Mother’s Wedding Day
Smug satisfaction spread through my system.
I thrive on the stuff, you know. I feed on it like a junkie consumes drugs. When it comes bundled with someone else’s misery, it’s twice as nice. Does that make me a bitch? Of course it does. But I didn’t get where I am in life by being “nice” and “caring” about the feelings of others. After mother taught me that lesson at a very early age, it became my golden rule. And it’s served me very well.
My new stepsister and her tearful doe eyes made my stomach turn. Women like her give the rest of our gender a bad name. She begged me to go easy on her, to just let up with my tirade. She had no idea how her pleas were my gasoline, fueling my drive to make her hurt more with each minute.
Let’s face a truth. The world needs sadists. Some people get off on pain, others like inflicting it. Symbiotic. I land solidly in the second camp. I’m an emotional sadist, proudly serving the needs of those who need to weep like infants. Concurrently, I love the high of helping them get there. One doesn’t survive in Andrea Asher’s shadow without that quality on their side.
Andrea Asher—aka Mommie dearest—taught me to be strong and stand up for myself from the moment I could speak. I hated her for it at times; I admire her for it now. The world doesn’t take women seriously, and if you don’t prove you deserve the attention, you won’t get it. I made sure that was never a problem. Since the first day of preschool, I took everything that was rightfully mine. Everything. I quickly learned about the fine line between being labeled the bully and the queen bee—and have kept the pristine toe of my Chanel pump bumped to the boundary at all times.
When Mother was disappointed in me, the punishments were harsh—but enduring her fury was much more preferable than the times she chose to ignore or shun me. It was why I focused completely on gaining the sunlight of her favor as much as possible, those magical days when she made me feel like the planets revolved around me. Turned out, all I had to do was become a carbon copy of her. It’s suited us both well in the business world, and our company is ridiculously successful. The one-two punch we pack is overwhelming to most people, making it ridiculously easy to win over clients.
Personal relationships are another issue. Mother’s official stance on the issue? “Difficult at best, impossible at worst.” It was always her stance for not revealing any more information about my father. “He was a mistake, Margaux darling. You were not.” I know she always said it to make me feel better, and it worked…sometimes…
Not that it mattered after today, anyway. She’d truly gone and done it. The designer gown, the walk to Pachelbel, the rings, the vows…she’d really married her dirt-digging, blue collar schlub.
Colin Montgomery. Yes, he was handsome—if the unkempt, rugged, dirt-under-his-fingernails thing could be considered appealing. And yes, he treated Mother like his world would stop if she weren’t in it. But other than that, I was lost a long time ago on what she saw that I didn’t.
Of course, learning he was my old college roommate’s father knocked him lower on the esteem meter by several notches. Not just any roomie. Colin was Claire Montgomery’s dad.
Claire and I always had a strange relationship, even back at university. She was an idealistic, naïve, bookworm of a girl who lived with some friends of mine in an off-campus rental. After a monumental falling out with Mother about a boy I fancied myself in love with, I left home and moved in with the three of them. Originally, my intention was to teach Mother a lesson, figuring she’d beg me to come home after a week or two. I was the one who had the lesson handed to me, as she was much more stubborn than I gave her credit for. Weeks turned into months, even after I broke up with the boy. And yes, I mean boy. College guys had come highly overrated from the start.
Claire spent most of her time in her room studying or mooning over her asshole boyfriend, Nick. Remember: “college boys”…“highly overrated”…same sentence. Nick was the living and semi-breathing proof-of-concept, a dick with legs who cheated on Claire left and right, including with one of the other girls living in the house. The pair finally had to come clean because Nick knocked her up. I really wouldn’t be surprised if there are several fatherless children that look exactly like him in the greater San Diego area.
But I digress. There was sweet little Claire, thinking he was the Edward to her Bella and they’d sparkle in the sunset together one day. The idiot made him snacks for the “big game” on Sunday when he hadn’t yet washed off the girl he’d been with Saturday night. It made my skin crawl to watch how the douchebag walked all over her.
So why didn’t I tell her? Because I was doing her a favor. When someone is that blind, they deserve to have their heart broken. Some caring soul needs to set the alarm clock so they wake up and smell the damn coffee, learning the valuable lesson of never letting themselves be treated that way again. One massive heartache, lesson learned. There’s no better teacher than tough love. It was Mother’s golden rule, and now it’s mine.
