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Empire of Desire: Chapter 3


The glass of water slips from my hand and hits the sink with a loud crash, splintering all over the surface.

The sound collides with the climax of Car Radio by Twenty One Pilots that’s playing from Alexa.

I wince while I carefully grab the tiny pieces and throw them in the trash and simultaneously scroll through my phone.

Aside from the memes and mindless conversations in my group chat with my college friends, there’s nothing of importance. Though calling them friends is an exaggeration. Colleagues would be more appropriate.

Chris, Jenny, Alex and I all take pre-law at the same college, so we kind of flocked toward each other. It’s hard for me to consider anyone an actual friend, because most of the people I’ve met since I was in elementary school were either interested in my super successful father or our family drama, namely the drama between Dad and my step-grandma. It got worse in pre-law since everyone is gunning to snatch an internship at Weaver & Shaw.

The screening process of interns is so strict and thorough that I’m not sure if even I’ll get in. Dad made it clear that there would be no preferential treatment and if I wanted to intern at one of the best law firms in the world, I needed to prove my worth.

But not to him. Nate’s the one I’d have to impress, because he’s the managing partner of the New York branch. He also holds the key to Weaver & Shaw’s entry gate, and besides being a perfectionist, he’s also stern.

Everything about Nate is, whether it’s with work or in personal relationships.

I ignore the group chat and scroll to my contacts until I find the name Susan.

Okay, so Dad definitely doesn’t know that I secretly got his stepmom’s number. Or maybe not so secretly, since I asked her for it when we bumped into each other at a restaurant.

I don’t know why I did it, and she must’ve been as surprised as I was, because she gave me that hawk-eyed stare that made me kind of squirm. Or maybe I knew exactly why I wanted the number. For something like today. I’m planning Dad’s birthday and I hope they somehow get along.

When Grandpa died, he left this house, which he bought when he married Dad’s biological mother, to Susan, and Dad was livid, like absolutely furious in a way I’ve never seen before. It didn’t matter that he’d inherited the shares Grandpa previously owned in Weaver & Shaw; the house was his number one priority. He went as far as proving that Grandpa was senile and not in a sound state of mind when he wrote his will. He won and the will became null and void. Then they had another long case about his inheriting the house because of the sentimental value it holds to him, and although Susan fought tooth and nail, she didn’t stand a chance. But she’s appealing now. Not only for the house, but also for shares of W&S. Her argument is that since the will is null and void, she should receive a percentage of them, if not all. Dad said she’ll never win, not in a million years.

I hate all their legal battles.

I don’t want Dad to keep fighting her in court until either of them dies. I know this might not be the most logical idea since she stole his mother’s place and drove her to suicide, but I do believe in making peace.

And most of all, I believe in making Dad less stressed, even if he still has to deal with a million other things.

I hit Call before I chicken out and lose my resolve. My forefinger swirls between the pieces of glass in the sink as I listen to the ringing of the phone.

Susan picks up and I pause moving my finger and stare through the window at the garden.

“Who is this?” she asks in her usual closed off, slightly snobby, slightly judgmental tone.

“It’s me. Gwen.”

There’s a long pause that almost extends to a minute. “What do you want?”

“It’ll be Dad’s birthday soon, and I’ve been wondering if you want to come.”

“The only thing I want for your father’s birthday is his death.” Beep.

I gulp, letting my hand holding the phone drop to my side.

Well, I can’t say I didn’t expect that. While I’d hoped there might be a way to bring them together, maybe that’s not possible, after all.

Does that mean I have to watch them go at each other’s throats for the rest of my life?

I stare at the flowers and trees outside as if they’ll provide an answer. Maybe it’s clearer than I actually thought and I just need to stop meddling in things that don’t concern me.

Or people who don’t pay attention to me.

My phone vibrates with a text.

Chris: Wanna go out later?

I bite my lower lip. Chris and I have been sort of dating. Sort of, as in, going out on weekends and making out on the back of his Harley. Jenny says I’m more attracted to his bike than him, and that might be true. I like the thrill of doing things I shouldn’t be doing, like stealing sips from Dad’s liquor, coming home after curfew, and kissing Dad’s best friend.

It’s a character flaw.

Anyway, Chris and I still haven’t gone all the way and I don’t want to. I feel like if I do, I’ll be letting myself down or something. Not that he’s been pressuring me or anything, but he can’t be patient forever, no matter how much he enjoys the make-out and groping sessions.

It isn’t right to lead him on, though, which is why I need to make a decision. Either end this or go all the way in.

The main reason I said yes to Chris in the first place, aside from his negotiating skills, is because I needed to move on.

I needed to find someone else to fill up the emptiness.

There’s one tiny problem, though. I hadn’t thought that the previous occupier of that spot, Nate, would refuse to leave his place for someone else.

