The crowd looked at Rachel with a dumbfounded expression. Their noses turned upwards, judging the way she spoke. Rachel unapologetically shifted her weight from one foot to the next. Taking a sip of white wine from her glass, she met Mr. Henderson’s cold glare.
“These children need my direction. Otherwise, they would ruin their future off of a spur of lust! One bad decision could ruin everything I created. Therefore, I see no reasoning for your disapproval of Sophia’s marriage to Daniel.” Mr. Henderson grunted. He turned to his guest, prepared to apologize for Rachel’s outburst.
Sophia stared at Rachel with admiration for standing up for her. She never had the courage to stand up to her father. It was easier to remain quiet as the man dictated her every move. Doubt is what clouded her mind as Rachel spoke the words she should have been saying.
“Well, it’s not that I disapprove of the situation. It’s just the simple fact that your children are adults. They should have the freedom to make whatever mistakes they desire. From that point on, it’s up to them to clean up their mess. As a parent, you should support them in whatever they choose. You can only trust that you have raised them right before cutting the umbilical cord.” Rachel placed her glass on the wooden table.
Mr. Henderson sent a death glare to Sophia as she snickered before turning back to Rachel. “Who are you to tell me how I should parent? I suppose your parents allowed you to rip and run as a teenager? The parents you just described leaves nothing for their children after they’re long gone. They sit back and watch their kids ruin their lives while choosing the wrong people and paths. Tell me what do you have to offer besides ecstasy?”
“Father!” Elijah growled with much annoyance.
Rachel placed her hand on Elijah’s arm before smiling gently. “I do apologize if I’ve offended you, sir. However, in the short time that I’ve known Sophia, I grew close to her. It’s easy to tell when she’s displeased, scared, or upset. Even an outsider could tell that marriage is something she doesn’t want. I’m not a fan of being forced to anything I don’t want, and wouldn’t want anyone I care about to experience it. As for my parents, I don’t see how any of the matters. They weren’t perfect by any means, but they let me make mistakes. Those mistakes were what made me into the woman I am today. The type of person that is not afraid to speak my mind when being talked down on. What do I have to offer to a relationship? A clear mindset that doesn’t involve a toxic parent dictating my every move.” Rachel gulped the remaining contents of her wine.
“Dear, child. You must be single.” Mrs. Henderson stated.
“Why yes. I am. My schedule revolves around my career and schooling. Pleasure comes last.”
Hunter was memorized by the vixen sitting across from him. Out of all the women, he would associate himself with, he had never met someone that could stand up to his father. He felt terrified for Rachel, yet he was turned on by how headstrong she was. Hunter never met a woman that could add to his life mentally, spiritually, and physically. It was then when he realized he officially wanted Rachel as his partner.
Intrigued by the conversation, Christen laughed. Normally, the Henderson siblings would sit quietly in the background as their father did all the talking. It was easier to avoid conflict. But Rachel dared to speak against Mr. Henderson’s immoral chatter.
“Dear sister does not wish to marry after graduation?” Christen questioned Sophia.
Sophia turned to Rachel, a silent plea for help. Rachel cocked her head to the side and nodded slightly. Rachel wanted her dear friend to finally speak her mind when it came to her father.
“N-no.” Sophia started. She sighed and straightened her back as she looked at her father in his eyes. “What I mean, I do not wish to marry anyone after graduation. Don’t get me wrong Daniel, I think you’re a nice person, but I do not know you. I want a relationship that’s not forced but rather built on time, love, and understanding. Furthermore, I want to travel before starting my own company. Working at Henderson Inc is not my dream. It is yours.”
Rachel sent Sophia an encouraging wink before she excused herself. She repositioned her bikini as she walked into the forest. When the small crowd was out of her view, she exhaled as a lone tear left her eye. Growing up in a white neighborhood, she became used to the way people would down talk her. For some reason, the way Mr. Henderson would eye her as if she was scum on the side of the road left a hollow feeling in her gut. She could have told the man what she had going for herself, but what difference would that have made? He still wouldn’t be able to get past the way she would defend her friends and herself... He wouldn’t be able to the soft interior behind the cold-strong exterior.
As she walked to the lake, Rachel disregarded the flipflops and side tassel. The shoreline deck burned her feet just before she dived into the lake. She couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling. She knew that getting married wasn’t in her future, but to have someone confirm it hurt her. She had nothing to offer to a man besides sex. After a couple of laps, she used the strength in her arms to pull herself onto the deck. She then gathered her things and began her journey to walk back to the group before a hand yanked her back to a bare chest.
“You didn’t even hear me behind you.” Hunter turned Rachel around and pushed her towards a tree. “I’ve been here for three days, and you haven’t said a word to me. Are you afraid father would disapprove?” His hand lightly traveled down her outer thigh before pulling it to his waist.
