‘Regina’s in the hospital. She needs a blood transfusion. Come to Hagen General. Now.’
‘Where are you? You are fifteen minutes late.’
‘If you are unhappy about the price, it’s been upped to one hundred thousand dollars. Check your bank account.’
‘Darya Miller, I expect your presence at the hospital within the next twenty minutes. A deal’s a deal.’
Darya scrolled through the messages with a sneer, her knuckles turning white.
Instead of texts from her husband, which these actually were, they sounded more like orders issued to an underling by a hard taskmaster.
Which summed up her relationship with Micah perfectly—her the subordinate, him the superior.
When he gave instructions, Micah Cavanaugh expected to be obeyed without question or delay.
The fact that Darya had already given blood three times in just as many weeks was a trifling detail he couldn’t be bothered to remember.
‘Suck it up. A deal’s a deal.’
She could almost hear him as if he were right there in the room, looking down his aquiline nose at her.
Darya shivered, rubbed her arms.
Dizziness, nausea and cold sweat were common symptoms after giving too much blood in too short a time.
She had to wear wide bell sleeves to prevent chafing of the bruises where they’d stuck the giant needle into the crook of her arm, repeatedly.
Micah didn’t notice the bruises, of course.
In fact, he’d rarely, if ever, touched her when they were in the same room.
When he wasn’t busy running his business empire, he spent his time by the side of another woman—Regina Fischer.
The exact nature of their relationship remained a cause for much speculation, but Darya never confronted Micah about it.
She was just the wife, after all.
A nominal one, at that.
Micah and Darya maintained separate bedrooms, exchanged perfunctory greetings when their paths crossed, and could go days without talking to each other.
When he did reach out, it was mostly for the sake of Regina.
Darya happened to share the same extremely rare blood type as Micah’s alleged mistress—AB negative.
In fact, her blood was the only reason Micah agreed to marry her three years ago.
Regina needed a blood transfusion back then, just like she needed one right now.
Less than 1% of the country’s population had AB-negative blood, and hospital blood banks were perpetually understocked.
‘You want me to marry you?’
In the hospital corridor stinking of antiseptic and someone else’s blood, Micah stared fixedly at the girl who dared to use Regina’s medical condition to blackmail him.
Heart in mouth, Darya nodded.
‘Fine, but only if you agree to become a blood donor for Regina, 24/7. If and when she needs it, you are to make yourself available, no questions asked, no backing out for any reason. Monetary compensation can be arranged.’
Darya had jumped at the offer, thinking it was the deal of a lifetime.
How naïve she had been.
She swiped away the latest message from her husband, no doubt another sternly worded reminder demanding her to hustle her ass down to Hagen General.
She tapped on her phone, brought up a photo.
It was a candid shot, sent anonymously.
Even sleeping, Micah looked incredibly, ridiculously handsome.
His face was carved by the loving hands of angels on a day they were feeling particularly generous.
His mouth, though thin-lipped, was exquisite and made for kissing—not that Darya ever had the occasion to taste it.
His eyes, the colour of flawless brown topaz, were piercing and commanded attention.
His long, thick lashes were the same raven black as his short hair, cut with military precision.
And he had a jawline most men were willing to go under the knife for.
Darya had fallen for him the moment she saw that face.
Her heart still did a nervous flutter every time she set eyes on him.
They didn’t share a bed, but from the few times she caught him coming out of a shower, wearing just a towel wrapped loosely around his waist, she knew there was a powerfully built body hidden underneath that crisp shirt and meticulously buttoned-up suit jacket.
Just like the one he was wearing in the candid shot.
But that wasn’t what caused Darya to stare at the photo for ten minutes straight.
It was Regina’s head snuggled against Micah’s broad shoulder.
He was reclining in a deep maroon armchair, his long legs spread out in front of him, hands folded neatly over his lap, eyes closed.
Regina appeared to be sleeping as well, though a corner of her mouth was curved upwards.
The smirk also gave away the identity of the anonymous sender.
Who else could it be but Regina?
It would also explain the smug, gloating tone in the message accompanying the photo.
‘Look how well-matched they are! You should bow out. Prince Charming deserves to be with a real princess, not the chambermaid.’
Darya turned on the front-facing camera, checked out her reflection, decided that maybe, just maybe, Regina had a point.
She was by no means ugly, but persistent blood loss had drained her cheeks and lips of all colour.
Constant lack of sleep gave her the hollow-eyed, sallow-skinned look of a malnourished anaemic.
Was that why Micah never spared her a second glance?
Was Regina, of the bedroom eyes and bee-stung lips, his preferred type?
Darya touched Micah’s face onscreen, finally made up her mind.
She had given herself three years to try to win his heart.
She knew he saw her as just a stranger who exploited an unfortunate situation.
Essentially, he’d married her under duress.
Which was why she swallowed her pride
of which there was a considerable amount
, packed away the memory of a privileged life, learned to play the role of a biddable wife and dutiful daughter-in-law.
She sucked up to his snobbish family, abased herself in front of his friends, did all the things the ‘Housewife’ magazine suggested.
She’d hoped he would eventually see that although her entry into his life had been abrupt and calculated, her feelings for him were genuine.
Still, he never warmed up to her.