SACRIFICE (Book Two: The London Crime King)

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CH 31

Liam

“Maybe we got caught in a crossfire of warring gangs?” Josh wondered aloud, stroking his chin. “It’s plausible, right? Why assume somebody ordered a hit on Warren?”

“Are you that simple-minded?” Brad, shirt unbuttoned and barefoot, cinched a deriding eyebrow. “It seems your vacant self was not present this evening, Joshy boy, so I’ll break it down for you. An unlicensed vehicle sped past Mario’s earlier, windows cracked and firearms brandished. The gunmen wore balaclavas to conceal their identities and, in case you require further validation, the driver looked directly at me before aiming at the Boss. Those unidentified attackers did not swing by and take a random hit at the restaurant for shits-and-giggles; they came to kill. Had I not spotted them and put Warren on the ground when I did, mission accomplished.”

Since returning to the penthouse, after tonight’s unforeseen predicament with masked adversaries, the men, mobbed on the balcony, ingesting drugs and alcohol, conjecture if Bajramovic’s allies call for accountability. Nate, particularly, believes our former enemies demise spawned vengeful justice. Flamur’s men, whoever they may be, or whatever’s left of them, rather, crave deadly reciprocation.

My head on a chopping board comes to mind.

Josh struggles to believe the dire concept. He is new, unassumingly young and outright delusional. Brad, however, knows better. He has been my second in command for almost eleven years and experienced many unpleasant encounters while safeguarding the organisation. Habituated to opposing nefariousness and risible but aspiring desperados, Brad’s witnessed numerous rivals induce conflicts and conspire my death for impersonal, unjustifiable reasons: money, drugs, weaponry and status.

“Of course, I was there, dickhead.” Josh’s voice was low but quarrelsome. “It doesn’t make any sense, though. Flamur is gone—never coming back. What valid reason do the Albanians have to continue feuds between organisations?” He looked at me, deep in ponderous thought. “I think we need to reconsider possibilities, Sir. What if tonight wasn’t personal?”

“It was a personal attack, Josh,” Nate intervenes, losing patience.

“Okay, well,” Josh tousled his hair, “what if the Albanians didn’t orchestrate the hit? Ever considered additional foes?”

I exchanged quizzical glances with the men. “Yes.” Back to the balustrade, I lift a crystal glass to my lips, sipping cognac. “Are you familiarised with the idiom ‘needle-in-a-haystack’, though, Josh? Unless the attackers left behind traces of evidence for us to corroborate speculation, differentiating between enemies is virtually impossible. We wait,” I continue, accepting a joint from Nate, “for them to strike once more, only, this time, we’ll be ready to counterattack.”

“You want to wait for a second hit?” Brad’s shoulders squared in automatic defence. “Are you mad? We can’t sit back and continuously watch your back—and ours, I must add—without some idea of who did this to you. What if they succeed next time, Bossman?” He came close, invading my personal space with his overbearing antagonism. “Are you idiotic enough to play Russian roulette with your life? I say, we set retaliation in motion—”

“What other choice do I have?” I inhaled smoke, respiring through my nose. “I don’t need any more distractions, Brad. I am this close,” I demonstrate, thumb and forefinger millimetres apart, “to justice. Concerning myself with rioting competitors is futile, especially under the circumstances.”

He regarded me, disapproval in his stern glare. “I am sure you can toss Bennett aside for a week, Boss,” he punctuated. “Consider your welfare before revenge.”

“No, I will not yield.” I put out the joint in the ashtray. “Not for fatality. Not for retaliation. I am days from getting what I want,” I reminded him, our noses almost touching. “I have spent weeks upon weeks feigning the perfect gentleman-the perfect companion. Do you know how strenuously cumbersome it is to deal with a snobby, spoilt British brat who deems herself better than others with her sanctimoniously patronising attitude?”

Brad gave me a toothy grin. “Oh, I am sure it’s very tiring to continuously fuck a leggy blonde.”

“I feel nothing,” I enunciated in a low, serious voice. “You might find it hard to believe, Brad, but I’d rather spend the rest of my life, fucking my fist, than entertain that whining bitch any longer. I despise everything about Bennett and what her prestigious life entails. I will not, however, cave or surrender for the sake of reprisal. Foolish opportunists can wait until I am ready.”

Displeased with the outcome, Brad dragged his tongue across a Rizla seam and rolled another joint. “May I ask, Boss, why are we so invested with Bennett? You claim vengeance is on the horizon, but, with the exception of Nate, you have failed to enlighten me on the reasoning behind this bogus relationship.”

