The Devil's Daughter - Book cover

The Devil's Daughter

Ophelia Bell

2: Chapter 2


The faint buzz of my phone signals that Elle and the twins are home. The vague sense of relief that washes over me irks me. I didn’t even realize how tense I was ever since they left the penthouse this morning. It’s the first time they’ve taken an outing with Elle since she moved in.

What irritates me more is that I’m starting to like having them around.

After almost five years of solitude, I’ve come to prefer living alone. Being railroaded into becoming a guardian for an old friend’s brilliant daughter wasn’t an ideal situation, but I wasn’t about to turn down Arturo Flores when he asked for a favor.

I did object when he informed me she’d be accompanied by a pair of bodyguards he’d assigned to her. Even though I was short a chief of security for Typhon’s HQ, I prefer to vet and hire my men myself. But Flores drives a hard bargain. He insisted that he’d personally overseen the twins’ training, and while they were still green, they were both highly capable. Ben’s the muscle and Baz is the tech genius, both possessing the qualities I look for in a security chief. In all the years I’ve known Flores, he’s never skimped on hiring quality personnel.

Though I have a feeling I’m actually doing him another favor by agreeing to the deal. His favorite pair of guard dogs have evidently lost their love for their master.

They are more than attentive to Elle, though, so it’s saved me a headache when it comes to assigning her a new detail. And I can’t dispute that they’ve had their work cut out for them, being part of one of the most lucrative criminal organizations in the country, though I can’t begin to guess how much Arturo Flores is actually worth. The fact that he’s got a man at my tier of income on speed dial says enough, but also suggests the favors wealthier, more powerful people owe him is the most valuable currency he trades in.

I owe the man my life and my legacy, so naturally I couldn’t say no when he came to me with his request. The initial favor was simple: take his youngest daughter under my wing, but don’t let on that we have a connection, or that she has a connection to ~him~. Evidently when Elle Santos started working for me, she was oblivious to the facts surrounding her paternity.

Not that she needed the connection to qualify for an internship in Typhon’s finance department. Her transcripts spoke for themselves. She’s been on the Dean’s List since her freshman year and is on track to graduate Summa Cum Laude—with double majors in finance and computer science—a full semester early. She’s already stacking up courses toward an MBA.

But her grades aren’t half as impressive as her work ethic. Not five minutes after the alert comes notifying me of their return, a second alert arrives indicating she’s logged into the company network. I can picture her in the windowed alcove of the penthouse, typing away at the workstation I set up for her there. A few seconds later, she’s accessing the internal audit software I was teaching her to use only a week ago. Normally the department manager handles the training, but I made a promise to Arturo, so I intend to keep it.

Besides, she’s probably not even in the training suite. If I had to guess, she’s digging through the code of the program itself, looking for flaws like the one she found late last winter that would have cost my company millions if not for her sharp eye.

I’m between tasks, so I sit back to observe her keystrokes for a few minutes, something I don’t usually allow myself to do. I’m not in the habit of spying on my employees, but I tell myself this is part of what I agreed to when I took on the burden of keeping her safe.

With Elle, I’ve found myself more and more fascinated with how her mind works, how she’s able to track down potential flaws in our financial algorithms, or loopholes we can exploit to circumvent tax law. Even though I know she’s had nothing to do with Arturo’s business, I recognize the pattern of thought. She’s every bit as shrewd and calculating as her father, which are skills I’m more than happy to help her cultivate.

The grace with which she moves through the lines of code becomes hypnotic, and I watch for half an hour or so until my assistant buzzes me, reminding me of an afternoon meeting. Reluctantly, I close the window that mirrors Elle’s laptop screen and stand, leaving my office to head down to the conference rooms on a lower floor.

It’s a mindless circle-jerk of a call between Typhon and the CEOs of two shipping partners who frequently contract with us to use our fleet. I’m pushing to get more companies like Typhon on the renewable energy bandwagon, but it’s a hard sell when fossil fuel lobbyists are in everyone’s pockets. The fact that our industry doesn’t rely on the power grid is one complication. Innovating to find new ways to power freighters to carry goods around the world is more than a pet project, though. It’s the surest way I can see to keep Typhon thriving for another century. Adapt or die, my father used to say, and while the man was rotten to the core, he wasn’t an idiot. He just chose to adapt in unhealthy directions.

At least the meeting ends with two more CEOs agreeing to attend the renewable energy gala I’m hosting this weekend. My assistant will be pleased I’m filling the last few seats. As I’m heading back to my office, it occurs to me there’s at least one person I need to add to the list, and that idea spurs another.

When I reach my assistant’s desk, she glances up from her work with an attentive lift to her eyebrows.

“Lindsey, add Arturo Flores to the guest list for the gala, along with ten others. And I will be bringing a plus-one.”

She stands, her eyes wide at this unexpected change. “That’s a full table. Are you sure?”

