New Adult | Updating
Even if I'd been sleeping, the creak of my bedroom door would have startled me into awareness. No one comes into my room at night. Not my father. Certainly none of the men he insists on keeping in our house. Not even the ghost of my poor dead mother dares wander theses halls after hours.
It simply isn't done.
My feet ache from hours' worth of pacing, my chest aches worse from the heart pain my father delivered earlier. Another betrayal after a lifetime of them shouldn't be enough to keep sleep from me, but this most recent hurt weighs heavier than most.
He sold me.
Oh, he didn't call it as such. He called it a merger secured by marriage. A meeting of two wealthy families with ties to the criminal underbelly everyone in this mausoleum of a house pretends doesn't exist. I touch my face, the most persistent of my pains, the only one anchored in the physical instead of emotional. When I'd asked him what price his daughter brought, he'd struck me.
My mouth always had gotten me into trouble.
I slip into the deep shadows near my vanity as a man steps through the doorway and into my room. I can't make out his features in the low light, but it doesn't matter. He shouldn't be here. Perhaps my father thinks to send my betrothed to ensure I won't protest the marriage.
He'll get what he deserves.
I barely dare to breathe and reach for the letter opener I'd left on my vanity. It is sharp and pretty, and it will serve my purpose as well as anything else.
The man moves on soundless feet toward my bed. If I need further evidence of his intention, I have it. He is no innocent, wandering into the wrong room—though nothing like that had ever happened before. He is here for me.
I will not go quietly.
I wait until he is several steps past me before I lunge. He's too tall for me to reliably reach his neck from behind, so I go with the next best option. His sharp inhale and perfect stillness are his only response to the sharp blade pressing against the groin of his slacks. "Good evening, Jasmine."
I freeze. I know that cultured voice, have heard it in both dreams and nightmares for the last five years. This man isn't my betrothed, the sword that's hung over my neck since my father's proclamation. No, he is far worse.
Jafar, my father's second—in—command.
I catch myself before I relent. If Jafar hadn't signed the contract himself, he was at least party to it, the trading of my body and soul as they trade in so many other unmentionable commodities. Why had I thought I was special? A princess locked in a tower is only kept away from the world for one reason: it has nothing to do with her safety and everything to do with her perceived value.
"I will not go quietly." I don't know why I say the words aloud, why I make this particular claim when so many others crowd my lips. Don't make me do this. I don't choose this. Help me. Save me. I am a daughter and not a son, so my father will never acknowledge me as heir, and neither will his men. Jafar owes no loyalty to me.
A new word bubbles up, the one I've only ever used in his presence once before. Our secret little game that we've played for five long years, to what end I haven't let myself consider. "Rajah. Jafar, just … please."
My only warning is a slight tension in his body and then he moves. He catches my wrist in a punishing grip and spins to face me, forcing my hand up and out, the letter opener falling from nerveless fingers. He captures my chin roughly, tilting my head back, though I can't read his expression in the darkness. "You want me to save you."
I should have known better.
Humiliation rolls over me, a toxic mix when combined with the fear and anger already bubbling up inside my skin, the emotions too big for this fragile shell of mine. I wish I was larger, more deadly, able to fight back in any real way instead of standing here, shaking in his grasp. "Fuck you."
"Ah, there she is." I don't have to see his mouth clearly to hear the smile in his voice. If the devil exists, he sounds like a satisfied Jafar, all slow grins and carefully curated words that seemed to have meanings within meanings. His thumb brushes my lip, a glancing touch I only notice because I'm so hyper—focused on him.
On how close we stand.
All he has to do is lean down a little …
Or perhaps if I arch my back a little more …
My breasts will brush his chest. And our hips—No, best not to think about that. Not now.
"Let me go," I bite out.
"I don't think so." Instead, he closes the last bit of distance between us, shifting his grip from my chin to the base of my neck, his arm around my back pressing me firmly against him.
Oh my god.
He's so much bigger than he seems from a distance. Not massive like so many of the meatheads my father employs for security. Jafar possesses a lean strength that his expensive suits have hidden up to this point.
And his cock …
He wants me.
A hysterical laugh flies free. "Not so cold and proper now, are you?" I roll my hips against him. I can't help it. It's like some fiery demon has taken possession of my body. Or maybe it's my inevitable fate bearing down on me that makes me fearless in this moment.
Will my buyer want me if I'm tarnished goods?
The thought spurs me on. I roll my body again, an invitation I can't quite put into words. I may be dancing on the edge of daring, but that's too bold, even for me.
He stills me with his hand on my hip, holding me a breath of distance away, his fingers digging roughly into my flesh. "Your father is gone."
I blink. "What?"
"The territory is mine." His grip doesn't tighten, exactly, but it becomes almost possessive. "You're mine, Jasmine."
That isn't an answer, but I am helpless to focus on anything but his last sentence. "Over my dead body." I am not some trophy to be passed to the victor in whatever power plays they insist on acting out.
That's exactly what I am.
"Earlier you said Rajah. You know what that word means to us."
Us. There never was an us, not in any way that could be quantified. Barbed words exchanged time and time again, each of us seeking to dig deeper, to incite a response, to push past the icy surface layer and bring forth irritation, anger, frustration. Something.
Words. It was only ever words.
Tonight is the first time Jafar has ever touched me.
I shiver at the thought. "It means you stop." I'm not even sure where that truth originates. I've only had cause to use it once, the only time Jafar's cutting remarks strayed too close to causing me harm. A single word and he immediately retreated; his dark eyes grave. We never spoke of it again.
"It means I stop," he agrees.
There it is again, the softest touch of his thumb sliding down the side of my neck. So faint I might have imagined it. I lick my lips, and I swear I can actually feel his attention sharpening on my mouth.
He shakes his head. "Everything that was your father's is now mine. Everything, Jasmine."
"Including me," I say the words, hating them. Hating him in this moment for reminding me of my role in all this. Not an active participant. Never that.
"Including you," he says softly. Again, I hear more than see his smile. "However, I'm feeling remarkably charitable tonight. This is your chance at that freedom you claim to want so badly. Say the word and walk out the door. None of my men will touch you. No one will chase you down. You'll never hear from me or mine again."
My breath stalls in my lungs. Freedom. It's a trap. It must be a trap. I am Jasmine Sarraf, and I am as close to royalty as there comes in this city. I have an inheritance waiting for my thirtieth birthday—or my marriage—that would make kings weep with envy.