SACRIFICE (Book Two: The London Crime King)

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CH 35

Liam

The angry pulse in my ears overpowered the deafening boisterousness inside Club 11. I slipped between mobs of loudmouthed, hard-drinking socialisers and carousers, veering to the bar.

Cherry, typing clientele orders into the cash register, elevated a curious eyebrow. It's unlike me to coalesce with employees, specifically low-ranking bar staff and erotic dancers. I only have time for the men—security and hired guns—and spend the majority of my time hauled up in the office.

Sure, back in the day, I appreciated the female dancers for sexual gratification purposes, but nowadays, I pay them no heed. I care not for their filthy promises and deft hands. In fact, I haven't so much as looked in their direction for months. After Alexa's "death", I took the professional approach and circumnavigated their advances.

"Sir," Cherry chimes, arms folded, rested on the glass countertop, "did you need something?"

Desperate desire inundated Cherry's longing gaze. Her provocative galvanisation had me wondering if Brad Jones was in the building. Pursuing my attention is uncharacteristic, not when she has eyes for my right-hand man. "No Brad tonight, Cher?"

She pursed her fuchsia painted lips. "Oh, he's around somewhere." Giving me a flippant wave, she masked melancholy, pointing to a Jameson bottle. "Did you wish for a drink?"

"Yes." To my right, an amorous couple grope and openly dry hump against the bar. I pinned them with a short, infuriating glare, but they're too busy eating each other's mouths to notice my disapproval. "Take that shit somewhere else," I barked, shoving the man's shoulder, "or get the fuck out of my club."

"Whoa," the guy chimes, disjointing himself from the chick's sweat-slicked body. "Not cool, dude." He slapped a hand to my shoulder, breathing his cigarette stench on my cheek. "I'm trying to get laid," he whisper-failed in my ear; the girl heard. "You know how it is."

"I am not having sex with you." She scoffed, staring at him in repugnance. "Is that what you thought...?"

Pinching the bridge between my eyes, I drowned out their lovers' quarrel, their argument fade as she absquatulated with his whining, pathetic ass in tow. "That whiskey, Cher."

Cherry poured me a drink and slid the glass across the bar. "Shall I open a tab?" I shot her a disparaging look, and she held up her hands in surrender. "I was kidding, Mr Warren. You looked upset, so I wanted to cheer you up."

"Upset?" I asked incredulously, knocking back a shot. "Was that a serious question?"

I feigned indifference, but she's right. I am upset. Last night and this morning, I was enraptured by her—only her—Alexa Haines. The woman I love more than life itself. Now, though, saturating jealousy and unexplainable nausea tarnish our moment together.

Knowing Alexa laid down with another man is unbearably enigmatic. I want to kill him, Jace Williams, for touching her, for thinking he could even pursue her without consequence. Had she not pulled a gun on me this afternoon, he'd be dead already.

I stifled a sardonic chuckle.

Alexa Haines pointed a gun at my head to defend his honour. Me—Liam Warren. The audacity of that fucking woman. Does she not know me at all?

Of course, she knows me. I let her see the side of me that I conceal from others. She used my love and adoration against me.

In spite of my ignoble status and precarious capabilities, Alexa comprehends, deep down, I'd never hurt her. She sustained and outlived many of our inconclusive arguments. I bared my soul to her and unconsciously promised lifelong immunity.

Does Alexa's relationship with Jace necessitate declaration alteration? Will I dishonour prior assurances on the basis of insufferable bitterness and resentment?

No, even with this excruciating pain in my chest and sickening jealousy clouding my judgement, I cannot harm that woman; I'd kill myself first.

"I apologise," said Cherry, putting on a bogus smile to serve customers. "What can I get you, handsome?"

"Two gin and tonics," he asked, unzipping his wallet. "How much for a bottle of Disaronno?"

