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The Terms_ Part One

By:Ruby Rowe

CHAPTER ONE


Camilla



“Only you could be this attractive after death,” I mumble, “and maybe that evil brother of yours.” Damn, is it wrong I’m admiring a man who’s lying in a casket? Dead at thirty-three. That’s crazy, and what happened for you to die so young?

I need to wrap this up before I’m noticed. Surely, those three cars in the parking lot belong to the funeral staff. I mean, there’s only five minutes left of visitation and a foot of snow on the ground.

After glancing around to ensure I’m alone in the room, I reach in my purse and retrieve the small photo of my little one. Eyeing his cute chubby cheeks, I then tuck the picture beneath Tony’s arm that’s resting peacefully over his stomach.

That sweet boy is the innocence, love and hope to all the dark perversion I witness every night at my job. There is not a greater gift than the love he gives back to me.

“Maybe I should’ve told you Liam was your son,” I mutter, “but what if you’d taken him from me? I understand he needs a father, too, but he deserves one who isn’t into shady–dangerous–shit. You asshole.

“Why did you have to make me the pawn in your twisted plan? I’d be grateful you’re in this casket if it weren’t for Liam. He was the payoff for my deceit, not your dirty money; however, now I’m left with this guilt.

“After how you treated me, I shouldn’t feel guilty that you missed out on the opportunity to meet him, but I do, and it’s only because he’s so special.

“Maybe you would’ve provided for him and left us alone … or maybe you would’ve used your power and wealth to take him from me. I couldn’t risk it.

“If you can hear me right now, I pray you understand the tangled web you placed me in. You left me no other choice.”

“Excuse me, Ms.,” a male voice says from behind me. I hesitate before turning around and surveying the short, older male with a warm smile.

The words funeral director are etched on the gold name tag over his maroon suit jacket, so I sigh with relief. “I’m sorry, dear, but I must close up. You’re welcome to return in the morning before the service begins.”

“I apologize for keeping you here. I’m leaving now.” Without waiting for a response, I hurry from the room. Once I reach the lobby, my heels echo the sound of a tap dance on the marble floor of the quiet space. Ten more feet, and I’ll be out of this depressing joint.

“Wait,” a different male voice demands.

Fight, flight, or freeze…

God, why did I freeze?

Inhaling sharply, I pivot to face him. The man is now standing in close proximity, his narrowing gaze studying me while the memories of the night I met him pepper my mind.

“How do you know my brother?”

Ellis Burke … still ruggedly handsome to the point of unnerving. Tall and intimidating, causing my gaze to falter.

“Hello. I, uh, briefly dated Tony several years ago. I only wanted a moment to say goodbye, and now I’m leaving.” I begin to turn, but he grabs my arm.

“That’s why you look familiar, but I can’t place where we met. I’m Ellis Burke.” Easing free from his hold, I stare at the red tie beneath his distinguished grey suit.

“We’ve never met before, so I must resemble someone else. I should be going. The roads will be freezing soon.”

“What is your name?” His voice reverts to its original demanding tone.

“It’s Camilla Rose.” I’m so stupid. I should’ve given him another name. Better yet, I should’ve taken my friend Christopher’s advice and not come here.

“Are you OK? You seem nervous.” He’s on to me, and I can’t have that, so I lift my chin and brave a look at him.

His striking eyes, a velvet blue, squint in confusion as he scrolls through the files of memories in his mind, searching for the one with my name on it. I’ve prayed to God every day for several years that he never remembers.

“I’m not nervous. I’m–I’m in mourning and worried about the weather.”

“Then allow me to give you a ride home.” Still scrutinizing me, he slides his fingers through the top of his light brown hair, pushing it back.

“I would prefer to drive. It was nice meeting you, Mr. Burke.” I can’t shove through the glass doors fast enough, and once my heels hit the mixture of salt and ice on the concrete, I do an embarrassing jig to regain my footing. Thankfully, I’m blessed with great balance and coordination from all my years of dance.

I recall the dream I had as a child of becoming a professional ballerina. That aspiration was squelched for numerous reasons, but I have other dreams, and I’ll make them come true for Liam. By the time he’s a young man, he’ll be proud of his mother.

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