The Arrangement 11 Page 1

Author: H.M. Ward

Series: The Arrangement #11

Genres: Romance


The moment seems unreal. Never in a million years did I think that I would ever see Sean Ferro on his knee in front of me. The idea of him proposing is preposterous, and yet, here he is on one knee holding up a ring. My legs feel like they’re going to give way, but I don’t move. It’s one of those few moments in life where time slows to a crawl, and I’m acutely aware of everything around me. The scent of the ocean, the sound of the waves, and the fuzzy new sweats are caressing my skin. The fireplace crackles and a log breaks, sending a spray of sparks up the chimney. I can’t smile or speak. I’m suspended somewhere between reality and a dream. There’s nothing that could break this moment. I want it to last forever; I want to treasure it as one of the few times that Sean’s let me into his heart.

Normally this man is so closed down, and so guarded, that it’s impossible to know what he’s thinking. Most days I haven’t a clue of how he feels or what he actually wants. I think I can see his affection for me in his eyes, but it’s not the same as hearing the words fall from those beautiful lips. I crave to know what he thinks more than anything else, because those little confessions form an intimate connection between us.

There have been a few times where Sean seemed unguarded—Cardiac Hill in the snow and this morning on the beach—but they’ve been fleeting. That version of Sean appears in short bursts and is a glory to behold, and I crave more. I live for those moments, and now that I’m in one I’m so afraid of shattering it.

In the past, Sean has tried to open up, but then he did a one-eighty. That was more crushing than if he’d never let me get close to him at all. The thing is, I can’t blame him. I’m not saying it doesn’t make me want to throw things and my eye twitch—because it does—but I understand his hesitation.

I know what it means to try and love again after living through such a devastating loss. There was a time when I thought that I could simply shut everyone out. Love isn’t a requirement to live, and I’d planned to do without. It made sense at the time. Loss was too gruesome to bear, but then I met Sean and I knew there was something about him. Our fates intertwined, and it’s finally more than that. He wants me and he’s going to say as much. That ring sparkles in front of me like a promise I thought he’d never say.

I suck in a shaky breath and finally manage to tear my gaze away from the ring and over to Sean’s face. He looks vulnerable, with a childlike expression. The hardened mask he constantly wears is gone, and I only see sincerity mingling with hope in those blue eyes. It kills me that he’s been so alone for so long. It’s like he doesn’t trust another soul on earth, but in this moment, he trusts me. There was a time that I thought Sean didn’t have any hope, and that was what made us different from one another. However, the emotion is clear. Hope. It’s plainly visible, unmasked and unguarded. Sean thinks I can save him, and that he can save me. He thinks we have a future together.

Too many thoughts rush through my mind and spiral into a pit of concern. What about that darkness within him? Where did it go? Does being Sean’s wife mean that he needs that sexual control over me, that he’ll twist and manipulate my fears to suit his needs? I know he says that part of him is gone, but it can’t be, can it? It’s been there too long to simply vanish. I’m not foolish enough to think that we’ll have a happily ever after, not with the amount of heartache we’ve had. But maybe we can make it to a bright spot in our otherwise hellish lives.

Can we really save each other?

The concerns turn to whispers and blur together. I can no longer identify which worries are valid and which are fear. Anxiety trickles down my spine in a cold sheet as Sean licks his lips. His mouth parts and his voice pours out soft and unsure. “Avery Stanz, would you consider taking this ring and—”

Every inch of my skin is tingling like my life is about to radically transform. Don’t smile, don’t do it. For all I know he’s going to ask me something stupid and I need to keep my wits about me so I can kick him.

But, oh God, I want to grin and clasp my hands together. Sean wouldn’t pretend to propose and then not do it. There’s a happy dance building inside of me, making my heart flutter and the corners of my lips tip up. Anticipation and excitement are coursing through my veins as the words come from his heart.

Everything is about to change.

Then, it does. The door to the little beach shack slams open and hits the concrete wall hard. The sound cuts off Sean’s question and he jumps to his feet when he sees who’s standing there.


Gabe. The man is covered in sweat like he’s been running. He walks quickly toward us, straightening his rumpled suit. “I wasn’t here and I didn’t see this,” his hands fly in the air like he wants to punch something, “whatever the fuck this is. Avery, you know better. I told you.” Worry pinches his brow as he lets out a rush of air and points at the door. “Go, get out of here and for the love of God, don’t wear the fucking bracelet when you’re not working. If Black asks, I didn’t find you. You were already gone.”