I unscrewed the bottle she left me, poured another shot and nursed its warm, palatable flavours on my tongue. To my left, a statuesque brown-haired woman pays a member of staff for a cocktail. She pops a straw in the glass and stirs, clanking ice cubes together.

Putting my side to the bar, I deliberately lowered my gaze to her mile-long, slender legs, pausing to admire her well-proportioned figure, busty cleavage and shapely backside, a figure-hugging dress accentuating her narrow waistline.

"Has anyone ever told you, it's rude to stare?" she purred, turning fully to face me. "Not that I'm complaining."

"Then there's no reason to pardon my discourteousness." Demonstrating chivalrousness is alien to me. I am ill-mannered, presumptuous and disrespectful—sue me. "Where are your friends?"

"Oh," she flung a dismissive hand towards gathered throngs on the dancefloor, "I haven't seen them for a while—too busy trying to score a pound-the-punani-pavement for later." Uncultivated and suddenly tasteless, she eyed me, a playful glimmer in her almond-shaped grey eyes. "Are you on the market, Mr Warren?" Her hand fell to my hip, curious fingers outlining the waistband of my jogging bottoms. "I hear you are," she cupped my groin, biting her bottom lip, "graced."

The DJ segued trance music, sporadic strobe and neon lights bordered our "possible" amorousness. Thunderous rowdiness and intermittent stark-white beams flashed as I dipped my head, mouth teasing the shell of her ear. I thought about taking her jaw in my hand and kissing those full plump lips, tasting the poison on her tongue.

Would it make me feel better?

I placed our glasses on the bar top, set my hand on her lower back and coaxed her to the private door, leading outback. I bypass security, hearing her giggle as she follows me upstairs. The men may be in my office, so I chose the private, prestige room, shoved her inside and locked the door.

"What's your name?" Selecting dim lighting, I grabbed her wrist, preventing her from getting comfortable on those chesterfield sofas. "Name?"

"Carol," she mewls, hands hugging my shoulders.

I thrust her back to the wall, buried my head on her shoulder, hands yanking up her dress. "I'm not in the mood for slow, Carol." I sank my teeth into the hollow flesh beneath her ear, pulling out my cock. "I can guarantee a good fuck, though."

Her mouth seeking my lips, she moaned. "Will there be lots of coming?"

Dodging her unwanted kisses, I inwardly cringed, stroking my semi-hard arousal. Tearing through the wrapper with my teeth, I rolled the condom down my length.

She wears no knickers, cunt dripping, clean-shaven and swollen.

Chest expanding on a strained inhale, I rubbed my shaft, setting a hand to the wall above her head.

She's adequately attractive, but her husky moans and irritating nail-clawing were foreign. It's no good; I always compare these women to Alexa. And it's infuriating, how she weakens and controls me. I am angry, morose, stationed by dejection and heartbreak, yet I stubbornly crave and yearn her assurances. I want her to expunge the revolting image of her and Jace from my head.

I see his hands on her, their passionate kiss and naked bodies. She moans his name, pulls him atop her and lets him take whatever he wants—and it's killing me.

Alexa is mine to own, to touch, to kiss, to pleasure. She belongs to me—only me.

"Fuck," I snapped, releasing the iron grip on my cock, regenerating blood flow.

"What?" she asked, hiking one leg around my waist, pulling me in. "Are you going to fuck me, Mr Warren?" Her sultry voice was ineffectual. "Hard, deep—"

"Shut up." Tugging off the condom, I tossed it in the bin and righted my trousers. "Pull your dress down and get out."

"What?" Her jaw skewed. "But you want it, so why deprive us?"

I frowned sharply. "If I fuck you..." I bite out, yanking down her dress skirt. It will be pleasurable and forgettable, a momentary escape for me to let go and release tension. And then, once we finish, harsh reality and repulsive regret. I'll still want Alexa, but punishing guilt will dilute the devoted reverence I harbour for that woman. Aside from self-reproach and this tempestuously overwrought wish to hate her, a lapse in judgment isn't the answer.

