Today we are sharing chapter one from HIS by Brenda Rothert. This book is a contemporary romance title and currently up for pre-order. It will be released on June 28th!
HIS by Brenda Rothert
Releasing: June 28
PRE-ORDER IT NOW!
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I’d say I’m down on my luck, but that’s an understatement. I’m flat on my ass. Homeless, hungry and in hiding with my little sister at the age of twenty-one, I’ve never been so desperate. I’ve hit rock bottom when I get an offer I can’t refuse. Sell my body to save my sister? There’s nothing I won’t do to keep her safe. I make the rules and I’m not afraid to defend myself if this rich guy crosses the line. But once I see beneath his cold, calculating façade, the lines aren’t so clear anymore.
She’s an intoxicating mix of tough and vulnerable I’ve never known before. This homeless woman who fits right into my upper-class world is running from someone powerful, and I’ll do whatever it takes to protect her. But Quinn isn’t meant to be controlled, so I’m forced to choose between owning her and loving her. I’ve finally met my match, and I’ll do whatever it takes to make her truly mine.
September 28, 2001
Seventeen days ago, my life caught fire.
Two planes. Two towers. Nothing will ever be the same.
The fire at Ground Zero is still burning, and somewhere inside the smoky piles of rubble is my father. Do I want them to find him? For the first week, I did. I stayed home from school every day and stared at the TV, praying I’d see them pull my dad from what’s left.
I told myself over and over that he couldn’t be gone. David Wentworth was too strong to be taken down like that. He’d show them all. My dad would come crawling out of the pile of debris, still wearing his dark suit. He’d probably pull other people out, too. My dad is like that. He does things people say are impossible.
But the second week, my mom said I had to go back to school. When I told her I wouldn’t go because I was waiting for my dad to be rescued, her shoulders fell.
“He’s gone, Andrew.”
“You don’t know that. Dad’s a fighter.”
She shook her head. “I know it’s hard for a thirteen-year-old to wrap his head around. I know. You want him to be here, and I do, too. But he’s gone. It’s just you and me now.”
I glared at her, my throat burning. How could she give up on him like that? I’d never give up on my dad. I went back to my spot in his favorite leather chair in our living room and turned up the news on TV.
But after two weeks, my school counselor came to our house to see me. He frowned and told me no one could survive for two weeks in there. Then he gave me a pamphlet titled, “It’s Okay to Cry.” I crumpled up his advice on grieving and threw it in the trash.
I wasn’t going to cry. My dad wouldn’t want that. He’d always told me a man’s true measure was his strength.
“Chin up, Andrew. You’re a Wentworth. We’re made of steel.”
Today we’re having a memorial service for him. My chin will stay up, and my back will stay straight. When I look at the family pictures of my parents and me on a long table at the funeral home and my eyes start to feel watery, I pinch my leg through the pocket of my suit pants. The burning sting in my thigh makes me angry instead of sad.
Better. Dad used to yell at people from his company sometimes, so I know he wouldn’t mind me being angry. At night, when I’m staring up at the stars me and Dad stuck on my ceiling when I was little, my stomach twists and hurts with the anger I feel for the men who killed my dad.
They murdered thousands of people. I’m not the only kid without a dad now. Everyone is scared. Nothing will ever be the same.
My mom covers her mouth with her hand, crying as one of her friends squeezes her arm and talks to her. They did that, too. They made my mom cry. My dad wouldn’t stand for that.
Since he’s gone, I have to be the strong one now. I have to take care of my mom like he would. I have to think about what dad would want for us. I have to hold on tight to my need for those men to pay for what they did to my dad.
The firefighters will eventually extinguish the smoldering fire at Ground Zero, but the fire burning inside of me will never go out.
There’s nothing good in Mauricio’s Dumpster tonight. Hard pieces of uneaten pizza crust and cold spaghetti covered in olive oil are the only edible things I’ve found so far. And it won’t get better if I dig further. So why am I still ripping open bags of trash on this cold fall evening?
Because my little sister is hungry. I can still see the hope that was shining in her huge blue eyes when I left for a food run earlier. If we’ve learned only one thing in our four years on the streets of New York City, it’s that hunger and cold are realities, but facing them at the same time is a bitch.
I climb up a pile of trash heaped at the end of the rusted Dumpster, bracing my foot on a stack of empty pizza boxes. My hair whips across my face when the chilly breeze catches it.
Fall is my least favorite season now. I loved it when I was a kid and it meant hot, spicy cider, piles of crunchy leaves to plow through, and football games to cheer at.
