I buried the Colt. I stood in the middle of the Tower Bridge, listening to the world pass me by and dropped the only evidence that could link me to Kellie’s murder at the bottom of the Thames. The firearm joined multiple killings and untold syndicate secrets. And that’s how it’ll remain, eroding, residing, non-existent.
Killing a pregnant woman soon tugged on my heartstrings. I am not a ruthless killer or an immoral person who can conflict suffering and live without remorse. However, the conspiring universe forced me to change into someone I am not. Its unrelenting obstacles and wicked challenges catalysed self-destruction. Continuous misfortune and sustained disappointment spawned inner loathing, hatred and anger. I am sick of being the kind and caring and generous human. Such characteristics lead me to the land of nowhere. I get trampled on, derided, humiliated and taken for granted.
I was born with a loving heart, but that doesn’t mean I have to keep it. Disguised immunity offered me a second chance, a fresh start and a prospering lifeline. It’s given me the keys to set different foundations.
Yes, Kellie’s demise wasn’t my finest hour, and her breathless whimpers will forever invade my subconscious mind, but what’s another tortured soul to my everlasting nightmares? I learnt to live with the other dark creatures, so I am sure I can withstand her final plea.
I travelled on foot to the sound of driving vehicles and London’s kaleidoscope of colours against the dark, starless sky.
Before returning to Heather’s bed-and-breakfast, I made a pit stop to a twenty-four-hour bargain booze store and paid for two bottles of vodka and strawberry laces. I chewed each stem and sipped harsh alcohol, seeking prior sluggish numbness.
Vodka is gradually becoming my best friend—my only friend. I quite like the depriving feeling it has on me.
“Fuck life,” I vowed, opening the garden gate, stumbling to the front door. “Fuck Liam and his pregnant...woman.” I fetch my keys from my purse, unlock the door and stagger inside. “Hello, darkness.” Kicking off my shoes, leaving them in the foyer, I round the stairs, floorboards creaking under each thudded step. “Fuck Jace for abandoning me.”
I guzzle vodka while shimmying out of my skirt, find my bedroom and barricade myself inside.
Humming to myself, I blindly feel around for the sideboard, settle my belongings on top and tear the blonde wig off my head. Its bouncy curls land somewhere on the floor, meeting my discarded top and accessory jewellery.
Oddly comforted by the shadows, I fall on the bed and stare at the ceiling, hacking bites of sugary laces to satisfy hunger pangs.
“I know it’s dark,” Jace said, and a panicked scream tore from my chest, “but the street lights exhibit a clear visual, Vick.”
I rolled off the bed and landed in an awkward heap on the ground. “Holy shit.” Snatching an unwashed T-shirt from the floor, I pulled it over my head. “You almost gave me a heart attack.” It buried my frame, covering my once exposed breasts and lace thong. “Asshole.”
Jace turned on the lamp, dimming us with soft glows.
Back to the magnolia painted wall, I lift my knees to my chest, stretching the material to cover my legs. I persisted in apathy, but his rough appearance concerned me. His green eyes, tired and bloodshot. Pale and pallid under his dark hood, he sported an ungroomed beard, and his dishevelled hair typified many frustrated root tugs. “Nath,” I mumbled, throat too tight to swallow. “I didn’t think you were going to come back.”
Rising to his full, unnerving height, he picked up a vodka bottle, spurning the sale sticker. “How did you afford this?”
His cold aloofness felt like deep lacerations to my broken heart. “I borrowed money from your holdall.”
“I have to fend for you, huh?” he slurred, and I belatedly discerned he’s drunk. “You don’t mind if I share, right?” No, I didn’t care, but he unscrewed and drank thirstily anyway. “I mean, considering I have to upkeep you and all.”
What the hell is his problem?
