Inhaling the smell of freshly cut grass, I close my eyes and drop my head back, feeling a warm breeze flowing through my hair.
I push my feet forward.
I push my feet backwards.
Back and forth.
Back and forth.
Holding onto the ropes tight, I extend my legs in front of me, the swing oscillating beneath the sun.
If I point my toes, will that make me go higher?
Three more pushes. I let go of the ropes and jumped off the swing, landing on my feet with a heavy thud.
I turned around to see how far I made it.
My shoulders slump.
Same as last time.
I twirl around and dance. I'm in a dress again. It's to my knees and has big yellow daisies all over it. I can't stop looking at it. I love the flowery pattern. This has to be my favourite.
Mummy always makes me wear a dress. I don't mind. Kathy doesn't like wearing them anymore; she loves to wear jeans and boots.
Mummy says it's unladylike.
I like what Kathy wears.
When I grow up, I'm going to be like my sister.
I outstretch my hands, pushing out my fingers, smoothing over the tall gladiolus. They remind me of the rainbow, pretty yellows, reds and oranges, pink, too.
I start running through waist-length flowers, watching petals fall as I shoved tall stems aside. When I get to the top of the hill, I slump onto my butt to glimpse around.
The sun is extra bright today. There are hardly any clouds. Using two hands, I pull out a white gladiolus, and I can't help but sniff, sighing I fall back with a pout, flinging the flower behind me.
Kathy is out with her friends today. I hate it when she isn't home; I get sooo bored! Kathy said when I get older, she will take me with her. I can't wait to go! I hate that my sister is much older than me. I miss out on all the fun!
Daddy's never home.
Kathy's never home.
It's just mummy and me.
I don't mind because I love mummy. But I get lonely. There are no kids around here for me to play with, and there is only so much painting I can do before that becomes boring too.
Kathy has to be home by seven. If I could tell the time, I'd be counting down the hours, but I can't. I'm too little.
Propped onto my side, I glance down the hill.
It's not that steep.
I don't think about it.
I do it.
Rolling sideways, allowing my body to move down the mound with the grass covering my face, making my nose twitch, I giggle until I finally make it to the bottom. My hair completely covers my face, so I swiftly remove it.
That was too much fun!
"Alexa! Where have you disappeared too? I hope you're not down that hill!"
Oops, mummy doesn't like me coming down here. She has to keep an eye on me through the window at all times. I jump up and try to iron out my dress, hoping she doesn't notice mud and grass stains on my knees.
I dash up the hill, see my mummy on the step waiting for me. "Sorry mummy, I fell asleep right," I pointed to the towering tree beside our house, o2ver there!"
"Really?" Surprise paints her face. "I checked the tree first, sweetie." She folds her arms across her chest, eyes narrowing sceptically. "I didn't see you."
I place my hands to my hips in protest. "That's because I am magic, mummy! You'll only see me if I want you to see me."
"Well, alright. I'll take your word for it this time. Now come inside." She reenters the house, hair flowing behind her. "I made you lunch."
Kicking off my sandals, I leave them on the step and follow her indoors. I walk into the living room, expecting to see her, but she's disappeared.
"Mummy where are you?" When I make it to the kitchen, I find her sitting on the chair, waiting for me. "I lost you."
"Here you go, sweetie," she sings, pushing the plate across the tabletop, waiting for me to sit with her. "Enjoy."
I jump on the seat opposite her, pick up the sandwich and take a large bite. Jam. My favourite.
"Do you like the feather's sweetie?"
Mummy makes lots of dream catchers and decorates the house with them. She knows I have bad dreams, and she said they'll protect me. "I like everything you make me, mummy."
The silence stretched between us. I look up and find mummy watching me, her eyes frightfully wide, body and shoulders stiff. "Are you okay, mummy?"
She doesn't answer.
But she keeps watching me.
I lower the sandwich back onto the plate. "Mummy, you're scaring me."
"It's okay." She starts rocking back and forth, lifeless eyes boring into mine. "Okay."
Back and forth.
Over and over.
Back and forth.
Over and over.
"I can't let him hurt my babies. I can't let him hurt my babies." Her voice is almost robotic. "My babies. My babies."
I settled my trembling hands onto my lap. "Mummy, what's wrong?"
She stops rocking.
Her eyes find mine again.
The room is too silent.
I hate silence.
"Please don't hurt my babies!" she roars.
