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Books By Aya DeAniege


Contract Taken

Contract Broken

Contract Renewed

Daughters of the Alphas

Masked Intentions

Wraith’s Rebellion

At Death’s Door

Coming Soon



Contract Signed

Cheating Death

Table of Contents:

Contract Taken

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Contract Broken

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Contract Renewed

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Copyright 2016 Aya DeAniege

Front Cover Design by Christina Quinn

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events or people, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

All Rights Reserved. This book may not be reproduced in part or whole without written permission except in the case of small quotes for reviews, articles, or essays.

For all the readers, over all the years, who have put up with my insane ramblings.

...I promise the next one won't take as long

(Or whatever it is these things are called these days)

My name is Isabella Domme, though I was born Isabella Martin. I changed my name in the twenties when we all started coming out of the playroom. The community as a whole was hesitantly accepted, but I was a well-known face. The public knew about me long before the community came out, but it was like they looked away and thought I simply stopped.

See, in the late tens (teens?) and early twenties, I was an advocate for the rights of poor folk. I was the one who organized the marches. I was the one who stood in the parliamentary building until they allowed poor folk to run for government positions.

Yes, the rumours of that are blown out of proportion. I did not do anything untoward to anyone. I simply attended every meeting, every vote, completely naked. At first they thought it amusing to eye a woman, but eventually, I won them over.

Of course, that all was before my name change.

I’ve been asked by my editor to write this introduction for my first-hand account of a contract in the Program. The whole thing will be included in the national archives along with the accounts of several others who took part in the Program, from both sides of the contracts.

My account was first published in the early twenties, though it was then done through the community as an example of what not to do. In the early days of the community, the founders patched together what they could find from historical records. They had the right idea, but it was wrong in several important ways.

It has had a few updates here and there over the years, to clarify some points.

When the national archives began, the community—which was founded firmly in both sides of the debt and had access to nearly anything within the borders of our country—began a new sort of growth. Our information before the archives was based mainly on literature that had survived. These consisted of a few classics from the middle of the C.E. and a plethora of electronically stored books from shortly before the end of the Common Era.

Basically what I’m trying to say here is: Don’t take this as the way to approach BDSM safely. If you want to dabble, go to the local event on Sunday and remember: always practice safe, sane, and consensual sex.

With that being said, don’t read this expecting a whirlwind romance. For some damned reason the editors insisted on a romantic genre, but I’m pretty certain it would count as erotica, not romance. In the BDSM community? Sure, I could see this as being a romance of some sort, but to the rest of the world, the world that doesn’t understand what it is to surrender will and body, it’s...

It’s kind of creepy.

It’s probably abusive.

And I don’t want to hear any more complaints from vanilla readers who went into this thinking there wasn’t going to be pain involved. I’m not going to list out ahead of time everything that happens. While that might help some readers avoid what they don’t want to read, this is a first-hand account of a Program contract. It’s meant to be educational on some level.

I’ve also had a great deal more people beg me not to include such a list because they found it enticing not to know ahead of time what they would end up encountering. The unknown can be very, very arousing.

Trust me; I’d know.

Over the years I have received several questions as to how this could be so detailed if it was written nearly a decade after the fact. The answer is simple. When my contract began, I was given a journal to record every little thing. The first days I didn’t do so much detailing as I did listing a few things here and there. As the years went on the details became more and more.

I also have pictures and videos. Everything was recorded then, in and out of the slums, so I could go back and view the outside details. If some things appear as if written by an outside observer, it’s because I cannot recall the event at all and have used these videos to fill holes in my memory.

Nathaniel helped a great deal, he also kept a journal and wrote his account of events, which will be submitted to the archives with mine.

Some things were lifted directly from my journal and placed in the book as is, though with a few grammatical and spelling errors corrected. These lines are italicized. I know that in the romance genre, at least in the fiction areas, italicized words are usually the heroine’s inner thought, or inner goddess, or something of that sort.

While the book was written with the journals as the main outline, there will not be dates on any of the chapters. This is not laid out to look like a journal. It is laid out in chapters. It is meant to be past tense, though some of what was lifted straight from the journals have remained in the same tense as when they were written.

As I write this, my editor is sitting down the hall arguing with my agent and publicist as to whether or not the book should be published the final time as one volume, or whether it should be broken up into three. Like most formatting debates, no one stops to ask the author what she thinks.

I suppose the only other thing for me to say is this:

Mother, if you’re reading this, put it down. Nothing is more terrifying to me—and I’ve done some strange and dangerous things in my life—than my mother reading this and then coming for one of her fabled visits. There is no age that I know of wherein a parent learns of the details of their child’s sexual proclivities, and both parties don’t end up embarrassed to no end.

How do these things go again?

This story began when I was twenty-five. Before that point I lived as any poor person did, I had been educated, to a point. I might have even been able to go to university to learn to be a teacher, but much of that had been about connections. I lost all influence when I called my teacher a cunt. She was wrong in her facts. Even the textbooks said as much, but she would not back down.

While living in the slums, I dated boys and young men. I had sex and did what young women in the slums were known to do.

Sex was very much about having children at the time, but until one was married, birth control was free and available to all. My slum offered drug based birth control, and lessons for the girls on giving oral.

No one wanted a child out of wedlock because then unplanned debt might have been taken on. All poor folk—history remembers them as debtees—carried on the debt of their parents and grandparents. This debt could be traced to before the collapse and is given as the very reason for the collapse.

