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Empire of Desire: Chapter 5


Gwyneth falls asleep.

After so much struggle and standing for hours in front of Kingsley’s room, she lost the physical battle and slumped over on one of the chairs in the waiting area.

I told her that she could go home, but she vehemently shook her head, pulled her knees to her chest, and closed her eyes.

Which is why she’s about to fall forward.

I place a finger on her forehead and push her back so she doesn’t hit the ground. It’s light contact, only a damn finger, and yet it feels as if my skin has caught fire and the flames are now extending to the rest of my body.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have let her hug me. Or I should’ve pushed her away sooner. Because now, even a mere touch brings back memories of her body pressed up against my chest.

Her slender body that I can’t stop thinking about how small it is compared to mine.

I clench my fist and close my eyes to chase away the haze. It doesn’t work. Because even though she’s out of view, her scent clings to me as stubbornly as its owner.

Vanilla was never my thing—in anything. And yet, it’s the one thing I’m able to smell.

When I’ve made sure she won’t drop, I release her. She falls sideways on the chair, still hugging her knees to her chest in some sort of self-comfort.

“Dad…” she murmurs in her sleep, a tear sliding down her cheek.

After all the crying she did earlier, one would think she doesn’t have any tears left, but grief works in mysterious ways. Maybe she’ll never stop crying. Maybe this event will change the life she knew up to this point.

It sure as fuck is making dents into my own.

I remove my jacket and place it on her. It’s supposed to be a single motion, but I’m caught off guard. Again.

Her hand reaches for mine and she grabs it in a steel-like hold, even though her eyes remain shut.

“Don’t go…”

The haunted murmur is packed with so much pain and heartbreak. Maybe it’s a plea, maybe this is her begging like she did earlier.

This is why I don’t like seeing Gwyneth and have done everything in my power to make her as invisible as possible for the past two years.

She’s no longer the innocent little kid I’ve known all her life, though the innocence is still there. She’s not the child who asked me to hide things from her father because she didn’t want to hurt him.

All that stopped when she stopped acting like a kid—toward me, at least.

She has a way of worming herself into any armor, no matter how solid and apparently impenetrable it might seem. She doesn’t even use brute force. Her methods are soft, innocent, uncoordinated even.

I wish it was a tactic or that she was being cunning. I would’ve recognized that and put an end to it accordingly. The most dooming part is that it’s genuine fucking determination.

She takes after King in that department. Just like him, she won’t stop until she gets what she wants. It doesn’t matter how many times I push her away, she dusts herself off and slips back in.

If I make her invisible, she just flips the switch back on and glows brighter than before.

If I ignore her, she still stands out with her small body, colorful eyes, and fucking vanilla scent.

A strand of her fiery hair sticks to her forehead, nearly going into her eyes. I reach a hand out to remove it, even though I shouldn’t be touching her.

Even if touching her means walking through fire and knowing exactly how I will burn.

And for a moment, that doesn’t matter.

Just one moment. One second in time. The consequences blur and my savage instinct takes over.

When I was younger, I relied on that instinct to score clients, win cases, and get to the top. My instinct is one of my most valued assets. It tells no lies and always sees ahead before my mind can catch up.

But right now, it’s impulsive, lacking its usual coolness. Because, fuck no, I’m not supposed to ignore the consequences. I’m not supposed to give in to whatever demon is rearing his head from the depths of my soul.

And yet, I am. I’m letting it guide my actions.

One touch.

One second.


“There you are.”

I retract my hand, inhaling deeply before I turn around to face the source of the voice.


She’s my only friend aside from Kingsley. We share ambition and a no-nonsense personality. Everyone at the firm calls her my strategist because she’s not afraid to use unconventional methods to get things done.

I should be thankful that she put a halt to an impulsive moment, but the exact opposite emotion lurks in my veins.

Aspen’s sharp hazel eyes slide from me to Gwyneth before landing on me again. “Are there any updates on Kingsley?”

I place a forefinger to my lips. The last thing I want is for Gwyneth to wake up and have another meltdown. So I motion at Aspen to follow me down the hall. Once we’re out of view and earshot, I tell her about the situation.

She leans against the wall and crosses her arms over her dark blue tailored jacket as she listens to every detail with keen interest. If there’s anything I’m sure that Aspen will always have, it’s her attention to detail.

“So this leaves only you at the head of Weaver & Shaw,” she says when I’m done.

“He could wake up.”

“You don’t believe that, Nate.”

I don’t. I’m practical enough to know that we’ve probably lost him for good. But admitting it out loud is similar to punching my own gut, so I don’t say it.

“How about his little princess?” she asks, and even though she’d normally say it in a condescending manner, she doesn’t now.

