SACRIFICE (Book Two: The London Crime King)

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CH 40

Liam

Food might be seductive and decadent, but I have scant cooking skills. In all honesty, I don’t need culinary qualifications for a key to prerequisite gastronomical success. To dine and eat gourmet, I send the men to exclusive, high rated restaurants to collect pre-arranged orders and delve into convenient, prepared meals with gusto.

Situated in the large open concept of the living room, the cavernous, contemporary modernised L-shaped kitchen with quartz countertops, top-the-line stainless steel appliances, extensive marble and panoramic views of London, is the quintessential place to cook up a storm. Yet, the only worn utilisation so happens to be the coffee machine.

I sipped black coffee, half-heartedly scrambling eggs in the frying pan. The goal was feta and semi-dried tomato omelette, but the catastrophic concoction had a mind of its own.

Ladling a colourful shambles onto a plate, I picked up a fork, stabbed yellow fluff and chewed its unappetising, malleable consistency.

“Good morning,” Alexa chimes, enfolding her arms around my waist. “Oh, that looks and smells delicious.”

It is unpalatable and, on the face of it, misleading. “Try the bacon instead.” I dropped a kiss to her temple from over my shoulder and passed her a plate of prepared food.

Keeping her arm around me, she sets the dish on the counter, added a heap of chaotic eggs and forked a combination of skewered rations to her mouth.

I stared, awaited her wrinkled nose and dissatisfied grimace.

“Liam, this is so good,” she said, and my brows shot to my hairline in disbelief. “I wish I could cook like you.”

Fuck. If I am a better candidate for cooking, we have some severe nourishment problems. “You don’t need to lie, Alexa. I know the eggs lack edibleness.”

“What?” she asked, stuffing the corner of her mouth like a hamster. “That’s your entitlement talking, Liam. There’s nothing wrong with these eggs. Trust me,” she stressed, giving me a knowing look, “if you had my burnt egg whites to compare, you’d learn the real definition of unacceptable and possibly poisonous fodder.”

Resting my back to the counter, I used a grey tea towel to wipe my hands. “Are you still existing on ice cream?”

“That, vodka and takeaway.” Frowning, she counted on her fingers. “I lie. Heather bakes a lot of cakes. I pack them away, too.”

I found myself examining her slim frame, trying to fathom where she packed those pounds.

As if sensing my scrutiny, Alexa peered up at me from beneath her lashes, dismantling buttery toast with shaking fingers. “What?”

She wears an oversized T-shirt, courtesy of my wardrobe, hair knotted atop her head, demeanour relaxed and comfortable. “You look beautiful.” Towing one arm around her, I brushed my knuckles along her jawline. “I love seeing you in my clothes.”

Tilting her head, she puckered her lips. “This T-shirt smells like you,” she whispered, waiting for my mouth. “Don’t make me beg, Mr Warren.”

Pinching her chin between my thumb and forefinger, I angled her head to my liking, lingered a soft, deliberate kiss to her pouting lips. “How can it smell like me, Alexa. It still had the tag on before you stole it from the drawer.”

“I know.” She was all smiles as she kissed me. “I sprayed it with Clive.”

“You wasted Clive Christian to attend adequate breakfast,” I half-joked, snatching a handful of her ass. “Surely your rebelliousness requires punishment, Miss Haines.” I hoisted the chuckling woman onto the counter, settled between her legs and smoothed two palms over her thighs. “Where should I start?” I tugged her bottom lip with my teeth, enough to cause a sting. “Here?”

Tossing the half-eaten toast aside, she coiled her arms around my shoulders, putting us eye-level. “Are we free from prying eyes?”

It took me a moment to grasp her question. “Yes.”

Nate escorted a troubled, lamenting Blaire out of the penthouse while Alexa rested. I hadn’t left my woman’s side to watch the show unfold, though.

For an inexplicable reason, Blaire’s developed an infatuated bond with me, so living with Nate, under his supervision, might be the life-altering change necessitated.