We saw the world as poor folk, rich folk, and the governing body. Then the Program opened and was a mix of both sides of the debt line. In reality, there were many tiers to our country’s hierarchy. There were the debtees, which were any and all poor folk living in slums. Then there were the common folk, those the poor folk referred to as rich folk, who made up the governing body and had various amounts of money.

There was also the military, which was made up of orphans and a few volunteers from the common folk who were borderline debtees and needed a helping hand from the government.

I was never the type of girl who wore dresses and sewed. Jobs for women like that were popular and could earn good money. Not just any back could perform those jobs, but I took after my brothers and father.

Having no sisters, perhaps, is why I ended up a tomboy. I played with the boys and wrestled with them. When I hit puberty, they liked wrestling with me all the more.

I had several partners before I was seventeen.

Seventeen was the youngest age a woman can be engaged, twenty the age of marriage. This was to keep young women from being pushed into marriage by their parents, as well as to keep them from being pressured into having children at a young age to take on the debt. The more children one had, the further the debt spread and the less each child would have to pay off. At the same time, too many children too fast could add to one’s debt and was the opposite of what poor folk wanted.

We wanted to pay off debt as quickly as we could. To manage this, we were taught about our jobs and the skills necessary to be promoted to better-paying positions. My brothers were introduced to women with slightly more debt than my brothers, which was what made a man marriage material back then. As a young woman, my parents sought out young men with less debt than myself for me to marry.

At sixteen I met a boy who I liked a great deal. He wasn’t great in bed but his debt and my family’s debt went hand-in-hand, and he was cute. He had a job as a foreman at sixteen and was bound for places, places that paid off debt a great deal faster than my job.

Basically? He was a catch.

He made me laugh. We had things in common outside of our debt. He was a good guy. We got engaged on my seventeenth birthday. The ring wasn’t present. His older brother was using it for the woman he was about to marry. Engagement rings were passed around back then or forgone entirely.

When I was nineteen, I was run over by a mobile cart. It cracked my hip, and I spent six months in the hospital and another six months doing physical therapy before I was finally released.

Some medical was covered, not all. If I had been in the hospital—for example—because I was having a difficult pregnancy, my way would have been paid. I would have even been covered if I had been clocked into my job, but I had been on my way to work, and work medical doesn’t cover your damned supervisor running you over for kneeing him in the groin.

He deserved it.

I returned to work for a while, but my position required long hours on my feet and my hip and leg just wouldn’t work like that any longer. They let me go due to low production. I didn’t blame them, or the next three jobs that let me go because I was incapable of keeping up.

At the fourth job, I pushed myself. It was three years later, and I had learned to hide the pain and get the leg to move in a better way. My supervisor at that job was stealing, however. When I tried to report it, he claimed I was the one stealing, and his seniority gave him the upper hand in the she said, he said that happened. I was disciplined, and carry the scars to this day.

After that, finding work was even more difficult. No one in the labour industry wanted to hire a thief. My mother got me a job at her work, moving about a few things, doing things for the older ladies.

It turns out I didn’t have much patience for oldsters, and I lost the job after only a week.

By the time I was twenty-four, I was unemployable. The Program had just started up, but all the contracts were for maids and the like. I didn’t think they’d take a thief, and in the early days, those were the rules. I would not have been accepted.

Oh, and that boy? The one who proposed to me?

He was engaged to someone else before I left the hospital back when I was just about twenty. Because my parents went further into debt paying my medical bills, I was no longer an eligible bachelorette to him and his family. I was ‘useless’ in their words.

A burden, a debtor—worse than a debtee, a debtor only brought more debt to their family and thus shame—useless, worthless, meant to die sad and alone because of things outside of my control.

It wasn’t just them saying that either. It was my family when they thought I was asleep. It was the oldsters and neighbours and everyone who would whisper until they caught sight of me and then turn away and go silent until I had passed.

At some point, it just became too much. I recall sitting someplace—though I don’t remember where—and it just came to me.

I was a burden on my family. All that would happen throughout my life was more debt being accumulated to keep me alive. The only rational option was to kill myself. I thought I was doing the right thing. Death wasn’t about escaping for me. It was about saving my family more harm that I believed my being alive caused them.

My oldest brother found me, left arm split open, right halfway cut. I couldn’t get my left hand to grasp the knife well enough to make the second cut. He heard me crying in desperation because I couldn’t even finish the job.

I really was useless.

He patched up my wrists. Nearly everyone knew how to bandage cuts to prevent going to the hospital and going further into debt. He even covered for me while I recovered, but only because he wouldn’t allow me to die without paying off the debt.

He knew about the Program, had kept a close eye on the changes to the rules as most poor folks did. I stopped paying attention after discovering that those who were labeled as thieves couldn’t participate. He had heard about a rule change.

It took another six months for me to be healthy once more. I tried several more jobs, losing each. My brother, upon finding me alone with another knife, dragged me to the Program building.

“I don’t want to,” I said to him sternly as he pulled me through the large glass doors and into the air conditioned entrance.

Everything was done up in whites and greys, neutral colours on the walls, the floor, and the ceiling. The only colour in the lobby was from the flowers sitting in vases, and the bright blue eyes and blonde hair of the woman who greeted us. Even her clothing was grey, white, and black. A dress of some sort that went all the way up to her throat, but had no sleeves.

