twelve : terms and conditions
H E R A
♥ ♥ ♥
I DIDN’T SIGN the papers that Phillip brought over last night.
I don’t know why I did that—
But I do know why I did it.
I think that it had something to do with what I was signing. I had no idea what was on the paper and he didn’t tell me either. The pages below that page are just a list of conditions—none that I had any say of what was written. And very vague on top of that. I didn’t read through any of the pages; I had no time for that. I just give it back to him because if I know anything about who Phillip Whittaker is (through his younger sister), I know that he has an ace up his sleeve.
What do you mean you won’t sign?
It means what I say—I won’t sign.
Because if we’re doing this together, then we need to make up the contract together. As a partnership of sorts.
We are not partners.
After I kicked him out, telling him that he can come back and see me the next day, I walked into my room, changed into my pyjamas before walking to the kitchen, picking up the tub and then walking back to my room. I’d laid down on my bed, comfortable at the most, and played Mean girls, the first one, because I’d known that, just like Cady’s life, my own was now fucked up like hers.
I fell asleep an hour into the movie with my tub of ice cream in my hands and chocolate dribbling down my chin.
Now that I’m awake, I stare at the tub in disgust while a cardboard container with chocolate water and pebbles of white M&MS and brown stuff that looks like shit to me, but I know that its brownie pieces, stares right back at me, taunting me.
The box is telling me that I’m a lazy piece of shit because I did not finish what was inside. Or that I hadn’t placed it back in the freezer.
Keep your opinions to yourself, you fucking box.
I place the box nicely to the side because I know that if I pushed it—and that thought is running through my mind—then I would have a horrible mess to clean up after
Groaning, I pull myself from the bed and make my way towards the bathroom. My eyes land on the space around me, before I spot the toilet and make a break for it. I do my business, pull my pants right back up and stand to my feet. I close my eyes, walk to the sink to wash my hands, and then make the toughest choice that a person can ever make in the morning.
Standing in front of a mirror when you know that you look like shit.
I can feel the coldness that a mirror holds—not that cold seeing as summer is coming closer to New York City than expected.
Please don’t be ugly.
Please don’t be ugly.
Please don’t be ugly.
I even have my fucking pinkies crossed and hope that good luck rubs onto me.
And then I open my eyes.
Of course, I look like a five-year-old after daring my older sister to shove my head into the ice cream cake and after deciding that licking it away would only get the job done by half.
Looks likes five-year-olds are dumb.
A wince carries through me when streaks of dried up chocolate ice cream stick to my skin and when I move my lips to form words, there is a strain, stopping me from making those words. My hair is a mess and another story. Streaks of brown hair are placed out of my bun and instead stick out of my head like a rockstar when they first come on stage.
The difference between me and a rockstar is that their hair is intentional.
Mine is a choice that was forced upon me and something that I didn’t agree with.
My eyes rove over my figure, to the black long shirt that reaches towards my mid-thigh and the small scrap of white fabric that has black polka dots scattered on it as my shorts. Lucky that that has not a single speck of ice cream on it.
I drag a hand down my face, sighing. Looks like I’ve got something to clean up after all.
Turning on the faucet of the bathroom sink, I splash some water onto my face—mostly my chin and the area around my mouth that has something sticky on the edges.
Once that’s done, I bring a hand towel to me, wiping down the water before brushing my teeth to get rid of the horrible aftertaste that chocolate and M&MS and brownies can hold together for a long period of time.
Leaving the bathroom, I walk back into my room and right in the direction of my walk-in closet to get some clothes for yet another day spent at home.
My favourite thing to do.
My hazel eyes gaze over the options in front of me. Half the options being branded clothing for past events that I’ve been to but might never know when to wear in public. Don’t know when but the time will come soon. The other side houses clothing that is made to be worn in public, every day—and that has been made sure that it is up to date in the latest season.
Except for summer this year.
I know that people will come soon to bring me clothing for this season and then change it later on in the year for when winter makes an appearance and the cold comes in faster, bringing in snow.
I turn to the general clothing and pull out a white bodycon dress that reaches my knees and makes sure that all of my curves are on display. The material in my hands makes me sigh when I remember that this dress makes me look fucking amazing and that my breasts are pushed up because of the pads at the top, the square neckline, plus the spaghetti straps are just the added bonus.
I walk out of the closet, but not before grabbing a pair of five-inch white stilettos on the way out. Out of the room, and then I head in the direction of the bathroom to take a quick shower and get ready for yet another day of being Hera Langford, the Gold of the Depths.
♥ ♥ ♥
THE HAIR DOWN my back is wet, and I can feel just the tiniest of water droplets running down my back while I make my way down the hall and towards the living room of the penthouse.
From my place, I can hear the murmur of words being whispered by women and men just a few feet away—and I frown at the words. What are they talking about?
I finally make it out of the hallway just to see a man and two women whispering in a tight circle by themselves. “What’s happening here?”
They jump in response, and in sync, turn in my direction. One of the women holds something in her hands with neat and tight writing on the paper. “Ummm . . .” She looks at me, and then back at the paper before repeating the movements.
“Are you going to tell me, or do I need to come over there and take it for myself?” I bring a hand in her direction.
The woman in a maids uniform looks in my direction before saying, “We were given this by someone who called us at midnight and told us to deliver it at precisely ten in the morning.” She gazes at the other people in the room. “We’re sorry, Miss Langford, but we were curious to see what the note said and to know where it came from.”
Who called the hotel at midnight? And what would they want to deliver to me?
A hundred different sceneries run through my head. It could be fan mail, a bouquet of flowers by a desperate older man, or it could be . . . it could be something from my past? Maybe it’s something to kill me?
I gaze at the three people. “And what exactly did this person tell you to deliver to me?”
“Just this note.” She brings the note in front of her before remembering that it must be in my hand. “And this.” The three of them move away to display a travelling room service trolley that has a white fabric to cover it.
My eyebrows raise at the gesture given by this mysterious someone. Why would they do that? What did they give? Who did it?
