The Arrangement 4 Page 1

Author: H.M. Ward

Series: The Arrangement #4

Genres: Romance


The city has that scent in the air, like it’s going to snow. I walk down the street and wrap my arms tighter around my middle. The sidewalks have an inky sheen. It’s been misting. Car horns blare as I breathe in the exhaust and try to fathom what happened, but I don’t know. I can’t grasp it. The look on Sean’s face, the way his voice sounded…

My stomach twists like I’m going to be sick. I gave him my heart and he fucking returned me—like I was broken. Like he didn’t want me. Maybe throwing all the cash at Sean was stupid, but I had to do it. I don’t turn back. I don’t look behind me. I already know Sean isn’t there. He doesn’t love me.

As I walk along the sidewalk in a daze, a car rolls up next to me. It’s late. I don’t notice at first. It isn’t until the window rolls down and I hear a voice that I turn and glance at the car. The wind whips my hair, sending the strands flying every which way. My heels are in my hand. I’m walking along wearing nothing on my feet but stockings. The cold ground burns through the silk. It’s one of the only things I can feel in the storm of pain. It’s consuming me, swallowing me whole.

This is why I had no relationships. I lied to myself and said I avoided relationships because my schedule didn’t permit it, but that wasn’t true. I dodged relationships, because my heart couldn’t take it. I’ve lost enough people to make anyone lose their freaking mind, but somehow I manage to keep going.

“Miss Stanz,” a male voice calls from the car.

I can see his face through the open window. He’s one of the guys that were with Miss Black the first time Sean set off my bracelet.

I stare at him. The wind stings my eyes, making them water, but I don’t blink. The car stops rolling and the man steps out a moment later. He’s enormous, all muscle and strength. I say nothing.

His eyes sweep over my face like he knows what made me like this. “Are you hurt?” I shake my head. He reaches forward for my shoes. I hand them over. Then, he extends his elbow like a gentleman and escorts me to the car.

As we slip into the backseat, he reminds me, “You can’t leave the premises without notifying our employer. You were lucky last time.” His tone changes and I know that I’m in trouble.

One time is forgivable, but two times is not. I just nod and stare out the window.

The man doesn’t say much until we’re approaching Miss Black’s building. “Listen, I don’t know what your story is or why you did what you did, but this job isn’t for people who can’t hold their shit together. It’s an act. The women who understand that survive. The ones who don’t learn that lesson get crippled. There’s no such thing as ‘just sex,’ Miss Stanz. At the same time, that’s what you need to think in order to excel at this job.”

I blink at him. Surprise flashes across my face. Why is he telling me this? “Am I that transparent?”

The corner of his mouth pulls up. Apparently so. He tells me, “You can’t fall in love with them. You won’t make it. Figure out a way to harden your heart. Don’t let them in, ever.”

The car has stopped. Taking a deep breath, I lean forward to get out. I look at the guy and say, “Thank you.”

“For what?” he asks. The expression on his face says that the other girls don’t talk to him much. He seems surprised that I said anything.

I shrug. “For finding me and helping me out. I’m not cut out for this, but there’s no other way.”

His dark eyes seem too gentle for someone so thuggish looking. He glances at the building and then back at me. I get the feeling that he shouldn’t be talking to me at all, never mind telling me what he’s about to say. “When you go inside, Black is going to reprimand you. Take it. Don’t blubber or give her any backtalk and she’ll keep you around. Make excuses and she’ll kick you to the curb.” He doesn’t say anything else. Instead, he pulls the car door open and exits to the sidewalk.

I slip out after him and give a subtle nod of thanks. I can’t lose this job. He hands me my heels and I slip them back on. My stockings are ruined. There are runs up the legs from walking around barefoot.

Taking a deep breath, I walk into the building and head to the elevator. I steel myself. Black’s going to be pissed. I decide to follow the guard’s instructions. I can’t get fired. I can’t. My nerves are beyond shot. I feel numb, like I’ve been slapped one too many times. Life keeps bitch-slapping me, but I keep getting up.

The elevator takes me up and stops at the seventeenth floor. I step off and walk into the office. There are hardly any lights on. I make my way to the back, to Miss Black’s desk. I turn to walk into her office, but no one is there.

Someone clears their throat behind me. I whirl around and see Black sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee in her hands. Her slender legs are crossed at the knee. She looks regal, and pissed. “Never—and I mean never—has a client called and requested a different girl. What did you do, Avery? What could you have possibly done that upset the client so much that he tossed you out in the middle of your appointment?” Her dark eyes are hard. They bore into me as if I’m the most irritating person she’s ever met. She works her jaw. I can tell Miss Black wants to scream, but she restrains herself.