Displeasure painted Alexa’s features. “Why was she here, Liam?”

Is it insensitive to say Blaire reminded me of Alexa? It’s the truth. I saw a young, broken girl, who, not only resembled the woman I lost but endured the precision of Alexa’s traumatic past.

“Blaire’s one of Bajramovic’s victims,” I explained, brushing-over the night I found the girl inside the squalid cavity, and the time she entered the bedroom, allowing me to believe she was Alexa. “I offered her safety and respite.”

A question brews in Alexa’s eyes. “That’s quite sad,” she whispered, her mind solivagant for a few minutes. “I feel bad for being rude now.”

“No,” I pacified, and her shamefaced expression desiccated. “Blaire’s not our problem, right? Let Nate whip her into shape.” Placing a mug onto the coffee stand, I selected a latte and the scent of hazelnut coffee brewed. “Here.”

Accepting a warm beverage, she blew over the surface and sipped. “Oh, I love this.”

“An inexhaustible supply.” Beside the toaster, my phone jitters, a silent call from Brad. “So, I was thinking—”

“Did it hurt?” she asked, and I shot her a quizzical frown. “Sorry, it was a joke.” Grimace lines rutted her forehead. “Shit. Your solemnity unnerves me, Liam.”

I remove the mug from her clasped hands, put it on the side. “Alexa, I have given you no reason to feel demoralised or discouraged.” Her anxious countenance sharpened. “What’s bothering you?”

“I love spending time with you.” Sliding off the counter, pacing the kitchen, she plucked up an apple from the fruit bowl, juggling from hand to hand. “But the city believes I died the night of the fire. Isn’t staged-death illegal? How am I supposed to come home, as Alexa Haines, and dodge criminal charges?”

“Yes, pseudocide, unfortunately, has no limitations when defrauding the courts of justice, but you didn’t fake your death, Alexa.” Folding my arms, I considered arranging a private meeting to discuss this matter with Reginald. “Tell them the truth. I’ll explain the situation to Reginald—”

“It’s not that simple, Liam.” Nervous, she chewed the corner of her lower lip. “They’ll wonder why I didn’t leave the compound with Jace.” Her face paled with each passing second. “Plus, I kinda stole some money from these, like, high-net-worth individuals.”

Nate mentioned the promiscuous Victoria flaunted cash on a panoply of designer shoes and garments. I had questioned her on this before. “Go on.”

“So, Jace is, like, a self-taught hacktivist or something...”

“Alexa,” I narrowed my eyes, “get to the point.”

“He uses his tech-savvy skillset to login to peoples credentials and financial information to penetrate malware or something...”

“Or something,” I repeated, intrigued and frustrated. “Care to elaborate further, Alexa, or must I unceasingly ask you to proceed?”

“Okay, in a nutshell, he steals funds from chauvinistic pigs, who cheat on their wives, wires the money to offshore accounts, or phantom bank accounts for us to, at a later date, withdraw under falsified codes.” Her cheeks dusted to a hot flush. “So, yeah, I—we, the two of us—have a lot of money hiding in all these nooks and crannies.”

“And these chauvinistic pigs,” I reiterated, feeling impossible rage clawing its way to my chest. “Should your evasiveness concern me? You assured me once that your petty pilfering was under control.” And that she never touched those men. “What changed?”

“I mean,” she flicked a flippant hand, “I don’t believe these men will come forward, or, at least, I hope not. If they did, then, well, they’d have to endure an extremely uncomfortable conversation with their wives. And, let’s be honest, no man wants to admit he pays for sex—not that I did anything of the sort—but that’s the type of sleazes I dealt with. Married, family men, who lead double lives.”

I believed her. “Again, It’s nothing Reginald can’t straighten out.”

Her lips meshed. “What if I told you some of those men were plutocracies?”