The woman behind the desk stared at us with wide eyes, looking first at my brother, then at me, then back to my brother.

“All who sign contracts must be willing,” she said, trying to sound perky as she smiled hesitantly at my brother.

The perkiness had a hollow ring to it, though. As if she wished she had a silent panic button she could set off each time a poor person entered the building.

Two security guards drifted closer, suddenly appearing from behind a pillar and a large potted tree. Program officers wore a shade of grey darker than the general workers. They each had their names emblazoned on their uniforms, just underneath the P.P.O. initials.

The two guards in the lobby that day were manly men. Broad in the shoulders and relatively tall, their main duty was to be present and look scary for anyone who started trouble in the Program’s lobby. There was no one else in the lobby, despite the poor folk gathered about the doors outside.

The Program was well known then, but no poor person wanted to seem so desperate for work that they’d go to a government funded building for help.

“She tried to commit suicide, was going to again,” my brother said. “You people have death contracts now, and anyone can apply.”

I stopped struggling and stared at the woman as she stared back at me wide eyed. The colour ever so slowly drained from her face as I yanked my arm out of my brother’s hand.

“Why didn’t you tell me that?” I demanded, spinning on my brother.

“Because then you’d want to say goodbye to everyone and Ma would know what was up,” he countered, jabbing a finger at me sternly. “Then she’d never let you do it, and it’d be the bushel incident all over again.”

“You had the entire way here to tell me!” I shouted back at him.

He shrugged in response and turned to the woman behind the desk.

“I know there are still rules to who can and cannot. She wants to die. You have death contracts, and my family is in need of paying off debt. I’ve tried talking her out of it. I’ve tried finding her another job. This way she can have the death she wants, and you can fulfill a contract.”

“Okay,” she said, tapping her computer monitor. “Name?”

“Isabella Martin,” my brother said quickly.

There was a lot of clacking as the guards drifted just a little closer. My brother adjusted uneasily as I leaned on the counter and peered at the woman. She seemed to be honestly doing her job, not taking her time to let the guards get close enough to stop us.

“Isabella ... Martin ... ah, there you are,” the woman peered at the screen for a moment, then to me. “Brown hair, brown eyes, right height and build, though—”

As it wasn’t the first time I had been stopped because someone couldn’t make a positive identification based on my breast size, I knew what the hesitance was. There were pictures of everyone in the file, and at the end of the day, a genetic profile would prove who was who. But some, especially family members would claim to be one another to prevent a job from being lost.

“I’m not wearing a bra,” I said. “For that, I was wearing a binding to keep them out of the way for my job.”

“And that job was?” she asked.

“Framing a highrise for the tourism district,” I responded.

“No, the company you worked for,” she countered, finally looking away from the monitor to meet my eyes.

“I don’t know, it was a job, I was a contractor. Only the supervisor would have known what the company’s name was.”

“Edwards,” my brother said. “We worked the same job. Edwards was the name the supervisor signed the reports to.”

“Ah, that’ll work. The company name is Delcor. Edwards owns it.”

She had been confirming my identity through my work history. I realized it as she tapped the screen again and a machine behind her sprung to life, spitting out pieces of paper. The paper was taken from the machine and slipped into a file which was immediately closed and sealed.

That file was then slid into a slot, and there was a ‘whoosh’ sound before the secretary turned back and smiled at us. There was something so mechanical about how she smiled like it was suddenly stuck on her face. Like a painted doll.

There was so much new to stare at in the Program building. So much technology that I didn’t know the uses of.

“Each person who wants to sign a contract must be reviewed by several people depending on the contract they are signing. The first review is to see which sort of contract you’d be signing for, which includes a review of your work history and health, all of which is in the file I just sent off.

“For the contract which you suggested—and I made a note saying that would be an interest to you—a family member must sign as a witness. Is he a family member of yours?”

I frowned at the woman and made a motion between the two of us. My brothers and I all looked a great deal alike. We were often mistaken for twins. Until I began developing, few even realized I was a girl.

“I need verbal confirmation,” the woman said, motioning behind her to a black circle on the wall.

“Yes, he is my brother,” I said, frowning at the circle.

Camera, it was a camera. Rich people reviewing my contract would be watching me.

“Good,” she said as the phone began ringing. The woman plucked it up and joyfully answered it, perhaps a little too joyfully. “Program building one, front desk. How may I help you? Uh huh, yes sir, of course. Yes. Which floor? Certainly.”

The phone was hung up, and the woman smiled back at us, then motioned as an elevator nearby opened up.

“The elevator will take you to the sixteenth floor where a grief counsellor will be waiting to do your interview. There will be several hours worth of interviews. If, at any time, you need a break, Isabella, you just say so, okay? It’s never too late to back out until you sign a contract.”

“I know,” I said.

I moved to the elevator stiffly, an ache already starting in my leg. At that age, the leg bothered me almost constantly but got worse in the winter, or when I sat or stood for long periods in the same position.

The elevator was much like the rest of the building, new, shiny, and obviously made for a richer sort of person than we were. The Program building was a reflection of what the Program was, rich folk reaching out to poor folk.

Rich folk made contracts which poor folk took. The contracts gave the rich folks control over everything about the poor folk. How they dressed, what they ate, where they lived.

A lot of the contracts were for maids or gardeners that the rich folk wanted to act a specific way around other rich folks. Some were for cooks who were renown amongst the poor folk. Still others were artists and tutors.

