Chapter 1: To Sign Away a Soul
~Everyone thinks they’re a hero.~
~We fantasize about moments of glory — the ones we read about in books and see in movies.~
~Run into a fiery building to rescue a dog? Sure. Donate a kidney to a friend? No problem. Stand in the way of an armed robbery? Easy.~
~But the ugly truth is, we don’t know how we’ll react when the moment strikes. Until the gunman has the gun pointed at your temple, and you can smell the metal of the barrel.~
~Will you be strong enough to do it? To face the gun and say, “Choose me. Shoot me. Kill me.”~
~When the time comes, what will you choose?~
~Your life, or theirs?~
I squeezed my dad’s hand, my heart in my throat. It hurt to see him like this. He lay unconscious on the hospital bed, with tubes attached to his arms and chest. Machines beeped beside him, and an oxygen mask covered his face.
Tears spilled down my cheeks, and I wiped them away for what felt like the thousandth time.
He was a constant in my life. The anchor that kept our family together. A pillar of strength and health.
Lucas, my oldest brother, appeared at the doorway. I walked up and embraced him.
“What did the doctor say?” I asked.
Lucas looked over my shoulder at Dad. “Let’s step out into the hall.”
Nodding, I went to Dad and placed a kiss on his forehead before following Lucas out of the room.
In the fluorescent light of the hospital hallway, I let my gaze run over my brother. Looking at his disheveled hair, unshaven cheeks, and the deep purple circles under his eyes, I knew he’d had a rough day.
“Listen, Angie…” Lucas began. He took my hand in his like he’d done when I was a child and scared of the dark. “I need you to stay calm, okay? Stay strong. The news…it’s pretty rough.”
I nodded and took a deep breath to steady myself.
“Dad...” Lucas started, then stopped, his gaze going to the ceiling. He cleared his throat. “He had a stroke.”
Fresh tears sprung to my eyes.
“We don’t know how intense it’s affected him yet, but they think the ALS had something to do with it,” he continued.
“What can we do?” I asked, desperation creeping into my voice.
“We get some rest,” Danny, my other brother, said from behind me. He walked up and gave me a hug. “The doctors are still doing some tests.”
My two brothers shared a look, and I knew they weren’t telling me something.
“What?” I demanded. “What is it?”
Lucas shook his head.
“You have an interview coming up, don’t you?” he asked. “Go home and get some sleep. We’ll call you once we know more, alright?”
I sighed. I didn’t want to leave, but I knew my brothers were right. It was important that I got this job.
We said our goodbyes and I walked out into the cold night air. I spied the lights of New York City in the distance, a pit of dread in my stomach.
I felt helpless.
~Wasn’t there anything I could do?~
The girl next to me squealed as I spun the steering wheel, sending the car into a hairpin turn around the corner. She laughed, high off of speed and copious bottles of champagne.
“Xavier!” She bit her lip, her hands running up along my thigh. Two things were guaranteed to make a girl horny.
The roar of a fast car, and a fuckload of money.
I revved the engine, sending my Lamborghini speeding down the scenic roads of Monaco. The blonde bombshell beside me shivered with pleasure, stroking at the bulge in my pants. She was a model, here in Monaco for a fashion show.
We’d fucked a few times already.
I didn’t even know her name.
I grinned as she unzipped my pants, sighing with pleasure as she took me in her mouth.
~Now this was the life.~
Speeding down the roads of beautiful Monaco behind the wheel of a Lambo, my cock in the mouth of some supermodel.
No responsibilities to a multibillion-dollar company.
No annoying dad breathing down my neck.
No ~cheating fucking whores~ that went behind my back and—
I blazed through a red light, and the blare of a police siren screamed in the night air. I pulled over, watching the flashing lights in my rearview mirror.
“For fucksake,” I muttered.
The blonde began to look up, but I pushed her back down on my cock.
“Did I say you could stop?”
The model continued her efforts, eager to please.
The cop got out of his car and began making his way over to my door.
~Well,~ I thought, looking down at the head bobbing up and down in my lap. ~This’ll make one hell of a story.~
I called my assistant into my office, sighing loudly in frustration. It was the third time in under a month that Xavier was making headlines, and not because he was kissing babies’ heads or volunteering at hospitals.
My son had been arrested in Monaco for reckless driving and ~public indecency.~
I pinched the bridge of my nose.
There was a knock on the door.
“Come in,” I called without looking up. In walked Ron, my twenty-six-year-old assistant. “Did you see the news?”
Ron’s mouth opened and closed a few times. He didn’t need to say anything. I doubted there was a soul in all of New York City that hadn’t seen it. The headline was everywhere.
“Call the lawyers and get Frankie from PR in here. Please.”
Ron nodded and scuttled out of my office.
I crossed the room to the glass window that filled the entire north-facing wall of my office, looking down at the streets of New York, far, far below.