“We have room. I’ll send you names in the morning.”

“Yes, sir. Do you want to share your date’s name, at least? I’ll go ahead and put her—or him?—down, and I’m guessing Mr. Flores will join you at your table?”

“You guess right. And the young woman’s name is Elle. Elle Flores. They’ll all be at my table.”

She blinks at me, and in a careful tone says, “You mean Elle Santos.”

I take a beat, realizing my slip, but luckily no one else is within earshot and Lindsey already knows who Elle is. “Right. I guess I subconsciously need to remind myself who her father really is,” I say with a chuckle.

The lines around Lindsey’s mouth crinkle when she purses her lips, but she restrains herself from critiquing my choice of date. I’d have gotten less of a sourpuss reaction if I’d actually chosen a man.

“Out with it,” I say, preferring brutal honesty over employees who will walk on eggshells around me.

“She’s young. Not to mention an employee. That’s all.”

“She’s also going through a rough time right now. And eight years isn’t a huge age difference in the grand scheme of things—you said yourself there’s more than a decade between you and your husband. But this isn’t a date. She’s been cooped up in the penthouse and is getting restless. One brief afternoon visit with her brother and sister isn’t going to be enough. My intention is to give her an opportunity for an outing without risking her safety.

“Which reminds me, make sure we double the budget for security at the venue. I’ll let the twins know tonight so they increase the staff for it, but go ahead and inform Karl Thomas this afternoon too.” While the twins are now my heads of security, Karl is their second in command. Since the event is only a few days away, the more people who are aware of the needs, the quicker it’ll happen.

She frowns. “Is this about Elle, or is it about the email you received last week?”

My jaw flexes at the reminder of the cryptic message some anonymous asshole sent me. “I’m not giving into threats, Lindsey. If someone wants to come for me, let them.”

“Drake,” she admonishes, “it’s the third time someone’s threatened the company if you don’t step down. I know you won’t go to the authorities due to your father’s history, but you can’t just leave it alone. I wish you cared more about your own wellbeing, but you’re not the only one to think about now. If this person follows through…”

“I’m a rich man, Lindsey. There are people out there who make a hobby out of extorting people like me. This is probably nothing. The increased security isn’t about me, it’s about Elle, so please just do as I ask. I’ll cover any budget overshoot out of pocket, if necessary.”

“As you wish, sir.” She presses her lips tight, silent judgment emanating from her in waves.

“Thank you.” I sigh. “And I’ll talk to Baz Quin about the email. Maybe he can at least find out who has it out for me.”

Lindsey relaxes a little and nods. “How is Elle, by the way?” she asks as she eases back into her seat. “I’d gotten used to seeing her around for the past few months. She was a breath of fresh air around here. So bright. And pretty.”

“Well enough, considering. And thank you for your discretion. I don’t like asking you to lie for me, but this is important.”

“Working here means too much to me to risk it. Working for you, I mean. What you’re doing for that girl is above and beyond, but after getting to know her, I’m sure it’s worth it. After everything from before…”

She trails off, shaking her head, but she doesn’t need to fill in the blanks. I know what she means, and I know all too well the secrets she was forced to keep for my father that nearly broke her, and nearly ran the company into the ground.

Lindsey’s one of the few people on the planet who know most of my secrets, and she might be the only one I actually trust with them.

I retreat to my office, pausing for a moment to enjoy the deep gold of the sky over the bay as the sun begins its descent. The Coronado Bridge stretches off into the distance, a line like an arrow aimed at the sun. It’s a clear afternoon, promising a warm night, no doubt. I take a moment to pull out my phone and text my chef, suggesting an outdoor supper tonight so the four of us can enjoy the evening.

It feels strange, this sense of domesticity that’s crept into my waking hours since they moved in. It hasn’t even been that long, but I already look forward to the companionship, even though most days I feel like an outsider looking in. So far I’ve avoided insinuating myself into their little triangle. Elle and the twins have a history, though it isn’t clear how deep that rabbit hole goes. I just know they’ve known each other since they were kids, which speaks to Arturo being involved, at least peripherally, in her life all along.

But I don’t get the sense that they’ve ever been more than friends. She ribs them like brothers, and they give as good as they get, though I don’t miss the way they both look at her when she isn’t paying attention. She may have been just a childhood friend at one time, but she’s definitely a woman in their eyes now.

I avoid looking, but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice. Elle has absolutely no clue how gorgeous she is, and it shows. She possesses the brash innocence of an extroverted young woman who grew up with four older brothers. She lacks the filter of a girl taught to behave like a proper young woman and isn’t afraid of sharing her opinion. This, plus her drive and dedication in school likely insulated her from the advances of boys as much as her brothers did, so it shouldn’t surprise me that she’s so clueless about the allure she has.

