Authors: Jessica Gadziala
© 2016 Jessica Gadziala
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"This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer's imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental."
Cover image credit: Shutterstock.com/Piotr Marcinski
To Nikki, for far too many reasons to list in a dedication.
But for being a constant friend, a judgment-free sounding board, and a cheerleader when it was needed.
I wrote this book
- noun- pru*dence- [prood-nc]
1. Careful good judgment that allows someone to avoid danger or risks.
2. Provident care in the management of resources; economy; frugality.
3. Knowing how to avoid embarrassment or distress.
4. A name from a beloved
There was one thing that I knew in life: my father was a screw up.
I knew that when I was seven years old and he missed my talent show at school that was a huge deal because I had been practicing my piano for months and months and had finally managed to make my hands move independently and was so excited to show everyone how well I could play. But most especially, my father. He came late to pick me up and told me he didn't make it on time because he was at the tracks so he could get a boatload of money and take me out to a special dinner to celebrate my success. When my eyes lit up with excitement, his hand landed on my shoulder and his lips lifted in a humorless smile. I knew it right then.
Though Dad, being Dad, made up for it by convincing the owner of a local piano store to let me use one of the floor models and put on a small show for him and whatever customers happened in.
I also knew it when I was seventeen and I had worked after school every day of the week for months at a coffee shop to save up money to buy myself the prom dress I had seen in a store window. But when I got home the fateful afternoon I finally had enough money to buy it, I opened the book where I stored the money to find all of it gone.
And, well, I damn sure knew it as he sat next to me in the car as we drove up to the tall, iron gates and paused to talk to the guys at the security booth.
Obviously, gambling was my father's problem. And, unfortunately, he thought borrowing more and more money was the answer to said problem.
Which brought us to the gate as it slowly slid open and my father drove us up the winding red, black, and orange paver driveway surrounded my endless rolling hills of impossibly green grass. I paled to even wonder how much money it took to keep that much grass that green over the summer months. It probably was half of my yearly income.
My stomach felt twisted in endless knots; they were knots that had been tying inside for twenty-seven years. I slanted my eyes to my father, his profile handsome, his mahogany hair graying a bit at the temples, smile lines next to his eyes. He wasn't showing it, but he was nervous too. It was in the white knuckles on the steering wheel, in his unusual silence. If there was one thing my father was, it was chatty.
If it wasn't for me, he would have been on a beach in Mexico, hiding out, thinking he could keep running away from his problems. See, because my dad shirked responsibility, I learned early to shoulder the burden for both of us. So I insisted he stay; I forced him to set up a meeting; I demanded he stopped shrugging his shoulders and leaving me to pick up the burden he was too cowardly to carry.
I didn't phrase it that way, of course. But I got my point across.
The house was not a house; it was a mansion. It was a three story white Spanish-style villa with a red roof and seemingly endless balconies. It was the home of Byron St. James, a man of whom I knew very little other than the fact that my father owed him upward of a quarter of a million dollars. That didn't exactly seem like the kind of debt the man would let disappear on the beaches of Mexico. So I made my father sit down and make a call, set up a meeting, and I offered to go with him to be a level head, to help come up with a repayment plan.
Dad parked and I purposefully got out of the car, smoothing my hands down my slate gray slacks then adjusting my white button-up shirt, checking my reflection in the window as I waited for my father to climb out. All I could say was- not bad. I wasn't bad looking. I wasn't spectacular either. My hair matched my father's (sans the gray), the long, wavy mahogany strands tamed into a ponytail at the base of my neck. My face, though, was all my mother's; or, at least, that was what I could glean from the pictures my father had around of her. She skipped when I was five, tired of Dad's nonsense, and got herself shacked up with someone who never gambled away the money for the light bill. Where my father had very oval features, mine ran toward square. My nose and lips were in fair proportion, nothing to write home about. The only features that really stood out on me were my eyes; they were eyes that belonged to my mother, big and a very light shade of blue that was startlingly highlighted by my dark lashes and brows.
Not that it mattered. I didn't want to look beautiful; I wanted to look put together and no-nonsense. I wanted to come off as trustworthy and serious next to my father's carelessness.
"You ready, Prue?" my father asked, coming up behind me and linking his arm through mine.
Not in the least. "Absolutely," I said with a smile that hurt.