But now as Claire stared up at me, tears streaking through her cute little freckles and her petite little lips pleading for my mercy, I just couldn’t stop myself. Her suffering was my fix, and it felt damn good. Later, she’d probably admit the same thing. She’d been walking around like a zombie for weeks, keeping all this crap inside her lovesick little heart. Not healthy for the chakras, new little sister of mine. I’d likely have told her that, but she wouldn’t have listened. She bought my half-truths so completely, she’d have believed me if I declared the moon had been turned into cheese.
Technically, I was doing her a favor. Again. The disaster with Nick had taught her nothing, so it was time to step in with yet another dose of tough love. The twit just wouldn’t see it that way for a while yet—until the hurt wore off and she became a stronger woman because of it. I gave in to the urge to roll my eyes. She really should’ve been thanking me. If she stopped wallowing in her pity party for one second, she’d have realized it. That was okay. I’d remind her of it later.
“Enough.” She gulped for air. “Enough, okay?”
I paused, watching her wiggle like a worm on a hook, reveling in my chic power over her babbling misery. “Awww. Poor little Claire. Of course you’ve had enough, which is why you made everything so damn easy for me. Your pathetic self-esteem makes you predictable, conquerable,”—I swooped up and down, encompassing the whole of her sobbing form— “especially how it turned you into a panting fan girl after Killian. Ohhh, the look on your face was so priceless, sweetie. I laid the trap and you stepped right into it, believing everything you saw that night, exactly as I intended. You were such an easy mark, playing perfectly into the scene with your sad lack of trust. I should almost thank you for the sheer perfection of it.” I took a moment to let her respond. Okay, fine; I really took it to preen. And maybe, just maybe, lean over her for an elegant flourish on my touché moment. “Here’s a little secret, stepsister. Nothing really happened before you arrived that night, nor did it happen afterward—but you bought into every illusion like the idiot you are.”
The high got better. I burst into laughter from it. Damn, I impressed even myself. Eat or be eaten, sister—and right now, you’re a tasty meal.
My weak little sister moved across the hall, too afraid to stay but too afraid to leave. Poor little Claire didn’t know if she was coming or going. Deer in the headlights. Isn’t that what they say?
I don’t like deer.
My stomach twisted on itself in sour pain, surely because I entertained the thought of a venison steak. I forced down the nausea as Claire came back with a line of pure do-gooder bullshit.
“At least I’m an idiot who can look at myself in the mirror at night.”
“Though you’ll be alone, won’t you?” I countered. “And I’ll be with Killian Stone.” Mmmm, there was a consolation for the stomachache. “Now that you’ve cleared his conscience and satisfied his white trash fascination, he can flush his guilt about you down the toilet. He’s performed his charity work, and can do what’s he’s wanted this entire time. Me.”
Time for the finishing flourish. I struck my best runway pose and dipped a victorious stare at the idiot, rocking my glittery pumps for every C-note I’d paid for them.
She was dusted.
Nothing left to see here, people.
There was no mistaking the deep baritone that filled the hall. Correction: consumed all the air in the hall. And made the bile in my stomach turn traitor on me again. And made my heartbeat hammer at the base of my throat.
God, what his voice alone did to me, especially when he was pissed off. If they could find a way to bottle it and sell it in sex shops, all the vibrators would gather dust.
As amazing as his effect on my bloodstream, I had a bigger problem. Killian had just heard me in full bitch mode at my new little stepsister…the woman who was, insanely enough, still the apple of both his gorgeous eyes.
And what did little Claire do? Turned and bolted like the good little Bambi that she always was, of course—leaving me to face his sexy-as-hell wrath. At the risk of being trite, her loss. I barely suppressed my smirk as Killian damn near ordered her to stay, but in the end she ran away. So predictable. So Claire.
If it wasn’t my own mother’s wedding day, I would’ve taken matters in my own hands exactly then. Unzipped the man’s pants, pulled him right out, and had my illicit way with him against the US Grant Hotel’s luxury hall wainscoting. And God, did every inch of him scream fuckability. He was so wrinkled and disheveled it was sexy—and still looking like he couldn’t stand the sight of me—which flipped my switch in the hugest way of all. Challenges are my hugest aphrodisiac—if the man was even real about the sentiment. He has a game face nearly as good as mine. One doesn’t run an empire like Stone Global without one.
He made me wetter by the second.
Killian prowled back toward me from where Claire disappeared down the stairwell. Hands stabbed into the back pockets of his dark jeans, messy hair tumbling into his glittering onyx eyes, he stared at me like I was his next meal. Maybe even his last. I shifted against the wall, unable to help a voracious lick to my lips. With one fraction of a sign from him, I’d fall to my knees before him, willing and able to do nasty things to his incredible, ripped body…to fulfill fantasies my naïve little sister couldn’t dream of.