A select few were for death, allowing the rich folk to kill a poor folk but only if every condition of death was met. The Program accepted oldsters, terminally ill people, and suicidal folk into the death contract but rejected most of the applicants.

There were, of course, the sex toy contracts, breeding, and even Dom/sub contracts, but those weren’t exactly discussed outside of the Program building.

A contract paid more than a job of the same ranking. A maid who signed a contract could earn up to twice as much as one who was simply hired by a rich person.

We stepped out of the elevator on the floor it opened up on, and found ourselves confronted by a creepily smiling woman in a business suit, holding a clipboard.

“Death contract for Isabella Martin?” she said in a sing-song voice to match the creepy smile.

As if she only knew the one tone of voice and couldn’t switch to something more somber given the topic. When discussing death, one should never be upbeat about it.

“I go by Izzy,” I said.

“Come with me,” she said, still far too cheery.

We followed her into an interview room and took a seat on the side of the table nearest to the door. She sat across from us and set a folder in front of me, opening the cover.

“First off, I need to tell you about the contract. We have a gentleman looking for a young woman for a contract. He’s very interested in how the body works and—”

“Rape, torture, and murder,” I muttered.

“Could we negotiate torture, murder, then rape?” my brother asked.

“What difference does it matter if I’m raped before I die or after? I’m already going to be tortured!” I shouted back at him.

“You can handle pain. I know you can,” he said defensively. “And you want to die. At what point do you want some rich guy to violate you like that?”

I considered the point as I looked at the counsellor, who’s face was apparently stuck in that creepy smile.

“I just need to be clear,” she said, eyebrows raising slightly, but the rest of her face staying the same.

I sighed and pulled the file towards myself.

I still remember the details of that contract. It terrifies me, the things this man wanted to do to a young, viable woman because he could. Because he had the money to pay for a contract and that gave him the right to go searching. I can understand the rich folk looking just to kill someone. They’re disconnected from reality, and they have no problem taking the contract for an older person or terminally ill.

Nine times out of ten, the rich person doesn’t follow through on the contracts and ends up using the clause to get out of it.

Sometimes I dream about that contract. I wake screaming as my skin is flayed off.

“All right,” I said, pushing the file away from myself.

The other option was to go home and try to take another job. I saw no other way for my life to go. There was a figure on the very last page which was very, very tempting. It would pay off the debt I had incurred due to my injury.

Even if I had gone home, no job I could take would result in paying off even half of what had gone to pay for my leg.

The things people do for the love of a child.

“Next are the interviews,” the woman said, withdrawing a pad of paper from under the table. “I will begin. Why do you want to die?”

The next six hours were filled with uncomfortable questions. Four different people asked me questions, then asked my brother questions. They all asked the same questions as if expecting a different answer each time.

Each time I gave the same damned answer, until I finally got fed up and snapped at the grief counsellor who asked if I was really certain that I wanted to sign a contract.

It wasn’t that I was tired of answering the question, it was that she seemed genuinely happy to have found someone to fulfill the contract.

As the woman gaped at me, there was a knock behind her. I peered around her, to the black wall. The woman turned to look at the wall, and there was another knock. The counsellor sighed loudly and stood.

“I’ll be right back,” she said, all enthusiasm suddenly gone from her voice.

My brother sighed loudly as the door closed. “I don’t understand why this isn’t open and closed.”

“Maybe they have to save me. Maybe that’s a requirement,” I countered. “Some people want to, but it’s not really what they want.”

“If there was another way—”

The door opened again and the counsellor walked back in, sulking as she motioned behind her. A man walked in as if he owned the place.

“This is Mr. Wrightworth. He’s the head of the Program. He wants to talk to you.”

Okay, maybe he does own the place.

Mr. Wrightworth was a lean man, but tall. He was dressed in a suit that was richer than I had ever seen in person, even on the counsellors who had come in to question us. The suit was dark grey with pinstripes. His tie was purple silk, but it wasn’t just tied as most men did, it was done up in a way I had never seen before. Months later I would learn how to tie knots for formal wear and would learn it was a trinity knot.

The man’s dark brown hair was slightly disheveled, his hazel eyes narrowed as he looked me over and then my brother. There were lines at the corners of his eyes and little ones around his mouth, though he couldn’t have been older than thirty.

He looked like a poor person who had been elevated with a contract. I had never seen a rich person who had wrinkles at his age.

“This is the death contract?” he asked the counsellor with a small motion to me.

Mr. Wrightworth’s voice was quiet, steady, and there was little to no question in the statement. While he had motioned to me, his right hand remained in his pocket. There seemed almost a boredom to his voice as he turned to me once more and sighed.

“We have to be certain. Are you certain?”

“Yes,” the counsellor responded in an acidic tone. “Mr. Wrightworth, we are certain.”

She sounded as if she wanted to throw something at the man. Her jaw and hands clenched as one when Mr. Wrightworth turned his full attention to her.

One hand still in his pocket, the other moving just slightly as his thumb ran over the pads of his index and middle finger. The two were quiet as they watched one another as if waiting for the other one to speak up first.

Mr. Wrightworth turned and closed the door. It was so strange, watching someone who wasn’t a poor person do something for themselves. He was obviously above the counsellors, whose faces were bereft of lines of any sort, yet he still closed the door for himself. The man walked around the table and sat across from me, clasping his hands and setting them on the table as he studied me for a moment.

