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A Million-Dollar Marriage

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Betrayed by his fiancée hours before their wedding, CEO Mason Caldwell impulsively finds a last-minute bride, Gianna to spite his ex. Gianna is bound by a contract to Mason, who has vowed to never open up his heart to anyone ever again. But when some unexpected feelings begin to bloom between the two, it seems there might be more danger looming, as well as bitter truths that surface from the past to tear them apart.

THE PROLOGUE (17 YEARS AGO)

“Go with your brother, Ninny.”

The six year old stared innocently at her mother, then at her father who gave her an encouraging nod.

“Where are mama and papa going?” The girl asked.

“Somewhere,” her father answered as he crouched down to her eye level and ruffled her short bob fondly. He also did the same with her older brother, who was standing next to her. He was ten.

The little boy looked like he had more questions to ask his parents as well, but he said nothing, making do with the vague answers their parents were giving to their queries. It had all happened suddenly that morning, when their parents had them pack their belongings and moved them to this strange house.

To top it all, their parents were not going to be staying with them in the new house. Their suitcases were still in the car, meaning they were going somewhere else.

“Be a good girl, okay my love?” Her mother caressed her soft, chubby cheek.

“And you too, sweetheart,” she smiled at her the girl’s brother. He nodded his head to show that he understood, further pulling his sister closer to himself.

“Mama and Papa will be back before you know it," her brother said, trying his best to sound reassuring because of his sister.

The little girl looked up at him with large, questioning eyes. She was too young to fully understand what was happening, but could sense something strange.

Their mother pulled them both into a hug, planting kisses on each of their foreheads.

"You two take care of each other, you hear? Listen to the housekeeper and mind your manners."

"We will," the brother replied stoically, straightening his small shoulders.

The housekeeper ushered the two children inside the house after they had watched with silent moodiness, how their parents drove out of the gates.

The dining table seemed to swallow them whole as they took their places on the high-backed chairs, legs dangling awkwardly. The housekeeper had prepared a meal of roast chicken, mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. The aromas that would normally spark their appetites did little to rouse them from their confused stupor.

The little girl stared down at her plate, pushing the food around with her fork. She took hesitant bites every now and then. Her brother did much the same. They didn’t chatter and giggle this time, like they use do during dinner time, and their mother would have to scold them into eating quietly. Now they followed the proper table manners for the first time without being coerced.

After a stretch of listless poking and prodding at her food, the girl dropped her fork.

"I'm going to bed," she announced. The she slid off the chair.

"You want me to come tuck you in?" her brother asked.

She nodded. "Yes please."

Like he had been waiting all along for that moment, he also abandoned his half-eaten food meal to accompany his sister down to her room. She climbed up into the tall bed. Her brother joined her.

"I'm scared," she admitted in a tiny murmur.

It was as though she was speaking her brother’s mind, because there was a quick spurt of understanding coming alight in his eyes.

He hugged her protectively.

"Don't be scared. I'll sleep right here with you tonight, okay?"

She flared her missing incisors at him in relief then snuggled into her brother's chest as he pulled the covers up over them both.

"Can you leave the light on?"

“Yes,” he replied.

The old clock ticked away rhythmically into the night. The children were fast asleep in bed, with their arms and legs splayed haphazardly compared to how neatly they’d put eachother to sleep earlier.

Ninny stirred, tossed and turned restlessly in her sleep before she opened her eyes, scratching absently at her arm.

Her throat was dry.

She got out of the blankets then slid out of bed to get some water to drink from the jar. She pulled up the glass pitcher on the table and saw that it was empty. She grunted sleepily and headed for the door, her nightgown whipping silently around her as she and headed towards the kitchen.

Something, like a shadow, flitted past the edge of the staircase and vanished, causing Ninny to freeze. Every muscle in her tiny body seized up.

Ninny clapped her hands over her mouth, eyes widening in terror, and backpedaled silently on trembling legs until she returned to the safety of the bedroom.

"Finn! Finn, wake up!"

