Read At Any Price (Gaming The System) Online

Authors: Brenna Aubrey

Tags: #romance, #New Adult

At Any Price (Gaming The System)

At Any Price

A Gaming the System Novel

Brenna Aubrey

 

 

For Jeff, my rock

Achievement Unlocked: Geek Virgin

When Mia Strong, proud geek-girl and popular gaming blogger, auctions off her virginity online, she knows she’ll make waves. But what she will
not
be making is a love connection. Her rules are set in stone: One night. No further contact.

 

It’s a desperate step, but it’s the only way she can go to medical school
and
pay her mother’s mounting hospital bills.

 

Difficulty Level: Millionaire CEO

Adam Drake, the enigmatic auction winner, is a software prodigy who made his first million at seventeen. Now, in his mid-twenties, he’s sexy, driven and—as CEO of his own gaming company—he’s used to making the rules. Before Mia knows what’s happening, he’s found the loophole in the rules of her auction. Every stipulation she’s made to protect her heart gets tossed by the wayside.

 

She can’t tell if he’s playing her…or if he’s playing for keeps.

The Manifesto

A Virgin’s Manifesto… Posted on the blog of Girl Geek on March 14, 2013

 

I will shock most of you, I think, by stating that at the nearly unthinkable age of twenty-two, my hymen remains intact. No, I won’t answer any questions about why this is. Yes, I am heterosexual. No, I won’t go out on a date with you.

Throughout history there has been a global truth established that a woman has higher personal value if she has kept herself “pure” until she reaches the married state. It is ubiquitous across all cultures.

In certain countries, that value is more than moral or philosophical; it’s monetary. In India, for example, a husband expects to pay a bride-wealth to his bride’s family in exchange for her purity.

In old Europe, a bride’s family put up the money, called a dowry, that helped her make a favorable match. Money and property changed hands between the patriarchs of powerful families. And for all this, a woman was de-virginized on her wedding night, whether she loved her new husband or not—usually not.

Sex with a virgin was so valued in Japan that a wealthy man could “sponsor” a young apprentice geisha, called a
maiko
. All of her upbringing and training with a mentor geisha was paid for, her living expenses and many luxuries provided by his hand. And in return for this enormous expenditure? The man gained the right of
mizuage
, the ritual in which he was given the privilege of taking her virginity. It was expected, that he would never see her again. So this expense was for that one night only
.

Virgins weren’t just bartered to powerful and wealthy men, however, but were of value to the gods of the ancients across all cultures as well. Virgin sacrifices to the gods represented the ultimate offering in exchange for something needed, most usually by men. In legendary ancient Greece, the offended goddess Artemis demanded a virgin sacrifice in payment for the insult rendered against her by Agamemnon. The Greeks desperately needed the wind to sail for Troy in order to wage war, but the goddess had prevented it. Agamemnon’s daughter, Iphigenia, and her mother, Clytemnestra, were tricked into appearing at the altar of sacrifice by talk of her impending wedding to the hero Achilles. Instead, Iphigenia was slain and the winds promptly blew. Off the previously becalmed heroes sailed, hardly fazed.

The ultimate prize in all of these examples was the woman’s virginity and in most cases the woman in question hardly profited from keeping herself pure.

So I ask, in our day and age, can a woman change this pattern and profit from her own purity? I find myself in the unusual position of being able to find out.

I’ve decided to decry the crimes and impositions put upon my sisters since the beginning of time until now. And I offer, therefore, a new paradigm. One where a woman can sell her purity and enjoy the fruits thereof.

The right to my virginity will be ceded to the highest bidder.

Chapter One

I’d refreshed the web page at least twenty times during that last hour, endless minutes slipping in between each click of the button. The Manifesto was reality now, and it was about to affect my future in a very big way.

In the end, I sat back in disbelief, the wind knocked from me. It was final. A complete stranger had just pledged to pay three quarters of a million dollars in exchange for my virginity.

I blinked a few times, looking at the figure, with all the zeros following, barely able to breathe. My mouth was as parched as the Mojave but I doubted I had the strength in my legs to get up and grab a glass of ice water.

As I leaned back in my chair staring up at the ceiling, my phone rang. Without even looking at the caller ID, I knew who it was.

“Hey Heath,” I breathed.

“Welp, your crackball auction is now closed and it looks like someone wants to pay a freaking fortune to get in your pants. Are you ready to give up this redonkulous scheme yet?”

I took a deep breath and expelled it slowly, wishing my heart wasn’t thumping like I’d just run a three-minute mile. “Of course not.”

He sighed. “Yeah, I figured. But I’m not going to stop trying, Mia, you know that.”

I grimaced. “And you almost never change my mind on anything,
you
know
that
.”

He cursed under his breath. “This has been the longest and most expensive game of chicken that I’ve ever played,” he said.

“I told you, I’m not backing out. My heels are dug in nice and deep.”

He laughed. “That’s not the only thing that’s going in deep.”

I gasped, sitting up. “Shut up. You promised you weren’t going to taunt me about this.”

“Fine. But we do this on my terms or we don’t do it at all, just like we agreed. I’m not shitting you—I’ll pull my support.”

I sighed. “Yeah, yeah. You don’t have to keep saying that. I get it.”

“Stop rolling your big brown eyes. I’m not thrilled about having to sift through all the bullshit and find out what lech has been ogling your pictures on your website.”

My stomach squeezed at his words and I didn’t say anything for a long moment. This really was lunacy and every time I talked myself down from the panic that hovered at the edge of my consciousness, something else would trigger it to summit levels once again.

