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Sold to Him: A Billionaire Bad Boy Romance by Cassandra Dee, Penny Close (1)

Chapter 1

Trina

 

I don’t qualify for any of these.

The job listings I’m staring at have more requirements than I anticipated. I don’t know how to do any of these things, but I need something, badly and soon. If only it was based on your need for money – there’s no way they would reject me if they knew how desperate I am for help.

Because my life has been a whirlwind since my parents left us last year. What type of people leave a teenage girl in charge of her gravely ill younger brother? I’ll never be able to understand or forgive my parents for what they’ve done – the circumstances they’ve put me are beyond selfish.

My classmates are more concerned with prom and graduation, but I have bigger fish to fry. Anxiety boils in my stomach, making it ache, but then I hear my little brother coughing from the next room. Mickey’s cough has gotten worse with the change in the weather as his asthma flares up, and my heart twinges with a pang. If I don’t make enough money by next week, he’ll be out of medication and we won’t be able to afford another visit to the clinic. I can’t let that happen, not when I love Mickey more than life itself.

Plus, Grandma’s benefits only include one doctor visit per month, and we used that up in the first week. I must sound ungrateful, and I am appreciative of Grandma Nana, but her benefits can sometimes be a headache to claim because there’s so much paperwork to get through in order to get anything done. I often wished I didn’t have to go to the doctor at all. Of course, it isn’t up to me. Mickey has been sick his whole life. If it isn’t his asthma, then it’s a deficiency of something or other. A weak immune system keeps him perennially ill, it seems like. But no matter what happens, I will always be by his side, taking care of him until he’s strong enough to care for himself.

Grandma Nana is a big help as well because on days when Mickey’s too sick to go to school, she takes over so that I can continue with my studies. Nana has always been very strict about school, stressing the importance of an education for as long as I can remember. Thankfully, I only have a few months left before being able to work full-time and help with the bills around our apartment.

But unfortunately, Nana’s apartment in the Bronx has seen better days. When I was a child, every visit to her flat was met with dread and fear because the hallways smelled stale, and every night there was fighting in the courtyard – which is still true today. But it’s the best she can do, and I was just happy she accepted us when I showed up at her front door after being evicted from our family home in Long Island. My parents allowed our house to be foreclosed, simply choosing not to return home after work one evening. Somehow, I managed to cover the bills for a month, taking odd jobs around the community center and babysitting for a few neighbors while my panic slowly grew before reaching titanic proportions.

And when Mickey caught pneumonia, I finally broke down and got Nana, afraid the hospital would call Child Protective Services on us if we showed up with no adult. After learning of her only daughter’s desertion, my gran took us in without question.

Nana isn’t too old, but I still feel guilty for hijacking her quiet, peaceful life. Mickey and I can be a handful at times, and I know the two of us are a huge financial burden. Nevertheless, she makes it work every month, sacrificing some things she wanted in exchange for our needs. But again, Nana is a good woman. She never complains about how we’ve interrupted her peaceful existence, and always seems happy to have us with her.

But the thing is that I’m eighteen years old now, and it’s time to start contributing to the household expenses. That’s why I’m searching for jobs at this moment, scrolling through the classifieds section from a local newspaper website. But the problem is that every job seems to require a college degree or prior experience, and unfortunately, I have neither.

After a deep breath, I click the blue arrow on the website, leading me to the twelfth page of job listings. I’ve yet to find one that would even consider me, but I’m determined to get an interview if it’s the last thing I do. I’ll worry how to convince Nana this is right when I get to that step because my grandma doesn’t want me to work while I’m in school, insisting that “I enjoy being a kid,” as if that’s possible. I’m not one of those kids that gets to relax and not stress about life. My parents are probably living it up who knows where, while I’m here struggling to help my brother without starving my Nana.