I bring my eye back to the three people in my room, nodding. “Okay. You guys can leave,” —I point to the door before turning back to them— “and please, bring me the note so that I can know who gave this wonderful yet odd gesture.”
The woman is reluctant to give me the note. She looks left and right, and then she bites her lower lip, her hand gripping tightly to the paper like she is afraid to let it go.
I drop the smile off my face before my lips curl into something deadly. “I suggest you let go of the paper before I make your life a living hell.” The woman gulps in return. “Or, I’ll do something better and speak to your manager to get you fired. Whichever one you prefer best.”
Finally—finally, she drops the paper onto the trolley, a fake smile plastered on her face. Just for me.
I return that smile.
“You may all leave now unless you have something else on your chest that you would like to spill?”
The three look at each other before they shake their heads, and file out of the room, towards the elevator.
I stand in my place, waiting for them to finally disappear from sight before I heave in a breath. Finally, they’re gone.
My back straightens and a single bead of water slides down from my wet hair, down my neck and then, to my back. I shake my head before making my way to the trolley. I bring my hand to the cloth just on top of the thing—before my hand stops, hesitating to take the cloth off.
Should I do it?
But then my fear fades away, and I rip the clothing of the trolley and dangle it at my side. You have got to be fucking kidding me.
A giant teddy bear sits on the metal of the trolley, its black beady eyes gazing at me, and making me think that the bear is haunted in some way. Its fake fur is a white colour and for clothes, it wears a black and white tux. And it towers over the trolley by at least thirty inches. Perfect for cuddling, I think.
Right beside the teddy bear sits a range of breakfast options. Waffles and pancakes, croissants and rolled strawberry stuffed crepes dusted with icing sugar and drizzled with chocolate syrup, a jug of orange juice and a pot of coffee in a plain white ceramic pot all sitting nicely on the trolley.
My eyes rove over the different food, and then towards the teddy bear. And then they look towards the pretty little note that came with the stuff right in front of me.
The note stands bright against the white cloth that was draped over everything not that long ago. Its dark grey colour is a harsh contrast with the white of the cloth.
I bring the note of the mysterious person and open it up, reading what is written on the paper.
Dear Hera Langford,
On behalf of my boss, Lord Phillip Whittaker, you are invited tonight to his penthouse at six for dinner to discuss the business proposition that you have for Whittaker Industries and for him as well. He hopes to see you there.
Signed, Emily Stark, secretary to Phillip Whittaker, CEO of Whittaker Industries.
That bastard. The piece of paper in my hand starts to scrunch together, my fist making sure that all the words that were typed out onto the paper, and then sealed with a stamp from Whittaker Industries, are turned into nothing more than dust.
Well . . . as close to dust that can be.
The paper falls out of my hand, making a swish in the air that is not supposed to be loud, but right now, it is the loudest fucking thing in this room, in this penthouse.
“Fuck my life.” I glance back at the paper, hoping that there is something else that might be worth it on the paper. But I can’t see a single thing on that paper that will help with this problem.
My mind repeats the words that were written on the paper and that I saw just moments ago.
A business proposition? At his house? And dinner?
Why would he do something like that? What would be his reasoning?
Maybe to sort out details of the marriage?
But no. It couldn’t be that simple.
If I am Phillip Whittaker in the predicament that he is in, I would bring the news that someone was blackmailing me, to the press, and then make sure to annihilate the bastard that decided that blackmailing me—him is a good idea.
I’ll make their life hell.
But why would he then call me for dinner?
That thought repeats itself in my head so many times, that the only thing that made me stop thinking was the sound of my stomach grumbling.
I look at the food, and then my stomach growls again. Fuck you to stomach.
I grab a plate of the rolled crepes only because the chocolate looks amazing to me right now. Even though I just had a tub of chocolate ice cream last night, that doesn’t mean that I won’t take up the chance to have it again in the morning. I also grab a glass of coffee and a bowl of fresh fruits that I didn’t see before and make my way to the table.
Plucking the remote of the TV on the couch on my way there, I press play and go onto Netflix to finish off the movie that I was watching last night. The first thing that I see is a picture of Regina George’s mother’s boobs, and then the scared face of Cady Heron’s right after.
Thirty minutes pass before I hear the door ring, and then the elevator door opens right after. I instantly drop the fork in my hand, my eyes narrowing and turning in the direction of the door, waiting to see who has the balls to come in.
That same bitch that didn’t want to hand over the note comes rushing in, her dress moving wickedly fast around her, and a look of fear washes over her. She makes it to me and pushes something into my hand—
And something heavy and something with wheels rolls into the room.
The hotel lady looks around frantically. “I’m sorry, Miss Langford, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
“Them.” She looks back and I turn in the same direction as her.
A rack full of clothing shuffles in, pulled by someone who looks like they know fashion. The rack is full of clothes that would be a fashion model’s dream—and even though I’m not a fashion model, that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the clothing on the rack. The rack looks at me, and I see clothing that I dream would be mine. Well, they already are mine.
Another person follows in, but this time they come in with yet another trolley. The trolley is covered with a glass case, and inside are a bunch of jewellery. Necklaces and pendants, bracelets and charms, dangly earrings and diamond studs.
When the two carts carrying the elite of fashion are inside the safety of my apartment, the two people who brought it inside leave right through the door they came in before.
Everything happened so fast that I didn’t even know how I kept track of everything.
I take a single glance at the woman who gave me another note but—
She’s already running out of the room.
The only thing that is telling me that whatever happened just now was real, is the paper in my hand that I know is a note from Phillip Whittaker that was typed out by his secretary.
That’s fucking pathetic.
I take a single glance at the paper in my hand before ripping it open so that I can see the words.
Since your coming to my home later on tonight, and I don’t want you to make me look stupid and careless of the people in my company, I suggest that you pick something from the racks and the jewellery before taking your ass over to my house. A driver will be coming around at six to bring you over so that gives you roughly around eight hours to get ready.
And I hope that we, as a pair, can come up with terms that we both agree to. Have fun choosing out of the expensive clothing.