“You fucked with the parliamentary system?” I barked, and she nodded. “Alexa, what the fuck? Are you an idiot?” I am going to kill him. “Jace, the son of a bitch is dead—”

“No, Liam,” she argued, cupping my neck, forcing me to look at her. “You cannot blame another person for my behaviour. I must be held accountable for my actions.”

“That’s not you,” I retort, prying off her hands. “Alexa Haines, she’s smart, modest and humble. She doesn’t go around with a goddamn gun, threatening innocent men for their wealth. I will not fain to believe that jumped up cunt didn’t force this foolishness on you.”

“Do not feed me that honourability crap, Liam.” She stepped back, reining in her defensiveness. “You kill men for sport, so don’t stand there and preach dishonourable depths to me. You, of all people, are in no position to reproach or admonish me.”

“Touché,” I mocked, jerking my chin to the double-doors. “I’m about to jump the balcony. Are you going to comply and accompany me?”

Alexa bristled, hardening her irked expression.

“Do not simplify your senseless behaviour by comparing our state of affairs. If you make a mistake? Own it. I can work with that. As for the juxtaposition of our criminal activities? Call it hypocrisy, Alexa. I don’t want the love of my fucking life facing the aftermath of racketeering—fucking sue me. The difference between you and me?” I let that hang in the air. “I can handle incarceration, can you?”

There was a pregnant pause.

Capitulating to my extemporaneous lecture, Alexa, sickly pale and pallid, withered back into her protective shell.

“I got more money than sense. If you need something, anything, it’s on me to provide that in abundance.” I was angry, but her woeful smile and curt, acquiescent nod hit me hard in the chest. “I appreciate my deliveries often precipitate, but Alexa, my heart’s in the right place. I only want to do right by you.”

“I know, Liam.” She moved to leave the kitchen, but I caught her hand, wrenching her into my arms. “Liam—”

“No more running,” I said huskily, forcing myself into a calm state. “Enough of the impromptu decision making, Alexa. if you have a problem with me, then bring it to my attention.”

“It’s not you,” she said, hands to her mouth. “How do I fix this?”

“You let me take care of the paperwork,” I affirmed, kissing the crease between her drawn brows. I need to change the subject—put a smile on her distressed face. “Fancy a day in bed? Movies,” I opened the fridge-freezer, pointing to the various ice cream flavours, “and sharing one of those?”

Eyes brightening at the sight of her favourite sugar-rush, she selected interspersing gelato with caramelised pecans and white chocolate truffles. “What is this?” Shaking the tub with investigating vigour, she popped off the lid and swallowed salivating cravings. “Are those chocolate-coated pearls?”

How the fuck should I know?

“Liam, we can’t eat this,” she said with a stern frown, returning the lid. “It’s artisan ice cream.”

“Shut up,” I scold, getting a spoon out of the drawer. “Go on. Knock yourself you.”

“Well, if you insist.” Pulling herself onto the kitchen counter, she lost the lid and delved in with heavenly delight. Sucking frosted heap into her mouth, she licked her upper lip, paused. “Fuck.”

“What?” Scowling, I peered into the tub. “Overrated?”

“Underrated,” she corrected, spooning a taster for me. “Go on, Liam. Break the rules. Go wild.” Her eyebrows danced mischievously. “What? Oh, come on. A bit of sugar isn’t harmful or going to blubber your physique. You snort coca—”

“Enough.” Holding her wrist, I angled the spoon, tasting rich chocolate on my tongue. “I don’t understand the hype.”

Affronted, she scoffed. “Where did you get it?”

“Selfridges.” Heading to the balcony, I unlocked the door and stepped out for a cigarette. “I had one of the men pick them up for you.”

Alexa followed me outside, settling on a chair to admire the views. “I love it our here,” she mused, spooning through icy layers to pick out truffles. “It’s peaceful.” Extracting melted ice cream from her thumb, she repositioned the lid and put everything onto the bistro table. “So, movies?”

“You decide,” I mumbled, lighting a cigarette. “None of that soppy shit, though.”

