Hi everyone! If you follow me on my Wattpad account, you'll know that I have a novella coming out in Jan 2022 called Renewal, a sequel to The CEO & The Christian Girl.
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Nicole Lam 2022. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise without written permission from the publisher. It is illegal to copy this book or distribute it by any other means without permission.
Chapter One: Katerina Steele
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
September 5, 2018
IT WAS OFFICIAL. I was losing my mind.
Beyonce’s Crazy in Love blared from the speakers, as if confirming my thoughts, while I strode through the crowded nightclub trying to find my brother. Why oh why had George Devereaux chosen tonight, at 2 am on a Wednesday, to text me the one text that would always send me running? That text in question was burning a hole in my palm.
I gripped my phone tightly, trying to move past the swarms of jostling bodies that seemed determined to knock the device out of my hand. The mingled scents of perfume, cigarette smoke, and body odour clung to me, and I crinkled my nose in disgust. When I got out of here, I was going to take a long, hot shower. Maybe even two.
Yawning, I read George’s text again. SOS. Come to the Oak and Rose club ASAP. It was urgent enough to send me his way but vague enough that I had no idea what his emergency could be. In other words, it was a classic George Devereaux text. I glanced up from the glowing screen as a flailing arm nearly knocked me in the head. I ducked under the offending appendage and caught a glimpse of my brother.
George Cartier Devereaux donned a flannel shirt tucked into rumpled blue jeans, looking as out of place in this trendy New York nightclub as I likely did. I frowned and made a beeline toward him. As I approached the corner that George stood in, I saw that he wasn’t alone.
“You assaulted me!” shrieked an irate woman, stumping a Louboutin-clad foot on the sticky floor of the nightclub. Her dark hair was tied back into a high bun, and a silver strapless dress hung off her slim frame.
“I was simply escorting you out of the club, Miss Lim. We’ve received five different complaints about you in the last hour alone. Someone said that you spare in their drink and another woman complained that you ripped out her hair extensions.” My brother folded his arms across his chest.
In the dim blue lighting of the club, I spotted what looked like a damp patch on the light grey checks of his shirt. I also spied the empty glass in the woman’s hand. Had she thrown a drink at him?
“Do you know who I am? My father is going to be furious with you for treating me this way.”
As I stepped closer, leaning my hip against the bar across from them, I could make out her side profile. I recognized her with a faint bell going off in my head: Leana Lim, supermodel and daughter of one of Singapore’s richest tycoons. She was classically beautiful, but from what I’d seen of her in the tabloids, she was made out to be an entitled brat.
I’d seen my fair share of them since moving to New York, but even growing up in the upper crust of Montreal, I recognize the distinctive tone of her voice as that of a woman who was used to getting what she wanted from childhood. I might have pitied my brother, but he hadn’t even told me he would be taking this bouncer job, then had told me from the warm comfort and safety of my home on a chilly autumn night come and attend to his own work problem.
“Georgia?” I said, at the same time that George’s jaw dropped and Leana Lim swung at him with her purse. My brother nimbly stepped back to dodge the impact of her Miu Miu bag against his jaw.
In all her blonde-haired, blue-eyed, capricious glory, my cousin-in-law appeared. Haloed under the club lights like a fallen angel, she sprinted up to the furious Leana and threw her arms around her.
Well. That was unexpected.
“Oh my gosh girl, I haven’t seen you in forever!” Georgia said with exaggerated exuberance. “Where have you been? I can’t believe you’re in New York! Weren’t you just in Dubai the other day?”
Leana seemed to calm down somewhat, either from the blonde’s friendly temperament or from the fact that her arms were being restrained by Georgia’s. “I just flew back this morning and decided to hit the club, but this wannabe security guard here—“
“Bouncer,” George said, clearing his throat. “I’m a bouncer.”
“Whatever.” Leana tossed her hair over one shoulder. “He tried to throw me out of the club. And then he put his hands on me.”
Georgia seemed to find this statement as implausible as I did. Her well-groomed eyebrows disappeared into her curtain bangs. “I find it hard to believe that George Devereaux would put his hands on you.”