The silence made me uncomfortable.

“Why death?” he asked.

“Mr. Wrightworth, I’ve done my job—” the counsellor began but stopped speaking when the man held up a hand to silence her.

“Your services are no longer required,” he said. “You may leave.”

The counsellor, behind Mr. Wrightworth, went bright red. Her eyebrows raised as she seemed to tremble but gave no response. She left the room and slammed the door behind her.

“Why death?” Mr. Wrightworth asked me again.

“I’m use—” my voice broke, and tears sprung up in my eyes. I had to stop to take a breath before I tried again. “I’m useless. I only bring more debt to my family.”

“She had an accident when she was younger,” my brother tried to explain.

“I can read,” Mr. Wrightworth said dismissively, his hazel eyes focused on me. “This contract will end in your death, which would give you what you want, as well as what your brother wants from you, a repayment of the debt you’ve incurred. But as far as he cares, in reality, you need to be removed from his responsibility of keeping you alive long enough to get as much debt back out of you as possible.”

I burst into tears. After hours of answering awkward questions, hearing those words from someone else was just too much. It took far too long for me to get myself back under control. During which time Mr. Wrightworth watched quietly. As my tears stopped, he reached into a pocket and withdrew a disposable tissue, which he pushed across to me. I used it to wipe my eyes and face, then sniffed.

“You want to die because you are useless,” Mr. Wrightworth said.

Which made me start crying again.

“That’s not true!” my brother protested. “If there was another way, I’d do that instead!”

“She has no use to you, she can’t hold down a slum job,” Mr. Wrightworth said. “You only need her removed from sight so that you are no longer responsible for her. So that you won’t be the one in trouble if she does succeed next time.”

“Screw you, I love my sister!”

“If you loved her, there are programs at the hospitals, free programs, for people like her!” Mr. Wrightworth shouted back.

“Don’t yell at him,” I said to the table, my eyes drying even as I had to sniff to keep snot from running out my nose. “I wouldn’t go to the hospital anyhow. What are they going to do? Pat me on the head and tell me everything will be all right, then send me back out jobless?”

Mr. Wrightworth sat back in his seat, smiling ever so slightly.

There was something so trustworthy about his face.

“I have another contract to offer you, I believe you are a good fit,” Mr. Wrightworth said, reaching into his suit to withdraw a folded paper, which he slid across the table to me.

I unfolded the paper and read the writing on it, then set it on the table and stared back at him.

“All it has is a number and a clause,” I said.

“That number is what your family will be paid if you are found unsuited and you are killed, fulfilling a death contract in a way. The death would be simple, a bullet to the head. But, I know the one who offered up this contract, I think you’ll suit very well.”

“And the contract?” I asked with a head shake and a frown.

“That is the contract.”

I stared at the paper sitting before me. Ever so slowly I licked my lips, my mouth was suddenly dry, and there was a trembling in my stomach as I looked up at Mr. Wrightworth.

“I can’t give you exact details, but there would be no torture, no rape, no murder,” Mr. Wrightworth said quietly. “Well, no murder if you meet the requirements. Again, I’m certain you will.”

“Why do you think I will?” I asked, my voice trembling.

“Pretty, intelligent,” Mr. Wrightworth’s head turned slightly to the side when I looked away. “Broken, but not too broken and not about to break at a sigh. Young and female, of course.”

“I’m not broken.”

“You’re useless,” he responded blandly.

“Why would you say that?” I asked, tears springing up in my eyes once more.

“Mm, shame that you’ve been conditioned to respond like that,” Mr. Wrightworth sighed. “But it also proves that you can accept conditioning, which was another requirement.

“On the one hand, you have rape, torture, and murder, a contract you absolutely would be accepted for. Which is why that old biddy acted the way she did. We’ve wanted to close his contract for a very long time. We should never have accepted it.

“On the other hand, you have the silent contract before you. No rules, no bounds, but I’ve told you that it will not involve rape or torture. If it does involve murder, it will be quick, and you probably won’t even see it coming.”

“But it only has a number on the clause,” I said.

Mr. Wrightworth smiled. “The due on this contract hasn’t been written because there is no end to the contract. When the one who wrote it either accepts or declines you, he will then make the payment to your family of what he believes you are worth.”

“What do you think he’d pay?” I asked.

“More than the other,” Mr. Wrightworth said after a moment. “Could you stand for me, please?”

Frowning again, I stood slowly and set a hand on the back of the chair to take weight off of my leg. Mr. Wrightworth’s eyes roved down my form and then back up, hesitating not once. There was no hunger or heat there, but he made a sound.

“You’d be worth a great deal to him,” the man said, motioning to the chair.

I sat, wincing as I did so. After sitting for so long, my leg hurt at the slightest movement.

“What’s the catch?” my brother asked. “There’s always a catch with a contract.”

“Isabella can have no contact with her family while under this contract. They will be told, upon payment, that she has taken part in a death contract. They will also be told, because of the laws involved, that you signed as a witness.”

“I don’t care.”

“Of course, you don’t,” Mr. Wrightworth said, leaning forward to rap his knuckles on the table. I looked up at him. The man smiled kindly back at me. “I’m not allowed to tell you what to do, but I need you to make a choice here.”

“The one that pays more,” I said louder than I meant to say.

