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Bought for Her Innocence

By:Tara Pammi


CHAPTER ONE

“I HAVE A proposition for you, Jasmine, that would allow you to pay off your brother’s debt within a year.”

Fear was a cold fist clamped over her spine, but Jasmine Douglas forced herself to stare steadily into the chilly green eyes of Noah King.

That word proposition from any other man of her acquaintance, while wholly unwelcome but an awful reality of her life, was something she was used to.

The clientele of the club where she worked, owned by Noah, was constantly under the impression that her scantily clad, gyrating-around-a-pole body was up for sale. That she was for sale.

She wasn’t and never would be.

Only soul-wrenching fear of the consequences of owing a debt to this man who owned three underground gambling clubs in London, and who was even now contemplating her future without blinking, had forced her into it.

She had barely buried her brother Andrew when she had learned of the debt he had piled up with Noah King, of all people. Desperation to resolve this debt and a need for survival forced her every night to take the stage.

So coming from Noah, that dangerous word turned the very blood in her veins into ice. “I’ve not missed a single payment, Noah,” she finally said through a dry mouth.

“Yes, but you’re barely making a dent. You have no assets that you could sell off, either.”

Her skin turned cold in the comfortably warm warehouse that was the headquarters of Noah’s empire. A couple of completely harmless-looking men had showed up at her flat this morning and very politely accompanied her to see Noah here.

Sweat pooling over her neck, Jasmine realized how foolish she was to assume that anything related to Noah King was harmless.

“Am I a prisoner, then?” she said, before she could hold back the reckless question.

Noah didn’t even blink as he casually peeled an orange and offered her some. “Until we find a satisfactory resolution, yes.”

Her gut dropped and she fought the instinct to turn around and run. No phrase had ever scared the daylights out of her like satisfactory resolution.

Why, oh, why hadn’t Andrew thought of where his debt would lead him one day? How could he have left her to deal with this dangerous man?

How, after all the promises he had made to her, could he have left her even worse than they had already been?

She had slaved for five years and was still stuck in this man’s power, like a fly stuck in a spider’s web. The more she tried to get out, the more she was ensnared.

On the heels of that thought came instant guilt. Andrew’s face flashed in front of her, his eagerness shining in his eyes, his expression so kind, lodging a lump in her throat.

We’ll get out of this dump one day, Jas. You just wait and watch. I’ll get us out of here.

Her brother had only wanted what was best for her, had only wanted to improve their lot in life. Had watched out for her for years.

Equipped with no skills, saddled with their mother’s drinking and responsibility for Jas, he had seen no other way out of the hellhole they had been born into except by trying his luck in Noah’s gambling den.

Not his fault that he had died so suddenly at only twenty-nine in an accident. Not his fault that everyone they had counted on had disappointed them.

And just like that, as though he was a thorn forever lodged under her skin, like a memory that had been burned into her brain, Dmitri came to mind.

Dmitri Karegas—godson of Giannis Katrakis, textile tycoon and internationally renowned playboy, collector of expensive toys like yachts and Bugattis and...beautiful women.

Dmitri, who had grown up along with them on the streets of London after his English father’s business went into bankruptcy, whom Andrew had shielded from his alcoholic father numerous times, Dmitri, whom Andrew had treated like a brother, Dmitri, to whom Andrew had gone in need and who had refused to help an old friend while he led a filthy rich life, who had looked at her so coldly at Andrew’s funeral and offered her cash.

Dmitri, whose exploits she followed with something bordering on obsession.

Thinking of Andrew would only weaken her; thinking of the man who might have helped was definitely a certain waste of her energies now.

It was as if there was glass in her throat as she looked back at Noah. “How much do I owe?”

“Thirty thousand pounds. It would take you another decade to pay it off if you continue as you do. But if you added a little something more personal to your menu at the club, then I see this going somewhere. You’re a huge hit, Jasmine, and I’ve been getting offer after offer...”

Noah’s words came as if from a distance, as if it was happening to some other person, as if it was the only way her mind could deal with it... Sweat gathered over her forehead and the back of her neck, the pungent odor of alcohol and sweaty bodies that clung to the walls of the warehouse cutting off her breath.

