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From New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today Bestselling author Pepper Winters comes the sensual and gripping duet series, Truth & Lies.

THREE YEARS

Since I ran away for the night, danced in New York streets, and almost got killed in an alley by two thieves. Until he showed up and saved me.

THREE DAYS

Since I threw a drink at the man my father expected me to marry, then found myself slammed against a wall with Penn Everett’s seductive voice whispering a proposal I couldn’t refuse.

THREE HOURS

To fall into hate with the man who reminded me of so many things and hid so much behind his lies. He couldn’t be the man who saved me three years ago…but there’s something so familiar…

THREE MINUTES

For our relationship to switch from no-strings to marriage. He announced it to my father—he’s ecstatic. He told my friends—they’re shocked. But he didn’t ask me, he commanded me—and I’m livid.

THREE SECONDS

For his lies to slowly steal my heart and make me believe, hope…trust.

THREE BREATHS

For his truth to destroy me.

Age Rating: 18+

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

 

Truth & Lies 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!

1

SUMMARY

From New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today Bestselling author Pepper Winters comes the sensual and gripping duet series, Truth & Lies.

THREE YEARS Since I ran away for the night, danced in New York streets, and almost got killed in an alley by two thieves. Until he showed up and saved me. THREE DAYS Since I threw a drink at the man my father expected me to marry, then found myself slammed against a wall with Penn Everett’s seductive voice whispering a proposal I couldn’t refuse. THREE HOURS To fall into hate with the man who reminded me of so many things and hid so much behind his lies. He couldn’t be the man who saved me three years ago…but there’s something so familiar… THREE MINUTES For our relationship to switch from no-strings to marriage. He announced it to my father—he’s ecstatic. He told my friends—they’re shocked. But he didn’t ask me, he commanded me—and I’m livid. THREE SECONDS For his lies to slowly steal my heart and make me believe, hope…trust. THREE BREATHS For his truth to destroy me.

Age Rating: 18+

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

Truth & Lies Book 1: Crown of Lies

IN EVERY GIRL’S life, there is betrayal.

Betrayal from loved ones, unknown ones, and from the ones we choose to make our own. However, where there’s deceit, there’s trust, too.

And sometimes, those two things camouflage themselves to mimic the other.

That was what he did.

The man who first stole my body and then stole my heart was the ultimate magician with lies.

I think a part of me always knew what he kept hidden. I always suspected and maybe that was why I fell for him despite his deceit.

But then his fibs fell apart.

And it was up to me to decide if I wanted to give him

trust

or

betrayal.

 

Read the full uncensored books on the Galatea iOS app!

2

Joe

“YOU CAN’T BRING your daughter to work on a weekend, Joe.”

“Says who?”

Steve crossed his arms, doing his best to come across as strict but failing. “Says you.”

I hugged my frilly dress-covered chest, my head bouncing like a volley-ball between Dad and the man who helped run his company.

My back tensed, waiting for their voices to climb and anger to emerge, but their elderly faces remained happy.

Ever since Mom died four years ago, I’d become susceptible to outbursts of emotion. I hated when Dad raised his voice or someone had a fight in public.

Dad looped his arm around my tiny shoulders, hugging my body to his. “When did I say I couldn’t bring my darling daughter to work on a Saturday, Steve?”

Steve winked at me, his dark blond hair trim with his mustache bushy. “When you wrote the rule book for your company,Joe. There was fine print.”

I knew they were joking—playing a game I couldn’t figure out. I’d been to the office every day of the week, including Saturdays and Sundays.

But because they expected me to buy into their little drama, I did.

I allowed myself to act younger than I felt, even though I was still a child and shouldn’t grasp age and maturity just yet.

Mom’s death and my induction into the workforce from a tender age had given me two ideals to follow: adulthood and adolescence.

A lot of the time, I was treated and responded like an adult, but today, I didn’t mind acting younger because I wanted to be younger for a change.

I wanted to be allowed to cry because today had become a massive disappointment and if I was a kid, I could let my hurt show. If I was an adult, I had to suck it up and pretend I was fine with it.

My sadness originated from something so stupid. I shouldn’t care—especially seeing as I knew better.

But Dad had let me down on a silly birthday tradition, and I didn’t know how to tell him I was sad without coming across as a pouting kid who didn’t value everything she already had.

