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I’ve been raised as the good, obedient daughter, but I never expected to be sold to pay my father’s debts. Cold. Rough. Merciless. The foreman of the construction crew is going to make me pay every last cent.
Author’s Note: The hero is Asher Cook, the construction foreman from Survival of the Richest, though this is not part of the series and can be heard as a standalone.
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Cherry blossom trees date back to 1912 in the US, when Japan sent the trees in goodwill. The US sent back flowering dogwood trees.
The rumble that comes from downstairs seems to shake the house, loud voices and crashes that make my heart skip. Little ripples appear in the surface of my soup.
I stand, almost knocking over the small antique tray. I’m still in my strapless bra and panties, ready to get dressed for the gala as soon as I’ve eaten. The gown is already laid out on the bed, ready to step into—and even though it’s uncomfortable and constraining, it’s the fastest thing to put on. I step into it and rush into the hallway, working the zipper as I go.
When I hit the stairs, the voices get even louder. I’ve always been taught to whisper. Sometimes my father would yell, but he’d always close the office door first.
There’s a loud bang—like a gunshot. I grasp the railing and rush down the steps. As I round the curved staircase I see my father in his tux.
In front of him is a man in a leather jacket and jeans.
The strange man looks up at me—and instead of looking surprised by my presence, he smiles. The smile makes him look wolf-like, as if he’s caught his prey. “There she is now.”
“Papa,” I say, terrified. “What’s going on?”
I half-expect him to tell me to go back upstairs. He never tells me the details of his work. I always played in his office as a child, at least until he’d gently push me out and send me to a nanny. The fact that this new business seems darker, more dangerous, would be all the more reason for him to send me away.
Instead he looks at me, his eyes burning with something I can’t recognize. Fury? Defeat? “Come down here, daughter,” he says in Cantonese. The old language. He only speaks that way in front of family, but this man isn’t family. He isn’t even Chinese.
I’m trembling, but there’s no thought to question or disobey. He’s raised me to be the perfect daughter, and I do everything he asks. I attend every party at his side, standing in for the wife, my mother who died when I was a child. So it’s only natural that I go to him when he calls me.
His skin feels thin and papery when I take his hand. “Papa?”
“Something terrible has happened.” His expression is so grave. It scares me.
I squeeze his hands. “What is it? Let me help you.”
“Oh, you’re going to help,” the stranger says in a breezy way. I don’t even know this man but already I’m unnerved by how he’s acting, as if my father’s clear worry is some big joke. As if he’s the one in charge. I don’t understand what’s happening, but I know this is my father’s house—and my house by extension. He has no right to stand there looking so commanding and handsome and terrible.
“And you are?” I manage to say coolly.
He doesn’t answer right away, instead giving me a long slow look from my head to my toes. I become painfully aware that I didn’t have time to tape my backless gown into place, that it’s showing more of the sides of my breasts than I would have allowed. The fact that I’m not wearing shoes somehow makes it more intimate, as if he’s taking me to bed instead of standing, uninvited, in the foyer.
“The name’s Asher Cook, beautiful.”
I manage not to flinch at the word, but it’s a close thing. The word doesn’t sound like a compliment coming from that hard face. It sounds like a curse. No man has dared to look at me like he does or speak to me like he’s doing now.
“June Li,” I reply, with the emphasis on my last name.
I’m a daughter of distinguished heritage, a member of the powerful Li family—even if that’s really only my father and myself. Sometimes it’s lonely, especially when he has to work so much. But I have always consoled myself knowing we came from a long lineage, something to be proud of.
Asher snorts. “I know who you are. Everyone does. We see you floating around the ballrooms like you’re some kind of modern day princess, yeah? Entitled to everything.”
Outrage feels hot in my chest, but before I can respond, my father pulls my attention. “I need to speak with you. I need to speak with you privately—”
“I don’t think so,” Asher says. “So you can hide her away? No, she stays where I can see her.”
How dare he talk to me that way? How dare he talk to my father that way? Except he did, and for some reason, my father isn’t telling him to leave. Why would I need to be hidden away?
A dark, cold suspicion builds in my gut. “Papa, who is this?”