At his teasing, Peri was confused for just a moment before she realized, closing her eyes and cursing herself silently. “I’m sorry,” She said, shaking her head. “I keep tensing up, but it’s not exactly because of you. I just don’t really like being touched in general, especially by people I don’t know well. I’ll knock it off, I promise.” She laughed softly, trying to mask her embarrassment. She had trust issues, but no reason to have them. Peri was glad — but not surprised, by this point — that Alex was a good dancer. In fact, he was even better than she thought he’d be. His question caught her by surprise, and she hummed quietly for a moment, trying to figure out how to answer it. “That’s a question with a simple answer that’s going to be really hard to tell.” She fell quiet, her eyes dropping to their feet as she thought. “I finished school at 16, he contacted me a few months later and… just kind of started talking to me.” She laughed, looking back up at him. Bitching probably would have been a more accurate term, actually. “Offered me a job at one point and I said no repeatedly for… four months or so? But then he brought up numbers.” She shrugged. “It was an obscene amount of money, and I was going to be starting college soon, so, being seventeen and stupid, I finally said yes.” She laughed again, a tone of bitterness coating it this time. “He and my parents used to butt heads.” An understatement, but safe. “I’m kind of like a trophy. He actually got one of us under his thumb in the simplest way possible, isn’t that fantastic?” She was saying too much, but Alex had opened the floodgates. Peri had regretted that decision almost every day for the past three years, and it showed.
He could tell that he’d embarrassed her with his teasing, and he cocked his head slightly, offering an apologetic smile. “Hey, it’s okay. No need to apologize, really. I get it,” Alex assured her. Dancing was quite an intimate activity, and they were still basically strangers. He didn’t blame her for being a little tense, though he hoped she’d be able to relax some as the night went on. As they danced, he was impressed by Lucy’s skill and grace, glad that they weren’t tripping all over each other with every step. That would have been a disaster. Waiting while she pondered her answer to his question, Alex kept his eyes on her even as she dropped her gaze, his own softening as he listened to her tale. Once again his father had persisted until he got what he wanted, not caring about the effects it was having on this girl’s life. Clearly she wasn’t happy with the decision, but who could turn down the probably insane amount of money Jim had offered? Alex knew he would have done the same thing had he been in her shoes. Hearing the bitterness in her laugh, he frowned, shaking his head. “No, it’s not,” he mumbled, subconsciously holding Lucy a bit closer. He suddenly wanted to protect this girl, to save her from the life she’d been sucked into. “I’m sorry that Jim put you in that position. My father doesn’t care about people; he only cares about getting his way. He’s like a spoiled child, and no one will stop him.” There was anger in his tone, though he was careful to keep it under control. “Listen, if you ever want to get out, you know, for good? I’ll help you. And I’ll make sure nothing happens to you or your family, I promise.” Alex held her gaze, completely sincere in what he was saying. If she wanted out, he knew he would do everything in his power to help make that happen.