jaw and rounded cheekbones.

I blinked, shattering memories of phone flirting.


“Tonight. You. Me. A bottle of tequila and some bad decisions.” My brother rolled his eyes.

“I’m not having you holed away in your hotel room on your own—not after a show like this.” Vaughn’s voice cajoled, his face—a cross between a cherub-faced youth and heartbreaker man—implored.

I could never say no to him. Just like countless other women. It didn’t help he was heir to a textile business that’d been in our family since the thirteenth century and a seriously good catch.

We had pedigree.


The bond between past and present. Dreams and requirements. Freedom and obligation. We had plenty of it, and the weight of what was expected of me hammered me further and further into the ground.

“No tequila. No night clubs. Let me unwind in peace. I need some quiet after the hectic day I’ve had.”

“All the more to get messy on a dance floor.” Vaughn grabbed my elbow, attempting to swing me around in a complicated dance move.

I stumbled. “Get your grubby hands off me, V.” Vaughn was the only one who didn’t inherit a nickname based on the industry that consumed not only our lives but our ancestors, too.

“That’s no way to speak to your brother, Threads.” V laughed.

“What’s this? My two offspring fighting?”

I rolled my eyes as the distinguished silhouette of my father appeared from the crowd of buyers, designers, and movie starlets all there to witness the new season of fashion in Milan.

His dark brown eyes crinkled as he smiled. “Congratulations, sweetheart.”

Vaughn let me go, relinquishing his sibling hug for a paternal squeeze. My arms slinked around the toned middle of my father.

Archibald Weaver still had the Weaver signature thick black hair with a straight spine, sharp mind, and ruggedly handsome face. He only became more fetching the older he got.

“Hey. I didn’t think you’d arrive in time.” Pulling away, I inhaled his strong cologne. I wished mum was still around to see him evolve from distracted parent to fantastic support system.

I never knew why we weren’t close when I was young. He’d been sour, grumpy, and…lost. But he’d never burdened Vaughn or me with what troubled him.

He remained a strict single parent, raising us motherless from eleven years old.

“I managed to get an earlier flight. Couldn’t miss your headline show.”

Another message came through, the vibration particularly violent. I shuddered and blocked all thoughts of the nameless man trying to get my attention.

“I’m glad. However, all you’re going to see is your daughter shuffle down the runway, overshadowed by gorgeous models, and then trip off the end.”

My father laughed, his critical eye perusing my gown. “Corset, tulle, and the new midnight-galaxy material—I doubt anyone will overshadow you.”

“Help me convince her to join me tonight. We could all go out together,” Vaughn said.

Great. Another night with two men—neither of whom I can avoid to acquire a real relationship.

I often felt like a kitten brought up by two tigers. They never let me grow up. Never permitted my own claws to form or teeth to sharpen.

My father nodded. “Your brother is right. It’s been a few months since we were together. Let’s make a night of it. Some of your best work is on display.

“You’ve made me very proud, Nila, and it’s time to celebrate.”

I sighed. Looking over his shoulder, I saw the last model disappearing into the wings, her train of silver stars and organza looking as if she’d fallen from heaven.

That’s my cue.

“Fine. Sounds wonderful. I can never say no to you. Let me wrap this up and then I’ll relax. Promise.” I reached up and kissed him on his papery cheek.

“Keep your fingers crossed that I don’t trip and ruin my career.”

He grinned, slipping into the much loved and well known persona of Tex—short for Textile—a nickname he’d had all my life.

“You don’t need luck. Knock ‘em dead.” His brown eyes faded. The melancholy I was so used to seeing swallowed him whole, hiding his jovial spirit. It was his curse. Ours. All of us.

Ever since mum divorced him and disappeared we’d never been the same.

Vaughn pecked my cheek. “I’ll help you get through the crowd.”

I nodded and weaved through the crush of bodies to the small staircase at the side of the runway.

The organiser, with her headset, frantic blonde curls, and dog-eared notebook, squealed when her eyes landed on mine. “Ah! I’d sent out ninjas to find you. You’re up. Like right now.”

Vaughn chuckled. “I’ll wait here for you.” He faded into the living organism that was the fashion hungry crowd, leaving me at the mercy of Blonde Curls.

Bunching the overflowing train of my dress, I climbed the steps, hoping against all odds that I wouldn’t faint. “Yes. I know. That’s why I’m here.”

“Thank God. Okay, stand there.” She manhandled me until I stood just so. “I’ll give you the cue in thirty seconds.”

The girl couldn’t have been much younger than me.

