A strangled sob bubbled in my chest. Macalister could take everything away. I’d fought so hard to save my family from financial ruin, and yet all I’d done was trap them further. I’d given Macalister an opening, and he’d used it to take over.
Oh, my God. I broke inside. He did own me.
A single tear wouldn’t be contained, and it slid hotly down my cheek. He tracked the path of it with his gaze, and something suspiciously like discomfort flitted through his expression. He was ruthless, but was it possible he had a heart?
It was more probable emotion made him uneasy.
His expression shifted, and he straightened swiftly to his full height. It gave me a reprieve and just enough room to swallow a breath. I swiped the tear away.
“You understand.” He nodded. “Good. There are other things to discuss, and I’m glad you’re not going to waste our time on a pointless power struggle. While I’m sure this is difficult for you,” he said, “I want you to know I’m doing this for your own good. Royce’s too.”
I gawked up at him. “How is this supposed to be good for—”
“I meant what I said.” The ice was back in his eyes. “Your infatuation with each other is dangerous to your partnership.”
A sick, bizarre laugh threatened. I no longer knew what—or who—was the bigger danger to my relationship with Royce. It could be the Hale who currently towered over me, or the one who’d sold me out and fled the room like a coward.
“I had to put a stop to it,” Macalister’s tone was plain, “before things went too far and you both got hurt.”
Like he gave a damn about our feelings. He could hide behind the excuse of wanting to protect his family’s name, but I saw this for what it really was. Macalister had been born into tremendous wealth, and it had only grown under his reign as the CEO of the Hale Banking and Holding Company.
He had so much money, he could buy anything he wanted, and a lifetime with hardly any limits made him crave the things no dollar amount could acquire.
And of course, control. He desired dominion over everything and everyone.
Air stuck painfully in my lungs, making my voice tight. “Is that what this was? The stuff you said”—I could barely force the words out—“about wanting to pursue a relationship with me. It wasn’t real. You were only trying to make a point.”
I held out hope even when I should have known better. When we’d danced together the night of the initiation, he’d told me he was going to have me. Like then, something dark flickered in his eyes, and it was the same as staring at Medusa’s head mounted to Athena’s shield. It turned me to stone.
“Royce did exactly as I expected he would.” His tone was devoid of emotion as he delivered his non-answer. “Now it’s your turn. You’ll surrender your car keys to me, and I’ll have someone on my staff park your Porsche at the stables.”
He folded his arms across his chest, visibly irritated I’d had the nerve to question him. “Driving is a privilege, and it’s one you haven’t earned.”
Acid invaded my mouth, filling it with the taste of panic. If I couldn’t drive . . . “I’m not allowed to leave?”
He scoffed. “Don’t be dramatic. You’re not a prisoner. If you need to go somewhere, I’ll approve it, and one of our drivers will take you.”
I repeated his statement in my head and got hung up on the same spot. I’ll approve it. He was demanding control over every move I made. The strings he’d attached to his five million dollars cinched so tightly around me I couldn’t breathe.
His focus drilled into my eyes as he waited to see how I’d react, and it took every ounce of strength I possessed not to fight or flee. I swallowed thickly. “Now?”
He looked pleased at my reaction, or lack thereof. “Yes, Marist. Now.”
I rose slowly from the chair to stand on my unsteady legs. The silver lining was at least I had an excuse to get the hell out of this room and away from my new owner.
I found my backstabbing fiancé sitting on the loveseat in the bedroom Macalister had announced was mine. Royce’s hands were laced through his thick, dark hair. His eyes were hazy when his gaze snapped to me but, as he shot to his feet, urgency tightened them into focus.
My name in his concerned voice was nearly too much.
I did my best to ignore him and strode to my purse on the dresser. My hands shook as I dug out my keys and, even as I pretended he didn’t exist, I felt his stare on my back. It was a hot, unavoidable spotlight.
“Are you all right?” he asked.