Pandora’s Pleasure by Vanessa Fewings

 

I failed to escape.

A blur of movement caught my attention as someone stormed toward the BMW. The driver’s side door was flung open and Carter Godman dragged me out, pulling so violently I knew there’d be bruises later. My heart pounded and I felt heady from the rush of fear.

Soon, everyone would know I’d tried to leave.

Struggling with Carter would only make things worse. Maybe I could talk him out of telling my parents.

They were here, somewhere, mingling with the other distinguished guests in the ballroom—drinking the Godmans’ champagne, eating their canapés, and working the room along with the rest of Washington’s elite.

Carter’s decision to steal away for a smoke break out back had been badly timed—he’d caught me attempting to drive off in his brother’s car.

There were no words exchanged between us; not when a member of the valet staff could be the eyes and ears of the tabloids.

My future brother-in-law was just as cruel as the rest of his family. No doubt he’d suffer no repercussions for treating me like this. With an ironclad grip on my forearm, he hauled me back inside his family’s manor.

I teetered on high heels, tripping on the hem of my beaded pink tulle gown as I tried to keep up. Feeling humiliated, I prayed we’d not encounter any of their staff along the way. Only a Godman would dare treat a Bardot in this fashion.

We finally made it to the private sitting room, where Carter caged me between his body and the wall, gripping my throat. A trickle of sweat snaked down my spine.

Carter stared down at me, his expression furious. “Just where do you think you were going?”

I’d known they would try to talk me out of leaving if I was caught, but I hadn’t expected this. Now I realized what they really thought of me.

“Nowhere.”

“I don’t believe you.” His pupils were dilated, proving he was garnering pleasure from threatening me.

This was what privilege looked like; all wrath and revenge with no fear of any consequences. Carter was the youngest son of a trillion-dollar banking tycoon. But his cockiness prevented him from advancing in his daddy’s business—his temperament was too unstable to trust with any kind of responsibility.

His father, Gregor Godman, had wealth that was beyond comprehension…the kind of new money that allowed him to own islands. He was a man destined to sit in the most distinguished seat in the Oval Office in less than thirty days—if all went well and no one fucked up. Unfortunately, that included me.

Six months ago, when I was still a naïve nineteen-year-old, I’d met Gregor’s oldest son, Damien. It had not been by chance. We’d been unaware at the time that our relationship had been arranged by our parents.

I’d hardly seen Damien Godman over the last few months. When our paths did cross, he was dismissive and rude. Clearly, the realization of what we really were to each other—a fusing of two dynasties—had been just as devastating for him.

I’d been purposefully caught in the crosshairs of his family’s empire and ambition and there was no getting out of this alliance.

And now Carter and I were alone in one of this ostentatious mansion’s thirty rooms, where he could do whatever he wanted to me and get away with it.

I tried to wriggle free. “Your brother—”

“Isn’t standing here.”

“You’re hurting me.”

He relaxed his grip on my throat slightly. “We expected more from you, Pandora,” he said in a low sinister tone.

“Damien will wonder where I am,” I insisted.

“Wait until I tell your fiancé that you were ready to walk out on him on the very night of the big announcement.”

I swallowed hard at the thought.

“It isn’t what it looks like.”

He made a harsh noise like a game show buzzer. “Wrong answer. Explain to me what you were doing trying to drive off in my brother’s car.”

Looking over his shoulder, I saw the plush couch where I’d sat a few weeks ago while having high tea with the matriarch of their family. We’d swapped pleasantries to pass the time and I’d tried my best to impress her, sharing details of my elite schooling in Switzerland. I’d proudly told Mrs. Godman about my flair for learning foreign languages, competing in sports and refining my culinary skills, and that I also had a natural aptitude for computer science.

“You won’t have any use for that sort of thing,” Mrs. Godman had told me, her words striking hard. I’d always imagined I would be more than just someone’s wife. After that meeting, I realized what marrying into this family would truly mean for me. I would lose my freedom, my independence…and my self-respect.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you.” Carter towered over my petite frame, his tuxedo camouflaging the animal inside of him.

I felt powerless against his strength. Tension as thick as the smoke radiating from the nearby black marble fireplace settled over us. Resting upon the mantelpiece was a doomsday clock that ticked away the minutes. Soon the official announcement of my engagement would be made to the hundreds of guests who’d gathered in the ballroom. The press would be notified and then the wedding frenzy would be set into motion. I’d be counting down the hours until my miserable day of reckoning when I’d finally become Mrs. Damien Godman.