But now, fall means the dreaded, bitter winter is on its way. I’ll spend my days taking Bethy from one heated public place to another in an effort to stay warm. At night, we’ll sleep underground. The cold down there isn’t life threatening, but some of the people are.
I’m so tired. It hits me all at once, and I sag against a filled plastic trash bag. Last night we got kicked out of the park and chased by a group of frat boys threatening to gang rape Bethy and me. If there hadn’t been nine of them, my friend Bean and I would’ve wiped the cocky grins off their faces.
Fucking rich boys. Their sense of entitlement is staggering.
I sigh and crawl back down the trash hill. The wail of a siren approaches as I fish a plastic bag out of my pocket and stuff the cold spaghetti noodles into it.
It’s food, and Bethy won’t complain. We’ve both eaten worse to stave off hunger pangs.
I close my eyes, pushing down the wave of anger welling inside me. The fatigue won’t go away if I sleep well tonight. It’s bone-deep. I’m tired of running. Tired of feeding my sister scraps of food other people threw away. Tired of wondering if the hell I saved her from is worse than the one I brought her into.
Thinking about this will drain me. I force the thoughts away, wrap my hands around the edge of the Dumpster and swing my leg over.
Two more years. That’s what I focus on instead. In a little over two years, Bethy will turn eighteen and we can have a real life. I’ll get a job, and she’ll go back to school. We’ll stop running and looking over our shoulders constantly. We won’t go to bed hungry or cold ever again. I’ll make sure of it.
The alley is quiet. It’s just me and a chubby guy smoking a cigarette, the orange glow of its end bright in the blackness. I put my head down and stuff my hands in the pockets of my coat.
“Hey.” The man’s voice is deep and insistent. I don’t look up at him.
“Hey, I’m talkin’ to you.” This time, he grabs my upper arm. I shake myself out of his grasp and push off the ground to run away, but his arm locks around me.
“What’s your fuckin’ problem?” His warm breath smells like cigarettes and garlic, and I turn away when it hits my face.
I thrash, struggling to escape his hold. He laughs at me.
“Tough girl, huh?”
He’s bulky, and I can’t stop him from slamming my slight frame against a brick wall. The more I fight, the harder he laughs.
“Let go,” I say in a level tone. He presses my upper arms against the cold stone so hard it burns, and he laughs some more.
“You think you’re too good for me?”
I kick him in the shin, and he pulls my arms forward and then slams me against the wall again. The impact rattles my teeth and knocks the wind out of me.
And now I’m pissed.
“Please don’t hurt me,” I say in a tiny voice.
“Scared now, aren’t you?” The satisfaction in his tone sends my adrenaline racing. “You better be.”
“I’ll do whatever you want. Just…please don’t hurt me.” My voice shakes, and he relaxes his grip on me.
It takes me less than a second to knee him in the crotch and wrap my hand around the knife in my leg holster. In a move too fast for this lard-ass to see, let alone block, I pull it out and sink the blade into his gut. Underhanded—harder to block. If I wanted to kill him, I’d pull it out quickly and stab him again with the tight, quick jabs Bean taught me. But he’s not worth the trouble.
There’s resistance from his flannel and his skin, but once I get past that, it’s a smooth trip through layers of fat. My arm muscles tingle as I hold the knife in place for a few seconds.
I see the whites of his eyes get larger. His mouth drops open as he stares at me in disbelief.
“You bitch,” he mutters. I’m not gentle when I pull out my knife. He cries out and puts his hands over the wound. I quickly wipe the two sides of my blade on his shirt to clean it.
He reaches for my wrist, but I’m faster. I’ve landed a punch to his meaty face before he even realizes it’s coming.
“Want some more?” I ask, flashing the business end of my blade.
“No.” He backs up a few steps, shaking his head.
I arch my brows at him. “Who’s scared now?”
I don’t wait for an answer. Instead, I turn and head for the street, where sirens are once again wailing in the distance.
My knife tucked safely away once again, I turn my thoughts back to Bethy and Bean. It’ll be cold tonight. Much as I hate to do it, it’s time for us to head back underground.
It’s possibly the worst sales presentation I’ve ever seen. The guy trying to sell me his software company got Strike One when he didn’t introduce himself to me. And now he’s tapping his foot on the ground like he’s about to piss his pants or something. Strike Two.
“This thing could be huge. You know what I’m saying, Mr. Wentworth?” he asks me, grinning.
“Not at all.”
His smile slides away, and he clears his throat. “Um, well…like I said, I’ve already made close to a million on it.”
“How much have you made? Precisely?”
His Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows. “Seven hundred thousand or so…sir.”
