“K.A. Linde never fails. Ever. Read this book!”
—Corinne Michaels, New York Times bestselling author on The Lying Season
A sexy arranged marriage romance from USA Today bestselling author K.A. Linde…
I signed on the dotted line. A marriage contract to seal my union with the devil.
I thought I knew what I was doing. His money and name were mine for the taking. But Camden Percy always gets exactly what he wants. And what he wants is me—my body, my obedience, my surrender.
He wants to break me.
But I’m Katherine Van Pelt. I’ll never break. I’ll never beg. I’ll never give in.
Except I promised him one more thing—a baby. A Percy heir.
There’s no way out of this one. Either I comply or lose everything. Do I risk the husband I’m just learning to love or is this my breaking season?
My patent leather high heels clicked against the hardwood floors. I reached the wall, pivoted, and walked back the length of the room. I was wearing a path in my penthouse.
My phone buzzed. Again.
I still hadn’t answered it. I knew precisely who was messaging me and why.
I still had time to get in a cab and make it to dinner. If I left now, I wouldn’t even be late. And still I paced back the other direction.
A muscle fluttered in my jaw as I heard my phone go off one more time. I stilled, forcing my body to stop its incessant pacing. Then the phone started ringing. I grumbled and wrenched it off of the counter.
“What?” I snapped.
“Happy anniversary to you too, darling,” Camden said silkily on the other line.
A facade. He didn’t care about our anniversary.
“Why do you keep messaging me?” I asked him irritably.
“There’s still time for me to pick you up in the limo.”
“I already said that I’d take a cab.”
He said nothing. Didn’t even sigh. Gave not the slightest bit of notice that he was frustrated with my attitude. But today was not my day. Today was the one year anniversary of our arranged marriage. I couldn’t act like it was anything else even if he could.
“I don’t see the need,” he finally said.
“I will meet you at the restaurant,” I barely got out.
“You will be there, correct?” His voice was low and guttural as if it irked him that he even had to ask.
“I just said that I would.”
Though I had thought of every available excuse to get out of it, including sneaking onto Lark’s private jet and heading down to the Caribbean a few days early. But I knew none of them would pass muster. Camden would just meet me at the resort and be furious with me. And I knew what would happen from there. What always happened when his temper flared.
Heat ran up my throat and I touched my fingers to it.
“I’ll be there,” I said a little breathlessly.
“Good. Don’t be late,” he growled before hanging up.
“Fucker,” I snapped back at him.
I wouldn’t be late, but fuck, did I want to. No, I didn’t want to go at all. I knew what this whole fucking pretense was about. Why he’d scheduled this dinner and forced me to stay behind while my friends darted off to sun and sand and frozen drinks with little umbrellas.
One year ago, I’d agreed to be his wife.
This year, he wanted everything else I’d signed away.
Time for me to live up to my end of the bargain.
I released a breath and forced my face back to neutral. This wasn’t who I was. I didn’t run. I was Katherine Van Pelt. Sexy, fierce, and formidable. Not even the likes of Camden Percy could make me waver.
It was just dinner.
A stupid fucking dinner.
It didn’t mean that I had to give into his demands. I never gave in. Well…not anymore. There had been a moment, barely even a moment if I was honest, when I’d thought that this marriage could work. I’d gone to the Maldives for our honeymoon, thinking it would be the worst month of my life. We’d come back changed.
I shook my head. I didn’t want to think about the past. A few months where we didn’t want to kill each other didn’t mean that this was going to work as a marriage. Not how I’d thought in those days. No, this was arranged. We had the contract and prenup to prove it. No point thinking about what could have been. Not with the present circumstances.
Which meant that I was going to this dinner as a formality. A courtesy really.
Camden Percy didn’t care about me. Not more than anything else he’d purchased with his billion dollar fortune. I wouldn’t forget it again.
I stuffed my phone into my black patent leather Hermés bag, double-checked my ruby red lipstick, and headed for the door. With my armor in place, I left my apartment ready to handle myself in this shit show. Just like everything always was with Camden.