Again . . . what a bastard.
My eyes roll before I take careful steps towards the place that I was sitting before. I sit there before bringing my phone closer to me, and call the one number who I know will help me with the invitation that was graciously given to me by the person that I’m blackmailing into marriage.
Not the best way to talk to a stranger that I’ve never met before.
But I know that I need to do what needs to be done. To survive in a city that has been kicking my ass since the time that I’ve been here. And back home.
That’s the past.
It might be in the past, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t get nightmares—till this day—about how my life was and what I’ve become today.
I bring the phone to my ear and listen to the beeps that follow after, one after the other.
“Hey,” an over-excited voice chirps over the phone, “how are you doing?”
“I’m fine.” I smile into the phone and the amount of energy that she has in the morning. Even though it’s ten in the morning—the usual time that I wake up in the morning on a lazy day—I still would never have that much energy. “I was wondering though . . . if you can come over right now? Or later? I have a dinner arrangement to get to later on and need a person to help me look like . . .” I pause my words, thinking of the perfect one before it hits me: “A fucking God.”
There’s a pause and then—
“I’ve got all the time in the world,” Wanda speaks through the phone before the sound of a chime comes through the phone. “I’ll see you in twenty.”
I smile wickedly and say, “Perfect. Time to show the world who Hera Langford is.”
The only response to my words from Wanda is a chuckle before she hangs up.
♥ ♥ ♥
“YOU ACTUALLY BLACKMAILED the Phillip Whittaker to do what you want him to?” Wanda asks from behind me, her hands making motions in my hair while she brushes through it with a bamboo brush. “I would never have the balls to do that.”
“I wouldn’t either.” I look at her through the mirror before keeping my gaze on my lips. “But I had no idea what to do and,” I bit my lower lip before murmuring, “that was my only choice.”
“You had other choices. You know that.” She gazes at me, through the mirror and I smile at her face. “You just thought that was the easiest one.”
I sigh. “You can read me as if I were one of those smutty novels that you like to read.”
“Hey!” she exclaims. “Those books are good and you know it.”
“I’ll give you that.”
Wanda had arrived two—maybe three hours ago and during that time, we just ate the food that was given by the Whittaker CEO himself. Huge piles of croissants stuffed with savoury and sweet treats, and pancakes that are drizzled with maple syrup and whipped cream on top. The syrup was sweet—most likely made from the rich sap that comes from the trees, and the croissants held the fresh taste of a Parisian cook who knows what they’re doing.
While stuffing our faces with the food, we also binge-watched Disney princess movies, one after the other. First, we started with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and then Cinderella right after. Then Wanda told me that we should start getting me ready for dinner later tonight.
I didn’t want to go and get ready. But I knew that I had to.
And here we are, the words flowing out of my mouth of what I’ve done since the confrontation at the premiere of Black Marks just a week ago with Nadine Nix, all to tell Wanda what has happened.
I feel like I’m telling her this because I’ve . . . I’ve kept this secret for so long. Even though it has been a week, I know that I need someone else’s opinion before I do something that will most likely ruin my life, or make it better.
And Wanda is the perfect person to tell.
Wanda has her own fucked up life being born to parents who are both Punjabi and strict as hell on earth. They wanted her to become a doctor because her mother was scared of going to a clinic, and having someone who is basically family is helpful in an uncomfortable position.
They’ve forgotten that Wanda herself can’t operate on Mother Gill if she needs to go to surgery. Something about feelings being in the way.
Instead of going down the medical path, Purandhri Gill—who later told everyone to call her Wanda because they were saying her name wrong and she didn’t like that, went down the path of telling you what moisture is best for your skin and being able to apply false eyelashes without destroying the original.
Her parents were a little disappointed at her choice of career pathway but hey, they still invite her back to California for Lohri. Wanda has told me a little about the festival but what I do know is that they make the biggest bonfire possible without burning down the town, and then throwing puffed rice and gajak into the fire. After, the family dances around the fire, singing songs, and eating till the sun rises the next morning and then continuing onto the next night. They do this for as long as they want to celebrate the Punjabi version of winter solstice.
I know that Wanda won’t judge me too harshly by my choices and that in return, she’ll give me options of what my next steps are, what they will be.
I look back at Wanda, over my shoulder. Seeing her movements through the brown strands of my hair and then her own hair, tied in a french braid before being placed over her shoulder. The length of it so close to reaching the floor.
Indians and their crazy long hair. Lucky bitches.
“And now I have dinner with the son of a bitch,” I tell her, just watching her.
She hums in response. “Let’s hope that whatever you tell him won’t place you in jail.” Wanda sighs. “I wish that what’s happening to you, is happening to me. It sounds like something from those billionaire books I read, or from Fifty Shades of Grey and that scene with Anna and Christian at the dinner. Man, that was hot.”
I repeat her response in my head. “Now that I think of it, it does sound like that. Let’s just hope that there is no flirting between us.” I shake my head—and Wanda hisses at me to stop because it is ruining her work. “God I hope that what happens, will happen quickly so that I can come home—”
“And tell me every single detail of what occurred?” Wanda nods her head vigorously. “Because I need that for what I gave up to come here, and rescue your ass.”
My mouth hangs open for a moment, eyes wide. “You told me that you were doing nothing before?”
“So what? Maybe I was lying, but—” A finger out of her hand in my direction. “It was all worth it to come and find out what you are up to. And now that I know . . . it’s fucking fantastic.”
“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up,” I mutter, and then Wanda steps back from my hair.
That’s all the heads up I get before she declares, proudly, “Done!”
I had my eyes down for just a second, and I now look at the mirror, seeing the changes that have been done to my recently washed hair from three hours ago and the hair now. I had told Wanda to make my hair into whatever she deems fit for a business dinner and her answer was for my hair to be straight down with a brown hair tie holding it together while two locks of hair from either side of my face, twist together before being placed around the ponytail to hide the brown hair tie.
Simple, yet elegant. And something that doesn’t make me want to barf.