I stood up, rubbing my sweaty palms down the T-shirt. “I’m exhausted, Nath.” Tugging the covers back, I positioned my knee on the bed. “Maybe you should sleep, too. We can talk in the morning—”
He unexpectedly lunged the bottle at the wall, sprinkling fragmented shards across the floor. “Get the fuck out of bed, Vick,” he barked, and I jerked to the wall, generating a safe distance between us. “I don’t want to talk in the morning. I want to thrash it out right now.” He shoved out of his coat, flinging it on the floor. “Let’s go, Vick.”
My owlish eyes zapped from the broken glass to him. “What’s going on?” His murderous, loathing scowl sliced across my skin. The sheer sight of me unearthed pure disgust—I can see it. “What did I do?”
“I can’t sleep,” he whispered, misty-eyed and lachrymose. “I can’t eat or think or do anything.” Lolled to the wall, he posted directly from me, defeat ablaze in his eyes. “Even if I am lucky enough to rest, I mentally wander to these places, Vick. I revisit the compound but alone. I don’t see you at my side. It’s me who finds Summer. And she’s not dead. She’s just sitting on the floor, clean, unblemished and so fucking beautiful, playing with something and singing to herself.”
I closed my eyes.
“I call her name, but she doesn’t look at me,” he croaked. “Why doesn’t she look at me?”
Guilt, I thought, using a knuckle to wipe a tear from my cheek.
“I kneel and grab her face, yelling at her to look at me. And she does—after elevating her intestines between us,” he whimpered, and I opened my eyes. “I scream, and nothing comes out. Her black, soulless eyes stare into mine and then she roars in this preternatural, demonic voice. It’s at the forefront of my mind.” He licked tears from his lips. “I think she hates me.”
“Summer doesn’t hate you,” I reassured in a soft voice, wanting to go to him, but too nervous he’d shun me. “It’s your subconscious mind playing tricks on you—”
“The autopsy revealed she suffered molestation, but the cause of death was a head injury.” He flattened a hand to his chest, over his heart. “I failed her, Vick. I failed my baby girl.” I went to move closer, and he recoiled. “Don’t you dare come near me. I don’t even know why I’m here—with you of all people.”
I urged myself to respect and accept his feverish bitterness.
“Summer didn’t deserve to die like that.” His lips grimaced in abhorrence. “No child deserves to leave the world the way she did. I was a good father. I made sure she never cried or wished for Lucy because I played two important roles in her life. I did that!” He banged a fist to his chest. “I was just a sixteen-year-old kid when Summer came into my life, but I moved mountains to ensure she never went without and...” He snivelled, dragging a sleeve over his red nose. “I’m the father that doesn’t let his baby girl play in the street or go to sleepovers or welcome anyone but trusted family inside my home. I was overbearingly protective because I never, ever, wanted her to be one of those kids, to suffer at the hands of a paedophile—every parent’s worst fucking nightmare!”
He growled, booting the bedside drawer, sending miscellaneous cosmetics airborne. “It should have been you,” he said, cruel and uncaring. “Alexa Haines.”
I held his disgusted gaze. “I know,” I murmured, my bottom lip quivering. “I know, Nath.”
“Do you, though?” he hummed, rounding the double-bed, slapping two hands to the wall, either side of my head. “Do you really think that, Vick? Or are you trying to make me feel better? You don’t look that sad,” he said, and I flinched when he curled a tendril of dark hair behind my ear. “You went out tonight, drinking and having a good time—living with no remorse.”
“You are wrong.” My body trembled within his angered nearness. “If I could go back—”
“I hate you,” he said angrily. “I hate you, Alexa.”
“You couldn’t possibly hate me more than I hate myself.” I thrust a hand to his chest, but he didn’t budge. “I’m leaving.” I ducked under his arm, and he snatched my wrist, hauling me back. “I mean it, Nath. I am not staying here with you behaving like this.”
He flung my arm out if his grip. “Where’s your compassion?”
