on September 30, 2014
Being pulled in different directions, Amara must choose what she wants to believe and whom she'll trust.
“Feature Friday” is a new feature on our blog focusing on sneak peeks into upcoming new releases. For our first Feature Friday, we would like to give you a sneak peek into The Sinner’s Bargain by Claire Contreras releasing on September 30th. For those who have not read book 1 in the series, The Devil’s Contract, make sure to enter the giveaway for an ebook copy of this book as well as an ARC of The Sinner’s Bargain. Good luck!!!
The word “own” stayed on Amara’s mind long after it left Colin’s mouth. He made her repeat them back to him, as if he needed an affirmation of what he already knew. It didn’t sit right with Amara. When you own a pet, you’re promising to look after them, feed them when they’re hungry, make sure they’re okay. In exchange for this, animals are loyal to you. That was one of the reasons Amara had an issue with his sudden feeling of ownership toward her. Humans are fickle beings. We take what’s given to us with very little intent of giving back.
“You’re scaring me,” Amara whispered, trying to hold the tears in as he glared at her. He’d already made it clear that he didn’t believe they were real tears; that she couldn’t possible care about him if she’d lied and left him the way she did.
“Am I?” he asked with a rueful chuckle she’d never heard from him before. His eyes were dark and slightly narrowed on hers, as if he was trying to figure out who the woman in front of him was. As if he hadn’t known her his entire life. As if they hadn’t shared a bed together countless times.
“Why am I here?” she asked looking around at the apartment she’d walked into not knowing what to expect. The only thing she knew was that Samuel had sent her here, to him.
Colin smiled and stepped away, tucking his hands into his pockets. His wavy hair was unruly, past his ears, longer than he usually had it. When his right hand sneaked out of his pocket again, it was to scrub over the days old beard he had on his face. He looked like a mess, a refined mess, but still a mess.
“I hired Samuel to get you here. I’ve jumped through hoops to get you here, Amara,” he said, turning his back on her as he walked toward the bar on the far side of the living room. “And here you are.” He turned, signaling at her, at the apartment. “You’ll stay here as long as you’re in New York, and you’ll be here permanently. I’ve made sure of that.”
Amara began to wobble slightly on her heels. She placed her hands flat on the surface of the cold floor to ceiling window behind her wondering what would happen if it cracked beneath the pressure. Would she fall or would she soar? She kept her eyes on Colin, the boy who’d saved her from boring family barbeques. The kid who propositioned her in college. The man who owned her heart. But he wasn’t Colin, not hers anyway, not the easy to love, charming man she knew not that long ago. This guy had a darkness in him that wasn’t there before.
“Why?” she asked. The word was a dry whisper, a half-muted croak.
He shook his head, his hair falling into his eyes. “I’m not here to answer any questions. You either work for me or you work for Philip. The way I see it, you’re better off working for me.”
“That’s not how this works. I don’t work for Philip. I owe Philip. I’m indebted to him. Under contract. There are lives at stake if I don’t repay.” Her voice was surprisingly steady when she answered. Clearly channeling her mom, remembering the state she was in was giving her the strength she needed.
“It’s done with! I paid him. You don’t owe him anything anymore. You’ll be assisting me in Wolfe starting Monday morning and you’ll be staying here.”
She knew she wasn’t done with Philip. There was no way. But when Amara opened her mouth to say that she closed it. Colin was walking toward her with a look that stunned her silent. He reached her in three long strides. Her chest began to work against itself, struggling on whether to breathe or not. When the scent of his cologne hit her, she focused on not breathing it in too much. It was the one the Colin she knew always wore, and the man in front of her was a stranger. Everything about their encounter felt wrong, even as her stomach dipped in anticipation when his fingers tilted her chin up.
“I’m watching you.” He let go of her and inched his face to her, letting his breath fan over her cheek. “I’m watching everything,” he whispered beside her ear. “We’re going to do this my way now.”
The squeaking sound of the bedroom door opening made Amara aware of his presence. She’d learned to sleep lightly, always expecting his unannounced visits. Squinting her eyes as unwanted light from the living room seeped in, she propped herself up on her elbows.
“What now?” she croaked, seeing Colin’s figure approach her bed.
He thought it was his prerogative to visit her at any time he liked. Because according to him, he could do with her as he pleased. He hadn’t touched her, though. It had been one week and he still hadn’t touched her. She wasn’t sure if to be upset or thrilled about that, but the uneasiness didn’t last very long. Amara had bigger things to worry about, like her mother’s health and the fact that she still had to go to Wicked, Méchant’s American company without Colin finding out.
It wasn’t the fairytale she’d dreamed up for herself when she thought about being with him again. Probably because she wasn’t with him at all. It was more like she existed in his world, but nothing else.
“Just checking to see if you’re still here,” Colin responded to her when he reached the foot of the bed and sat down heavily.
“Where would I go?” she asked, leaning up on her elbows to look at him. Even though she couldn’t see him in the dark, she saw his shrugging movement.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure what women that sell their bodies for money are in the habit of doing,” he said. His tone was lighter now, but still had that bite to it that made her cringe.
“Maybe you should go home and ask Molly.”
Colin was quiet for a while. “Why did you do it? Why didn’t you ask me for help if you needed it?”