“Fantastic,” Mr. Wrightworth said, reaching forward to take the paper off the table. “I do need one more interview with a counsellor to make certain I haven’t forced you into accepting this contract, then we will do a video document stating that you are agreeing, while you know there are no terms. In the agreement, you need to state that you were told that there would be no torture and no rape because that is what I told you.”

My heart fluttered in my chest.

“And then?” I asked.

“And then I take you for medical tests,” he said quietly.

It wasn’t just medical tests. Those were first, however. Blood was taken, I peed in probably three cups, had to—well they were thorough. A dentist cleaned my teeth and sprayed something over them that tasted godawful but he said would keep me from getting cavities from rich folk food.

I had more people between my legs in those two days than I had had as sexual partners.

All were normal tests, but I didn’t understand why one person couldn’t do all those jobs instead of having that many people each doing one little part of it. At the time, I supposed that was how rich people worked.

An IUD was installed, to keep unwanted pregnancy away while not having to rely on my remembering to take a pill. Apparently, some folk who entered contracts went and ‘forgot’ to take the drug based contraceptives, then got themselves pregnant in the hopes of controlling a rich person.

In my case, though, my forgetting would have been completely by accident. There was nothing in the slum that I had to do one a day, every day, at the same time. If I had been on a drug based contraceptive, I would have been pregnant so fast.

After the tests—I had no idea what most of them were for—I was scrubbed four times over the course of a day. My skin practically glowed, everything was so smooth despite the fact that all my body hair remained.

The point of the cleaning was only to get me clean, not to alter my look in any fashion.

At some point, I think they realized the dusty look to my hair was simply the colour of my hair.

Once they were satisfied that I was clean enough, they brought me a set of clothing that looked like the set I had worn into the Program building, but I knew were not. The shirt wasn’t frayed at the seams. The jacket had all its buttons. The colours were just a little too vibrant. They lacked the whitewashed look of the older clothing I had worn in. They even provided a pair of underwear, which I hadn’t worn in because I had been about to attempt suicide again.

You don’t exactly need underwear if you’re about to die.

The clothing even smelled like it had come from the slums. Which was an indescribable smell. Not the smell of stale sweat and unwashed body as some books and movies might have you believe. There was something very distinct about it, though, something that rich folk cleaned out of their homes with scented disinfectants.

I found the smell of slum on my clothing comforting.

Each time I walk into a slum that smell hits me like a wall and takes me back to that moment in the medical building. With me clean and given a clear bill of health, awaiting the judgment of a man I had never met before. Fear tingled up through my limbs and roiled in my belly as I stood there, sniffing my arm because the smell was so faint that it was only really there that I could get a proper whiff.

I was never by myself in the medical building. As I sniffed my arm, a rich woman stood to the side, gripping her clipboard tightly as she watched me with wide eyes. She looked pale and stiff, like the clipboard in her arms. By that point, though, I assumed that was how all rich folk looked. Like it was a fashion of some sort to paint their faces so that they looked deathly pale, and they just didn’t move for fear of wrinkles.

The medical building had a mixture of both rich and poor folk. The easiest way to tell them apart was to look around the eyes and forehead. Rich folk had no wrinkles, poor folk tended to have a few to lots and lots of them, or had freckles, dimples, little scars, small things that marred their features in a way that made them look more human.

Rich folk looked like dolls that were kept safe until such a time as I laid eyes on them.

I looked at the woman and sniffed my arm again.

Everything else be damned, I had no idea when I’d be able to smell that again. As her hands tightened on that clipboard— eyes widening even more, as if she had just witnessed me murder a puppy—there was a familiar tightening in my stomach.

I lowered my arm and considered as another twinge followed.

I knew that if I didn’t get some sort of hygiene item quickly, they’d have to throw me back into the tub and probably wouldn’t let me out for three days.

“Uhm,” I said to the frightened woman in the corner, uncertain how to ask for what I needed.

“Hmm?” she asked in the sort of tone I expected to hear from someone who was worried I’d ask her to join me in puppy murdering.

“I need a, uh,” I twirled my finger in the air as it occurred to me that rich people probably didn’t use rags like poor folk did.

I knew what a tampon was. I knew that rich folk used those, but I didn’t want one. I was used to rags. I wanted what I was used to, not something new and weird.

“A drink?” she asked.

“No, it’s, uh, for bleeding,” I said.

“You cut yourself?” she shouted, finally moving her arms.

Instead of being supportive, all of a sudden she was acting like I had decided not to murder the puppy and had tried to kill myself instead. One would think that a rich person would care more about a puppy than they did about a poor person.

“No! Are you a moron?” I shouted back, furious that the woman couldn’t take a damned hint. “My period just started!”

As I shouted—at the top of my lungs no less—Mr. Wrightworth walked into the room and came to a startled and awkward stop. The hazel eyes widened just slightly as the man tried to relax, his hands slipping into his pockets as he focused on the air between the two of us.

Once he was relaxed, he glanced at me, whose face was bright red as every part of me heated up to an unbelievable point. Then he looked at the woman, who was pressed into the corner.

I felt like I was going to melt into a puddle of stupid and clothing, the temperature inside my skin was just that much. Thinking about it even, it reminded me of my mother, whose favourite saying when we did something foolish was, ‘are ya a puddle of stupid, or a living breathing boy?’

Lowering his head ever so slowly, Mr. Wrightworth sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Get her a hygiene product,” the man without straightening or removing his fingers from his nose.