“I live with it every fucking day!” I screamed, rage replacing distressing discomfort. “Don’t you get it? I was Summer once, too. I experienced every inappropriate touch and cruel beating. I remember how disgusting it felt and how much it hurt. I remember lying on a filthy mattress at night, crying for my mother.” He squared his stance, listening intently. “I live with those memories and will continue to live with them for the rest of my life. No amount of therapeutic conversations or scolding showers is enough to remove my disgusting past. So don’t you dare tell me that I don’t care or show compassion because I understand more than anybody, what Summer went through and it breaks my heart.”
He heaved in a choked breath, clasping two hands over his mouth.
I grabbed the untouched vodka bottle and down enough to burn my throat and chest. “I’m sorry,” I said, drying spillage from my chin. “I’m sorry it was her and not me, Nathan.”
Opening the bathroom door, I close it behind me, turn on the light and enter the shower cubicle. I hit on the water, letting it soak my body, the T-shirt sticking to my overheating flesh. Catching a sob in my hand, I sank down the tiled-wall, backside hitting the floor.
Steam and hot water belted on the floor and enshrouded me. I heard the door click open and the sound of Jace’s footsteps advancing. He stepped out of his heavy-duty boots, removed his jumper and chucked his phone.
Towing the shower curtain aside, he sat in front of me, his spine straight to the other tiles, knees hiked but jean-clothed legs leaving minimal room for the two of us. “I’m sorry you went through all that.”
Tears and water streamed down my cheeks. “It’s not your fault, Nath. Nobody is responsible for what happened to me.”
“I don’t believe that,” he said throatily, curling his fingers on the bottleneck, putting the rim to his lips. “I think there is an answer for everything.”
I never thought about it like that. “I think Kathy and I were just unfortunate that day.” Our abduction wasn’t premeditated or calculated.
Jace stared at me, long and hard. He opened his mouth to say something, but anguish consumed his weary features. The bottle slipped through his fingers, clunking on the floor. He hid his head in his hands, crying on choppy breaths.
“Nath.” Repositioning to my knees, I captured his head in my hands, forcing him to look at me, prying his hands away. “Please, don’t cry. I don’t like seeing you like this.”
“I hurt, Vick,” Jace rasped against my lips, a night of vodka on his warm breath. “God, I fucking hurt.”
Despair flooded my eyes. “I know,” I whispered, cradling his stubble jaw in my hands. “I’m sorry.”
He lowered his head to my shoulder, his guttural sob shattering my heart. “Help me.”
How do I fix this?
I did the unimaginable.
I kissed him.
Fingers tousled through his hair, I brushed my lips on his, and something inside him snapped. He fisted my soaked T-shirt, tugging me in. His mouth chapped but pleasant, beard tickling my cheek.
Parting my lips, I welcomed his seeking tongue, straddled his thighs and enveloped my arms on his shoulders. I pressed my chest to him, feeling his muscles harden.
“Alexa,” he groaned, and I shook my head. “Vick.” He ripped the T-shirt off my body, and it landed on the floor with a wet thud. “Shit.” He palmed my breasts, not even a handful, thumbs stimulating my taut nipples.
I couldn’t stop kissing him. I didn’t want to consider the consequences of the aftermath. He needed me—I needed him.
Jace abruptly stood, lifting me into his arms and encouraging me to wrap my legs around his waist. I don’t know how we ended up in the bedroom, but he eased me onto the bed, crawled across my waiting body and delved in for another bruising kiss.
Fingers dipping under my thong, he stroked my wet cleft with a sweep of the thumb, and then ripped the delicate lace down my legs. He nestled his waist between my parted thighs, braced his forearms astride my head, lips scorching on my neck. He sucked the column of my throat with open mouth kisses, descending the length of my body, circling a nipple with his pierced tongue. It felt good—too good. But it’s his mouth on my warm pussy that gained him the strangled moan that fell from my lips. He licked my folds, slow, taunting, outlining and teasing.
I bucked my hips, and he let me, hands pushing the backs of my thighs apart, opening me to him. He dragged his piercing over my sensitive clit, suckling me into his mouth.
“Oh, God,” I whimpered, fisting his hair, body misted in our sweat. “Nathan.”