She pondered for a brief second. “What about a romantic comedy?”

Fuck, she’s sending me to my premature death. “No.”

“Okay, how about fantasy? I love paranormal—”

“No.” Yes, she’s determined to torture me. “Anything but that.”

“What about a classic or musical?”

“Alexa, for fuck’s sake. Why not a thriller or a horror movie?”

Puckering her brow, she rested her chin on a tight fist. “Liam?”

I blew out a veil of smoke. “Yes, baby.”

“Why make me jog through genres if you were dead set on blood, guts and cringeworthy demonic possession movies?”

Fucking hell. I can’t even debate because she’s right.

“A horror, then.” She laughed, eyes widening at the absurdity. “Is it pathetic that a lazy day in bed with you excites me?”

My merriment wavered. “No, Alexa. A movie day with you in my arms is the exactness of perfect.”

***

Hiding her face behind rigid fingers, Alexa, togged-up in my jogging bottoms and hoodie, watches the suspenseful moment where Doug’s about to kill the mutant, Pluto. “What is he waiting for?” she asked, her breathless voice strained. “Why is he crying, Liam?”

Balancing a plastic bowl on my lap, I tossed popcorn kernels in my mouth. “I don’t know, Alexa.”

“Oh, God.” Slapping a hand over her eyes, she evaded the taunting knife scene, breathing coming in laborious and thick. “Liam, why are they doing this?”

“I don’t know, Alexa.” Kicking my feet onto the coffee table, I grabbed the Macallan bottle and poured myself a refill. “Why don’t you watch it properly and find out.”

Alexa, mustering bravery, lowered her hands and exchanged her shield for the black duvet she pinched from the master bedroom. “Dear. Fucking. Lord.” During an overdramatised myoclonic fit, she fused her back to the leather sofa, knocking the ice blocks in my glass. “Liam, I hate horror movies. The victims are so stupid. They always, with no avail, walk straight into the firing line and invite barbaric humans to gnaw their flesh. Who does that?” Her round, panicked eyes lasered into me. “Doug—shit,” she shrieked, ducking her head under the blanket. “Liam, did you see that? Oh, God. I can’t stomach this any longer. Why do they collect human body parts? Why must those mutant looking lunatics rape the women?” she blathered question after question, the clamorous, side-shattering screams rolling in the background. “Liam, why does Pluto have a mangled up face?”

“I don’t know, Alexa,” I joshed, expressionless yet inwardly enlivened by her thespian performance. “Shall I pause the movie and ask him?”

She turned at the waist, giving me a deploring glare. “Was that your idea of a joke?”

I found it funny. “They are an inbred cannibal cult who trap, terrorise and murder victims.”

Stone-faced, she snuggled closer, flicking a nervous glance to the wall-mounted television. “Why?”

“What’s the question?”

“Why do Pluto and his inbreeding, cannibalistic accomplices gallivant through those hills and prey on innocent people?” Another gruesome scene flashed on the screen, and she nuzzled her face in the groove of my neck, cocking a leg over my waist. “Can you move the bowl please?”

I set the bowl on the floor, sipped and savoured the taste of whiskey. “It’s just a film, Alexa.”

Her eyelashes fluttered open. “Weren’t you a little bit on the edge of your seat?”

I mightn’t eat my victims, but I have done far worse than slam hatchet down on somebodies head. Bloodied organs and pained screams don’t faze me. I can eat a three-course meal to slaughtering screams in the foreground without so much as batting an eyelid.

On the coffee table, my phone screen illuminated. It’s Brad. He’s called me tirelessly throughout the day and sent an array of text messages. He’s likely sat inside my office at Club 11, ripping his ever-growing hair out in frustration—the man loses his shit when his boss isn’t around. I haven’t responded to him. I wanted one undisturbed day with my woman.

Is that too much to ask?

I missed her, and it is evident how much we needed this time together. Nothing thrilling or spontaneous. Old movies, refreshments, a makeshift bed on the sofa, her at my side is what I call heaven. “I love you.” Snaking my arm around her waist, I pulled her in, close, breathed in the rose-scented smell of her shampoo.

