After Marcella Sinclair’s mother dies, she can’t help feeling like a burden to her eighteen-year-old brother. So when she gets an offer to make a pile of cash as a stripper, she does it. No one can know…especially not her brother, who is hell-bent on keeping her pure and innocent for the rest of her life.
Age Rating: 18+
The Secrets of Sin by E.J. Lace 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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“Ms. Sinclair, stay a minute after class. I need a word with you.” Mr. Keats’ stone-like voice makes me nervous.
Out of all my teachers, Mr. Keats is the one that scares me the most. We never seem to get along and every time I’m in his class I feel guilty of some untold crime.
I nod my head and curse internally at my luck. I’ve never had the good kind. It’s like they say, if I didn’t have bad luck, then I wouldn’t have any luck at all.
Shuffling my books into my bag and grabbing my jacket, I watch the rest of my class leave me at his mercy.
I don’t know what it is with this man but he always makes me feel like the worst kid. Like nothing I do is right.
My perfect grades hit a downward spiral in this man’s hands.
“Miss Sinclair, would you like for me to just go ahead and give you a failing grade and it’s over with? It’s like you’re not even trying.”
He sighs while leaning back on his metal desk, crossing his ankles and locking his fingers together, placing them down at his belt buckle.
Snapping my eyes back to him, I scramble for the right thing to say.
“N-no sir, I truly am trying my hardest. I’m working on my grade in your class, sir. I hope this next assignment will show you that effort.”
I nod again, watching his cold brown eyes wash over me.
Like he’s trying to tell if I’m lying, or maybe he is just not a fan of my fashion sense.
“I highly doubt you will be able to pass this class on your own, Miss Sinclair. Have you thought about getting a tutor?”
His whole presence makes me squirm.
I feel scrutinized and dismissed at every level with him.
“Mr. Keats, while that is an excellent idea, I couldn’t afford it. I’m not sure what I’m messing up. If you could please give me a little more time, I’m sure I will bring my grade up.”
I fiddle with my nails, clipping them together while I tip back on my heels to relieve some of this anxiety he causes.
“I don’t believe in optimism, Miss Sinclair. In fact, I think it’s an ill choice for you at this time.”
His tone makes it feel so final, like he has already made up his mind and that I can’t possibly pass his class, so why try.
“Sir, please. I’ll do whatever assignment for extra credit to bring my grade up. I can’t fail this class; I need every credit to pass. If I fail this class, I can’t graduate next year. Sir, please reconsider.”
I plead with him with my whole heart; I need this class to pass. I can’t fail. I have to graduate, so I can get to college.
I need college to make a living and I need the money to help support my family. It’s just Erik and me. He has worked his butt off to even get us this far.
He works two jobs; I barely see him as is and if I fail, then all his work is for nothing. If I fail this class, then I fail Erik and that can’t happen. I owe him more than that.
After Mom died, he took the world on his shoulders for me. Dad left a long time ago. I don’t even remember him. It’s us against the world now.
I have to pull my own weight. I asked to get a job but Erik nixed that idea and told me to focus on school.
Mr. Keats unlocks his hands, bringing his middle finger to his cheek and running it along his five o’clock shadow.
His gray suit bunches at the shoulders and pulls back at the side to show more of his white dress shirt that’s tucked into his matching gray slacks.
“Hmm, if you’re interested, I might have a way for you to secure your grade. Come to this address at five tonight and I’ll help you with your work. I won’t offer again, so take it or leave it.”
He turns from me, pulling a yellow Post-it note from his top desk. Using a black ink pen, he scribbles out an address and holds it out for me to take.
Slowly, I take hold of it and grip it for dear life. “Thank you, Mr. Keats. I promise I will be there. Thank you for this opportunity.” I flash a smile, my chest filling with gratitude.
Mr. Keats nods as he dismisses me officially. I practically skip out of the room and down the hall to my locker.
Finally, some good luck.
Yeah, it’s gonna be hard to work directly with Mr. Keats, but as long as I pass, then it will be worth the struggle.
I know how much is riding on my dedication to school.
My brother is only four years older than me. He can’t take care of the both of us forever. He didn’t even get to grieve over Mom before he had to go back to work.
