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Empire of Desire: Chapter 12


Two weeks later, I’m forced back to reality.

I’m forced to let go of the hope I held on to so tightly when Dad had his accident. Because the truth is, he’s not waking up and probably won’t. The doctor said that the more time he spends in a coma, the slimmer his chances are of coming out of it.

And even though I’ve been visiting him every day, I can feel the gloomy cloud that hovers over his hospital bed. I can tell that my dad is probably not there anymore, no matter how much I talk to him and read to him and everything in between.

And that’s just been too painful to think about, so I distracted myself with school before the summer break. And cleaning. I do that a lot when I’m anxious or stressed. I scrub floors and counters and dishes and the bathroom.

In my head, I’m scrubbing my mind clean. Does it work? For a while, maybe, but not in the long term. Because the problems far outweigh the solutions. I thought myself strong enough to take it all—let it soak in and then vanish—but maybe it’s been disintegrating me from the inside out.

The thought of the D-word happening to Dad makes me shake uncontrollably in my closet.

That’s why I need to be distracted. Summer vacation has officially started, and if I don’t keep myself occupied, I’ll go mad. I’ll live in my closet, scrubbing the floor and eating ice cream until I have some sort of a crisis.

A mental breakdown. Meltdown. Or something else that ends with down.

It doesn’t help that Susan isn’t backing off. Not even an inch. She’s still throwing suits left and right, trying to get the house back because it was her husband’s and should’ve belonged to her, but my father “stole” it.

Despite my efforts to get involved, Nate doesn’t give me many updates about her.

“I’ll handle everything,” is his signature response whenever I ask about anything.

He’s taking care of the legal side, the firm, and Dad’s hospital procedures.


Except for me, obviously.

Ever since the day we got married, he hasn’t touched me. Not even a brush of his hand or fingers or whatever. It’s like two years ago all over again. I can recognize it when he’s pulling away from me, you know. He only speaks to me when it’s necessary, in monosyllables, and won’t stay in my company for long.

He chose a guest room on the ground floor that’s as far away from mine as physically possible while still living in the same house.

But it’s different this time.

I didn’t kiss him. I didn’t do anything, actually. He’s the one who touched me, set me on damn fire, told me I’m truly fucked and called me baby girl.

He called me baby girl.

No matter how active my imagination is, it couldn’t, even in its wildest form, have made that up.

And then he just went back to his workaholic life and left me wondering if maybe I’m losing my mind and all the tension I felt on the wedding day wasn’t there. Maybe I was too sleep-deprived to think straight. Maybe the pills made me go whacko.

But no, that can’t be true, because even after, I could taste it. The tension, I mean. It’s been thick and large and has been seeping into my lungs with every breath I take.

And that’s another reason why I’m nearing the edge. I can feel it when it happens. I find no pleasure in doing things. I hide in the closet more and even my vanilla ice cream and milkshake don’t taste the same.

Oh, and I hear the emptiness tapping at the insides of my brain.

I can’t be on the edge. The edge is where all disasters start to happen. Like insomnia and depressive thoughts and every negative word in my notebook.

So I came here.

To Weaver & Shaw’s law firm.

The main prestigious branch that’s situated in New York. Maybe going to one of the other countless ones scattered around the States and Europe would’ve been safer. The managing partners have been calling and asking about my dad and they actually like me. Which can’t be said about the person in charge of this one.

But that would mean leaving Dad’s side, and that’s not going to happen.

Anyway, I’ve been inside the building countless times before, but this is the first time that it’s felt huge and intimidating. This must be how the new applicants feel when they walk the long halls and ride the elevator to the towers.

The bright white floors and walls and the spotless glass doors and windows give it a clean, businesslike look. The setting is done this way as a psychological trick to make it trustworthy. If I were a client and walked through this place, I’d feel a sense of assurance.

But I’m not, and assurance is the last thing bleeding into my veins right now.

I catch a glimpse of my reflection in one of the glass doors and my feet falter for a second. I’m wearing a black pencil skirt and a white shirt. My rusty hair is pulled into a ponytail and my makeup is light, professional.

It killed me to not wear my denim shorts, but at least I kept the white sneakers. I just chose the simplest ones I’ve got that go with the setting.

And I’m also carrying a box of bribes.

So, the thing is, Nate doesn’t know I’m coming here today. And he’ll probably be mad. But whatever, he’s always mad in a way—and hopefully, by the time I get what I came here for, it’ll be too late for him to kick me out.

Because he’s a jerk. A few days ago, I asked him to let me intern at the firm for the summer and he said no. Point-blank. When I asked why, he ignored me.


So I’m taking things into my own hands. I’m interning here in spite of him and his assholish behavior. It’s the only way to keep myself occupied during the summer.

Besides, he’s not the only hotshot lawyer here. I’ve been between W&S’s walls for years and I know the best attorneys who can keep me distracted and busy enough to stop my overthinking altogether.

“You can do this,” I mutter under my breath and stride down the hall to the open space where junior assistants and interns have their desks.

But I’m not after them. They’re small fish that would never in a million years stand up to Nate.

The ones I’m after are sitting in the break area, drinking coffee and chatting among themselves. The partners.

They have enough power to stand up to Nate and not lose their jobs—hopefully.

Sebastian is one of them.

But he does corporate law, and uh, I don’t really like that. So I’m more interested in the other two. Knox Van Doren and Daniel Sterling. Criminal and international law, respectively.

Both of them are British, have stellar reputations, and are certified playboys.