“You know this jerk?” Leana stuck out her thumb at my brother. I took a tiny step closer, wanting to hear better without having my personal space invaded.
“He’s my cousin’s wife’s brother,” Georgia explained, before pointing at me and sealing my fate. “She’s his sister.”
“Katerina?” George pivoted to look at me, an expression of surprise on his face. His brows pinched, and he rubbed his temple. “What are you doing here?”
“You texted me.” Did he really not remember? Or had the text been meant for someone else?
“Of course…” He said hastily. “I just didn’t expect you to come.”
I didn’t quite believe him, but now didn’t seem to be the time for questions.
Leana’s gaze fixed on me with the laser intensity of a sniper rifle, ready to eliminate her target. Her eyes narrowed. “Can you tell your brother that if he tries to have me thrown out of this club again, I’ll have him fired?”
I took another tentative step closer. She looked younger up close; beneath the heavy layers of glittery eyeshadow and lipstick, she just seemed like an ordinary girl. A bratty, undisciplined, wild girl, perhaps, but an ordinary girl all the same.
“Miss Lim,” I said, clearing my throat, “my brother has already done you a favour by not calling the cops on you for your egregious conduct. Now, you may think you can get away with this behaviour when you’re throwing a tantrum and trying to get your father’s attention, but–”
“Kat,” Georgia interrupted me, as my words seemed to have the opposite effect of their intended purpose on Leana. “I’ll take it from here.” She looped her arm through the other models, plugged the glass from her hand, and passed it to George.
“I could press charges on him, you know,” Leanna said even as Georgia steered her toward the exit. She held up her left arm. “I have a bruise–”
“Did you do that?” I hissed.
George set the empty glass on the bar. “She was already in a catfight with another girl, Trina! I didn’t even lay a hand on her. I swear. Do you really think I could do that?”
“Well, first of all, I didn’t even know you were taking this bouncer job, and I haven’t seen you in years until a few months ago…” I ticked off the reasons on my fingers, but even as I spouted them off I knew they weren’t true. It was my anger and annoyance at him speaking, not the Spirit. “You’re not the kind of man who would hit a woman. I know that.”
“It’s only my first week working here, and I think I’m going to be fired already.” He sighed.
I didn’t ask him why he wasn’t selling his art. That has been a touchy subject for him as of late, and I doubted he would respond well to a thorough interrogation of his career when the tensions were running high.
“I’m sorry I dragged you all the way here at 2 AM,” George said suddenly. “I feel really dumb… Having to call my little sister to bail me out of this mess. It’s not what I wanted it’s definitely not professional.” He scoffed, passing a hand over his unshaven jaw.
“I am your sister. I’ll always be there for you. Never forget that.”
“I won’t,” he promised, but there was a faraway look in his eyes. “Oh, crap.”
“What?” I spun around.
“It’s my manager. If I get fired, I’ll text you, OK?”
With that, he disappeared into the masses just as a burly Russian man with a full sleeve of tattoos came barrelling out of an EMPLOYEES ONLY door. I recollected myself, buttoned up my jacket, and braced myself to step back out into the chilly autumn night.
When I got out of the Oak and Rose club, I texted Pennington. The familiar black Rolls-Royce came down the block a few minutes later, the street far less crowded than it had been when I come here around midnight. Though New York was the city that never slept, I suspected it did nap every now and then. Huddling into the fur collar of my Max Mara trench coat, I shoved my hands deep into the pockets, wishing I had donned gloves as the driver opened the door for me.
“Thank you for coming,” I said as I slipped into the backseat. “I’m sorry you had to be pulled out of bed at such an hour.”
“Just doing my job, ma’am.” Pennington fell silent after that.
I wouldn’t have minded the quiet on any other night. If Alexander had been home, rather than on a business trip with his father for the week. He had left only a few days after we had returned from our honeymoon in Banff. Already, I missed him, which felt odd to me.
He was a man of few words, my husband, and was more likely to be taciturn than to crack a joke, but I still would have liked to have him here. I realized, in the brief time we had been together and the even briefer time we had been married, that I preferred the strong and silent type. Or, more specifically, that I preferred him. Alexander Joseph Steele and his few witty quips, his reassuring, protective presence by my side, and his hard-earned smile.
