Counsellor(Acquisition Series Book 1)(3)

By: Celia Aaron


Vinemont turned to the judge and gave him a slight nod. Judge Montagnet returned the nod and then banged his gavel. “Court is adjourned.”



***



“Just let me make you feel better.” Dylan leaned over me, pushing me sideways onto the ancient leather sofa in my father’s library.

“I can’t do this right now.” I tried to push him off but he pressed harder, overcoming my balance so I fell on my back beneath him.

He put his mouth to my neck, sucking my skin between his teeth. He was large and well-muscled thanks to endless lacrosse and rowing. He crushed me and constricted my chest.

“Please, Dylan.” I gasped. I should have been afraid. I wasn’t. I was still dazed from the courthouse. Dylan was just adding to the long line of disappointments I’d suffered over the past six months.

He pushed his knee between my legs.

“I can make it all go away for you,” he murmured against me. “Just let me make you feel good for a minute. You need a break.”

He forced his hand up my skirt.

“Stella? Where are you?” My father’s voice calling my name had my stepbrother off me in a heartbeat.

Dylan gripped my hand and yanked me into a sitting position as he straightened his button-down and smoothed his blonde hair. He winked at me. The bastard.

When Dad didn’t show up in the doorway, I knew it was the “come here” sort of call.

“I have to go.”

“Later,” Dylan whispered.

Not if I can help it. Dylan had taken one youthful mistake committed years ago and turned it into some sort of lifelong flame. No matter how many times I told him, he just didn’t believe that twenty-five year-old me wasn’t the same as the foolish, needy nineteen-year-old I once was.

When my father and I had moved to Louisiana, we were despondent. Mom had left this world without saying goodbye or giving an explanation. Dad and I were adrift, trying to come up with some way to carry on even though our heart was gone, buried in the cold ground of a New York cemetery.

Dad eventually took a liking to Dylan’s mother and tried to make a new start with her and, admittedly, her family fortune. Neither venture worked out and they divorced after only six months. Dylan and I were mismatched step-siblings if ever there were any. I painted and read. He loved sports and abhorred learning of any sort if it didn’t have to do with Xs and Os on a whiteboard.

Still, I was sad and desperately looking to feel something, anything, in the wake of my mother’s death. Dylan was there and more than willing. So, I did something foolish. It was my first time—my only time—and I didn’t exactly regret it afterward, I just didn’t think about it. It was a non-event for me. That wasn’t the case for Dylan, unfortunately.

I shook thoughts of him from my mind as I followed my father’s voice to the back of the house and into his study.

Dad had sunk our last few dimes into this turn-of-the-century Victorian home. The whimsical façade was charming. The leaking ceilings and drafty windows? Not so much. Even so, it had been a safe place until Vinemont’s tendrils had begun to invade, first with visits from investigators, then the arrest, then the searches. Vinemont had shown up each step of the way, reveling in the torment he inflicted.

For the millionth time that day, I hoped Vinemont would spontaneously combust. Then I strode into my dad’s study.

The fire was crackling, and the room smelled of my father’s pipe. The atmosphere in that room always had a way of putting me at ease, making me feel safe. Even now, after all we’d been through, I still felt a familiar comfort when I walked in.

Along the back wall near the high windows, he’d arranged the draft paintings and sketches I hadn’t sent to the local gallery. I’d caught him so many times just standing in front of whichever piece he’d decided to peruse for the moment, staring into it as if it held some sort of answer. My mother had taught me to paint. Maybe he was seeing her in the strokes and lines?

My feet hit the soft Persian rug that I used to play on as a child, bringing me back to the here and now. My father sat in his favorite wingback chair near the fire. The room felt fuller, somehow more occupied than usual, as if there was less air or not enough space.

Despite the crackling flames, the room was colder, darker. My familiar comfort drained away. Someone else was sitting in the matching chair facing my father, though I couldn’t see who it was.

My pace slowed as I saw my father’s stricken look. His wrinkled, yet still handsome face was pale, even in the flickering firelight. The first coils of dread snaked around my heart, constricting it slowly.

“Dad?”

Then I caught the scent of him. Whenever I passed him in the courthouse or when he came too close to where my father and I sat, I’d gotten a taste of this same scent. Woodsy and masculine with a hint of some sort of sophisticated tinge. My knees threatened to buckle but I kept going until I stood behind my father’s chair and faced my enemy.