Ashes

 

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Playlist

What Ifs - Kane Brown

River Flows In You - Yiruma 

Something's Gotta Give - Camila Cabello 

Breathe Me - Sia

Him & I - G-Eazy (Halsey)

Losin Control - Russ

Infinity - Niykee Heaton

Flame - Tinashe 

 

 

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Prologue

 

 

The air was cool and crisp, the smell of newly fallen leaves invaded my senses when I stepped out of the black limo. When my black stilettos hit the pavement, I felt the effects of the cool breeze wrap around my shoulders and kiss my skin.     

Lights were flashing in my eyes as the sound of my name echoed through the streets of Manhattan. “Riley! Over here.” Deep down I wished I was at home with my best friend, wrapped up in a fuzzy blanket, sipping on my favorite wine.

I followed behind my parents as they lead the way into the enormous building. My mother with her fire-red hair and dazzling smile looked beautiful in the gold sequined dress. My father was standing next to her, an arm wrapped delicately around her petite waist. My dad’s chubby cheeks looked even bigger as he smiled at the camera’s, his salt and pepper hair looked more noticeable in the flash of lights.

My parents were a powerhouse in the publishing industry, they had built their company from the ground up. They took pride in their work and I couldn’t blame them. They were determined to make something out of themselves and they did. They owned the largest publishing company in the world and were going to announce the opening of their first publishing house in Paris at the fundraiser.

I followed behind them, slightly waving at the people crowded around the red rope. People screamed my name, asking questions and telling me to smile. I hated these events, the paparazzi always found a way to make it hell for me. I didn’t enjoy my picture being in the tabloids.

Photographers and reporters continued to shout my name as I entered the building. The sparkling silver Ralph Lauren I had decided to wear drug across the floor. It hugged my curvy body perfectly and accentuated my already large breasts.

I headed straight for the bar. When I approached the bartender gave me a sly grin and I mimicked him. “Scotch, on the rocks. Please.” I said as I leaned up against the sleek dark wood.

“Wow.” I heard a deep voice say.

There was a man seated down the bar from me. He smiled as he swirled the remenants of his drink around his cup. His ash-blond hair hung in front of his eyes, the only visible part of him was his plump lips.

The bartender handed me my drink and I took a sip. I closed my eyes as I savored the warm feeling of the alcohol settling in my stomach. “Wow what?” I questioned the man. He turned to look at me and I was taken back by dark eyes.

“I just didn’t take you for a girl who liked hard liquor. More along the lines of wine.” He shrugged. The man seemed tense, his whole body rigid against the seat.

I furrowed my eyebrows. “Okay?”

The man just stared at me, his eyes lazily grazed over my body. I felt the nervous butterflies start to swim in my stomach. He was the definition of creepy.

“Well, I’m just going to…” I gestured towards the crowd that was now taking their seats at their designated tables. I walked away without a backward glance. Normally I didn’t mind being hit on, but that man was creepy.

I approached the table where my parents were seated. They were in a deep discussion with Gary, their assistant and our close family friend. I could see my mother waving her hands around. She was always so animated when she talked. My father sat idle next to her, a content look on his face.

I took my seat and smiled as my dad looked at me and rolled his eyes. Mother was a talker, give her a subject she enjoyed and she could talk for hours.

“Are you ready?” My dad asked, his raspy voice carried over the chatter.

“For?” I asked as I stared into his deep brown eyes that looked so much like mine.

“To spend some money.” He chuckled.

My parents were always extremely generous when it came to fundraisers, especially domestic violence since it hit so close to home for us. After I had barely gotten away from my abusive ex, my parents made it their mission to help other women like me. I admired them for that, after all it was The Harmony Project that got me back on my feet.

The lights dimmed as the presentation was about to begin. My mother turned to look at me and she gave me a smile.

Suddenly, the sound of gunshots rang through the ballroom. Screams erupted from people as they pushed their way out of their chairs and towards the door. I stood up, the adrenaline pumped through my veins.