It’s definitely not lost on the twins, though. Or on me, though Lindsey was right; I’m probably too old for her and should restrict my attention to that of a mentor, not a suitor. Paying too much attention to her is a minefield of potential issues that go way beyond the complications of a boss getting involved with an employee. There are far more compelling reasons for me to keep our relationship formal.

In the interest of mentorship, I turn back to my desk and sit, switching on the monitor and pulling up the screen I closed earlier. I’m curious how much headway she’s made on her trek through the auditing program and fully expect to be impressed.

But what I see isn’t financial software code at all.

A heavy stone drops into my belly at a sight I thought I’d banished from my mind years ago: A screen filled with camera angles of bedrooms, one of which shows a young woman seated cross-legged on a bed with a laptop open in front of her.

The shock takes a moment to shake off, and the realization that I’m looking at Elle in her own bedroom upstairs delays any anger or confusion.

I’m seeing what she’s seeing, and she is looking at surveillance of herself, as well as every other room in my penthouse, including my own bedroom and my private office. I’m not there at the moment, but judging by the angle, the camera has to be situated somewhere on the bookcase beside the door.

Did she put it there?

No fucking way do I believe Elle is somehow a spy for her father. That’s absurd, especially considering there’s a camera in her room.

The window blinks as she opens another app, and for a moment, all I see are lines of code. Then I’m looking at a file structure and quick clicks as folders are opened and scanned. Leaning closer, I look for her search term.

Drake Stavros + Arturo Flores.

I snort. The sneaky little minx is hacking my network, evidently hunting for information on my connection to her dad.

That explains the view of the cameras—she must have found a hidden feed in her search. When she switches back to that screen, I look more closely. A couple are legitimate security feeds I recognize. I have cameras at every entrance to my penthouse, even the door to the roof, a few newly installed since the twins moved in. But the others, the more intrusive ones, are definitely not sanctioned by me.

I clench my jaw. Did the twins…?

Fuck, I hope not. Actually, I’d rather it is them than the other possibility. I doubt they’d do it, but I’m hoping for a more benign explanation because if it isn’t them, then something else is going on. Something I really don’t want to think about.

I stare at the screen, dread coiling in my gut. The more I think about it, the more I don’t like the conclusion I’m drawing. But after a moment, my brain finally registers movement, and every one of my senses comes alive.

Elle is now sitting at the end of the bed, staring right at the camera as she unbuttons her blouse from the bottom up.

My mouth goes dry, and I can’t look away as the buttons come apart, slowly revealing the smooth expanse of her flat belly, then the faintest curve of the undersides of both her breasts. She pauses and stands, biting her lip as she leaves her shirt hanging over her breasts in an inverted vee, then drops her hands to unfasten her jeans. Swaying her hips as she moves, she undoes the button, then the zipper, then slowly peels the fabric down.

I’m transfixed, even though it’s nothing I haven’t seen. She spent the first weekend after moving in lounging in a bikini by the pool, insisting on milking this change that had been foisted on her for all it was worth.

Except she’s not in a bikini under her clothes. Her snug boy shorts are made from pale lace, and she’s clearly not wearing a bra. Between the plackets of her button-down shirt, all I see is bare skin. The fabric drapes over her nipples, a breath away from revealing everything.

She does a little dance, gracefully spinning for the camera and teasing her fingers at the next button of her blouse. My gaze falls again to her lacy panties, sheer enough to see the faint dark vee of her pubic hair underneath. The security feeds are black and white, but for some reason my brain fills in the color of her panties as petal pink, and my dick hardens at the sight.

Shame roils in my belly, a voice in my head telling me I’m a perverted monster for continuing to watch, but I can’t look away. She’s dancing for the camera, so that means she wants to be seen, right? Does that mean she knows I’m watching?

I skim back through the camera feeds, but find none for my 30th-floor office.

I should fucking shut this down. Not just my watching, but her dancing. But it’s been so long since I tasted the sweet thrill of watching a woman undress behind a camera like this. It’s a dangerously erotic feeling, giving me a rush like an old drug I thought I’d kicked worming its way into my veins unexpectedly. I’m fucking high on seeing her do her thing.

My blood runs hotter when she unfastens the last button, then turns her back to the camera as she lets her shirt slide to the floor with a flirtatious glance over her shoulder. Jesus, she really has dancing down to an art.

When she begins to turn, I lean closer, balls tightening in anticipation. I’m a fucking pervert, but I can’t stop.

She faces the camera, a wickedly mischievous smile on her face, arms crossed over her chest. Then she drops her hands and takes a step closer.

I blink, because what I’m seeing is not what I expected. Her nipples are covered by two black strips of tape crisscrossed into dark Xs, and across her chest in clear, fat print that looks like lipstick, she’s painted the words FUCK YOU.

I gawk as she mouths the words, then lifts her middle finger to fill the frame.

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