Traffic was a nightmare. Thank god I wasn’t stuck in Camden’s limo. Though I didn’t much prefer the taxi either. My foot tapped impatiently on the floor of the cab as I texted with Lark.
Miss you already!
Below that message was a picture of Lark, English, and Whitley in bikinis doing shots poolside. Bitches.
Stop having fun without me!
Enjoy your anniversary dinner. We’ll see you soon.
Soon. But not soon enough. Not only did I have to endure this dinner. I’d already agreed to do Christmas Eve dinner with Camden’s family. I couldn’t think of something that I liked less, but Camden had insisted. So, I was going.
Finally, the cab pulled up in front of the building. Prime was located on the thirty-fifth floor with impeccable views of Manhattan and the most expensive steak in the city. Camden had taken me here on our first “date.” The rich interior and three hundred dollar bottle of wine hadn’t convinced me that this wasn’t a business deal any more than it did today. I was just a new sort of client for him. A new challenge.
I headed inside, bypassing the man at the front who greeted me. I already knew which table Camden would claim. The one where we were most visible.
And there he was.
He was seated at the center table against the floor to ceiling glass. The panoramic view was stunning. Nearly as stunning as my husband.
He was pure control. It was outlined in every inch of his Savile Row suit. The broad sweeps of his shoulders, the tight lines of his muscular thighs, the sharp cut of the suit to his narrow waist. His hand cradled a glass of red wine with all the delicacy of a new born baby, but I knew that his proclivities leaned toward destruction rather than comfort.
I forced myself to keep moving as his keen eyes landed on me in my skin-tight black Elizabeth Cunningham dress. They crawled over my long lean legs, my slim hips, waist, and perfectly perky fake breasts, the best money could buy. Then finally, finally to my face.
He was blank. I wondered what he saw when he looked at me. What went on in that head of his. He was calculated and strategic in every aspect of his life. But I never actually knew what he was thinking. He never yielded an inch. Not now either.
He stood when I reached him and wrapped a possessive arm around my waist. “You made it,” he said as he pressed a kiss to my cheek.
I swallowed. “I said I’d be here.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “It’s new.”
“I like it.”
I stepped out of his grasp. What was he playing at? I couldn’t read him. I had no idea if he was just making fun of me. He’d made fun of my shopping habit enough over the last year. I didn’t need it on the night of our anniversary, too.
“Sit,” he commanded, gesturing to the table. “I ordered your favorite wine.”
The sommelier appeared then to pour me a glass, and it was my favorite. I was surprised. He didn’t normally bother. Just let me order for myself. Usually vodka because being in his presence after the shit from the last year was excruciating in so many ways. I wondered what the catch was.
“You’re late,” he said after the sommelier left.
“Traffic.” I raised one shoulder and glanced down at my menu. A hundred dollar steak sounded appetizing with mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese. My stomach grumbled, but I ignored it. Too many carbs. I’d be sick as a dog if I ate any of that.
“I could have picked you up.”
“We’ve already been through this,” I said, scanning the menu for the salads.
The waiter appeared then with a warm smile to take their order.
“I’ll take the 28-day aged dry rub rib eye, medium-rare, with béarnaise sauce,” Camden ordered without even looking at the menu. “Scallop potatoes and green beans.”
“Yes, sir. Excellent,” the waiter said, taking his menu. “And you, Miss?”
“Greek salad. Dressing on the side.”
I offered up the menu. Camden eyes smoldered.
“A salad?” he asked.
I shrugged. “I’m not that hungry.”
He looked up at the waiter. “Bring her a steak too.”
“Yes, sir,” he said before departing.
“I don’t need you to order for me,” I growled.
“You need to eat. You look like you lost more weight.”
I rolled my eyes and flung my hair over a shoulder, taking a long sip of my wine. “Most people think that’s a good thing, Camden. I’ve been working out with this new trainer. It’s clearly paying off.”
