She was cradling her mobile phone with both palms to her chest. “I just returned Bill’s call,” she started her voice barely a whisper. “There was a fire in his parents’ retirement home last night. His parents didn’t survive. Bill’s on his way to Dallas. He wants me to meet him there.”
Just like that all the forward momentum he established came crashing down. He should have whisked her away when he had the chance because there was no way she would leave her husband now.
Two weeks later…
Bill tipped the heavy glass to his lips, sipping the numbing liquor that had been his constant companion for the past few years. His love affair with single malt whiskey started when he decided his venture for the holy grail.
That elusive quest was now captured in still photos sprawled neatly on top of the mahogany table. He arranged the pictures not by date but by the magnitude of her betrayal.
On the top queue were seven – no, eight – photos of her and her bastard of a stepbrother on thefront yard. She was a whore in every sense of the word, her arms wantonly dangling around his neck while they make out like depraved perverts for everyone’s viewing pleasure.
Her shameless debauchery was unforgivable. It was as if she was asking to be caught.
He lobbed his glass across the room, soiling his expensive Persian rug with dark amber liquid.
Not a minute later came the raps on the door.
“Bill?” the whore called out. “Is everything okay?”
No, bitch. Everything is not okay.
He swallowed the bile at the tip of his tongue. “Yes, dear. Just a little accident. I’ll be out in a minute,” he lied.
When it came to dealing with her, lying was the best policy.
He gathered the photos and shoved them back in the brown manila envelope. He inserted it in the velvet flap of his attaché case before he slammed the briefcase shut. His thumb skated over the combination lock to jumble the numbers. He then swept his hair to his forehead as he pried himself off the black worn-out leather wingback chair.
He opened the door of his study back in his old family residence in Pasadena and the whore greeted him with a timid smile.
“They’re waiting for you,” she said, sounding every bit like a good wife.
His vacant eyes roamed her form. She was wearing a modest lacy black dress and a string of impeccable ivory pearls around her neck. Her hair was swept in a loose chignon baring her neck.
He reached out to touch her necklace, his knuckles shuddering involuntarily against her skin. He splayed his fingers to cup her throat and felt her flinch beneath his touch.
He could barely keep it together. A part of him was goading him to strangle her. Break her neck, the voice prodded. It would be as easy as snapping a dry twig. He could pull her inside the study by her pristine pearls and choke her. She wouldn’t even have time to scream. The sound of her bone crunching would be his Beethoven. He would grin with indulgence while watching her ocean blue eyes that very much resembled her lover’s turn into a glassy sheen.
The memory would haunt him for years but it would be worth it.
Then again, a quick death wouldn’t be so rewarding. Sluts like her deserved to suffer.
“Beautiful,” he whispered at last, stroking her neck. “You’re as beautiful as always, darling. Thank you. I never would have survived the past couple of weeks without you.”
She replied with another vacuous smile before she lowered her gaze to the floor, looking surprisingly contrite.
His hand slid down the length of her arm to take her hand but before he could entwine his fingers with hers she pulled away and hooked her arm around the crook of his elbow instead. It took everything in him not to scowl from her coldness – her detachment.
Biting back an indignant scream he ushered her to the family room of the Compton’s Georgian mansion. The house wasn’t as massive and decadent as their manor in Bel-Air but it would do.
He plastered his signature smile as he welcomed and thanked old acquaintances who came for his parents’ memorial service. Godric and Michelle also came to pay their respect. His in-laws were decent and courteous. Bill hoped he could say the same about their offspring.
His parents’ urns were the centerpiece of the family room, standing side by side atop the grand antique Carrara marble fireplace.
He scanned the guests’ faces one by one, calling each one by their first names. He was good with names. He had an elephant’s memory, his mother used to say. And he vowed to keep it that way. He would never be like his father. A man reduced to a hollow shell who couldn’t even recognize his own name.
It didn’t take long before he spied a silver-haired old woman with a designer walking cane by the shelves, seemingly admiring his parents’ wedding photo hanging above the fireplace mantel.
He felt the whore stiffen in his arm as they approached the aging matriarch with the coldest blue eyes.
“Lilith,” he nodded before he leaned down to plant chaste kisses on the old woman’s cheeks. “Thank you for coming.”
“Of course, William. Your parents will be sorely missed,” she nodded slightly. “How are you holding up?”
“Quite well, thank you. I have Sookie to keep me steady through trying times.”
Lilith’s inscrutable gaze landed on his wife as though it was the first time she had noticed the whore’s presence.
“Susanna,” she drawled. “It’s a shame that it has to take a tragedy like this to reunite us.”
His promiscuous better half gave the matriarch a look that would have murdered a lesser woman.
