As my hand glided over the silk royal blue sheets that had crumpled beneath my body, I was not one bit surprised to find that he had already left. When did everything change? Maybe it hasn’t, and it’s just now that I’ve become acutely aware of it. Forced to face another demoralizing day, I dragged myself out of bed and jumped into the shower.

With a plush white towel wrapped around my head and another around my body—both stamped with a gold, cursive C monogram, I stood long-faced at the entrance of my enormous closet, looking at row upon row of expensive designer clothing. Directly beneath the hanging clothes, were dozens of shoes. There were pumps, heels, boots, and sandals of all styles and colors, each perfectly placed in their own shoe cubby, and each had a matching clutch or handbag that was tucked in its designated spot.

My hand ran over the array of clothes, neatly arranged by casual, evening, business, formal, and a small section of the ones that I’m not allowed to wear. I had bought them when I was granted permission to go out by myself, which was on the rarest of occasions. They hung neatly at the front corner of the rack, left hidden by the entrance wall.

Remembering that Leo had set up a lunch date for me with Sophia, I rolled my eyes. I grabbed my deep pink Issa dress with a plunging neck and gathering waistline, along with my poppy leather heels and matching handbag—it complemented the dress very nicely.

My wardrobe was beautiful, to say the least, but it just wasn’t me. I didn’t need all that. Being caught up in the excitement of all the glitz and glamour had been riveting at first, but all the material things I possessed just didn’t fill the void that lingered deep within me.

Sitting at my makeup table, I eyed my bottles of creams, lotions, and perfumes. I had spotted a new bottle of perfume that I sprayed just off to the side. The overpowering floral scent involuntarily caused my nose to wrinkle. Yuk! Pulling open the bottom drawer of my makeup table, I tossed it in. He really has no idea what I like and don’t like. Something as simple as an awful smelling bottle of perfume made me resent him more. It was just one more thing, as insignificant as it was, that had taken me that degree closer to reaching the boiling point.

Caressing my long, silky hair, I grasped a small section pulling it to the front of my face to examine my new color choice—one of the few things I get to make the decision on. Copper Shimmer was what my personal hairdresser called it. It was quite a change from the blonde I usually kept. I liked it! It was something new and fresh. It seemed to brighten my pale complexion, and it brightened my dark, green eyes.

After securing my hair at the back with a matching pink hair clip, I tugged gently at a few strands, freeing them loose to hang at the sides of my face. I slipped my feet into my shoes and moved the contents from one handbag to the other, then headed downstairs to the kitchen, where I knew I would find Madeline, who is so much more to me than just our house keeper.

“Good morning, Miss Barwick.”

“Good morning, Madeline. Leo isn’t here. Why are you calling me Miss Barwick?”

“I’m sorry, Chelsea. It’s just that… I’m so used to having to call you Miss Barwick when he is around. You look very nice this morning. I love that dress. Did you remember that you have a lunch date this afternoon with Mrs. Graham? Mr. Eiden wanted me to remind you.”

I rolled my eyes at the thought of it. “Of course he wanted you to remind me. And yes, I remembered.” My sarcasm oozed out, front and center. It caused Madeline to laugh.

“What’s so funny?”

“The way you rolled your eyes. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t laugh.”

“Can you tell how much I’m looking forward to spending my afternoon with Mrs. Sophia, the witch?”

Madeline laughed again and leaned toward me. “I have never cared much for Mrs. Graham myself. I don’t blame you for not wanting to spend your afternoon with her.”

Madeline’s a petite woman in her mid-thirties. She had worked for Leo long before I came into the picture. She had become my savior, providing me with a much-needed sense of sanity. She was my only true friend, and because she was employed by Leo, our relationship had to be kept discreet—another one of the many things that Leo just would not tolerate.

“Chelsea, would you like your breakfast in the dining area?” She smiled a heartfelt smile, tucking the loose strands of her gorgeous jet-black hair behind her ear.

“No. I’ll have it right here, please.”

I pulled out a stool at the counter and sat down.

“You do know that Mr. Eiden wouldn’t approve of you eating in here. Don’t you?” She tilted her head to one side and gave me a stern look while she batted her big, blue eyes at me.

“Mr. Eiden isn’t here right now. Is he? Besides, I would like to enjoy one of my meals today and not have to sit alone eating my breakfast at a table made for ten. I won’t be eating much anyway. I slept a little longer than I had planned, and I will have to be going soon for my lunch date.”

