I rolled around in the world's comfiest bed, snuggling against duck feather pillows and stark-white sheets. "Amazing," I hummed, kicking and thrashing my freshly shaved legs, immersing myself with lavender-scented silk and balls of cosiness. "I'm living here forever."
Through the ajar blinds, soft morning rays drifted into the box-shaped bedroom, something so normal yet unprecedented for someone who spent God knows how long in captivity.
Yawning, I sit taller, letting the duvet fall to my waist and stretch my arms high.
"Nice tits," a rough voice drawled, and I shrieked, burying myself under the comforters in a panicked frenzy. "Calm down, lass. I was only pullin' ye leg."
Tommy, I believed, closing my eyes. I am hardly naked. In actuality, Jace's oversized hoodie entombs my frame, so his lecherousness and the lewd remark is absurdly comical. "I wish I had a nice rack."
His throaty laughter tugged a smile to my lips. "Anythin' more than a handful is too much," he futilely salvages himself. "Well, for me, rather. I'm a nipple admiring kind of guy."
I threw the covers from my face. "Are we seriously conversing about nipples?"
The bare-chested troglodyte openly stares at my cotton-clad chest. "There's a half-naked woman in my bed," he said, and I spied the room and its spotless state. "Surely, ye cannot blame me for tryin' my luck?"
I suppose he had a point. I am, after all, hauled-up in his incredible bed and tranquilising space. "I didn't know this was your room." Rolling out of bed, I whipped unruly hair from my face, feet sinking into the plush cream carpet. "I thought Jace claimed your room..." Shut up, Alexa. Tommy thinks Jace's my boyfriend. He'd assume I shared the man's bed.
Tommy sliced his eyes, adjusting his grey low-hung jogging bottoms. "Was there a question?"
"Where's Jace?" I asked, tugging my hoodie sleeves.
"He's in the kitchen, making his woman breakfast." He brushed past me, opened a wall-mounted cupboard, searching for a clean T-shirt. "His words."
I find it hard to believe Jace referred to me as "his woman", and I highly doubt the man is making me breakfast. Gunky porridge comes to mind. "I'll come back and change the sheets—"
"It's no problem," Tommy assures, putting his back to me. "I quite like ye smell."
"My smell," I repeated, sneakily sniffing the hoodie collar; it's his coconut-scented gel from last night's shower. "I smell like you."
He winked, the muscles in his arms flexing as he pulled on a T-shirt. "Jace isn't gonna appreciate that, lass."
Beneath his top, he scratched his chest, exposing his washboard of abs. I vacillated my gaze from his muscular abdomen to his lips—the lips he's currently pulling between clenched teeth.
Itching the back of my neck, I blinked under knitted brows.
Eyes fixated on mine, he released his lower lip and slowly dragged his tongue across it.
What on earth is going on?
Tommy closed in, his dominant frame towering over me. "Do ye like what ye see, lass?"
Is he flirting with me? God, I am senseless, clueless to male advances. "No."
His brows jumped. "No?"
"I mean," I stuttered, wrangling my fingers. "Well, you're a nice-looking guy, but I'm with your...Jace"
"Cousin," he fills in the gaps, deliberately smothering my breathing space.
How can they be cousins if they're not related? "I only have eyes for Jace," I said with conviction, tilting a defiant chin. "So, you can stop testing my loyalties now."
Ever so slowly, Tommy cracked a wolfish smirk, clanking his titanium tongue piercing across his upper teeth. "Good, lass." And with those departing words, the incorrigible human exited the bedroom, slamming the door behind him.
"What the fuck?" Massaging my temples, I lingered to collect my dispersed thoughts, opened the door and slipped straight into the bathroom.
Through the thin walls, I hear Jace laughing and reminiscing with his cousin-who-he-is-not-related-to and agree to another barbecue this evening.
I alleviate my bladder, wash my hands in the basin and open a sealed toothbrush my pretend boyfriend left out for me. Teeth gleaming with minty freshness, I joined the men inside the open-plan layout, stopping to inspect Jace's frying skills at the cooker.
"Hey," he rasped, dropping a kiss to my shoulder. "I hope you're hungry."
Heat flushed to my cheeks. "You're burning the bacon."
"Nonsense." He flipped rashers over with an egg flip while simultaneously handing me a coffee. "Nice and sweet. I know how much you love your sugar."
I felt Tommy's inquisitiveness radiating across the spacious room. "Thank you, Jace," I whispered, relaxing my back to the counter, sipping brewed deliciousness.
