Arranged by Jarica James




The moment my father sent me a message to meet him in his office, I knew it wasn’t going to go well. Putting aside my current editing project, I gathered up my work bag and started for the elevators. My stomach protested loudly, yet another thing to curse my father for. I might have been the best paid editor in the field, but I was hardly happy about it. Sure, it was nice to have the money, but the strings attached were far too heavy, and I didn’t want to be his puppet anymore. The problem? He was so far involved in nearly every investment I had that I wasn’t sure what was mine anymore.

“Ah, there you are, son, come in. I had lunch ordered in,” my father called out, waving me in with his smarmy smile in place. Beaumont Hughes, one of the four founding members of Manon Publishing and the literal boogeyman in my closet. Okay, maybe I was being a bit dramatic, but the man was undeniably the devil in a suit.

“Hello, Father,” I greeted, dropping my bag on one of the seats across from his desk and taking the other. He leveled me with a strange look, like he was deciding whether to tell me a secret or not. “Is something wrong?”

“Not necessarily. But I just had a meeting with the board.” Enough said. The four of them were the most privileged men you’d find in the Rockies, and any decisions made by the board would always be for ‘the best of the company,’ everyone else be damned. “After that fiasco in the advertising department, we have to save face. The company is at stake here.”

“And what do I have to do with that?” I asked, the sass coming out in my tone, his eyes narrowing at my blatant disrespect. It wasn’t my normal way of speaking to him, but I just had a feeling bad news was coming my way.

“Don’t take that tone with me, son.” The title now held an edge that made it sound like a curse instead of a term of endearment. It was gross how quickly good ole’ Beaumont switched personalities, something I should be used to, but it still never failed to unsettle me.

“Apologies,” I said without feeling as his secretary came in with our lunches. She slid a takeout box my way first, then went to his side and started unpacking for him… even pulling out a plate to arrange his steak, potatoes, and salad. I couldn’t hold back the look of disgust on my face, though that might have had more to do with having no desire to hold it back, rather than lack of self-control. The man was a giant child. Opening my own box, I bit back a snarky comment at the food. It was a gyro, which made me want to gag immediately. I hated lamb and cucumbers with a passion, a fact that he clearly knew, because this wasn’t the first time I’d been given this meal during one of our ‘family chats.’ He had a way of throwing in whatever he could to remind me he was in control.

“Something wrong with your food?” he asked, the slight quirk of his mouth confirming it was on purpose. No wonder Mom left this hateful fuck. She tried to warn me not to come back to America for college, but I didn’t listen, only thinking about the money and how I was an adult and wouldn’t have to worry about his control issues. How young and naive I was.

“You know I can’t do cucumbers, but that’s not a secret, so let’s cut to the chase since we both know I’m not going to enjoy this lunch with you. Just hit me with whatever you’re dancing around,” I said bluntly, now mad enough to not give a fuck about his stupid games.

“Well, if we’re going to handle this like that,” he said with a sigh, cutting into his steak, taking a bite, and chewing excruciatingly slowly before speaking. “We have decided as a group that you’ll be marrying Dick Manon’s daughter.”

The only reaction I had was to blink up at him, confused. But he wasn’t swayed, taking another bite and giving me a moment, all the while keeping a cool smirk on his face.

“Anyway, the wedding will be in a week. In fact, she’s coming tomorrow to find out the news herself, then Sunday you will be visiting her in Sugar Bush to meet her. You’ll have the week to acclimate to each other before the wedding.” The room was silent until laughter finally burst out of me, the boisterous sound quickly giving way to wheezing while he looked at me unamused.

“You’ve lost your mind, Father,” I said, shaking my head, but he cut me off with a growl that almost made me laugh again. He aimed his infamous withering glare my way.

“You will. Need I remind you that this job and my money are what sustain your lifestyle? It’s your duty as a Hughes and as a future board member of this company,” he argued, his face turning a fun shade of red. Aside from the investments and this job, my father had convinced me to sign a contract stating he’d pay for my college if I worked at Manon for a minimum of ten years after graduation. At the time, I was young and stupid enough to see it as an opportunity for freedom, not considering the ramifications I’d have to face after.

“I never signed up to marry a stranger,” I countered, crossing my arms and likely looking just as angry. This was absurd.

“It comes with a payoff,” he said, and from the look on his face, it was his ace in the hole. “A lump sum of one million dollars will be given to you six months from your wedding date. If you refuse, I cut you off.” There was a moment's pause before a sly smile began to twist his lips. "As an added incentive, we can also take a trip to my attorney together on that date and watch him tear up the contract regarding your college tuition, making you free of those particular strings."

My heart stopped. This was my chance to get out of this monotonous job and the world of corporate ass kissing. I could finally do what I’d always wanted. Son of a bitch. Father stared at me, smiling like a cat that ate the canary.

“Fine, I’m in.”