My mom shot up from her seat and the gunshot rung out again. My mom fell to the ground and I screamed. My heart shattered as I rounded the table and saw my mom laying limp on the floor, the blood soaking through her dress. I turned to look at my father and I could see the shocked look on his face. Tears streamed down his face as I stood up. More gunshots rung through the building. I reached for my father and then it happened. I saw a bullet whiz through his back and exit through his chest. He fell against the table and I screamed again. I fell to the ground between my parents as the blood oozed from the both of them.

I couldn’t move, the emptiness consumed me. I felt my heart rip in half, the realization that I was without my parents ate me up. I refused to leave them.

I heard footsteps approaching me and I looked up, the man from the bar stood above me. In his right hand was a 9mm handgun. He had a wicked look on his face, his dark eyes were now sinister.

“Any last words?” He said calmly.

“Why?” I managed, the tears were still streaming down my cheeks.

“You know why.”

He raised the gun and pointed it at me. I put my head into my lap, preparing myself for the inevitable.

 

 

I woke to a pounding headache. The throbbing was all over my head. My body was stiff and wrapped with cords. I slowly opened my eyes, I was laying in a hospital bed. The sounds of my heart monitor made my head pound harder.

My best friend shot up from her seat next to my bed. I could see the red around her puffy blue eyes. “Oh my god, Riley.” She said as she wrapped her arms around my body. I winced as the pain burst through me. “Oh, sorry.” She said when she released me.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“You don’t remember?” Jamie said quietly as she slowly sat back in her seat. I could see the tears well up in her eyes. “You were shot.”

I brought my hands up to my head and ran my fingertips across the rough bandage. “I was shot in the head?”

“No, it grazed the side of your head and entered into your leg. You were bent over.”

“Oh.” I said, trying to remember what had happened. Nothing came back to me, my mind was blank.

“Where’s my mom and dad?” I asked, perplexed. Surely they would want to be here to make sure I was okay.

“Riley…” Jamie said as the tears fell down her cheeks. “They didn’t make it.”

“What do you mean?” I said frantically. “What are you talking about Jamie?”

“They died the same night you were shot. All three of you were shot.”

I couldn’t breath. The air in my lungs disappeared. I felt the hot tears well in my eyes and spill over onto my cheeks. My screams erupted from my throat and echoed through the room as Jamie got up and wrapped her self around me.

            I lost myself that day.

 

 

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Chapter 1

 

 

The sight of my best friend put a smile on my face. I entered my office and was pleased to see her seated in the plush white chair across from my desk. “What are you doing here?” I asked. I set down the briefcase that held my MacBook and took a seat in my leather chair.

“I just wanted to stop in and see how you’re doing.” Jamie’s blonde hair fell over the edge of the chair as she regarded me with warm eyes.

I looked around the large office, the place where my father once worked. I always felt a tinge of sadness when I came into what used to be his office. But someone had to take over and I knew they would have wanted me to do it, even though I knew nothing about publishing.

“I’m good.” I replied.

“Are you sure?” She asked as she furrowed her eyebrows. “We live together Riles and I haven’t seen you in days.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “I’ve been busy with work, you know that.”

“So busy that you stay here almost all night?”

I shrugged my shoulders once again. “Yeah.” Truth be told, I just couldn’t force myself to go home until I absolutely had to. I didn’t want to talk about losing my parents, which is all Jamie ever wanted to talk about anymore. How are you? Are you okay? Do you want to talk? I knew she was doing it out of love, but I couldn’t handle it anymore. It had been five months, I had to try and at least be normal in some ways.

“Okay.” She sighed. “Have you been down to The Harmony Project recently?”

“No, but I plan on going this coming Monday.” I hadn’t been there since my parents passed but I knew I had to. I had been avoiding their calls, specifically Adam’s, my psychologist.

The Harmony Project specialized in domestic violence, but I had grown a special bond with the rest of the faculty and when they asked me to be on the board of directors a month before my parents passed, I graciously accepted. They saved my life, I owed them.

But I hadn’t been there in five months and I had missed multiple board meetings, and what with Adam calling me everyday for the past week to remind me of the meeting on Monday and that I should set up appointments with him, I figured I better make an appearance.

