This is a special sneak peek look at Chapter 3 of Praise, coming March 17. 

Rule #3: Always do as you’re told—especially when it involves getting on your knees for a hot millionaire daddy.

Charlie

“This can’t be right.”

The house I’m looking at is a three-story Spanish-style mansion with manicured palm trees, arched windows, and a cobblestone driveway.

I swear if the guy I was just dating is secretly loaded, I’m going to be so pissed. We literally dug under our couch cushions for enough coins to get Taco Bell for dinner. There’s no way this was where his dad lived all along.

Climbing out of the car, feeling very out of place in this bougie neighborhood on the coast, I brush the dog hair off my black velvet skirt and walk up the paved steps toward the front door. I can literally hear the ocean from here.

This is ridiculous.

This guy is probably wiping his ass with my thousand dollar check right now.

I ring the doorbell, but it goes unanswered for about thirty seconds. Usually, I would be relieved that they don’t seem to be home, and I’m spared the awkward encounter of having to speak to strangers, but I’m too poor to be relieved. I need the cash.

I promised Sophie I would take her to that Anime Fest in April, and her birthday is right around the corner. Also, I can’t bear to live in the casita behind my mother’s house forever.

So I knock again.

“Coming!” a sweet voice calls, and I hear high heels click against hard stone floors. When the door is pulled open, I stare into the big blue eyes of a woman with wavy brown hair and full pink lips.

“Hi…I’m here to see Mr. Grant.”

She freezes with her eyes wide and her mouth hanging open. Then she glances down at her watch. “Oh, okay…I didn’t know you were coming today, but it’s fine. Come in, come in.”

She didn’t know I was coming? I didn’t tell anyone I was coming here. Maybe Beau gave his family a heads-up that I would be picking up the check.

“Are you Mrs. Grant?” I ask. Last I knew, Beau told me his parents split when he was still a baby, but I guess it’s possible he has a new wife that I never knew about.

A laugh bursts through her lips as she shakes her head. “God, no. I’m just helping him out today. He should be back any minute. You can wait for him in the office.”

“Okay, thanks,” I mutter, as she guides me through the expansive living room with high ceilings and marble floors to the open French doors on the other side. It leads to a large office with bay windows overlooking the ocean. I’m struck speechless for a moment as I gaze out at the open water.

“Wow…” I whisper, freezing in the doorway.

“That is a cute outfit,” the woman says, looking down at my all-black ensemble. It’s a sheer long sleeve top with a Peter Pan collar, a black velvet pencil skirt, and tights with black Docs to finish it off.

“Thanks,” I reply with a smile.

“It’s different, but I think he’ll like it.”

“What?” I ask, but her phone rings, so she steps away. While she answers it, rambling on about some business stuff I don’t bother paying attention to, I meander around the room, taking in the style. Something feels off to me after that comment about him liking my outfit. Is this how women treat him around here? Like his opinion on our attire matters at all.

As creepy as that comment was, at least his office is beautiful. Unlike the cold, sterile feel of the rest of the house, the floor in the office is covered with a rich, scarlet-red rug and the mahogany desk is large with two deep gray armchairs facing it. My fingers graze the fabric of each one.

“He’s coming,” the woman snaps. “You should probably be on your knees.”

Assuming I misheard her, I glance back with a look of confusion on my face, but she’s already scurrying out of the room, closing the French doors behind her.

Did she seriously just say I should be on my knees?

This place is giving me some seriously weird vibes. I’m glad I didn’t bring Sophie, even if it isn’t the ghetto, not by a long shot. Now I’m starting to understand why Beau didn’t want me to meet his dad. I need to just get my check and get the hell out of here.

I turn to leave the office and ask her what’s going on, but then he steps into view. They are in the foyer, which I can see through the windows of the French doors, and they’re talking while the woman moves toward the exit. I can’t make out what they’re saying, but I’m too stuck on the man she’s talking to.

I’ve never even seen Beau’s dad in pictures, so I had no idea what to expect, but it wasn’t this. He’s tall, with a bulky frame and tan, sun-kissed skin. His dark hair is impeccably styled to the side with hints of white at the temples and a streak at the top. He’s wearing a suit, an expensive-looking one in a deep, navy blue.