“You and I need to get a few things straight, Margaux. I’ll do the talking, you’ll do the listening.” His stare hardened with expectance, demanding a response. Finally, I nodded. Maybe he was into the dominance thing I’d been hearing so much about, but I’d be damned if I’d say Yes, Sir to any man. “Because you and I are more alike than you think.”
Smugness coursed through my system, bringing its familiar thrill—and some surprising twinges of things I didn’t expect to feel today—or many other days, for that matter. Dammit. If I wasn’t careful, this man would start eroding me from the inside out. Killian Stone was many things. A god of corporate strategy. A magazine spread of physical beauty. A consuming presence in any room he occupied. But he was not the man who’d bring my downfall—and his capitulation to my logic, rendered sooner than I thought, was merely more proof.
“Glad to know we’re in agreement on that, Mr. Stone.”
“We don’t agree about a goddamn thing, Margaux—so wipe the grin off those manipulative little lips of yours this second.”
When I complied, following up by snapping my expression back to its original smirk, he released a long huff that replaced my confidence with uncertainty. Fury? Bring it on. Open animosity? That was okay, too. But not a stare of…what was that on his face? Understanding? Commiseration? No. No.
“I get it, okay?” he went on. “You grew up in the shadow of a powerful, well-defined woman. I was raised in a similar pressure cooker. Josiah’s shadow stretched farther then the Sears building on a blazing day. I was always watched, coached, advised…expected to act a certain way. It’s fucking exhausting. I understand. But until you decide to go for what you want, what you really need in here,” —he thumped the center of his broad chest— “and what your truth is because of it, you’ll never know peace. You’ll never find the happiness it’s so fucking clear that you crave.” He shook his head slowly, a grimace twisting his lips. “You know what? That makes me sad for you, Margaux. You’re such a beautiful woman. Maybe someday you’ll find the right man to bring out the beauty inside you, too…if there is any. But I’m not him. But until you start to look at all the things you can be instead of all the things you can get, you’ll never find that happiness…or the man who’ll make it even better.”
He reached out and placed his hand over my heart now. As he did, he gazed at me. I mean, he really looked…without anger or pity or even disgust. Simply offering a moment of connection unlike any I’d ever experienced.
For the first time in my life, I was speechless. Me. Margaux Corina Asher, without a damn word to call my own, let alone the smart comeback I was desperately hoping for. I was utterly blank, and I wanted to hate him for it—but couldn’t summon even that, either.
Dammit. He had no right. He didn’t know a thing about me. He had no idea what he was talking about with his philosophical lecture, and not even the ache at the base of my throat would prove otherwise. What was this feeling? My tongue dried out while my eyes clouded over with—what the hell? Tears? Impossible.
Everything got worse as he dropped his hand, turned, then walked back toward the elevator.
The ache spread from my throat across my chest. Shit. Was I having a heart attack? I tried to call Killian back but realized it would’ve erupted as a plea just as moronic as anything Claire had ever uttered, so I forced myself into agonized silence.
The doors slid shut. Killian disappeared.
And more tears slid down my cheeks.
I furiously dashed them away. An Asher woman never cried in public. But the pain in my chest—throughout my senses—was so unfamiliar. And overwhelming. And awful. And yet somehow…wonderful.
No. This isn’t something you’re going to get used to, Margaux.
Yet I couldn’t stop how his words rang in my ears on a repeat loop, each time causing more tears, making me question every aspect of my own life. How the hell had Killian Stone gained that much power over me?
Because nobody had ever spoken words closer to the truth in my whole existence.
The truth of it, in is deepest meaning, terrified me. This kind of shit didn’t belong on the surface of my heart. I dug frantically inside to find the recesses of my soul where it was typically stuffed, corners so dark that I had trouble finding them, let alone made it possible for anyone else to.
How the hell had Killian seen them?
This had to be one of the most disgusting moments of my life. My weakness lay in the open like a snail in the sun, helpless and aching and ugly. I hated Killian for it. I hated Mother for it—for damaging me, making me so weak under my safe shell—and then hated myself for the feeling, which couldn’t wait to manifest until after her “happy day.”
I wanted my masks back. All of them. Dammit, they were mine! No one had painted them as thick and beautifully as me.
Rage started to replace the hurt. Ahhh, this was better. A feeling I could relate to. I grabbed on like it was a life preserver. Anger was my savior, familiar and safe. Home.
I sucked air in through my perfectly sculpted nose—thank you Dr. Levitz, plastic surgeon extraordinaire—before marching to the ornate mirror that hung in the hallway to fix my makeup as best I could. Thank God the cosmetologist had insisted on waterproof everything for the ceremony, thinking I would cry tears of joy for my mother today. Whatever.