Amara sighed and plopped back on her pillow. She could smell the alcohol and cigar smoke in his breath. The only time he wasn’t hostile toward her was when he was drunk, which was often enough, especially at night. She probably shouldn’t answer him, it’s not like he actually cared, but she did nonetheless.
“Things aren’t always what they seem, Colin. You of all people should know that.”
He shook his head, exhaling loudly. “We used to tell each other everything, Amara.”
“Not everything. Not really.”
His words and the honesty his maple eyes flashed as he spoke left her speechless. She thought about them as teenagers, about their conversations, about college and the way he called her at odd hours just to talk, and she realized that maybe she did tell him more things than not. She had told him about Philip, after all, just not the whole truth. It’s not like she knew the gravity of the situation back then. Still, she wondered, had she known, would she have told Colin? Or would she have kept him in the dark? He was safer there, in the dark. Amara, however, needed all the light she could get, and she knew Colin could shed some on her.
“Well, I’m sorry. I couldn’t just ask for help. It’s complicated. Why did you look for me?” she asked, her amber eyes meeting his.
“I didn’t.” he said, averting his gaze to the comforter he was plucking at distractedly. “I was really, really drunk one night, sitting in my dad’s old office, my sudden new one. I’d opened up dad’s favorite bottle of bourbon just staring at everything and starting looking through his bookmarks. I saw Méchant’s website come up and noticed he’d been there a lot, so I clicked. I thought it was porn and like I said, I was drunk. I became intrigued, followed the links, asked for an exotic beauty as a joke, because I mean come on, an exotic beauty…” He huffed out a laugh and shook his head. Amara studied him as he closed his eyes and conjured the memory. “I had already moved on and was looking at other things when they replied and sent your information. Lousy, bullshit information, they described the total opposite of what you are. I almost turned the computer off, but then I saw the name… Jasmine Oliver.” He said the name on a breath, as if it were something pure to be untarnished. “At first I thought it was a bad joke, Jasmine Oliver, then I thought it was fate. But when I saw your photo… I knew. I just knew. “ When his eyes snapped back to hers they were sober and serious. “I’d know your eyes anywhere, Amara.”
Colin scooted closer to where she lay and she held her breath, trying not to break the moment.
“I felt like I’d been punched right in the heart when I saw that picture. The next day I started looking around, asking people what they knew about the company. At first I found out very little, but Méchant became this thing, this escape I became obsessed with. I had all of this responsibility thrown on me from one day to the next. My dad’s companies, my mom hounding me to marry, and then there was Jasmine Oliver, the girl I could pretend I was somebody else with.”
“So that’s what you were, somebody else?” she asked quietly.
“Scoot over,” he said, and she did. He lay beside her, over the covers, careful not to touch her. She wondered if it was his way of hurting her, because it was totally working in that favor.
“I did feel like I lost a wife when I lost you, that wasn’t a lie,” he whispered as his fingers found hers over the covers.
“I’m sorry.” Her heart throbbed in her throat as she said the words.
They lay in silence, fingers intertwined, for a long time until he finally spoke again.
“When I got my dad’s other half of the will, the one they wouldn’t read in front of my mom… and in it I got the Méchant papers. I didn’t know what to make of it. At first I was angry, so fucking angry that my dad owned this whorehouse and my ex-girlfriend, the love of my fucking life was working there. It killed me.” He paused to sigh and Amara shut her eyes tightly at the pain in his voice. “When I saw you in New Orleans I practically begged you to tell me the truth, Amara. I needed you to confirm it then. I think I would have forgiven you if you had.”
“But I didn’t,” she dared to whisper.
“But you didn’t,” he said, letting go of her hand abruptly.
“And now you’re marrying another woman.”
Colin sat up quickly and chuckled. “Are your feelings hurt, Amara? Does it bother you to know that I’m with another woman? That I’ll be sharing a bed with her for the rest of my life?” Amara’s eyes flashed to his back, broad and slouched over, before she shut them, willing his words away. “I remember giving you a choice. It could have been you! I need to be married before my birthday and who I marry doesn’t matter, so yes, I am marrying another woman. If that hurts you, the only person you can blame is yourself.”
Her heart was being used as a sharpening tool, but she refused to give in to the tears building in her eyes. Not while he was there to witness them and call them fake.
“Do you want to know what else I’ll own once I marry?” he asked.
“I’m not sure that I should know.”
“Lotus,” he said anyway.
“What? How in the world did you end up with my dad’s company?” she asked, utterly shocked as she sat up. Colin angled his body to look at her.
“Apparently he came to an agreement with my dad at some point. I guess when his gambling became an issue. You know who owns thirty percent of the shares?”
“Philip,” she grumbled.
“No, he owns way less than that, he owns what your dad would own.” Colin’s voice was drenched in amusement and even in the dark Amara could tell his eyes were set in a crinkling smile. He was having fun at her expense, and that was one thing she would have never seen coming.
“How?” she asked once she found her voice again.
Colin shook his head, making a tsk sound as he stood from the bed. “There are a lot of things you don’t know. I can be here all night enlightening that clouded brain of yours.” She began to stand up when she realized he was walking toward the door, but stopped when he threw his parting words over his shoulder. “But I won’t. My fiancé’s waiting for me at home.”
Amara sat back, exhaling and closing her eyes at the sting she felt. She knew he wanted to hurt her. She was capable of understanding that he was doing it purposely, but rationalizing it didn’t lessen the blow.
♥SERIES READING ORDER♥
The Devil’s Contract