Rule's Obsession

By: Lynda Chance

"I know."

"You need to make good on that. Your promise was the only reason I let you leave."

At the look in his eyes, she knew she had to try to reason with him. "Nick," she began slowly, "You didn't let me leave. I was never yours to control." She studied him, noting the anger that spread across his face at her words. She continued, trying to temper her voice, "I want to come back to St. Louis. If I don't get a job here, then after graduation, I'll--"

He cut her off when he stepped into her personal space with a glare. "Not mine?" She backed up a step and he followed her until she bumped into the back of the sofa. He didn't touch her but the threat was there. When she came to a halt, he repeated incredulously, "Not mine?" and reached down and lifted the necklace that she always wore from around her neck. Her heart beat loudly in her ears as he gripped the charm that dangled from it. His eyes narrowed and he asked for the third time, "Not mine?"

The oxygen stuck in her throat and she shook her head, as she remained trapped by his gaze.

He tilted his head as if in sarcastic thought. "If you don't belong to me, who the hell do you think you belong to?" he asked in a far-too soft voice that didn't reflect any gentleness.

When she remained mute, he continued, "I don't see anybody else taking care of you. I don't see anybody else flying halfway across the country to make sure you're all right and that there's no mother-fucker taking advantage of you." He sucked in oxygen. "And who, exactly, do you think pays your bills?"

She swallowed and leaned away from him, feeling the pull from the chain around her throat, but he didn't let go. She glanced down at the tendons corded in his neck and then back up to the fire in his eyes as he continued, "Who do you think paid for these useless little pajamas you're wearing? Who do you think pays for all your clothes, the food you eat, the allowance you get?" His eyes held hers with ruthless intent. "Who do you think paid for that pretty little car you drive?"

Guilt running through her from all the things his family had supplied, she licked her lips and whispered, "The corporation."

He began shaking his head as if she had it all wrong and a new agitation took hold of her senses. "Not the company?" she asked quietly.

"Nope. Not the company." His eyes blistered into hers. "Me. Just me."

"Wh--why?" she stuttered. "I don't understand."

"Nothing to understand, sweetheart. Damian assumed responsibility for Erin. You came next and I got you."

"Got me?"

"Figure of speech. I took responsibility for your upkeep."

Courtney began to hear a fine buzzing in her head. "Justine--"

He cut off her question. "Doesn't have any money of her own. Doesn't own the company. Our father died mired in debt. What you see, we built from scratch, the three of us. Any money our mother has comes from us."

Her heartbeat stalled before picking up again, running at triple speed, at the new insight.

Still holding the charm with one hand, he lifted the other and ran a single finger down her cheekbone in a gentle, yet possessive caress. "Now want to argue with me about who you belong to?"

She remained completely still and concentrated on taking one breath at a time.

"But it's not really about the money, is it?" Annoyance shadowed his face and then turned into lines of implacability. "Here's what's going to happen. You're going to finish school and come home to St. Louis, exactly as you promised. When you get there, we'll figure out what to do. But you owe me that much, Courtney, understand?"

Look for Rule's Property, coming soon.