Alexa’s fingers carved the line of my jaw. “I don’t want to watch this movie anymore.”

“No?” Downing the rest of my drink, I set the glass on the floor and pointed the remote control at the television. “Okay, for you, I can sustain something fluffier.” Scanning the romance section, I clicked through certain actors. “What about Pearl Harbor?” Yes, it has all the romanticising feels for her, but the action is top notch. “That’s a bit of a compromise.”

Sitting taller, Alexa took the remote from my hand, chucked it over her shoulder and peeled off her hoodie.

My evasive mask stayed in place but those puckered nipples, mouthwateringly inviting.

Keeping the blanket around her back, satin tight in her fists, she straddled my thighs, looking at me in a way that exposes innermost vulnerabilities.

My knuckles skirted up her stomach, delaying between her breasts. Pushing the blanket from her shoulders, exposing her transfixing body, I palmed her back, thumb scaling the length of her spine. At my touch, goosebumps coursed her heated skin, sending a dusted flush to her cheeks. “Alexa,” I said hoarsely, snatching hold of her trouser waistband. “Take it off.” Hand using the sofa rear for support, she shimmied the slacks from her legs, kicking them to the floor. “Bend for me.”

With bated breath, she positioned her knees and lowered her back to my outstretched legs, elegantly curving her spine. Holding her waist, I dipped my head, whispered a teasing kiss to her navel, descending to her centre. Flattening my tongue, I stroked the tip through her cleft, sucked them, paid scarce attention to her favoured place.

I watched her chest rise and falls as she sustained resilience, eager to hear those low, muffled moans as I drove her pleasure.

Blowing a kiss to her sex, I suckled her pulsating core, nibbled and taunted.

“Liam,” she moaned my name, and my cock stood to attention. “Oh, God.”

Fingers marring her waistline, I plunged deeper with fierce tongue strokes, lapping and tasting, devouring ravenously. I rubbed over the material of my straining cock, easing the ache. “You cum with me,” I rasped, weaving our fingers, tugging her to me.

Cheeks red and hot, Alexa nods in a daze, eyes never steering from mine. She gripped my trouser waistband, and I lifted my hips, helping her pull them down.

My cock fell heavy against my thigh. I grasped the base and rubbed from root to tip. “You need to get back on contraception.” I wanted my woman bare, nothing between us. “Do you need me to arrange it?”

She repositioned over me, knees digging into the leather. “No, I can handle it.”

I obtained my wallet on the floor, uprooted a foil packet, tore through the wrapper and sheathed myself.

Coiling her fingers around my elongating shaft, she lined me up and watched the place of our merger as she eased down. “Liam,” she hummed, pausing to adjust. “I love this position, but you’re too...” She noted my gloating smirk and rolled her eyes. “Will you get over it already.”

“It’s hard to forget.” I massaged her clit with my thumb, helping her relax. “You remind me,” I smacked her backside, and she winced, “every time you saddle up.” Massaging the sting I put to her cheek, I shifted to get comfortable, twisting to settle my feet to the ground. “Fuck me.” I gave her a low, savage growl. “Alexa.”

With my hands on her hips, I brought her down, making her accommodate me, paused a beat, and then held her ass, coaxing her to take me, hard, fast, enough to bring me to my knees.

Mouth parting on an erotic moan, hands hugging my shoulders, she rolled her hips, her muscles clenching around my shaft.

“That’s it,” I groaned, keeping her hair in an agonising grip. “Harder.”

My cock drove deeper, buried, entrenched. Her ass cheeks slapped against my thighs with each determined bounce, quite literally fucking me into submission.

I laid onto the sofa and watched her beautiful body working mine below cinched brows. I couldn’t breathe, think, or see beyond momentary impaired vision. I did, however, overhear raised, feverish voices from the hallway.