My eyes snapped open. I gasped a lungful of air, lunging forward in the bed, slamming a hand over my chest, pacifying my erratic heartbeat. Hair sticks to my neck, sweat coats my skin. I blow out an unsteady breath in an attempt to contain panic. "Alexa, calm down. It's only a dream," I whisper. "It's only a dream."
I shut my eyes, fell back onto the pillow, relieved it was only a nightmare. I haven't had one for a while. When I do, they typically involve my mother. Dreams always start nice, memories I cherish, but those reminiscences soon turn sour.
Perhaps it's my determined subconscious mind highlighting buried difficult questions. It's something I've often thought as I don't know the truth behind my mother's murder.
Was she aware it was going to happen?
Was she scared?
Did it hurt?
Maybe she didn't realise anything. Pain-free and quick, I hope.
That's wishful thinking, of course. I like to believe she didn't see the monster that cruelly murdered her—cleaning with her back to him, singing as always. The thought crushed me. I want to forget the darkness that's inside my head and not relive it every time I shut my eyes.
Will this ever end?
The door swings open and Chloe enters with a towel wrapped like a turban atop her head. "About time you got up, don't you think? It's almost six."
Six in the evening! Jesus, I slept my entire day away.
"Well, I must have been exhausted from working late all the time. Besides, it's my day off. I've earned it." At the foot of the bed, I snagged the dressing gown and confusion halted me. I don't remember pulling it over me last night. I shake muddled cobwebs, pull it over my head. "Now, let me sleep."
Attempting to hide was pointless. Chloe ripped the dressing gown off, flinging it over her shoulder. "Get up! Now!" she orders, dropping a clean towel on my face. "We're going out, Alexa. I am so bored."
"I was seriously going to spend my time in bed," I mutter a groan, fisting the mattress. "Let me rest!"
"Move your ass, Alexa!" She exits my room, singing at the top of her lungs. "Taxi is picking us up in an hour."
"She wants me ready in an hour," I groaned into the pillow. Girls need more than an hour to get ready.
"Yes! Now get out of bed, or I'll be coming in with a bucket of cold water," she shouts from the kitchen, "and emptying it over your head!"
I jump out of bed and head straight for the shower.
Sleep is overrated anyway.
"Why are we in this place? Of all the clubs to choose from, you decide to take me to where I spend most of my time, Chloe." I down the shot she gave me. It was green. And it was disgusting. And I won't be trying that again. "I am sick of this place."
"Last time we came here—hotties everywhere. I didn't get to enjoy them." She knocked back a shot, shivering all over. "Plus, you're an employee, so you get a discount on all the drinks."
I put my back to the bar, absently swaying to the blaring trance music when Brad's towering form appeared, blocking my view. "Alexa, what are you doing here?" A blond strand falls from his messy top knot, irritating his brow. "I thought it was your night off."
"Chloe," I motioned to my awe-struck best friend, "demanded we came here, to enjoy all the hotties."
She sputtered and choked mid-drink.
I couldn't help myself.
Brad raised a curious brow, giving her a blatant once-over. "Well, there's a hottie, standing right in front of you." He indicates to himself—cocky much. "Enjoy." His focus comes back to me when he says, "Have a drink with me."
Hell no. "We were on our way to grab a table. Maybe later?"
"Don't sit down here. I'll take you to the balconies." He walked off, hand to my wrist, dragging me with him. "You can have the VIP."
I don't bother protesting. Firstly, fighting Brad on this is useless. Let's be honest; he'll win. Secondly, considering how long I've worked here, I have never seen the VIP suites, so I am enraged to find out what all the hype is about.
Chloe moulds herself to my back as we traipse in Brad's footsteps. With confident, powerful strides, he saunters past security detail prowling the hallways, not a kink in his self-assured image. He spares them no heed, not a glance or conversation, unlocks a black and chrome door, gesturing for me to enter.
My heels alternately clicked against the glittering black tiles as I ambled to the red leather seating accommodation. While Brad's distracted at the corner bar, calling somebody to restock and deliver alcohol, I use the opportunity to look around. I mean, the room offers privacy, music choice and front row seats to the strippers, but it's nothing to boast about. I prefer the liveliness downstairs. However, those wall-mounted television screens piqued my interest.
"You can see the bar," Chloe points out, and I smile, watching Josh mixing cocktails with boastful finesse. "Oh, he's gorgeous."
On the other screen, women queue downstairs to use the restrooms. The dance floor, heaving with intoxicated customers, under intermittent strobe lights.