I keep a low profile as I head to where the three of them are sitting. They usually have these coffee breaks around this time, and Nate has his administrative meetings in the morning, which is why I came in now.

Everything is calculated to give my plan further chance to succeed. I’m taking things into my own hands and it’s all going to be fine.

“Hi!” I say too cheerfully, making three pairs of eyes slide to me. Sebastian smiles and so does Daniel. He has a charming presence that’s similar to Sebastian’s when he was in college—Nate’s nephew is a bit more serious now.

Daniel is pretty in a model type of way with his piercing turquoise eyes, light hair, and fit physique. It’s one of the reasons why magazines love putting him on their covers. That and his shrewd ways in the law circuit. “Gwen! Did you bring us some of your cupcakes?”

“Yeah.” I grin, waving my bribes box. “I stayed up all night making them.”

“You’re a doll.” Daniel takes the box, opens it, but pauses before eating. “Sorry about Kingsley. That must be hard.”

“I’m fine.” Totally. Like I’m not on the verge of mentally collapsing or anything.

But I’ve always thought saying I’m fine, even when I’m not, works. At least people will leave me alone and I don’t have to be the subject of their pity.

“What are you doing here?” Sebastian asks. “For Nate?”


“Then?” It’s Knox who asks, staring at me over the rim of his cup. I don’t know if it has something to do with the fact that he deals with many dangerous criminals, but he has a gaze that could make a sinner confess his deepest, darkest secrets.

Which contradicts his Prince Charming image. But then again, Dad always said Knox was never the Prince Charming type. He just gives off those vibes.

“I want to intern here this summer.”

There’s a brief silence, and I’m tempted to fill it, but I don’t. I can’t be rambling in a professional setting. These men aren’t Dad’s colleagues anymore. They’re lawyers I need to impress.

“What did Nate say?” Sebastian asks. I know he didn’t tell them about the wedding, but he knows, and that means he’ll constantly refer back to him. Nate is his uncle, after all.

“He doesn’t know.” I pause. “Technically, he refused.”

“Technically?” Daniel grins and that causes his cheeks to crease with gorgeous dimples. “Tell us more.”

“Nate doesn’t think I should intern, but that doesn’t make sense, right? I’m taking pre-law and need the experience to apply for law school, so I can’t just do nothing during the summer.”

“You can.” Knox grabs a cupcake and rotates it between his fingers but doesn’t eat take a bite. “Dan and I didn’t do any pre-law internships and we’re doing just fine.”

“That’s because you guys are geniuses. I’m not. But I’m a super hard worker and a fast learner and I’m definitely not lazy, so I can get all sorts of things done.”

“Nice.” Sebastian raises his mug in my direction. “Continue selling yourself that way and it’ll work.”

“Listen to our Weaver Prince here. He’s worked with enough corporations to know what marketing is,” Knox says, referring to Sebastian—that’s what they call him, prince, because Nate is his uncle and he’s the king.

They called me Shaw Princess, too, when they first met me, but I told them it’s just Gwen. Sometimes, it’s hard to live in the shadow of an otherworldly man such as my dad and to be seen as just an extension of him.

“Does that mean I’m in?” I ask hopefully.

“We don’t personally approve interns, love.” Daniel snatches his third cupcake. “HR does and we just pick.”

“I can’t submit to HR.”

“Why not?”

“Nate, right?” Sebastian asks.

“Yeah.” I clink my nails. “He’ll know I went against his order, and I’d rather he doesn’t find out until I’m in.”

“Now that you mention it, I want to see the look on his face, so we should make this happen.” Sebastian grins.

“My, Weaver Prince. Is this a rebellion?” Daniel smirks.

“You both love it.”

“I’m a good fucking citizen.” Daniel chews his cupcake. “Knox, however…”

The latter sips from his coffee, a gleam shining in his eyes. “If we do this, will there be some fun, Sebastian?”

“I can assure you of that.” He gives me a knowing look and I try my hardest not to blush. “I can’t take you in, though, Gwen. I have enough interns for a lifetime. How about you, Dan?”

“Me, too, I’m afraid. Aspen, however, doesn’t have any interns.”

“Not her.” I twist my lips.

“Why not?” Knox pushes his mug away and focuses on me. Well, shit. I can’t be badmouthing a senior partner in front of the lawyer that I want to work with the most.

“She’s Nate’s friend and she doesn’t like Dad.” I step toward Knox. “So you’re all I’ve got.”

“You’re telling me to go against Nate for you, and that’s such a bad idea, Gwen.”

“I know, but I promise to make it up to you with hard work. Criminal law is my passion.”

Daniel grins, shaking his head. “You’re not listening to him, love.”


“He said it’s a bad idea.”

“Yeah…I know.”

Knox stands and smiles down at me, his features becoming hard with the motion. “What you don’t know is that I love bad ideas.”

“Does that mean you’re taking me in?”

I’m waiting for a nod or a yes to do my happy dance, but Knox goes quiet and the atmosphere changes from light and playful to completely suffocating.

I recognize it so well since this is what my life’s been like for the past couple of weeks. Breathing is a chore and everything in between is too charged and asphyxiating.

My heart thunders as I slowly turn around and catch a glimpse of the man who’s been torturing my days and nights.

The man I wasn’t supposed to see now.

He has a hand in his pocket as he strides to us in the midst of onlookers. That’s what Nate does—he steals attention.

He’s a thief.

Because every time he’s in sight, I’m robbed of breath and other things I don’t want to put a name to.

And now, I feel like he’ll rob me of something else. Something I really don’t want to give away.

So I won’t.

Because I’m taking things into my own hands now.


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