“Good.” Jamie replied. “Do you want me to come with you?”

“Oh, no. I’m fine.” I smiled.

“So, how’s working going.” She asked, as she readjusted herself in her seat. Jamie was a beautiful woman. Her long blonde hair and bright blue eyes were met with a perfect pair of lips and a heart-shaped face. She had light freckles all over her cheeks and nose, her petite body and long legs were that of a Victoria secret model.

“Good.” I said a little bit more relaxed. Now that we were off the subject of my parents and The Harmony Project, I could breathe a little easier. “Gary is talking with a client by the name of Richard Andersen. He is a little hesitant to sign with us because of my lack of experience. But, he’s also been offered a contract through Yale Publishing too. I have a meeting with Richard in an hour.” I gave a tired sigh.

“Alexander Yale?” Jamie asked, a little more alert than she was a moment ago.

“Yeah.” I replied as I slumped back into my seat.

“You know him?” I could see the excitement in her eyes. I tried hard not to roll mine at her obvious interest.

“I don’t know him, but I know of him.”

Jamie sighed and slumped back into her seat, her eyes were dreamy and full of lust. “He is so cute.”

I had seen pictures of Alexander Yale and while he was okay to look at, he was a real asshole. He was in the tabloids more than once for hooking up with multiple women in one night, his playboy reputation mirrored that of his fathers. Like they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I peered up at the clock and noted the time, I had to leave if I wanted to make my meeting with Richard. Especially since traffic was going to be horrendous.

“Sorry to cut this short Jamie, but I have to go.” I grabbed my things and rose from my seat. I quickly planted a soft kiss to the top of my best friends head and exited my office.

 

 

When I entered Georgie’s, a small bakery-café in downtown Manhatten, the smell of car exhaust was replaced with the smell of freshly baked cookies. I inhaled deeply and my stomach rumbled. I ignored the slightly unpleasant feeling and scanned the room for Mr. Andersen.

I noticed an older gentleman seated in the far left corner of the café, his nose deep in a book unaware of his surroundings. I made my way towards him, and stopped short in front of the table. “Mr. Andersen?”

The man peered up and smiled at me. Mr. Andersen had kind brown eyes and a smile that reminded me of my grandfather. He stood and held out his hand and I took it. “Ms. Witham. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He beamed as he took his seat.

“The pleasure is all mine.” I replied.

I grabbed the chair across from him and settled in. I pulled out the manila folder that held his proposition and manuscript and set it on the table in front of me. “So, I know you’ve been discussing terms with my assistant Gary, but I heard you were having some troubles. I’d love for us to smooth those out today so we can sign you and get the ball rolling.” I smiled.

“I would love nothing more than that Ms. Witham.”

“Please, call me Riley.” I interjected before he could finish his sentence.

Mr. Andersen gave me a warm smile and then proceeded to talk. “But, I did invite Mr. Yale here today so we can all discuss and I can make the right decision. I hope that’s okay.”

I sat completely still in my chair as his words washed over me. I had not mentally nor physically prepared myself for this meeting. Had I known that Alexander Yale would be attending the meeting I would have had Gary come along to help me, seeing as he knew more about the business than I did.

I took a chance coming to the meeting alone and I was going to pay for it.

“Riley?” I heard Mr. Andersen say. “You look sick, are you okay?”

“Yeah. I’m fine.” I said feebly.

I can do this.

“Are you sure? Can I get you something to eat?”

I waved dissmisevely. “No, I’m okay, really.” I assured him.

“Okay. Well it looks like Mr. Yale is finally here.” I heard Mr. Andersen say. I turned in my chair to see Alexander Yale walk into the bakery-café.

As soon as he entered all the chatter stopped. He commanded the room, his mere presence made the entire place go silent. It felt as if the air in the bakery-café went stagnate as each woman in the building held their breath, all of their eyes glued to the multi-million dollar CEO.  

