An American Cinderella:A Royal Love Story(10)

By: Krista Lakes

“I don’t remember getting a carrot.” I crossed my arms. I didn’t want to think about what she could use as a stick.

“You do this for me, and you’ll get your dream job,” she replied, brushing off my harsh tone.

“I had my dream job.”

“No, you had the path to your dream job. You know my contacts. Imagine what a well placed whisper would do to your career,” she said, taking a sip. Her eyes went cold as she looked at me. “And that goes both ways. A positive review would get you in the door with a salary you can only dream of. A poor one, well...” She shrugged.

“You would blackmail me?” I asked, incredulously. “You would be willing to smear my name for no reason?”

“Blackmail is an ugly word,” Audrey said, a frown creasing her forehead. “I prefer to call it selective rewards. You do what I want, I help you. You don’t, I don’t help you. It’s very simple.”

“Yeah. Very simply wrong.” I shook my head. “I won’t do it. You can do whatever dirty tactics you want, but I’m not doing this.”

I turned and started walking out of the kitchen and back to the front door. I couldn’t believe her. She was willing to put her own stepdaughter on the hiring blacklist if I didn’t do something illegal. Well, I’d show her. Even if she did spread lies about me, my good work would shine through. I was a hard worker and good at what I did. There would be people willing to hire me even with her poor recommendation. Some might even hire me because of it, considering the source.

“I was afraid you might decide to be noble.” Audrey cut in front of me, blocking my path. I wasn’t sure how she moved so quickly without spilling her wine, but I couldn’t get past her.

“Please let me leave,” I said politely.

Audrey shook her head. “No. You see, there is something else you need to be aware of.”

“And what’s that? Your stick? You don’t have anything on me. I have no skeletons in my closet for you to threaten me with. I’m not doing this for you.”

“See, you don’t have skeletons in your closet,” Audrey agreed. “But your father did. Lots of them.”

“My father was a good man,” I retorted, but my stomach tightened. My father had been a career politician. What if there was something? “You don’t have anything.”

Audrey must have noticed the slight tremble in my voice because she smiled like a cat in the cream.

“Oh, but I do,” she purred, stepping close to me and touching my cheek. It was a gross approximation of a mother’s caress and it made my stomach churn. “What I have would ruin your father’s legacy. And, as you know, that’s all he has left.”

I stared at her, shocked at her cruelty. My father had been a good man. “What do you have?”

“Your father cheated on me,” she said, causally shrugging her shoulder. “Honestly, I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner, but it did happen. I have proof of it.”

I narrowed my eyes. “I don’t believe you.”

“You want to see the photos?” She sauntered over to a counter where a plain black folder lay waiting. She handed it to me. “Take a look. I’d recommend stopping after the the third or fourth one. It isn’t good to see one’s father like that.”

I swallowed hard and opened the folder, holding it like it was a snake that might bite me.

The first image was innocuous. My father entering a hotel. I carefully turned it over to see him greet a woman with short blonde hair. I knew her from somewhere, but I couldn’t place her. I frowned and turned it over.

The next shot was through the hotel room window. My father and his lover had forgotten to close the blinds since they were clearly on an upper floor.

The next picture, the woman had removed her top. My father was shirtless. They were kissing.

I tasted bile and my stomach clenched. I knew what the next few images would be and I didn’t want to see them. I shut the folder, but didn’t give it back.

“Oh, you can keep those if you want,” Audrey replied, an evil grin filling her face. “I have copies on the cloud. Those were printed just for you, dear.”

I wanted to slap the smile off her pointed face.

“There’s no date on them,” I said, trying to keep calm. “How do I know these aren’t from before you were married?”

I didn’t want to believe my father could cheat. Knowing my stepmother, I didn’t blame him for finding comfort in the arms of another woman, but he was so perfect in my memory I had a hard time believing it was him.