“Very well done, Wanda.” I stand up from the spot, getting as close to the mirror as I can. I look at the work done before me. “Now it’s makeup and deciding what clothes are right for the dinner.”
“Of course. Shall we?” Wanda starts walking out of the room and in the direction of the living room, and where the racks of clothing still are.
I follow after her, keeping my pace and when I enter the space, I see Wanda sifting through the clothing, her nose scrunched and a look of disgust travel over her. “Gross. Is this really what he picked for you?”
“This is pitiful. Fucking pitiful.” She shakes her head before exclaiming, “This is not even your size! They’re all not your size! They’re too small for your wide ass hips and your big as boobs. They won’t make it past the curves.” She gazes at me, then at my boobs and mummers, “Lucky bitch. Why does she get the big boobs and not me?”
My whole body stills, my mind shutting down with the words she told me.
Great. Not only is Phillip Whittaker a bastard, he is also making me skinny and body shaming me with the clothes that he chose. Son of a bitch is the right thing to call him after all.
“Then that means that I’m not wearing any of them,” I state, my voice filled with hurt and vengeance, and memories of when I was a teenager around ten years ago. I let it all show. “You can take them out, and burn them for all I care. Just get rid of them.”
Ten years of me telling myself that I’m a better person, teaching myself self-love and telling myself that I’m worth it and . . . and that I will never become weak again. I will never listen to a word of a man who thinks that they’re better than me or a teenage boy who is always seen with his hands down his pants.
I will never be talked down to again.
And here is this—this man who thinks that he is better than me.
I think not.
Wanda glances over at me. “I’ll get rid of the clothing, but don’t judge me if I manage to keep a few dresses to myself.”
“Keep them all; I don’t care what happens to them. Burn them or keep them. Your choice.” I turn, baring my back to the clothes and walk in the direction of the jewellery that I might let Wanda keep as well.
But when I get a look at them, there are a few items that I might keep. There’s a diamond necklace that has a matching pair of drop earrings. And a sapphire amulet that just sparkles when it catches the light rightly.
“I’ll take care of them, don’t worry all right.” I nod at her words before she continues, “And remember, that this dinner is your rules, not his. You make up everything because you have the leverage, and he has nothing and will do nothing but watch you talk and nod at your words like a little pup.”
“He has some cards on the table as well.”
Wanda straightens her body. “Then go for the mind, not the cards. Without a CPU, a computer is nothing more but a piece of metal that is used as a paperweight by a rich man. That goes the same for the brain of a human being. The brain tells us what to do, controls everything that happens to us while also keeping us alive. Use that.”
I nod at her words, contemplating them before saying out loud, “Let’s pick some jewels, and then we’ll continue with our movie marathon, okay? Makeup can be done later.”
“Good,” Wanda voices. “I wasn’t gonna be doing it either way.” I get a good look at her eyes and see something in there. “And that dress you have on you right now is perfect for dinner. Shows off your body and tells the man that you are not skinny, but a woman with curves that need to be flaunted in front of males, or women.”
I smile at her, full of love and warmth. “That’s why I love you most, Purandhri Gill.”
Even though I said her name the way that she has told me countless times, I still know that I said the name wrong.
She sighs. “You still can’t say it right. But don’t worry, I’ll teach you.” She grins and shows her teeth in response. “Now that a wedding might be coming soon, you’ll need me to do your makeup and make you look fucking fabulous.
“However, yes, I do love you too, Hera Langford.”
♥ ♥ ♥
IT flashes on the screen of my phone as I ride up the elevator in the Upper East Side of New York. The music of the elevator plays around me, and the sound from my phone continues to blare loudly, the two intertwining and not sounding nice at all together.
I face the phone once again, wait a few seconds before it disappears. I sigh.
I know exactly who it is that’s calling me right now.
None other than Nadine Nix.
I told her what I wanted to tell her on the night of the Whittaker party, and whatever she does after that, she does.
I can’t stop her.
But I know that when news goes out into the world through social media and articles written by bottom-feeding paps, she’ll shut the fuck up, and then move on to the rest of her pathetic life and leaves me alone.
Now, all that’s left is to get the contract done, spread the news out into the world. And then after, act the part of a happy couple for the time period that will be decided soon. It needs to be long enough that the world knows that it’s real and yet, short enough that when the divorce is going to be filed for, it wouldn’t come off as odd. And that, to the world, something ugly has occurred between the two of us that resulted in the divorce.
Not a fake marriage.
The phone finally stops ringing, and I lean my back against the wall, a feeling of a weight being lifted off my shoulders and will not be coming back any time soon.
I feel peace—
My grip tightens on the phone, and I wait for it to pass. I don’t want to talk to her and I have no need to talk to her.
She can go and fuck herself for all I care.
The silence only lasts about thirty seconds before my phone rings again and I answer it, fire in my blood and fury in my voice.
“I will repeat what I said at the party, Nix—even though I don’t want to talk to you ever again,” I sneer into the phone, putting all my anger into it. “You can do whatever the hell you want with those photos, I’m not leaving the city for you. I’ll be staying here for my friends, for my career, and for my own self. So go fuck yourself and leave me alone.” I hear heavy breathing on the other side and that makes me snap at her. “And don’t ever call me again. Find something else to do with your boring, miserable life.”
I hang up the phone and shove it into my white Chanel purse that has a gold chain attached to it—and that gold chain now hangs from my shoulders to my mid-thigh.
I’m still wearing that same white dress from this morning. That decision that I made about not wearing anything that the Whittaker bastard gave to me, is still on. I’ll never wear anything that he gets me if he thinks that body-shaming me is the best way to get me to be under his control.
The same white dress, same white heels and a white purse are on my body. Along with a simple gold chain that hangs to my breasts and gold studs is the whole outfit that I’m wearing.
I shouldn’t be wearing white. It’s something so pure, so cherished. Something to be worn at weddings and baby showers and bridal parties. But not on me.
I’m anything but a pure angel, giving babies kisses on their foreheads.