Ninny shook his shoulders violently.

Finn startled awake with a snort, eyes squinting groggily as he scratched at his face.

"What’s wrong?"

"There's something out there,” she stammered, pointing a finger at the door.

"I'm scared..."

"Something's out there?" Finn repeated.

Ninny vigorously nodded her head.

“Let's go see what it is," he said, moving to climb out of bed.

Ninny quickly grabbed his arm.

"No! What if it's a monster?" she whispered.

Finn couldn't help rolling his eyes a little, although he tried his best to keep his expression kind so that he won’t upset her. This wasn't the first time Ninny would wake up in the middle of the night and claim to have seen some sort of creature or monster.

More often than not, it was just her active imagination getting the better of her.

He explained patiently to her, "Monsters only exist on TV, Ninny. But if it'll make you feel better, we can go find the housekeeper and ask her to send the monster away."

He smiled, trying to lighten the mood with a joke, but Ninny didn't even crack a smile. She was in no mood for jokes.

Climbing out of bed, Finn extended his hand.

"Come on, scaredy-cat. Let's go."

Ninny pursed her lips but acquiesced, trailing after her brother. Her bare feet made no sound as she walked cautiously, step after step. Her hands were clasped tightly in front of her, and she swiveled her head this way and that to keep a watchful eye out for the said monster.

When they reached the housekeeper’s bedroom, she wasn’t there.

Then a noise sounded somewhere behind them, like something heavy hitting the floor. Ninny and Finn both jumped at the same time, turning their heads around towards the sound. Neither of them moved another inch.

Ninny pulled Finn's shirt and pressed herself against his back. Her eyes were wide like saucers, darting back and forth as that same shadow ran across the hallway again.

Finn took his first step, despite his fear, in the direction of the movement and Ninny continued ttugged him back.

She whimpered, "Don't go!"

"What if it is dad and mom? Remember they said they'd be back soon.”

Even as he’d said this, Finn was ninety percent sure that wasn't either of their parents. They would have just come right in, not lurked around mysteriously. So, that last ten percent got him itching to investigate.

He gently pulled his sister’s hand away from his shirt and began tiptoeing down the hall towards the stairs that led to the basement. He also grabbed a flashlight on his way, then clicked it on.

The beam from the light swept through the road ahead of him.

"I can't go down there," Ninny's voice quavered from behind him.

"Just wait here. I'll be right back."

He waited until she gave a reluctant nod before he began climbing down the wooden steps, one at a time, the circle of the torchlight bobbing with every contact his feet made with the ground.

Ninny hugged her arms tightly around herself, watching with wide eyes as her brother's light continued to fade away until it became just a pinprick, then disappeared completely into the blackness of the basement. There were no sounds other than the pounding of her own heart.

Minutes passed by minutes and there was no sign of Finn returning. Ninny paced back and forth in front of the staircase, wringing her hands and holding back the urge to start crying.

"Finn?"

There was no response.

"Finn! Finn, are you down there?"

Still nothing.

The sobs she’d been trying to suppress finally came loose and the little girl couldn’t stop herself from going down there to look for her brother even though it felt like she was walking right into the hands of a villain from a horror story.

On reaching the landing she saw the torchlight her brother had gone with on the ground, it’s weak beam still on. She quickly picked it up and shipped the light around in frantic arcs.

"Finn?"

"Finn, where are you? I'm scared..."

Tears pricked the corners of her eyes, as she continued to turn the flashlight around, not seeing her brother in sight. Then the beam from the torch landed on the body of someone lying unconscious on the ground.

It was the housekeeper. Her blood was slowly spreading out from underneath her body. Ninny opened her mouth to scream out in terror but a large hand covered her mouth from behind, muffling her cries.

She fought around as she was lifted off her feet by the stranger, who used his other arm to pin her flailing hands down. She was carried into another room and unceremoniously dropped to the floor.

Ninny scrambled back with tears when she turned and saw the face of her captor. It was a boy who looked a lot older than Finn. There was no expression in his eyes. His face, down to his shirt was stained with blood and looking at it made little Ninny's stomach roil.

Worse enough, there was knife in his hand.

He placed a finger on his lips to get her to keep quiet.

Ninny recoiled, shrinking back against the wall and sobbing.

“What did you do to my brother?"

The boy touched his lips again, this time more threateningly.

But Ninny couldn't stop the cries. She started to make a noise that annoyed the boy. He pulled her by the hand and tied a filthy rag he found by the corner over her mouth and nose. She choked on the stench of it as he bound it tightly behind her head. He also tied her arms and legs.

Then he shoved her into the corner of the room, leaving the room and locking it from the outside.

Ninny continued to wail behind her gag. Curling in on herself, all she could do was cry silently for her mama, her papa and her brother. Not long after, a sound came from outside the door, making Ninny flinch and shrink back into the corner.

The door was opened and someone came inside. It wasn't the boy from before, but they looked around the same age; and this boy had a gentler look about him, despite the smudges of dirt on his face, compare to the one who’d gagged her.

As soon as he spotted Ninny huddled against the wall, he rushed to her to untie the rag from her mouth.

"Hey, it's okay,” he said as his hands made quick work of the gag, loosening the rag until Ninny could suck in gulps of fresh air.

"Where's my brother?" She cried again. "Where are Mama and Papa?"

The boy shook his head, untying the ropes binding her wrists and ankles.

"I don't know where your parents are. But we have to get out of here first, then I'll help you find your brother.”

Ninny nodded jerkily, tears still crawling down her flushed cheeks. When the binds fell away, the boy took her hands and gently pulled her to her feet, before leading her outside. Together, they tried to look for Finn, but didn’t find him, but the boy kept assuring her they’d find him.

Eventually they reached a door that probably led to the outside. It was locked tight. The boy grabbed a piece of stick lying nearby, reared back and swung it at the small window of the door. The glass shattered and boy quickly opened the lock from outside.

The glass cut him deep in his hand and he withdrew his bleeding hand with a grunt, but he managed to get them outside after using his elbow to knock off remaining shards free before turning the lock and opening the door just wide enough for them to slip through.

Ninny, seeing the boy’s injured hand, took out the ribbon on her hair and handed it to him to use as bandage. Even though the light piece of fabric wouldn’t do much with his wound, he still took it from her and smiled.

“Thanks,” he said, tying it around his hand.

He then pointed to a small tool shed a few yards away.

"You should hide over there while I go look for your brother. There are bad people in the house, so if anyone other than me comes out, don't let them see you, okay?"

Ninny's eyes widened in fear, but she nodded obediently.

Before the boy could turn to go, she tugged on his sleeve.

“You'll find my brother and bring him back, right?"

The boy nodded,

"I'll do everything I can to find him. Now go hide. I'll be back as soon as I can."

Ninny obediently scurried towards the shed, pausing only to look back and give him a tremulous smile before ducking inside the musty space. She huddled in the farthest corner, straining her ears for any sound as the minutes ticked by slowly.

Ninny waited and waited and waited. But the boy never returned.

Chapter 1: The Miracle Gig

"Why the hell am I being fired?" Gianna demanded as she burst through the door in anger.

The manager looked up from his laptop, eyebrows raised. He leaned back in his chair but didn't say a word.

"I said, why am I being fired?" Gianna repeated, now leaning over the desk. She slapped the pink slip she’d been given down over it. "This says 'termination of contract' but gives no reason why. What did I do wrong this time?"

Rather than answering, the man picked up a stack of papers from his table and flung it across the desk at her. They went flying in the air around her.

Gianna flinched. She was stunned as the papers rained down around her. She just stood there motionless for a few seconds then bent down to gather the scattered papers. While she picked them up, she read the words on one of them; “NOTICE ON COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT”, “EARLY SCRIPT LEAKS FOR BRAVADOS III", as well as other evidence, including a chain of emails exposing the

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