I looked at him, really looked, deep in his eyes. I love Brad. He’s my right-hand man and brother, a true allegiance. However, sometimes, he’s an imperious brute who fails to hold his wayward tongue. He bears dissatisfaction and argues his case, specifically concerning Alexa. I get it. He doesn’t believe she’s alive, so when I strive to convince otherwise, he thinks I am a mentally unstable, grieving man.

“I needed a distraction,” I said, admiring London’s late, picturesque views, “after Alexa died. Ignoring her death worked only after a night of cocaine, alcohol and...women. I decided, instead of ignoring the truth and living in grief, to put my efforts elsewhere, to seek a purpose or understanding.”

Brad, confused, glanced at Nate. “An understanding?” he deadpans, balancing a joint between his lips. “This conversation took a poetic turn.”

“Not poetic,” I argued, hands grasping the balustrade. “I asked Nate to look into Alexa’s death and do a thorough background check. I knew, because of previous police files, she was one of two siblings and that her abductor raped and murdered her mother; I knew she once lived in Cornwall in a cottage-like home—a mere walking distance from a sandy beach.”

His puzzlement intensified.

“I was too arrogant before,” I proceed, pouring myself another cognac. “I had all the answers, right? I, Liam Warren, demanded Alexa’s life story from officials and conceitedly boasted as much in her face. Apart from times where I necessitated knowledge concerning particular people, for example, Bajramovic and Kathy Pearl, when did I sit with Alexa and pay genuine interest, Brad? I never asked about her good memories. I never asked the important question, did I?”

Josh morphed Brad’s puzzled expression.

“Which was?” Brad probed, growing impatient.

“The exact reason behind my sudden interest in Hellen Bennett.” I downed a shot, the burn warm to my chest. “Or Larry Fagan, rather.”

Brad’s eyes rolled heavenward. “What the fuck do Bennett and Fagan have to do with Alexa Haines’ death?”

Inside the penthouse, Blaire, dressed in pink pyjama shorts and a vest, wanders to the kitchen. She opens the fridge freezer, grabs a milk carton and prepares a cup of tea.

“Alexa is not dead,” I said, short and stern. “And before you write me off, deliberate a cautious response. I will not tolerate your disrespect or unbidden opinions any longer. I am your Boss. We are not equals. Address me formally and show some goddamn respect.” I dipped my head, my lips close to his ear. “Name a time where my intuition failed us?”

Turning to face me, he aligned our eyes. “Never.”

Satisfied by his response, I smiled. “Then why do you so passionately believe her existence is impossible?”

His eyes seeking Nate for guidance, he straightened his spine. “And you?” he mused, breathing out a veil of smoke. “Are you part of this nonsensical bandwagon?”

“I believe Victoria is Alexa Haines, yes,” Nate confirmed, scratching his jaw. “And, thanks to Warren’s industrious men, I am hours away from uncovering her hideout.”

Pushing a hand through his hair, Brad snorted. “What, so you chased down the blonde from the centre in the hope that Alexa’s incognito? Are you listening to yourselves?” His eyes darted between us. “You keep forgetting an important detail, Bossman. Victoria—or whatever the fuck her name is—ran away from you. She probably fancied small-talk until she realised who you were and ran for the damn hills—”

“Alexa ran because she was scared,” Nate argued on my behalf, stepping up to Brad. “Why are you so determined to rule out the possibility?”

“Because it is senseless.” Brad slumped on a chair, his military chain glimmering under the moon’s light. He stared at me, long and hard. “Alexa loved you. It made me sick how much that girl idolised you, Boss. I find it unfathomable that she’d outsmart death and hide from you, that is all.” He’s beginning to wonder, though. I see the wheels turning inside his head. “Okay, say I believe there’s a chance this ridiculousness holds ground. What do you have?”

“I ordered and stationed security at the town centre; it’s all I had to go on.” Nate unscrews a gin bottle. “At the time, I thought from the eyes of Alexa. She knows the organisation, so she’d recognise the boss’ men. I sent them to work sans tailored attire, opting for casual wear and tattered trainers. These men operate separately. You’ll see one eating and smoking outside, sitting on the bench. Another might wander around the shopping centre, purchasing superfluous gadgets from stores. Restaurants, bars, cinemas and car parks. Not an establishment left unattended.”

Brad leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. “I assume Victoria returned?”

