This lawyer, Mark Coleman…
Or Matthew. Or Marvin…
Oh right! Mason.
…was not so bad, after all!
I was expecting another robotic lawyer, telling me some bullshit about stipulations and addendums.
But instead, as soon as I walked into his apartment, he thrust a drink into my hand and sat me down at a table of his buddies.
A poker night was in full swing, and I was always happy to find a good reason to burn some money.
Blowing through cash on expensive things—the cars, the women—had gradually lost its thrill.
But gambling…now that I could still find some joy in.
The best part of the night was that the four other old dudes sitting at the table didn’t seem to know me from Adam.
And they were already several drinks deep—so I was looking at some pretty good odds.
The guy next to me, who had the distinct scent of weed and BO, accidentally tipped his cards to me when he leaned over to grab another beer.
He would be a fool not to fold.
Which he did just a few moments later.
Now it was just me and Mason left in the round.
When the river was flipped, I took a quick gulp of the scotch Mason poured for me to stop myself from grinning…because I now had a royal flush.
It was Mason’s turn.
He threw down the last of his chips, eyeing me warily.
I was nearly out of chips myself, but I was sitting on too good a hand to back down.
“I see your bet,” I smirked, “And I raise you—”
“Hah! What can you raise me with? You’re almost out of chips!”
“I’ll raise you with something else, then,” I retorted. “I’ll raise you my car.”
“Come on,” Mason scoffed. “You must be joking.”
“Not in the least,” I said.
“Okay…” Mason said warily, his cheeks flushed with liquor. “I see your car, and I raise you…”
We had been locked in a staring contest, but now Mason broke my gaze, looking to the other side of the living room.
I’ve made him nervous now.
I took another sip of Mason’s expensive scotch.
Following his gaze, I caught a flash of red before it disappeared behind a wall.
My hand was hovering over the center of the table, with enough chips to call the bet, when Mason let out a low chuckle.
“FREYA!” he shouted.
“Mason.” The timid voice was followed by a slim girl wearing paint-splattered jeans and an oversize T-shirt.
Gathered loosely atop her head was a mop of deep red hair, almost matching the blush that had spread across her cheeks.
She was a mess.
Even from where I was sitting, I could see the streak of paint in her hair and a stain from what I assumed was a coffee on the baggy T-shirt.
“Who’s this, Mason?” I smirked, glancing back down at my cards. A needy ex-girlfriend I figured. “Have you been holding out on us?”
“This is my sister, Freya.”
My buzz died out.
But with the practiced ease of a performer, I was able to keep my composure.
The girl walked into the room.
I didn’t want to stare, but for some strange reason I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off her.
Suddenly, she was the most interesting thing in the room.
I knew she recognized me. I could tell by the way she was assessing me, and it was easy to see that she was trying to figure out how I had ended up in her brother’s living room.
“You need money, don’t you?”
I could hear Mason’s mocking tone ringing out across from me, and I watched in anger as her cheeks grew even brighter with his question.
With great reluctance, she nodded her head, and I felt something heavy rest in my chest.
“When are you going to get yourself a real job?” Mason jeered.
He was beginning to lose all the good favor he’d won with me.
Muttering a reply, the girl started to leave the room, like a scolded puppy with its tail tucked between its legs.
“Wait, Freya,” I blurted out, although I wasn’t sure what I was planning to say next. “You might just make this night interesting.”
Without missing a beat, I fixed my face with my trademark smile that always sent crowds into a frenzy.
But her face didn’t break.
Unlike her brother and his friends, she had a hell of a poker face.
It took everything in my power to not collapse under the weight of his gaze.
But finally I was able to steady myself enough to speak.
“How could I possibly make Liam Henderson’s night more entertaining?” I shot back.
“What are you thinking, rock star?” Mason asked, eyeing Liam skeptically.
“I have an idea of something you can bet,” Liam said.
Immediately, I hated where this was going.
I wished my brother had the good sense and sober head to back down, but instead he just said, “Oh, yeah?”
“Mason, stop,” I warned, wary of the dangerous glint in Liam’s eye.
“Stay out of this, Frey,” Mason muttered.
“But she’s relevant to the game.” Liam smirked.
“What’s the bet?” Mason asked.
“Well, I’m in need of a new maid, and it seems your sister here could use a job,” he explained casually.
I couldn’t keep my composure.
I felt my eyes go wide in horror.
“No way,” Mason said, and I felt relief wash over me.
“You afraid you aren’t going to win, Mason?” Liam jabbed. “I’m not sure I can trust the affairs of my life to a man who’s not ready to take a gamble now and then.”
Suddenly I realized how the two were connected.
Liam was my brother’s new “high-profile” client that he had been bragging about.
My brother was never one to back down from a challenge.
At least not since our mother died.
It made him view every person as his opponent, an outlook that helped his career greatly, but was a detriment to his personal life.
“Exactly,” Liam taunted, “she’s your sister. That will make you even more determined to win, won’t it?”
“Mason, come on,” I said, trying to keep a jovial tone.
I mean, this was ridiculous.
“What’s it gonna be, Mason?” Liam challenged, ignoring my plea.
My brother’s eyes darted between the two of us. Finally, he opened his mouth to speak. “Fine.”
I felt sick.
My own brother was using me as a bargaining chip in a poker match with one of the most famous men on the planet.
“Let’s play then, Coleman,” Liam said.
