Empire of Desire by Rina Kent



The thing about ambition is that it can’t be stopped, measured, or contained.

There’s always something to do and a power to pursue. No matter which direction I take, there’s a goal to reach and a situation to conquer. However, ambition can’t be blind or else it’ll become destructive.

I’m currently toying with that line.

The need for more and the fear of less.

The constant pulses of energy and the downfall of the subsequent emptiness.

Truth remains, ambition is my driving force, and yet I still have no clue how I ended up standing on its edge, staring into a dark, foggy abyss.

Its smoky tendrils swirl around me, waiting to drag me under. This isn’t the first time I’ve stared into that abyss and it’s stared back. Whenever I’m at a crossroads, I’m reminded of how I ended up here.

I’m reminded of my “privileged” upbringing and all the shackles that came with it. Isn’t it said that no worthwhile benefits come without sacrifices?

Still, this isn’t the time to have such images or thoughts. After all, this is supposed to be a cheerful occasion. The keyword being supposed.

Coming to my friend’s place to celebrate his daughter’s eighteenth birthday is the last thing I wanted to do. Not only do I have countless case files sitting on my desk, but I also have a structural planning meeting at the firm. However, if I told my best friend/partner that I prefer the firm over attending his little princess’s birthday, he’d have my balls on a platter. The fact that it’s also his firm means nothing on the sacred day of her birthday.

Fifteen minutes. I tell myself as I step out of my car and button my jacket. I will only stay around for that amount of time and then make up an excuse to leave.

My partner inherited his mansion from his father after he kicked his “evil” stepmom out with all sorts of legal suits. I’ve never seen the appeal of this ancient property. Yes, it’s vast and has two pools, but he spent a fortune to renovate it and bring it to its current shape.

The house is white with a prim and proper porch that’s decorated with colorful exotic plants and extends to the large garden where the birthday party is being held.

There’s a long table near the pool that’s surrounded by countless people. Some of them are partners and associates from our firm. They’re all over the occasion, not missing a chance to kiss Kingsley’s ass.

The man himself, the rogue bastard—whom I often bloodied my knuckles fighting when we were in high school—steps out of the house, wheeling a huge pink cake that’s almost taller than he is, and when he starts singing Happy Birthday, everyone else joins in.

I stop near the house’s entrance, waiting for the whole charade to end. Yes, I came to the fucking birthday, but that doesn’t mean I’ll enjoy the happy-go-lucky crowd.

Happiness isn’t my scene.

Neither are birthdays. Not when mine was supposed to be a funeral.

Gwyneth, Kingsley’s only daughter, grins wide as tears gather in her lids and she quickly wipes them away with the backs of her hands. She has a soft smile that’s nothing like her father’s—in fact, she barely resembles him. His hair is dark, hers is auburn with streaks of lighter strands. His eyes are blue-gray, hers have a rare heterochromia, where the insides are green and the outsides are a mixture of blue and gray.

Now that she’s all grown up, she looks more like she’s his sister, not his daughter. But then again, he’s barely aged with all the physical activities he takes part in.

The song comes to an end as King reaches her, and they both blow out the eighteen candles among cheers and random shouts of “Happy birthday” from the crowd before he pulls his daughter in for a hug. They stay like that for long moments, then he steps back and kisses her forehead.

If someone had told me the ruthless King who used to street fight like a champ would grow up into a mushy father, I would’ve gone the blasphemy route.

But the evidence is right in front of me. He’s wrapped around that girl’s finger and the worst part is he’s well aware of it.

It could be because he had her when we were in our final year of high school and was clueless as fuck about the meaning of having a child—he still is sometimes. Or because he always called her his second chance at life.

I remain near a tree and check my emails, replying to the urgent ones while I wait for the whole scene to be over.

It takes more than ten minutes—five minutes away from my self-imposed deadline—and I haven’t even shown my face yet. After Gwyneth finally goes to accept birthday wishes and King disappears into the house, probably to get more drinks, I make my way toward him.

Going unnoticed is hard as fuck when most of the people present either work for me or used to work with me, but the cake—and the birthday girl herself—have them preoccupied. I’m safe. For now.

I find King in his kitchen, rummaging for beer bottles in the fridge and giving distinct, methodical orders to the catering staff. Now, that’s the King I know. Clear-cut and precise. Which is one of the reasons I got along with him in the first place.

After all, devils recognize each other.

Or maybe he’s an ex-devil now, considering all the mushy shit he does whenever his daughter is involved.

I lean against the counter and cross my legs at the ankles. “You’re only short a maid’s outfit to complete the role.”