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Paying Daddy’s Debt(7)

By:Alexa Riley

She bites her lip, and I can see indecision on her face.

“I promise to never hurt you, Jasmine. I’ll protect you from all the darkness in the world, including what your father is bringing home. You’ll be mine, and I will treat you like a queen.”

“You won’t hurt me?”

“Why would I hurt the most important thing in the world to me? The thing that holds my heart in her hands?” I shake my head because the thought disgusts me. I reach out, touching her powder-soft cheek. “No, my sweet girl. I will only ever do what you ask me to do. Your words command me. Speak it into existence and it’s yours. Everything you’ve ever desired.”

“Why are you doing this?”

It’s a fair question. I can see how badly she wants this, how much she wants what I’m saying to be true. I just need her to give me a chance to show her it is. “Because from the moment I saw you, I felt something inside me come to life. Everything was so bland and sparse before you. Walls of nothingness started to close in around me. Nothing held any flavor anymore. It was like there was no point to life anymore. I’d done everything I’d ever wanted to. Until you. You awoke a sleeping heart in my chest, and every day it aches for you. I have reason to want to get up each morning. I want to take care of you. Make sure you have enough to eat, that you have what you need. That everything is yours. The world, Jasmine. From first sight, I knew you were the missing piece in my world, and by taking care of you, it fills this need in me. By knowing that I’m the one making you happy and making sure you have your dreams come true, mine come true.”

She looks past me to her bedroom door and then back to me. She takes a breath and squares her shoulders.

“Okay. I’ll come with you. I know what will happen to me here, and maybe if I go with you there’s a chance. But if you hurt me—”

I cut her off by placing the tip of my finger on her lips. “Never.”

She must see the truth in my eyes, because she nods.

“Pack your school things. I’ll meet you downstairs.”

She gives me a small smile, and I reluctantly step away from her. I hate putting even this small distance between us, but it’s necessary.

When I get back downstairs her father is sitting at the table, looking over the paperwork. He stands up when he sees me and starts to ask questions about the financials.

“So you’re going to give me the money or what?”

I’m disgusted those are the first words out of his mouth. Nothing about his daughter or what I could have done to her upstairs. Not even my intentions with her. It’s always about the money.

“I’ve already taken care of your debts around town.” When he gives me a confused look, I shrug. “She was coming with me no matter what you said. But I’m a man of my word.”

I reach into my jacket pocket and pull out the yellow envelope I was saving. I toss it down on the table, and he reaches out, grabbing it up and opening it.

“That’s all you’ll ever see. You don’t get to come looking for her. You won’t hit me up for more money. Are we clear?”

He barely glances up from the fat stack of hundreds to nod in my general direction. I turn to see Jasmine watching from at the bottom of the stairs. A trace of hurt crosses her face, but then she shakes it away. The scene before her is exactly what she expected, and she’s disappointed it wasn’t different. I plan to spend the rest of my life proving to her this was the right decision.

“Are you ready, sweetheart?” I ask, holding my hand out.

She hesitates for only a second before walking to me and putting her hand in mine. There’s an old saying about the devil you know being better than the one you don’t. But in our case, I truly am the prince that’s come to save her. And I’ll make sure she sees that.

“Goodbye,” she says softly to her father.

It’s then he finally looks up from the money he’s counting and sees her standing there with a bag on her shoulder.

He opens his mouth a few times then closes it. He clears his throat. “Good luck.”

“You too,” she replies quietly.

There’s no embrace, no I love yous. Nothing. They stand mere feet apart, but there might as well be an ocean between them. They’re strangers who were pushed together, and this is where their story ends.

But where this one stops, ours starts, and I pull her toward the door. She comes with me easily, and I let out a small, relieved breath. I think there will always be a fear inside me that she may not choose a life with me, but my only hope is to make her so happy, it’s impossible for her to say no.

I take her hand and hold it with both of mine, wanting to hold on to her as tightly as I can.