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Bitter Bargain BL R18

3

III: Shattered Masks

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Elliot Kane leaned back in his leather chair. The sky outside had turned a deep indigo. Despite the tranquility, a crackling tension lingered in the air.


"That’s all for now."


He didn’t bother looking up as he spoke, his attention fixed on the mountain of paperwork sprawled across his sleek black desk. The secretary nodded silently and exited the room.


The door closed with a soft click. Elliot sighed, running a hand through his perfectly styled blond hair.


The Kane Empire, a sprawling conglomerate that dominated multiple industries, had flourished under Elliot's leadership.


Since assuming control after his parents' untimely death, he had expanded its reach with ruthless efficiency. But with each success, the pressures grew.


As he drummed his fingers against the polished surface of his desk, a nagging thought tugged at the edges of his mind. He found himself recalling the previous night's encounter with Adrian.


*Why do I keep thinking about him?*


Elliot frowned. Adrian's face had appeared in his mind's eye with startling clarity. The black of his hair, the delicate contours of his face, and the haunting vulnerability that had been etched into his features – all these details had somehow imprinted themselves on Elliot’s thoughts.


Despite his attempts to dismiss it, the memory of Adrian’s eyes, blue and expressive, refused to fade. It was an odd fixation. He had never been interested in the finer details of the people who served him, least of all the omega bound to him by a contract of necessity.


Elliot’s hand paused mid-air as he reached for his pen. A strange irritation flickered in his chest. He had always prided himself on his ability to maintain contro. But lately, thoughts of Adrian had been intruding with increasing frequency.


*He’s just a tool. A means to an end.*


But the image of Adrian’s gaunt form wouldn’t leave him alone. Elliot’s fingers resumed their restless tapping on the desk.


His thoughts drifted back to their first meeting, the contract negotiations that had bound Adrian to his service.


“Aidrain,” he had said dismissively, as if naming a stray pet. “I’ll call you that.”


It was a small, cutting gesture, stripping away a part of Adrian’s identity without a second thought.


Elliot had always been adept at using names and titles to assert his dominance, to remind those around him of their place.


But now, as he recalled Adrian’s resigned acceptance, a pang of discomfort twisted in his chest.


Elliot shook his head. His life was a series of calculated moves. There was no room for emotional entanglements or misplaced sympathies.


And yet he couldn’t shake the feeling that something had shifted. The memory of Adrian’s fragile, shivering form gnawed at him.


*Why is he so thin? We see each other frequently enough. There’s no reason for him to be this weak.*


Elliot's mind wandered to the details he had overlooked for so long. Adrian’s slight frame, the way his hipbones had pressed painfully against Elliot’s thighs during their encounters, the paleness of his skin that spoke of malnutrition and neglect.


These were signs he had ignored.


The butler usually managed the aftermath of their encounters, ensuring Adrian was cared for and returned to his room. Elliot had never paid attention to the specifics. But now, the thought that Adrian might be suffering more than necessary unsettled him in a way he couldn’t quite understand.


He tapped his fingers against the desk again. His thoughts circled back to Adrian’s slender waist.


*What am I doing?*


For the first time in a very long while, Elliot felt the stirrings of something he had long thought buried – a faint whisper of empathy.


Adrian was unlike any of the omegas Elliot had contracted before.


Over the years, Elliot had dealt with many, each drawn by the promise of financial stability in exchange for their servitude. Most had fled or rebelled, unable to withstand the cold, transactional nature of their arrangement. But Adrian had endured.


For five years, Adrian had lived under the oppressive weight of the contract.


He was an anomalyt. This was precisely what had made Adrian so valuable to Elliot; his ability to blend into the background, to fulfill his role without encroaching on Elliot’s tightly controlled existence.


*Is he not taking care of himself?*


The contract had clear stipulations about Adrian’s health and appearance. He was required to maintain a certain level of fitness, to be ready and available whenever Elliot needed him. And yet, it was evident that Adrian was failing in this regard.