The sound of the elevator chiming above me makes me straighten my back, my spine going stiff and a wall being placed on my figure, a shield of sorts.
I’m an hour late, but it’s fine because this bastard deserves it.
The penthouse high above the clouds makes me look around the place.
It’s fucking fabulous.
I’ll give him that; he has a great choice in furniture and wall paint and how a billionaire CEO would design the home that they’ll be living in.
“You’re an hour late.”
Speak of the devil, and he shall appear.
I smirk at Phillip who stands in front of me, a black shirt on his body with the top two buttons undone, showing me some of his chest and the soft, blond hairs scattered on the skin. He’s anything but soft. Along with the look is a pair of black trousers that house his thick thighs. I can see the seams straining against the sheer size of his thighs.
Maybe other things are bigger—Stop!
Focus on the task at hand, deciding on the conditions and then the news going public.
Phillip surveys my choice of clothing while I do the same thing, at the same time. His eyes rove up and down my figure, and there’s a hint of disgust in his eyes. And hate. And any other emotions that vibe with those two.
“You couldn’t find anything else slutty enough for your choice of clothing? Your tits are basically spilling out of the clothes.”
“Then I suggest you keep your eyes on my face, and not on my tits. They can get quite distractive to some I’m told,” I coo at the male. “Also, bite me.” I walk into the space, the sound of the elevator closing behind me and then followed by the sound of Phillip’s footsteps echoing.
What an ass.
I stop in my tracks, and my hand goes to the purse before bringing it right in front of me. I start to sift through the objects in my bag before I pull out a small box, handing it over to the male without even looking at him.
“A gift from me,” I explain to Phillip once it’s out of my hand. “My mother has always told me that it’s rude to come to someone’s house for dinner without getting them something in return. Manners and all.” I wave a hand, and then arch a brow and make contact with Phillip’s eyes. My eyes rove over his body before muttering, “Not like you know anything about manners. Demanding me to come over here and all.”
“You know, you could have said no.”
I continue to stare at him, and then hand over my purse to Phillip. He stares at it like it’s the weirdest thing that has ever been given to him. A sigh escapes from my lips. “You are supposed to take it, it’s the gentlemanly thing to do. And, I couldn’t have said no. Not when we’re discussing the terms of the contract. It’s important.”
Phillip shakes his head, taking the bag from my hands powerfully and placing it on the hallway table. “Of course it is. Don’t want my secrets getting out into the world.” He looks to the side. “This way. I know that Maisie has cooked up quite a feast for us and you wouldn’t want it to get cold, do you?”
My eyebrows raise. Phillip and being compassionate to other people? What has the world become?
“Right then, let’s go.”
Phillip places a hand on my lower back—which causes a shiver to run through my back. I hope that Phillip hasn’t noticed it.
Looks like hope is not in my favour.
“Are you cold?” Phillip’s dark blond brows furrow for a moment, looking at me oddly.
“It’s not that.” I shake my head before bringing a hand around to my back and carefully removing his hand from my back. That’s better. “I just don’t like people touching me, that’s all.”
The two of us come in front of a glass dining table that is placed right in front of a floor to ceiling window, giving the people who sit at the table a great view of New York and all that it offers. The table itself looks like it can seat around eight people and at each place is a great placement of cutlery and plates that I know someone must be a maid and come in and fix everything up. A glass of a clear liquid sits beside the dinner necessities—most likely water or white wine. The seats of the glass table are white leather that has a modern feel, tying in the whole penthouse vibe.
“Nice view,” I say to Phillip, taking a seat at one of the ends of the table. “Must be a killer view at sunset.”
I take a sneaky glance at the blond male to see him staring out the window as well. “It’s one of the many reasons why I bought this penthouse. It’s one of the first things that I bought with my own money. Not something that was given by my family.”
“God no.” Phillip releases a chuckle before he stops instantly, sobering up. “The company was given to me when I was twenty-three and just recently graduated from Oxford. One of the things that I inherited.”
“Oxford. That’s nice.”
Phillip says nothing in return but takes a seat at the other side of the table, right in front of me. The male takes up the entire seat; I do the same with my body type and the curves that I carry with pride. He then takes a sip from the glass in front of him, humming right after.
Now I know it must be white wine.
My eyes snap towards an entrance when the sound of flats hitting the floor sound. An older woman, in her fifties, comes through the door with a male right behind her—who carries two plates. The woman gives me a tight smile before dipping just the slightest to Phillip.
“Lord Phillip.” She turns to me, dipping again. “Miss Langford.” She straightens her body.
I nod at her, giving her a smile. How is it that everyone related or comes in close contact with the Whittakers who are so hostile to me?
The woman—who I think is Maisie, stares at both of us before urging the male behind us to place the plates in his hand. “Today for starters is a grilled lobster tail that was freshly caught this morning, with lemon & herb butter. I hope that it can be ideal with you until the main that will come soon.”
All while she explains, the male places the lobster tails in front of me, and then Phillip before leaving the room. I stare at Maisie as she gives Phillip a smile—and he gives one that’s genuine and has love in it.
“Thank you, Maisie,” I start off, looking down at the food in front of me. “It looks as good as it sounds amazing.”
Phillip fiddles with the bowl of lemon and herb butter in his hand and nods. “I agree with her, this does look amazing.
She smiles before walking back to where she came from.
Now that it’s just him and I, I look in the direction of where my purse is placed. My teeth sink into my lips for a moment. The contract that Phillip made up for this arrangement is in there, and I totally forgot about that.
“I need to ask—” My gaze goes over to Phillip, and my words stop in my mouth when I see Phillip start pulling the meat from the lobster tails and start to dip it into the butter. He takes the dripping lobster to his mouth and starts to chew before rinsing it down with another sip of the wine.
This further gives evidence that Phillip Whittaker has no manners.
I cough up my words when he snaps his eyes at me. “Yes?”
“Nothing,” I explain, my head shaking before I take a sip from the wine.
Soft music, which I will most likely guess was played through speakers throughout the space, sounds around us. It’s calm, peaceful, like close friends and family having dinner on a special occasion.