I shrugged my purse higher up on my shoulder and let my father lead me away, going confidently up the steps to the front door and I wondered how many times he had visited. Maybe if he had formed some kind of relationship with Byron St. James this meeting would go more smoothly.
There was a man standing outside the front door in a suit, waiting for us, watching us as we approached. Once up the stairs, he gave my father a curt nod and he turned from us to open the door.
"Nice day today," my father remarked, attempting to lighten the heavy mood all around us as we walked into the foyer. And it
a foyer, like only a genuine mansion could have. Inside was all the same white stucco as the outside of the house, the walls all but bare, everything inside feeling cool and sterile despite the warm earthtone floors and the gentle sunlight streaming through the many open windows. It felt... cold.
I actually felt myself shiver slightly.
We were led down a hall where I spotted a formal living room with two white couches facing each other with a coffee table between and an almost understated fireplace to the side. There was a dining room with a dark wood table big enough to seat twenty. I even chanced a look at a kitchen that made me want to cry with its seemingly endless butcher block counter tops, eight burner stove, two sets of double ovens, and a sub-zero glass-front refrigerator. That was not to mention the gorgeous red and sand colored back splash, the state of the art small appliances, and the fact that there was a giant picture window to look out of while you stood at the sink.
Cooking, as with cleaning, and paying the bills when there was money to do so, and doing laundry, was one of the many day-to-day tasks that was relegated to me at a very young age. Well, that wasn't exactly right. My father never told or even asked me to do those things, but because he never seemed inclined to do so and I needed to eat, be able to walk around our house, have lights, and have clean clothes to wear to school, well, I had to do them myself. Unlike laundry, bill-paying, and cleaning, I really took to cooking. Well, not cooking. Baking. I could make a palatable meal, but I could make a triple-chocolate cake that could make a grown man cry.
So those two double ovens and the giant mixer, yeah, my heart was doing a mini flutter at the idea.
We were led to the final door down the hall near two French doors that led out onto a sprawling back deck that looked over the grounds which boasted a giant in-ground pool, cabanas, a basketball court, a hot tub, and what seemed to be a running track.
The man who had been walking us knocked twice on the door but said nothing.
"Send them in," came the clipped bark from behind the massive dark wood door and my father's grip tightened on my arm, giving me the first indication of his genuine fear. I slanted my head to him as the door opened before us and all I could see in his face was trepidation.
Great. That was just wonderful. Why hadn't he told me there was a reason to genuinely be afraid of this guy? Maybe I wouldn't have pushed so hard. Maybe I would have just... followed him to Mexico and prayed for the best. Maybe...
"Don't have all day, Mack," the voice barked again. It was a deep, smooth voice, firm and commanding, sounding like it was underlined in steel and was anything in the world except bending. I jumped, my head jerking forward again where my father was looking.
And there was Byron St. James.
See, well, I had kind of been expecting a middle aged man, maybe a little rotund, with graying hair and a ruddy complexion. When you thought wealth, that was generally the image that flew to mind. What you didn't imagine was a man in his mid to late thirties with what looked like not an inch of fat to pinch underneath his black slacks and matching dress shirt. He was tall and wide with black hair, a sharp jaw, and dark eyes. Cold. Just like his house, he seemed cold. I actually suppressed a shiver as my father pulled me forward, tightening his grip on me as if sensing my uncharacteristic urge to flee.
"Mr. St. James," my father greeted, releasing my arm to shake the hand of the man who was standing in front of his desk, leaning slightly against it, making it infinitely clear we were not meant to take a seat in the two chairs in front of it.
"Mack," he said in the clipped, deep voice of his. "And..."
"My daughter, Prue," my father supplied, giving me a thin-lipped smile.
"Prue?" St. James repeated, a brow slightly raised as I finally remembered to extend my hand.
"Prudence," I answered what appeared to be a question in his expression.
At that, his severe lips turned up slightly at the side. "Prudence?" he mused, looking down at my hand then crossing his arms over his chest.
Well then. I dropped my hand numbly, shoving both of them into my pockets, which simultaneously made me feel less awkward and made me take up a bit more space, gave me more presence and in a room where Byron St.James seemed to be overtaking the entire space with his existence.
"Yes, Prudence Marlow, but everyone calls me Prue, Mr. St. James."
"I find it... ironic, Mack, that you would name your daughter after a quality you don't possess."
Oh, the bastard. Okay, it was true. But that didn't mean he was allowed to bring that up. It was beyond rude. And, in fact, I was named after a