He was just eighteen when she died, relinquishing me, his fifteen-year-old kid sister, completely into his care.
I know he tries so hard and he keeps most of it out of my way but taking care of me made him lose a lot.
He quit college and picked up another job. He even lost his longtime girlfriend, Dana, because he didn’t have any time for her. He gave up his scholarships and put his future on hold.
His list of friends dwindled to just Ross and Ben, who he doesn’t get to hang out with as much because he’s always working.
Erik is my personal superman. I can’t let him down.
I just can’t.
If he can handle the world, all the stress, the debt Mom left us, the bills, halting his life to taking full responsibility for me, the least I can do is deal with Mr. Keats.
Or whoever stands in my way.
If Erik can be tough, so can I.
I make sure I have everything before leaving school, then walk home. It’s only a few blocks, so it doesn’t take me long before I’m hurrying to finish my chores.
Erik won’t be home until midnight tonight, so I make sure he has dinner ready, clean clothes, and to I clean up the mess I make.
Leaving my house with forty-five minutes to spare, I take a bus across town and get off at the right bus stop. Rechecking the Post-it note at least ten times, I find the address in time.
It’s three minutes to five when I knock.
When Mr. Keats opens the door, I’m taken aback. His normal attire at school is always suits and ties, so seeing him at his home is strange to say the least.
His plain white shirt fits him well. In contrast, his lounger light gray sweatpants seem to be a bad fit, but I don’t say anything.
“You’re late, Miss Sinclair.” His cold eyes bore into me, making me self-conscious. I look at my watch to see I’m actually on time.
“I’m sorry about that, Mr. Keats. I thought you said five o’clock.”
I look down, staring at his black and white sliders. Mr. Keats dresses like one of the kids at my school in his spare time. He isn’t much older—maybe mid-thirties at the latest—but still.
“You heard right. If you’re not early, then you’re late. I won’t accept tardiness from you.
“In case you have forgotten, Miss Sinclair, I’m doing you a favor and won’t be taken advantage of,” he says, so sternly that I flinch at his words.
“Y-yes, sir, I understand completely. I am sorry about that. It won’t happen again. I promise.”
I keep my gaze down, not having the courage to look him in the eye. It’s like I’ll be sucked into his evil vortex if I even spare a single look. Like he is Medusa and I’ll turn to stone or something.
“Hm, this way.” He walks away, waving a hand to usher me in after him.
Not wasting a second, I follow in behind him, shutting the door softly so I can give him my full attention. Unstrapping my bag from my shoulder, I wait for further instructions.
Mr. Keats seems preoccupied with some work he is putting away.
His home is nice. It’s very much a man’s home. I can tell he lives alone; his bachelor pad smells of a man’s cologne and the lack of decoration reeks of a single man.
I’m sure my house would look the same if it was just Erik. Mom wasn’t much into interior design.
Not that she could have been. We didn’t have the money, and anything extra went on her habit and was snorted up her nose.
Mom was a cocaine addict. I don’t think she was for long; I can remember when she started to change. When she overdosed, it didn’t seem like something possible until we cleaned out her room.
I found a small bag of it under her mattress, a tiny bag in her dresser drawer, and dust of it smeared on her bedside table.
When we got her purse back, it looked like it had been hit with a powder puff from one of those gag reels.
My mom overdosed on New Year’s two years ago. She didn’t come home for two days but I thought she was with her boyfriend Scotty.
When that third day came and our electricity got shut off, I didn’t know what else to do but go look for Erik.
When I told him about Mom and the power getting cut, he didn’t seem concerned. To be fair, he was at a frat party and was more upset with me showing up there than what was actually going on.
When I realized he was drunk, I looked elsewhere for help. Ben happened to arrive just as I was losing hope, so I told him what was up.
Ben pulled Erik out of the party and took us to his off-campus apartment. He was roommates with Ross and another guy, Stevie.
We sat there for hours until Erik sobered up and understood what was wrong.
Ben stayed with me while Erik went to Mom’s work and asked around. He learned Mom had lost her job two months before that.
Her friend Cindy said she hadn’t seen Mom in weeks and the last she’d heard about her was Mom was getting into some trouble with a guy they called the Gas Man.