If he were here, he would have chastised George for dragging us out of bed in the middle of the night to be sure, but deep down, he would’ve cared, because George was my brother. Family. And despite the cold exterior, my husband was a family man.
I sighed. As I rested my cheek against the cold glass of the window, staring out at the bright lights and flashing neon signs that sped by, I said a silent prayer for all the men still in my life.
Lord, may you protect Alexander and Aaron as they are travelling for Steele Inc. Help them to stay safe from harm, to work efficiently and get their business wrapped up quickly so they can return home from Los Angeles. Father God, I pray they also for my brother, George. I lift him up to you, that you would work in his life. He’ll him where he is hurting, and comfort him in his brokenness. Provide a good job for him and her open to find where you want him to be. May he be able to discern your will for his life, Lord. I pray all this in Jesus’s name, Amen.
Chapter Two: Alexander Steele
"Truly the righteous attain life, but whoever pursues evil finds death." —Proverbs 11:19 NIV
Do you want to have dinner? — Dad.
I glanced at the text message. It had been sent four hours ago, but I had been so consumed with burying myself in work, wanting to finish it as soon as possible to get back to New York, that I had completely forgotten about food.
My stomach grumbled as I checked my Patek Philippe. 8 PM. I caught myself before I lapsed into an old habit of cursing under my breath, stuffed my phone into my pocket, and hurried as I walked down the hall of the Château Marmot. We were staying in Los Angeles to oversee some real estate developments for the company, and my father, as usual, had spared no expense in our lodgings. Still, I didn’t have time to admire the luxurious decor as my steps quickened and I walked towards my father’s room in our adjoining suite.
Perhaps he was still there, or in one of the restaurants by now. I knocked sharply, once, then twice when I heard no answer. Maybe he had already gone out to eat. But I heard music and laughter coming from inside the room. I’ve been so absorbed by my meeting in the hotel’s conference room that I had no idea who the other person in the room could be, unless he was watching friends or something. Pulling out my key card, I unlocked the hotel room door.
It swung open, but I might have let it hit me in the face at the sight that reached my eyes.
My mother, her unmistakable auburn hair carefully styled over one shoulder, sat across from my father at the dining table. Only the small circle of glass-topped wood, set with a white tablecloth, a candelabra and what looked to be a romantic candlelight dinner, separated them. If my eyes didn’t deceive me, I might’ve thought their feet were even touching under the table.
“What… is this?” I said, the words barely escaping my lips.
“Oh, hello, Alex.” My father sat down his wineglass, which held a generous portion of pinot noir.
His cheeks were flushed, and he seemed as giddy as a schoolboy. He only drank red wine, as far as I could tell, with my mother, and they had not been together in over a decade. The absence of scotch in his hand — the presence of Ava Steele in the room — I couldn’t comprehend why or how all of it had appeared before my eyes.
I blinked a few times and realized he was speaking to me. “What was that?”
“I was just saying, I asked you to have dinner with me, because your mother and I have some news to share with you.”
A muscle in my jaw twitched. The last time he and my mother had had “news” to share with me, it had been of their impending divorce. Shortly after, my mother had moved to Vermont. “Is it good?”
My fingernails dug in my palms as I waited for one of them to speak.. They looked at one another, the kind of loving, knowing look in their eyes that I had not seen in years, One that exchanged secrets and questions without speaking, reading the shifts in one another’s body languages with an ease that I envied.
“Alexander.” My mother clearing her throat, standing up alongside her ex-husband. “Your father and I are getting back together.”
He squeezed her hand, then lifted it to his lips and kissed it. I grimaced involuntarily, something spasming within me, a dozen different emotions washing over me with all the subtlety of a freight train.
“I… see.” A lump formed in my throat and dropped toward my heart like a lead weight. “When did this happen?”
This. As if one simple, mundane word could encapsulate all I was seeing, all I was feeling.
My mother sighed. “Maybe you should sit down, honey.”
I didn’t want to, but I have the feeling I would need to, soon. I blinked again and sank onto the damask couch. “Go on, then. Tell me when you… Rekindled your relationship.”
