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Desperate Measures (Wicked Villains #1)
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My Savior… Or My Ruin?
One night, and my entire life went up in flames. All because of him. Jafar. As my world burned down around me, he offered me a choice. Walk away with nothing but my freedom… Or rise to his challenge and win my fortune back.
Now Jafar owns me, and even as my mind rails against his rules, my body loves the punishments he deals out when I break them.
But a gilded cage is still a prison, I’ll do anything to obtain my freedom.
Even betray the man I’m falling for.
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Even if I’d been sleeping, the creak of my bedroom door would have startled me into awareness. No one comes into my room at night. Not my father. Certainly none of the men he insists on keeping in our house. Not even the ghost of my poor dead mother dares wander theses halls after hours.
It simply isn’t done.
My feet ache from hours’ worth of pacing, my chest aches worse from the heart pain my father delivered earlier. Another betrayal after a lifetime of them shouldn’t be enough to keep sleep from me, but this most recent hurt weighs heavier than most.
He sold me.
Oh, he didn’t call it as such. He called it a merger secured by marriage. A meeting of two wealthy families with ties to the criminal underbelly everyone in this mausoleum of a house pretends doesn’t exist. I touch my face, the most persistent of my pains, the only one anchored in the physical instead of emotional. When I’d asked him what price his daughter brought, he’d struck me.
My mouth always had gotten me into trouble.
I slip into the deep shadows near my vanity as a man steps through the doorway and into my room. I can’t make out his features in the low light, but it doesn’t matter. He shouldn’t be here. Perhaps my father thinks to send my betrothed to ensure I won’t protest the marriage.
He’ll get what he deserves.
I barely dare to breathe and reach for the letter opener I’d left on my vanity. It is sharp and pretty, and it will serve my purpose as well as anything else.
The man moves on soundless feet toward my bed. If I need further evidence of his intention, I have it. He is no innocent, wandering into the wrong room—though nothing like that had ever happened before. He is here for me.
I will not go quietly.
I wait until he is several steps past me before I lunge. He’s too tall for me to reliably reach his neck from behind, so I go with the next best option. His sharp inhale and perfect stillness are his only response to the sharp blade pressing against the groin of his slacks. “Good evening, Jasmine.”
I freeze. I know that cultured voice, have heard it in both dream and nightmares for the last five years. This man isn’t my betrothed, the sword that’s hung over my neck since my father’s proclamation. No, he is far worse.
Jafar, my father’s second-in-command.
I catch myself before I relent. If Jafar hadn’t signed the contract himself, he was at least party to it, the trading of my body and soul as they trade in so many other unmentionable commodities. Why had I thought I was special? A princess locked in a tower is only kept away from the world for one reason: it has nothing to do with her safety and everything to do with her perceived value.
“I will not go quietly.” I don’t know why I say the words aloud, why I make this particular claim when so many others crowd my lips. Don’t make me do this. I don’t choose this. Help me. Save me. I am a daughter and not a son, so my father will never acknowledge me as heir, and neither will his men. Jafar owes no loyalty to me.
A new word bubbles up, the one I’ve only ever used in his presence once before. Our secret little game that we’ve played for five long years, to what end I haven’t let myself consider. “Rajah. Jafar, just … please.”
My only warning is a slight tension in his body and then he moves. He catches my wrist in a punishing grip and spins to face me, forcing my hand up and out, the letter opener falling from nerveless fingers. He captures my chin roughly, tilting my head back, though I can’t read his expression in the darkness. “You want me to save you.”
I should have known better.
Humiliation rolls over me, a toxic mix when combined with the fear and anger already bubbling up inside my skin, the emotions too big for this fragile shell of mine. I wish I was larger, more deadly, able to fight back in any real way instead of standing here, shaking in his grasp. “Fuck you.”
“Ah, there she is.” I don’t have to see his mouth clearly to hear the smile in his voice. If the devil exists, he sounds like a satisfied Jafar, all slow grins and carefully curated words that seemed to have meanings within meanings. His thumb brushes my lip, a glancing touch I only notice because I’m so hyper-focused on him.
On how close we stand.
All he has to do is lean down a little …
Or perhaps if I arch my back a little more …
My breasts will brush his chest. And our hips—No, best not to think about that. Not now.