I’d just celebrated my twenty-fourth birthday, but after leaving school at sixteen to follow in my family’s footsteps and nurture my skills as a designer, I felt much older, grumpier, and less eager to please.

I love my job.

And it was true. I did love my job.

I I loved transforming plain fabric, sourced by my father, into works of art thanks to the accessories, silks, and diamantes my brother imported when he wasn’t modelling. We were a true family business.

Which I loved and would never change.

It was the public eye I hated. I’d always been a homebody. Partly out of choice—partly because my father never let me date.

Talking of dates…

My fingers itched to grab my phone.

The girl nodded, pressing her headset hard to her ear. “Gotcha. Sending on now.” Holding her hand out, she added, “Come. Your final model is ready. Get onto the runway.”

I nodded, gathering the thick black material of the feather and gemstone dress I wore. Completely impractical. Completely couture.

A bloody nightmare to wear, but the effect of soft wispy feathers and the glint of black diamantes set my hair off better than any other colour.

Some said colour was what made your mood.

I said black protects.

It gave me strength and boldness where I had none. It granted sexuality to a woman who’d been sheltered all her life by a severely overprotective father and insanely possessive brother.

If it hadn’t been for Darren and the one night where I’d drunk too much, I would still be a virgin.

Taking my place in the middle of the runway, I smiled tightly at the model chosen to wear my centrepiece.

My heart fluttered, falling in love—just like I always did—with the garment I’d adoringly, intimately created.

Wrapped around the girl’s zero-size frame and shimmering in the low lights of the packed room, the dress was revolutionary. My career would reach new heights.

It wasn’t pride glowing in my heart—it was relief. Relief that I hadn’t let anyone down—including myself.

I’d done it.

Despite my nerves, I’d done what I’d always needed and carved a name for myself despite the huge inheritance of the Weaver name and empire.

My collection was mine.

Every item from handbags to shoes and scarfs was mine.


Just my first name. I hadn’t wanted to use the power of our legacy. I hadn’t wanted to let anyone down in case I failed. But now I wanted to sequester my success and hoard it.

The room hushed with anticipation as the music changed from Latin to symphony. A large spotlight drenched us in golden rays.

My heart rate exploded as I took the model’s hand, flashing her a quick smile. Her cascading blonde hair glittered with gold plaited in the strands.

We matched perfectly in height—deliberately placed together for ultimate impact. Gliding forward in thousand dollar shoes, we walked the final stretch.

My black ensemble set off the gold, yellow, and burnt orange of her layers upon layers. She looked like crackling embers and fire where I was the coal from which she sprang.

We were the sunset of the show. The darlings of Milan.

Hushed silence. Bright lights. Immense concentration to stay on my feet.

The rest became a blur. There were no trips, or wobbles, or rushes of horror. Cameras clicked, praise murmured, and then it was over.

A year of hard work wrapped up in a two hour runway show.

The end of the platform became a sea of petals and strewn flowers full of accolades. Our coal and fire presence swallowed camera flashes, welcoming greedy eyes to stare.

Ten minutes I stood and drowned in praise. Vertigo hobbled my body as my gaze landed on my father and brother. They knew this part was the hardest for me.

They knew my heart strummed fast and sickness rolled. Stress never sat well with my system.

Vertigo was hard to diagnose, but moments like these—where the madness of the past year culminated with yet more deadlines on the horizon—I recognised every symptom of wobbliness and fading vision.

I felt drunk…I wanted to be drunk—even though I hadn’t had liquor in seven years.

Swallowing the lightheadedness, I waved and bowed before hitting my limit. Gritting my teeth, I almost fell down the steps at the front of the runway right into Vaughn’s arms.

He scooped me up, giving me a firm balanced form to clutch to. “Breathe through it. It’ll pass.”

Shaking my head, I blinked, chasing away the fear in my blood and weakness of an incurable illness. “I’m okay. Just let me go for a second.”

He did as I asked, giving me space. The crowd stayed behind their small barricade letting me suck in much needed oxygen. My phone buzzed again and this time…I couldn’t ignore it.

Pulling it from my ruffled, feathered cleavage, I unlocked the screen and indulged.

Haven’t had a message from you in a couple of days. If you don’t send one immediately, I might have to track down your name and location and come and spank you.

My stomach flipped at the threat. He’d never insinuated a meeting…not after my bungle of asking him out and his blatant refusal.

Still no reply. If threats of physical harm won’t make you respond, perhaps the mental visualisation of me stroking myself while reading some of your old messages will persuade you to.

My core clenched. He’d pleasured himself while thinking of me? A stranger touching himself shouldn’t give me such a thrill.

My Naughty Nun, I don’t know what you’re doing, but I’ve disgraced myself by coming all over my hand at the thought of you naked and smeared in chocolate. Hope you’re happy.

“What are you reading?” Vaughn peered over my shoulder.

My cheeks flamed and I wiped the screen of evidence that despite his and my father’s best intentions, I’d managed to find a man interested in talking sex with me.

I couldn’t wait to be in private to respond. Kite seemed more…open. Maybe we could talk about real things and not just dirt.


Vaughn scowled, then a large grin brightened his face. “Guess how many orders?”

My brain couldn’t switch from wanting desperately to respond to Kite to normal conversation. “Orders?”

He threw his hands up. “Seriously! Your collection.

“Sometimes I worry about you, Threads.” Still grinning, he added, “Your Fire and Coal collection has orders from all major retail chains in Europe and America, and the couture line is currently in a bidding war for exclusivity between a London boutique and Paris.” He bounced with happiness—infecting me with energy.

“I told you this was your break. You’ve cemented your name. Nila will be worn by celebrities around the world at their red-carpet premieres.”

He lowered his voice. “You’re your own, sister. You’re more than just a Weaver.

“You’re you, and I’m so damn proud of what you’ve achieved.” Twin intuition had always been strong—showing just how much he understood without me ever having to voice it.

Tears sprang to my eyes. Vaughn didn’t get sentimental often, so his praise was a well-placed dagger in my self-control.

This time I couldn’t stop the smile breaking through my defences or my heart glowing with accomplishment. “Thank you, V. That means—”


I spun around to face my father. Instead of the grin and look of love I expected, he stood cold and fierce. My stomach tensed, sensing something was wrong. So, so wrong.

It was the same look he got whenever he thought of Mum. The same look I’d grown accustomed to hating and running from.

“Dad…what—” He wasn’t alone. My eyes trailed from my father’s pressed tux toward the tall, svelte man beside him.

Holy hell, who on earth…

Thoughts died like windless kites, littering my mind with silent dumbness. He was a stranger. But I felt as if I’d seen him before. He was a mystery. But I sensed I already knew everything about him.

Two extremes…two confusions.

“Nila, I want to introduce you to someone.” My father’s jaw ticked, hands clenching into white-knuckled fists. “This is Jethro Hawk.

“He’s a big fan of your work and would like to take you out tonight to celebrate your success.”

I wanted to rub my eyes and have my hearing checked. Since the day of my birth, my father had never introduced me to a man. Never. And he’d never lied so obviously.

This man wasn’t a fan of my work—although he did have incredible fashion sense. He had to be a male model with his height, envious cheekbones, and perfectly styled salt-and-pepper hair.

His white skin was flawless—no wrinkles or blemishes. He looked ageless, but I guessed he was late twenties despite his greying hair speaking of wisdom far beyond his years.

His hands were concealed in pockets of a dark charcoal suit with a cream shirt open at the throat and a diamond pin piercing his jacket lapel.

“Tex, what are you—” Vaughn’s voice was quiet but possessive. Eyeing up Jethro, he stayed polite by offering his hand. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Hawk.

“I appreciate your interest in my sister’s talent, but my father has it wrong. Tonight she is unavailable due to a family commitment.”

I would’ve smiled if my stomach wasn’t knotted as the two men assessed each other.

Jethro slowly took my brother’s hand, shaking once. “Pleasure, I’m sure. And I, in turn, can appreciate your interest in keeping your prior agreement with your sister, but alas.

“Your generous father has allowed me the enjoyment of ruining your plans and stealing her away.” His voice whispered through my gown, sending goosebumps down my spine.

His accent was English, same as mine, but slightly more clipped. He sounded posh but rogue at the same time. Refined but uncouth.

My brother wasn’t impressed. His forehead furrowed.

“I hope that isn’t going to be an issue, Mr. Weaver.

“I’ve heard a lot about you and your family and would hate to upset you.” Mr. Hawk’s eyes landed on mine, capturing me in a cage of golden irises and effortless power.

“However, I’ve heard the most about your sister. And I have no doubt it will be a pleasure knowing her.”

I gulped. No one had spoken to me like that—especially in front of my father. Who was this man? Why did his very existence fill me with hot and cold and awareness and fear?

“Listen here,” my father blustered. I tensed, ready for the outrage I knew he was capable of, but his lips snapped closed and the fire in his gaze didn’t erupt.

Swallowing hard, he finished, “I presume my obligations are complete?”