Only able to make out his profile, I can see enough to tell that his flawless suit and body are paired well with his impeccable face. He has a strong brow, chiseled jawline, and a sandy cropped beard. I’m staring at him as he turns his head toward me, and my blood practically boils in my cheeks under his gaze. I quickly turn my head, facing the ocean as he walks toward the office.

Once he’s entered the room, it’s as if everything in it shrinks, including me. After closing the door behind him, he strips off his jacket, hanging it on the tall oak rack. My mouth goes dry as my eyes cascade down his broad shoulders and the muscles of his back through the taut fabric of his shirt.

“Hi, I’m Charlie,” I start. My hands are clasped in front of me, and I don’t know why I feel so nervous all of a sudden. I’m not normally so skittish.

“You should start on your knees. Never be on your feet when I enter the room. And you don’t speak unless I ask you to. When you do, you will address me as Sir and nothing else. Is that understood?” His voice is deep and cold like it comes directly from the depths of the ocean. I’m stuck on his words, trying to make sense of them. My body is suddenly in a panic when I get the eerie feeling I just walked into something I wasn’t supposed to.

“Excuse me?” I stammer. He freezes in his spot, his eyes skating over my body head to toe, and I feel a flush of warmth up my spine.

“On your knees,” he barks out. My breath is punched out of my body. I should be running and screaming, and I definitely should not be considering lowering to the floor for him. Is he some sort of chauvinistic jerk who thinks all women should bow to him or something? And if that idea gets my blood pressure rising with rage, why do I feel so randomly…aroused?

“Why?” I ask.

He reacts like I’ve slapped him. “Well, you want your money, don’t you?”

Jesus-fucking-Christ.

No, no! Charlotte Marie Underwood, don’t you dare even consider this for one second. This manipulative bastard does not control you, and you do not have to kneel on the carpet for him! That’s your money, and you don’t have to do shit for it.

But he’s watching me with fire in his eyes, as if he’s waiting for me to obey. Every rational part of my brain is shouting at me to tell this guy to fuck off, get bent, and eat a bag of dicks…but the rational part of my brain is not in control at the moment.

He is.

My knees actually start to bend, and I cannot believe myself. When they hit the carpet, I expect to feel utterly humiliated. I want to be enraged. Instead, I’m still gazing up at his face, waiting to see what this psychopath has in store for me next.

He doesn’t want me to…you know…have sex with him just to get my thousand bucks back, does he? I draw the line there.

I think.

Yes, yes, I definitely draw the line there.

“Much better,” he says warmly, and a strange sense of calm washes over me.

Then he steps closer until he’s within arm’s reach, at which point I get a whiff of his intoxicating cologne. I’m gazing up at this mountain of a man when he reaches out a hand and strokes my jawline before taking my chin in his grip.

Hello, inappropriate, my inner alarm is blaring. This is very, very, very fucking inappropriate, but how the hell am I supposed to get out of it now? I’ve already kneeled.

“Normally, I’d want your eyes on the floor, but I want to look at you.” He tilts my chin up as he examines my face.

I can’t breathe. I can’t move. I can’t do anything because I am defenseless prey in his hands. He’s a lion and I’m a meek gazelle caught between his teeth.

His features soften, and the corner of his lip twitches. “Lovely.”

That word drips like warm honey trickling down my spine.

When he lets go of my chin, he spins away and walks to the other side of his desk.

“Where did Garrett find you?” he asks.

“Garrett?” I stammer, confused. Does he mean Beau?

“I told him not to send anyone today, and you clearly need more training, but—"

It’s like someone snaps in front of my face, waking me up from this hypnosis. “Wait, what?” I bark out, interrupting him.

His head snaps in my direction, looking offended by my audacity to cut him off.

“Who is Garrett? What training are you talking about?”

“What is your name?” he asks slowly.

“Charlotte Underwood. I’m here to pick up a check from you.”

“Charlotte? What check—" There is a twitch in his eye at the exact moment he realizes something is wrong, and all of the control and calm melt off his face until he looks scrambled and apologetic. “Jesus, get up.”

I jump to my feet.

I watch as he rubs his brow line, looking pensive and distraught. “You’re Beau’s girlfriend,” he says with a groan.

“Ex,” I correct. He glances up at me with a hint of surprise on his face.

“You broke up?”

That’s what he’s focusing on right now?

“Yes.”

Letting out an exhale, he reclines in his seat, and I wait for him to say something.

“I just need half of that check. He gave me your address and told me to come get it.”