Next screen, Natalie exits Liam's office, tidying up her sleek straight hair and dishevelled shorts. A pang of jealousy squeezed my heart. Stop torturing yourself, Alexa. You're not with the man. He owes you absolutely nothing, and you've no right to get jealous. I am not in control of my emotions, though. Natalie's relationship with our boss is more than sex. Anyone with a pair of eyes can see she's pining over him. Perhaps that's where the animosity festered. I rarely see or speak to Liam. However, on the odd occasion, when he requests me, Natalie makes a note of it—and has even warned me multiple times to stay away from him. I threaten her. Her groundless presumptions are comical. "I wish he were interested," I mutter, and Chloe sends me a quizzical look. "Singing."
Candidly, I don't understand what excellent qualities Liam sees in Natalie. She's cute, I guess, but that woman is a bitch. That's harsh. She's gorgeous, flawless physique and killer breasts, but she lacks in the personality department.
I roll my eyes. She has a vagina, Alexa.
Why wouldn't Liam find her attractive?
And now I must stop referring to oneself in the third person.
I became fixated to the top screen, and my eyes bugged out of my head. In the middle of a quiet booth sits a man, arms draped on the seat rear, a woman's head bobbing up and down between his thighs.
"Shut your mouth." Brad flicked my chin, collapsing onto the sofa beside me. "Unless you're hoping to catch something. In that case, slacken the jaw more."
"Uh, Brad..." I ignored his sexual innuendo. "Did you know there was live pornography in here?"
"Yeah." He eyed the screen, shrugging off the vulgar display like it isn't a big deal. "Happens all the time."
My mouth stays agape for a moment. "Fair enough."
Wearing nothing but lace thongs and six-inch heels, two dancers come to arrange ice buckets on the table with expensive champagne bottles placed inside, followed by whisky, vodka, gin and more of that disgusting green stuff.
"I don't think there is enough of us to get through all that."
Chloe admires the female breast display, pouring everyone drinks. "Hon, I accept the challenge."
Brad winked at me, resting an arm behind my head. "Are you ready to get wasted?"
Five hours later, precisely like Brad predicted. "Wasted!"
I am so glad Chloe talked me into coming out tonight. I haven't laughed like this in a long time. Brad, I think I love him. He isn't just a flirt and the manwhore I once claimed him to be. That man is charming and extremely funny.
My jaw ached from ever-present smiling. My stomach hurts from straining bouts of giggles. On a serious note: maybe if I wasn't obsessing over a certain someone by the name of Liam Warren, I think I'd want Brad. No jokes.
Some of the dancers joined us too. It was nice getting to talk to them as you don't often get the chance. They're always...occupied. It has been so fun and entertaining that I don't think I'll appreciate a night without this lot ever again.
Around two hours into the evening, the Suits entered, Nate, being one of them. The man is huge. I am talking about an impenetrable wall of solid muscle, tattooed from the jawline down, killer arms and fascinated forest green eyes. He's a handsome man, but he's terrifyingly intimidating and unsociable. It's his demeanour, the way he holds himself. He's got that look in his eyes, which has my back straightening and core clenching. He's not loud or obnoxious like the other Suits, namely Brad. Nate's more reserved, standoffish and observant.
He must sense me watching him. His green eyes find me, and we hold each other's stare for a moment. I snapped away from his heated glare, focusing on the dancer twerking on the glass podium.
I do not want to fuck with Nate.
Handle him with caution!
You have been warned!
"Come on, Alexa." Brad chuckles, pouring me another drink. "One more shot. I can't believe you lost again."
I can't play this game for shit and being drunk doesn't help.
S and P. It sounds so easy, right? In circular order, everyone participates with a response, unassociated with those letters.
Very immature, but it has done the trick. We're all too drunk for our own good.
As I stated, they make it sound easy—lies!
"Wood," someone says.
"Pine!" I yelled.
"Toilet," someone says.
"Shit!" I muttered.
"Dick," someone says.
"Sex!" I sing.
The worst game ever! My bloodshot eyes and drunken stupor proves it.
Grabbing the shot glass, I knock it back, then hold my hand over my mouth to stop myself from bringing it back up. Too many shots and my stomach fails me.
"Oh, God. Brad anymore of that and I'm going to spew." I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand. "But I can't say no to you," I slurred, pointing the finger at him. "You have a cute face and a sweet mouth," I tease. "Is this what you do to get the ladies into bed?"
He leans in, his warm breath tickling behind my ear. "You are so adorable when you're drunk, Alexa. I don't need to get a woman drunk to take her to bed. They come to me willingly when they see the size of my cock." He moves away, laughing.
