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The Billionaire's Pawn

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LONDON I’ve never been a rule-breaker. Until the God-like and hotter-as-sin I despise for two years comes back and becomes my temporary bodyguard. I hate his work ethic—Striker Cade never mixes his job with pleasure, but when he looks at me, he’s got heartbreak written all over him. When my father threatens to shut down, the only thing that matters to me, he volunteers to help. Our marriage is supposed to be the solution to my problem, but my father has another evil plan. The more we spend time together, the more I realize I don’t have to act madly in love. I already am. *** STRIKER I’ve never lost focus at work. When London becomes my client, she’s got forbidden fruit written all over her, and she hates my guts, but something tells me she’s worth it. Until I find myself in her bed without any recollections, the next day, we’re engaged. I would love to play her in-love husband. Only we’re trapped by her father’s demands, pawns to his bigger plans. When her life is threatened, and our marriage is at stake, I reach out to my last resort. And I realize she has become the person I can’t live without.

Chapter 1

STRIKER

I landed this morning from Winterbourn after two years working for a good friend, Rome Langston. Then I woke up from a nap to the black sedan waiting for me.

I wasn’t expecting anything when I arrived at the Vanderford estate, but what shocked me was how someone welcomed me with that stone stare of hatred that had me wondering for a second. You could have begun with, are you here for my father? That sort of thing.

Sometimes, life was really sh*t. When you expect too much, you get less. When you were not Messi, who took home the FIFA World Cup Champion, or Ronaldo, who just became the world’s most expensive athlete, nobody gave a sh*t about you.

For instance, London Vanderford— the heiress to the Vanderford Group. I mean, who am I? That was the first thing that came to my mind. She probably didn’t remember me. The last time we met was two years ago. Things have changed a lot since then.

My smile instantly faded as I met the coldest hazel eyes I’d ever seen. I knew there were gray flecks in there—I’d seen them up close. Right now, they looked like they could freeze hell and anything they fixated on—it was unwelcoming and unsettling as she slanted daggers at me, delivering an icy chill down my spine.

I shouldn’t be thinking something carnal, but she looked hotter, though, and the pictures she posted on her Instagram for her twelve million followers didn’t do any justice.

Despite the chill in my whole body, my posture remained strong. I thought she recognized me for a moment, but I could be wrong. It had been years. The last time we met, she was terrified, shaking, and crying as she clung to me. And I was paid to be there to save her. Other than that, I was a stranger to her.

“Sir Linus will be here shortly,” said the old man’s butler, Walton, interrupting my little musing.

I nodded as I watched the only daughter and heiress to the billion-dollar world’s largest luxury brand and Vanderford Group as she descended the grand stairs.

My chest felt like it had been set on fire as the Vanderford princess passed by. Her high heels echoed in the entire mansion, and I stood there as I rooted in place. I guessed my presence didn’t hold the same effect on her.

I wasn’t humiliated that she didn’t give a d*mn that I was there. I knew where I stood. We were opposites in many ways. She was the sky, and I was the ground. She was the beauty, and I was the beast.

London was gorgeous. Yeah, sure, I had the looks, thanks to my b*st*rd sperm donor, but she wore more than my monthly income. That was how significant our differences were. And she was dating that *ssh*l*—what was his name? Magnum? Marcus? Maximus? Okay, I shouldn’t go there. I meant I was here to meet her father. That was all.

When the echo passed, I turned around. That was it. And the princess left. She entered the car waiting for her, and her driver and bodyguard, Ezekial Reed shut the door closed.

I’d met royals and shook their hands. I had billionaire friends, so meeting privileged kids wasn’t new to me, but I just had an eye on the forbidden fruit, and it would be just an elusive dream.

“You met London?” I recognized Linus’s voice. Deep and husky.

I faced him and offered my hand, but he pulled me into a hug instead.

“Welcome back, son.” He patted my back.

“Thank you, sir. Good to be back.” Despite how disappointed I was with myself, a small smile appeared on my lips.

“I’m assuming this is permanent.” He ushered me to the massive hallway, to the back door.

I sighed. “Yes, sir.”

“My guess Rome Langston was not happy with your decision.”

“Our agreement was a year contract, just for him to get acquainted with the country. I couldn’t say no when he and the princess asked me for another.”

“I’m glad that you are here, Striker.”

“Me too, sir.”

“Your father must be thrilled.” He sat on the lawn chair, and I took a seat across from him.

A classic bourbon bottle, rock glasses, and a set-up chess board were on the table.

I was assuming he meant my adopted. “Dad is still on a business trip. You are the first person I have met since I landed. Well, if I don’t consider Walton and your daughter.”

He eyed me for a second before he spoke. “London has changed a lot.” He shifted gears and paused with a deep sigh. Sorrow suddenly appeared in his hazel eyes. “Since that incident.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault. She’d seen therapists since I couldn’t make her open up. And her relationship with Magnus doesn’t help her either. I don’t know what to do, Striker.”

“Honestly, sir. I am the last person you wanna ask for an opinion. I’m truly sorry to hear that she’s been struggling to cope.” I was still struggling to understand why she looked at me that way. What did I do wrong? And what was I doing here? “Maybe she needs to be with the people she trusts, like you. Maybe she needs a break—a long vacation away from stress, visit places that play significant roles in her life.”

“She doesn’t want to be here. This is where she grew up, and she kept telling me that it’s absurd for a grown woman to stay with her dad.”

“Yeah, right.” I chuckled as I looked at the vast lawn.