“Rule book?” I piped up, glancing at Dad. “You wrote a rule book like school has?

“Is it as stuffy and strict on silly things like sock length and uniform?” I wrinkled my nose at Steve’s crumpled shirt and creased trousers. “If you did, how come you’re not dressed the same?”

Dad wore pressed slacks, gray vest, and a blazer with navy piping on the sleeves. Every cuff and pleat were military in perfection.

He looked nothing like the other suited men in his high-rise building, especially Steve in his shirt-wrinkled glory.

But that wasn’t new.

Dad had been immaculate every day of his life since I could remember.

Even in the photos of him holding me as a new-born at the hospital, he’d been in a three-piece suit with a chrysanthemum (Mom’s favorite flower) in the lapel.

Steve chuckled. “Your school has a uniform, Elle?”

He knew this. He’d seen me here after school in my despised splendor.

I nodded. “I hate it. It’s scratchy and gross.”

“But you look so adorable in it, Bell Button.” Dad hugged me closer.

Secretly, I loved his cuddles (especially because we only had each other now) but outwardly, I had a twelve-year-old reputation to maintain.

Still playing their game, I sing-songed, “Daa-ad. You said you wouldn’t use that name.”

He cringed dramatically. “Whoops. I forgot.” He tapped his temple. “I’m an old man, Elle. I can’t remember everything.”

I nudged him with my shoulder. “Just like you forgot you wrote a rule book saying no daughters allowed on weekends.”

“Exactly.” He beamed.

“And how you forgot my birthday?”

Whoops.

I didn’t mean to say that, but I’d bottled it up all morning. I did my best to joke, but my hurt refused to hide. He’d never forgotten before.

He’d always woken me up with a silly gift and then done whatever I wanted for the afternoon.

Not the case today.

I’d turned twelve, and there’d been no cake or candles—not even a birthday hug.

Instead, he’d cooked me toast, told me to dress smart, then dragged me to work with him.

He took me to the office often, but I’d hoped today would’ve been a trip to Central Park together, or at the very least, lunch at my favorite Thai restaurant.

Is fun no longer allowed?

Now I was older, did I have to earn an income like he’d kept telling me? That it was time to put the meager few years at school into practice?

I thought he was joking.

Then again, he was joking with this whole role-play. My heart skipped, doing its best to understand what was going on.

Steve gasped. “You forgot your own daughter’s birthday?” He tutted, shaking his head. “Shame on you, Joe.”

“Watch it. I can still fire you.” Dad’s face contorted as he struggled not to smile. He gave up, allowing a broad grin to spread.

“That’s the reason why I broke the rules and brought my daughter to work on Saturday.”

I froze, unable to stop the happiness fizzing into being.

Wait…does that mean he didn’t forget?

“What…to make her slave away?” Steve’s eyes rounded. “Could’ve waited until she was thirteen, at least.” He winked at me. “Let her see the world before shackling her to this place.”

“She’ll have plenty of time for that.” He hugged me close, marching forward, pulling me with him. “Come along, Bell Button.”

I rolled my eyes. “Again with the Bell Button.”

“Deal with it.” He chuckled, his graying hair catching the neon lights as we strolled down the wide hallway. The view of downtown Manhattan sparkled in the windows.

Sitting regal on the forty-seventh floor, the offices of the CEO and top managers of Belle Elle never failed to impress and terrify me.

Dad owned this building along with a few others. He was loaded, according to the girls’ gossip at school.

However, only I knew how much time and energy he put into his company and was very proud of him. But also scared what he would expect from me now I was older.

For years, things had been changing. My childhood had ended two months after Mom died, revealing how different both our lives would be from then on. No more fairy-tale stories or bedtime read alongs.

No more Aladdin or Beauty and the Beast.

No more make-believe.

Instead, Dad read me ledgers and showed me catalogs of new season apparel for the company.

He gave me homework on how to navigate our website and taught me how to decide if buying a dress at two dollars was good sense if we sold it for nineteen.

To work out rent, taxes, employee salaries, and other overheads to see if that dress would make any profit (turned out it was only twenty cents after expenses and too low to make a sustainable profit).

I’d lived and breathed this place since I was so young. And now, it seemed it even controlled my birthday.