Alexander Yale’s chocolate brown hair sat on top of his head in a disheveled manner, as if he had just run his hands through it. He was dressed in a navy suit that was tailored to his body perfectly. With each stride I could see the suit strain against his forearms and back. His sharp jaw was met with broad shoulders and a narrow waist. Alexander was tall and lean and he was sexy as sin.

He pursed his lips as he scanned the room and when his eyes found Richard he began to walk towards us. Swiftly his eyes averted to me and I felt glued in place. Bright ocean blue eyes stared through me. It felt like he had opened me up and was reading every delicate page.

When Mr. Yale stopped in front of the table I was taken back by the smell. It was a mixture of soap and musk, the smell was so inticing all I could think about was ripping his clothes off right there.

“Mr. Andersen, it’s a pleasure.” Mr. Yale said. His voice was deep and cultured, like he had been around the world more than once. He turned to me and smiled, showing off a perfect set of white teeth. “You must be Ms. Witham.” He extended his hand and I delicately set mine in his.

The way his touch made my body feel should not be legal. Electric currents ran through my body at rapid speed, the urge to stand up and smash my lips against his became so unbearable I whipped my hand away and turned to look at Mr. Andersen.

I definitely did not prepare for this.

Slowly, Mr. Yale took a seat next to me and I squirmed in my seat. I had to gain control of myself, I was behaving like a love-struck teenager. I shook my head trying to clear it and then peered back up at Mr. Andersen. He had an amused look on his face.

“So. Where were we.”

“Ah, yes.” Mr. Andersen said softly. “I believe we were discussing the terms of my contract.”

“Yes, you are right.” I replied as I flipped over the proposition looking for the terms and agreements.

“Mr. Yale offered me a substantial amount of money.” Mr. Andersen said as he folded his hands on top of the table.

I spoke fast. “I would be willing to up the amount of money if that is what’s hindering you on signing with me, Mr. Andersen.”

“That’s not my only issue, Riley.” Mr. Andersen said as he held up a finger to silence me.

I slumped back in my seat feeling a little defeated, what else could he possibly want?

“I want creative control, I don’t want anyone toying with my book. I will take advice and constructive criticism but ultimately this is my book and I’d like for it to be published the way I want it to be.”

I peeked over at Mr. Yale to see a stoic expression on his face. I wished I was as calm as he was, I couldn’t hide the nervous look on my face. I needed Mr. Andersen to sign with me, I couldn’t let another author slip through my fingers.

“Mr. Andersen.” Mr. Yale said as he sat straight in his seat. He looked much bigger seated in the tiny wire chair. I felt my heart pound as I raked my eyes over his face. His sharp nose and high cheekbones reminded me of the Greek god Adonis. “I wish I could give you creative control, really, I do. But it just isn’t possible. We need to be able to help redirect the book and change a few things if need be. We are in this to sell the book and it is imperative that we sell as many copies as possible.”

I turned my eyes on Mr. Andersen. He looked frustrated and I couldn’t help but jump in.

“I would be willing to give creative control.” I replied quickly.

Mr. Andersen turned to look at me, a pleased smile slowly spread across his wrinkled face and slowly he turned to face Mr. Yale and gave him a smug look.

“I believe I will be signing with Witham Publishing then, Mr. Yale. I greatly appreciate the opportunity.”

Mr. Yale stood from his seat and turned to face Mr. Andersen. “Thank you for considering me.” They shook hands and then Mr. Yale turned to look at me.

This time he didn’t hold back,  Mr. Yale raked his eyes over my entire body. I felt the heat rise in my cheeks as I squirmed in my seat underneath his gaze. Fuck he was hot.

“It was a pleasure to finally meet you.” He said softly as he grabbed my hand and placed a light kiss on the back of my hand. “I hope we meet again.” He gave me a sly grin as he stuffed his hands in his pocket and walked away.

I watched him exit the building, his strides as graceful as an angel.

I turned to face Mr. Andersen, my cheeks bright red from all of the dirty thoughts that were running through my mind.

“I’ll update the terms in your proposition and fax them to you, how does that sound?” I said when I was able to catch my breath.

“That sounds perfect.” Mr. Andersen said with a knowing smile on his face. 

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