In an attempt to make myself feel better, I sometimes daydream that my parents are living the life in Hollywood, or maybe Paris. I like to think they’re setting up some fabulous home, just waiting until everything is ready before sending for me and Mickey to join them in a life of luxury. Sure, it’s unrealistic and most likely nothing more than a fairy tale, but I’ve found myself fantasizing about it more than usual lately.

Because I could use an escape, even if for a short time. I need a break from the stress of my life as it is. There’s always so much going on that I can barely think straight. Nana wants me to begin applying for college, but how can I even consider adding to her financial burden?

It’s not possible because I want to lighten her load, not add more to it. So I’ll let her think I’m enrolling in school whereas really, I’m pounding the pavement looking for ways to make money.

“Wow, there’s really nothing, hmm?” I sigh with defeat, clicking the blue arrow to head to the next page of job listings after another page of worthless opportunities I don’t qualify for.

As I glance down at the computer screen, an ad pops up, startling me so much that I gasp as I read the vague description:

Girls wanted as companions.

What? Where did that come from? I haven’t seen any other ads like this. Something about it is dark, and I don’t mean the black backdrop, giving way to the bright, royal blue lettering that seems to jump out from the computer screen.

Because I may be young and naïve, but I know what this means. It has to be some type of escort position, or something similarly shady. I once overheard a girl in class talking about going on dates with guys for a couple hundred dollars a pop, lowering her voice to add that the guys were usually hot. But I don’t care about what the guys look like, what I care about is the money. A few hundred would be a lifesaver for me, an absolute boon.

Maybe I could do this? It can’t be that bad right? Because being a companion isn’t the same as a lover, I reason. The posting could be more about hanging out and chatting, and that’s something I can handle. Sex, on the other hand, isn’t my strong point. I’ve never even had a boyfriend, let alone a kiss. The idea of a man touching me scares me, but at the same time, my thighs squeeze together as I think of a strong hand caressing my secret spots. Plus, recently I’ve been feeling more and more needy. Christina, my best friend, says it’s a part of becoming a woman. That every girl begins to wonder what a man feels like – she was surprised it even took this long for me to mention it. Christina’s been with a guy before. In fact, she and Tyler have been dating since the eighth grade, and she gave him her virginity last summer. I still remember her telling me about it.

“Oh my god, it felt good!” she squealed. “But it was uncomfortable too.”

I hesitate for a moment.

“Was there blood?”

She bites her lip, nodding a bit.

“A little, but it wasn’t too bad,” my best friend says. “Just a tiny red smear.”

But still, that didn’t sound sexy to me. Blood makes me nauseous, especially the sight of my own blood. And despite Christina’s enthusiastic exhortations, after a couple more sips of wine from her mom’s stash, even she admitted the experience had been overrated. Christina loves Tyler, so I think she does it mostly for him because he really seems to enjoy it.

My mind is swirling with possibilities and as if in a trance, my finger wanders down the track pad before clicking on the ad.

What am I doing? I can’t be someone’s companion. This is another job I’m not qualified for because a man won’t want to be around me anyways. Maybe if I looked like the popular girls at school – thin with long blonde hair and big boobs, they’d be more interested. I do have the generous breasts, but unfortunately, the similarity ends there – I also have a pudgy stomach and full hips to go along with my bouncy Double Ds.

My body has always been overly curvy; there isn’t a piece of clothing that can hide my generous swells, but I’ve learned to live with it because what else can I do? It’s either smile and nod, or become a nun at the nearest convent.

But overall, I have to say that my appearance has gradually improved over the last couple years. I saved and saved for contacts, getting rid of my thick coke bottle glasses, and the new look seems to make boys notice. My brown curls still hide my face a little, especially when I find myself blushing, but they’re nice curls now, and not the wild bush I used to have before.

But enough about that. Right now, I have to focus on the job search and I look down at the tantalizing link once again. Companionship. With a hesitant finger, I click on the link, and two lines of information pop up written in an elegant text:

Thank you for your interest.

Please dial Karen at (212) 817-2489.