Carol studied me, confused and pucker-lipped. "Mr Warren?" I unlock and swing the door open, storming out without a sideways glance. "Mr Warren?" she called, her frustration peaking, emitting off her raging body. "You can't leave me unsatisfied."

I regarded security with a sharp glare. "Get rid of her."

He pushed himself away from the wall alongside a co-worker, unheeding Carol's confrontational exasperation, and sweet-talks her into going downstairs.

Resigning to light persuasion, she smiled fondly at them, nodding and walking ahead.

Before reaching my office door, where I detect raised voices, I paused to watch Carol eagerly stumble into another private suite and shake my head. Guard two mutes his earpiece and closes the door, concealing them in the soundproof room for an hour of pleasure-seeking decadence.

Clearing my throat, I jolted open my office door, clapped eyes on Hellen and reconsidered. Escaping her wrath was an unmanageable task, though. Her eyes connected with mine over Brad's shoulder, face turning beet-red in instantaneous indignation. "Where have you been?" Heels alternatively clicking against the floor, she stormed towards me, mascara-streaked cheeks, inflamed and blotchy. "I want answers right now, Liam!"

Brad gave me an apologetic smile, slumping onto the leather sofa beside Josh. Both men avoid my condemning eyes, busying themselves with pre-lit joints and whiskey refills.

"Liam," Hellen snatched my elbow, openly spurning my tracksuit, "what on earth are you wearing?"

Slapping off her touch, I head the minibar, uncap a bottle and pour myself a drink. "What does it look like, Hellen?"

"Well, it is hardly beau or dandy, Liam. Informally hideous rather." Her lips gnarled into a tight grimace. "You have some explaining to do."

Hellen was a curse of travail that I cannot withstand any longer. I splashed another shot in the glass, carried it to the desk and collapsed on my leather chair. "I answer to no one."

Brad's bored stupefaction morphed into mirth. Back to the leather, ankle bracketed to his knee, he respired marijuana pervaded smoke, goading Hellen with mischievous eyes. "What did I tell you, Bennett? Warren doesn't want to see your desperate backside right now." He gives her a cheeky wink. "Don't let the door hit you on the way out."

Nate chooses this maddening moment to join us. Suited to the nines in a royal blue suit, he glanced at Hellen, stifling apparent disgust, and hands me two folders.

I accept them but wait until Hellen fuck's off for me to discuss updates.

"Nobody asked you, Brad," she spat, ruffling her blonde, messy hair. "Why must you be an annoying parasite? Go and find something productive to do, you childish dimwit."

"Ouch." He slapped a hand on his chest, pretending to be offended. "A childish dimwit, Bennett. Your traumatising insult wounds me."

Snickering, Josh opened another file onto the coffee table, outlining possible alcohol suppliers for the casino.

Perching onto the edge of the desk, Nate weaves tattooed fingers together, watching Brad's and Hellen's exchange over his shoulder.

Hellen loathes Brad. It's easily perceptible for all to witness. She huffed out an intolerable breath, disregards his jarring chafing and slaps two palms onto my desk. Gallant and determined, she glared at me beneath knitted brows, awaiting a reasonable response to a question I had no desire to answer.

"Liam," she said, reining in her belligerence, "where have you been?"

Putting a cigarette between my lips, I matched a flame and inhaled a long drag. "It's none of your fucking business."

Nate shot me a questioning look. "Sir?"

Hellen fumed, red-faced and affronted. "I deserve answers. I called and sent many unanswered text messages, Liam. Aside from your conscious ignorance, another woman answered your phone." Her wet, doe eyes seared into me. "Who is she?"

Brad and Josh exchanged questioning glances. Nate, however, remained composed and unreadable under Hellen's watchful eye, not giving anything away.

I exhaled smoke.

