She's Too Young

By: Jessa Kane

Jack inclines his head. “It was.”

The weight in those two words is something I recognize, even if I don’t comprehend the pain behind them. I only understand that Veda lies on the other side of this meeting and I would bulldoze half of Manhattan to reach her. She’s worth any cost. Even playing the villain to the grief-stricken man across from me. A task, I realize with some surprise, I don’t relish. But the irresistible reward of Veda propels me forward. “And while the company’s employee health plan is one of the best, it still didn’t cover all the medical bills. Your debt is…severe.”

He doesn’t look up from his hands, now folded on his lap. To get this information, I had to invade his privacy, but that fact seems like a foregone conclusion to Jack. “That problem I mentioned earlier about people becoming overly interested in Veda…I’ve had no choice but to send her to an all-girls private school. And the dance classes.” His shoulders lift and fall. “I should have made changes a long time ago, but I’ve been holding out, thinking I’d move into a management position.”

“You’re in luck.” My voice rings slightly hollow, so I drink from the glass of water on my desk. “I’ve had a managerial position open up in the Netherlands. A tech company we acquired and decided to salvage. It’s three times your current salary.” I pick up the stapled documents to my right and lay them down in front of Jack. “And if we can agree on these specific terms, I’d be willing to satisfy your wife’s medical debts, in addition to moving expenses and the more sizable income.”

His expression is one of stunned confusion for long moments, then his eyes fall to the documents. “Why would you do that?”

An image of Veda floating across the roof twists through my mind. “In exchange for getting you out of debt and providing the means to get back on your feet, your daughter will remain here with me, in New York.” I gesture to the paperwork, completed by my attorney late last night. “You only need to sign and I’ll become Veda’s legal guardian.”

“I can’t do that,” Jack grounds out.

“You will do it.” I take a pen from my desk and toss it onto the paperwork, slipping into that cold zone of negotiation and forcing myself to remain there. “I think we can be frank with one another, Mr. Rose, so I won’t insult you by pretending I don’t want to take Veda to bed. Badly.” His incensed gaze flies to mine. “But I can promise you she’ll be treated with respect while under my protection. I would sooner leap from this building than upset her. She’ll be given anything she could ever want.” I leave it unspoken that he can’t do the same. “She must remain with me until she’s eighteen—the contract is conditional on that fact—at which point, she’ll be given the option to leave or stay. Although, you should know that I’ll do everything in my power to ensure the latter.”

“Why?” Mr. Rose shakes his head. “You’re young. You look like a damn movie star. When the women on my floor pass you in the lobby, they talk about it for weeks.” Silence passes. “Is it only because she’s…seventeen?”

I’m unused to being asked for reasons from anybody and I find the prospect of discussing my inner workings distasteful. But I force myself to attempt an explanation, perhaps because I’m looking for one myself. I’ve never experienced this kind of all-consuming fixation before, nor will I again. “If it were only about her age, I could make that happen in my world. Nothing is…off limits to men like me.” A sharp object jabs me in the chest and twists. “I was asleep before she appeared and now I’m so awake I can barely fucking stand it. Does that answer your question?”

Eyes falling shut, he picks up the pen. “This makes me as much a bastard as you. Selling my own daughter.” The tip touches down on the signature line. “If I had any other option—if I wasn’t weeks from losing everything—I wouldn’t do it.”

“Aren’t you going to read the full contract?”

“What could be worse than what I already know?”

He shouts the question, causing my security guard to step into the doorway, but I wave them off. “There is one more thing.”

Chapter Three

Normally on a Thursday afternoon, I’m waist-deep in conference calls and purchase negotiations at the office, but I’ve cancelled the second half of my day. I want—fuck it, I need—to be home when Veda arrives. It has been five days since our first meeting on the roof and I’m barely holding on. Apart from the photographs I’ve been sent of her going about her daily activities, I’ve had no contact with her and I’m like a caged bear, pacing the living room of my apartment.

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