The slut then turned to him. “Excuse me, Bill. I’ll have to check with the caterers to see if we have enough live mice to feed her,” the whore, who apparently managed to borrow a spine, murmured with a saccharine smile.
Bill saw Lilith’s eyes narrow into slits. However, the silver-haired woman had enough self-control to bite back a retort.
He squared his shoulders as he took Lilith’s pale, bony fingers and ushered her to an isolated corner by the antique bookshelves.
“I’ve been meaning to have a word with you,” he started, his voice dropping to an almost inaudible low. “In light of recent events, I want to amend our previous agreement.”
“Not now, William,” she hummed as she waved at her son, who was eyeing them curiously.
He groaned and gave the old woman a look as if to tell her he wasn’t taking no for an answer.
“Very well,” she resigned with a jut of her chin. “Do you have a place where we can talk in private?”
He answered with a curt nod before he led her to his study. The door snapped shut as Lilith sauntered across the room, discarding her cane by the door. The cane was nothing but an accessory to give her the aura of a frail old woman. Bill knew that of course. He knew that when it came to the Northmans, nothing should be taken at face value.
She scrunched her nose in evident disgust when her sight landed at the shattered glass on the carpet. But like a perfect lady, she didn’t touch the subject. She propped herself in the wingback chair behind the mahogany desk without hesitation, as though she owned the place.
Typical, Bill thought grimly. Northmans never asked for permission. They never apologized for anything. They all lived in the assumption that everyone was beneath them.
“I’ve done my end of the bargain,” he started as he sat across from the woman who reduced Bill to a mere visitor in his own home.
“The deal was five years. You’ve only been married for two months. My last retreat to St. Barths lasted twice as long.”
“I hope you’re not implying I wait five years,” Bill retorted melodiously to mask the exasperation in his tone. “I need it now.”
She tsked, shooting him a condescending glare. “You’re starting to sound like a destitute, William. It’s very unbecoming.”
“This house is all that’s left of my father’s legacy,” he explained, gripping the armrest tightly. “It’s already on its second mortgage. If I’m to keep it, I have to start paying the banks. I owe it to my father to keep this.”
Her cold blue eyes picked him apart. “Drop the act, William. You’re among friends; I won’t judge.”
“What act?” he gritted, repressing the urge to shiver from the coldness of her tone.
She cackled. “Oh please. Am I the only one who can see through your performance?” He opened his mouth to object but he was silenced by another icy look. “This grieving child act is getting tedious. We both know why you want to keep this house. And it isn’t to pay homage to your father. You’ve already cut that cord the minute word got out that his brain had turned into mush.”
Bill twitched. She had no right to accuse him of being a bad son. He opened his mouth only to close it again when she arched her brow at him with an invisible grin.
“How many times have you visited your parents in Dallas, William?”
Bill kept mum. He had only been to Dallas twice. Once when he helped them relocate and the second time was when he identified their charred remains in the morgue.
Her grin was no longer invisible. “My point exactly,” she crooned. “Don’t feel bad, William. I told you I won’t judge. You want to keep this house because it’s the only thing that reminds you of who you were. Of your glory days. You want to uphold your name despite everything that happened. You want to keep it pristine.”
“Just like you,” Bill declared with a nudge of his chin, daring the matriarch to refute.
A pregnant lull blanketed the room as they let their mutual understanding simmer in the air.
“Help me, Lilith,” he prodded after the moment had passed. “I have no sufficient resources to keep our estate. Even if I sue the retirement home for negligence, there’s a huge possibility I won’t get a dime. The lawyers advised me to drop the charges and cut my losses since four residents also died from the accident.”
Ironically, it wasn’t his mentally unstable father who started the fire but his lucid mother, who left a lit cigarette in the bed. Was it a cry for help? Was that her subconscious trying to give her an easy way out of the hellhole her husband had put her through? Bill had no clue.
Lilith studied him for a full minute before she took a deep breath and sighed.
“Your parents are – were – my dear friends. That is why I feel compelled to help you, William.”
Oh, my. How charitable of you, he almost drawled but decided to keep his thoughts to himself. He learned from experience that when dealing with the Northmans the best course of action was to keep his head down, knees on the ground and his lips on their feet. Or ass.
“Tell me what you need,” Lilith said, patronizing as always.
“I want access to the trust right now.”
“Out of the question,” she said with casual flick of a hand.
“Why?” he gritted.
“Because I have no confidence in you,” she stated without missing a beat. “We agreed that you would keep her away from Eric and the first thing you did after your nuptial was let her scamper back to Seattle. That speaks volume of how little she regards your marriage.”
“I had everything under control. Eric’s incessant need to steal my thunder was to blame for that snafu.”
“Snafu?” she chuckled mockingly. “Is that what you call your incompetence?”
“I will not be mocked in my own home!”