That’s strange. Is this to set up an interview? Who’s Karen? Or is this some type of mistake? Surely they’ll want to at least see my resume before calling me in for an interview. These other listings wanted to know everything about my life, from how much I made to every school I’ve ever attended. By contrast, this was a simple number. Something about it is fishy, and I can feel it in my bones.

I should close the window and move on. Something’s definitely wrong. This is not what I was looking for, but I need a job, and I need it fast. It can’t hurt to hear what they’re asking. Can it? Maybe it’s like what I overheard at school – a few hundred bucks for an hour or two every other week?

Before I can stop myself, I’m dialing the phone number with shaking fingers. I can’t do this. I need to stop. This is too much for me, I know it. Still, I take in an unsteady breath, holding the phone to my ear.

The first ring causes my heart to skip a beat, my pulse going so fast that I can hear it thundering in my ears.

“This is Karen,” a smooth female voice answers, and I swallow awkwardly.

“Oh, uh, hi,” I fumble, trying to collect my thoughts. I should have rehearsed what I was going to say before dialing the number.

“How can I help you?” she asks, still unfailingly courteous.

“Oh, right.” I take a quick breath to stop my stammering before continuing. “I saw your ad online and wanted to see if, you know, maybe I could apply?”

My eyes are clenched shut as I rise to my feet before pacing around my bedroom in circles, trying to understand what’s going on. Did I say the right thing or will she be able to tell I’m just a little girl? I can’t handle this. She’ll be able to hear it in my voice.

“Right, the ad,” she says in a dulcet voice and I hear the shuffle of a page turning before I cough and speak up again.

“Would it be possible to learn more about the position please?” I struggle to use my professional voice, the one I practiced in my speech class, hoping to sound confident because I don’t feel sure of myself at all.

“Yes, of course, but first let me get a few details about you.”

“Um, sure. What would you like to know?” I pause at the window of my bedroom, looking through the metal bars down to the courtyard. The sun has gone down, and the teenage boys that enjoy terrorizing anyone walking past have begun to gather in their normal circle, a tangle of floppy t-shirts and brightly colored backwards baseball caps.

But I’m up here, away from it all. My heart races, dreading her question. I know she’ll want to get the rundown of my experience, and I debate lying about what I’ve done to make myself sound more experienced. Besides, what is relevant experience in this case? Working as a home health aide? Or as a companion to an elderly, disabled person? Maybe I can say that my past experience is governed by confidentiality laws, and that I can’t mention any specific names? But the woman moves on, unperturbed.

“How old are you?”

“Eighteen.” I answer quicker than necessary, as if I’m competing in a timed contest.

“And your stats?” she quips even faster.

“Stats?” I ask, flummoxed. What does that even mean? Oh gosh. That’s some type of work jargon that I’m not familiar with. Is this a test? If so, I’m sure I failed. Slapping the palm of my hand on my forehead, I try to keep my despair in check. There I go, trying to be too quick on my feet only to fall flat on my face.

“Your measurements, sweetie,” the woman answers, and I can hear her amusement.

“Oh, um, for my… body? I’m not sure,” I admit, covering my eyes with my palm as I wait for her to end the call. She must think I’m such an amateur, and she’s right.

“Hmm.” She sighs deeply in the phone before scribbling something on paper. “What size bra do you wear?”

Now she’s definitely frustrated with me. I feel awful and embarrassed, but at least I know the answer.

“34 Double D,” I whisper, unsure if that’s too big for their requirements.

“Oh, that’s nice,” she says under her breath, scribbling on the paper again.

“Is it?”

“Yes, that’s perfect for the gentlemen. And how tall are you?” she continues, her interest piqued.

“I’m five four,” I explain, knowing what’s next.

“Perfect,” she says again. “And your weight?”