“There’s nothing to approve of.” Rachel’s breathing picked up.
Hunter gripped her core, aggressively palming it. She sighed as her head fell on his shoulder. Quietly moaning before she quickly pushed him away. As she eyed the man with desire, she bit her bottom lip. He gently caressed her face with the tips of his fingers, pulling her lip from her teeth.
Elijah stood afar, watching as Hunter caressed the woman he desired. It’s been years since he has seen his brother so invested in a person. His brother’s smile was genuine and his touch was tender. Rachel was a precious jewel he wanted to value. Seeing his brother smile with admiration brought a smile to his face. It didn’t take long for that small ounce of joy to diminish. He wanted Rachel for himself.
As Rachel sat around the campfire, laughing without a care in the world, Hunter was watching from afar.
“If I remember correctly, you told me you had a potential woman. Yet, you can’t seem to take your eyes off of the beauty over there. What changed your mind, brother?” Elijah questioned.
Hunter chuckled. “Indeed I did say that. The woman I was speaking of was Rachel. Tall, independent, headstrong, Rachel. Enough about me, what of this assistant you were telling me about?” He eyed his brother with curiosity.
Elijah grinned. “Rachel Jaeger is my assistant. Tall, independent, annoying, headstrong, Rachel.”
Hunter’s head cocked back as he let a deep laugh. “You can’t be serious? Right?”
Elijah silently walked off towards Rachel. He took off his sweater and placed it around her shoulders. She smiled sweetly and thanked him. He mirrored her smile, placing a hand on her lower back. As his eyes met Hunter, he smirked. The men silently confirmed the beginning of their challenge.
Hunter joined the group, sitting in between Sophia and Rachel. The woman tried her best not to make the situation awkward than what it was already. She looked to her left and took in Elijah’s features as it glowed against the fire. As usual, she couldn’t read his expression. She looked to her right, where Hunter was sitting, and eyed the way his tattoos decorated his soft skin.
“So, Rachel. It appears you know Elijah. From where? if you don’t mind me asking.” Said Christen.
Startled, Rachel said, “I’m actually his assistant. We met through a required externship for school.”
“I’m sure he’s rather hard to work with, especially early in the morning. Fear not, I can always give you pointers on how to deal with the devil.” Christen winked. “Maybe as we spend more time together during the break, I can help you a little.”
Christen fought back a teasing chuckle. “Would that be a problem, cousin?”
“I thought you all were siblings?”
“The grizzly bear that pretends to be gentle is only a distant cousin who was adopted at a young age. We took him in, but he couldn’t even be thankful for the scapes that were given to him. He has no problem claiming what is not his”
Hunter scoffed. He stood to his feet and walked off towards the house.
“That’s enough out of you, Christen! Why must you always create drama when we are together?” Elijah demanded.
“I speak nothing but facts, brother.”
“It doesn’t matter what you say, Hunter will always be our brother. Whatever problem you have with him needs to be dealt with. It’s gone on long enough!” Sophia scolded.
Rachel quietly followed Hunter into the house. She found him in the kitchen, taking shots of whiskey. She placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.
“My parents died when I was only six years old. I was thrown into the system, switching foster homes week by week. That is until the Henderson’s found me. The only living relative was my uncle who hesitated to take me in. I tried so hard to stay out of the way, but it never worked out. I was always the outsider.”
Rachel pulled Hunter to her. Her arms wrapped around him as she stared deeply into his eyes. “Your not an outsider and you have people who love you. Didn’t you say that Elijah treated you as his brother? Then only think of that. You have a family.”
“Do I have you?” Hunter’s hand cupped her chin. His eyes slowly moved to her lips right before he tasted her. Her lips passionately danced with his. Hunter pulled back and smiled.
“She’s right, you know? You do have a family. Sophia loves you as much as I do.”
Rachel flinched as she turned around to see Elijah standing a few inches from her. His eyes traveled from his brother to Rachel. He tucked a stray curl behind her ear. Holding her chin between his index finger and thumb, he inched closer to her. She was too stunned to understand what was happening. His fingers felt like fire against her skin, leaving goosebumps on her body. She gasped as his lips connected with hers. His tender kiss left her heated with desire.
Elijah was the first to break the kiss. “Well, angel? You never answered him.”
“Do I have you?” Hunter closed the gap between himself and Rachel.
Rachel’s chest rapidly moved up and down. She was turned on, terrified, and overall confused. She nibbled on her bottom lip and gently pushed Elijah away. She rushed to remove herself from in between the two bodies. Blinking several times to see if she wasn’t dreaming, her eyes widened.
“So who would you rather have by your side, angel?” Elijah questioned.
Instead of answering Rachel ignored the men, who called after her to join the campfire.