For a moment all I can do is blink, “But, why are you—’

Gabe looks at Sean and some unspoken message passes from one man to the other. Gabe repeats, “Go. Separate. Find Mel and work out your timeline before you check in tonight.”

But I don’t move. “Gabe, what’s happening?” What’s wrong? Because something is very off.

The old man stares at me and for a moment I think he’s seeing someone else, maybe a daughter. I remind him of someone he cared about, someone that he failed somehow. The haunted expression lingers at the back of his eyes as if he’s seeing a ghost. “Avery, Black knows about you two. She’s always known, but she tolerated it. Something changed today. I don’t know what, but her orders were to find you and remind you that you are her property, and to use excessive force in doing so.”

Sean tries to pull me away from Gabe, but I know the old guy won’t hurt us. Besides, if he was here to take my head off, he would have done it already. “Sean, it’s all right. He’s warning us, and I bet that he’s risking a lot to do it.”

Gabe’s eyes remain locked on mine. His voice is pleading. “Something changed. I know you won’t run, but you need to get away from her. Quit and walk away before this gets worse. Someone’s going to end up in a body bag before this is over and I sure as hell don’t want it to be you.”

Without another word, Sean pulls at my hand and gives me the keys to his car. “Go back to the dorm and lock yourself in your room. I’ll check on you to make sure you’re all right.”

“Sean?” I don’t like this. Gabe and Sean exchange looks, like there’s more to be said but they don’t want to say it in front of me. It feels like I was booted off of cloud nine, did a free fall, and landed smack on my face. Emotional whiplash is a bitch. “What else is going on? You know that Black knew about us, didn’t you? Then why is she—”

“No, we’re not discussing this right now.” Sean’s gaze slips over me quickly. “Where’s the bracelet?”

“At the bottom of my purse. I didn’t realize…” I didn’t think she’d be tracking me for kicks. It’s the first time that I really realize Miss Black isn’t the business woman she appears to be. I’ve been thinking of her as a boss, but she isn’t. She’s more than that, much more. My jaw flops around. There are so many things I want to say, but they all sound stupid now. I’m naïve. Miss Black isn’t some passive woman trying to make a quick buck. Call girls are her empire and she’s the queen, which makes me a pawn.

Sean watches me for a second and I get the feeling that the imaginary marriage is slipping between my fingers. “Avery, we’ll fix this. We need to proceed like nothing’s wrong, like we don’t know. You didn’t see Gabe, and we weren’t together today. Go into her office tonight and act like you don’t care. Do whatever you have to do to get in and out of there quickly. If I thought she’d hurt you, there’s no way I’d send you in, but Black has other plans.” He glances at Gabe. “What’d she want you to do if you found us together?”

“Throw punches and snap a few bones, enough to make her point but not so much that she needs major medical attention.” Gabe stops speaking suddenly. There’s more there, something he’s not telling us.

Sean nods and takes my shoulders in his hands and looks into my eyes. “Listen, everything will be fine. I’ll make certain of it. I’ll grab Pete and Jon if I have to. God knows they owe me one. I’ll get you away from her. You’ll show up later and this will be the last night you work for that woman.” There’s a faint smile on his lips as he leans in close enough to kiss me and whispers, “After tonight, you’ll be mine, and I very much hope that you’ll say yes.” He smiles at me, kisses my forehead, and pushes me toward the door.


That’s the end of the conversation. I’m shoved in the car and am back on the road before I can think. Driving past the sand dunes, I wonder about Black’s other thug and what to do if that guy finds me. God, I feel sick. It’s like someone has been playing PONG with my stomach. I crack the window and creep along the road until I hit the parkway.

It feels like I’m missing something that should be obvious, but I don’t see it. When I started working for Black, Mel told me that I could leave—that I could take one client and be done with it—but things didn’t work out that way. It’s like I’m her only call girl. For a second, I wonder how many women Black employs. I’ve only ever seen Mel, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other girls. I’ve seen the thick files on her desk, right before she enters the data into her computer. Black’s operation takes in a lot of money, and she has a shortage of girls.

Even so, something doesn’t sit right. I can’t put my finger on what’s wrong, but it feels perilous. Is there another connection between all these people? Gabe, Black, Naked Guy, Mel, Henry Thomas, and Sean Ferro. I think back, trying to make connections between them. But, other than Henry and Sean, there aren’t any obvious ones.

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