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Empire of Desire: Chapter 8


“Do you have any fucking idea what you’re doing?”

I sigh for the thousandth time today and face my nephew—the source of the unnecessary question.

“He does,” Aspen tells him with her usual assertiveness.

The three of us are standing near City Hall, ignoring the people buzzing around us, and focusing on the time. Or I’m probably the only one who’s having an unhealthy obsession with my watch.

Gwyneth is twenty minutes late.

Surely there’s a reason behind her tardiness. She’s never been the type who’s late to appointments. Or irresponsible.

Though it’s true that getting married only five days after her father’s accident isn’t a normal situation, it’s not like we have time. The sooner she gives me power of attorney, the easier I can stop Susan’s moves. Because she’s plotting them as we speak. I made calls, talked to judges, and I know about the subpoenas her lawyer is trying to file. I can only ward her off for so long before I run out of options.

Time isn’t on our side, which is the reason behind the hasty marriage.

I stare at my watch again, then at the unanswered phone calls I made. Maybe she needs more time for what girls do when they get married. Though I told her it would be a simple ceremony so we could get to the next step. Nothing fancy. Nothing for her to get ready for.

But this is Gwyneth. The dreamy-looking, chameleon-eyed Gwyneth. She probably had plans for her wedding day. Most girls do. And they certainly don’t want to imagine it as an ordinary event during a workday, where each of us will go back to our respective worlds right after.

Because that’s what will happen. No one will know about this marriage unless it’s absolutely necessary. Like the two witnesses I brought with me. Though I only need one, it’s safer to have both so that if one of them can’t testify, the other can.

After all, this marriage is purely a formality. Something to use in court. Nothing more, nothing less. She can save her girlhood dreams about marriage for her next one.

“It still doesn’t make sense,” Sebastian, my nephew, says.

My jaw tics and I don’t know if it’s because of his words or my earlier thoughts.

“What part of I need power of attorney do you not understand, Rascal?”

He stares at me funny, like when he used to want to hit someone but knew he had to reel it in. But he wouldn’t normally direct that gaze at me, so maybe he does want to hit me.

Sebastian is ten years younger than me and the only person I consider family. My parents don’t count. They’re already dead in my mind.

The day he decided to follow my path instead of taking after my father’s corruption-smudged politics, I felt a sense of accomplishment I never have before. As if my existence had meaning all along.

“She could’ve given you power of attorney without the marriage part.”

“It’s the community property part that matters more. She already signed the contract that says our assets will be jointly owned after marriage, which will give me a strong standing in court.”

“And he won’t have to worry about her wandering off to God knows where.” Aspen steps to my side.

She wasn’t a big fan of the marriage idea herself, but like me, she understands that we need to do it in order to protect Weaver & Shaw. Despite the fact that we haven’t properly processed King’s accident.

Or, I haven’t processed it. Aspen couldn’t care less about him; her sole concern is the firm’s best interest.

As for myself, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to consider him gone.

So I shove that thought to the back of my mind. It’s crowded with all the unnecessary things—things that don’t keep the train moving forward.

Sebastian leans against his car and crosses his legs at the ankles. Sometimes it feels as if I’m looking at his father, Nicholas. Another person my parents stole away from me because of their assholish behavior.

His hair is a lighter blond, though, like his mother. One more person to add to the list of people who disappeared because of the Weaver power couple.

That’s what they call my parents in the media—a power couple.

Destructive couple suits them better.

“I just feel bad for Gwen,” he says, and I resist the urge to smash him against his car—and I never fantasize about hurting my own nephew.

But hearing him use her nickname sits wrong with me. Very wrong. In fact, it’s so wrong that I don’t even like to think about the reasons behind it.

Yes, Sebastian has met her a few times, and surprisingly, they get along, but the nickname is still off. It’s blazing red alerts in my head.

I stand to my full height, but he’s oblivious to that and to the rigidness of my body, when I ask, “Why do you pity her?”

“Why do you think?” He juts his chin in my direction. “Because she’ll be stuck with you.”

“And that’s a problem because?”

“Aside from the fact that you and dear Aspen here are using her for the firm, hmm. Let me think.” He grins like the little bastard he is. “Oh, you’re cold, stiff, and will suck her soul into a black hole of no return.”

I grind my teeth and he must notice my body language this time since he throws his hands in the air. “Hey, you’re my uncle and all, but I’m not going to lie or sugarcoat shit for you. That’s what you taught me, remember?”

“Shut up, Sebastian.” Aspen shakes her head at him with a slight tap of her foot and a flip of her hair.

“You don’t get an opinion on this since you’re his accomplice, Aspen. Hello? Conflict of interest, anyone?”

“Then do you suggest we let go of our work and focus on Kingsley’s thousand pending cases instead? Do you want to lose your job at the firm, Sebastian? Right, that wouldn’t matter since you’re a rich boy from a prestigious family and your senator grandpa can find you another job, maybe even help you open your own firm. But how about the hundred others whose living depends on us, huh? Do we send them to your granddaddy, too, or do we take the most logical route with less hassle? Come on, you’re supposed to be smart. Which choice makes more sense?”

Sebastian doesn’t move a muscle at her calmly spoken words. It’s like she’s delivering a closing argument. She’s always precise and to the point. Scathing, too. Which is the reason she’s a lonely soul; no one can handle her.

I expect Sebastian to come back with his own retort, because my parents raised him to always have the last word. But he just says, “The choice where Gwen doesn’t need to sacrifice herself days after her father—and only family, might I add—had a deadly accident.”

My fist clenches so hard, I’m surprised a tendon doesn’t snap.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about since I made this decision but still came up empty-handed about another option.

“If you don’t want to be here, leave,” I say casually, with barely any emotion, ignoring the bright, hot feeling burning inside me.

I check my watch again.

Thirty minutes.

It’s been a whole thirty minutes and she still hasn’t shown up.

Maybe she wanted to doll up, after all. I can imagine her in her princess room trying on one thing after the other.

Or maybe…

I dial her number again and it goes straight to voicemail.

My alerts go up and I try again. When there’s no response, I call King’s house. Martha picks up after a few beeps. “Hello?”

“It’s me. Nathaniel. Is Gwyneth there?”

“She left about two hours ago, said she was meeting you at City Hall.”

Fuck. Fuck!

Something hot and furious wraps a noose around my neck as the ominous feeling I experienced this morning rises from the background and fills the horizon. It’s red now—the horizon, my vision, the entire fucking scene.

I loosen my tie. “Did you check her room, Martha? How about the wine cellar? The closets? Plural.”

“She got into her car and left, sir.”

“Did you see her? Are you sure?”

“Yes, I did. I even gave her a water bottle so she could stay hydrated.” She hesitates, her voice dropping a little. “Is something the matter?”

Yes, something’s the fucking matter. If she left two hours ago, she should’ve been here a long time ago.

A thousand scenarios explode in my head, none of them pleasant. In fact, each one is more dangerous than the previous, bloodier, uglier.

I ask Martha to call me if Gwyneth returns and then hang up.

When Kingsley had an accident, I suspected this would happen. I just knew that she’d somehow be too overwhelmed and would do what she does best.

But I saw her talk to Susan like she owned the world. I saw the determination and the need to protect her father at all costs and that blurred my vision, in a way. It blurred my vision of who Gwyneth actually is and what she does.

She hides.

She goes in so deep that it’s impossible to find her unless she crawls out of whatever hideout spot she’s in. And something tells me she doesn’t want to be found right now.

My hand flexes around the phone and I curse under my breath.

But I will fix it.

I will find her.

I’ll make Gwyneth visible.


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