When I didn't give her a reasonable explanation, she whacked the file organiser from off my desk, scattering unopened letters, important paperwork and relevant documentation across the floor. "You disgusting Casanova!" she shrieked, fresh tears brimming her rounded eyes. "How dare you insult our relationship? And with whom? A venereal, disease-ridden club whore?"

Nate clasped a hand to my shoulder, silently suggesting I let him address Hellen. He has no idea why I am on the verge of erupting, but he recognises the signs. "Miss Bennett," he drawled, fingers digging into my upper arm. "Mr Warren was away for a business meeting. Your ludicrous assumptions are unjustifiable and offensive. Perhaps you need a moment alone to calm down and compose yourself before you say something you might regret."

"A business trip with another woman," she fired back, glaring at me. "Who is she?"

I felt Brad's inquisitiveness radiating from his rigid body.

Relaxing in my chair, I kicked my feet onto the desk, jerking my chin to the door. "Get out."

"Sir," Nate hissed, standing to his full height. "The boss is a little upset, Hellen. I strongly suggest you give us a second—"

"I am not upset," I interceded, rubbing a hand down my irritable features. "I don't want to do this anymore, Hellen. It's over."

She flinched, taken aback. "You don't mean that!"

"Yes," I said angrily, bolting to my feet, "I do. You are so fucking—"

"Bossman," Brad chirped, rushing to my side, his wide eyes urging me to de-stress. "As much as I despise," he grunts, "Bennett, we all know how much she means to you. Let's not make a rash decision." With a click of the fingers, he orders Nate to escort Hellen out of the room. "Only ten minutes."

"No," she protested, "I want to discuss—"

"Miss Bennett," Nate offered amicable tolerance and a friendly smile, "I am going to show you around while the boss has a drink and cools off."

No amount of alcohol was capable of abating me.

Hellen sought my eyes, but I turned my back, watching the club unfold through the panoramic windows. I heard the door close behind them and breathed out a tired sigh.

"Josh," said Brad, pointing to the minibar, "go downstairs and stockpile some Macallan—come back in ten." He poured us another drink, delaying our conversation until left alone. "What happened?"

"I will not abide or afield that woman's relentless hounding any longer," I said acrimoniously. "I feel queasy by simply looking at her odious mug," I grated out, popping a jaw muscle. "She makes my skin crawl."

"Nate enlightened me," he admits, and I stared at him through dark, malevolent eyes. "You know how much I hate that bitch, but you have to finish the job, Boss." He eyed me, curious. "You were with Alexa, right?"

My heart palpitated. "Yes."

"Does she know?" he asked, and I shook my head. "Fuck. Why throw the towel in? You don't leave a job unfinished. That's not your style..." He tried to unearth answers, searching and reading my unfaltering aloofness. "Boss?"

"Alexa's with Jace." Nursing my whiskey, I strummed my fingers against the glass. "Alexa fucked another man, and I can't see beyond that."

"Shit," he whispered a curse, passing me a half-smoked joint. "Well, that kinda pisses me off. I like Alexa, but I don't appreciate someone playing you like that."

I noted the conflict in his eyes, and my blood ran hot. "Nobody harms a hair on that woman's head," I warned fiercely, and his fists tightened, knuckles cracking. "I mean it." I squared up to him, a deadly promise in my eyes. "I don't care how much she's deceived me, she's left unscathed, and that's a goddamn order. Second-in-command or not, I will fucking end you."

"I wasn't considering it," he clipped, shooting me scathing scowl. "Although, I must ask, why the exception? Are you vouching for her?"

"Damn right, I am." I sat on the desk lip, watching a skin-oiled dancer provocatively contortion around a pole. "I liked this girl once, Bronagh. I was only young, but I knew she was different from other girls I had my eye on."

He curbed an amused smirk, sitting beside me.