Nate nodded. “She likes designer clothes and shoes.”

I frowned at that. “Affordability?”

“No idea,” said Nate, sucking spilt gin from his thumb. “One of the men called me, found her drinking coffee after a laborious spending spree. I told them to follow her whereabouts to see if she leads us somewhere.”

“Where is she?” Josh asked, hope aflame in his brown eyes.

“They lost her.” Nate winced, unlocking his phone. “One of the men highlighted that she looked uneasy. I think she knew someone was following her and ducked out.”

“Ducked out?” Brad repeated in disbelief. “Those useless recruits require further training, Nate. Their awareness should have remained concealed. Besides, why did you wait until she reached her hideout? Why not bring her straight to the club so that Bossman can deal with her?”

“As much as I want to see Alexa again, I need to play it smart,” I interject, watching Blaire get comfortable on the sofa, snuggling under a throw blanket. “Victoria witnessed me with another woman,” I remind them, excluding the argument with Kellie and Victoria’s involvement. “She’ll want answers—answers I am not ready to provide.” I noticed Josh’s sudden reclusiveness. “Josh?”

He flinched out of a trance. “Yes, Sir?”

“Penny for your thoughts?”

“Alexa,” he said, eyes widening, “I think she might be hiding with Jace.”

Nate barked, “What the fuck, Josh?” He slapped him around the back of his head. “Don’t be saying shit without thinking properly.”

“I am thinking clearly,” Josh snapped, rubbing his sore head. “When we checked surveillance that time, Victoria had company, remember?”

“Are you forgetting that Jace boarded a ferry and travelled to the Isle of Man?” Nate narrowed eyes, an order for Josh to watch his tongue. “Don’t be throwing accusations without unarguable evidence or facts.”

“Let him speak,” I said irritably, anger smouldering from the depths of my stomach. “You think that Gothic-looking motherfucker might be Jace Williams?”

“It’s a possibility, right?” He flickered a gaze between the men. “Did we ever check the surveillance surrounding Club 11 the night Flamur’s men attacked?”

Josh’s inoffensive question affronted Nate. “Do you honestly think I’d overlook a crucial part of the investigation? Of course, I looked at the footage. Unfortunately, the Albanians tampered with the electrical circuit, disconnecting surveillance in the throes of their attack.”

“See, I don’t understand that.” Josh shook his head. “They were unfazed about revealing their identities, so why go the extra mile? What were they hiding?”

Mulling over Josh’s query, Brad stood. “He’s right. We missed something.” He stormed into the penthouse, returning minutes later with a notepad. “Old school,” he joked, clicking a pen. “What time did Bajramovic’s men attack?”

“Between the hours of eleven and twelve p.m.,” Nate confirmed, and Brad scribbled notes. “Why?”

“What time did the fire commence at Alexa’s tenant-building?”

Nate rested his palms on the table, reading Brad’s notes. “Reginald mentioned the fire started from her apartment around eleven-thirty.”

“I didn’t reach your office until then,” Brad said, looking up at me beneath hooded brows. “Even if Alexa flagged a taxi? She couldn’t have reached her building beforehand...” Belated assurance twisted his features. “Fuck. There is no way she went up in smoke.”

My anger heightened. “What the fuck do you think I’ve been trying to tell you?”

The scribbling of the pen continued. “It happened at the club,” he exclaimed, and I arched an eyebrow. “Those assholes swiped her right from under our noses. What of her bugged belongings?”

“Never thought to check,” said Nate. “Bluecoats confirmed her death. It never occurred to me to locate them as I assumed they burnt down in the fire.”

Josh stands alongside them. “I mean, Jace is—was Flamur’s partner in crime. Again, it is a conceivable concept.” His arms crossed. “That guy seemed to have popped up from nowhere.”

“He’s one of Bajramovic’s victims, though,” Nate highlights, not convinced. “Are we forgetting the death of his daughter, Summer Williams?”

I couldn’t rein in scattered thoughts. “Alexa is the only person that can answer this line of questioning.”

“Plus, Alexa willingly choosing to stay with a man who feasibly participated in her disappearance,” Brad itches the back of his neck, “is indecipherable, too.”

I jerked my chin. “I concur.”

“The necklace,” Nate drawled, pointing at me. “We know Alexa wore the necklace the night of your thirtieth, yet it’s in your possession. Additional validation,” he shifted his gaze to Brad, “that Alexa couldn’t possibly be dead.”