“You’re scaring me,” I whispered.

“You remember who my father is, right?” Carter asked, sneering.

A voice boomed from the doorway, “That’s hardly any way to treat my fiancée.”

Carter’s older brother walked into the room—the man who used to make my heart soar whenever I saw him…right up until the day he’d made it clear he didn’t actually like me.

Carter glared at Damien. “I stopped her from leaving. You’re welcome.”

Damien shot a look of disapproval my way. “I see.”

He was a tall, ruggedly handsome man of thirty-two. The epitome of what a gentleman from the ruling class should be—all new money and decadence.

I’d once found Damien’s confident jaw, dark intelligent eyes, and full, sensual mouth incredibly appealing, back when I’d watched him from afar and before we’d been formally introduced. I’d flown too close to the solar glare of a man whose aggressive tactics intimidated all who came close to him.

Damien Godman was his father’s son.

My affection for him was fading. I’d been in love with the idea of him. The idea of an us.

“She thinks nothing of embarrassing this family,” said Carter.

“Tell him to let me go,” I pleaded as my hand snapped to Carter’s wrist, trying to ease the pressure of his grip.

Damien eased his hands into his pockets. “Carter, you’re being very rude.”

“I’m not done with her.” Carter looked at his brother defiantly.

The fact he hadn’t pulled his brother off of me was my punishment for trying to leave. I saw that now. He had probably found out about my escape attempt from a member of the staff. Or perhaps Carter had sent him a text before dragging me back in here.

Damien’s dangerous expression intensified. “I’ll take it from here.”

Carter clenched his jaw and released me, stepping back. “The Bardots will regret the day they handed you over to us.”

“I don’t belong to anyone,” I snapped, caressing my throat. I hoped his aggression wouldn’t leave a bruise.

“Why do you insist on insulting us, Pandora?” Carter replied. “Our guests want to meet you.”

Damien smirked. “Sweetheart, it appears you’ve been very naughty.”

Carter glared at him. “Make sure she doesn’t embarrass us any further.”

“I’ll handle her,” Damien said darkly.

The way Carter looked at me caused the hairs on my nape to prickle.

“Out.” Damien’s tone was severe.

With a final glare of contempt, Carter turned and marched out the door, proving he was just as wary of Damien as the rest of us.

The air was saturated with a coldness that I shouldn’t have felt—not with a fire ablaze nearby. I could smell the scent of burning logs and hear the torrid crackling.

Orange flames reflected in Damien’s chestnut brown irises…eyes that had once looked upon me with kindness. His devastatingly attractive face rarely smiled now, reminding me that he was a Godman.

I’d heard a rumor that Damien was set to follow in his father’s ambitious footsteps and one day rule the nation from the Oval Office. Such ambitions had to be the reason he always looked past me, like I was a frivolous distraction to be tolerated when present.

My own father insisted the Godmans could turn around the damage inflicted by the current administration and the incumbent President’s selfish agenda. My parents had reassured me that marrying into this family would benefit everyone. Including my father’s own political aspirations; he wanted a place in Godman’s Cabinet.

“I sent the staff to find you,” Damien said tersely, running a hand through his raven hair. “Now I know why they couldn’t.”

His name made me think of that old movie, The Omen—his parents had chosen it well. Damien might as well be the Devil’s son. His family’s hunger for power was never sated.

At first, I’d believed that what we had together could become special. Even after he began ghosting me, I’d refused to let go of the illusion I had of him—the man I’d secretly fallen for as a teenager from afar while reading stories of him in GQ.

I’d turned twenty in August, and that birthday had become a milestone occasion—the beginning of the countdown to my loss of freedom.

“Where were you going?” Damien’s tone was almost kind.

“Getting some fresh air.”

“Right.” He stepped closer until he towered over me. “How am I meant to protect you if you run off like that?”

Even now his nearness sent a thrill through me. “Sorry.”

His eyes darkened. “I have a reputation to live up to. If I appear to have no control over you, others will take advantage.”

“No one noticed.”

“Oh, they noticed.”

“I’ll go back to the party.”

“Yes, you will. You’ll smile at everyone’s conversations, laugh at their jokes. You’ll hang on my arm and be the pretty young thing you are meant to be while you entertain our guests. You will make my father—” He gritted his teeth. “Look good.”

I hated all of these self-entitled assholes.

I glanced at the clock.