"What's ye poison, lass?" Tommy asked, stomping into a pair of heavy-duty boots. "I assume ye'd rather more than a beer tonight."
"Vodka," Jace confirmed, buttering two pieces of white bread. "Russian."
I smiled affectionately, pinching his stubble cheek. "You know me so well."
Jace bowed a scarred eyebrow. I suddenly felt guilty for tearing his piercing. "We're alike," he said, and I lowered my gaze to the sweet coffee. "Quite compatible, actually." He passed me a plate that offers the most mind-blowing bacon butty, or my lack of food recently magnifies basic comestibles. "Tomato sauce is in the cupboard."
"So, Russian vodka," said Tommy, fishing out his car keys, toying with the Irish emblem keyring. "Meat for the grill. I'll grab some steaks, too."
I squirted ketchup in my sandwich. "What about skewers?"
Tommy pondered my suggestion. "Lamb or chicken?"
I lifted a shoulder. "Both?"
Tommy jerked his chin. He unlocked the front door and left without another word, leaving me alone with Jace. I bite into my food, savouring the pungent flavours on my tongue. "Oh, God," I groaned, eyes theatrically rolling to the back of my head. "This is so good."
Jace turned off the stove. "I'm glad you approve." He raised his hand, and I flinched, anticipating what? A backhander? A cruel ridiculing? "Shit, Alexa. I'm not going to hurt you." From the corner of my mouth, he wiped sauce from my lips with his thumb. "Do you want to talk about it?"
About what? The fact he cruelly kidnapped and locked me away for all this time. Perhaps we need to address that he virtually starved me and omitted bathroom breaks. I opened my mouth to respond, but his morose, sickly grey complexion and guilt-filled stare prevented me from doing so. Jace is a father. He has a daughter who bores those captivating green eyes.
"No," I relinquished, setting my half-eaten food onto the counter. "No, I don't need any more details, Jace. I understand your reasoning." I have dealt with Flamur Bajramovic. I know how he operates. He's a disgustingly vile human with inborn barbarity, cold-blooded viciousness and manipulative tendencies. Jace and Summer didn't stand a chance against the Albanian and his devoted allies. "When do we return to London?"
"Possibly tomorrow," he assures, dusting off his hands with a chequered tea towel. "I'm waiting for Tommy to deliver the goods."
Oh, that sounded intriguing. "What goods?"
"A new vehicle." He lowers the television volume before sinking onto the encircling cream leather seating accommodation. "Counterfeit identification."
My forehead creased. I sat on the bench beside him, nursing a warm mug of coffee. "Residing incognito," I mused, sipping my drink. "It's a little extreme."
"Aliases are necessary," he stressed, checking a message on his phone. "We'll come up with a double-barrelled and organisational plan tomorrow."
I mentally prepared for any contingency but prayed for an adventurous outcome. "Sure, Jace." I nibbled my lower lip. "So, barbecue with your non-related cousins?"
He gave me a low, lopsided smirk. "It'll be fun."
I met a myriad of Tommy's relatives and friends. His mother only made an appearance to offer salad bowls before excusing herself to a caravan for the evening. She seemed nice, friendly, but didn't stop for small talk. His girlfriend, Sheila, a beautiful brunette with glossy waist-length hair and silver hooped earrings which presently swing from my lobes, has to be my favourite person to date. On arrival, she snagged me into her home, discarded Jace's hoodie from my body and glamorised me for tonight's festivities. Okay, so the denim shorts expose a little too much back side, and white lace bralette leaves little to the imagination, but I am uncontrollably drunk. I care not for white trainers and exposed skin.
"Here." Sheila hands me a clear shot glass. "Knock 'em back."
I put the rim to my mouth, swallowing fiery poison. "Oh, damn." Shivering from head-to-toe, I licked sambuca from lips and sought out Jace, perched on a steel crane beside Tommy. He must sense me watching him through the dancing flames soaring from the campfire. His stare settled on my face, a reassuring smile stretching across his face. "I'm fine," I mouthed, and he nods, appeased, returning to his conversation with non-related family members.
"How long have ye been seein' our Jace?" asked Sheila, giving a vodka refill in a plastic tumbler.
"It's new," I lied, diverting my gaze to dark skies, counting the intermittently flickering stars.
"He's smitten," she probes, and I automatically glanced back to my former captor. "He hasn't taken his eyes off you all night."
Sheila's right. Although Jace pretends to engage with others, he's continuously eagle-eyed, seeking my gaze amid the roaring fire.
I gave her a flat smile, tongue fixing to my inner cheek.