Two weeks went by without a word.
We checked hospitals and jails and we asked around. The police didn’t seem interested and brushed us off.
Since it was Christmas break, I didn’t have school and couldn’t go home with no heat in the house.
Ben looked after me, while Erik went out, looking for Mom every day, and kept coming back with nothing.
When the police came to Ben’s apartment to notify the next of kin, it was almost a relief.
I had been the one to answer the door. Ben was out getting dinner, Erik was out looking for Mom, and Stevie and Ross were at work.
By sunset, the chill in the air felt like winter time and I was watching reruns of Drake and Josh on some bootleg site Stevie had hooked up for us.
I still remember it like it wasn’t two years ago.
I remember the officers that came: Detective Fordmen and Officer Harris.
They asked if I was alone and if my brother could come back. I told them he was out and was on his way, but if it was about my momma, then they could just tell me.
I could feel the bad news rolling off them; I knew whatever they had to say wasn’t good.
When Detective Fordmen said they had found a woman matching my mother’s description and needed her body identified, I just said okay and that my brother and I go to the morgue.
I showed them out, then waited, alone, with the bitter taste of the truth. Ben came back with arms full of takeout bags. He took one look at me and knew something was up.
“Mari?” he said. Mari, pronounced mar-ee, is short for Marcella. “What’s up?” He dropped the bags on the countertop and was at my side in one stride.
His strong, toned arms tensed at his side. His hands clenched open and closed repeatedly. His pale blue eyes made me feel warm, like I was under the summer sky.
“My mom’s dead, and Erik and I have to identify her body. The police were just here,” I said with no feeling.
The sweeping hand of death fell over me and made me feel numb.
Ben’s face fell for a second before he regained his iron composure. I saw his jaw click and the contemplation cloud his eyes.
Ben has always been massive. When I was a little kid, I would swear he was a bear. The dark brown hair made me think about a brown grizzly.
He has always been so much taller than all of us, and once he started working out, he was massive for different reasons.
“Maybe they got the wrong person and she’s still out there. Maybe she’s not dead.” His voice was the softest I’d ever heard it.
Ben has always been like a stone wall. He is Erik’s best friend and the same age but I always felt close to him too.
I shook my head no. I knew the moment the officers knocked. My mom was truly dead. I knew it in my heart.
When Ben slid his hand inside mine and intertwined our fingers, I could feel the wall give way and the sadness flood me. Before that first tear stung my eyes, Ben had me in his arms.
Holding me tight to his chest as I sobbed and dampened his shirt, I couldn’t breathe. I cried so hard; no one had ever held me like that. It was as if he needed me as much as I needed him.
I cried till my heart ran out of tears and I just felt empty. Ben never let go of me. He never told me to stop or calm down. He just held on to me and played with my hair.
When Erik got back, Ben was the one that told him while I washed my face. My brother and I went down and looked at Mom’s corpse. The next few days were nothing but a blur.
The only thing I really remembered was Ben. The way he took care of me and made sure I was okay. A grizzly bear who never left my side.
When I asked Erik to let the state take guardianship of me so he could go on about his life, the whole group flipped on me.
Ben, Erik, Ross, and Stevie—all who became like brothers to me after Mom’s death, not just Erik—gave me an earful for even asking.
I stand by that choice.
It would have been easier on him.
“Mr. Keats, would you like to start in here?” I ask while he clears the stacked paperwork and clears off his dark red leather couch.
He doesn’t say anything; he doesn’t acknowledge my presence at all. I stand behind him, quietly waiting for our tutoring lesson to start.
It feels like eons before he finishes and motions for me to drop my bag and follow him out of the room.
Here we go.
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“Miss Sinclair, I’m sure you are aware of the phrase ‘double-edge sword’?” he asks as he walks us further into his large house.
The wall’s wooden planks give the space a natural feel, but I can tell they’re fake. The lighting is really dark and my eyes still haven’t adjusted.
“Yes, sir, I am,” I answer from behind him. His hallway is so long and narrow, I can’t stand beside him; I have to walk behind.
He says nothing else as we creep into a small room tucked behind a set of stairs. Mr. Keats lets me go in first as he waits by the door.