“She didn’t talk to you, did she?”

I moved the white pawn as I couldn’t meet his gaze. “No.”

“Not even a hi?” His brows slightly creased as he took the bottle of fine bourbon and poured us shots.

I grabbed the glass he offered, even if I didn’t drink at this time. “I think she doesn’t remember me. I mean, it happened so fast. I was wearing gear and mask—”

“She remembers you and knows you, Striker.” He made a move with his chess piece.

“Oh.” I stared at him for a moment. Then why she seemed to hate me? I sipped the amber liquid, ignoring the twist in my stomach.

“She asked me to look for you, but you left for Triberis Capria the next morning.”

“What did she ask me for?” I traded carefully.

“I think you were the only person she trusted at that time.” And I was gone. I felt sad, terribly sad, and guilty.

My chest ached. If she could have asked for me earlier that day, I could have paid her a visit. And then what?

“I’m sorry. A job was waiting, and I couldn’t turn it down.”

Linus shook his head. “It’s all right.”

“May I ask how you know my arrival?”

“I asked Linden a favor and your father, but Tate doesn’t know the exact date when you’re back. Linden called me yesterday to say you’re arriving in the morning.”

“This must be crucial. What can I do for you, sir?” I moved my knight. He had already captured three of my pawns, and I got two of his pieces.

“You’ve greatly helped my family, and I owed you.”

“Sir, you don’t owe me anything. I was just doing my job.”

“Yes, you were, but you kept your promise. And I wanna ask for another favor.”

“Anything.” I swallowed hard. I wished God that I would not babysit his daughter, who hated my guts.

“I’m taking Reed to the Middle East since he speaks Arabic.” Sh*t. I knew where it was headed, and I had a feeling I would not like it. “I’d be out of the country for a few weeks.”

I wanted to laugh my *ss off at him. He could hire an entire firm. Hell, he could buy an entire security firm. So why me? And why now?

“Let me guess. I’ll be the temporary replacement.”

“Yes, and there’s more.” Of course, there was.

I captured his pawn, which he could have captured mine earlier with his Bishop, but either he didn’t notice it, or he was waiting for me to make a wrong move.

I leaned back. “Oh, boy.”

Linus chuckled. “I want you to look after her.”

“It’s part of the job, sir, but that’s not what you meant, is it?”

“I want you to be with her 24/7—”

“You want me to spy on your own daughter, too? You don’t trust her or the people around her?” I narrowed my eyes at him.

“I trust her. She knows that.”

“Wait.” I raised a hand. “Is she in sort of trouble? Does she have some threat in her life? Do you need extra security?”

“No. My head security is confident that we are safe.”

I blew a breath as I felt like I was losing a game. “You want to use me to get into your daughter.”

“If you have a daughter, you will feel what it is like to be a father who wants nothing but to see his daughter happy. I want her to live her life, and I don’t see it happening soon. She has everything this life can offer, but something is missing. I don’t see the sparks in her eyes anymore, son. And she’s holding back.”

“It takes time to heal. And do you think I can help?”

“I do. Do everything in your power, and I will do everything to pay you back.”

I looked at him intently. I opened my mouth to say something but had to shut it back.

Linus must have seen something in my eyes—that he was putting me in a challenging position and that I might have to gamble something I had not done in a long time.

“Please, think about my offer?”

“It’s not an offer, Mr. Vanderford.” I rose from the chair. “You made your decision, and you’re not giving me a choice here.”

“One hundred thousand for two weeks. Would that be enough?” I would gladly accept it if it didn’t come from him. I meant, who in the f*ck would offer me that kind of money? He was extremely wealthy, yes. My dad had money, too, not as much as Linus had, but it was an insult to me.

I drew a deep breath since my blood started boiling.

“I’m offering you because I trust you, and you are like my son. Don’t take it as an insult, Striker. Of course, you have a choice. You can still say no.”

“What if she says no?” I let him win. He was not only winning in chess but also in this argument.

He captured my King. “Checkmate. I already discussed it with her but didn’t tell her who will replace Reed.”

“My guess, she figured out the moment she saw me. Hence the glare.”

His smile didn’t meet his eyes as he stood up. “Please, think about it.”

“I don’t need that money. I’m still an employee of the firm. Linden will take care of my salary.”

“Does it mean you accepted my offer?”

“You know when I do.” I offered my hand. And here I was, ready to gamble my heart to save the lady in distress.

“Thank you.” He shook my hand. “Thank you, Striker.”

I left the mansion with a smile on my face. I should be terrified because I knew I would definitely break a lot of rules, I could feel it, but it would be the first time. So this would be fun.

Chapter 2

LONDON

“Why am I here, Dad?” I stomped my heels into the study and followed him to his desk. “A call would do.”

He ignored my little outburst as he sat calmly at his desk. “You did not miss your father, London?”

“We had dinner last week.” I rolled my eyes. I was supposed to have a sit-down meeting with my designers, but here I was in the middle of the day.

“And we were supposed to have lunch last Wednesday.”

“Dad, I told you I made a promise with Magnus.” Dad didn’t like Magnus. He said he wasn’t good enough for me. Every father probably had the same thought as him. He might as well ask his friend Linden to do a full background check on my boyfriend.

I couldn’t blame him, though—all he wanted was the best for me. But it was not that I was asking for his approval for any men I wanted to go out with.

His face soured instantly.

“Don’t say what you’re about to say. You don’t like him, and I got it the first time. Why am I here? And I miss

Heroes

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