"I didn't know she had a boyfriend when we started fucking, or trying to fuck rather." I laughed at the ridiculousness. "My younger self stupidly thought we'd go the long haul. I wanted to wait until my eighteenth birthday, and then ask her to join me in central London—buy an apartment or something." I ingest shot three, letting the burn soothe my chest. "Much like yourself with Tiffany, I couldn't overlook her lies."

"Warranted," he said, understanding.

"I spent years living in shame and resenting everybody that wronged me." Gave up on me, I thought, respiring smoke. "So, I found self-worth and raised expectations. I am not an afterthought, second-best or a pastime. I am not settling or pathetically falling back into the trap of victimisation and self-pity. Bronagh proved to be another disappointment. Only, it was different because I hadn't experienced female dissatisfaction before."

I grabbed the ashtray on the desk and snubbed the joint. "After Bronagh, women were there at my disposal. I used them for sex, to keep me company, if and when needed and, as you are fundamentally aware, this lifestyle worked for me until Alexa. When the metropolitan pronounced her dead, I returned to the arms of women. It helped, but it didn't ease how much I missed her."

My calm demeanour betrayed how infuriated I felt inside. "And then, I find out she's not dead. In fact, she's very much alive. Her existence thrills me. I want to see her, to hold her, and to..." Assure her that everything is going to be okay. "To protect her in the only way I know how." Gelid numbness paralysed me. "Fuck, last night, when I finally had that woman in my arms? All was right in the world, Brad. But then that son of a bitch showed up." I exclude the fight and Alexa pulling a gun on me. "I want to kill them for wronging me, but I cannot picture a life without her. That's the bottom line. Without her at my side, I don't want to lead."

Brad hadn't uttered a word. He listened and digested my tiring, monotonous bullshit, patient and thoughtful. "Why did Alexa leave, Boss?"

I opened my mouth to respond, realising we hadn't reached a verdict. "I don't know."

"Okay." He stood, paced, stopped before me. "I am not going to pretend that I like Alexa right now. My loyalties lie with you. Anybody that hurts you?" he stressed, gesturing calmly. "Hurts me. It's as simple as that."

His allegiance doesn't surprise me. It's the reason he earned second-in-command.

"Is she in your corner or his?"

My throat felt tighter. "Alexa fought for us."

"She loves you," he said. "You know it; I know it. I can't answer your questions because that's on her. What I can do, however, is assure you that she's going nowhere. Finish the job with Hellen. Give Alexa answers. And then step back and let her evolve."

"I don't want her with him." My stomach knotted at the thought. "I can't believe I am saying this, but she can't keep the two of us, Brad. I am to be her first choice, or I walk away for good." Heart thudding, I briefly shut my eyes. "Fuck's sake. Even then, I wouldn't be able to turn my back on her. Do you know how much this fucks with my head?"

"Boss," he hummed, his watchful eyes steeped with merriment. "It's called love."

"Yeah?" I whispered, dropping my eyes to the floor. "Fuck love."

Chuckling dryly, he snatched the bottle from the desk, draining a swig. "I mean, Alexa's young. She suffered an ordeal and all that malarkey. It's not like you to sit back and wait, but if she's the end game, give her space, let her flourish, grow and adapt." He levelled me with his eyes. "Wait for her."

I hated that he was right. "And if she continues to sleep with him?"

"That's for you to decide." His lips flattened. "Come on, Boss. This isn't you. You spent months looking into empty bottles and fucking your way through women. Immaterial to this disadvantageously unfavourable situation, Alexa's back. You're still Liam Warren. Since when did London's most feared man sit in his office, crying over spilt milk?" He screwed up his face. "We got people to see, blood to spill. Screw your head together. You got men downstairs awaiting orders and that magnificently blissful woman chewing Nate's ear off while you ponder what to do with her." He snorts. "Don't you feel a little bit bad for the guy?"

Yeah, actually. Hellen's unremitting yapping becomes cumbersome after five minutes. "Send them in."

Brad, pleased his calming technique worked, used his phone to send orders.