The only thing that did burn into her mind was that she would be one step closer to selling herself, if not all the way. That was what Noah had decided for her. If she didn’t get out now, she never would.

But how? Her lungs burned with the effort to draw breath; her knees locked in utter fear.

“...unless someone offers to buy out your debt, you have no choice.” Noah’s words floated into her mind again.

That was it. That was all she needed—someone to pay off her debt, to buy her from Noah.

And that someone had to be Dmitri.

No, that ashamed part of her screamed. If she went to him for help, he would know how low she had fallen. He would...

Better to sell herself to a known devil than an unknown one, the rational part of her asserted.

But even Dmitri couldn’t just extract her from Noah King with all the power he had amassed. Not after he had turned his back on this life and everything in it.

Not if he had become a soft man who spent his days lounging about on his yacht and nights with women who did his every bidding.

Jasmine would have to provide Dmitri an opening and pray that he would take the bait. And if he didn’t, the consequences didn’t bear thinking about.

The article she had seen in the tech magazine that had been wrapped around the loaf of warm bread she had bought at the bakery only last week came to her. She had nothing to lose at this point and still, everything to gain.

“Put my virginity up for an auction,” she said loudly, the words burning her lips. “Give me a chance to pay it off at once.”

A deafening silence filled the hall. Jasmine could feel ten sets of eyes on her, her skin crawling at the obviously male interest in her. Steadily, she held Noah’s gaze, immensely grateful that at least his gaze was free of the openly nauseating lust she usually found herself the target of.

But then, Noah was, first and always, a businessman.

His silent appraisal of her gave Jasmine hope. Her breath ballooned up in her chest, crushing her lungs as she waited for his reply.

“You think someone will buy you,” he finally said, a greedy glint in his eye. She had caught his interest, she realized, a shaky relief filling her inside out.

“Yes,” she said, putting all her confidence in that single word. “Give me a week, Noah, please,” she added, desperation coating her throat.

“Three days,” Noah finally said.

A shake of his head had one of his thugs accompanying Jasmine to the room she had been brought to earlier.

For a second, Jasmine shook violently from head to toe, utter fear drenching her.

No, she couldn’t lose her nerve now.

Switching her prepaid cell phone on, Jasmine clicked the number she had memorized years ago on the clunky keys, every breath coming like a chore. It had been years; he wouldn’t probably have the same number anymore.

Even if he did have it, he might not care.

Pressing the cold phone to her forehead, Jasmine held back the hot sting of tears.

This had to work.

She backspaced a few times as her fingers shook on the phone screen. Her stomach tight, her hands clammy, she hit Send and crumpled against the floor.

* * *

In the process of putting his discarded shirt on, Dmitri Karegas flicked a glance toward the blonde provocatively stretched over his bed.

“Come back to bed,” she whispered without any fabricated coyness.

What was her name? Mandy? Maddie?

For the life of him, Dmitri couldn’t remember such a simple thing. And couldn’t manage any shame over it, either.

Work, party, sex—these were the parameters of his life. He didn’t hate women, didn’t remember deciding to make his life so. But there it was.

He had worked around the clock for the past two months, trying to undo the damage his business partner and oldest friend, Stavros, had wreaked on Katrakis Textiles’ stock with his uncharacteristic behavior, and finalizing a coup that had finally landed a nightclub he had been dying to acquire on his portfolio.

So he had found the blonde at the nightclub on his first night looking over his new toy.

She was everything he liked in a woman—willing, wanton, with a wicked tongue to boot. Even better, she didn’t fill the silence with inane chatter and hadn’t even dropped those usual hints about a budding relationship.

One creamy thigh bared as she slid upward in the bed. Yet as her rose-colored nipples puckered into tight buds under his continued stare, all he felt was an echo of arousal, the way a dog would lift its muzzle at the scent of meat.

Nothing else. Just like the numerous times over the past decade.

He worked, he collected his toys, he slept with willing women, yet somehow Dmitri never felt anything but a surface reaction, as if he was skimming through the very edge of life, incapable of sinking beneath the surface, forever on the outsides of it.

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