Twisting my lips, I try to think of a clever way to avoid answering the question I’ve hated since I was ten years old. That’s when I learned my thighs were too thick. Other girls didn’t have to worry about wearing shorts to school, but my teacher once told my mom, kindly but firmly, that my bottom was too big for daisy dukes.

“Your weight, miss?” the smooth voice repeats.

“Um, about one fifty,” I lie.

There’s merely silence on the phone as her pen scratches my number. I feel terrible for my fib, and immediately decide to come clean.

“It’s one sixty,” I say quickly. “I’m sorry, I got confused.”

The woman doesn’t even miss a beat.

“It’s no problem, honey. And thank you for being honest. You wouldn’t believe how many women come in who’ve understated their weight by a hundred pounds.”

A hundred pounds? That’s a lot, but I can see why they did it. After all, I just fell down that same hole, right? But Karen moves on.

“These stats sound great. By the way, I didn’t catch your name the first time around. I’m Karen. And you are …?”

“Trina,” I mumble.

“Great, Trina. Would it be possible to come in for an interview tomorrow? Would noon work for you?” She asks as if it’s more of a formality than an actual interview.

“Um, I’m not sure …,” I begin to tell her it’s not a good time for me. I have school, and there’s no way I can get away without Nana knowing. She’s on my teachers’ speed dial and will surely hear about me playing hooky. But Karen’s too fast for me.

“Perfect. Noon it is then. See you then!” And with that, the woman hangs up before I can tell her that time won’t work for me.

I sit there, completely stunned. What just happened? Am I really interviewing for a companion position? Staring at the phone, I wonder how I can possibly pull this off. But now that I’ve secured the interview, there’s no way I’m turning back. My job search has lasted weeks, and none have gone so far as even a phone interview, much less an in-person meeting. This is the next step, and hopefully the last one standing between me and gainful employment.

My phone rings again, startling me from my thoughts. I look down to see a picture of Christina and me posing at a football game. She’s wearing her cheerleading uniform, hugging my hip while we both stick our tongues out. She took the picture, and her arm is slightly visible on the right side of the photo.

“Hey Chris,” I say.

“Trina! What’s up?” my best friend chimes into the phone.

“Nothing much. Finishing up homework,” I say, not wanting to tell her about my new job opportunity just yet.

“Are you stuck on Mr. Johnson’s assignment?” she asks sympathetically, referring to our chemistry teacher.

“Oh no, I finished that in class.”

Christina knows I always complete my chemistry homework first because it’s my favorite. Some things come easy to people, and for me that’s science. Something about the natural world intrigues me, and I can’t quite explain what it is. In fact, I’ve always said that if I did go to college, I’d study botany so I can work with plants.

And my grandma supports me in my dreams. Nana keeps plants scattered all around her tiny apartment, and I’ve got a name and special routine for each of them, learning how to keep them alive and nurture them through the seasons. Mickey says it’s an old person’s hobby, but I don’t care.

“Of course you finished our chem worksheet,” Christina giggles. “And I’ll be copying that in homeroom, thanks.”

I can only laugh because she’s been copying my science homework every day for a while now, and it’s pretty much routine. Christina is a math whiz, but I don’t use her homework. In the long run, I’ll need to know everything on my own, and copying her work will only put me at a disadvantage if I do ever find myself in college, although it’s unlikely.

“And don’t forget, we need to go to the internship fair this weekend. We can catch the train and make it to the city if we leave as soon as school is out,” Christina says. But I tune her out before she even starts her second sentence.

“Yes, of course,” I murmur. “Um Chris? I gotta go,” I say in a rushed voice. “See you tomorrow?”

“But—”

It’s too late because I’ve already clicked off. The internship fair is really just a pipe dream, anyways. I can’t afford to volunteer or work for free. That’s for kids from rich families, but for me, it’s not even a choice. So taking a deep breath, I walk over to my overpacked closet and survey its contents before picking out the cream silk blouse Nana gave me for my last birthday. She said it was time I become a lady, but I’d held off wearing it because it felt too mature for school.