But we’re not friends or family. Just strangers who are mutually beneficial to the other.
I look down at the lobster and take one bite, anxiety starting to bubble in my gut and my body locking up. What’s this guy’s plan? Just have dinner, talk like old college friends and discuss a marriage contract.
Well, this is your idea. You should start the talking.
Nodding at my inner voice, I say exactly what it suggests. “Actually, I do have something to say.” I drop the seafood on my plate and make eye contact with Phillip. “I can’t stay here long. I have a few things to be done today and need to get back home—”
“It’s seven.” Phillip’s voice sounds like I just said the stupidest thing ever. “What could you possibly have to do?”
“That’s none of your business.” And it’s true. “I just need to get home and do some things . . . Excuse me.” I push the chair back and get up from it, my mind dead set on getting to my purse. Why did I ask Phillip to take it in the first place? My hands clutch onto the purse, I stare at the white papers that make up the copy of my contact given to me by him.
I nod at the papers and take them back to my spot before sitting down.
“My copy of the contract.” I wave the papers around my head, hoping that the male can see them. Then I bring it closer to me and rip the contract in half.
Phillip’s eyebrows raise as he continues to eat, his stare judgemental.
I place it to the side. “Don’t give me that look. What’s the point of keeping a contract that will most likely be recreated as we speak?”
“I’ll give you that.” He shrugs his shoulders. And looks towards the door that leads to where Maisie and the other male is. “So let’s start discussing. Maisie!”
It takes a few seconds but the brown-eyed woman finally comes through the door, staring at Phillip. “Yes, Sir?”
“Don’t call me that,” he states, waving a hand. “We’re family. But I called you wondering if you can pass me a piece of paper and a pen so that Hera and I can get down to business.” Phillip looks over to me.
I nod at him, giving him my silent agreement to his words.
Maisie nods her head before going into a different door at the side of the room. She leaves the door open just the slightest and I see a glimpse of a bookcase before she comes back into the room, closing the door behind her. In her hand is a black leather book along with a silver pen. She places both objects in front of the Whittaker heir and returns back to where she was before.
“Let’s start with how long this will last.” Phillip wipes his hand on a napkin before opening the notebook to a fresh page and holding the pen in his writing hand. He looks over to me, waiting for me to answer his unasked question.
I lean back into the soft leather of the chair, the meal in front of me barely eaten and something that is not in my mind. “It needs to last long enough that when we have a divorce, it wouldn’t come randomly but short enough that it looks like we just fell out of love.” I shrug my shoulders, my lips pursing before saying, “Maybe a year, eight months.”
I lower my voice, only speaking to myself when I say, “Long enough to get her off my ass.”
“What was that?”
I snap my eyes to Phillip. “Nothing. Nothing at all.” I give him the smallest of grins.
Phillip stares at me for a while longer, his eyes looking at me like he’s trying to find out the reason why I’m doing this. Not going to find out today, Whittaker bastard. He shakes his head after a few seconds and looks down at the paper, jotting down the words.
“With what you’re saying, I would say a year is fine now.” I see him glance out at the glass windows before noting, “It’s just the beginning of June. The contract will end in a year’s time and by then—” A glance in my direction. “—you’ll leave me alone and we’ll both go our different directions.”
My grin turns feline. “Love your optimism.”
He looks back down at the notebook before he turns to the seat next to him. I see him pull a file from the seat that makes my eyebrows rise. I didn’t see that before.
“Since you destroyed your copy of the contract—” He opens the file to gaze at me, a look of triumph on his face. “It’s a good thing that I have mine.” Phillip brings his stack of papers onto the glass table, opening it up and starts to flip through the papers. His eyes scan over the paper and I just continue to eat the lobster, finally having a gut feeling to eat the seafood.
This goes on for ten minutes.
Him just skimming through the words that his lawyers drafted up and I just eating, some of that anxiety gone and allowing me to eat something other than a sweet treat given to me by this male in front of me.
Speaking of sweet treats . . .
“Why did you get me those things?” My question startles Phillip and he stops his reading, giving me just a moment of his time. He raises a brow before continuing with his reading. What do you mean? That’s what his expression tells me. “I mean, the food, the teddy bear, the jewellery and the—” I suck in a breath, remembering. “The clothing that you got—that by the way, was a complete waste of your money.”
Now I get his full attention. He snaps his eyes at me. “Why? Why was it a complete waste of my money? Did you not like the clothes?” Phillip leans back in his chair, his task now forgotten as he stares at me.
I stare right back. I’m not backing down from this. I’m going to tell him what’s on my mind.
“The clothes that you got for me . . .” I lean over the table, allowing Phillip to see the size of my boobs and see how fucking big they are. He doesn’t bite; he just stares at my face, not even looking down. I internally scoff. “Were too small. My hips couldn’t fit into them.” I lean back into my chair, letting the blond do whatever he wants with that information.
“Well,” Phillip drawls out, chewing on his lips, “that’s a shame. May I ask where the clothes are?”
“Burned down.” I take some of the lobster with a fork, dip it into the lemon butter before bringing it to my lips, chewing it down. I swallow loudly before telling him, “I hope that you don’t mind that.”
I don’t tell Phillip that some of his clothes might be burned to ashes and that the rest is kept in secret by Wanda Gill in her closet.
He doesn’t deserve the full truth.
I could feel Phillip’s anger radiating from across the table, right to me. I see his fingers tighten around the pen in his hand, his knuckles turning white ever so slowly. “If they didn’t fit,” he says, speaking through gritted teeth, “then you should have given them back to me. Not burn them down."
“I could, but then I realized that if you could buy thousands of dollars worth of clothing for a stranger such as myself, then you were begging me to either flaunt them around in your name or . . . destroy them.” I swirl the fork in the remnants of butter in my bowl. “Honestly, you were just asking for it.”
The Whittaker heir looks down at the plate, anger and rage coming over him in waves. He stays there for a moment before snapping his gaze at me. “Since you burned the clothes, you owe me the money that all that was worth.”