By the time I showered and changed into a new suit, everyone had returned to my office. While the men converse around the table, Hellen sits elegantly in my chair, drumming her manicured fingernails on the armrests.

Summoning little persistence, I muffled the men's conversation, parked my backside on the desk and confronted the distressed blonde. Glaring at me with maddening antipathy, she crossed her legs, giving me a clear view of her white laced thong. "Hellen," I said, short but poised. "You look ravishing as always."

She dabbed her red nose with a bunched-up tissue. "Before we go any further, I must know who answered your phone, Liam."

"I don't know," I lied, evoked by images of an infuriated Alexa. "I lost my phone this afternoon." Partly true. It's currently at the bed-and-breakfast, broken and damaged. "Nate will deliver another shortly."

Straightening her slouched posture, she put her clasped hands on one knee. "Why should I believe you?"

"I have no reason to be with another woman," I assured, pulling her close and trapping her in my arms. "You fulfil my every need, Hellen. Don't insult yourself."

If she was unsure or suspecting, she didn't show it. Her sadness quickly dissolved, a fond smile taking its place. "Well, certainly, I wondered why you'd do something so irresponsible, Liam." Snaking her arms around my neck, she peppered kisses to my jaw, melting against me. "That woman had caught me off guard, though. I don't think I've ever been so inarticulate." She nibbled my earlobe, suffocating and repulsive. "I owe you an apology, then. Why don't you send away the minions and let me ease the strain in your trousers?"

No, I cannot tolerate another session with this woman. For years, I overindulged with women. Even if Alexa and I are over, truly over, I repudiate sexual fulfilment. I mightn't express innermost thoughts, but I require restorative celibacy.

Brad's right. I got enough dilemmas to contend myself. "Not tonight." Rubbing the chill from her arms, I lingered a kiss to her collarbone. "I am to attend a meeting soon." She tilted her head, unappeased by my lack of desire. "One of my men will escort you home, Hellen. Perhaps you can join me on Wednesday. There's a new wine bar that I'd like to show you."

She reluctantly surrendered, finishing her neat whiskey. "I spoke to Larry regarding the banquet, Liam. He's expecting your arrival as my date." She smiled gleefully, and my insides clenched. "However, he insists that your men aren't necessary for attendance."

To hell with this fucking bitch. "Security is non-negotiable, Hellen."

"We have bountiful security at City Hall—"

"To protect him!" I barked, anger burning up from my core. "Hellen, you know who I am so cut the shit. If I leave without the men, I am exposing myself to possible threats."

"Okay, well, they can chaperon you to the venue, Liam; however, Larry insisted on leaving unrequired guards outdoors."

"I thought we agreed not to disclose our relationship?" My eyes honed in on her face. "I imagine he's less than impressed."

"He's hardly ecstatic," she mumbled, pinching her pearl necklace, rolling the beads between her fingers. "Be reasonable, Liam. What father wants his daughter dating a renowned criminal?"

I gave her a guileful smile. "Of course."

"Not that I care," she stuttered, alarmed by my sudden coldness. "Who I choose to love is not for him to decide, but I'd prefer if you two got along, to make for an easy life."

Brad gasped and choked, the earwigging bastard.

My muscles tensed. "Love?"

Her cheeks pinken. "Isn't it obvious?"

Rendered speechless, I coughed into a closed fist, tapering down shock. I knew Hellen felt somewhat affectionate towards me, but her declaration of love was moronic. "I am not there yet," I said, selecting my words wisely. "But I care about you, Hellen."

My response struck a nerve. Lifting her chin, she hollowed her cheeks, breathing to reduce threatening tears. "Yes, well, absolutely."

I want her out of my club.

"Josh," I called, and he scampered to his feet. "Ensure Hellen's dropped home safely." I squeezed her hip, dropping a chaste kiss to her cheek. "I'll call you on Wednesday, once my phone arrives."