My stomach twisted.
I should have just walked out right then and there, but something kept my feet glued to the spot where I stood—like I was watching a car wreck.
As the cards played out, I felt myself unknowingly biting my bottom lip, terrified of the outcome.
And when the final cards were laid out, Liam jumped out of his seat in celebration.
“See you on Monday, Freya,” he cheered.
Like hell, you’ll see me on Monday.
I turned and walked out of my brother’s apartment without another word, determined to forget all about this embarrassing, demeaning encounter.
The next morning, I turned onto the last block, staring at my reflection in the windows of the trendy Williamsburg boutiques and cafés that I passed, trying to summon the slightest bit of courage.
It was the last gallery who’d agreed to see my work.
This could be my last chance.
I didn’t want to think about what would happen if I didn’t sell any of my pieces.
I already owed my landlord, Mr. Peabody, two months of unpaid rent…
I HAVE to get this.
Taking one last deep breath, I pushed inside.
I tapped my fingertips nervously on my knees as the posh curator studied a couple of my most recent paintings.
I was intimidated by this woman from the moment I walked into her trendy gallery.
With her long, black duster coat, blunt bangs, and geometric statement necklace, she looked like nothing short of a work of art herself.
And now I was waiting with bated breath for her assessment of mine.
Finally, after the longest two minutes of my life, she opened her pursed lips.
“It’s…” she began, “amateurish at best.”
“Not in its style, so much as in its themes,” she continued. “Come back to me when you have something original to say. Something real.”
With that, she thrust the canvases back into my hands and retreated to the adjoining office, leaving me alone with my swirling, frenetic thoughts.
How am I going to pay my rent?
I wearily climbed the steps to my fourth-floor walk-up, pausing on the landing when I heard the sound of massive pounding on one of the doors.
“FREYA!” Mason yelled. “OPEN THE DOOR OR I’M GOING TO BREAK IT DOWN!”
“Shut up!” I heard a neighbor call out through the thin walls.
I slowly climbed to the top of the steps, stopping to stare at him.
My brother stood outside of my door, looking hungover and deeply distressed.
“Freya!” he croaked, taking a step back.
I was surprised he had even found his way out from under the covers of his bed, let alone all the way to the door of my apartment.
“What are you doing here?” I growled, moving past him to unlock my door, then ushering him inside.
“Freya, I’m too tired for your games,” he said. “Tell me what you did before my career goes up in flames.”
“What I did?”
“Yes,” he snarled. “Explain this to me.”
He thrust his phone into my hands.
The screen illuminated a text.
Below his abrupt message, Liam had included the address.
A laugh escaped my lips. “He can’t be serious.”
I thought there was no way he would follow through on that bet.
Just some drunken antics…
“What does it mean!?” Mason looked at me, his face filled with confusion, and suddenly I realized…
“Mase…do you not remember what you did last night?” I asked.
It definitely wouldn’t be his first blackout…
“What do you mean?” he asked. “I was just playing poker with Liam and some other clients and then…”
He stopped talking midsentence, and I watched his face contort in horror.
“No,” he gasped as realization began to surface in his alcohol-impeded mind.
“Fix this, Mason,” I growled. “I’m not a bargaining chip for you to bet.”
“Of course,” he said. But then a conflicted look came over his face.
“What?” I demanded.
“Freya…” he said solemnly. “I really need this client.”
“What are you saying?” I demanded.
“I can’t back down from this bet. He’s Liam Henderson,” he emphasized.
“And I’m your sister,” I said, mimicking his punctuated tone. “Aren’t you supposed to protect me?”
“Of course, Freya, but he’s the highest paying client I’ve ever brought into the firm. And he’s a rock star.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” I asked incredulously.
“He’s spoiled!” Mason cried out. “He’s used to getting everything he wants. And if I renege on this, he might not stay with us. I could get fired.”
“So this is all about money?”
“N—yes—no… Freya, not all of us can live like you do,” he sighed.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Look at this place!” he cried out, pointing wildly around my tiny apartment. “You have no stable job...
“Most months you barely have enough money to feed yourself. If you didn’t come over to take my money, we wouldn’t be in this position in the first place. One of us needs to be responsible.”
“Responsible?” I laughed darkly. “You want to talk about responsible? Last night you got blackout drunk with one of the most infamous party boys in the world! So spare me the lecture.”
“That was business.”
“No, Mason, that was just you being you,” I snarled. “When are you going to admit that Dad affected you? When are you going to admit that you have a problem?”
“I don’t have a problem!” he shouted, reaching out and grabbing my shoulder harshly.
Immediately, my eyes went wide and my vision narrowed.
Memories filled the cracks where reality began to slip.
My entire body flinched as he held me, and another familiar voice filled my mind.
Mason’s voice quickly snapped the world into focus again.
I blinked my eyes a few times until they settled on my brother’s wary expression.
“Just leave,” I whispered, shaking his hand from my shoulder. “Leave me alone.”
“Freya, wait,” he pleaded, but I pushed him toward the front door.
“Freya, I’m sorry. Please,” he begged.
And he’s not going to take no for an answer. We’ll be caught in this deadlock all day.
“Don’t worry, Mase, I’ll be there on Monday. Your job will be safe,” I replied, watching as my brother’s forlorn frame filled my doorway.
When it came down to it, I had to face the sad truth:
I desperately needed a job…
And Liam Henderson was offering me one.
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