Brad rubbed his temples with a thumb and forefinger. “How did you obtain her chain, Bossman?”

Inside the living quarter, Blair rests on the sofa, pretending not to eavesdrop our conversation. Brad followed my line of vision, the corner of his lip curling in disdain. He shouldered past Josh, straight towards the girl. “You,” he barked, tearing her from the chair by an elbow. “Start talking.”

“Mr Warren!” she screamed, wriggling against his firm hold. “He’s hurting me.”

“Brad,” Nate scolded, trying to get between them, “quit acting like a prick and release the girl.”

“Have a fucking day off, Nate.” Tearing a scream from Blaire, Brad dragged her to the dining area, shoving her onto a chair. “How did you get Alexa’s chain?” he asked, hands pinned to the armrests, obscuring her escape route. “Talk.”

Aquiver and terror-stricken, Blaire seeks my input with wide, doe eyes. “Mr Warren...”

“Don’t look at him,” Brad chastised, snatching her jaw, fingers pinching the hollowness of her gaunt cheeks. “You might fool the Boss with those eyes, Blaire, but I couldn’t give a flying fuck about you. I want answers.”

Disregarding his snide remark, I dropped my eyes to the floor.

“I stole it,” she whimpered, her bottom lip trembling. “Mast—Mr Bajramovic left me unattended in his bedroom once, and I found the chain in his drawer. I knew it meant something to him, so part of me wanted to be rebellious.” A tear fell from her eye. “Please, I didn’t mean to upset anyone. I just wanted to hurt him the way he kept hurting me.”

“Jesus, Brad.” Nate put a hand to Brad’s chest, urging him to step back. “Cut the girl a damn break.”

Brad’s sceptical snarl never faltered. He glared down at the girl, uneasiness evident, stance rigid and guarded. “I don’t trust her,” he finally said, flinging me a sidelong frown. “Put her unhinged ass in the nutter asylum, Bossman. That girl reeks of deception.”

“No, please.” Lunging past him, Blaire scampered to my side, unabashedly falling to her knees. “Mr Warren, please don’t send me away.” Her arms coiled around my leg, and an inconvenient heat etched my stern features. “I’ll be good; I promise to be good—”

“Blaire,” I cursed, prying her arms from off my leg. “Get up.”

In a surreal flash, she lowered her face to the floor, bowing in a graceful yet absurd manner.

“See?” Brad choked twice, gesturing to the girl. “What the fuck is she doing? Do you think that’s normal?”

“Blaire,” I said, and she peered up at me from under thick, wet eyelashes. “Stand.”

She did, obediently, wringing her fingers.

The muscles in my jaw throbbed. “Go to your room.”

“Of course, Mr Warren.” With eager strides, she scampered across the room and down the hall, slamming the bedroom door behind her.

Josh whistles, low and dramatic. “I have no words.”

Brad levelled me with cold eyes. “You need to drop that bitch—yesterday—”

“Stop telling me what I should and shouldn’t be doing,” I snapped, slicing through his furious rant. “I am so fucking tired of your noncompliance, Brad. Learn your place—fast.”

“You know what?” Buttoning his shirt, he stomped into his socks and shoes. “Fuck this for a barrel of laughs. You are so absorbed with Alexa’s retribution that you cannot see beyond it.”

Ready to leave, Josh placed his empty glass in the sink.

“When that bitch,” Brad snarled, his face inches from mine, “shows herself for what she really is? Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.” With those infuriated departing words, he strode to the front door, Josh on his heels, and exited the penthouse.

Nate sagged against the panoramic window, rubbing his weary eyes. “Any orders, Sir?”

“I need a break,” I hummed, placing my glass beside Josh’s in the sink. “I am tired and frustrated, Nate. I want...” Alexa, I thought, briefly closing my eyes. “Any updates?”

“The men patrol Victoria’s last sighting. It’s a quiet area, so we believe she’s possibly renting a hotel room somewhere within that vicinity.” His hand fell to my shoulder. “Don’t give up, Sir. I am confident this investigation will be over in the next few hours.”

“If they locate her,” I said, headed to my bedroom, “they must stand down but remain vigilant. I don’t want anybody approaching or frightening her. It’s on me to end this charade.”

***

I fell asleep, nude, phone placed on the bedside table. Rolling onto my back, I groaned and repositioned, half comfortable. Somewhere in the dark, I heard the door open and close. I became cautious yet controlled, listening for unexplainable noises and sounds. And then, I smelt a familiar fragrance—her perfume—and my chest tightened. “Alexa?”

