Burning Ultimatum (Trevor's Harem #4) (5 page)

BOOK: Burning Ultimatum (Trevor's Harem #4)
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“Did you hear me?” Trevor asks when I don’t respond.

“I heard you.”

Something in my voice must prick his ears because he walks a few steps toward me. He’s as immaculately dressed as he is most of the time around here. I’m in jeans and a sleeveless tee. I haven’t showered yet and feel filthy. I haven’t shaven, and stubble is something that usually bugs the shit out of me. I know I’m supposed to dress in my monkey suit like Trevor, but I feel like if I put on a dress shirt, I’ll soil it.

“Are you all right?” he asks.

“I’m fine.”

He looks at the screen. “Were you talking to the board?”

I nod.


“I told them I lied. Bridget’s key indicator isn’t restraint.”

Trevor blinks. He might have believed what I told the board before a gentle spiraling out of control became the vortex that threatens us now.

“It isn’t?”

“Of course not. You’re smarter than that, Trevor.”

“So why is she still here?”

Now, how should I answer that?

“Because Halo is unspooling. There are faults everywhere. I can see it.”

“I thought you said nobody was able to see into Halo. It’s a black box.”

“We can see the results.” I raise my fingers and tick a few off for Trevor: “Roxy, eliminated from a purely sexual competition. Kat, advancing to the final four with a disqualifier hidden in her pocket.” It takes more effort to tick off the last finger. “And Bridget.”


“This should be stopped, Trevor. We can’t trust what it’s telling us.”

I watch Trevor’s eyes. I wasn’t just flattering him; he really is smart. Both of us clawed our way up to the top, always having each other’s back. We’re like brothers. We have fights, of course. All brothers do. I don’t like keeping information from my brother right now, but I don’t have a choice. Keeping secrets is my job, and it’s chewing me up inside like a machine with a faulty gear.

He seems to believe me. He seems to buy what I fed the board, but unlike with the board, shoveling bullshit at Trevor bothers me. I wish I could tell him the truth, but we’re both part of a giant organism right now. Almost literally, we’re living each day in its guts.

“What did the board say?”

“You know Alexa. She doesn’t need proof to believe, so offering evidence as a reason to doubt doesn’t budge her. Halo was just one means to what she sees as an inevitable end. It’s like we made a telescope to see Jesus standing on the moon, but it doesn’t matter that the lens is broken because she was sure he was there from the start. Alexa’s faith makes her dangerous.”

“This isn’t about religion.”

a religion for Alexa,” I say. “For Welty, it’s about money. It’s about Eros cornering a market. Finding a path to Porn 2.0, if that’s where he narrow-mindedly thinks the company is headed. I can almost reason with Welty. But Alexa?” I shake my head. There’s no playacting with her. Talk to Alexa long enough, and you get the feeling she’s waiting for the Second Coming — but not of a traditional savior.

Trevor looks around the room, and I know he’s thinking of the cameras and microphones.

“The board can’t hear this discussion,” I say.

“How can you possibly know that?”

Because I’ll take this footage from the raw files and feed it back to Halo, just as I was instructed

But as much as I usually like and rely on Trevor, I don’t trust him enough to tell him about that. Not yet. But it’s possible that I’m making things worse by withholding. He’s already gone behind my back a few times with Bridget, and I need her in this. I need her focused. Most of all, I need her
untampered with
. I might have told the board a lie about her superpower being restraint, but there’s no question she has one. Unfortunately, it’s not the kind that will help Eros or the board. In fact, it’s quite the contrary.

“Do you trust me?”

Trevor hesitates. “Of course, man.”

I know he’s lying. It’s okay. I’m lying, too. Halo isn’t choking, like I told the board. Halo’s being choked.

“I need you to
trusting me. Just until this is over.”

“About what?”

I hesitate.

Talk to me.”

“I love Bridget.”

He laughs.

“I’m serious.”

“Is that why you’re fucking Jessica? Is that why you’ve been talking to Kylie so much? Are you fucking her, too?” But the words don’t come easily, and he looks at me sideways — the look of a man who can’t quite pass judgment, because we’re being the guys we’ve always been. Two dudes who don’t care, who think of the world as our oyster.
Bros before hos.

“You know that’s not how it is.” We’ve discussed this a few times already. But Trevor keeps jabbing because he wants to hear me deny it, again and again.

“You’ve got a funny way of showing a girl you love her, Daniel.”

“I’ll talk to her.”

“And just explain it all away.”

I shrug. I don’t have the answer, and all that springs to mind is how Trevor told me,
I care for her, too.
Now would be the perfect time for him to make a move and steal her away if he hasn’t already. It wouldn’t be hard. She won’t easily forgive me. Trevor, with his boyish good looks and reputation for honoring women’s trust, must be much more appealing right now.

The thought reminds me of why Trevor came here in the first place. I look at him, standing in his suit while I’m a mess. It’s been hard to get my head straight. I feel like an addict battling sobriety.

“So,” I say, “I assume I need to get dressed?”

“Probably. I didn’t ask.”

I shake my head. “Jesus, Trevor. Look at us. This is our show. This is our house.”

“It’s Eros’s house.”

I ignore the interruption. “I designed this experiment. I’ve administered it as best I can. Caspian isn’t even supposed to be involved. He’s the company’s silent partner.
. Yet here we are, letting him call the shots and begging for permission.”

“He’ll leave after this round.”


“He has to. He has an investor meeting in California. I got an earful about it yesterday.”