I raise my eyebrows. “Why should I do that? You gave them to me of your own free will. After all, that’s what your note told me.”
“The note said nothing like that.”
“How do you know?”
Phillip’s teeth grit against one another, sharpening them to pecks. “Because you said that I wrote the note. I should very well know what’s in the said note.”
“Whatever.” I roll my eyes.
The sound of the door opening brings my attention to the male who comes through the doors. He walks towards the table, first going to Phillip and picking up his plate and then to mine, picking up it as well. Before he leaves, he tells us, “The main course should be coming soon.”
“Thank you, Thomas.” The words were spoken in a much softer way than the words he has said to me. Why does that matter to you? It doesn’t, not at all.
The male—Thomas nods his head and goes back into the door and wherever the hell it leads. I glance over at Phillip, seeing if he is going to say anything that is of importance to me.
He just stays quiet and takes the last sip of the white wine.
I had already finished mine long ago.
A minute later, Thomas and Maisie come into the room. Thomas places a plate in front of Phillip and then he comes over to me. Maisie stands there, her arms behind her back, saying, “The main is roast duck breast with figs, rosemary and garlic fried potatoes with a side of green beans. It’s paired with a red wine from the winery in Italy that’s around fifty years old. Super expensive.”
Thomas walks back into the kitchen only to return seconds later with a wine bottle and two glasses. He pours me a generous amount and then some to Phillip before leaving the bottle on the table and leaving the space.
She looks over at Phillip. “Boy, that’s all that I can come up with. You want to complain, you can complain to the dead duck.”
Phillip’s lips twitch just the slightest. And then it’s gone as soon as it comes. He takes a sip from the wine glass, humming his agreement. It’s good. That’s what his humming is telling me.
I look at the wine glass, seeing the richness of the colour and the smell of it entering my nose. Picking up the wine, I take a sip and then take another. It’s good, more than can be expected.
I tell exactly that to Maisie
Maisie now seems satisfied with her work, gives me a small smile before heading back into her space.
That now leaves us in silence. Phillip’s too busy with the duck to be talking and me just thinking about life during this year-long commitment. Will I be staying here, in this penthouse up in the clouds, during the marriage? I mean, I could get used to this and Maisie’s amazing cooking. My mother lived with bio dad when the two got hitched one drunk afternoon in Vegas. But they both were happy with the short time that was given to them.
Phillip and I . . .
The both of us don’t know each other. We’re just strangers where I managed to find out that Phillip gets turned on by bringing pain to the woman under his hot body, and what Phillip knows about me . . . is nothing.
But I feel like, with time, that I will get used to his asshole personality and the life that he has.
What about his family? Brooks? His mother? His father?
His father would be a piece of cake. He already loves me with the little time that I spent with him during the day of the opening of the new Whittaker hotel. Elias, when he gets the news, I think might be happy that it’s a woman who knows what she’s doing and has great connections to the people of New York.
His mother, Nina, and Brooks are another story.
And something that I’ll deal with during the time when we will announce the engagement.
When it will be announced.
That reminds me.
I clear my throat “Now that the contract is being made as we speak.” A hand in the direction of his notebook. “I am wondering when this engagement, marriage will be announced?”
Phillip swallows the potatoes. “As soon as you sign the contract, the announcement will be heading in the direction of all the tabloids and the magazines. Afterwards, we would need to do a few interviews; you know the basics.”
“Yes.” I bite my lower lip, looking down at the food. “I know.”
“You should eat. I wouldn’t want you to go home on an empty stomach when you say you have a thing to do at home.”
That makes me snap my eyes to him. “Don’t you wish for me to lose some weight? Wouldn’t I be an embarrassment if I appear even bigger than the seat that you sit in?” Those words are a trigger to me, forcing me to be a little self-conscious of the clothes that I wear and the body that I was given.
Phillip sighs, dropping his fork and looking at me. “No. You wouldn’t be an embarrassment, and I’m sorry if you ever thought that. It wasn’t my intention at all.”
My eyebrows raise, surprise flooding my body. Is he being serious? I say those words to him. “Are you being serious? Is Phillip Whittaker saying sorry to little ol’ me?”
“You aren’t very little are you?” His brow raises the slightest before he grabs the pen in his hand. “My private investigator found some very interesting things about you.”
That grabs my attention. My body stiffens at his words. “And? What did this PI tell you?”
“Nothing useful. But there is one thing that grabbed my attention.”
“And that was?”
“Your name only goes back five years. Anything earlier than that is scrubbed clean.” He takes a bite of the roast duck. “Looks like I’m not the only one who’s keeping a secret.”
I stare him down, murder on my face. “You had no right to go through my records or hire a PI. That’s an invasion of my privacy.”
Phillip considers my words before stating, “If I would have asked, would you have told me?”
“Depends,” I answer his words with truth. “If I thought that you would need that information, I would have given it to you. But if you didn’t . . . well, secrets are a great thing to keep.”
“I would know better as well,” Phillip mutters under his breath.
I grin, taking a sip of the wine. “You should’ve.”
He looks away, staring down at the paper and then looking at the last contract that he produced. “I think that money would not be an issue, yes? An actress such as yourself should make enough money—”
I nod at his words, some weight coming off my shoulders that I take a bite of my duck, finally. “I make more than enough.”
The man shoots me a sharp look. “But still, I’ll give you one of my black cards that you can use.”
“You can give it to me,” I explain, “but I won’t use it.”
“That’s fine,” he says. “Just keep it in one of your Chanel bags and it won’t go missing.”
I smirk at him.
Phillip looks at me, and then back down. “Another thing: family.” He latches onto the wine glass beside him and takes a sip of it.
That sends a pang of sadness through my bones. “Family isn’t an issue for me. I’m all by myself.”
“Don’t you have any—?”
"No,” I cut him swiftly. “No. No family. Though yours might be a problem.”
His eyebrows scrunch together, confusion showing on his face. “Why? What did you do?′
“Well.” I wince. “Your father—Elias Whittaker, he won’t be a problem. The man adores me with the little time that I spent with him at the party.” I look up at him. “Your mother and sister might be a problem.”