This room, like the hallway, has been left bare and dark. Mr. Keats strolls to the large wooden desk in the middle of the room and takes a seat like a king on his throne.
He looks like a menacing alpha male in his habitat. His cold eyes make me shrink with just one look.
“Life is like a double-edge sword, Miss Sinclair. Everything that happens has repercussions.”
His words seem to cast a spell. I feel locked away here, like I’m being interrogated and sentenced all in one. I nod my head to show him I’m listening.
A long silence falls over us until Mr. Keats clears his throat and tells me to take a seat at the side of his desk instead of in front of it.
Doing what I’m told, I don’t give it a second thought before I hustle to his side.
I focus on my posture. I sit straight and cross my legs at the ankles. I remember all too well that Mr. Keats hates slouchers.
He called me out on it in the middle of class before. I try my hardest to be aware of it now when I’m around him.
“You are failing my class. I have given you opportunity after opportunity to bring this disgusting grade up but you have squandered those chances.
“Now, today, as the generous and thoughtful man that I am, I have dropped one last chance into your lap.
“Your mother has passed away, no father in the picture, and your guardian can’t afford a tutor, correct?”
Mr. Keats nails me right on the head. I have been trying in his class. It’s not like I’m not grasping the material, but it’s like every time I submit my work, I somehow mess up.
My classmates and I haven’t ever been close but I did read Warren’s paper, the kid that sits next to me. I thought mine was way better than his, but he still got a much higher grade.
“Yes sir, that’s correct,” I answer meekly.
“As you said yourself, you need to pass my class or you will not graduate on time. Are you willing to do everything you can?”
I feel a lump in my throat, the glue coating it from his question. “Y-yes sir, I am.” I sound like a guilty kid that got caught dipping into the cookie jar.
My answer makes Mr. Keats's lips tug into a smudged smirk that he replaces with his hardened scowl.
“That’s excellent news, Miss Sinclair. It delights me to hear your dedication to your education.”
Mr. Keats gives me these compliments, but instead of basking in the first one he has ever given me, I feel like I maybe shouldn’t have come here.
I tell myself I don’t have any other options, so I couldn’t have declined his offer.
“My…situation is unique, Miss Sinclair. You understand that every person has their tastes and preferences. Mine happens to be rather specific.
“I’d like to offer you a one-time deal. If you say no, I will fail you. You will not have another chance. Do you understand me?”
His voice sounds so final—like I need to accept whatever it is, no matter what. I have to pass.
“Y-yes, sir,” I answer. I can feel myself shrinking away.
Mr. Keats turns his swivel chair toward me, his hands locked in front of him. “I’m not sure you truly care enough Miss Sinclair. Convince me.”
He stares blankly. His eyes no longer hold any brown; they look like pieces of black coal instead of eyes at all.
“Mr. Keats, I will do whatever you need. I have to pass. I know you have been kind and have given me second chances and I messed them up.
“My brother is counting on me and I can’t be held back another year. He’s already given so much up. Anything at all, and I will make sure it gets done to your liking, sir.
“I swear, I am one hundred percent dedicated to this class, to my education, sir.” I scooch to the edge of my seat and lean on the pads of my toes as I plead with him.
Mr. Keats nods his head slightly, barely even enough for me to notice. He licks his bottom lip with his blush-pink tongue as he scans me with a scrutinizing glare.
I look away, feeling like a bug that he is deciding to crush under the weight of his shoe.
Mr. Keats clears his throat once more and leans into his seat. “Miss Sinclair, I will not accept any form of backtalk, refusal, or failure to do exactly as you’re told. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, sir,” I whisper, feeling like something bad is about to happen.
“Stand up,” he commands.
I jump to my feet, standing stiff and straight.
“Step out of your shoes.” His voice deepens, like light bulbs blowing with no warning, letting the glass shatter and scatter its dangerous shards across the room.
“Look at me. Do not look at anything else in this room,” he growls. The baritone of his voice sends ice water into my blood. Not knowing what he has in store and not wanting to fail, I do as I’m told.
Stepping out of my black sneakers, I keep my eyes trained on his black orbs like a black pit in outer space.
