The Empire Hotel.
Most would agree it was a grand building, but only a select few would ever have the chance to step foot onto its top floor. There was, after all, space for only a singular room, reserved to only the wealthiest of people.
Avery Xanders trudged on the plush Persian carpet and made her way to the end of the hallway. The design was exquisite, the patterns woven intricately with each other, like they were always meant to be. Under normal circumstances, she would’ve been in awe to have even touched something this expensive, but this wasn’t a normal circumstance. Not even close.
Her grip tightened around the key card she held as she stopped in front of the door. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply to calm herself. Once, twice.
No good. Her hands still trembled. She grasped the handle, but her other hand stopped before the card touched the lock. She didn’t want to do this. She knew what was on the line.
But what choice did she have?
A few days ago.
A young woman rushed through the doors of a government hospital. She paid no heed to the bystanders that glanced at her as she ran past them, seemingly focused entirely on reaching her destination, to the point where she hadn’t bothered changing out of her uniform that advertised the pizza shop she worked at to everyone that saw her.
The nurse that called her had told her everything she needed to know, so she ignored the front desk and ran straight to an elevator. The wait to the fifth floor was excruciating, her brows furrowed in worry as the numbers changed meanderingly slowly. Finally, the long-awaited ding was heard, and she speed walked to the ward, muttering apologies to the nurses she had to dodge along the way.
She scanned the room. Eight beds lined the wall, four on each side. Some had curtains drawn, but others were empty. Her gaze fell onto the last bed and she ran over to it.
Her worst fears were realized when she saw her aunt on the hospital bed, skin pale as paper and just as fragile.
Just then, a doctor came into the room. He looked at Avery, then glanced at his patient. “Hello there, are you a relative to Emily Quarters?”
Avery nodded, wiping a film of tears from her eyes. “Yes, I am.” It took all her willpower to tear her eyes away from her aunt, but she had to ask. “How is she?”
“She’s suffering from uremia. I’m sorry to say that she is in critical condition, but as of right now she’s lucky to be alive.”
Something in her snapped. It was as if the strings holding her up had been cut by the doctor’s words, and her legs gave out as she dissolved into sobs. If it weren’t for her hands holding the bedrail for support, she would’ve collapsed onto the ground.
She always knew her aunt had poor health. Avery often saw her taking medication, or she would need injections, but she never expected it to worsen so suddenly, especially to this extent.
“Doctor, you have to save her. Please,” she said, tears streaming down her face. The doctor gave a sympathetic nod.
“Of course. We’ll try our best, but if she doesn’t receive a kidney transplant in time, there might not be anything we can do.”
Avery’s heart sank. “How much would that cost…?”
She hoped against hope that she could afford it, but knew it was in vain. Anyone with common sense knew organ transplants weren’t cheap, much less one that was this urgent.
“We are estimating the cost of the transplant itself, plus the post-surgery treatment to cost around,” the doctor paused. “Five hundred thousand dollars.”
Her mind blanked out.
She was an employee at a pizza store. Where on earth would she get that much money from?
She looked back at her aunt. The poor woman had sacrificed herself for Avery’s sake. If their positions were reversed….
Her hands clenched the rail.
The cost didn’t matter. She had to save her.
Outside the city, a sleek black car drove into a stamped concrete driveway as the gates closed slowly behind it. It stopped before a European-style villa.
One of its doors swung open and a man with an air of sophistication stepped out of it. The way he was dressed, the manner he held himself in, anyone could tell he was someone important. Even his pants seemed to cost more than most people’s paychecks.
He shut the car door and strode into the villa, making his way upstairs into his study. It was getting dark, the last traces of twilight fast diminishing, but he left the lights off as he walked into the wall-length window at the end of the room.
There was an imperceptible frown between his eyebrows on his otherwise expressionless face. He fished a box of cigarettes from his coat and lit one, the small fire lighting his perfectly sculpted face up in the darkened room. He exhaled with a small sigh as he tossed the box and lighter onto his mahogany desk. Smoke hit the window and dispersed, giving him an enigmatic vibe.
Two sharp raps on the door brought his attention back to the present. He turned his head slightly towards the sound.
“It’s open,” he said, returning his attention to the window. His voice was deep, a rich baritone that echoed slightly throughout the room.
A man in a black suit entered. He bowed slightly as he stopped in front of the desk. “Sir, I’ve brought information on the Xanders, as you’ve requested,” he said, placing some files down next to the cigarettes.
It was just two words, but it sent a chill down his spine. His tone had changed slightly, but it was one no one wanted to be on the receiving end of. He nodded in response and left the study.
Silence befell the room once more. He took one last drag and walked over to his desk. His gaze fell on the top file and he opened it, his other hand putting out his cigarette in a crystal tray.
Sure enough, the information on all three of them were in there.
Hayes Xanders, a potbellied middle-aged man with a face that screamed of corruption. The deputy director of Zaytona City.
The man moved the paper to the side.
Underneath the first sheet was Amber, Hayes’s daughter. Eighteen, studying in Brockston High, a private school for the elite in Zaytona.
A high school senior. His eyes darted to her picture. She was indubitably beautiful, with a confident grin spread across her face. He narrowed his eyes at the sight of her.
There was another knock on the door as it cracked open, this time accompanied by a soft feminine voice. “I’ve brought you some coffee.”
He turned his attention to the new arrival as the young woman dressed in lace loungewear walked in, a tray in hand. His gaze, usually sharp and piercing, instantly softened at the sight of her.
“Rea,” he started, his tone warmer than before. “I’ve told you to leave things like this to the attendants.”
She smiled at him and shook her head. “It’s okay, I wanted to do this.” She placed the tray onto the desk and picked up a porcelain cup. “I thought that we could-”
Her smile froze as her gaze landed on a photo on the table.
His face. Her worst nightmare.
The cup slipped from her hand and shattered. She slumped onto the ground, hyperventilating as panic engulfed her.
He frowned in confusion, but a silent horror flashed across his eyes as he realized what happened.
“Hey, look at me.” He crouched down and pulled her away from the shards as coffee stained the carpet and her clothes. She shook her head and threw herself against him, grabbing his suit with both hands as she tried to stop the sobbing gasps coming from herself.
He hugged her shaking body and stroked her hair, watching her with concern clear on his face. “It’s okay, you’re with me,” he said softly. “It’s all in the past. You’re safe now.” Her tremors stopped slowly as he whispered reassurances to her, and she eventually looked up at him with bloodshot eyes. He brushed her hair out of her face as she leaned against him again.
“Make them pay, Chris,” she said, barely above a whisper. “His daughter, too.” She swallowed as tears welled up in her eyes again. “We’re the same age, d*mn it. I was just fifteen… Why did I have to… while that pampered little-”
At that, Reagan’s words turned into sobs once more. It broke his heart, having to watch as his sister broke down in front of him, unable to do anything to comfort her. His gaze turned steely.
“Don’t worry, Rea. I will.” He had said it softly, but the malice in his tone still leaked through.
He owed her so much, and now that he had finally found her, they were going to make up for all the suffering she had to endure. He’d make sure of that.
Reagan nuzzled into his arms and smiled slightly, finally calming down. He gave her an incomparable sense of security. “Thank you. I’m glad I have you on my side.”
She knew could count on him. Before this, she had never even dared to dream of reuniting with her family, much less being found by them. And never in her life would she have ever imagined one of them to be him.
He was, after all, the richest man in Zaytona City. President of the Hightower Group, and heir to the richest and most powerful family in Zaytona: