An American Cinderella(9)

By: Krista Lakes

“I fell,” I said, not wanting to tell Audrey any more than that. I didn’t want to share anything with her that she could use against me.

Audrey scoffed and went to close the door behind me. The stains were just one more failure in her eyes. I thought I was used to her being displeased with me, but it still stung when I failed.

I looked around, taking stock of the house. Big windows were dark against the oncoming night. The house felt emptier than usual. She was rearranging the furniture as the baby grand piano was missing, as well as one of the expensive paintings. I knew it was expensive because she took every opportunity to tell me it was.

I turned and faced my stepmother as she closed the door on the spring night behind me. For a moment, I felt like a caged animal. I was now trapped in my stepmother’s domain. She simply stood there, statuesque and perfect.

Audrey Verna was beautiful. She had beautiful porcelain skin and she kept her long dark hair pulled back into a severe bun at the nape of her neck. Silver threaded the dark locks, but instead of making her look old, it made her look powerful. She wore a black silk jumpsuit that accentuated her lean lines and delicate build. Everything about her was sharp. Her acid green eyes were piercing, her nose was knife-like, her jaw pointed, and her clavicles looked ready to cut the unwary.

“Go ahead and ask, dear,” Audrey said, shifting her weight. “Ask me why I pulled the strings and got you a fabulous new job.”

I nearly snorted. Fabulous was the last word I would use to describe scanning documents all day. I was supposed to be working in the Senate.

“Why? Why am I back scanning documents? Why did you do this to me?”

“To you? Dear, I did this for you,” Audrey replied. She stepped forward and patted my cheek like I was a difficult child, before sauntering further into the house. “This is a good step for you.”

I clenched my fist against my side, willing myself not to make snide remarks.

“What do you want?” I asked. “Quit playing games.”

Audrey turned and smiled, her green eyes bright. “Everything is a game, dear. You should know that by now. Come have a drink with me.”

She waltzed into the kitchen, her silk pants swooshing around her feet like skirts. I stood in the foyer for a moment, not wanting to play her games but not really having a choice.

“White or red, dear?” Audrey called out, pulling out a wine glass. I knew she had an impressive wine cellar. She loved to offer all her guests wine of any color and vintage they could ask for.

“Neither,” I replied, finally following her into the gourmet kitchen. “I want answers. Why did you do this to me?”

“So serious,” Audrey clucked, pouring herself a glass of dark red wine. It reminded me of blood in a glass as she sipped it. “Ah. 2005 was an excellent year.”

“You want something from me,” I said, crossing my arms. “This took a lot of string pulling. I want to know what you want and why I don’t go screaming to the press.”

Audrey finished a slow sip before setting her glass down and focusing the full power of her gaze on me. “First of all, the press wouldn’t believe you. Secondly, it is in your best interest. Good things will come of this for you.”

I bit back a smart aleck response. My stepmother just smiled at me, knowing that she was in control.

She swirled her wine glass, the dark red liquid staining the insides.

“I hear that you will be scanning in the trade documents for the Paradisa negotiations,” she said conversationally. “I think that sounds absolutely fascinating. They’re rumored to be very... unique.”

Her green eyes glimmered as she looked at me, waiting for me to understand what she wasn’t saying.

“And you want that information,” I said, feeling like an idiot as I realized what she wanted. Of course Audrey would want the information on the Paradisa trade negotiations. It would be worth a fortune to the right people, especially since it wasn’t public information yet.

She would sell this information to the highest bidder and make a fortune. I could only imagine who would want to know their trade deals ahead of time. For the right corporations, this information could make them billions.

“You see what I want,” she said, appraising me over the rim of her glass. It was almost a real smile. “You get it for me, I pull strings again. You’ll go back to the Senate like nothing ever happened.”

“I won’t do it. Not only is it illegal, it’s wrong. And, if I get caught, it’s my career. It’s my life. No way.”

“I was afraid you would say something like that.” Audrey tsked and set down her wine glass. “But, as I always say, have a carrot and the stick.”