“Are you even listening, Pandora?”

“At least let me visit the restroom.” My tone sounded calmer than I expected.

His eyes narrowed and his gaze fell on my lips. “Of course, darling. I’ll escort you.”

“Thank you.” I was starved for any sign of kindness from him, no matter how fleeting.

He weaved his fingers through mine and led me out of the room and along the sprawling hallway, his palm hot against mine, possessively controlling our pace.

“I’ll make you proud,” I said softly, trying to appease him. “I promise.”

“You have a lot to make up for.”

I shouldn’t have been shocked when he preceded me into the bathroom, intending not to give me any privacy. He locked the door behind us and then leaned against the sink, his dark eyes following my every move.

Damien dragged his teeth along his bottom lip. “Hurry up.”

My nostrils flared with annoyance at being rushed, but I turned and lifted my hem, pulling down my panties to sit on the toilet. “I can’t go with you watching.”

He stepped closer until he was looming over me. “I think you should get used to this.”

I avoided his stare.

“You’re my trophy, Pandora.”

I didn’t want to believe the elite private finishing school I’d attended had been all about preparing me to be his wife and nothing more. But our relationship had come about so two American families could forge a powerful alliance through marriage, hijacking all the power in Washington through this allegiance.

Mine and his.

I had flown into this gilded cage. At first, I’d entered willingly because I didn’t know this man. The papers painted Damien Godman as a modern-day hero. A man who fought for social justice. A senator’s son who was willing to dedicate his time to those trapped in poverty, to see them lifted out of it.

They didn’t know him like I did.

“Damien, please step back.”

He rested his palm on my head as though anointing me. “Do you want me to run the tap for you? Help you pee?”

I shivered at his touch, squeezing my eyes shut.

I finally managed to relax enough to empty my bladder.

After wiping myself, I stood quickly and flushed the toilet. I had to push past him to him to get to the sink.

Damien followed me. “You belong to me now. Let me protect you.”

There was no arguing with him. Not when he was in this kind of mood.

Washing my hands under the warm water, I rallied my courage. All I had to do was smile and play nice. Feign innocence. After tonight, when Damien and I were alone, we could talk and I would remind him that I deserved to be treated with respect. After all, I was a Bardot…American royalty.

I dried my hands on a cotton napkin and turned to face him. “We should get back before your father notices.”

“He noticed.”

I shot him a fearful look.

No one crossed his father more than once.

“Please, explain to the Senator I needed some air.”

“You want me to lie to him?” Damien frowned.

“Protect me.” I straightened my back. “As a husband should.”

“We’re not married…yet.”

I raised my chin defiantly, trying to hide the fact that he scared me.

His fingertips trailed along my forearm. The gesture seemed too tender for him, and a shudder ran through me as an electric spark seemed to pass between us. This man could ruin something sacred if he wanted to. He could possess a soul for his mere amusement and then destroy it.

He’d destroy my soul if I stayed.

“This is the last time you defy me,” he said quietly. “Understand?”

“Yes.” My eyelashes fluttered rebelliously.

He studied my face. “Usually you’re so compliant, Pandora. What’s gotten into you?”

I’d remained under his control because he had the power to see my father’s ambitions realized. Walking away from an alliance this powerful wasn’t what good girls did if they wanted their families to still love them.

“Say something.” He tipped up my chin.

He was taller than his brother and a lot stronger—and if at all possible, crueler.

“You’ve not talked to me all night, Mr. Godman.”

“It’s Damien, for Christ’s sake. Is that what this is…you want more attention?”

“Yes and no.”

His expression softened. “You look pretty tonight. Though you always do.”

“Thanks for the compliment,” I said sarcastically.

“Don’t look at me like that. You may come from old money, but your father still needs mine.”

“We both know I’m marrying beneath me.” I regretted the words as soon as they left my mouth.

“Always a charmer, Ms. Bardot.”

It was true his family had climbed the social ladder for decades. They may have amassed an astounding fortune, but their legacy had nothing on the centuries-old noble succession of my family. Which was where I came in, evidently.

“Where does your accent come from?” he asked, scolding me. “At times, you almost sound like Jackie Kennedy.”

“Well, I’ve been molded since birth to accommodate you and your family—to be the perfect trophy wife. I hope to balance your uncouth ways the best I can.”

I rushed out of the bathroom but he caught up to me immediately and dragged me against his chest, holding me tight. We were alone in the hallway.