Dad stopped at his office and held the entry wide for me to scoot through. I continued to his desk while he closed the door. I loved his desk.

It reminded me of an ancient tree that’d been outside our brownstone for years until it was cut down.

Throwing myself into his comfy leather chair, I spun around, kicking his drawers to increase my inertia on the second spin.

“Elle.” Dad blurred as I spun again. He wasn’t mad. His face split into a smile as he chuckled. “You’ll make yourself sick.”

I planted my hands on his desk, coming to an abrupt stop. “No, I won’t. Those ballet lessons helped with my balance, remember?”

He nodded. “I do. You were a lovely swan in the Swan Princess.”

I smiled, forgiving him for forgetting my birthday because really, spending time with him was all I needed. Here or there, it didn’t matter as long as he and I were a we.

“You need me to try some of the kid’s clothes today?” I reclined in his chair. “Help design the window display from a girl’s point of view?” I’d learned how to do all that, and I was good.

The company—Belle Elle—had been in my father’s lineage for longer than I could comprehend.

One of my great, great, too many great grandfathers had called his little shop Belle Elle after his wife, Elizabeth Eleanor, whose nickname was Belle Elle.

I knew that because multiple case studies on my ancestry and newspaper articles existed.

It was yet another element of my homework: to learn as much about our legacy as I could because in this world—where the US didn’t have a royal family—we were classified in some circles as blue bloods.

Long standing citizens of an empire that’d been here since colonization.

Slowly growing bigger and delivering more products from basic coats and hats for men and parasols and shawls for women, to full wardrobes, housewares, entertainment, and jewelry for any age.

Belle Elle was the largest retail chain in the US and Canada, and someday, it would be mine.

To a twelve-year-old girl who had fun playing dress-up with child-size mannequins once the customers had been kicked out, helped staff arrange new window displays, and could take costume jewelry home occasionally because her dad could write off a necklace or two, I was excited at the thought of this being mine.

But to the woman slowly evolving—the one groomed on an hourly basis for such a future—was afraid.

Would I have what it took to control such a place?

Was it what I wanted to do with my life?

“I didn’t forget your birthday.” Dad linked his hands in front of his vest. “But you already knew that because you’re my daughter and the brightest girl in the world.”

I smiled, dropping my head in embarrassment. His praise never failed to warm and comfort me. I wouldn’t tell him I’d worried to begin with.

I truly thought you forgot.

He continued, “Today is a very special day and not just because you were born.” He plucked a piece of lint off his blazer, looking every inch a powerful CEO rather than the loving father I knew.

No matter where we were going, he always wore a suit. He made me adhere to the same strict wardrobe of pressed blouses, dresses, and smart trousers. I didn’t, nor had I ever, owned a pair of jeans.

Perhaps today that would be my present.

I sat quietly, politely, waiting for him to continue.

“I brought you to work to give you two presents.”

Phew, he truly didn’t forget.

I tried to hide my eagerness. I knew how to camouflage my true feelings. I might be a child, but I was born an heiress and had been taught to act unaffected in every situation—good or bad.

“Look to your right.”

I obeyed, reaching out to touch the black binder that always rested there. Dad would bring it home with important documents inside then take it back to the office with yet more vital paperwork.

I was never allowed to touch it unless he was around—and only then to bring it to him.

I hesitated as my fingers ghosted over the soft leather.

He smiled. “Go on, you can open it.”

I pulled it toward me and cracked it wide. There, like all the other times, were white, crisp pages scarred with multiple black lines of adult jargon.

“What does it say at the top?” He popped his middle blazer button and perched on the side of the desk.

His long frame towered over me but not in a bad way; more like a willow tree where I liked to curl up and nap in Central Park on the rare days Dad did nothing.

“Last Will and Testament of Joseph Mark Charlston.” My eyes raced to his. “Dad…you’re not—”

He reached out and patted my hand. “No, Bell Button. Not yet. But one can never be too careful.

“Up until last week, my Will and Testament left the running of our family’s company to Steve until you came of age.

“However, I never felt comfortable bequeathing such responsibility to someone outside the Charlston family.”

I gnawed on my lip. “What do you mean?”

He pulled a pen from the small gold holder on his desk. “It means I’ve had it revised. I have no plans to leave this world early, so don’t worry about that.