*I’ll have to remind him about the contract terms,*


With a sigh, Elliot pushed the thoughts aside and returned his focus to the paperwork before him. Yet, even as he immersed himself in the minutiae of corporate strategy, the memory of Adrian’s form lingered at the edge of his consciousness.


---


The following morning dawned grey and overcast. Adrian stood at the entrance of the grand mansion, clutching the strap of his worn bag with trembling fingers. Today was the day he had to visit the city to handle his parents’ hospital bills.


“Today’s the day I need to go into the city,” Adrian said softly.


He addressed the driver who stood leaning against the sleek black car parked in the driveway.


The driver was a burly man with a perpetual scowl

“Oh, well, that’s none of my business. You should’ve told me beforehand.”


“I did. I told you three days ago.”


“I didn’t hear anything. And watch your tone. Who do you think you’re yelling at?”


Adrian recoiled slightly. His petite frame and delicate features often made him a target for such casual cruelty.


“I’m not yelling. But I need to go. It’s part of the contract.”


“Oh, your precious contract. I don’t care what your deal is with the boss. I wasn’t told to take the car out today.”


Adrian felt a pang of despair. His outings to the hospital were infrequent, a small mercy granted by Elliot as part of their agreement. It was the only condition Adrian had insisted on, the one concession he had begged for when he signed away his freedom.


“It’s in the contract. Please, I have to go.”


“Like I said, it’s none of my business. I wasn’t told anything about it.”


Despite the demeaning nature of his contract with Elliot, he had clung to the promise that he could visit his parents regularly. It was a fragile hope, but it was all he had. Now, even that seemed to be slipping away.


Elliot had arranged for Adrian to be driven to the hospital every two weeks. It ensured that Adrian remained under his watchful eye. But today, it seemed that even this small mercy was being denied.


Adrian Hartley stood at the edge of the grand driveway, the sleek black car pulling away with a screech of tires on wet pavement. His heart sank as he watched it disappear into the misty rain, leaving him stranded at the gates of the mansion.


The biting cold seeped through his thin clothes.


He turned back towards the facade of the mansion, suppressing a wave of frustration and despair.


“Shit, acting this shamelessly when selling your body.”


Adrian clenched his fists, his nails digging into his palms as he fought to maintain his composure. The contempt in the driver’s voice was all too familiar. It mirrored the disdain he saw in the eyes of the other servants.


*They’re right, in a way,*


Adrian thought bitterly, his breath forming small clouds in the chilly air. He had signed the contract, after all. He had agreed to this life of degradation and servitude in exchange for the money that kept his parents alive. But that didn’t make the sting of their words any less painful.


*I need to find the butler,*


The butler was the one person who could authorize his trip to the hospital. Without that permission, there was no way he could leave the estate.


But as Adrian searched the sprawling mansion, frustration mounted.


The butler was nowhere to be found. The servants he encountered offered no help, their responses curt and dismissive. Some ignored him entirely, their disdainful gazes sliding past him as if he were invisible.


Adrian’s anxiety grew with each passing minute. He glanced at the ornate clock in the hallway, he wouldn’t make it to the hospital in time for his parents’ visitation hours.


*Where could he be?*


Adrian wondered, his mind racing. The mansion, with its countless rooms and endless corridors, seemed to stretch on forever.


“Please, I just need to find him.”


After what felt like hours of wandering through the mansion, Adrian found himself back at the entrance. He stood there, breathless and exhausted.


*I’m not going to make it.*


The weight of that truth crushed him, and for a moment, he allowed himself to feel the full extent of his despair. He wouldn’t see his parents today. He wouldn’t have the chance to hold their hands, to speak to them in the hushed tones that had become a ritual of comfort and hope.


Adrian’s vision blurred as tears threatened to spill. He wiped them away angrily. There was no room for tears in his life, no place for emotions that could be used against him.


As he made his way back to his quarters, the mansion felt colder, more oppressive.


In the solitude of his room, Adrian allowed himself a moment to sit on the edge of his bed. He had fought so hard for this one small mercy. And now, it had been denied by the casual cruelty of the staff and the indifference of the man who owned him.


“Why am I still here? Why do I keep hoping?”

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