Title: Bittersweet Revenge
Series: The Patricians Series
Release Date: 25/06/2020
Esme had thought she was free, but a shocking revelation forces her to return to Stonewood.
There she must deal with life-altering secrets and lies, as well as face the consequences of running away.
Caleb is angrier than ever, hell-bent on punishing her for what he considers to be the greatest betrayal.
As she delves deeper into the past with the aid of unlikely allies, even more secrets resurface, making her and everyone around her question the very foundation of their lives.
As the clock ticks and danger looms closer, what will Esme sacrifice to get to the truth? What will Caleb destroy to get his revenge?
I wasn’t sure how long I’d been sitting in the car, but it was long enough for my ass to go numb. I sighed, keeping my eyes locked on to the bay windows of Seashell Diner.
“Seashell Diner,” I said, and snorted at the stupidity of the name. It was so unoriginal for a diner located by the seafront… Small town, small people, small minds, and–
I lost my train of thought as my eyes followed the waitress exiting the kitchen. Her wavy ponytail moved from side to side as she carried an impressive amount of plates to a table full of jocks I wanted to kill, just for the smile she gave them.
I closed my eyes. Pinching the bridge of my nose, I tried to keep my feelings in check, tried to bury them so deep inside I’d forget them. I wanted to go back to the man I’d been before – unfeeling, but functioning at least. Before her I had never felt like a bipolar man without his lithium. Before her I’d never felt out of control.
I hated myself for all these feelings and it made me hate her even more. I opened my eyes and looked at her as she cleaned a table close to the entrance. I could see the necklace I’d given her shine around her neck and this caused a lot of complicated and contradictory feelings to settle in my treacherous heart.
Esmeralda Forbes… I had known from the moment our eyes had connected that first day when I’d driven to Archibald’s home that she was trouble – with her pinup, unassuming beauty.
I had thought it was an act before; no girl that looked like that could be so kind, so humble and yet she was…or was she?
A new wave of anger filled me. She had played me. I looked down at my hand and the engagement ring resting in my palm. For all I knew it might have all been an act.
I clenched my hand around the ring and squeezed, squeezed with all the rage, betrayal and shame I felt – rage at the whole situation and reason behind her slip-up, betrayal by her and Archibald who’d plotted against me, and shame for not seeing it coming.
Archibald was smart. I couldn’t prove his involvement, but she’d disappeared so well, leaving breadcrumbs leading in the wrong direction. As far as I could see Esmeralda was smart, but she was not calculating. She was not a mastermind, not like Archibald and I were. She was much more controlled by her feelings, as her slip-up a week ago had proved, and this disappointed me in some strange way.
If she hadn’t called him, that stupid insignificant jock, she would still be at bay, any trace of her existence hidden so well – suspiciously, professionally so.
For a month William and my father had spent thousands of dollars trying to find her to no avail, nothing at all except this stupid wild goose chase around New York where her ring was found.
I had almost lost all hope of finding her, punishing her, lost the hope of getting my revenge for making me feel like a fool, for letting her see the small chink in my armor and using it against me. Maybe I should thank her for that, for pointing out that chink, because it had allowed me to seal it, cover it and make myself stronger and angrier than I had ever been. It had allowed me to plot and organize a revenge of biblical proportions. I was going to make her feel what she’d made me feel tenfold.
Feelings were a liability, a weakness, something that were used against you, even by the people you cared for. My mother had told me that time and time again and I’d thought I’d learned…until her.
And Esmeralda had fallen in the same stupid trap when she’d called the insignificant Ben Deluca, that pauper idiot. So here I was about to bring her home, back to a cage so secure she’d never escape again – at least until I had considered my revenge complete.
My phone vibrated on the passenger seat. I rolled my eyes at the name flashing up – W. Forbes. I had to pick up if I wanted to prevent him from jumping in his other jet. I’d barely managed to have him agree to let me come here by myself.
“Have you found her?” He demanded as soon as I picked up the phone.
Good morning to you too, I thought sarcastically. “Yes sir, I have just found her.” Lies. “She is working and there are a lot of people around her. I need to find an opportunity to get her alone. I need time.”