“And you, my dear, are beyond intelligent for your age, so I know you’ll take all of this in your stride.

“Your education about our processes, factories, and employee structure will be accelerated, and when you’re ready, you’ll become CEO, and I’ll step down.”

My mouth fell open. That sounded hard. When would I have time to go to school and make friends other than the staff in the makeup department where I hung out when he worked late?

But how could I say no? I was all he had. He was all I had. We had to stick together.

My heart lurched, needing confirmation he wasn’t going to leave me, despite his assurances. “You’re not dying, though?”

He shook his head. “Never, if I had my way. This isn’t meant to scare you, Elle, but to show you how proud I am of you.

“I won’t deny that it will be so rewarding to hand over this legacy sooner rather than later, knowing with all my heart you will take it to even greater heights than I ever could.” He passed me the pen.

“Initial each page and sign.”

I’d signed enough contracts even at my young age to know how to do it.

Stocks that he’d put in my name; a house he’d purchased in some state I’d never heard of—even a limited edition painting that came from an auction house in England.

Bending over the paperwork, I curled my fingers tight around the pen, ignoring the sudden shakes. This was no different from all those other documents, yet it was so much more. This was my life.

This was more than growing up and celebrating a birthday. This was every day, every moment, every final say that would manipulate me until I was Dad’s age.

I didn’t have the luxury of figuring out if I wanted to be a doctor or an astronomer. I’d never go to the Olympics as a swimmer (even though my instructor said I was more rock than dolphin).

I’d never be anything more than Noelle Charlston, heiress of Belle Elle.

My heart beat with a strange squeeze as I placed the pen on the paper.

“Oh, wait a sec.” Dad pressed the intercom to connect him to his receptionist. “Margaret, can you come in, please?”

Immediately, a pretty, middle-aged redhead entered and came forward. Weekends were no different from weekdays in this company. “Yes, Mr. Charlston?”

“I need you to act as a witness.”

“Sure.” She smiled at me but didn’t say anything as I flipped through the seventeen pages and initialed each, then took a deep breath and signed my name.

The moment I’d finished, Dad grinned and spun the deed to Margaret. “Your turn. Sign in the witness box, please.”

I passed her the pen.

She took it. “Thank you, Elle.”

My nickname (not Bell Button—which remained a mystery on how it came about.

Dad said it was something to do with how much I loved buttons when I was little, and bell rhymed with Elle) reminded me how I’d been named in a roundabout way for the first wife of our company.

The woman who’d created an empire beside her husband until he’d died of pneumonia, and she ruled on her own for forty more years. Elizabeth Eleanor—the original Belle Elle.

Scrawling her signature, Margaret passed the contract back to my father.

He signed in the last box with utmost concentration and an air of relief.

“Is that all, Mr. Charlston?” Margaret asked.

“Yes, thank you.” Dad nodded.

She gave me a small wave, before retreating to her adjoining office, leaving Dad and me alone once again.

He looked up from signing, his older eyes meeting mine. His face fell. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

I shrugged, doing my best to seem carefree and not think about how big of a throne I had to fill. “Nothing’s wrong.”

He frowned. “You look…afraid.”

I am.

I’m afraid of a world where you’re gone, and I’m in charge.

I’m afraid of not being the daughter you think I am.

But he could never know that. This was my duty. My birthright. No matter my age or experience, I knew enough to know my existence was always destined for Belle Elle.

I smiled. “I’m not. This is just my face.”

He chuckled.

“All right, ‘just your face.’ Seeing as giving you our legacy for your birthday—ensuring you’ll forever have wealth and stability—isn’t a present to get excited about, look under my desk.”

Happy butterflies replaced the fearful moths in my belly. “You mean…there’s more?”

His eyes twinkled with fatherly love. “Of course, there’s more. Now look.”

I scooted the chair back and glanced between my dangling legs. Tucked against the back was a box tied with a big purple and silver ribbon.

The fear of responsibility and the weird obligation of having my life already mapped out for me vanished. I bounced in the chair. “You got me a present!”

He bent over and kissed the top of my head. “You’re my entire world, Elle. I’d never forget the day you came into my life.

“And I would never dream of making you sign stuffy documents without giving you something fun for your birthday.”

“Thank you so much!” I beamed, impatience to open my present stampeding through me.

“You don’t know what it is yet.”