Well. At least that’s something. But I wonder if he has plans to take someone with him. Bridget is firmly on his radar, and that’s a place no one wants to be. Trevor and I have agreed on the dangers for weeks, but I’ve an additional agenda Trevor doesn’t know about. It probably looks to him like our goals are different because I fought to keep Bridget in this competition while he was trying to get her to go. But in the end, we both want the same thing — in different ways.

Trevor would protect her by forcing her out.

Whereas me? I’ll keep her close … then simply
protect her

“What’s he going to do, do you think?”

“I don’t know.”

“And why do I have to be there?”

Trevor looks uncomfortable.

“What?” I ask.

“I guess the sensible answer is because you’re the administrator. You need to observe what happens, so you can record your findings.”

I think of that uncomfortable look. And for the tenth or so time since Trevor and I have been in this room together, I’m sure there’s a lie in the air.

“That’s the sensible answer,” I say, “But it’s not what you think.”

“Just get dressed. Let’s get this over with.”

“Trevor? Why do you think Caspian wants me there?”

His jaw works. Then his eyes soften. It’s not friendship or brotherhood I see. It’s pity.

“Whatever he has in mind for Bridget,” Trevor says, “I think he plans on forcing you to watch.”



There’s a small anteroom outside the basement rec room. I’ve walked through the rec room numerous times, but I’ve never noticed this space. Part of me wonders if it’s something new, specially constructed for whatever the upcoming challenge with Special Guest Judge Caspian White might require. Or if it’s another forgotten area, sandwiched between walls in what was once thought to be null space inside the cavernous mansion.

To me, it seems like the doctor’s waiting room in a Stanley Kubrick movie. It’s all white, from floor to ceiling to walls to chairs to a couch that’s somehow acutely uncomfortable. There’s a lamp with a white base and matching shade on the end table. The bulb must be fluorescent because the light is pure white. It’s too long for its width, giving the impression of being in a smaller version of a train car.
I’m alone, sitting in a white chair on which it’s impossible to find a comfortable position. The chairs are bolted to the floor, and the end tables are fastened too close to the chairs’ feet. I can’t cross my legs, lean back, or spread out. I feel like a Tetris block.

The room must be soundproof, like my former cinderblock den of
, because I haven’t heard a thing since Jessica left upon Caspian’s call. I entered one end of the overly long, intestine-like room just as she was heading out the other. I saw a glimpse of a room that appeared to be the opposite of this one, all black and likely huge — the rec room transformed. Jessica glanced back at me. I tried to glare, but she looked terrified. Before I could gather my wits and adjust my expression (possibly to one of,
be scared, bitch
), she was gone.

Barely audible music is being piped in from somewhere — like something from an orchestra of the dead. The instruments are all out of tune, but they keep on playing. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard, and yet the dirge continues. The air smells vaguely of rubbing alcohol, reminding me of my deep-seated fear of doctors and dentists.

I sit as best I can, and after ten minutes my back is so stiff I have to get up and walk around, fighting spasms. But eventually, I return to my seat because there’s a large video screen on one of the walls that flickers with static whenever I stand. For some reason, it makes me dizzy and nauseated.

The door to the black rec room cracks open. I think it’ll be someone calling me in for my turn, but instead it’s Jessica. She walks toward me, her face blank. I tense, but then she grabs and hugs me, hard. She takes my hand, and I shake it off. She moves back toward the still-open door to the rec room and says, “Come on.”

I guess she’s here to summon me. I want to resist on principle, but this is Caspian in Jessica’s skin. So I go.

I hear a door behind me as we’re entering the black room. I look back to see Kylie enter. Our eyes meet, but the same thing happens as when I looked at Jessica. She looks hateful, then shocked. And I realize that this time
must look terrified.

I can’t stand the thought of talking to Jessica. But the black space seems so much larger than the rec room, with only two lit areas. One is a chaise, under a spotlight. The other is a more diffusely illuminated spot opposite the chaise, where Caspian White sits impassive atop a large ornate chair like a king.

This watchful silence is unbearable. Somehow, I’m sure there are others in here, hiding in the shadows. Sitting. Staring at us as my eyes struggle to adjust from the bright white room.

“What is the challenge?” I ask.

Jessica says nothing. We’re approaching the chaise. It’s soft-looking and upholstered in tan fabric, larger than it needs to be. Lots of room to spread out. Spread out and …

“Jess. What’s he going to do?” I look up at Caspian, but he might as well be made of marble. Every hair is in place. Every seam on his shirt and slacks is pressed to a sharp peak. He’s wearing a pale blue tie. I can’t see from here, but I’m sure the color perfectly matches his eyes.

“Jess!” I hiss.

“Be you,” is all she says.

And then she’s gone.

I’m alone across from Caspian, waiting for a cue. I tell myself that I should’ve left this place instead of staying for spite, three full times before realizing he’s not going to speak first.

So I sit on the chaise, beneath the harsh light. Knees together. I’ve changed from earlier, wearing something more conservative. In unconscious imitation of his fashion choice, I’ve selected a below-knee-length blue-green dress that matches my eyes, just as Caspian’s tie matches his.

“Your friend Kylie told me about your mother,” Caspian says. “About a certain … solution … you’ve hired to help her.”

“She’s not my friend.” I hate the way my voice echoes in this place. The sound makes me uncomfortable. I want to shut my mouth, and never speak again.

Caspian reaches up and snugs his tie. Then his big hands return to the arms of his chair.

“I can help you with that situation,” Caspian says. I see a tiny smirk. “Or I can hinder you.”

I swallow.

BOOK: Burning Ultimatum (Trevor's Harem #4)
8.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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