He pushed two fingers inside, filling me, circling and searching for my G-spot. Kicking off his drenched jeans and boxer briefs, he settled, pumped knuckle-deep, teeth sinking into the tender flesh of my inner thigh, kissing the mark he’d left there.
I grappled the sheets, fingers whitening, aching for him. He smeared my juices, licked them from my sex and enticed a breath-snatching orgasm from me. I cried out as pleasure vibrated through me, unable to catch my breath.
Sucking my arousal from his fingers, he soared from the bed, opened his holdall on the floor and searched for something—a condom.
Teary-eyed, I looked away, catching up with my flustered breathing. I heard the wrapper tear and him sheathing himself.
The bed dipped from his weight as he stretched out beside me, stroking his well-proportioned cock. He kissed my collarbone, lips roaming to my neck and jawline. “I’m not going to hurt you, Vick,” he breathed, sucking my earlobe between his teeth, nibbling. “It’s just us.” He pushed an arm underneath my neck, positioned above me. “Tomorrow can wait.”
I nod, hands to his jaw, tracing his lips with my thumbs. I opened my legs, inviting him to take whatever he wants from me.
His cock nudged my entrance, and he pushed forward, groaning as I accommodated him. I snatched in a breath, held it, fingernails clinging to the back of his neck.
Our kiss, light but soon demanding and urgent, he rocked into me, unhurried, deep and meaningful. I synchronised his thrusts, feeling too small under his large frame. “Nath,” I moaned, suffocating my mouth on his sweat-misted chest. “Oh, shit.”
“I got you.” He protected me in his muscular arms, holding me close. I tasted his tears—he tasted mine. It’s not two people in love. It’s not an impossible passion. It’s coming together and losing ourselves in a moment of dangerous heartbreak.
Something indescribable passed between us as we stared in each other’s eyes. He dropped his head to the nook of my neck, breathing heavily in my ear as he chased his orgasm.
His piercing felt minimal with the condom, and part of me was thrilled about that. It’s new, sleeping with someone who wasn’t Liam. I wasn’t sure if I could handle probing objects...Jace is not Liam. I allowed myself to consider and compare both men and hated myself for cheating on the man I love. Only Liam is not mine anymore. He doesn’t belong to me—and he impregnated another woman. No, I am not upsetting myself further.
My heart still aches, though.
Jace’s attentive, fervent and satisfying, but I want the rough touches, the throaty demands, consuming kisses, bruising hold and spine-shattering orgasms.
Mouth fused to my lips, Jace tore me away from memories of Liam, his tongue coaxing mine with soft flicks and strokes.
I sank my fingernails in his back, tore them down his spine. He starts to pound into me, burying to the hilt. Yes, I need hard, unforgiving and punishing.
He let out a rough moan of ecstasy, hand pinning my body to the bed by my hip bone. He rotates his hips, doubling his pleasure.
I catalogued his gloriously artistic physique and spectacular patterns of intricate ink and defined muscles. He really is an astonishing work of art.
A familiar tingle starts in my lower stomach, and I drop my head to the pillow, letting myself have this moment. He shoved himself in and out of me, and an intense wave limped my body. I came, hard, hands seized to his tense biceps. He followed behind me, slowing his paced movements, sharing my breathing space.
Jace didn’t hurry to retreat. He blew out a shuddered breath, the pads of his fingers sweeping damp hair from my brow. Lethargic and despondent, he put his forehead to my chest, hips easing back a touch to slip out. I covered him with my arms, massaging his head with kneading fingers.
I heard his breathing even out as I watched the rain splatter on the windowpane, feeling no better than I did thirty minutes ago.
“Good morning, darling,” Heather chimes, joining me on the wraparound veranda. “You are up bright and early this morning. Does it have anything to do with Nathan’s drunken return last night?”
I held a steaming mug of coffee in my hands. “I’m sorry if our argument disturbed you, Heather. I promise it won’t happen again.”