“Well, I’m sure your trainer will tell you that you need to eat more calories to make up for the deficit.”
“I do protein shakes,” I said dismissively.
“You know I didn’t come here for you to be an ass about my eating habits,” I said evenly.
“Fine,” he snarled.
The conversation lapsed as we waited for our food. But I helped myself to more wine. I was into my third glass, feeling the first hints of a buzz when our food showed up. I accepted the salad first and let them put the steak down next to it. It did look good, but fuck, it was so much food. No way was I going to finish that.
“Are you excited about the resort?” Camden asked, breaking the silence.
“Yes,” I said flatly. “I’d already be here if I wasn’t here.”
Camden’s face hardened into stone. “Poor thing.”
“I’m almost used to it.”
“Could you cut the attitude for one night, Katherine?”
“Me?” I asked with a half laugh, stabbing my fork into my salad.
“Yes, you. Do we have to fight each other through this entire dinner? Can we not just enjoy yourselves?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know, Camden. Can we? Have we ever?”
“We did in the Maldives.”
I pointed my fork at him. “That was different and you know it.”
“Why does it have to be?”
“You know why,” I ground out.
“Because you ran back to Penn?” he spat.
I stopped breathing. “And you ran back to Fiona,” I challenged. “I haven’t forgotten Halloween.”
“Why don’t we just eat before the food gets cold? Save our cheery disposition for later.”
Camden lapsed into silence as he dug into his steak. The bloody thing looking like something he’d massacred in his rage rather than something that he should be eating. But the turn of the conversation just made me feel sicker. I didn’t touch the steak just picked around at my salad. I’d lost my appetite.
Silence lingered as our plates were cleared.
“Dessert?” the waiter asked eagerly.
“I’ll pass,” I said.
His jaw clenched. “No. Just the check.”
“As you wish, sir.”
“I thought that you liked their bread pudding,” Camden said.
“I just couldn’t stomach the carbs.” I shrugged. “Next time.”
Camden paid the check while I polished off our third bottle of wine. I was feeling good now. This dinner wasn’t half as bad I’d thought. Not that I thought the night was going to get better from here.
I set down my empty glass and began to rise, but Camden halted me. “Wait.”
I sank back down and arched my eyebrows.
Camden reached into his suitcoat and pulled out a small navy blue box with the letters HW on the front. Harry Winston. Shit.
I froze in place, going as still as a statue.
“Happy anniversary,” he said, sliding it across the table to me.
“Open it and find out.”
I didn’t reach for it.
“Why did you get me something?”
“Because we’ve been married a year,” he said evenly. “Now, open it.”
His command sent a shiver through me, and I tentatively reached out for the box. I had no idea why he was giving me this. We’d never exchanged gifts before. Not on birthdays. Not for our wedding. Not for anything. I hadn’t been expecting a gift. Did it come with strings?
I popped the lid. Inside was a pair of obscenely large diamond earrings. They each featured a central diamond with smaller diamonds haloing around the center and then five tear drop shaped diamonds winged out across the bottom like feathers. They were gorgeous and must have cost a small fortune. I should have swooned over them. Instead, my stomach tightened and I felt the chains of our binding even further.
“Why?” was the only word I got out.
“I saw them and thought of you.”
I shook my head. “You do nothing that isn’t out of your own self-interest. I know who I married…and why.”
His eyes hardened. “You don’t accept them?”
“I want to know what strings are attached.”
“Why must you be difficult?”
“You knew who you married, too,” I shot back.
He said nothing for a moment as if considering and then deciding to move forward. A deliberate calculated move. Like everything he did. “I thought we could…discuss what comes next in our relationship.”
I swallowed. “What comes next…”
“We’ve been married a year, Katherine.”
“I know how long we’ve been married,” I said, clenching the box in my hands.
I knew what he was going to say. The one thing that he truly wanted from me out of this arrangement. More than the linking of our two powerful names. More than submission in the bedroom. More than his desire to break me completely.
“I want us to have a baby.”