“Liam,” Alexa cried out, and fuck, she’s close. “I—”

Pulling her across my chest, I wrapped my arms around her body and thrust with anxious, piston speed. I didn’t want to rush or deny her, but I recognised Brad’s yelling echoing from the lobby—something was wrong.

“Let go for me,” I breathed into her mouth, giving her long, meaningful strokes. “Alexa—”

Her mouth slanted over my lips, tongue dancing with mine. I wasn’t close, nowhere near, but when she moaned my name and milked my cock, I saw fucking stars. Her muscles clenched around me, draining every jerked drop I had to offer. “Holy shit,” she mumbled onto my chest. “I don’t know what happened.”

Brad’s confrontation advanced. “Alexa,” I sat up, gripped the discarded joggers from my floor and wiped the sweat from her back. “You need to—”

“Don’t fuck with me,” Brad barked, and Alexa’s gaze clung to the front door. “I mean it, Bennett.”

I pushed to my feet, scampering for clothes. “Alexa,” I whisper-shouted, discarding the condom, tugging on a pair of bottoms. “You need to hide.”

Her cheeks burnt red. “I am not hiding because that toffee-nosed bitch—”

“Baby,” I cupped her face, kissing her cheek, “please trust me. I love you. I’ll explain everything later, but for now, I need you to get that sweet ass inside my bedroom and lock the door.” Brad hammered a fist against my front door—his way of alerting me. “Alexa—”

“Fine.” Snatching the duvet, she cocooned herself, seized the popcorn bowl and sauntered down the hall. “Asshole,” she muttered under her breath, slamming the bedroom door.

Spearing a hand through my hair, I collected any evidence of Alexa from the living room, stuffed everything inside a kitchen cupboard and opened the balcony doors so that a refreshing breeze can waver the scent of sex.

Double-checking the room one final time, I fixed my hair, brushed off my jaw and swung open the front door.

Tailored and dishevelled, Brad’s impassive expression exposed nothing, but the subtle thumb and forefinger taps told me the severity of this unwanted visit.

“Liam,” Hellen yelled, shouldering past my right-hand man and storming into my private space. “Who is she?”

“I told her you were under the weather,” Brad said, quick to intervene. “Apparently, someone informed her of another woman.” Pinching the bridge between his eyes, he breathed out a tired sigh. “Bennett refuses to give away her source, though.” He points to the raging bitch. “Her words.”

“Hellen,” I said calmly, scratching my bare chest. “Your serendipitous visit thrills me, but I don’t appreciate you interrogating one of my men or your groundless accusations.”

“Do you think I was born yesterday?” Hands settling on her hips, she squared up to me, eyes brimmed red from hours of crying. “I want to know who she is, right now.” When I didn’t respond, she snorted, dabbing her flushed nose with curled-up tissue. “Larry was right. You are a filthy Casanova.”

Larry can get fucked.

“If you don’t tell me what’s going on, I am ending this charade once and for all,” she threatened, her feral eyes bouncing around the penthouse, looking for verification. Murderous stare landing on the balcony doors, she straightened her posture and marched towards it with determined strides.

I shared an amused look with Brad and, in tandem, we trailed behind the woman, onto the balcony. I felt confident but worried Alexa was blowing a gasket in the bedroom.

Hellen, stropping with her hands on her hips, studied the melted ice cream tub. “You don’t like ice cream.” Wicked assurance honed her eyes. “You told me as much, too.”

I don’t remember upholding that conversation.

“Are you finished flouncing around like a baghead, Bennett?” Brad crossed his arms and ankles, resting a shoulder to the door frame. “If you’d of listened to me? Could have saved ourselves a tedious car journey.”

“You can wipe that smirk off your face, Brad,” she spat, flinging her doused tissue at him, which merely bounced off his shoulder, rolling on the floor. “As if I’d take your word. You’d cover for him regardless.”