He sighed with frustration. “Why? You can just carry her away. Drug her if you have to.”
I rolled my eyes again. This man was just so basic. “In this day and age, sir, with social media, I would strongly advise against a public tantrum and attempted kidnapping unless you want the videos to hit the web. Then everybody will know that Esmeralda Forbes didn’t take a sabbatical in Paris like we said, but ran away from you.”
“From us,” he corrected, and I knew he enjoyed my demise much more than he cared to admit.
I pursed my lips, taking a deep breath to calm my nerves. “Maybe so. I agree that it wouldn’t look good on me to have a runaway bride, but having a daughter disrespect the all-powerful William Forbes…” I trailed off, letting him interpret it the way he wanted to.
“Just–” he growled. “Just bring her back. I don’t care how. I want her home – tonight. If you can’t I’ll dispatch a team and–”
“That won’t be necessary, sir.”
“One can hope. Call me when you are on your way to the airstrip or if you’re failing.”
“I can handle it!” I barked, letting go of my fake patience. Who did he think he was? By claiming Esmeralda, I was saving him from an impending scandal. He owed me! I wasn’t one of his lackeys he could bully. He would have to learn to respect me too.
He hung up without another word.
I scowled at the phone in my hand. I could handle Esmeralda. It hadn’t taken me long to find her once I’d made it to Carmel – less than six hours in fact. I’d planned to grab her at the end of her last shift, but had hesitated when I’d seen her exit, the silver necklace I’d given her proudly around her neck. I’d realized that I’d missed my opportunity when she was engulfed by the crowd on the pier.
I’d followed her, hidden under my baseball cap. She’d stopped by a hot chocolate cart and ordered one; it might have been January, but it was California. Then she’d walked further down and sat on a bench, looking up at the temporary Ferris wheel, set up for what I presume was the holidays. I’d seen her face quite well from my spot, half-hidden behind a newsstand. She’d looked up wistfully, almost pained. Was she conflicted? Was she thinking about the day I never should have given her? A day that made me look and feel weak and foolish?
My will had wavered in that moment and it’d angered me to realize that, willingly or not, she still had power over me. I had tried to reason with myself, pretending that I just needed to see the life she’d built in case she wanted to leave again; the more you knew about your prey, the more leverage you had.
I had followed her to the three-story apartment building and stayed there, in the parking lot, for over an hour before going back to my bed & breakfast. It had been risky to do that. What if she’d actually noticed me and disappeared into the night?
But I was relieved in the morning when I’d parked in front of the diner and saw her waiting tables. This was where I had been for the last two hours, just observing.
You’re turning into a fucking stalker, Astor. I could hear Archibald’s voice in the back of my mind, taunting me.
I growled, reaching for the Yankees cap on the passenger seat. It had been one of Theo’s favorites, along with his Iron Man one. I wasn’t sure why I kept the memento, but even now, I couldn’t let it go completely.
But now was not the time. Now I had to bring home a more-than-reluctant bride.
I waited for Esmeralda to disappear into the kitchen before walking into the diner and grabbing a menu. Sitting at the back, I opened the menu to hide my face.
“Do you need anything else?” I heard her ask on my left. Just her voice caused unwanted emotions to arise – mainly anger, but even that was too much. She shouldn’t be able to affect me this much. Any feelings she caused, positive or negative, were a weakness – a weakness I couldn’t afford.
“Your number,” one of the jocks sniggered.
I gripped the yellow laminated menu tighter in my hands, using all my willpower not to jump from my seat on an overused brown leather bench and smash his head on the table for daring to covet what was mine.
She sighed. “I already said I was not interested, but thank you.”
“Ah, come on. He’s been forcing us to come for greasy breakfasts for the past ten days just because of you,” another one whined, his voice even more aggravating than the other.
“You think insulting my place of work will help you?”
These guys don’t think, Esmeralda. They’re idiots… Driven by lust, not logic.
One of them sighed. “Come on Vicky, look at him. He is a catch in college and well off.”