“Let down your hair.” He meets my gaze with every word. I feel sick but follow his order.
Pulling my long chocolate-colored hair out of my ponytail and letting it fall on my shoulders and back, I snuggle the hair tie over my wrist, so I don’t lose it.
Mr. Keats leans back in his chair, letting his long legs stretch out as he fumbles around with the long drawstring of his pants.
Holding back the whimper that fills my throat, I only look at his eyes. Soulless and black, watching me like a hawk.
“Take off your shirt.” The one command makes my heart drop. No one has ever seen me undressed. I’ve never dated or even been walked in on as I was changing.
I’ve just turned eighteen, but still, most girls have at least had a boyfriend by now or shared a first kiss.
And here I am, undressing before my teacher to pass his class before I’ve ever gotten to experience any of that.
Knowing I don’t have a choice, not a real one, I do as I’m told.
I take the hem of my plain pink t-shirt and pull it over my bare skin, exposing my lower stomach, then my belly button, my ribcage, and finally, my chest.
My arms slip out as I pop my head through, then I place my shirt on the chair behind me. My white bra is in full view as my breasts spill over the top.
I’ve known I need new clothes for a while but I couldn’t ask Erik. He shouldn’t have to pay for this stuff.
Mr. Keats sucks in a short and sharp breath at the sight of me and wiggles his sweatpants down to his knees. He shoves a hand into his plaid boxers.
I keep my composure, staring him in the eyes and not daring to look at any other part of his body.
“Unclasp your bra and give it to me.” He sounds like he’s in pain. I can hear the chair squeak from the shaking.
Reaching behind me, I lift my fingers to the soft cotton pad and maneuver the latch, unhooking the clasp. My straps fall and my bra cups fall away from my chest.
Mr. Keats’s eyes trail my movements like he’s eating every inch of my bare flesh. His eyes are hungry and ready to devour me.
Letting my arms slide out of the straps, I pull my bra off in the middle. My breasts fall slightly lower and my nipples harden at the change in temperature.
I lean forward, letting Mr. Keats take my bra from my hands and I watch him bring it to his nose. He inhales deeply, as if my bra smells like fresh-baked cookies.
I want to cover myself. I want to fold my arms around me and block his view but I’m too scared.
“Take off your pants.” His voice shakes along with his whole body. I’ve never seen it but I know what he’s doing. He looks like he’s attacking himself. I didn’t know it has to be done so roughly.
I obey him, popping the button on my jeans and pulling the zipper free. I hold his stare, feeling myself getting sucked into a black hole.
I let my jeans fall to my ankles and shimmy out. I kick them behind me.
My thick thighs seem to win his interest. Mr. Keats bites his bottom lip while beating himself off to me.
Standing before him in nothing but my green and blue polka-dotted panties, he drinks me in.
“Take them off,” he grunts, his face tense and angry. Licking his bottom lip, his eyes crawl all over me. His gaze feels sticky and slimy.
I try to hook my thumbs underneath my panties, but my hands are shaking so much that I can’t do it. My vision starts to blur and I feel tears drop down my cheeks.
“Don’t cry,” he hisses. “Don’t fucking cry!”
The anger in his voice scares me and just makes more tears fall. “I-I’m sorry, sir. I…I…” I stifle back a sob.
Mr. Keats groans with frustration and stops jerking himself. He glares at me, and I’m filled with terror.
“I’m going to walk out of this room and give you two minutes. When I come back, those tears will be gone. Then you will do exactly as I tell you. Understand?”
I can only nod. If I tried to speak, I’d only cry more.
Mr. Keats stands up with a look of disgust, my bra clutched in one fist. He doesn’t even want to look at me. It’s like my tears suddenly turned me into some hideous beast.
After he’s gone, I frantically wipe away my tears. Soon, he will come back and make me take off my panties.
And then… And then, what?
The horror of the situation almost makes my heart stop. I have to get out of here.
I put on my clothes as fast as I can, stumbling because of my fear. He still has my bra but I don’t care. I grab my things and run for the front door.
I’m opening it when I hear him shout from behind me.
“Marcella!” he roars, his footsteps thundering after me.
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