But now, it’s perfect. I have an actual interview where it’s important to come off polished and smooth, even if that’s the opposite of how I actually feel. My fingers tremble slightly as I fasten the delicate pearl buttons, mentally rehearsing the next stage of my plot to get this job. I need to convince Nana that I’m missing school because I’m about to apply for upstanding, honest work, and not shady positions I’ve found on the Internet.

Walking with confidence, I stroll through the narrow hallway of our apartment. Knowing she’ll be watching Wheel of Fortune, I walk past the living room, pretending to need something in the kitchen.

“Trina! Where are you going?”

“Nowhere. Just getting ready for the Internship Fair tomorrow,” I announce absentmindedly while taking out a cup from a cabinet.

“The Internship Fair?” she parrots. “That sounds wonderful, sweetheart.”

My back is towards Nana, so I can’t see her reaction, but from her tone I’m sure she’s nodding with approval.

“Yeah, remember I told you about it?” I say innocently, turning to see her sitting on the living room couch, beaming with approval.

“An internship fair?” she repeats, more to herself than me, as if she’s trying to remember the fictitious story I’ve alluded to.

“Yes, you signed the permission slip and everything.” I shrug, a pang of guilt bouncing through me as I prey on her vulnerability. Nana has had trouble remembering basic things for a while now, but I’ve never used it to my advantage. Making her doubt herself feels like a betrayal, but all I can think about are the benefits in the end. She’ll thank me when I can help cover our bills.

“Oh, the permission slip,” she says, nodding, but I know from her tone she doesn’t really remember. How could she because it never happened?

“Yes, so I’ll be missing school tomorrow, remember? Plus, I think it’ll be a good opportunity to wear the top you got me,” I explain, running my fingers over the front of the blouse, the soft fabric coating my hands like liquid. “Don’t you think it’s perfect for a corporate position?” My voice trembles a little, and I mentally berate myself. This is all for a good cause, the voice in my head whispers. You’re doing this to help your family.

“Oh that’s right,” says Nana, nodding now. “And yes, that blouse does seem perfect for an interview,” she says with a smile, eyeing her selection with pride.

She’s right. I’ve loved the shirt since I first tried it on. The ruffles on the front accentuate my boobs, but in a subtle, flattering way. True to her intentions, the shirt makes me feel grown and professional, and nothing like a child attending high school.

“Well, good luck tomorrow, baby. I’m sure you’ll do a great job.”

The look of trust in her eyes almost breaks my heart. There has to be a better way to get permission without lying, but I can’t think of what it might be, so here I am.

“Thanks, Nana.” I force a smile before returning to my room, my fake grin fading the second I’m past her.

My grandma doesn’t deserve this. Nana has always done everything she can to help me out. All she’s ever asked for is honesty and commitment, and yet, the lies have already begun. Even if it’s to help my family, I still feel guilty and a wave of nausea roils my stomach. I’ve never been good at lying, and now is no exception.

But then a loud, throaty cough interrupts my thoughts. It’s Mickey! Is my little brother okay? Immediately, all thoughts fly out of my head as I scurry to his bedroom and peek through the crack in his door to see him curled up in bed, his fist to his mouth, while the other holds his stomach. It’s one of those coughs that sounds painful, the awful hack roaring from his throat as his small body convulses rhythmically.

Seeing my brother like this hardens my resolve. I have to do this. There’s no way I can continue to stand by while my brother suffers. Nana is doing as much as she can, but it’s just not enough. Mickey needs medicine and a specialist, neither of which we can afford on her measly fixed income.

And in the end, this will all be worth it because this could be the start of something big. After all, I have to help my family and who knows what companionship means? Right now, it doesn’t even matter because I can’t let down my little brother, not when he’s so sick like this and my parents have deserted us. I’m the only thing standing between him and terrible illness, and swiping a tear from my eye, I shut the door to his room. I have to get this job. I have to. For Mickey.

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