I straightened my spine. Don't do it, Alexa—I do it. I glance out the corner of my eye at his trousers, examining the glorious bulge in his pants.
"No need to perv, Alexa." He busted out laughing. "If you want to see my cock, just ask. I'll happily fucking show you."
Kill me, please. He caught me being a pervert. I laugh. I can only laugh.
I wipe away tears after a lifetime of giggles, and through wet eyes, I notice Him. Liam stands in the doorway, uncharacteristically calm and collected, hands hidden in his trouser pockets. He looks incredibly sexy in his sartorially tailored steel grey suit, atop hair tousled like he's been aggravatedly running his hand through it. Really, Alexa? Sexy. How drunk are you? The man is handsome—very handsome. I dropped my gaze, settled on his unbuttoned shirt, material stretching to accommodate his muscular chest, and I salivated until I realised he's watching me—only me.
I close my mouth, avert my lewd-filled eyes.
Shit, how long has he been standing there?
He pushes himself away from the doorframe, ambling across the room with all-knowing confidence. His men greet with firm nods but proceed with their night like he hasn't even entered the room.
I wish I could do the same.
I can't keep my eyes off him.
Liam doesn't stop until he's in front of us. Brad sighed audibly, removing his arm from behind my head. "Bossman," he chimes, soaring to his feet. "You good?" He doesn't wait for a response. He snags a bottle from the table and joins one of the dancers.
Unbuttoning his suit jacket, Liam sits beside me, relaxing, parting his thighs. He's too close. Leg pressed up against mine. I study his clasped hands, squirming in my seat. "Alexa?" He turned his head, our noses inches apart. "Are you having a fun night?"
"Yes." I feel Chloe's curiosity radiating, but she pretends not to listen. "I've had a great night."
"Are you enjoying the company of my men?" he clipped, forehead furrowed.
I hitched a brow, sipping my vodka. "They're all great."
Where is he going with this?
"And Brad?" Liam gestures to Brad who's conversing with Nate. "You like Brad?"
"Brad is great," I rasped with an exhale,
"Great." His unnecessary snap was laced with sarcasm. "Glad everything is fucking great."
Why is he acting like this?
He retreats slightly, shaking his head, eyes at the glass bottom before he knocks back a whiskey shot.
My eyebrows drew into a nonplussed grimace. I am inherently modest and humble, so believing Liam's jealous of my relationship with Brad sounded vainly wrong inside my head, never mind aloud. However, those angry, cold blue eyes and sharpened jaw suggest precisely that.
Even considering testing the theory will likely blow up in my face, but I stepped onto dangerous grounds, regardless. "What's wrong, Mr Warren?" I feather my lips against the shell of his ear, feeling remarkably proud of myself. "You seem tense."
His head snaps in my direction so abruptly I recoiled. "What the fuck are you talking about?"
Okay, Liam didn't cotton on to my pathetic flirting. "I don't know." I shrugged off humiliation. "Do you not like me getting along with your men?"
"I don't think those words left my mouth."
Bold, I muttered into my glass, "They didn't need to."
In my adversity, enraptured by one touch, Liam claimed my jaw in a strong, calloused hand, forcing me to meet his disrobing eyes. "You think I'm jealous," he breathes, nudging our noses.
"Yes," I whisper, unable to breathe, think, rationalise or move a muscle. "I think you're jealous."
He lips tease mine, a soft brush, one that weakens me. "You believe I want you, Alexa?"
The way he breathed my name against my lips, uncaged butterflies, freeing them across my chest.
"I want you," I say instead.
"Go on." His tongue slides along my lower lip, hand around my throat, tightening.
"What about you, Mr Warren?" I asked, breathless and wilted. "Do you crave me as much as I crave you?"
His pupils dilated. "How?"
"How do you want me?" he asked, voice huskily low.
I've no idea how to respond to that. I'm sure if I attempted the good old "sex talk" I'd embarrass myself. "I want your mouth," I admit, almost tripping up over my words.
His sexy smirk finished me. "Where do you want my mouth, Alexa?"
"I want..." Immobilised and hesitant, blinded by desire. "I mean, I..."
"Be extremely careful about what you wish for, Miss Haines." He forcefully jerked us apart, rose to his feet and exited the suite without a backward glance.
"What did he say to you?" Chloe asked, but I shook my head. "Are you okay?"
I still felt him in my bones. "I'm fine," I lied, deciding I needed that shot after all.
What the hell was that? Was I wrong to assume he was jealous? Is that why he pretended to be interested, to let me down at the last hurdle? I am mortified.
I need to wake up from this nightmare now.