The words tasted strange on my tongue, like a sweet left to spoil, a toy abandoned on a shelf, coated in dust; I couldn’t find the original joy. It was a dream long neglected.
My parents sat next to each other on the loveseat opposite me. My mother easily arrested her hand over my fathers, as though they had never been separated. I felt like I had stepped into the twilight zone. “Well, as you know, son, I’ve been going back to church for the past year or so. I felt a strong call from God to mend my old broken relationships, to make up for — to make penance for the sins of the past. On one Sunday, around the time of… On the anniversary of Allie’s disappearance, I called your mother and asked if she would like to go with me. She was in town, she said yes, and… The rest is history.”
“But… What about Vermont?” I spluttered. “How serious is this?
It was the most momentous news I had heard in years, and I was concerned about the cabin in Vermont? Really? But all I could do was latch onto that tangible detail. Perhaps it would keep me from falling into some strange rabbit hole that had become reality.
“We’ve been together for three months,” my mother said.
“Three months,” I repeated. “When you took me and Katerina to the house in Vermont? You were already —”
“We had been talking for a few weeks at that point,” my father clarified.
“You were together at my wedding,”I said. “You never said anything then.”
“We didn’t want to overshadow your big day–” my mother began.
“I need something to eat,” I said before I put my foot in my mouth and said something I would likely regret. “I need… some time.”
“OK.” I thought I saw something like hurt flash across my mother’s face, her cool gray eyes narrowing a touch. “We can order something for you. What do you want?”
The presence of both of them in the room was suddenly suffocating, and I felt as if I had been transported back to my childhood home. Yet I was no longer a child, and I had long ago outgrown these fantasies of my parents getting back together. So how could it be that it was happening before my eyes?
A hand wrapped around my throat, a vice around my heart, and both squeezed. I struggled to breathe. Drawing in a sharp inhale through my nose, I rested my head in my hands.
“I just want to be left alone for a minute.” I stood up too quickly, stars flashing before my eyes, and I rested a hand on the table next to me for support. Blinking rapidly, I waited for the dizziness to go away. Drawing in another deep breath, I tried to ignore the tightness in my chest. “I’ll be in my room.”
“If that’s what you need,” my father said. His cheeks were still flushed, but it no longer seem to be from excitement or from alcohol, only some sort of sheepishness that I couldn’t bring myself to analyze. He scratched the back of his neck, before reaching out and had to clap me on the shoulder. “We can talk more about this later. I know it must come as a huge shock to you.”
A huge shock seemed to be an understatement. My parents’ divorce had been a constantly shifting faultline beneath my feet, leaving me ever–uncertain as I grew up: uncertain of where I would land, which side of the boundary was safest, whether I should cleave to one or abandon the other. I had left New York for Boston at the age of 21 and had stayed there a few years after graduating with an MBA. When I was at Harvard, I had thought I would finally find solid ground, somewhere to rest my head, somewhere to feel safe. But I had never found that. Never until recently. Not until I found Katerina—and even then not until I found God.
And now that the dust seem to have settled, this news was stirring it all up again. Memories of them fighting when they had thought Abigail and I were already asleep. I would cover her ears, and we would make a blanket fort and play with the flashlight, creating dancing shadows on the wall to ignore the looming ones outside our nursery room. Eventually, I had grown up. I had that growing up would mean some kind of metamorphosis, that I would finally emerge as the strong, stable man I was meant to be. Instead, I had been angry, distant, stoic, pretending that if I made myself ice, I would survive the fall through the frozen lake beneath my feet.
“Yes,” I said through my teeth. “Yes, it is.”
Chapter Three: Katerina Steele
“Abner called out to Joab, ‘Must the sword devour forever? Don’t you realize that this will end in bitterness? How long before you order your men to stop pursuing their fellow Israelites?’”