Another deep breath in to center myself. I’d be damned if my game was thrown by some bullshit greeting card sentiments from a billionaire who’d attended a few too many TED talks. I’d worked a lifetime to perfect this persona, and I wouldn’t crumble that easily. If only the weight in my chest would catch on to the new game plan.
I strode toward the elevator and pressed the down arrow. Surely Mother would be wondering where I disappeared to—not that she noticed much of me at all today.
What the hell was taking the elevator so long?
I slammed the button again, harder this time. As I slid my finger off, my nail caught. Because my day wasn’t going shitty enough, the nail snapped sideways and low.
I flung the useless piece off into the trash by the elevator door, wishing this mess in my heart would slough away as easily. Thankfully, I had a small emery board in my wristlet. During the elevator ride, I filed the sharp edge with a few angry strokes. With equal efficiency, I decided that the tactic with Killian Stone would have to change. Perhaps it was best to let him get Claire Montgomery out of his system. That certainly wouldn’t take long, considering she had the sexual acumen of a flea. He would be back at my door, begging for the expertise of a real woman, in less than a month, The man wasn’t going to be shaken from all those ideals in his head right now, the “truths” he thought he needed to find in his “heart.” Gag me with my fucking middle finger. The society pages alone would chew her up and spit her out within a week. The treatment I gave her today, and the tears it incited from her? That was just a warm-up for what her everyday world would be in the media spotlight.
Just wait until your thighs are tomorrow’s headline news, Claire.
I laughed out loud as the elevator doors slid back open.
But the sound was shaky. Even my own ears discerned it. My shell was back in place but the veneer was already cracking.
What had that son of a bitch done to me up in that hallway?
I crossed into the ballroom and zoned in on a nice quiet corner to be alone. It felt like everyone in the room swung their attention my direction—except Mother, of course. I wanted to flip everyone off and scream “what are you looking at?” but plastered on my fake smile—the one I lived with every other day, anyway —and found a seat in the dimly lit corner.
Michael came by with a bottle of water but left it on the floor near my foot when I growled I wanted to be alone. I almost called him back but decided against it. He was a surprise of a man, as patient as he was handsome, and didn’t deserve my venom on any day, let alone this one.
I just needed to get out of here.
But there was a sudden commotion in the center of the room.
I followed the crowd’s eyes toward the dance floor, figuring they were rolling out the cake for Mother and Colin to cut. It was about time. As soon as all the required pomp and circumstance was over, it was a direct drive home for me, tying one on in the comfort and privacy of my own designer surroundings.
But where were Mother and Colin? Or the cake?
Instead, Killian and Claire were at the center of everyone’s attention.
Good fuck. Now what?
I couldn’t do this. Couldn’t stomach…them.
The emotional mass settled on my chest again, more painful than before. Maybe I really was having a heart attack. Out came my smart phone to look up the symptoms on webMD. The crowd was smitten by the golden couple in their midst, ooohhs and aaahhs rising from where Killian gazed lovingly down into Claire’s eyes.
They were beautiful together.
I was going to lose my lunch.
Fresh air. Now.
Forget the damn cake. I decided to make a break for it. There was an exit nearby, perfect for slipping out unnoticed. Mother was in capable hands with Collette and Colin, as if she’d even register I was gone. It had been hours since she’d even uttered my name, let alone asked me for anything. I grabbed my handbag and texted my PA to let her know I needed my items from the room upstairs. Kari quickly replied that she would have my things at the house by morning. At least some people could be counted on, especially if they were the ones you paid well to be so. That little fact never escaped my mind, either.
The next text I sent was to my driver, summoning his ass out front immediately to take me home. As usual, he took longer to answer, as he had a habit of sleeping while I was at functions. I decided he’d be replaced in the morning.
Within the hour, I was piling the gown, shoes, slip and hose into an unceremonious heap in the corner of my walk-in closet. The hot water ran in my oversized bath and a bottle of wine was breathing on the edge of the tub. I was very ready to wash this day down the drain and never look back—or at least until Monday when I had to face everyone at the office. But I had tonight and tomorrow and a fantastic bottle of Chardonnay to numb it all into oblivion. If I drank enough, maybe the anvil on my chest would finally float away, too—before Killian’s declarations in that hallway welded it in place. That just wasn’t going to happen. I was Margaux Corina Asher, an identity that stood for something—significant things—because of what I’d done, and no one else.
Was it was lonely at the top? Of course. But my tears would pass. So would the pain. They always did. Not even Killian Stone, in all his certainty and beauty and “truth,” would change that.
At least I hoped so.
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