“Fine,” she accepted in disagreement. There was no doubt that she felt the wrath of my mood.

She placed my usual breakfast of fresh fruit, toast, coffee, and orange juice in front of me.

“Maddy, grab a coffee and sit down.”

“Mr. Eiden would fire me on the spot if he knew I was having coffee with you.”

“Would you stop already with Mr. Eiden this and Mr. Eiden that. Again, Leo is not here. Now, please, get yourself a cup of coffee and join me.” I had softened my tone, feeling guilty for my catty behavior.

Maddy laughed, and she hesitantly grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down on the stool next to me.

“Now, will you please tell me how I’m going to get through this lunch today? I can’t believe Leo insists on putting the two of us close enough that we have to breathe the same air. I can’t even fathom why he even set up this lunch date. He has to know I loathe that woman. Oh, wait, that’s right, he would have to give a shit about me to know that.”

“Oh, Chelsea, you’ll get through it. You just need to smile, and it will be over before you know it. I believe Mr. Eiden has good intentions. Maybe he thinks you two can learn to like each other.”

“You know as well as I do that hell will have to freeze over before that happens.”

I really had been dreading having to meet Sophia for lunch, but even more than that I dreaded the situation I would create with Leo if I refused to go. Having lunch with Sophia is definitely the lesser of the two evils.

 
When I opened the front door, Henry was already waiting for me. He stood beside the freshly, polished, black Bentley, reading the New York Times. He looked up from under his reading glasses. “Good afternoon, Miss Barwick.”

“Hi, Henry. Let’s get this over with.” I pushed by him toward the car.

Henry kept a very straight, professional look on his face.

I nudged him in the shoulder before I climbed into the back seat of the car. “It’s okay to smile, Henry,” I teased.

He managed a half smile, then winked at me.

“That’s a little better. Still could use some work, though.”

Henry shook his head at me before he closed my door and climbed into the driver’s seat.

“Where to, Miss Barwick?” He looked at me through the rearview mirror.

“The Country Club, and please, take your time. I’m in no hurry to get there.”

Henry enjoyed the fact that I gave him a hard time. I’m pretty sure it amuses him.

Henry used to be way more uptight when I first met him. He had just celebrated his fifty-second birthday and he looked great. He was a tall man with silvered hair—granting him a very sophisticated look. Henry’s kids were all grown, and he and his wife, Julia, lived on the grounds just like Maddy. Henry was very set in his ways, which was likely why he and Leo got along so well.

I just wish Leo would give me half the attention he gives his work.

Leo was so focused on getting even richer than he already was that he was oblivious to the fact that I was slipping away right under his nose. I guess investing time in me didn’t reap the same benefits as adding more zeros to his bank account.

 
Henry pulled up to the front doors of the Country Club and helped me out of the car, “I’ll be right here when you are done, Miss Barwick.”

“Thank you, Henry. Trust me. I won’t make you wait long.”

His smile grew a little bigger than the one he had given me earlier.

I took a deep breath as I pulled the heavy glass door open. Glancing around the room, I scanned the occupied tables looking for Sophia.

She spotted me before I saw her. “Chelsea, over here.” Her hand waved in the air from where she sat. She was mixed in with all the other wives or significant others of the successful, rich men of New York.

Forcing a smile to cross my face, I made my way over to the table.

I was surprised to see that she wasn’t alone, and I was sure Sophia would have briefed her friend on our mutual feelings for one another.

“Chelsea, this is Ava. She’s a dear friend of mine. I hope you don’t mind that she’ll be joining us.”

“Not at all. It’s nice to meet you, Ava.” I extended my hand, which was met with her well-manicured, soft-skinned hand—not to mention the lavishly expensive diamond rings that wrapped her fingers.

Just as I sat down, the waiter arrived at the table with a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. I covered my wine glass with my hand, stopping him from pouring into my glass, “I’ll have a Vodka Gimlet, please.” There it is, dirty look number one presented by Mrs. Sophia. In order for me to get through this lunch, I was going to need a little help.