"Sure." Shrugging, she pinched my chin, tugged me in and welded a warm kiss to my lips.

I didn't reciprocate her keenness, hand fisting the back of her dress, subtly disconnecting her from my mouth.

She patted my behind. "Goodnight, Liam."

I held her gaze as she swayed out of the office. The second Josh closed the door, I inhaled, releasing intervals of breath. "I need a release."

Nate slipped a hand inside his inner suit jacket. "For you." He tossed me a small bag of cocaine and began collecting strewn paperwork from off the floor. "I received two emails this morning."

I opened the bag and keyed sniff to my nostril. "Go on."

"Are you familiar with the name Vincent Wentworth?"

I looked at Brad. "Past encounters?"

"No," he said, itching his chin. "His name doesn't ring any bells."

"It's not the first time Vincent's called or emailed," Nate continues, handing me printed copies. "When I checked the server, his name flashed, and a myriad of past emails appeared. I might have shown you before, or It's possible I overlooked them."

Nate only relays continuous requests or demands. Judging by the print outs, Vincent only appeals for a private meeting every five months. "What does he want?"

"No idea." Nate turned the page, showing me highlighted passages. "This last email caught my attention, though. Mr Wentworth made two claims. One, Alexa Haines' whereabouts, which we now know. Two, he argued back and forth that he knows who aimed fire at Mario's the other night."

Both statements intrigued me. I noted Vincent mentioned females in the email. "How does he know Alexa's location?" Who the fuck is this prick? "And this man, Vincent, how can he be cognizant of the attack if not an active participant?"

Nate considered his answer. "Do you want me to track him down?"

Another fucking headache. "Yes, I want details on my desk by the morning." Nate closed the file and headed for the door. Before Brad left, I clutched his elbow. "Vincent highlighted women in the email. Cora filed a complaint regarding a female client inappropriately groping her inside the diamond suite. Is she on shift?"

Brad glimpsed at his watch. "Cora's due in around twelve."

I opened the desk drawer, found the complaint form and passed it to him. "I want you to sit with Cora and do a thorough investigation. She mentioned the woman's lewd behaviour seemed staged. Find out if there's a possible link between that woman," I pointed to the description, "and the one Vincent mentioned in the email."

He dipped his head. "Boss."

I pull the chair back behind my desk, pick up the company phone and dial the number to Heather's bed-and-breakfast. After four rings, the innkeeper answered, "Good evening. I am not open for business—"

"I need to speak with Alexa," I cut her off. "Don't hang up. It's urgent."

Heather paused. "One moment."

The famous opus number one hold music began to serenade in my ear. I tapped a pen on the desk, heart rate speeding up. When the music stops, I hold my breath, anticipating Heather's threatening speech. "Liam?" Alexa's voice replaced the tune, and an automatic smile danced on my lips. "Is everything okay?"

No, baby. I hate how much we hurt each other, but I won't rest tonight if I don't speak to you. "Do you know anyone named Vincent Wentworth?"

"No," she confirmed my suspicions. "Why?"

"I'm sending a line of security to Heather's."

"I am not living with the Suits, Liam. Besides, it'll frighten Heather."

"Outdoors, on-guard and Bentleys. It's not up for debate, Alexa."

She sighed into the receiver. "Am I in danger?"

"No," I half-lied. I wasn't sure, but risking her wasn't an option. "Just trust me."

"What about you?"

"What about me?"

"Are you in danger?"

Fuck, I love her. "Have you met me?"

Her soft laughter warmed me. "That's not reassuring, Liam."

"I'll be fine." I sank back in my seat, the heel of my hand kneading my chest. "It's you, I worry about."

Long-drawn-out silence strained between us. "For what it's worth," she whispered, "I really do love you, Liam."

"Same, baby." I dislodged the knot in my throat. "Same."

She ended the call. I almost redialled, remembered Brad's advice and set the phone aside.

I am weak for that woman.


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