“I don’t care. I love it already.” My eyes latched onto the box, desperate to see what it was.

He took pity on me. “Go on, open it.”

I didn’t need a second invitation.

Plopping off the chair, I crawled on all fours beneath his huge desk and tore eagerly at the ribbon. It fell away, pooling on the carpet. Cracking the lid, I peered inside.

The gloom beneath the desk made it hard to see, but then a tiny gray face appeared.

“Oh!” Full body shakes quaked through me as excitement and adoration exploded. “Oh! Oh! ” I reached into the box and pulled out the cutest ball of fluff I’d ever seen.

Falling onto my butt, I cuddled the kitten close. “You got me a cat?”

Dad appeared, pushing his chair away and ducking to my level. “I did.”

“But you said I couldn’t have any pets. That we were too busy.”

“Well, I changed my mind.” He turned serious. “I know the responsibility I’m putting on you, Elle. I know all of this is hard to figure out when you’re barely starting life.

“And I’m sorry you don’t have the freedom some of your friends do. I’ve been strict with you, but you’re such a good girl. I thought I’d better give you something you actually wanted for a change.”

I cuddled the kitten harder. It didn’t squirm away or try to swat me like the cat in the pet store did when I snuck in on my own one day while Dad was distracted.

This one purred and nudged its head beneath my chin.

Tears sprung to my eyes. Love billowed and overflowed. Somehow, I loved this little bundle as much as I loved my dad, and we’d only just met.

Gratefulness quickly overshadowed the love, and I placed the kitten on its feet, crawled as fast as I could toward Dad, and barreled into his arms.

“Thank you.” I kissed his rough cheek. “Thank you!”

He laughed. Wrapping me in a tight embrace, he smelled so comfortingly of lavender soap. The same soap Mom used to make and stank up the house with while cooking a new batch.

“Thank you so much. I love him.”

The kitten padded toward us and mountain climbed onto our joint lap.

Dad shook his head. “It’s a girl. She’s twelve weeks old just like you’re twelve years old.” He unwound his arms as I plucked the little kitten and buried my face in her sweet smelling gray fur.

“What are you going to call her?”

I frowned, taking the question seriously. “Silver?”

“Silver?”

I kissed her head. “Her fur looks like silver.”

Dad chuckled. “Well, it’s a perfect name.”

“No, wait. Sage.”

“Sage?”

“I want to call her Sage.”

He didn’t need to know I remembered most of the herbs and aromatherapy oils Mom used to make lotions and soaps.

Sage was the last herb she’d given me a lesson on, and the leaves had a silver fuzz over them. Whenever I thought of that day, Mom felt closer and not so far away in Heaven.

I nodded firmly with my decision. “Yes, her name is Sage.”

He gathered me close again, kissing the top of my head. “Whatever you decide, I hope she looks after you, like you’ll look after her.”

I rubbed my nose against the kitten’s cold, wet one, shivering against the weird sensation. “She will. She’s going to come to work with me every day.” I hunched, cradling my new best-friend.

“Is that okay? Can she come to work with me?”

Dad’s face fell again. What he said was true. He was strict with me, but he was strict with himself, too. He missed Mom just as much as I did. Did he think I wouldn’t love him as much now I had a pet?

I reached up and touched his sandpaper cheek. “I love you.”

Light returned to his gray eyes. He hugged me tight on his lap, our little trio squishing into one entity for a second. “I love you, too, Elle. And you don’t have to ask if you can bring Sage to work.

“She’s yours. As long as she’s not on the shop floor, you can take her to the offices and do whatever you want.”

I sighed in happiness as Sage navigated the cliff-top created by our legs. “You’re the best dad ever.”

His smile faded, the joy of the moment lost as he shook his head. “I’m not, Elle.

“I know I can never replace your mother and I know I’m asking so much of you to pick up the mantle of this company so young, but I love you more than anything, and I’m so grateful to have you in my life.”

His words were heavy for a twelve-year-old. And they remained heavy even years later.

That birthday was ingrained into my memories for two big reasons.

One, I would never be lonely again thanks to Sage being in my world.

And two, Dad knew what he was sentencing me to and did it anyway.

I thought Belle Elle already owned me.

I was wrong.

 

Read the full uncensored books on the Galatea iOS app!

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