Sophia was married to Nate Graham, who was Leo’s business partner. From what I know of Nate, I would bet money that, on occasion, he has taken the opportunity to wander. I don’t blame him one bit, if he does. There was no other way to describe Sophia—she is a down-right bitch! She’d had more cosmetic surgery than anyone I knew, which included a boob job. She was a forty-year-old woman who spent a fortune trying to avoid aging. Her platinum blonde hair was cut into a short bob, and you would never find a single strand of hair out of place. She tended to wear too much makeup, in my opinion. I knew she didn’t care for me, and the feeling was mutual. She had never liked me, right from the first day Leo introduced us. We had learned to tolerate each other, only due to the relationship between Leo and Nate, but it was getting incredibly hard to keep up the masquerade. I knew what she thought of me. A twenty-eight year old woman with a forty-three year old man could only be after his money. She took every opportunity to tell me so, with her never-ending snide remarks.

“Ava and her husband are staying with us for a few days. We have known each other for years.”

“How nice. Do you live far from New York, Ava?” I murmured. Not caring in the least what her answer would be…but just trying to be cordial. The sound of Maddy’s voice rang through my head. Just smile and it will be over before you know it.

“Not too far, about a four hour drive. It’s far enough that it’s worth staying a few days when we do come, though.”

Having absolutely no interest in being here, I wasn’t about to engage in meaningless conversation. Quite frankly, I didn’t care to know anything about this woman, and I had nothing to say to Sophia that wouldn’t land me in a heap of trouble with Leo.

“Chelsea, I’m so glad you and Leo will be attending our dinner party tomorrow evening.”

“Oh, I wasn’t aware of that.” Not surprised one bit that I don’t know. After all, Leo didn’t feel the need to include me in any decisions, even if they involved me.

“Nate talked to Leo yesterday about it.”

I picked up my drink, taking a rather large gulp as I scanned the room for the waiter. Desperately, I wanted to have another one ready, knowing that this one wasn’t going to last long at all.

“I guess we are coming, then, if Leo says we are.” My abruptness and lack of elaboration seemed to have made Ava uncomfortable.

“That’s a beautiful bracelet, Chelsea.” Ava motioned toward my wrist.

Clearly, she had sensed the blatant disliking between Sophia and me.

“Oh, that is nice.” Sophia felt the need to interject.

“Thank you.” I twirled it around, moving the clasp to the underside of my wrist.

“He does take good care of you, doesn’t he?”

“Yes, Sophia, he does.” I felt my patience grow thin, and I really wasn’t in the mood for her snide remarks.

“I can only imagine what you did to earn that many diamonds,” Sophia muttered under her breath before taking a sip of her wine.

Heat flooded through me like wildfire, reaching my face rather quickly. I pushed my chair back and stood. My hands trembled, and my adrenaline surged. My good conscience and bad conscience started an inner battle, and I couldn't stop myself from the words escaping my mouth. “Wouldn’t you like to know? You should try it sometime, and maybe you wouldn’t be so damned uptight. You might just like it, you self-centered bitch.” Throwing my napkin caused my water glass to upset. Meanwhile, Sophia and Ava picked their jaws up off the floor. “Fuck you, Sophia,” I barked.

Hearing the faint whispers and chuckles from other tables, I stormed toward the door.

Now, that has to be a record. I didn’t even make it long enough to order. The building animosity had hit the brink of eruption and I was unable to contain it any longer.

Thankful that Henry had been waiting for me out front like he said he would, I flung the car door open and slammed it shut behind me. He didn’t even have time to get out of the car.

“Take me home,” I hissed.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Henry started the car and drove away from the Country Club. He didn’t say another word to me. He let me be and didn’t ask any questions. I wasn’t in the mood to talk. I was glad, however, that it was a good forty-minute drive from the Country Club to the estate. It gave me the much-needed time to calm down.

 

Henry swiped his access card, which opened the gate to the property. As he approached the front of the house, I spotted Leo’s car. Shit! There was only one reason he would be home at this time of day. He had to have known what happened at the Club. That’s another thing. It burned my ass to no end that people felt the need to keep tabs on me, then report back to Leo.

As soon as Henry stopped the car, I climbed out, again before he had managed to get out.

I quietly opened the big, wooden door that entered into the large marble foyer.

Looking around cautiously, I spotted Madeline on the second floor.

She walked toward the railing when she saw me.

She, too, knew that it wasn’t a good sign that Leo was home in the middle of the afternoon.

“Where is he?” I mouthed.