I’d have to go into overdrive to make sure my son’s actions had no repercussions on the company, or him. I liked to say that I had two children: Xavier and Knight Enterprises.
Breaking away from my parent’s ventures in oil, I’d built the world’s premier hotel and hospitality conglomerate from the ground up. My two greatest joys in life were my son and my company.
And now they were both in danger.
I sighed, the face of my beautiful wife flashing in my mind.
~Oh, Amelia. I wish you were still here. You’d know how to help Xavier.~
My gaze over the streets drifted to Central Park. My beloved and I used to walk the park together, sitting and eating on a bench by the trees.
“Ron!” I shouted. I heard the slide of my office door. “Cancel my meetings. I’m going for a walk.”
I walked along the dappled paths of Central Park, trying to clear my mind. I was on my way back from Em’s flower shop after closing up for the day.
Long stems of the willows bent in the cool end-of-summer breeze. Swans floated along the glassy surface of a nearby pond. The chatter of children playing floated through the air, and lovers embraced on the grass.
I cradled a bouquet of lilies in my arms, taking some comfort in their gentle scent. My heart still ached at the thought of my dad in the hospital, but I had to keep it together.
I noticed an older gentleman sitting alone on a bench; his eyes closed in prayer. I don’t know what pulled me towards him, but before I knew it, I was standing next to him. He looked so sad.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
He opened his eyes, blinking in surprise as he looked up at me.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“I just wanted to ask if you were okay,” I said. “You seemed a little… down.”
He shifted forward on the bench and pointed to a plaque engraved along the back. “I’m just remembering someone important to me,” he said, his voice thick.
I read the engraving.
~For Amelia.Beloved wife and loving mother.16/10/1962 - 04/04/2011~
My heart broke.
I handed him my bouquet of lilies, smiling.
“For Amelia,” I offered.
“Thank you.” He reached forward to take the bouquet, his hands shaking. “May I ask for your name?”
“Angela Carson,” I replied.
I watched Angela go, a sense of peace chasing away the worry in my heart. I patted the bench, smiling up into the sky.
~Thank you, my love. You’ve shown me the answer.~
I reached into my jacket pocket, pulling out my phone.
“Ron, get me as much information on an Angela Carson as you can.” I examined the bouquet she had given me, noticing the name of the flower shop printed on the paper wrapping.
I nodded to myself, a plan forming in my mind.
“And get my son back to New York.”
CHAT:DANNY: Angie. Come quick
CHAT:DANNY: It’s dad
CHAT:ANGELA: what happened?!
CHAT:DANNY: He had a heart attack.
“We managed to resuscitate your father,” the doctor said, his voice grave. “Stroke victims are susceptible to heart attacks in the first twenty-four hours after the stroke. We’re keeping a close eye on him and will continue to run tests to see what we can do.” The way he said it made it sound like he wasn’t confident there’d be much.
“Thank you, doctor,” Lucas said.
The doctor nodded and left us alone.
“How long is dad going to have to be here?” I asked in a small voice. “It doesn’t look like he’s in any shape to go home.”
“We might not have a choice,” Danny said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
My brothers looked at each other. My heart pounded in my chest. I could sense the bad news coming. Finally, Lucas turned to me.
“We can’t afford him being here, Angie.”
I blinked. “What?”
Danny ran his hands through his hair, his face haggard. “We’re broke.”
“How? The restaurant…” The restaurant had been my dad’s life when we were growing up. Mom had worked there too, until she got sick. My brothers took over as soon as they finished college.
“It’s been struggling for a couple of years. The recession took its toll. Dad put a second mortgage on the house to try and see us through.” Lucas sighed. He looked defeated.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked. “I have my interview soon, so maybe…”
But Danny was shaking his head.
“The hospital bills are coming soon…”
I couldn’t be there anymore—in the hallway, in the hospital. It was too claustrophobic. I pushed away from my brothers. My shaking legs carried me through halls and down stairs until I found myself standing outside, in front of the hospital.
It was the middle of the night, so there was no one to see me fall to my knees in the middle of the sidewalk. Or so I thought...
“Excuse me?” a deep voice said from behind me.
Sniffling, I glanced up to see a man nearing me. “Yes, can I help you?” I murmured, wiping my eyes.
The man knelt before me, and I gasped as I recognized him.
It was the man I had met earlier in Central Park. The one I had given my bouquet of lilies to.
“Forgive my intrusion. My name is Brad Knight.”
I gasped. Brad Knight?
~The~ Brad Knight?
The billionaire behind Knight Enterprises?
“Um,” I stuttered.
“I know about your situation, Angela, and I can help. I can help with your father’s medical bills.”
My head spun. Alarm bells rang in my mind.
~How does he know so much? What does he want from me?~
“I’ll pay for everything. I’ll make sure your father is taken care of. You just have to do one thing for me.” He sounded so genuine, but a hint of desperation crept into his voice. He gathered himself, staring right into my eyes.
“I need you to marry my son.”