Aspen has never shied away from going for Kingsley’s throat, proving to have a temper that matches her red hair. She usually doesn’t agree with his reckless ways since she’s more methodical, like I am.

And he’s never liked the fact that she earned her place as a senior partner and he couldn’t kick her out if he wanted to. Not that I would let him. Aspen is an asset to the firm and she’s been a pillar in my life ever since I stole her from another firm and convinced her to join me and Kingsley in our new endeavors.

I lean against the wall and cross my ankles. “What about her?”

“With Kingsley gone, she’ll be in over her head. Surely, you know that his stepmother will use this chance to strike in court.”

“We’ll represent Gwyneth and keep things as they are.”

“Even if you personally take the case, there’s no way Susan will come out of this empty-handed. Gwyneth can’t touch her inheritance or trust fund until she’s twenty-one. That’s a whole year for Susan to demand the house and shares of the firm. She’ll have a leg to stand on, too, since Kingsley made his father’s will null and void. Because he used his father’s money for Weaver & Shaw’s capital, she can sue for her husband’s shares that Kingsley inherited. Not to mention that she’ll be up against a girl who can’t touch her money yet. And before you suggest it, yes, we can stall in court, but considering all of Susan and Kingsley’s legal battles in the past, I say Gwyneth doesn’t stand a chance. She doesn’t have her father’s legal experience, revenge spirit, or ruthlessness. She’ll be eaten alive by Susan.”

I want to disagree, but I can’t. Aspen is right. Kingsley’s lawsuits against Susan were fueled by pure spite. He hated her and was out to destroy her. Gwyneth doesn’t share her father’s feelings about Susan, so even if we represented her, there’s no telling how it would go.

Not to mention that the fight could last forever and would cause her emotional damage in the long run.

“Susan could take shares of the firm, Nate.” Aspen insists on that point, staring me in the eye. “The same shares Kingsley inherited from his father are up for grabs now that the will has no standing in court.”

“Like fuck she can.”

“Exactly. Which is why you need to take the whole matter in your hands.”

I pause, recognizing the glint in her eyes. “What are you suggesting?”

“In a few days, we can have the doctor announce that Kingsley isn’t likely to get his functions back. We can’t process his will since he’s not dead, but thankfully, he already signed documentation that makes Gwyneth the executive of the estate in the event that he gets incapacitated. As soon as she has control of his assets, make her sell the shares to you.”


“She trusts you and wouldn’t question you. This is the best solution to keep the firm out of greedy hands. If you have a crushing majority instead of the fifty percent you own, then Susan wouldn’t even dare to go against you or demand anything.”

“Are you hearing yourself, Aspen? You’re telling me to gain full ownership of Weaver & Shaw at the expense of taking advantage of my friend’s only fucking daughter.”

She throws a dismissive hand in the air. “She’s still a kid and knows nothing about managing a law firm. You can return it to her later if she proves herself worthy, but we both know she’s only an inexperienced pre-law student who barely understands how the world works. You can’t possibly be thinking about leaving anything in her hands, are you?”

“No, but I’m not betraying King’s trust either.”

“He’s in a coma, Nate.”

“Which makes me more of a lowlife if I stab him in the back.”

“You’re not. You’re simply protecting both your assets.”

“By taking advantage of his state and using his daughter?”


“No, Aspen. That option is out of the question and that’s final.”

Her brows furrow but soon return to normal. She knows me better than to argue with me on this. I might be a bastard, but I have my own set of principles that nothing and no one would touch or change.

“What are you going to do then, Nate?”

I release a breath, loosen my tie, and focus on my train brain. That’s what my father called it, a train brain, because once it’s moving, there’s no stopping it or reversing. Not for any reason.

“Let me think about it.”

She narrows her eyes and taps her foot on the floor. “Is there something I don’t know about?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Such as your jacket covering her or your hand reaching out for her, maybe. You don’t do that, not even with the women you sleep with.”

Of course Aspen saw that and stored it in her eidetic memory. She doesn’t forget anything, so I have no clue why I thought she would let that slide.

“Gwyneth isn’t a woman I fuck, Aspen. She’s King’s daughter and she just learned that her father might not wake up.”

“That’s all?”

I nod, but I don’t voice the fucking lie. The words burn in my throat and it’s impossible to let them out, so I swallow them down with their blood.

Aspen still watches me peculiarly, but she says, “In that case, think fast. We don’t have time to waste.”

I’m more aware of that than anyone. Time is never on our side in these types of situations. Which is why I need to act fast.

I don’t want to entertain the idea forming loud and clear in my head, but even I know that it’s the most logical thing to do.

Despite the fact that it doesn’t make sense on so many levels.


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