“Save your theatrics for someone else, William,” Lilith cut him off with a piercing glare. “Two years. Then and only then will I transfer her trust to you.”
“I don’t have that much time. The banks are already hounding me.” He shook his head over and over. “Six months.”
“One year.” Lilith stood up. “And stop acting like it was a grave disservice to you. Susanna isn’t exactly hideous. At least my grandson didn’t think so.”
Bill pinched the bridge of his nose to rein himself in. He was tempted to divulge his wife’s lascivious actions but decided against it. If he were to convince Lilith that he had Sookie on a string then he had to keep up with the charade.
“One year then,” he deflated.
Lilith extended her hand to him, palm down, and for a flitting moment he thought he was expected to kiss her hand to seal the deal.
“Walk me to my car.” It wasn’t a request.
He let out a pocket of air as he escorted the entitled old bat out of the study and into the door, pausing to gather her decorative cane. He gave perfunctory nods to guests who caught him as they passed by the reception area, all the while dodging the inquisitive looks Godric and Michelle were giving him.
Roman met them at the spacious colonnade, overlooking the sinuous walkway leading to the wide open iron gates. Bill scooted to the side to make room for the Grecian sentry who took the matriarch’s hand dutifully before he handed Bill a sealed white envelope.
“A wedding gift. Something to start you off on the right foot,” Lilith drawled. “One look at Susanna and I can tell you’ll need that.” Bill tucked the envelope in his inner breast pocket to peruse later.
Roman inched closer. “I spied Eric circling the block four times in the past half hour.”
Lilith shifted her head from side to side, visibly thrilled at the possibility of seeing her bastardous grandson.
Eric’s presence, however stealthy, didn’t come as a surprise to Bill. It was still infuriating though that the son of a bitch would cross state lines and set foot in Bill’s territory just to catch a glimpse of the whore. It was nothing short of spitting on his parents’ grave.
He didn’t realize he was trembling with pent up rage until he felt cold, skeletal fingers wrap around his wrist.
“Forgive my grandson’s indiscretions. Eric seems to lack the sense of boundary when it comes to Susanna,” she soothed, forcing a dash of empathy in her tone. “By the way, when you get back to Seattle, I want you to meet with an associate of mine. She has something that belongs to your wife.”
“How will I find her?”
“She’ll contact you,” Lilith hushed before she leaned in to him to for a cursory kiss goodbye on the cheek. “Fix this, William. I can be a very generous benefactor. I’ll even double the fund if you manage to spawn a child.”
Bill shoved his hands in his pockets as he watched Lilith and Roman get into a black Lincoln and peel off the driveway.
Spawn a child? He almost laughed out loud. Parting the red sea would be easier than parting his wife’s legs.
The whore was waiting for him by the door when he waltzed inside.
“What were you doing with Lilith in the study?” she questioned, her brows knotted with thinly-veiled suspicion.
He pushed her further inside just in case Eric drove by again.
He stroked her cheek gently, ignoring the slight quivering of her chin. “Nothing that should worry you, sweetheart. It’s just Lilith being Lilith. She’s disappointed that we eloped to Vermont and she’s insisting on throwing us a reception dinner before we go back to Seattle.”
The whore’s eyes widened as she took half a step back. “What did you tell her?”
He was quick to arrange his features to seem offended. “I declined, of course. I knew you would disapprove. I told her that we’re still mourning, and nursing her bruised ego is the least of our concern.”
She pursed her lips and dropped her gaze to the floor, suitably shamed. Manipulating her was easy. Making her heel was a different story.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “That- That woman brings out the worst in me.”
“It’s alright, darling.”
She levelled her eyes with his with a humbled expression. “Thank you… for telling her off.”
He smiled solemnly, pinching her chin. “Anything for you…”
… my darling whore.
“You’re Lilith Northman’s granddaughter, right?” his mother’s best friend whose name eluded him asked his slut of a wife.
The whore sighed then nodded. “Adopted granddaughter,” she corrected the woman with the perfectly coiffed graying hair.
“Then you two must be crazy in love to elope to Vermont. I know your mother would have wanted a church wedding for her only son.”
Bill smiled politely as he took the harlot’s hand and kissed the back of it. “I am madly in love with her. My mother would understand, I’m sure.”
The old woman gushed. “You are one lucky lady Susanna.”
There was no response, which he found was curious. She had been very gracious all day.
He turned to her only to find that she wasn’t addressing their guest anymore. She was looking at the door, pale and unblinking.
He darted his eyes to follow her line of vision.
His blood chilled as he stared at the menace at the threshold. He felt her fingers slackening around his as she yanked her hand out of his grasp as though she was mortified to be seen with him. There was a growing unease on her face as breathed out one word.
One stupid word that sent Bill’s world into a spiral.
This is about to get very ugly.