Episode 1

I couldn’t help but play with the hem of my dress. Dad wouldn’t appreciate the shortness or how tight it was, but he had to understand that I was an adult now. I was no longer the little girl who clung to her father when she was scared. I wished that he saw me as the woman I was trying to become, not the child I once was. 43

Letting out a sigh, I wiped the excess lip gloss surrounding the rim of my lips. I was looking at myself in the mirror, smiling about the way the blue dress hugged my body. Confidence was splurging through me, and I welcomed it with open arms. It wasn’t something I felt very often, but I was getting better at it. 2

There was once a time where I felt like the most beautiful girl in the world. It was before I grew older and realized that maybe that wasn’t so true. It seemed as though with age, came insecurities. I went from loving the body I was born in, to hating every curve, every roll, and every scar.

“Christina,” my dad called out. 1

I quickly turned off the light to my restroom before pulling open the door. My father stood outside with a raised brow as he took in my appearance. Judgement brimmed his features, leaving me to cross my arms over my chest.

“Before you jump to conclusions, just know that it’s the only dress I had,” I muttered. 1

“I’m taking you to the office with me. I can’t have you looking like… that,” he said. 30

Glancing down at my dress, I frowned deeply. “Fine. I guess I will just go put on some jeans or something.”

He peaked at his watch, the wrinkles on his forehead deepening. Gravity pulled it further downward, his frown grew more evident.

“No, we don’t have time. In fact, we should be leaving now,” he sighed. My shoulders fell at the sound of his words. It wasn’t my intention to be a disappointment or an embarrassment. My father always wore a suit to work, so I assumed there was some dress code they were made to follow. The last thing I wanted was to underdress, but with one look at my father’s face, I knew that I made the wrong decision.

“I could change really qui—”

“Don’t worry about it. Let’s go,” he stated.

My lips parted to debate, but based on the pointed look he gave me, I let it go.

Following him out of the house, we made our way to his old white car. The paint was barely even white anymore from the years of long drives. To prove its old age, the engine held a loud roar when it started up. However, it was the same car he used to share with my mother before she passed away. The old, broken, white car held too many memories of terrible singing and nagging debates to ever let go.

I was thirteen when I said my last goodbyes to my mom. Breast cancer took her life before she could ever witness me graduating high school or getting married. It felt like it was yesterday when I grasped her cold hand and begged her to keep fighting. I was too young to realize that she had no choice, but if she did, I knew she would do anything in the world to stay. 9

My father did a great job of trying to replace our small family’s loss. It became the two of us against the world. For a single dad who had to work twice as hard to raise a teenage daughter, he did amazing.

I managed to look up into the scattered clouds across the sky as we drove. It did a great job of calming my racing mind. An uneasiness rested in the pit of my stomach at the thought of joining my father at his job for the first time. He always made sure to keep his work life away from his personal life. However, my father always mentioned his boss, Mr. Mariano, who was always so kind to him. I assumed it was because his boss pitied him after losing my mom. I went from hearing stories about Mr. Mariano’s cruelty to other employees, to hearing about how he paid for my mother’s funeral expenses. 9

There was a time a few years ago that I had met the millionaire he worked for, Emanuel Mariano. He was such an attractive man. The thought of him was enough to leave my panties damp. I was nineteen when my father introduced me to him. 2

My dad failed to realize that the last thing I needed was a babysitter at such a mature age. After losing my mother, he grew too precautious over losing me too. That was why his boss showed up at my house thinking he would catch a little girl in her pajamas. It was also how we went from talking about college to me noticing the bulge in his pants when I purposely bent over to pick up a shoe. That night, I ended up pinned against the wall with his lips hovering over my own. I had never been as turned on by a man, but Emanuel Mariano worked magic on my core.

We didn’t do much, but I wished we had. He was so close to me—so close to entering me. I was ready to give my full self to him without any worry of the consequences. That whole night, we spent it just looking and wanting—lusting and craving. Even when I left to play with myself to the thought of him, I didn’t restrain my moans. I wanted him to hear just how badly I desiderated him. 21

Aside from a few dinners, that night was the last time I had ever seen Mr. Mariano. I was almost jumping in my seat just to look into those crystal eyes of a man I fancied for years. 7

My thoughts quickly ran away from me when I noticed a man with a hoodie over his head and sunglasses perched on his nose. I wasn’t sure how he managed to squeeze my heart for a glance that lasted a few seconds, but he did. His eyes were intense and I couldn’t even see them through the blue holographic lens. Something about him did a great job at striking fear through my body and holding my lungs to the point that I couldn’t even breathe.

“You okay?” My dad questioned.

I glanced over at him momentarily to catch his eye just before they returned to the road. “I’m fine. Why do you ask?”

“You seem… off. If you’re worried about the dress, don’t be. I might have overreacted,” he sighed, “I just hate to see my little girl growing up.” 23

A smile embraced my lips. “I love you, dad. Forever.” 1

“I love you too, kiddo,” he grinned.

It didn’t take long for us to arrive at the huge office building. It reached the sky with his name resting just out front, Emanuel Mariano. It was enough to send chills down my spine at the memories that knocked on my brain. 7

“Is he going to be here?” I asked, pointing to the taunting name. Hope quickly dispersed into my loins. There was nothing I wanted more than to see Emanuel again.

My father nodded his head slowly, chuckling as he moved. “Well, he does own the place, Christina.”

I didn’t realize how foolish of a question it was until I heard the ‘duh’ hidden in my dad’s tone. I nudged him playfully with a grin tugging at my lips, leaving him to break out in a stomach-gripping laughter.

“It is not that funny,” I grumbled jokingly. Instead of realizing that I’m right, his laughter only tripled.

When he finally stopped laughing, we walked into the building together. I eyed the receptionist who held a breathtaking smile on her nude-painted lips. The woman looked to be around my father’s age as wisdom coated her hazel eyes.

“Hey, Jason!” She chirped out. Her smile grew wider as she watched my father walk closer to her, leaving me no choice but to follow. My brow arched as I looked at the woman, who held a glint of attentiveness in her eye.

“Hazel, this is my daughter, Christina. Christina, this is my dear friend, Hazel,” he introduced.

I returned her kind smile and outstretched my hand for her to shake. What I expected was a handshake, but instead, Hazel walked around the receptionist desk and pulled me into her arms. It completely took me by surprise, but I managed to wrap my arms around her just before she could pull away.

“You are so gorgeous,” Hazel acknowledged once she broke away from the embrace. Her words spread warmth throughout my heart. It wasn’t something I heard a lot, but it felt so comforting coming from someone’s lips.

“Thank you. You’re absolutely stunning,” I pointed out.

“Sorry to break this up, but we have to go. We are almost late and my boss doesn’t favor tardiness,” my dad announced.

I sent one last smile to Hazel before following my father to the elevator where we rode up to the highest level.

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