“Oh,” the woman said. “Which should I get her?”

“Ask her that,” Mr. Wrightworth barked, finally lowering his hand as he scowled at the woman.

The woman finally turned back to me, who struggled to come up with an answer.

“Uh, a rag?”

“What’s a rag?” the woman asked in response.

“A pad,” Mr. Wrightworth snarled.

“Oh,” the woman said. “But a tampon is more discreet.”

The man’s look spoke of a fury that he apparently couldn’t find words for because he didn’t say anything as the woman fled the room. Once she had left those eyes turned to me, the anger still there.

“You need to speak up,” he said.

The calm man of our first meeting was gone. The fury remained, though he was now stiff like a rich person. It appeared to be a different kind of stiff, though. Like he was afraid if he moved, he might hit me for being stupid. Mr. Wrightworth marched up to me as I stood stalk still, afraid to move. I bent backward ever so slightly as he stopped mere inches from me.

“Speak up,” he said.

Fear silenced my tongue. I trembled as I stared up at him.

It wasn’t that I was weak, it was that I was tired. The moment my gut started going everything else just sort of shut down. I got real tired real fast. The pain just took everything out of me.

“Pain makes me want to sleep,” I said.

“Pain makes you feel vulnerable,” Mr. Wrightworth said sternly.

“I’m not vulnerable. I can still do everything that anyone else can do,” I responded.

He took hold of my neck and pulled my face upward. His fingers wrapped around the side of my neck, thumb resting against my windpipe. There wasn’t necessarily anything threatening about the motion, not until his hand tightened just slightly.

I went still, cold flowing through me as I was forced to meet his eyes.

“Pain makes you feel vulnerable, say it.”

“Pain makes me feel vulnerable,” I said quietly.

Mr. Wrightworth removed his hand.

The tips of his fingers brushed my cheek, sending a tingling shiver through my face. In the wake of Mr. Wrightworth’s fingers, my cheek was awash in cold. I wanted to touch the spot where his fingers had been, to reassure myself that there was nothing wrong.

“I strongly suggest you not attempt to hide how you feel. The one you are going to can read you better than you can read yourself. He will know the truth of the matter and is not looking for excuses. He will see every flaw and use it to his advantage.”

“There was no need to grab me,” I said, focusing on his chest.

“If you were mine, I would have bent you over and caned you until you wept,” Mr. Wrightworth said. “As it is, you aren’t. But if you do that to him, you’ll wish you were mine.”

“You know him very well,” I said, meeting Mr. Wrightworth’s eyes.

“Yes, I know him very well. Well enough that I know, he’ll take you on, unlike the other two that were offered up to him.”

“He had a lot of people looking for him?”

“All the buildings have been looking to fill the contract for him. The others thought they found the right one but forgot to take into account an important factor.”

“And what factor is that?” I asked as the woman returned.

She had a small package in her hand and hesitated as I looked at her. She smiled weakly and edged away just a little bit.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer a tampon?” she asked.

“If I wanted something stuck up there, I would find myself a stick!” I shouted at her.

Mr. Wrightworth chuckled and walked away.

I snatched the package from the woman and marched into the bathroom to use the product. When I walked back out, the woman gawked at me as if I had grown a head. Perhaps she expected that I’d be stupid enough to attach it to my forehead instead of my underwear.

Mr. Wrightworth was leaning against a wall, watching me ruefully. A smile tugged at his lips as he stood there, hands in his pockets, ankles crossed as if he hadn’t a care in the world.

“I’m not usually so cranky,” I said to him, not wanting to botch the contract before it had even begun.

“You called a teacher a ... cunt and that wasn’t even the worst you said to her, or to others later on,” Mr. Wrightworth said, his smile growing. “But that, too, was a condition of the contract. Pain or not, I need you to speak up.”

“Okay,” I said.

“How do you feel otherwise?” Mr. Wrightworth asked.

“Fine, I suppose,” I responded. “I should have been good for another two weeks.”

The man made a small sound at the back of his throat and pushed off the wall. “I meant, do you feel unstable? How are you feeling emotionally?”

I shrugged, unable to come up with a response. “Fine, I think?”

“Don’t phrase your answers as questions.”

“What?” I asked.

“I’m just trying to give you advice, when giving an answer, don’t phrase it like a question. Be firm in your responses. If you don’t know, or don’t understand, say as much.” Mr. Wrightworth hesitated. “It’s been made clear that I will need to do checks because this contract isn’t exactly laid out. It hasn’t been laid out, to protect his interests. Can’t hold something over a person when you don’t know what you’re holding.”

“Are you trying to say that we need to be friends?”

Mr. Wrightworth was silent a long moment, his eyes on me as he considered something. Finally, he said, “Yes.”

“I’m not good with friends.”

“Nor am I,” Mr. Wrightworth muttered. “As far as outside contact is concerned, I’m your only guarantee. For your mental health, yes, I would strongly suggest you, and I be friends.”

“So, how do you know him?” I asked.

“His father wanted to teach him a less about humility and sent him to my father’s plant to work. We met there. He was one of the supporters of the original Program and provided one of the first contracts. I took that contract and served two years as his aide. Once my contract was up, I accepted a position in the Program working as contract closer and working my way up.”

“Oh,” I said, surprised. “So you really do know him.”