“He’s in the den,” she mouthed back, pointing toward the room.

Taking a deep breath, I approached the entrance of the den. There wasn’t any sense trying to avoid him—I knew I would have to deal with him sooner or later.

Leo was sitting on the chair that sat in the corner of the room. His suit jacket rested on the arm of the chair and his tie was loosened. He was slightly slouched down in the chair with his feet apart, holding a glass of brandy in his hand. Leo was a very distinguished looking man—a man with immense power and an unhealthy need for control. His hair was dark with fine traces of grey at the temple and his dark brown, intimidating eyes had the ability to freeze you in your tracks. Leo was a very successful man that was extremely confident. He demanded an outlandish level of respect from everyone around him. He did have a sweet side—at least he used to—that I would get to experience every now and again. For the most part he was very cold and had to be in control of absolutely everything—especially me.

When he saw me walk in the room, he set his glass on the table that sat beside his chair,

“Close the door,” he ordered.

Hesitantly, I did as he asked.

Holding my breath, I backed up against it.

He stood and slowly started to walk toward me.

I studied his face very carefully and tried to gauge what was coming at me. He looked rather relaxed. Not tense around his jaw, as he normally did when he was angry.

“Leo, I’m not sorry. That woman is obnoxious.”

He continued to move toward me, not saying a word. His eyes were soft and didn’t have that perpetual, shrill, glaze to them as they quite often did.

“She has some nerve saying the things she said to me.”

Leo still didn’t speak. He stood before me, with his lips pushed together in a straight line.

Still, I was unable, fully, to gauge his mood. With his silence, I felt very uncomfortable. “You can be as mad as you want at me, but I will not spend another minute around that woman.”

“Chelsea, stop. I’m not mad,” he whispered, reaching up to tuck the free, hanging, strands of my hair behind my ear.

I now knew what his mood was by the way the look in his eyes had changed—he wanted sex. I’d rather him yell at me than do that right now. “Leo, please.”

He reached down the front of my low draping dress and cupped one of my breasts in his hand. At the same time, he slowly started to raise the hem of my dress with his other hand.

My body ached, not with desire, but with anger. “Leo, stop,” I demanded, pushing him away. Never having denied him before, I knew for certain that the anger I’d expected when I walked in the room would now emerge.

His jaw tightened with the clenching of his teeth and his eyes glazed over. My stomach knotted as I waited for it.

He turned and walked over to the bar to refill his glass with brandy.

His silence had become unbearable. I just stood there with my back against the door. I was sure it was the calm before the storm. Feeling more confident now than I ever have, knowing it was because of all the resentment I had been feeling toward him. I was no longer afraid to stand up to him. I was ready for it. It wasn’t going to be one-sided, where I just stood there and took it. It was going to get heated.

He turned to face me, and the look on his face almost knocked me off my feet. Still, there were no traces of anger. His eyes had softened, once again. There was almost a look of guilt on his face. But for what? It made me feel slightly guilty for having rejected him. I was looking into the eyes of the sweet man he used to be.

“Leo,” I said, not knowing anything else to say at that moment other than his name.

Not responding, he walked toward me. Gently he steered me away from the door.

He left the room, leaving me standing there completely dumbfounded.Have I crossed the line by standing up to him, or did I completely catch him off guard that he didn’t know how to react? I couldn’t see it being the latter of the two. Leo could handle anything thrown at him, but something had just happened.

When a young, naive woman loses herself in the wealth and power of an older, well acclaimed businessman in New York, she is blinded by the enthrallment of the extravagant lifestyle he can provide.

For years, Chelsea Barwick has succumbed to the demanding confines of Leo Eiden only to realize that he is incapable of loving her the way she longs to be loved. With his love for money overshadowing his love for her, she is pushed to the edge of despair. The blinders come off and Chelsea finally sees Leo for what he really is, a deceptive, cheating man who believes that true happiness can only come from money.Falling into the arms of Jax Goulding, who is as mysterious as he is gorgeous, was inevitable for Chelsea. Fueled by deceitful rage, she is determined to fight fire with fire, only to encounter more than what she bargained for. Getting involved with Jax doesn’t come without its challenges. It does, however, come with an undeniable physical attraction toward a man who teaches her a whole new meaning of the word desire with his sexual taunting tendencies that leave her begging for more. 

​Tessa Brookfield