"I'm sorry for pryin'," she coos, pressing a hand to my knee. "It's just nice to see him happy. Jace's been in a dark place since losing Lucy."
Lucy, I thought, recalling a time where Jace had mentioned her name. I guess there's much for us to discuss. Right now, however, I'd rather enjoy an evening without problematic conversations or depressing topics. It's selfish, though. I gulp down vodka, quenching unbearable thirst and curiosity. "Those burgers were heavenly."
"Ye barely touched ye burger." She pointed to the dismantled burger bap that I left on the beer keg, paper plate precariously balancing with dripping sauce. "Not a big eater, huh?"
I scowled, swishing vodka around the tumbler base. "I had a big breakfast." No, I think Jace's starvation methods shrank my stomach. "I'll take leftovers to bed, though."
Tommy slumps beside Sheila, draping an arm over her shoulders. Between lethargic fingers dangles a beer bottle. "Ye ladies havin' a good night?"
Puckering her lips for a smooch, she set a hand to his jawline, tracing detailed ink with her fingernails. "I love ye."
He was all smiles, returning her affections with a firm kiss. "Likewise."
One of the cousins changed the music, opting for clamorous, defining base tunes. Seated in a half-circle, the men chatter amongst themselves, and a few females discuss an approaching wedding. I am not privy to any of these conversations, or the animated snogging session, courtesy of Tommy and Sheila.
I watch Jace laugh with a female friend. I say "friend" because there's no way those lascivious smiles exemplify relative. Well done, Jace. Tommy speculated our bogus relationship before tonight's gathering. I bet, after seeing his "cousin" fawning over another woman, he will read our phoney relationship status and call bullshit.
Sighing despondently into my cup, I finished the remainder of my drink and stood, leaving the happy couple snickering to my right. Meandering between variegated coloured trailers, I head to Tommy's caravan to grab another vodka bottle. I might stay indoors. The gypsy community is wonderfully affable, pleasantly accommodating and expressively cordial, but I felt low-spirited and dreadfully homesick. I miss my friends, Chloe and Gray. I miss the Suits, Brad, Josh and Nate.
I miss Liam. I yearn to see his face again, to curl onto his lap and snuggle into his protective arms. Our separation is quite literally killing me, suffocating and demoralising. God, I cannot wait to be back in London. I just hope my resurrection doesn't give the poor sod a heart attack.
Teary-eyed and lachrymose, I snivelled, opening the trailer door, barricading myself inside. Washing the tumbler in the sink, I set it on the drainer, snatch an unopened vodka bottle and stumble into Tommy's bedroom.
I disrobe and fold Sheila's clothes into a neat pile onto the high-glass vanity table. Lifting the duvet, I search for Jace's clothes, coming unstuck. "Fuck a duck." Vodka bottle in hand, I creep into the open-plan hallway and duck into Jace's room, shutting the door behind me.
His room is surprisingly bigger, commodious, with a double-window and modernised furnishings, a black bedspread sheathing the double-bed. I swig from the bottle while half-heartedly rummaging through a gym bag.
My hand lands on a steel-cold, familiar object. A gun, I thought, lifting the semi-automatic, weighing it in my hand. I shake away foolish thoughts and any ideas of fleeing into the night, stuff it back in a gathered jumper and select a grey hoodie. Before pulling it over my head, I stare at the old burner phone, leather wallet and loose change on the bedside table. I double-checked that nobody was standing at the door, parked my backside on the bed and picked up the wallet. Inside the compartments, stuffed notes, random items of jewellery, debit and credit cards—a photo. I bring the old image closer, examining a younger version of Jace. On his lap, a beautiful blonde with her arms enveloped around his neck. Lucy, I wondered, admiring her infectious smile and deep-set brown eyes.
I felt a wave of despair and overwhelming sadness. Jace loved her. He truly idolised this girl. His genuine happiness and enamoured expression, spellbinding, fascinating, the type of contentment I have yet to witness from Jace.
Still blurry from tears, I tucked the image back into the compartment, finding another. Jace almost dominates the photo, but it's the little girl on his shoulder who steals the oxygen from my lungs. Summer's chin rests atop his head, arms locked around his neck. "I'm sorry," I whispered, manifesting with remorseful feelings, deep-rooted regret, wretchedness and culpability. "I'm so sorry." Her green eyes sparkled under the sun. Her genuine smile warmed my chest.
I must save her. I am entirely blameworthy for her abduction, and I will never forgive myself if something bad happens to her.
