Page 5 of Corrupted

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I THOUGHT SHE would have recognized me long before now. Then again, I was purposely keeping my features hidden and my voice muffled. Hell, if she knew it was me, she would have bolted. But two seconds ago, when she finally figured out my identity, her resounding shock buzzed through my body like a million angry hornets.

I close the trunk, and the sound reverberates in the quiet night and ripples along the rocky shoreline below my villa. I lift my head, and find her glaring at me through the back window, her mouth slightly open, her eyes bulging out of her head. Keeping my calm, despite the raging storm sweeping through my gut, I step up to her door and open it.

“Are you coming?” I ask in an even tone, but she doesn’t move. Instead, her mouth opens and closes, and I can almost hear the wheels spinning in that brilliant brain of hers. “I asked a question, Londyn. I’d appreciate a response.”

“I...what the hell is going on?” She glances around and scans the quiet neighborhood. What is she looking for? An escape route? She’s safe with me, despite our history and anger toward one another. Or rather, my anger toward her. What does she have to be angry about? She’s the one who stabbed me in the back and her daddy made a fortune from it. I open my mouth but she blurts, “What the hell am I doing here? What is this all about, Cason? What the...” Her words fall off and she lowers her head in thought.

I give her a moment, and when she remains silent, I say, “It seems pretty obvious to me. You were at the auction house, and I bid on you. Now you’re here, mine for the next couple of weeks.” I narrow my eyes, take in the flush of color on her heated cheeks. Honestly, if she thought I was going to let her go home with any other man, then she doesn’t know me at all. I almost scoff at that because I’m the one who really doesn’t know her. Yet, the second I saw her up there and felt a hint of her trepidation I would have emptied my entire bank account to bring her home. I understand there is nothing sexual in this arrangement, but I didn’t like the vibes I felt off a few of the men around me.

Or maybe that’s just a damn excuse.

“What exactly is it you don’t understand?” I ask.

“Never mind.”

Her eyes flare hot, the blue turning a cold shade of ice, and I hold my ground. If she thinks this is some revenge plot on my part, she’d be wrong. I think. Truthfully, I have no idea what I’m doing. All I know is that there was no way in hell she was going home with any other man than me. Everything about her on that stage tonight, from the nervous way she studied the crowd to the excitement at that first bid, warned that this was a new experience for her. Unlike those other women who do it for the thrill, my gut tells me she has other reasons, and I damn well plan to get to the bottom of the matter.

Don’t think of her bottom, Cason.

“Are you coming?” I ask.

She lifts her chin an inch and I fight back a grin when her glare turns venomous. “I’m coming,” she says, each word punctured with a sureness that doesn’t reach her eyes. “You don’t have to be such an ogre. A lady needs time to get from the backseat of a car like this.”

“An ogre?”

She stands, and shakes out her long blond hair. The curls fall down her back and as much as I don’t want to remember, my mind instantly goes back to the nights I held her while she fell asleep in my arms. So much was lacking in her life, and she was so incredibly lonely. I’d lie beside her, smooth her hair from her face, run those long strands between my fingers and fight the urge to kiss her as she drifted off.

She wronged you, Cason.

I can’t forget that. Ever. My sister and I have been through so many battles and I made a childhood promise to her. Si

mply put, I’m completely overprotective of Peyton, and if anyone tries to stand in the way of my career goals, which prevents me from fulfilling my pledge to my sister, they become the enemy.

Londyn Harding is the enemy.

“Yes, an ogre,” she says and reaches for her bags but her hands are shaking. She’s as rattled by this unexpected turn of events as I am and working hard to hide it.

I move the bags from her reach and she nearly stumbles into me, nearly pressing that soft warm body of hers into mine. Jesus, after all these years I still can’t get her sweet citrusy scent out of my brain. When I walked her home, or held her in bed, it would wrap around me, tease all my senses. Since I’m still a man, and she’s still a beautiful woman, the want hasn’t vanished, but succumbing to it would be disastrous in so many ways. She’s the last woman on the face of the earth I plan to sleep with.

“I’m sure there’s no need for name-calling,” I state flatly, portraying a calmness I don’t feel, and it gives me a measure of satisfaction when it rattles her even more. That probably makes me a complete asshole.

She regains her balance and stands before me. While she might be many inches shorter, she lifts her head like she’s a mile taller, but the confidence is feigned. “What is there a need for, Cason?” she says.

Oh, for me to fuck you and get you out of my system once and for all. But that is not going to happen. Ever.

“We’ll figure that out over time, Londyn,” I snap back, adding emphasis to her name, the same way she did with mine.

“There are rules you know.”

“Fully aware of them,” I say, and pat the pocket of my suit. I was briefed on the rules while she was brought to my car. They were simple enough, and the only one who can break them is Londyn. I might have bought her, but she’s holding all the cards.

“You can’t touch me.”

“Good, because I don’t want to.” As I push that lie through my teeth, she glares up at me, and for a second I’m pretty sure I spot disappointment in those big blue eyes of hers. Good, I’d hate to be the one hogging all the disappointment in this relationship...or whatever this thing is between us.