Esmeralda snorted. “If you’re such a fan, why don’t you date him yourself? I assume you don’t need anything else, so if you’ll excuse me, I have other tables to attend to.”
“What can I get you?” She asked much closer now and whilst I knew it was impossible, it was like I could feel her.
I placed her engagement ring in the middle of the table. “What can I get for that?” I asked before sliding the menu down.
She paled. “Why are you here?” She whispered, looking around the room.
I frowned at her question. She seemed surprised that I was there, but not that she’d been found.
I arched an eyebrow. “Not really the question I’d expected,” I admitted
She gave a guarded look, resting her hand on her chest, trying to hide her necklace. Too late, little girl.
“Where are the others?”
I cocked my head to the side, running my thumb back and forth over my bottom lip – a sort of compromise to stop me from doing this to her own rose petal plump lip.
“Who? Your father? Your brother? Whichever traitor helped you escape?”
“Nobody helped me.”
She’d answered too fast for it to be true. I’ll find the traitor…traitors…and they’ll pay just as she will. I sighed, reaching for the ring again.
“Why did you come?” she asked, taking a step back.
I’m not certain, I thought as I showed her the ring. “I came to remind you that you made a commitment which you have to uphold.”
“But–” She pursed her lips and once again she seemed puzzled by the wrong things.
“Aren’t you going to ask how we found you? Where did you fail?”
She shrugged. “It doesn’t matter anymore, does it?”
“No, I guess not.” I stood up, putting the ring back in my pants pocket. “Let’s go.”
I shook my head. “No, you lost the right to make demands the moment you left.” I gripped her wrist before she had a chance to take another step back.
“I think you should let her go,” one of the jocks from the nearby table interjected.
I rolled my eyes as irritation overshadowed my feeling of betrayal.
I pointed at him, not even bothering to look in his direction. This boy didn’t deserve my full attention. “And I think you should sit down and eat your cholesterol-ridden breakfast. This has nothing to do with you.”
I could see from the corner of my eye that he was still standing, looking for trouble. If only I had the time or the care to deal with the backlash of social media.
“What now?” I growled, finally looking at him while keeping my grip on Esmeralda’s delicate wrist.
“I think the lady doesn’t want to go with you,” the jock said, tilting his chin up.
“Doesn’t she? You didn’t seem to be that bothered about her consent when you were harassing her to get her number. Also, not that it has anything to do with you, but she is my fiancée.” I squeezed her wrist almost involuntarily.
“I–” He looked at Esmeralda. “Vicky?”
I snorted. “We don’t have time for this Esmeralda…” I tried to put as much threat as I could into this statement. I would not be humiliated any more than I already had been.
She nodded. “Okay, let’s go.”
I let go of her wrist, her soft skin too tempting. I narrowed my eyes with suspicion. She’d gone to extreme lengths to disappear, risking so much, and yet after a single request, she was giving in? It made no sense.
“Esmeralda…” I warned. “If this is one of your tricks, I–”
She shook her head, taking my hand. “No, no tricks. Let’s go.”
I nodded once, shaking her hand off before gesturing her toward the door.
She rushed behind the counter, apologized to the owner, grabbed her handbag, calmly followed me outside, and got into the car without a fight.
I wasn’t sure why, but it felt like I was following her plan instead of mine. We’d tracked her here and yet she sat beside me in the car as if she was the predator instead of the prey.
I didn’t want to engage more with her in the state of anger I was in. She’d turned out to be more conniving than I’d thought and I realized that I had a tendency to give her more than I wanted to.
“You know I’m taking you back to Stonewood, right?” Give me fear. Beg. Anything, I willed her.
She nodded, aloof enough to infuriate me even more.
“Do you think you’ll get away again?” I snorted. “Because let me tell you, you won’t – not unless I will it.”
She turned toward me, looking at me with the thoughtful gaze I’d come to both cherish and hate. There was so much going through her head but she was so different, such an anomaly. I couldn’t anticipate her, which made me uncomfortable and I hated that feeling.
I was Caleb Astor. Nothing got to me… at least nothing had until her.