—2 Samuel 2:26 NIV
MY KITTEN HEELS CLICKED against the marble floor as I walked into the Steele penthouse. Usually, I would be staying at my and Alexander’s home, a smaller apartment that was more cozily furnished than the sleek and modern surfaces of Aaron Steele’s habitat. However, this morning, Georgia had put out a global invite for brunch within the family group chat. Bored, lonely, and tired of feeling like an army bride waiting for her military husband to come home, which was a feeling that definitely told me I was watching too many Hallmark movies, I accepted.
Ever since moving to New York, abruptly ending my nursing career, and becoming Mrs. Steele, I had experienced a complete 180 in my identity. Whereas before, I thought of marriage as a far-off thing, to be completed after I was well established in my career, and had met the right man, I was suddenly married and lacked any job title besides wife of New York tycoon. It was a startling change, to say the least.
All of it meant that I was suddenly finding myself without a purpose. Of course, I had been offered a position in the company, but taking it felt like nepotism. I knew it wasn’t, and that I was capable of managing such a position, as I had had a business degree before going into nursing. But there were others far more qualified than me who wouldn’t get the job just because they didn’t have the proper last name.
So far, I was considering philanthropy, or perhaps something more similar to my former career. Either way, I wasn’t sure of how my life would look. But I hadn’t been sure of much since I had stepped foot into New York. God had brought me here so far with little trouble besides a gunshot wound and a tumultuous courtship. Surely, he would get me through this season of uncertainty.
It wasn’t that I had anything against the career of housewifery, but being wealthy meant that it was more of a trophy-wife position. I cooked, but we had people to do most of the cleaning. And in New York the apartments were small enough that cleaning it required little exertion. My mother had been a housewife, before her sudden passing, and I had loved her for it. But it wasn’t the path I saw for myself. Yet I had seen many paths for myself before coming here and becoming who I was now, so who was I to dismiss anything outright?
Taking a seat at the island, I perched on the barstool and waited. Although the invitation had said 10, I had arrived at 10:15, knowing that Georgia was often late. Today was no surprise different, as the kitchen was empty. However, I smelled the delicious aromas of pancakes, bacon, and scrambled eggs emanating from the stovetop.
A few minutes later, someone walked in. It was my brother, his hair damp and his eyes looking groggy. I had no doubt he had just woken up. The only question was, from what? An all-night bender or another night at his bouncer gig?
“Good morning,” I said as he slid onto the seat next to me. He rested his elbows on the granite countertop, running a hand through his wet hair.
“Morning,” George muttered. His fingers tapped against his empty glass as if waiting for it to be magically filled. Three pictures restaurant on the counter in front of us: milk, orange juice, and one that could have been apple juice or possibly champagne. It was likely juice, since the Steeles usually kept their champagne in the bottle, to show off the expensive label.
I poured him an orange juice. ”Did you have a rough night?”
“Something like that,” he said. He drank the orange juice in one long gulp. “Thanks.”
I smoothed out my wool sweater dress, worn over plaid tights, and poured an apple juice for myself.
Just as I had taken a sip, Georgia walked in. “Good morning.”
Her blonde hair was pulled back into a high bun, and she wore a silk kimono patterned with tropical birds. All in all, her look was somewhere between a middle-aged wine mom and a glamorous, eccentric woman who had travelled the world.
“You’re late,” George said.
I had no idea what was between them, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out.
“So, Georgia, what made you decide to invite us here?” I said, just as Abigail dashed into the kitchen, wearing a blue sweater and white jeans. Her red hair was dishevelled and her cheeks flushed from the autumn chill as she skidded to a stop on the marble floor.
Georgia sat on the seat next to George, which to my surprise he had pulled out for her. “Well, you know, I just thought it would be nice to see everyone again. It’s been a while since the wedding.”
“It’s been three weeks,” Abigail said, as she sat next to me and poured herself a glass of milk.
“Where’s your boyfriend?” Georgia asked, some light in her blue eyes that I couldn’t quite distinguish. “Could he not make it today?”
Abigail picked up the glass of milk and took a long swallow, not meeting her cousin’s eye. “He’s busy.”
