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Chapter One



Veda is dancing.

Always dancing. Sometimes she can’t even sit still at breakfast long enough to finish her yogurt. Or she holds the bowl aloft while she twirls around the kitchen, moving her intoxicating hips to a beat only she can hear. The spectacle of her serves as my breakfast, although right now, she’s dessert, dancing as she is around the rooftop of my Tribeca penthouse.

Today is her eighteenth birthday, and I’ve thrown her the most ridiculously lavish party ever witnessed by mankind. Over the course of the last two weeks—since she came back to me—she has changed her mind about the theme sixteen times. Yeah, I counted. I catalogue every single movement and whisper she makes. The hours she spends away from me in school are fucking unbearable because I know she’s chewing her pencil or straightening her plaid skirt and I’m not there to see it. Having my driver bring her directly to the Manhattan office so she can recap her day only appeases me slightly.

But I’m more than appeased tonight because I’ve spoiled her rotten, turning the rooftop into an enchanted garden in honor of her officially becoming a woman in the eyes of the law. Lush greenery seems to grow directly from the roof’s concrete surface, soft white strings of lights and flickering candlelight highlight the mist drifting across the dance floor, winding through the high tabletops and milling guests. Vines, porch swings and gilded birdcages hang down from a carved wooden pergola, doubling as seating. An unseen DJ plays trance and trip hop, giving the fantasy-esque scene a modern, somewhat eerier edge, and Veda is right there in the center of it all, a beautiful blonde nymph on the dance floor, her very existence a scandal to the guests who whisper to one another behind their hands, thinking I don’t notice.

I notice. I just don’t give a shit. And I’m not taking my eyes off Veda long enough to burn a hole in them with a glance.

While my business associates are quite aware of the nature of my relationship with Veda, a high school senior, the facts haven’t quite made it to the gossip mill that churns in the yard of her private all girl’s school. Since every student in Veda’s grade and their respective parents have been invited tonight, however, they’re beginning to get the picture.

It took a good hour for the mothers to catch the decidedly non-parental vibe between Veda and me, but the men? They knew immediately. You don’t bring a perfectly formed, sweetheart-mouthed, perky-titted schoolgirl to live in your home and not get her on all fours at the first opportunity. The covetous looks they’re sending toward the dance floor say they wouldn’t hesitate either if they had a chance to do the same. Which they never will. Normally, I don’t even allow men around Veda, but I’ve made an exception for her birthday. One night. Knowing the damn party is almost over and I’ll finally have her alone soon keeps me rooted in place rather than removing limbs from the pricks who ogle her.

We had a rough start, she and I, but the first grovel of my life—emblazoning her name across the top of my tallest building—was effective enough to bring her back, thank Christ. But we’re not in the clear yet. Oh no. I’m still working triple time to make up for purchasing Veda from her father, one of my employees, and sending him packing across the Atlantic so I could have her all to myself. I was brought up to be a cold bastard and to take what I wanted, by fair means or foul, and that’s how I operated when I laid my eyes on the treasure of Veda. And while she came back, it’s there in her eyes on occasion, a wariness that says she hasn’t quite forgiven me for buying her, the way one might procure an object. She’s got a lot more going on in her mind than people assume when presented with her angelic appearance. So it’s a constant balance between letting her past my defenses and keeping my guard up.

Because I’m not losing her again. I can’t. The life force she injects into my veins, after being dead inside for so long, is the only thing keeping me alive. Every day is a gift, because the contract I signed with her father is no longer in effect. As of today, her eighteenth birthday, she can walk away from me without a single consequence. Furthermore, I would be required to allow it.

Please God, don’t let it happen.

“Mr. Beckett,” a cultured feminine voice purrs to my right. I manage to tear my attention off Veda, accepting a light handshake from one of the female onlookers. “I’m Adrian, Melissa’s mother. She and Veda have Physics together.”

“Right.” I put some space between us, because as jealous as I am when men look at my girlfriend, Veda’s jealous streak over me comes paired with bad behavior. I’m not going to pretend as if I don’t enjoy knowing she doesn’t like me interacting with attractive women, but making her feel one hundred percent secure in my loyalty beats vanity by a mile. “Are you enjoying yourself?”

A waiter passes with a tray, and Adrian accepts a glass of champagne, giving me a not-so-discreet once-over. It makes me wonder if she’s the remaining guest at the party who hasn’t picked up on my relationship with Veda. Or if she has, she hasn’t been as scandalized by it as the rest of the pack as they stand watching their daughters dance in groups around the dance floor. “Yes, I’m really loving this theme. What an effort this must have been.” She smiles into her glass and takes a sip of champagne, swaying closer to me. “I just wanted to say, I think it’s very admirable you’ve taken such an interest in Veda’s well-being. Poor girl. No mother around and her father overseas.” She shakes her head. “She’s lucky to have you.”

Guilt gives me a swift kick in the gut, and I return my focus to Veda on the dance floor, hands thrown up over her head, eyes closed, completely lost to the music. She outshines everything and everyone around her. It’s not even a contest. And this woman’s unintentional reminder that I played God and rearranged her life to suit my obsession has me wanting the party over so I can bring her to our bedroom and apologize with my cock between her legs. She tends to forgive me for almost anything when I’m working her into a screaming orgasm beneath me. Or on top of me. In the pool, in the shower, up against the entry table, on my jet.

That last one hasn’t happened yet, but after I give Veda her birthday present, it’ll only be a matter of hours until it does. Unless she falls asleep. The girl has a penchant for dozing off in modes of transportation, and it’s goddamn adorable, even if I’m left with an unattended hard-on nearly every time.

“I’m lucky to have her, too,” I say, remembering I’m in the middle of a conversation, but barely able to concentrate while watching Veda dip her hips, the light pink silk of her dress riding temptingly high. “She brings happiness wherever she goes.”

Adrian makes a small sound. “That’s incredibly sweet.” I’m surprised when she lays a hand on my arm. “If you ever need a woman’s opinion about…anything, give me a call.” She bites her lip and squeezes. “I know how hard it is to be responsible for a high school girl, and you’re doing it alone.”

“Yes. Thank you for the offer,” I reply politely, taking my arm back. But not fast enough. On the dance floor, my girlfriend has stopped dancing, those young hormones blasting from the barrel of a gun. Color creeps into her cheeks and she appears to be contemplating removing one of her high heels and stabbing it into Adrian’s neck. “If you’ll excuse me?”

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