She lifted the duvet, and a cold breeze overpowered the warmth, sprouting goose pimples across my bare skin. I daren’t move, in case it’s a dream—a beautiful dream I had no desire to leave. “Liam,” she whispered, curling her naked body around me. “I know you’re awake.”

I smiled, reaching up and cupping her cheek. “You came back,” I breathed, lips almost touching hers. “Baby?”

Her long hair fell over my face as she straddled my waist. “Please don’t hate me.”

I growled under my breath, heart thrashing thunderously in my chest. “I should hate you.” I flattened a palm to her lower stomach and ascended her middle section, pausing between the crevice of her breasts. “But you make me forget all the reasons why I should be angry.” Finding her neck, I coiled my fingers, fixed to her throat, and dragged her into my embrace. “Always weak for you.”

She pressed a soft kiss to the corner of my mouth. I wrapped my arms around her waist, recognising how much weight she’s lost. I don’t express concerns, though. My nose buried in her hair, inhaling the smell of rose-scented shampoo, I piano my fingers along the length of her spine.

Releasing Alexa was impossible. I held on tight, refusing to let go. I had a beautiful, naked woman in my arms, but I cared not for sex or pleasure. This, us, her face to my chest, our closeness, was all I needed—all I craved.

I tilted her chin and lifted my head to kiss her lips. She craned her neck, assisting, lazily stroking inside my mouth with gentle flicks of her tongue.

She spread across me, hands to my face, thumbs massaging my stubble jaw. “Is this okay? Do you want me to kiss you?”

My eyebrows met in the middle. “Don’t ever ask for permission,” I rasped, holding the back of her neck in my hand. “I am yours, baby.” I found and squeezed the swell of her ass, groaning my approval. “Yours to touch, to kiss, to love.” I imagined her pleased smile as her head lowered. “Where are you going?”

“You said I could touch you,” she whispered, head disappearing under the duvet. “Let me assist.”

My hard, rigid cock fell into her waiting hand. On an upstroke, she caught the tip in her mouth, lips parting, sucking me deep.

I stifled a sleepy moan, my fingers tangling in her hair. “I don’t deserve you.”

She rewarded me, flattening her tongue on the underside of my shaft, licking and tasting pre-cum. Moaning my name, she bopped her head up and down, letting my cock hit the back of her throat.

“Fuck,” I groaned, the muscles in my stomach tightening, legs bunching up. “Fuck, baby. That’s it.”

Jacking me with one hand, she sucked greedily, feverish and hot. The tip of her tongue outlined each vein, mouth warm to the swollen crown.

Hands to my straining thighs, she opened her throat, breathed and relaxed, engulfing the length of my cock.

“Alexa,” I hummed, forehead creasing in confusion. “Be yourself, baby.”

Why is she so keen to swallow my length? I told her it’s unnecessary—I don’t wish for her to choke when satisfying me. The excitement in her eyes, the way she moans while tasting me, is what does it for me. I love the sound of her approval, her pleasure, her satisfaction.

“Fuck,” I hissed, fingers pulling her hair.

Hard and fast, she took me, tight fist pumping me with violent strokes, tongue lapping every drop of pre-cum. Her fingernails, sharp and uneven, stabbed my thighs as she hollowed her cheeks.

My eyes snapped wide, heart stumbling to a paced rhythm. It’s dark, but soft light floats into the room from the ajar door.

The blanket oscillates as her head works between my thighs—her low, husky moans, unrecognisable to my ears.

Uncontrollable rage zapped through my body. Ripping the duvet off my legs, I sat upright, dislodging my cock from— “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Before Blaire found a reasonable response, I smashed her cheek with a backhander, sending her frail body into a heap on the floor.

“Mr Warren!” she cried, touching her tender jaw, scuttling into the corner of the room. “Please don’t hurt me; please don’t hurt me...”

Throwing my legs over the bed, snatching a pair of boxer briefs from the drawer, I tugged them on, fury at its pinnacle, blood roaring in my ears. “You psycho cunt.” Fisting her hair with painful intent, tearing a hoarse sob from those smeared lips, I dragged her lashing body out the bedroom. “You think you can crawl into my bed?” I slapped her cheek once more, hard, causing a sting to my palm. “You think I want your filthy fucking ass?” I chucked her down the four steps leading into the living room. Her body rolled and crashed into the coffee table, the tumbling of empty whiskey bottles disturbing Nate, who sleeps on the sofa. “I am going to kill you—”

“Sir,” Nate barked, jumping out of his comfortable slumber. “Calm down. Let me handle her.” He’s half-naked, boxer briefs the only item of clothing he wears. “What did she do...?” His eyes land on her wobbling lips. He noticed smeared arousal, and his brows jolted to his hairline. “Did you...?”