But I’ve been pushing him out gradually. Soon, I’ll get completely rid of him and maybe someone who actually likes me, like Chris, will fill it.

So I type with shaky hands.

Me: Sure!

Chris: Can I come to your house or will your father rearrange my features?

I smile, remembering Dad’s actual threats when Chris thought it was a good idea to pick me up on his bike.

Me: He’s working over the weekend and won’t be home until late. We’re safe.

Chris: Can’t wait to see you, beautiful.

My heart shrinks at that word.


Why does it hurt so much to hear Chris say it? Probably because he’s not the one I want to hear it from.

Yeah, no. I’m not going there.

I go back to picking up the shards of glass when movement outside catches in my peripheral vision.

It can’t be.

I lift my head so fast, I’m surprised I don’t snap a tendon. My eyes track him as he makes his way from the garden to the front door.

It’s him.

It’s really him.


My fingers falter and something stings my skin. I must’ve cut myself on the glass, but I don’t pay attention to it as I stare at the man whose long legs eat up the distance in no time.

Even the way he walks is unique. Only, he doesn’t walk, he strides, always with some sort of purpose. His movements are purposeful, confident, and so damn masculine. Everything about him is manly, hard, and tenacious. It’s present in every line of his face, every flutter of his lashes.

It’s in the way his broad shoulders stretch his tailored black jacket. The put-together look doesn’t fool me, though, because I’m well aware of what lurks beneath it.

Muscles. Whether it’s his chest, abdomen, biceps, or strong thighs. I know because I’ve watched him box with Dad many times, half-naked, and he gave me my first view of male beauty. I’ve seen his cut abdomen and bulging muscles. I’ve seen his fluid movements and quick reflexes.

Young girls my age only have eyes for teenage boys and jocks, but I’ve seen better.

I’ve seen grown-up beauty that only comes with a lot of physical activity and age. And unfortunately for me, nothing can top that anymore. Not the jocks back in high school and definitely not college boys.

Because that’s what they will always be in my eyes. Boys.

The man who’s approaching my house, however, is the definition of masculinity. It’s what those romance novels I read behind Dad’s back talk about.

“Alexa, stop,” I say, putting a halt to my favorite playlist, and slowly turn around, ignoring the droplets of blood streaming from my forefinger. I need to see him when he walks in through the door. I’m not doing anything wrong, okay? I just want to watch him up close.

It’s not a crime.

And I’m totally over him.

I don’t even want to think about why he’s here in the middle of a workday. Nate rarely comes to our house since the kiss two years ago, and when he does, it’s only when I’m not around, and then I have to hear about it from Martha and wallow in misery by eating a shitload of vanilla ice cream.

Yeah, I’m boring that way.

Anyhow, Nate shouldn’t be here when Dad isn’t, and definitely not alone. Is this a trap?

Oh, maybe he knows I’m planning Dad’s birthday and wants to help.

“Where’s Gwyneth?”

My heart jumps at hearing my name in that deep voice of his that always gets me tingly and a bit warm.

He’s asking Martha about me. Me, not my dad. So that means he’s here for me.

Oh, God.

This is bad for my fragile heart. I want to scream that I’m in here, but my voice refuses to come out. Turns out, I don’t need to, because Martha directs him to the kitchen.

I remind myself to breathe as the sound of his strong footsteps echoes through the hall.

You need air, Gwen. Freaking breathe.

It doesn’t work. The breathing part, I mean. Because the moment he steps into the kitchen, he sucks up all the oxygen and leaves me floundering for a taste of air.

Even if it is intoxicated with him.

But the expression on his face makes me pause. Whether it’s my gulping for air or anything really.

I just stop.

Nate has always been a hard man of a few words and a no-nonsense personality. I felt it—breathed it, actually—when I made that reckless decision to kiss him.

But this is the first time I’ve seen his face darkened and his fists clenched. Fists with bruised knuckles as if he hit something solid. That’s rarely happened in all the years he’s boxed with Dad since they’re careful about safety. Or at least, Nate is.

Are you hurt? I want to ask, but the words are stuck in my dry throat, unable to find a way out.

I lost my air and now, my voice, and apparently my motor activity, too, because I’m stuck in place, powerless to move.

“You need to come with me, Gwyneth.”

It’s one sentence. One single sentence, yet I know something is terribly wrong. Nate doesn’t take me anywhere with him.


I grab a piece of glass and press it against my cut forefinger, causing droplets of blood to stain the kitchen floor.




I focus on that and the sting of pain instead of the ominous feeling lurking in the space surrounding us.

“W-where are we going?” I hate the stammer in my voice, but I can’t help it.

Something’s wrong, and I just want to run and hide in a closet.

Maybe sleep there for a while and never come out.

“It’s Kingsley. He had an accident and it’s critical.”

My world tilts off its axis and splinters into bloody pieces.


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