Page 2 of Corrupted

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“Auction?” I look around but find no items being presented. I’m about to ask what kind of merchandise is up for bids, when music filters in through overhead speakers, and an impeccably dressed middle-aged man walks onto the stage, a microphone in his hand. A new kind of excitement buzzes through the establishment and slides over my skin. The hairs on my neck stand as I soak in the vibe. Thanks to survival instincts, I’ve always been good at picking up on other people’s emotions—even though I keep mine close to my chest—and while I’m not sure what’s about to happen, the men in the room are now wide-eyed with enthusiasm.

My body feeds off the excitement, and while I have no desire to purchase anything—I have everything I need—I have to admit, I am intrigued. My brandy glass is refilled and I shift my chair until I’m facing the stage. Whatever items are about to be sold have recharged the atmosphere in the club and every man is sitting up a little straighter, their laser-sharp focus latched on the stage.

“Welcome,” the announcer says and briefly goes over the rules for bidding. “All bids start at five hundred thousand dollars,” he says, and the high price tag piques my interest. No one else in the room shows any sign of surprise, however. They’ve all clearly done this before and whatever they’re selling these men are buying, no matter the expense.

The lights dim around us and brighten on the stage as an attractive girl, in her late twenties or early thirties, walks onto the platform. She’s dressed in some kind of lingerie, and her smile is soft, demure almost, as she parades herself in front of us all. Despite her bashful composure, I sense her excitement. Perhaps she’s feeding off the enthusiasm in the room, much like I am. Although I still can’t quite figure out what she’s doing up there. Will she be showcasing the items? I lean forward for a better look, as something niggles in the back of my brain. Why the hell is she so familiar?

“Who would like to open the bid?” the announcer asks. “For two weeks or more Chanel can be your companion,” he adds, and I nearly swallow my tongue.

They’re auctioning off women?

You’ve got to be kidding me!

I press back into my chair and turn to Luis, sure I’m mistaken, but he simply offers me a smile.

“She’s a beautiful woman,” he states, and there is no denying that. “Perhaps you’d like to keep her for a couple weeks, or better yet, the entire month of December.”

Voices call out around me as the bidding starts, and in seconds the price is well over a million dollars.

“Is this legal?” I ask as I try to wrap my brain around all this.

He arches a thick white brow. “You think this is any different than your Penn Pals app, Cason?”

I blink and do a fast comparison. My app was designed to provide a number of services to the women on Penn State campus. We provide male companionship, a bodyguard to protect those walking home after night classes, or simply a date to an event. There was never anything sexual going on. No money was exchanged for bedroom services—contrary to what little miss rich girl’s father, Randolph Harding, presumed and was happy to accuse me of, repeatedly.

“This isn’t about sex?” I ask.

“Not at all. These women provide companionship. What happens behind closed doors with two consenting adults, however, that is not for me to judge. As long as she initiates it. You may not touch her first, if you do, you void your end of the contract and she is free to leave, payment in full,” he says as he gestures to the stage. I follow his gaze. “Some of these women are from European royalty, others are models, CEOs, CFOs, but all of them are confident powerhouses,” he tells me, and that’s when I realize why this girl looks so familiar. I’ve seen her face in lipstick and other cosmetic ads. Luis takes a pull from his cigar, and waves his hand, like he always does when he’s trying to get a point across. “They do it for the excitement, the thrill, but downtime in the hands of a companion who will pamper them, that is nice, too, no?” His chuckle curls around me, followed by a thick ribbon of smoke.

“I... I guess I heard about auction houses before, I’ve just never been to one.”

“Then you must leave with a companion tonight,” he says.

I turn back to the stage as the bidding winds down, the woman going to some young billionaire for three million dollars. Truthfully, I’m not looking for any type of companionship. I’ve been screwed over enough in my life, thank you very much. A soft body under the covers might be nice every once in a while, but my bedroom has a revolving door. Sex is for sex and I don’t go out with the same woman twice. Having one underfoot for two weeks or more, well, I wouldn’t know what to do with her. My work is my life, and with the launch of the new casual line later next year, I don’t need the distraction. If I want a woman, I’ll get my own, and make sure the ground rules are clear.

“There are rules,” he says, and I chuckle. That man is too good at reading my mind.

“I’m good,” I say. “I have some work to do tonight.”

He tsks teasingly. “All work and no play.”

“That’s me.” I finish my drink, and push to my feet as the next girl is brought onto the stage. I’m about to leave but stop dead in my tracks. The tall pillars before me sway, and I’m certain I must be hallucinating. I blink once, then twice but the image doesn’t change.

No fucking way.

My heart jumps into my throat and I sit down seconds before my legs give. I take a breath, but can’t fill my lungs as the announcer introduces the gorgeous girl as Desiree. Except that’s not her real name. No, that’s Londyn Harding, Penn State’s spoiled rich girl who did me wrong in so many ways. I have no idea why she’s selling herself. I only know one thing.

It’s on.



BRIGHT LIGHTS SHINE on me, making it impossible to see who’s out there bidding. With my luck it will be some ninety-year-old man with one foot in the grave. Not that that matters. I’m not doing this for fun or the thrill of it, like these other women. To each their own, and no judgment on my part. But for me, well, I’m doing it to save my father’s business before he marries me off in some ridiculous merger. I’m a woman for God’s sake, not a commodity he can barter with to better his position for his companies in this turbulent market, and this is the twenty-first century, not the nineteen hundreds. I’m a capable, confident twenty-nine-year-old woman, and I’d be an asset to any of my father’s businesses, if he’d only give me a chance. But no, in his old-world way of thinking, women should be home, doing charitable work while catering to their families. That’s fine if that’s what the woman wants. I just don’t happen to be that woman.

Leave the business to a man, Londyn.

Oh, and why is that, so he can make one bad investment after another and put the entire future of his conglomerate at risk? As his familiar words grate on my nerves, I question my sanity. I should be raising this money to start my own business, instead of trying to save my father’s. Then I’d show the damn fashion industry I was more than Londyn Harding, spoiled, rich brat and pampered daughter of Randolph Harding. I am more than that, yet every time I apply for a job I get turned down, or worse, laughed at. No one takes me seriously. I have a fashion degree from Penn State University to put to use, if only someone would give me a chance and believe in me.