Her tone left no room for argument. I glanced between her and Georgia. I wasn’t sure which of them was hiding more secrets. Abigail was bubbly yet reserved, a combination that made it easier for her to distract people from getting the answers to their questions about her personal life especially. Meanwhile, Georgia was eclectic, easily deflecting probes with a well-timed joke or some dramatic bombshell that left the speaker too confused or shocked to continue their line of questioning. Even after knowing her for nearly six months now, I wasn’t sure I knew anything about her at all. All I knew was that she had grown up with her mother, who was Aaron Steele’s sister, and was an only child, a model, and had never known her father.
I suspected, however, that she knew my brother from some sort of secret past. Some sort of double life that neither of them seemed willing to talk about.
Just as the chef had come by to lift the silver domes off of the platters of pancakes, sausage, bacon, eggs, and toast, I heard the doorbell ring. The butler went to greet the guest.
My eyebrows rose. “It’s not your boyfriend, is it? I thought you said he was busy, Abigail.”
“He is,” Abigail said quickly. My shoulders stiffened. I was wary of strangers, and I didn’t mean to be, but it was difficult to be welcoming to everyone after being shot at an engagement party. My engagement party, to be exact.
“Then who could it be?” I said, looking at Georgia.
She shrugged. A familiar set of footsteps put me at ease, despite giving me no less surprise. I hopped off my chair just as the chef offered me a slice of toast. Despite my confusion at his arrival, I ran toward the sound. I knew exactly who had stepped foot in the Steele penthouse. My husband.
“Alex!” I stopped in the middle of the foyer, nearly tripping over my feet and running into the entry table.
He reached out a hand to stop me from crashing into the furniture. “I see you’re still as accident-prone as ever.”
His blue eyes crinkled the slightest amount. Something in me melted.
“And I see you’re still as rude as ever.”
“You caught me.” With that, he moved his head from my arm to the small of my back, pulling me into a hug.
I feigned a frown. “I thought you were the one who caught me.” The smallest laugh made his chest rumble and I laid my head against his shoulder, hiding my smile before I pulled back to look up at him. “What are you doing back so early? I thought you weren’t supposed to be home from LA for at least another three days?”
“I decided to leave early.” Something in my question made him seem to close himself off, letting go of me, stepping back, and folding his arms over his suit-clad chest. “Come on. I smell pancakes.”
I sighed. It would take a crowbar, the crew of Ocean’s Eleven, and perhaps a stick of dynamite to get something out of my husband if he didn’t want to tell me. I figured he would let us know on his own time. “My favourite.”
LATER THAT AFTERNOON, WHEN Alexander and I had returned to our apartment, and he was unpacking his things, he finally told me.
“I found out my parents are getting back together.”
“That’s great!” I said before I saw the look on his face as he spun around, pausing in the middle of hanging up a button-down shirt. “Oh. That’s not good news?”
“I have no idea anymore.” He sighed deeply. “I left LA in the middle of the night. I got on the first flight I could find. After they told me, I was just in so much shock that I barely remember the flight over here. How do you respond when something you think you’ve always wanted happens and you’re not sure you want it anymore?”
“Well, I start by asking myself a simple question. Does God want it to happen? If it’s his will, I need to be aligned with that. Not the other way around.”
I crossed the room to him. He rested his hand on my head, threading his fingers through my hair, then bent down slightly and dropped a kiss on my forehead.
“How is it,” he said slowly, “that you always know just what to say?”
I shrugged. “Call it the Holy Spirit?”
He rolled his eyes. “I meant besides that, but I suppose it’s a satisfactory answer.”
“Do you think that God wants your parents to get back together?” I knew little of the marriage between Aaron and Ava. All I knew was that they had divorced over a decade ago after their youngest daughter had been kidnapped.
“I… It feels too good to be true. Like this is some big cosmic joke and it’s about to be yanked away from me if I let myself believe it.”
“It’s bigger than you, Alexander. Your parents’ marriage isn’t just about you, but it’s about them. It’s about a vow they made before God. Who’s to say that God doesn’t want them to get back together?”
He shook his head. “That was oddly comforting.”
“You succeed.” Using his grip on my hair, he tilted my head back and kissed me. I wrapped my arms around him and kissed him back.
This, too, felt too good to be true. I knew, however, that it wasn’t. It had to be from God. We never would have worked otherwise.