“If you continue with your rebellion, I will have to correct your behavior.”

“Did I strike a nerve, Mr. Godman? Being reminded I’m too good for you must sting.”

His grip around my waist shot pressure into my spine.

“I’m protecting you from yourself.” His mouth loomed close to mine.

I was panting softly, feeling his breath on my lips, his cock pressing into my belly.

“I don’t want to announce our engagement tonight,” I whispered.

“Want to tell me why?”

“I need more time.”

“I’m afraid it can’t be stopped.”

“Please, Damien.”

He let out a long sigh. “You exasperate me.”

“Do what you can.”

“Let me think on it.” Damien leaned in again to brush his lips over mine—teasing me.

My sex throbbed in response to his dark flirting…and he knew it—knew that even if my eyes showed him defiance, my body couldn’t help but respond to his charisma and the masterful way he dominated me. Perhaps my infatuation would never be shaken. I’d crushed on the Senator’s son at that Debutante Ball because I’d been too innocent to see it was a match-making endeavor. My coming out party presented me as a woman who was ready to be plucked.

“A fruit in need of bruising.”He’d teased me with those very words the night we’d met. “To draw out your sweetness.”

Our first dance together had made my girlfriends jealous. I’d been too naive to realize that the look of excitement on my parents’ faces had been because of their successful scheming to have me marry into this family.

To make me his.

Make me a Godman.

Damien gave me a predatory smile—his prey subdued by the strength of his hold and the dominating way he’d captured me. It would be easy to bite his lip, show more rebellion. I was burning up with the heat he radiated from all that hidden passion.

He smirked. “I don’t want any evidence of my discipline to appear at the cocktail party. Maybe after everyone’s gone.”

I flinched as though he’d already hit me. “Don’t.”

“I don’t mean to strike you, Pandora. I’m not a Neanderthal.” His glare narrowed. “You’re like this because you crave discipline.”

I turned my head, refusing to look in his eyes.

His warm breath kissed my cheek. “You’re so damn needy. This is why you defy me. You’re constantly craving what only I can give you.” His thumb rubbed over my bottom lip and dipped into my mouth; as sensual as it was forbidden. “I’ve arranged for the house at Seascape to be made ready.”

That almost made my knees buckle.

He was talking about his private oceanside home that was a helicopter flight from here. The place I’d only heard about. The Godmans had homes all around the world, including New York, Milan, France, and England. I’d never be able to run from Seascape. It was in the middle of nowhere.

Damien’s mother had hinted her eldest son might whisk me away tonight after the party, and she’d smiled as she’d delivered the news. Those other things she’d spoken of threatened to haunt my nightmares forever.

I refused to think of them now.

“You and I will spend the weekend at Seascape.” He gave a nod. “I believe that once you and I get to know each other better, you’ll relax around me.”

Did he mean sleep together?

“We have to wait—”

“Go back to the ballroom and pretend you want to be there. Then you and I will have the rest of the evening to ourselves.”

He let me go and I headed down the hallway. I was shaking uncontrollably.

“Pandora,” he called after me.

I stopped walking, waiting for him to continue without looking back, not wanting to see the victory in his eyes.

“Remember you’re a collector’s item.” Damien quickly closed the gap between us, standing right behind me to speak softly in my ear. “Behave as such.”

“There are other women out there you might prefer.”

He brushed a fingertip along my bare shoulder. “Be a good girl. Don’t make me regret not punishing you for your indiscretion.”

I nodded, feeling a shiver run down my spine. “Tell your brother to keep his hands off me.”

“I will deal with him. Now off you go.”

I hurried along the hallway in the direction of the ballroom, my heart pounding in my ears and Damien’s cologne clinging to me, his amber scent scorching my psyche. My continued yearning for him was poisoning me.

As I neared the ballroom where the prestigious guests had gathered for the evening, I raised my chin preparing to face all of these strangers again. I needed to put the fear out of my mind—the fear of being alone with Damien later in some secluded house.

“Miss Bardot!”

I turned to face one of the Godman’s staff—a burly man wearing a tuxedo.

“Senator Godman wants to see you in his office.”

Fine hairs prickled on the back of my neck. “Damien requested that I go directly to the ballroom.”

“This way, please.” The man gestured toward a door at the other end of the hallway.

I wanted to listen to my intuition and refuse to be in the same room alone with Gregor Godman.

The tuxedo-clad man was already opening the office door. “Don’t keep the Senator waiting.”