What little breath I have left catches in my throat. He can't be serious. I didn't think he'd be happy, exactly, about finding me here, but worst case scenario I expected security to march me back outside the gates and leave it at that. I can't be arrested. I've barely been able to cover my bills these last couple of months—I definitely can't afford bail. And the last thing I want is to put that on my dad, not when he's put everything he owns into the Frazer Center.
Rage bubbles up in my chest. “You're an ass, you know that?”
“I believe the police will see things differently,” he says. “Especially since you've spent the last two months harassing me.”
The accusation floors me. “Harassing you? You broke our contract! I don’t care what you paid your fancy lawyers to say. You violated the promise your father made. That money belongs to the Frazer Center.”
He shifts his weight up slightly, enough to look me in the eyes. They're pitch black against the deep gray sky above.
“I thought, Ms. Frazer, that I made my stance on the matter quite clear.”
“The only thing that's clear around here is that you're an arrogant asswipe!”
“You can do better than that, Ms. Frazer,” he says. He sits up a little more. “I'm willing to release your hands, but only if you promise you won't punch me.”
There's very little I want more than to punch him right now, but I nod my head obediently. He lets go of my wrists and sits up. He's still straddling me.
There's no longer anything to block the rain from my face. I blink the water out my eyes and turn my head, breaking our gaze.
Calder chuckles again. “Perhaps we should finish this discussion inside, where we can both be a little more comfortable.”
His weight lifts from me, but I stay where I am. I don't trust him.
“Come on, Ms. Frazer.” When I look up he's holding his hand out to me.
I sigh. I'm completely soaked, and there's mud in places I don't even want to think about. If Calder wants to go inside, then fine. I'm not about to let him off the hook, but there's no harm in getting out of the rain.
I push myself up on my elbows then reach out and grab his hand. He pulls me up to my feet as if I weigh nothing, and I almost fall right against his chest. Instead I catch myself at the last minute, my bare toes clinging to the mud. I sway away from him, but he still has my hand in his grasp. He won't let go, even when I try to pull away.
I take another step back. “What are you—”
He grabs me by the waist and yanks me off the ground. The world flips around me as he throws me over his shoulder.
“What are you doing?” I say. “Let me go!”
He doesn't respond. His grip tightens around my waist and he begins moving toward the house.
“What the fuck?” I say, hitting him in the back. “Put me down!”
“I don't think so,” he says.
“I can walk by myself! I'm not a fucking sack of potatoes!”
“I'm not going to give you the chance to run away.”
I try to kick him, but he uses his other arm to catch me by the knees.
“Forgive me if I don't trust you,” he says.
I stop struggling, letting my body fall limp in his grasp. My wet hair bounces around my face in time with his steps. I can't see anything but the muddy grass beneath us and the wet backsides of Calder's pants and shoes.
My rage against this man has been building for a couple of months now, and the indignity of my current position brings all of it spewing out.
“You think you can get away with anything because you're rich,” I say, my voice edged in venom. “You think you can walk all over people and break promises because you have the fancy lawyers and no one would dare stand up to the Cunningham family.”
His arm tightens, and he readjusts me on his shoulder.
“You might have the rest of them eating out of your hand,” I say, “but I'm not letting you off the hook that easy. You think you can just throw your reputation around and do whatever you want. You expect to just throw out a few bills and flash a sexy smile and have everyone fall at your feet. You don't give a damn about anyone else.”
For a minute he doesn't respond, and then: “You think my smile is sexy?”
I make an exasperated sound, but I don't think he hears me. He's going up steps now—wide stone steps that have moss growing on the grout. I lift my head slightly, and through my falling strands of hair I can make out a pair of stone lions on either side of us, marble heads raised as if guarding the way inside. Of course there are freaking stone lions outside this place. No doubt there are gargoyles and stained glass windows and numerous other ostentatious features, too.
A few more steps and I hear him open a door. There's a rush of warmth as he carries me into the house, and I'm more grateful than I want to admit to be out of the rain.
“We're inside,” I say, poking him in the back. “Put me down.”
“Not yet.” His voice is thick with amusement.
“Is this some sort of sick joke?” I say. “This is ridiculous. I came here to talk to you. I'm not going to run away.”
“Then you should have no problem with me giving you a lift,” he replies. “If anything, you should be thanking me. I wasn't about to let a woman walk barefoot through the mud.”
“There's no mud in here.” I give him another couple of jabs in the back. “And my feet were muddy already. It doesn't matter.”
“All the more reason to carry you,” he says. “I'd prefer not to stain the carpets.”
He's having too much fun at my expense. I want to kick my legs and splatter mud all over the walls, but I don't think that'll help my case for the Center. Besides, he still has his arm across my knees.
I raise my head again, trying to get a good look at my surroundings. He's carrying me down a hallway, but the lights are dim and I can't see much through my curtain of hair. I can only get a clear view of the carpets below us. They're definitely pretty fancy, but Calder either doesn't notice or doesn't care that he's leaving his own set of muddy footprints on the richly colored threads.
“Where are we going?” I say to him, tired of this game. “Some sort of torture chamber, maybe? Are you going to chain me up in the dungeon until the police get here?”
His fingers dig into my waist. “Don't give me any ideas.”
“If you'd just answered my calls or my emails, we could've discussed this whole thing like adults,” I say.
“Adults, eh?” he says. “Do adults usually climb through each other's gates? Or flash security cameras, for that matter?”
My neck goes instantly hot. He saw that?
“I think I've mentioned before that I admire your determination,” he says. “But I can't say that I was encouraging that kind of behavior. Not that I minded the show.”
I try to knee him in the chest, but he holds me tight. I settle for giving him a particularly hard jab in the back.
“If you're not going to let someone in, the least you can do is respond to them,” I say. “Especially when you've already fucked that person over.”
“So I’m required to respond to every idiot who shows up at my gates?” he says. “Every paparazzo who’s tried to snap a photo through the bars? Every reporter who camped out there for weeks right after my father died?”
“That's not what I—”
“When you have money, people think they're entitled to things from you. Sometimes it's photos. Most often it's money.”
He uses his knee to shove open a door.
“Light,” he says.
The lights flick on. Before I can make sense of where we are, he flips me down onto a sofa. I go dizzy from the head rush, and it takes a minute for him to come into focus. When he does, the bitterness is clear on his face. He's leaning over me, his dark eyes boring into mine with an intensity that makes me push back against the cushions behind me.