“I didn’t consent to her sucking my cock.” I bite into my knuckles, causing a sting. “She—”

“You said, ‘I never have to ask for your permission. I am yours, baby’,” she recited, spittle clinging to her chin. “‘Yours to touch, to kiss, to love’.”

“You stole words from my mouth,” I said through clenched teeth. “Those sentiments weren’t for you.”

“You said them to me!” Her fingers tugged and tore chunks of hair from her head. “You wanted me to please you, and to love you—”

“You crazy bitch,” I spat, and she recoiled, cowering from me. “You,” I point, and she hissed behind her hands, “are not Alexa Haines. I helped you. For the first time in my life, I tried to do the right thing, but there’s nothing redeemable about you.” I dropped back, controlling my angered breathing. “I want that fucking freak out of my private home.”

“No,” she protested, ready to beeline in my direction. “Mr Warren—”

“No,” Nate intercedes, capturing Blaire around the waist. “It’s over, Blaire.” She ignores him, kicking and wriggling, pleading with me to forgive her, eyes watery, defeated. “Stop!”

She went limp in his arms, head sloping despondently. “Then kill me.”

Nate’s gaze crashed into mine. “Orders, Sir?”

I pinned her with a cruel, unforgiving sneer. “Fucking bury the bitch for all I care.” While she roared, I retreated to the bedroom, locking the door.

“Fuck.” Slamming a palm to the wall, I positioned my hands, lowered my head and closed my eyes. “Fuck’s sake.”

I reached breaking point—hit rock bottom. I showered, scrubbed my skin raw, and removed her from my body in lieu of frustrated disgust.

Inside the walk-in wardrobe, I selected a pristine suit, gunmetal grey and a black shirt. I can’t remember the last time I paid extreme attention to my appearance, but I wanted perfection.

Pleased with my image, I sprayed cologne to my neck and wrists, armed myself, caught my wallet and keys and left the room.

Nate, preparing coffee in the kitchen, managed to calm Blaire, who snores softly on the sofa. It’s three o’clock in the morning, so when I amble around the corner, presented for the day ahead, he cocked a pierced eyebrow. “Sir?”

I jangled my keys. “What area?”

He unlocked his phone and read the last few text messages.

I mentally ventured to the neighbourhood, recalling tree-lined streets, a public park, two small-businesses, convenient stores and three-star hotels. “They checked every hotel?”

He nods, sipping his coffee.

“What about private properties?” I probed, swinging the keys around my finger. “House shares? Bed-and-breakfast? Hostels?”

“Not a stone left unturned, Sir. Eight B&B’s, fifteen house shares, three hotels and one hostel, all double-checked by security and assisted by landlords or management—oh, bar this place.” He showed me his phone, zooming in on an unprepossessing townhouse building. “An older woman lives there, but she’s not open for business.”

“Did the men ask to see inside regardless?”

“Yes,” he confirmed, and I puffed out an exasperated breath. “Nothing suggested Victoria stayed here, Sir.”

I took the phone from his hand, eyed the flower beds, pebble-edged driveway and netted windows. Beneath the porch, I enlarged the image for a more precise look: hanging from the entranceway is a shell inspired wind chime, delicate strings adorned in sun-faded beads. “What’s the woman’s name?”

“Uh,” Nate opened a folder he’s been working on, searching notes, “Heather Giles.”

My heart never stopped thrashing. “What do we know about her?”

“Not much.” His nose wrinkled, and he adjusted the ring piercing. “Sixty-five-year-old widow. No children. No family, actually. To be honest, Sir, I haven’t done a thorough background check on the old bint.”

I returned his phone, rapt my knuckles on the kitchen counter. “I am taking the rest of the weekend off, so reschedule my appointment with Miss Bennett.”

Nate’s eyes alight with curiosity. “Do you require assistance?”

“No.” Fixing a cufflink to my shirt sleeve, I strode to the front door. “I will be unavailable, Nate, so don’t bother calling.”

“Hey,” he called, and I paused, hand to the wall. “Where are you going?”

Alexa’s beautiful face flashed behind my eyes. “To secure my future.”

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