Annoyed, I flick my ponytail back over my shoulder, staring at the dinner bill that the waitress dropped off at our table half an hour ago.
Dad’s talking to some business associate, ignoring my inner turmoil at the $300 bill that’s looking back at me, mocking me for what I’m inevitably going to have to do.
Dad’s out of money. He has been for months, although he returns home spewing lies about how Carson Scientific is still dragging in the big bucks.
There hasn’t been a profit in over a year but somehow he’s kept the place running. Until now.
Without a significant donation or a sponsor, we’re going to lose the company. As much as I’d hate to lose the invites to the extra fancy soirees, I won’t actually be missing out on anything.
I paid my own way through college, graduating from Cambridge with a biochemistry degree, and have been living on my own ever since. I’m not even sure Dad has noticed that I officially moved out, nor does it bother him.
Mom’s lonely, I can tell, but she’ll have to face the music sooner or later.
With another deep breath, I pat the table to signal my departure, Dad giving me a wide smile as he sees me pick up the bill. I hate that he just assumes that I’ll take care of it.
He’s never even apologized that he doesn’t have the money to cover it—but I can’t worry about that now.
I’m more focused on how I’m going to pay my rent this month, because this dinner is going to cut into the funds I’ve been saving to leave town.
There’s nothing left here for me to do—if Carson Scientific goes under, I won’t have a job or a company to fall back on.
And with the elite that roam the city, the shame that would be constantly hanging over me would keep me from working anywhere else.
I plod over to the counter, giving the waitress a small, tight smile. She knows me well. We come here all the time, a cute Italian restaurant at the edge of town.
Most of the elite stay away from these hole-in-the-wall establishments, giving Dad ample room to meet clients without being watched. They all know we’re basically broke and I guess he’s tired of hearing it.
“Making you pay again?”
I shrug. “I’d rather not be asked in front of his newest client.”
Susie looks over to the table and then back at me. “That’s not a client, Angela.”
I know that. My eyes drift back to the table, falling on the man beside my dad. He’s not much older than me, maybe thirty-one or thirty-two, the son of the owner of some company which name I can’t even pronounce.
He’s rolling in dough and his clothes cost more than what I paid to go to school. At least, they look like it, and half of the words that come out of his mouth make it sound like he slept next to a dictionary.
To me, though, he just sounds entitled.
Which makes him a favorite with Dad.
And a prospect.
The clients Dad meets aren’t just to save his business, because that’s never the deal. The deal is my hand for their money. We’re not in the medieval ages but someone forgot to let my dad know that.
“So, who’s this one?” Susie asks, poking me in the side.
I love her and her silly antics—she’s the only woman keeping me sane in this town. She’s one of the few that I don’t have to pretend to be some uppity high-class person with, and she doesn’t have to pretend to bow at my feet.
Susie turns up her nose as she rounds the counter and grabs the bill from me. “Sounds like a real dickhead but at least he’s pretty? The last few that your father brought along, I feared for the children you’d produce.”
I let out a bitter laugh because that’s the only acceptable response to something like that. There will be no children in these marriages.
I will only stay long enough for our business to gather some footing and then find a way to amicably split with whatever rich individual Dad pairs me with.
Unfortunately, the longer I stare at the dark-haired, pompous ass chatting with my dad, the more I realize that I don’t want to lose my freedom.
Getting married means more rules that I’ll have to abide by. I’ll have to adopt a persona and a wardrobe that goes with it, just like my mom did.
I tell myself she sold out, especially since I see the bright look in her eyes when she stares at younger pictures of herself.
I can’t be that person.
Susie taps my shoulder, dragging me out of my head. “Hey, girlie. I comped a few things. Comes up to a hundred and fifty dollars.”
“You can’t keep doing that. Your boss is going to kill you.”
“I can and I will. I’ll just say that Riley guy had a shit fit or something. Take the gift, Angela. You need a break.”
I don’t fight her on this because it means more money toward rent and I desperately need that. She swipes my card and gives me my copy after I sign, leaving me with one more piece of advice.
“If you don’t want to get married, don’t. I know your father is trying to save his business and it’s a cushy position but it’s not worth it.”
I wave her off, exiting through the back because I don’t want Dad to drag me back into the conversation. Susie knows what it’s like being stuck in a loveless marriage. She did it for six years.
But I don’t have the luxury of just walking away. Failing my father isn’t on my bingo card for this year because it’ll ruin my family.
Taking a deep breath, I hop into my hoodless jeep, enjoying the breeze against my bare shoulders. It’s the little freedoms like these that I would lose being married to a CEO in the limelight.
I’d have to be careful of my image, the car I drive, the clothes I wear, and the emotions I show on my face. I’m shit at following rules, and it gets even worse when people specifically tell me what to do.
Riley seems like he won’t stand for anything less than obedience, but if he thinks I’m just going to roll over, he has another thing coming.
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