There’s a wince in his expression and he goes back to rubbing his forehead. “Of course. How much do you need?”

I watch as he reaches into the drawer of his desk, pulling out a checkbook and a pen.

“The deposit was for two thousand, and half of that was mine.”

When his eyes dance up to greet me again, I feel myself almost cower. He’s so intimidating, and maybe that’s where Beau gets it from, although Beau acts more powerful than he really is. This guy just is powerful, no denying that.

He scribbles out the check, rips it from its place, and passes it to me. Quickly, I step forward and take it. I should run away right now. I have what I came for, the awkward mix-up is behind us, and I have no further reason to stay, but I feel stuck in my spot.

“Charlotte, I have to apologize. I’m afraid I thought you were someone else when I found you in my office.”

He won’t look at me as he speaks, just unbuttons his sleeves and begins rolling them up. I’m fixated on the movement of his hands and the way that tight white shirt looks against his tan skin.

I swallow. “Who did you think I was?” I ask, knowing full well I have absolutely no right to that answer, but I’m nothing if not stubborn and reckless.

His eyes are back on my face again. “It’s not important.”

“Someone who works for you? Or someone you…hire?”

He glares at me, his eyes squinting with intensity as he realizes what I’m implying.

“Like I said, it’s not important, and I’d appreciate you not sharing any of this with Beau.”

“I don’t talk to him anymore, and I don’t plan to.”

His jaw clenches as he exhales the word, “Fine.”

Turning on my heels, I head toward the door, reading the check as I go, feeling utterly humiliated and irritable because of it. And just as I reach for the door handle, I picture Sophie’s face. And I remember that her birthday is coming up, and how those Anime Fest tickets are expensive, and she wanted VIP passes to meet her favorite illustrator.

So I pause.

Oh God, this is stupid, but I have to try.

I turn around to face the person who intimidates me more than anyone I’ve ever met. And when I see him there, filling up that large chair behind that giant desk in front of floor-to-ceiling bay windows, it makes sense to me why girls would come in here and kneel for him. I bet he’s not used to girls who talk back, challenge him, give him hell.

But he owes me. I got on my fucking knees for him.

“You know…I might see Beau again, actually,” I say carefully. He glances up at me with a curious notch in his brow.

“I hope I don’t accidentally let any of this slip…”

Oh, you are bold, Charlie.

My hands are shaking, and I can’t let him see me falter, so I quickly clutch them behind my back. I hold my head up high, shoulders back, and I look him right in the eye.

Without another word, he pulls out his checkbook again, and the look on his face says he is not happy at all, but I remind myself that I don’t care. I don’t care if he’s mad at me or hates me or that I’m making him angry.

Except I do. I do care, and I hate the disappointed scowl on his face as he scrawls out another check. But I need this money, and I’m in the position to get it.

Do it for Sophie, I remind myself.

“What number might help you remember to keep quiet?” he says with a grunt.

I quickly lick my lips. Fuck, I don’t know. So I’ll just go with the price of the Anime Fest with VIP passes. “Two-fifty.”

He glances up at me as if he’s surprised. Too much? Too little?

“Two hundred and fifty?”

I nod. He seems to contemplate that for a moment before going back to filling it out. Again, he rips it from the book and holds it out for me.

Quickly, I cross the room, and I notice the way he’s watching my body as I hurry toward him. Then he meets my eyes, but he doesn’t let go of the check right away. Instead, he looks like he wants to say something. I wait, hoping he’s not about to argue with me again.

Finally, he lets it go.

“Thank you.”

He nods his head, and I turn to run out of his office. I don’t stop until I reach my car. Dropping into the driver’s seat, I finally let out the heavy breath I was holding.

I glance down at the two checks in my hand. The first for one thousand, and the second for five thousand.

What the…

Is this a mistake? I keep re-reading the number written, wondering what exactly I’m missing. For a second, I actually consider running back into the house to tell him he made a huge mistake. Then I notice in the memo of the check, there is a phone number followed by three letters: SPC.

They aren’t his initials. But something about that note makes me think he wrote the amount out on purpose. So I don’t go back in. I mean, he’s loaded. Five thousand might be a mortgage payment and tickets to Anime Fest for me, but for him, it’s probably nothing.

I let out a squeal of excitement and drop the checks into the passenger seat as I start my car and hurry home.

Was humiliating myself worth five grand? It sure fucking was.

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Coming March 17