"What the fuck are you doing?" Jace barked, and I physically jumped out of my skin. His eyes lingered on the image in my hand, and I noted his confused expression morph into escalating flare and fuming anger.
"I'm sorry," I flustered, rushing to my feet. "I wasn't snooping—"
"You had no right." Snatching the photo from my hand, he shoved me away, frantically returning his family to the back of his wallet. "No fucking right to go through my stuff, Alexa. You..." He silenced an impending lambasting, eyes trailing the length of my body. "You're not dressed."
I fought against rolling my eyes. Jace, unfortunately, had front row seats to my private areas. Seeing me in lace is hardly challenging or morally conflicting for the man, not after cataloguing all I have to offer. "I was looking for a hoodie."
"I gave you clothes," he reminded me, rubbing a hand over his weary features. "You had no reason to come in here."
I nod, understanding. "I like wearing..." Liam's T-shirts. "I like wearing your clothes to bed. It's comforting." Chastened, I rushed past him on shaky legs, wishing the floor would create a vortex and swallow me whole.
Inside the safety of Tommy's room, I paced the narrowed floor space, scolding myself for prying. "No," I muttered under my breath, tousling my wild mane. "How dare he yell at me? I've been nothing but nice to that man, considering the circumstances. I have been," I opened the door and marched back to his bedroom, "nothing but a nice person." I fling open his door and rudely invite myself into his private space. "How fucking dare you?"
Topless and relaxing on the bed, Jace slowly sat up, raising two hands, showing me he's not ready to pounce. "Alexa—"
"No," I interject, pointing at him with a determined finger. "You stole me. You actually picked me up, chucked me in a car boot, drove my comatose ass onto a ferry and locked me away in a squalid basement. At the Isle of Man, I am inclined to remind you. You starved me. You left me to rot and smell and sleep in my vomit. You humiliated, degraded, bad-mouthed and dragged me back to a heinous memory—"
"Stop interrupting me," I snapped, finding the nearest scatter cushion and lunging it at his head. "You treated me like an animal, yet I stayed. I stayed because I promised to help you find your baby girl," I cried, hiccoughing into my palm. "So, I looked at your photos. That doesn't make me a bad person. It makes me human, Jace. Unlike some people that I know, I have a damn heart, and it beats for you. It beats for your baby—"
"Alexa," he reprimands, seizing my wrists in one hand, hauling me closer. "I'm sorry, okay? I didn't mean to shout at you, but I didn't expect to walk in and see you going through my belongings."
A firm knot lodged in my throat. I flattened my wobbling lips, refusing to shed any more tears. "For this to work," I whispered, chest heaving at an unsteady pace, "we need to be on the same team, Jace. I am not your enemy. You want someone as loyal as me fighting your corner." Not Flamur, I grimaced. "I'll never put my nose where it doesn't belong again."
"Don't do that," he groaned, his unyielding grip immobilising me. "I apologised Alexa."
Huffing hair from my face, I wiggled my fingers, reminding him of my restricted situation. He released me and collapsed onto the bed, ruffling his brown, unruly hair. "Can I share yours?" I asked, gesturing to the vodka bottle on the floor. "I left mine in the bedroom."
He nods, passing it over.
I sat beside him, guzzled vodka like water. "What's that?"
Jace followed my line of vision, collecting the leather case from the bedside table. "Tattoo gun." He unzips his equipment, nocturnal inks, sterile gloves and other items I had no concept of. "One of the lads asked me to do his knuckles earlier."
"Did you do it?"
"No, he chickened out." Before he could zip up the bag, I placed a hand atop his. He studied my fingers, the muscles in shoulders coiling. "What are you doing?"
"Will you do something for me?"
Jace's intense stare penetrated me. "Depends," he said roughly, squirting hand sanitiser onto his palms, preparing. "I'm not into small and dainty, Alexa. If you want a piece? Give me something worthy of my time."
I downed another shot, put my back to him and unclasped my bra. I heard him inhale a deep breath, snapping on a pair of sterile gloves. "Wings."
He gathered my hair into a messy knot, bobbling it atop my head with tender thoughtfulness. "Wings?" he rasped, his warm breath tickling the back of my neck. He curled wayward strands behind my ears. "Are we talking about an outline decorating your shoulder blades?" He traced his fingers down my spine, stopping at my lower back. "Or are we talking an intricate design, shading and feathers," his fingers whispered against my skin, sprouting goosebumps all over my body, "dominating your entire back."
"Dominating," I breathed, smiling secretly to myself. "Give me wings, Jace."