Apathy. I need to not care. I need to say it’s my fault and convince her that I won’t mess up anything else. My gaze is on the carpet. I don’t look up as I speak. “It was my fault. I did something that reminded Mr. Ferro of someone. It unnerved him. There’s no excuse for it. I take full responsibility for my actions.”

This isn’t what she expected to hear. Black puts down her mug and sits up straight, unfolding her legs as she does so. “You remind him of someone?” I nod. “How do you know?”

“He told me the night before.”

Black is quiet for a moment. Her eyes sweep over me as she thinks. I can tell she still wants to chew me out. “Why didn’t you wait at the hotel for the car? After Mr. Ferro called me, I hung up and called you. You didn’t answer your phone and you left the grounds. I had to send Gabe to find you.”

I swallow hard. I don’t know what to say, so I tell her the truth. “I didn’t know what to do. It’s my fault. I didn’t answer my phone, because I was afraid you were going to fire me.” Black stares at me. I feel her gaze on my face. Her anger is palpable. It hangs in the air, thick as the evening fog. I finally look up at her. “I need this job.”

Miss Black stands and walks up to me. Her arms are folded across her chest. Her eyes narrow to slits, so that I can barely see her eyes. She’s a tiger waiting to rip me to shreds, but I don’t cower. I don’t back down. Her voice is level when she asks, “Why should I keep you?”

Desperation climbs up my throat and chokes me. This is it. She’s going to fire my ass and there’s nothing that I can do about it. I’ll be living in a cardboard box with a broken heart for the rest of my life. I can’t process this. I can’t grasp the size of my mistake, my mistake of trusting Sean, of telling how I felt. I poured out my soul and he acted as if I puked on his shoes. My mouth goes dry. I lick my lips and form an answer in my mind.

When I speak, I sound like I’m begging, probably because I am. My voice comes out in a rush. “Because I’ll do anything. Because I won’t remind everyone of someone they loved. Because—”

Miss Black cuts me off, “Oh Avery, shut up.” Black pinches the bridge of her nose as though she has the world’s worst headache.

My heart pounds harder. Could this get more fucked up than it already is? I can’t get fired, I just can’t. I see my life ending and everything I worked so hard for fluttering away. I swallow hard.

Her dark eyes are narrowed. She wants to rip my head off. She stares at me like that for a few moments. Then she unfolds her arms that were plastered tightly to her chest. Taking my chin in her hands, Black tilts my face up so that our gazes connect. “I should fire you for this. I should let you go without a penny and not feel one bit of remorse.”

I look into her eyes wondering how she got to where she is now. I wonder about the guy that got away. I wonder if she’s alone because she wants to be or if it’s because this job fucked with her mind and not just her body. It’s a price that I didn’t consider. I never thought I’d fall in love. I never thought things could come to this.

I inhale slowly and resist the urge to ball my fingers into fists. My world is falling apart. I need this job, but I won’t beg again. We stare each other down. I don’t look away and neither does she. Neither of us speaks. It’s like a showdown and I know that at any second, Black will draw and I’ll be dead. There are no more chances. I blew it. I messed up and this is the price. Miss Black presses her eyes shut and sighs. When she looks at me again, her livid expression softens. She shakes her head and her arms fall to her sides. The fight spills from her body and I can finally breathe again.

Miss Black paces away from me and pours herself more coffee. Without looking up, she says, “It would be a pity to throw you away. There’s such potential. I see it in your eyes.” She turns, stirring the hot liquid and regards me. “But, you’re a hollow shell. The only thing keeping your neck above water is your defiance, your utter refusal to give up. If you gave that last piece of resistance to me, I could turn your life into a dream, but you’re insolent, Avery. I told you to keep your personal life out of this.” Black takes a sip of the coffee in her hands and then sets it down. She paces, thinking.

Every inch of my body is fighting me. I want to scream that it isn’t my fault. I want to say that Sean duped me, that he made me think he cared, but he doesn’t. All those words are toxic. If I say them, I’ll never work for Miss Black again, so I work my jaw and try not to react. I wonder if she knows the extent of my stupidity—I wonder if Sean told her what I said. Panic races through my veins, but I stay still. I keep the fear from clouding my eyes with tears. I lock it down and bite my tongue before I can do any more damage.

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