Hellen snivelled, wiping mascara stains from her cheeks. Her eyes lifted to meet mine, and I waited for a vociferous lambasting. “I need a drink,” she said instead, ducking back into the penthouse. “And a bathroom break.”

Panic jerked me into action. “Hellen,” I yelled, shoving past Brad, chasing her across the living quarter. “Wait—”

“Screw you, Liam,” she blathered, sprinting to the master bedroom. “I know she’s here!”

At this point in life, I no longer cared. I slowed my pace, watched her fling open the bedroom door and prepared myself for whatever transpired. But if that woman lays one finger on Alexa? I’ll blow her fucking brains out.

I reached the bedroom, furtively glancing to find Alexa. I wondered whether she rolled under the bed, but when Hellen fell to her knees to look and returned unstuck, worry lines formed on my forehead.

Hellen turns on the bathroom light, hunts for a potential female, and then repeats the process inside the walk-in wardrobe. “I thought...” Opening cupboards, combing through clothes rails, she roams around like a ruffled up peacock. “Liam, I was almost sure...”

I didn’t care about Hellen or her feelings. I wanted to know how Alexa managed to disappear into thin air.

“Oh, this is humiliating.” She sagged onto the foot of the bed, ready to take off her shoes.

“No,” I snapped, and she wilted. “You do not get to come here and climb into my bed. Not after that display of distrust, Hellen.”

Her bottom lip quivered. “I’m sorry.”

I scratched the back of my neck, pondering how to get rid of her. “I need some time to think.”

“Liam, please don’t break up with me.” Her nervousness increased as she gravitated toward me. “Please, forgive me. It was a misunderstanding.” Cupping my cheeks, she pressed a kiss to my chin. “I’ll go home and let you calm down. Don’t make rash decisions based on one blooper, Liam.” Hugging me, she nestled on my chest, desperate for assurance and comfort. “I love you.”

Fucking hell. Alexa didn’t need to hear that. I closed my eyes, biting back a wince. “You should go.”

Nodding, she used the back of her hand to clear tears. “Okay,” she whispered, lingering a kiss to the corner of my mouth. “I...” Holding onto her dignity, she suppressed further conversations and exited the bedroom, her high-heeled shoes scraping on the floor.

I hear Brad order one of the men to escort her home.

When the front door slammed, I breathed out the breath I was holding. “Alexa?” Rechecking beneath the bed, I moved boxed memorabilia aside, dread weighing on my restricted chest.

“Alexa?” Poking out from the black suede curtains, I see red-polished toenails. Swallowing a painful lump, I rounded the king-sized bed, pulled the curtain back and found a crouched Alexa by the window.

Lifting her head, she gave me a stone-cold glare, frame hidden by my black training hoodie. “I feel sick to my stomach.” Standing in a swift movement, she shot past me, into the walk-in wardrobe, pinching a pair of socks. “I hate that bitch, and I don’t even know why. Technically, she hasn’t done anything wrong. If anything, you warrant my anger and frustration .” She towed socks up her legs, folded them at the ankles, and then pulled her long hair into a tight ponytail. “She kissed you.”

On instinct, I rubbed a thumb over my lips, removing Hellen’s undesired affections. “I never—”

“I don’t care,” she lied, looking everywhere but me. “Do you think Brad will drive me home?”

“I can drive you to Heather’s place.” Her ignorance made me rife with frustration. “What’s with the coldness, Alexa? I said I’d explain everything. Did I not? Hellen—”

“You told me that you’d end it with her.”

My incredulous expression held. “That was before I found out about you and Jace. Since then, I hadn’t given it much thought.” That’s a lie. I had contemplated terminating the plan, but Brad had a compelling argument. “By Saturday, it’ll be over, Alexa.”

Her contemptuous smile failed to soothe my wild heartbeat. “What’s happening on Saturday?”

“The syndicate is launching an attack on City Hall to ambuscade the Mayor of London.” In three powerful strides, I towered above her immobilised form, gripped her jaw and put our foreheads together. “And you’re going to help us.”

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