“Yes,” she said, getting comfortable on the rattan chair. “You were rather loud.”
A dreaded flush spread to my cheeks.
Did she hear us having sex?
“It’s okay. I knew you weren’t really brother and sister,” she continued, and I felt a mortified heat on my cheeks. “Luckily, I am the proud owner of headphones.”
“I am so sorry.” Oh, God. I wanted to die. I wanted the floor to create a gigantic hole and engulf me. “We didn’t want to lie to you, Heather, but life...”
“You don’t have to explain yourself to me.”
It still seemed wrong. “I truly am sorry.”
“Nonsense,” she gave me a flippant wave. “I was young once, too, Victoria. I might be old, but I am not a prude. Hey,” she arched a brow, “if I can’t get some nookie, it doesn’t mean others can’t, right?”
I had no words.
Instead, I mumbled a weird noise, sipping from my cup.
“Oh, no.” Snuggling in a stark white fluffy dressing gown, she fixed her sunglasses. “I know that look.”
“What look?” I asked.
“Regret,” she said, and I cast my eyes to the slabbed floor. “Are you still holding a torch for that violent ex-husband?”
She convinced herself that I am a battered wife. “No, and he wasn’t violent, Heather. I don’t even know where you come up with these theories.”
“Maury Povich,” she tells me, nibbling buttered toast. “Watch it for yourself, and you’ll see nothing is ludicrous or outlandish.”
Giggling softly, I smiled. “I don’t regret being with Nathan,” I muttered into my mug, and she tilted her head, ears perked up. “But I miss him—my heart misses him.”
Heather chewed her fingernails. “I had an affair once.”
Her admittance stunned me. She loved Henry. “Why?”
“I’d been married to Henry for almost nine years,” she explained, crossing one leg over the other knee, “but we reached a point in our marriage where it became tediously mundane and too comfortable. We opted for routine television and convenient meals. We slept in the same bed but rarely sought comfort in each other’s arms—even sex was pencilled in for a Wednesday. I was lonely, Victoria. And I breached the conversation with Henry, and, well, he acted out and was defensive and chose darts with the men and fishing trips rather than facing the fact our marriage was falling apart.”
I felt her sadness. “How did you fix it?”
“I didn’t,” she said, brazen and uncaring. “I fell into the arms of the first man who paid me attention. He was astonishing, Victoria. He reminded me of a young Alec Baldwin.”
Nice, I thought, pinching a piece of her toast. “So, what happened?”
“I left my husband for another man—a man who promised me the world, all those couples holidays and romantic weekends away...” She drifted into memories, jutting out her lips. “I lived with him for six months, and that’s when those irritating bad traits came into play. He’d leave socks on the floor and snap my head off if I mentioned it. He’d never take the bins out or even attempt to assemble furniture. I know it sounds silly, but I suddenly felt cumbered down. Henry never let me pick up a paintbrush, never mind paper and decorate walls. He’d mow the grass without prompt or fuss and be the first to pick up a screwdriver when new furniture arrived.”
I chewed toast in silence.
“I missed my old life. It took a lazy sod with empty promises to realise the grass wasn’t greener. I also concluded that I hadn’t fallen out of love with Henry, but missed the man I met on the pier that night. The young boy who claimed me and refused to let me go.”
She set the plate on the table. “Relationships are hard, and sometimes, you feel like giving up. If you love someone enough, you’ll work through it. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but someday, you’ll find a way back to each other because your heart decides for you.” She absently twirled her wedding ring. “Henry pardoned adultery for the sake of our love—Hello, Nathan.”
Not expecting Jace’s arrival, I flinched, spilling coffee over my fingers.
Dressed for the day in all black, Jace joined us on the veranda, avoiding my curious gaze. He sat down, weaving his fingers together.
Heather noticed the tension. “Anyway,” she sang, rising to her feet and dusting crumbs of her dressing gown, “I got plenty of chores to contend with. You two eat some breakfast, and I’ll see you in a jiffy.”