“I really, truly do,” Mr. Wrightworth said quietly. “Every action you take, every line of you will tell him exactly what he needs to know. Your body will give away your every flaw, and he will suss it all out.”

“I don’t—”

“You have trust issues and almost no self-worth,” Mr. Wrightworth said in a bored tone.

“How dare you.”

“You’re worthless, useless, and will never amount to anything.”

I struggled to grasp what he had just said. My mind seemed to shut down as Mr. Wrightworth approached me slowly, his hands in his pockets as he almost smiled.

“Isabella,” he said steadily.

“What?” I managed to get out, though my voice trembled.

“I only said that to you to manipulate you emotionally and to prove a point,” he said quietly. “Now, I know you’re not exactly going to be able to think, let alone put up a fight. So now’s probably a good time to mention that we’re flying out to his estate on an airplane.”

With a few well-placed words Mr. Wrightworth had revealed my deepest insecurities and caused my mind to shut down to protect itself from the overwhelming emotions attached to those words. I recognized the words. I could even rationally understand what Mr. Wrightworth had said.

It wasn’t until I was on the plane and the wheels lifted off the tarmac that my emotional reasoning kicked back in and I screamed.

Poor people didn’t fly. The only driving we participated in was in the mobile carts. We didn’t use cars. We didn’t move quickly but for those few who worked for the rich estates outside of the slum. I certainly had never travelled faster than thirty kilometres an hour.

I probably screamed for twenty minutes and Mr. Wrightworth watched the entire time. The bastard actually seemed to enjoy watching me scream in terror, which was the only thing that calmed me down in the end. I stopped screaming, but I was still terrified at every bump and turn of the plane. My hands gripped the armrests tightly as if they would save me if the plane exploded mid-air.

His eyes were on me the whole flight.

It was the only time that I felt truly frightened by Mr. Wrightworth. The man’s attention, the flush to his skin as we landed. Something was going on that I didn’t understand. Something my terror was doing to him. As the plane rolled to a stop, Mr. Wrightworth sighed out. He seemed disappointed that the trip was almost over.

I was relieved, I just wanted off the flying metal contraption of death.

I needed help off the plane. My legs trembled, and my heart was beating so fast that as I stood everything went black around the edges.

Mr. Wrightworth allowed me to lean on him as we disembarked. His arm, which he had offered to me, was firm in my tight grip. Halfway down the steps, he paused and slipped an arm around me. He slipped his other arm into my hands and continued at a slower pace.

He helped me into the back of a vehicle and sat beside me, looking very smug indeed.

“What?” I demanded, my voice trembling even as I tried to be angry. “Does my fear amuse you?”

“Amuse may not be the right word,” Mr. Wrightworth said quietly. “Normally only the terror of men can do that for me. Which only reaffirms my thought as to his reaction to you. You’ll do fine.”

I watched Mr. Wrightworth, the terror returning. “I don’t like being messed with.”

“I wasn’t doing as much, and he won’t either,” Mr. Wrightworth said. “I was simply reacting to the situation you couldn’t help but be in. Travelling by plane is the fastest way by far. I think what you wouldn’t be interested in is called mind-fucking. Where he sets up a situation that you would not be interested in and is untrue. Or it may be gas lighting. We’re still debating on what the difference between the two is.”

“So he won’t put me in a position that terrifies me?”

“Oh, he absolutely will,” Mr. Wrightworth said quickly. The man paused to swallow. He dragged in a breath. “When I first became his aide, he took me to a fairground. There are rides there, roller coasters and rides of all sort. Somewhat like the fairs that happen yearly in some of the slums except with actual rides instead of just pony rides. Anyhow, he dragged me onto a roller coaster and just like you on the plane—I screamed the entire way. I was terrified.”

“I bet you didn’t enjoy it,” I said.

“Then he dragged me again. And again. Third time around I realized that it wasn’t actually terrifying, it was amazing fun.

“What I’m trying to say is, being terrified doesn’t necessarily mean that something is bad for you. Terror comes from new experiences. He will show you many new things, most of which you will be terrified of. He’s not trying to hurt you, and yes he might get off on your terror, but it’s to open up your world, not to hurt you.”

“Is there any kind of terror I could say no to?” I asked.

“Absolutely. He’s not allowed to, say, tell you that your parents are dead when they aren’t. He’s not allowed to, after the fact, tell you a lie about what was said or done. Those are very bad things, and I know he won’t do it, but I want you to know that he’s not allowed to. If you think he’s done that, you tell me right away.”

“So I can say no?” I asked.

“Absolutely. Once we get there, he and I will have a quick little debate. Those will be the limits. The contract being blank was actually about protecting him. Once he approves you, we can discuss the yes and no. He will stop you from saying no to some things because he will then use those things to discipline you for stepping out of line.”

“Oh,” I said weakly, my voice trailing off to nothing as the man watched me.

“All contracts allow for disciplinary action and list out what that action will be,” Mr. Wrightworth said steadily. “Because everyone makes mistakes. Those who offer the contracts are only human. They get angry when there’s a hole in the rug, or things are done wrong. The point of the contract is to prevent that from happening.”

“So far I get the gist of—this is a sexual contract, but you said no rape.”

Mr. Wrightworth chuckled. “If you end up having sex with him, you will be begging him for it.”

I was at a loss for words. It may have been the exhaustion and pain setting in, or it could have been a result of his manipulation of me before we got on the plane.

“I don’t beg for sex,” I managed to get out.

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