Nina, I can definitely deal with. Brooks on the other hand . . .
She’ll rip my heart out and eat it before shitting it out and stuffing it back into my chest. And then ripping it out again and stomping on it with her signature Louboutins a couple of hundred times. Then after, she’ll take my heart as a trophy and leave me to my death.
I explain to Phillip what happened on the day of the party. The way that Nina came up to me, asking me to forgive her daughter on her behalf and then the way I snapped at her. Brooklyn is a different story since I know that Phillip knows of my friendship with the Victoria’s Secret modal.
“Oh, Mother, what have you done?” Phillip sighs out the words, bringing a finger to massage down the spine of his nose. “This is going to be fucking fantastic.”
“It is.” I nod my head. “Hope you have fun with it.” A thought strikes me, something that is very important to me.
“Phillip.” The man nods at me. “As you said before, I’m an actress. I just want to tell you that even if I’m married to you, I’ll continue to act in movies. That is non-negotiable. If you can work, then so can I.”
The blond man thinks for a moment, staring down at his plate all while doing that. “That can be arranged. But can you tell me what type of movies you’ve acted in?”
"Black Marks is my recent one. Then there is Treacherous Waves, Girl in the book, Wooden Minds, and a couple dozen more. I’ve been in too many movies and tv shows that I can’t remember all of them.”
Phillip’s lips tilt to the side. “I’ve heard of Treacherous Waves. Wasn’t that the one where the main characters fuck in front of a crowd, in a tavern, in like the 1700s?”
I grin. “You’re sure you’ve only heard about it? Maybe you watched it with all the crazy shit you’re doing with your submissives.”
“I’m not talking about that.” His words are final, written in steel. “And no, I haven’t watched them.”
“You should. We’ll make it a movie day. Watching all of Hera Langford’s porno movies.” I laugh at the words. “Maybe you’ll get turned on like all of the others who watched it.”
He sighs. “Besides all that you’ve told me and all of the other things about sex on screen, you may still continue your acting. But no fucking on screen. That’s bad business in my opinion. And my only restriction.”
“Thank you,” I confess to him.
Now Phillip looks at me like I’m the oddest creature he has ever gazed upon.
♥ ♥ ♥
I TAKE THE final bite of my strawberry cheesecake, a moan slipping past my lips while the taste of strawberry, cream cheese and the crust of the cake explodes in my mouth. The flavours create something that I wish most people could get a taste of.
I gaze over at Phillip, seeing him on his phone, talking to someone—most likely his legal team or publicist—while holding the piece of paper with the terms of the marriage written on it.
It only took an hour to come to an agreement—lots of discussions, some threats to each other and curses thrown at the other and we finally made it there in the end.
I thought it would have taken longer.
Gazing at Maisie who stands right beside, I point my fork at the food. “Oh my gosh, Mrs Edwards, this is fucking amazing. If there are any leftovers, I’m definitely taking all of it home.”
Something that I’ve learnt regarding the woman in front of me is that she is fine with you swearing in front of her. I don’t know about Phillip but she hasn’t said anything yet so I’ll take it that she’s fine.
The woman smiles at me. She has taken a liking to me and I take that as great news for me.
While we were discussing about the terms, the living arrangements popped up and the both of us agreed that its fine for me to stay on my own while the engagement time is happening, and when we officially get married, then I’ll move into this penthouse, or maybe, Whittaker Manor out in the Hamptons. But that’ll never happen. The Hamptons is too far away from the city life where my work is and Phillip’s as well. It’ll just become a hassle that we don’t need.
However, some time I’ll see the famous Whittaker Manor and spend a night or two there.
“Take as many as you need, Hera.” The older woman brushes a strand of my hair from my face. “God knows that the boy never eats anything that’s sweet. There’ll be lots of left overs left.”
That explains why Phillip’s slice is just there for decoration, untouched by the fork.
“And anyways, I told you to call me Maisie. Mrs Edwards makes me feel old, and I’m not old.” The woman gives me a wink before turning around, picking up Phillip’s plate and returning back to the kitchen.
“Thank you for the food, Maisie. It was one of the best foods that I’ve had in a long time!” I shout at her retreating form.
She replies, “It’s no problem.”
Now she’s out of my view.
“Of course,” I hear Phillip say before he ends the call. He turns in my direction and says, “My lawyers will start to draft up the contract as we speak and they’ll send your lawyers a copy. Once it’s signed, the two of us, as well as my PR team, will send out announcements about the engagement. From there is the party planning, the wedding planning and then moving things over to here.”
I shiver, a yawn escaping from my lips. “Can we please not talk about things that are happening in the next few months. We’ll discuss that later.” I wave a hand in the air.
He nods, tilting his head in the direction of the plate. “Seeing as you’re done, I think it’s time to call it a night.”
I hum my agreement before taking the last sip of the wine, and standing up from my place. Phillip stands and makes his way over to me and the two of us walk over to the elevator that’ll take me back down to the ground floor.
And from there, home.
“Just give me a moment.” Phillip pulls out his phone, sending a quick text to someone before looking at me. “My driver will be downstairs in a grey Bentley. He’ll take you straight back to your apartment.”
“Thank you.” The words come out as a yawn, sleep consuming me and the wine that is no doubt helping the sleep come to me faster than expected.
It’s just nine, how can I be tired?
“I guess I’ll head down.” The sound of the elevator pinging to tell me that it’s on the right floor informs me that it’s time to go. I grab my purse that is seated on the table from before and I step into the elevator, music starting to play in the speakers.
I turn around, staring at the solution to my Nadine Nix problem. “Goodnight, Phillip Whittaker.”
“Goodnight, Hera Langford,” he says, his hands tucked into the pockets on his slacks and—
The elevator door closes and he’s gone.
♥ ♥ ♥
11,000 words later and chapter 12 is done.
i hope that it makes up for it being a month late.
enjoy and leave your comments and votes, please.