Jethro nodded, a lock of hair brushing his forehead. “You presume correctly.”

Fear evolved to panic. Obligations? My God, is my father in some sort of trouble? I clutched his sleeve. “Dad. The show’s over.

“Let’s go for that drink.” I glanced at Vaughn, cursing my fluttering heart and the mix-match of emotions colliding inside.

My father pulled me close, pressing a single kiss on my cheek. “I love you, Nila, but I’ve kept you to myself for long enough. Mr. Hawk has asked if he can take you out tonight. I agreed.

“Vaughn and I can wait till another time.”

He didn’t say—only if you want to, of course. It sounded more like a sentencing rather than freedom to date. Why this man? Why now?

Vaughn moved closer. “Tex, we already had plans. We can’t just—”

My father glared at my brother, his gaze weighty with unsaid anger. “Plans change, V. Now give your sister a kiss goodbye. She’s leaving.”

“I am?” I took a step backward, clutching my phone.

There was no denying Jethro Hawk was good looking and seemed to be successful judging by his attire, but if I was allowed to date, I wanted Kite007, not this cold outlander.

“You are.” Jethro held out his hand, his gaze noosing me tighter in their golden cage. “I’m taking you somewhere special.”

“She isn’t going anywhere with you unless she wants to, dickhead.” Vaughn puffed out his chest, placing a hand on my lower back. “Tex—tell him.”

My eyes flew to my father. What existed in his gaze sent frost crackling through my blood. His lips were tight, eyes bright and slightly glassy. But his cheeks were dark with rage.

He glowered at Mr. Hawk. “I’ve changed my mind. Not tonight.”

Vaughn huffed, nodding in agreement. The thick soup of male testosterone choked my lungs.

Jethro smiled coolly. “You’ve given me your word, Mr. Weaver. There are no rain checks.” Aiming his sharp smile my way, he purred, “Besides, Ms. Weaver and I have a lot to discuss.

“It’s time we got acquainted and tonight is the night.”

“Excuse me while you all fight over me. But what about what I want?” I crossed my arms. “I’m tired, overworked, and not in the mood to entertain. Thank you for your interest, but—”

“No buts, Ms. Weaver. It’s been arranged and discussed. You will come with me because it’s the only way your night will end.” Jethro lowered his head, watching me from beneath his brow.

“I promise you’ll have a good time. And I mean you no harm…do you really think your father would permit me to take you out otherwise?”

Coldness etched his gaze.

Aloofness whispered from his posture.

Calculation radiated from his every pore.

I’d never been so intimidated or so intimately challenged.

My father might have permitted this, but he didn’t condone it. Somehow Jethro had achieved the unachievable and convinced my father he was dateable material.

If he could manipulate Archibald ‘Tex’ Weaver, I didn’t stand a chance…and yet…despite the arrogance and chilly façade, he intrigued me.

My father had kept me captive my whole life. This was the first man to stand up to him and grant a glimmer of freedom.

The fear disappeared, leaving a flicker of interest. If this was the only man I could spend an evening alone with, I would take it.

I would practice my non-existent flirting skills and grow my confidence so I could ask Kite007 out again. And next time, I wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Sucking in a gulp, I placed my hand gently into Mr. Hawk’s. His touch was as cold as his demeanour and just as strong. I froze as his fingers tightened around mine, tugging me forward.

“Good decision, Ms. Weaver. I look forward to getting to know you better.”

My lungs dragged in his scent of leather and woods. Words deserted me.

The show disappeared along with my worry and thoughts of Kite007. Gone was the urge to return to an empty hotel room. This man was pure danger, and I’d never sampled anything but safety.

“And you, Mr. Hawk,” I murmured.

My date smiled, transforming his face from handsome to ruthless.

“Please, call me Jethro.” Changing our grip from handshake to handhold, he pulled me forward—away from my family, away from the men I’d known all my life, and toward a future I had no understanding of.

Vaughn’s hand fell from my lower back.

I didn’t look back.

I should’ve looked back.

I should never have placed my hand into that of a monster’s.

That was the last day of freedom. The last day that was my own.

Individuality and uniqueness—those two words were so precious once upon a time.

I’d been brought up with a gruff but fair father and a brother who I would marry if it wasn’t incest, believing I was unique, different, never before created.

I hated being lied to.

I hated even more believing those lies until the truth decided to come for me.

Turned out, I was never an individual; I was a possession to trade.

I was never unique; someone had lived my life many times before, never free, never whole.

My life was never mine.

My destiny was already written.

My story began the night he came for me.


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