I lower my brows. “Seven hundred twenty-one thousand eleven dollars. That’s according to the paperwork your CPA prepared and forwarded to me at your request.”
He nods. “Sounds about right.”
“About right?” I hold back a sigh of disgust. “This is likely the biggest meeting of your life to date, and you don’t have the answer to that critical question prepared?”
“Well, I…I knew it was in the papers, so…”
“Seven hundred twenty-thousand is not close enough to a million to call ‘close to a million.’ Especially when you subtract your start-up expenses from that figure. Cash flow of this venture is nearly nonexistent at this point.”
He silently concedes my point. “It’s still got a lot of potential.”
I’m about to lay out the cold, hard truth when my secretary, Susan, opens the door.
“Sorry to interrupt, Mr. Wentworth, but Preston McCoy is here and he says it’s urgent.”
My stomach clenches into a knot of tension as I stand and button my suit coat.
“Go ahead,” the nameless man offers, sitting down on the leather sofa in my office. “I’ll hang out here.”
His suggestion that I’m going to step out of my own office while he “hangs out” here is Strike Three.
“Thank you for your time,” I say, heading for the door.
“Oh.” His expression is crestfallen. “We’re done, then?”
He stacks his poster boards in a pile and packs his laptop into its canvas bag covered with buttons advocating marijuana legalization.
“So…when will you know?” he asks.
I meet the gaze of one of my vice presidents, Carla, and I can tell she’s holding back a smile.
“I’m not interested in purchasing your company,” I say, spelling it out.
Susan puts a hand on his shoulder and steers him from my office before I blow.
“How the hell did he get this meeting?” I ask Carla.
“His mother is a friend of your mother.”
I just stare at her for a second. “My mother set this up?”
“Well…she asked if you’d donate to the hospital league banquet, and then she told Susan she’d accept an hour of your time in place of the monetary donation.”
My mother only accepts the word no when someone is saying, “No problem, Mrs. Wentworth.” I learned much of my tenacity from her, but I can’t have her using my time this way. I make a mental note to discuss this with her.
Preston McCoy steps into my office, his gray comb-over sparser than the last time I saw him.
“Andrew. Carla.” He shakes both our hands, and Carla steps out. Preston’s gaze stays fixed on her ass as she departs. The old perv isn’t even sly about it.
“So,” he says, sitting down in one of the leather wingback chairs in front of my desk.
I hold up a hand to stop him, walk over to my office door, and close it. Susan generally makes sure my door is closed for meetings, but she’s probably still getting rid of the pot proponent.
Preston waits for me to unbutton my jacket and sit down. I meet his gaze, not letting on that my stomach is churning, ready to spill its contents. I know why he’s here. He has the answer I’ve been waiting seven long months for.
“The paternity test results are in, and you are in no way related to Ms. Henley’s child.”
My insides liquefy with relief. Thank fuck. I press my sweating palms to my thighs and wait for Preston to continue.
“Ms. Henley has dropped her claim for child support. It’s over, Andrew.”
I nod. “Good. Thank you for coming by with the news.”
“Of course. I can file a claim for the ten thousand a month you provided as support during the pregnancy.”
I can still see Amber Henley’s quaking lower lip when she told me in my kitchen that our one and only sexual encounter had gotten her pregnant, and there was no doubt I was the father of the baby she was carrying. The bottom of my world fell out that day. At age twenty-eight, I was just hitting my stride with my company. Not to mention she wasn’t someone I saw myself with long-term.
I’d royally fucked that kid over before it was even born. Wasn’t in love with its mother and wasn’t ready to be a father. I’d spent a lot of the past seven months loathing myself over it.
And after all that, Amber had been lying. I can’t even be angry about it because the relief overpowers everything else.
“I don’t care about the money,” I tell Preston. “Like you said, it’s over.”
He arches his brows in a judgmental glare. “Well, maybe this’ll be a lesson to you.”
“I’m not paying you a thousand an hour for life lessons,” I say, my tone crisp. “Now if you’ll excuse me.”
“Of course. I apologize.” He gets up and leaves my office, closing the door behind him.
I turn my desk chair toward the window and look out at the expanse of stone on the building next door.
It’s over. I didn’t wrong my unborn child. I don’t have to deal with gold-digging Amber anymore. If I ever cried, I’d weep with relief right now.
Instead, I sigh deeply and run a hand over the light five-o’clock shadow coating my cheeks.
Never again will I cede control of my life to a woman this way. I won’t give Preston the satisfaction of admitting this was a lesson to me. From now on, I hold all the cards.