Uneasy by whatever prepared speech he had conducted, Jace waited until Heather entered the kitchen. “Vick,” he said, unsmiling and nervous. “About last night—”
“Please don’t,” I interrupted, placing the mug on the table. “I don’t need an explanation or a subtle dismissal. I am not jumping to conclusions and thinking sex means a relationship or anything like that, so please don’t insult me.” His scowl vanished. “I love you, Nath. I don’t know when it happened or why you mean so much to me, but you do. I care about you, and I want you in my life,” I whispered the last part, caged embarrassment in my hollow voice. “But you are not Liam.”
“And you’re not Lucy,” he replied under his breath, relief in his sad eyes. “I don’t regret what we shared, though. If anything? I care about you, Vick. That’s why I wanted us to have this conversation because I’m kinda hoping you’ll stick around.” His weak smile matched mine. “That’s if you can forgive me after the bullshit that I spewed last night.”
I think it’s safe to say I forgave him the second we slept together. “People can be hurtful when upset. I won’t hold that against you.”
He shook his head, a slow movement, barely noticeable. “You’re too nice, Vick. It makes me wonder how someone as angelic as you attracted a man like Warren. It’s an odd combination.”
I daren’t tell him what I did before returning to Heather’s last night. “Or it’s a force to be reckoned with,” I jokingly imply, and he responds with a dubious grin. “Besides, I am taking a different approach to life. I don’t wish to be boring, considerately helpful and oversensitive anymore.”
Jace smirked, low and mischievous. “What do you have in mind?”
“I want a piece of that pie,” I pointed to the imaginary tart on the table, and his brows meshed. “Everyone else seems to disobey the law and flourish, so why can’t I? Being a moral citizen hasn’t gotten me anywhere...”
He rubbed his palms together, eager to broach a topic. “I search for susceptibilities in web applications or access internal networks to find a gateway. In doing so, I can access most financial applications and move money to controlled accounts and even manipulate the balance of card accounts by simply phishing.”
I blinked, wide-eyed and bewildered. “What the hell are your rambling about?”
He has taken my idea and outlandishly ran in the other direction.
“I break down the backdoor to encrypted communication services, phones, surveillances,” he speaks with such passion and experience, “software and computers.”
Yes, he mentioned this the night he hijacked the syndicate software. “And?”
“And I possess the tools and skills to line our bank accounts.”
Speechless, I gawked at him.
“If you want a step on the corruption ladder,” he mused, clicking his knuckles, “I can make it happen.”
I set my feet to the ground and stood. “You want to rob a bank?”
“No, I’m not robbing a bank, Vick. Fuck.” He jumped up, clasping my shoulders. “How do you feel about becoming a seductress?”
“A bloody what?” I barked, hitting his hands off my arms. “Oh, God. You’re serious?” He nods. “You want to whore my ass out?”
“What? No!” He followed me indoors, tugging my T-shirt hem. “Vick, I am not suggesting you follow through with it. However, if you can use your appeal to lure fat cats into a hotel room, I can take care of the rest.”
“And then what?” I asked, stopping at the breakfast bar, hands to my hips. “What if the guy goes too far?”
“I won’t let that happen,” he stressed, rubbing my arm, the sound of Heather’s vacuuming ricocheted off the walls. “I can get access to some knock-out drugs. You get him in a vulnerable position—a quick stab of a syringe and I’ll swing in, access his online banking and the rest is history.”
I am seriously considering our unlawful plan. “What if the guy wakes up and calls the police?”
“What is he going to do? Make statements about nearly sleeping with an escort who tested his masculinity and robbed him blind?” He touched my nose with a finger. “I wonder how he’ll explain that to his wife.”
A naughty smile danced on my lips. “You are evil.”
“The only way I can condone this is if we select worthy prospects.”
“Married tycoons and bent politicians?” he hints, and I nodded. “So, what do you say? Fancy hitting the town tonight?”
I acquiesced. “I know the perfect place.”