“You’re not helping,” I said, fighting to keep the irritation from my voice.

“Who the hell set up the damn thing? I’m a conscientious objector to your crazy ‘new paradigm’—yes—but I’m still not going to leave you hanging.”

Relieved, I coughed, wanting desperately to change the subject before he lapsed into another lecture about the self-destructive potential of my actions. “Okay so… Next steps?”

He cleared his throat. “I evaluate the top three bidders based on your all-important criteria. If they’re losers, I move down to the next batch and so on until I find someone who isn’t a dirty old creep, if indeed there
is
someone who isn’t a dirty old creep.”

“Okay, you have that list somewhere, right?” I grimaced, picturing the mountainous heap of papers and crap on his desk. He probably hadn’t seen it in weeks.

“Christ, Mia. I don’t need the damn list. I remember it all. He can’t be married. Needs to provide a complete lab workup to rule out STDs. Umm…”

“See? You can’t remember half of it.” I paused. “Find the list and clean your damn desk once in a while.”

He was riffling through paperwork on the other end. “It’s right here under the pile of—”

“Shit?”

“I remember another one—criminal history?”

“Uh huh…And what else?”

“Ahh. Here it is, see I told you I’d find it right under my stack of Minecraft notes. Let’s see—lab workups, marital status, yadda yadda, okay—proof of money set aside in an offshore holding account.”

“And last but not least…?”

“A
really
big one?”

My eyes shot to the ceiling. Typical for him to jump to something like size mattering. “We don’t all think like you do.”

“Well yeah, that
would
be one of my criteria—what of it? The last one is that you both make an agreement that there will be no future contact between the two parties after the terms of the contract have been fulfilled.”

I sat back. “Great. I’m in good hands, then.”

“It’s my job to make sure you
will
be.”

That tight feeling in my gut wrenched again. “That’s the plan.”

“I’ve already got e-mails in to the top bidders.”

My brows shot up. That was quick. It wasn’t really like him to be so Johnny-on-the-spot like this. Heath—my best friend since the eighth grade and a surrogate older brother even if only by six months—was always this protective. When I’d showed him the Virgin Manifesto post about to go up on my blog, he’d freaked.

Fortunately, he calmed down and demanded to have control over the result. It was the compromise I had to put up with in exchange for his help and I knew I could trust him. Heath was the only man on this planet whom I did trust, actually.

We said good-bye and I closed my browser with a decisive click. I was sure my blog readers would demand a recap of the auction results tomorrow. This whole thing had gone semi-viral within the online community of gamers, and even beyond—
Huffington Post
, Jezebel, even Twitter. I squeezed my eyes closed, dreading the thought of writing that post. The readers would want answers and I didn’t have any. Not yet, anyway.

Regardless, there’d been complaints for the past few weeks that the auction had interfered with my regular posts. After all, it was a gaming blog, for God’s sake!

During the auction hoopla, most of my male readers had apparently come to the consensus that I rated an eight or higher. My opinion was probably closer to a solid six. But gamer dudes weren’t usually too picky when it came to women in our community. The main requirements were that a woman was breathing and had reasonably-sized breasts. As a girl gamer, if you stuck your nametag across your cleavage at Comic-Con, you were likely to never have them meet your gaze.

With shaky hands, I went about the next few hours in a haze. I made some tea from the small box of expensive Orange Pekoe—my favorite. I allowed myself the treat because it was a special occasion and I vowed to reuse the bag for breakfast in the morning. Nowadays, I had to enact cost measures like that. My scholarship money had dwindled and expenses were barely being covered by the ads on my blog and my part-time orderly job at the hospital.

The auction idea had spawned from that necessity, despite the “high ideals” of the Virginity Manifesto. I honestly had posted it to open the conversation on reclaiming the age-old tradition of profiting from a woman’s purity. And yes, I’d wanted to make a statement about the value of my virginity being used for my own gain. I firmly believed in those ideals but my number one motivation was money, security. After using most of my loan money to help Mom with her medical bills, I had nothing saved up for medical school.

My only option was to hock my future completely by weighing it down under the burden of impossibly huge student loans. Did I really want to graduate medical school and go into three years of residency and throw in an oncology fellowship on top of that?

I slipped an ice cube into the piping hot cup of tea and sipped at it while I broke out my study guides for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) with that same sinking feeling that accompanied my study sessions of late. I’d started out this year so hopeful that, with a retake, I could improve my abysmal score of the previous year. But as time had passed, it grew harder and harder to be optimistic.

The test was a little over three months away and there was still so much to review. With a deep breath I dug in and went over the topics for this week: hydrocarbons and oxygen-containing compounds. I checked the clock. I was due to meet Jon at the library for still more studying this evening. The group study would be the next day and, as always, I wanted to be ahead. If I didn’t walk in to that session extra-prepared, I always felt as if I was making a fool out of myself.

So I got to work.

***

That night, I met Jon at the university library at our usual study carrel. And truthfully, I was grateful for the distraction from my mind’s unswerving preoccupation with the auction.

“So?” Jon said as I settled into my usual chair.

I scrunched my brows at him. “What?”

“Can you come?” He looked at me with his pleading baby blues.

Jon and I had met during the previous year of premed at Chapman University. He’d transferred from one of the high-and-mighty Ivy Leagues. I never did get the full story on what happened there. It wasn’t like he was saving money by going to Chapman, a private university with a steep price tag.

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