Home > Kept (The Enforcers #3)

Kept (The Enforcers #3)
Author: Maya Banks

 

1

 


   Hayley Winthrop walked morosely down the busy Manhattan sidewalk, her spirits sinking lower as she registered just how far she’d walked from her old apartment and the school of music in which she was enrolled part-time—for now. She glanced surreptitiously up at the sky and sighed, thinking the sudden cloud cover that had rolled in, marring what had been an otherwise spectacular spring day, was a direct reflection of her spirits. She hadn’t brought an umbrella because she hadn’t intended to venture this far in her search of a new place to stay, and, well, the forecast hadn’t called for rain. Just her luck. Bad, as always. Being an eternal optimist was beginning to wear on her as she’d been treated to dose after dose of cold, hard reality.

   In a few days, she’d have nowhere to live, and she’d had no luck finding another place she could afford on her meager budget. She’d known when she’d fortuitously found an apartment to house-sit for that it wouldn’t be a permanent arrangement, but she had expected at least a few more months before being forced to move out. Unfortunately, the owners, a kindly elderly couple who were patrons of the music school that Hayley attended, had cut short their European tour because the wife had become ill and the husband wanted to bring her home to be attended by her own physician in the city.

   They had been apologetic and had even offered their help in finding Hayley another suitable place to live, but it would be next to impossible to find something she could afford and she couldn’t—wouldn’t—accept any further help from them. They’d already been so kind to her, and the thought of taking advantage of their generosity made Hayley ill. She had pride. Perhaps more than was good for her, particularly given her desperate circumstances, but she was determined to make her own way and fulfill her promise to her dying father, the one she’d made him on his deathbed to pursue her dream of attending the prestigious school of music in New York City. A dream he thought he’d made possible for her by purchasing an insurance policy at exorbitant cost so that when he was gone, she would be provided for even when he was no longer alive to take care of her.

   Tears stung her eyelids. Her father had had only the best of intentions, a pure and kind heart and so much pride in his only daughter, and he’d been taken in by a con artist who’d sold him a life insurance policy with more holes and exemptions in the nearly illegible fine print than a hunk of Swiss cheese. The only comfort she drew from the fact of his passing was that he would never know the shame and embarrassment of realizing that the money he couldn’t afford to spend was for absolutely nothing. The worthless piece of human trash had taken advantage of her father and had promised him that he was absolutely doing the right thing, all the while siphoning every penny of her father’s meager savings right from under his nose.

   And while her father lay so sick in bed, dying a little more with each passing day, he’d exacted a promise from her that she would go to New York and pursue her dream of becoming a professional violinist, though she’d protested, telling him she refused to leave him and that they’d fight this. Together. She vowed never to leave his side and that nothing was more important than him fighting, overcoming and winning his battle. Then and only then would she pursue her dream. But not at the expense of his health and life. She’d work two, three jobs—whatever it took to give him the care he so desperately needed—but he wouldn’t hear of it. He adamantly refused, telling her that it was what her mother would have wanted and that he’d promised her mother when she too lay dying that he would ensure their little girl’s dream became a reality if it was the last thing he did.

   In the end, she’d had no choice but to agree, though she’d hated the mere thought of moving to the city while her father had moved to hospice. She hadn’t wanted to be away from him, but he hadn’t wanted her to see him die, to continue to watch him waste away to nothing. Their final night together, he’d simply asked her to play for him, and so she’d stayed the entire night, playing her violin as he drifted between consciousness and unconsciousness, a smile on his face despite the crippling pain she knew he felt with every breath.

   When morning came, she’d kissed his forehead, tears running freely down her face as she’d whispered her good-bye, and in a moment of rare strength and lucidity, he’d wrapped his arms around her, hugging her tightly to him, and told her in a gruff voice that he loved her and that she’d already made him proud, but now it was time for her to spread her wings and for her to pursue her dreams.

   Two days after her arrival in New York City, her father’s nurse had called to tell her he’d passed away and that his last words had been of her, how proud he was that she was following her dream and that he could rest easy and finally join his beloved wife now that their daughter was finally taken care of.

   She bit her lip, fighting back the tears of grief that threatened to fall. She cast a wary eye to the skies to see that the gray clouds had now covered all hints of the formerly sunny day, but as of yet, not a single drop of rain had fallen. Maybe her luck would hold. She needed to turn back. It was a long walk back to her apartment and whenever possible, she walked everywhere, saving every precious cent. The subway wasn’t exorbitant by any means, but she needed every penny.

   Who was she kidding, spending days, hours, between her part-time school schedule and the many part-time and seasonal jobs she could pick up, pounding the pavement in search of an affordable apartment? There was no such thing as reasonable rent in Manhattan. And a roommate was out for her because the only time she had left to practice her beloved music was late in the night after she got off the late shift at one of her jobs, only stopping so she could get in a few precious hours of sleep before her early-morning classes the next day.

   She was about to turn around and trudge back the way she’d come when she noticed a smaller building crammed between two imposing buildings, at least thirty floors high. It was obviously an apartment building, though modest, but surprisingly well-kept given its obvious age. It had five levels, perhaps six if there was a walk-out basement unit as so many buildings had.

   There was no sign to indicate that there was a vacancy, but then most apartments—at least those in safer areas—had no need to advertise vacancies. They more often than not had waiting lists longer than both her arms. Oh well, what was the worst they could say that she hadn’t already heard? Either there were no vacancies, or if there had been, the rent was so high, even for the smallest studio apartment, that even working six jobs, she’d never afford the rent on her own.

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