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Twisted Love: Chapter 2

Alex

“We should takethis somewhere more…private.” The blonde trailed her fingers down my arm, her hazel eyes bright with invitation as she swiped her tongue over her bottom lip. “Or not. Whatever you’re into.”

My lips curved—not enough to classify as a smile, but enough to broadcast my thoughts. You can’t handle what I’m into.

Despite her short, tight dress and suggestive words, she looked like the type who expected sweet nothings and lovemaking in bed.

I didn’t do sweet nothings or lovemaking.

I fucked a certain way, and only a specific type of woman was into that shit. Not hardcore BDSM, but not soft. No kissing, no face-to-face contact. Women agreed, then tried to change it up halfway through, after which I’d stop and show them the door. I have no tolerance for people who can’t keep to a simple agreement.

That was why I stuck to a roster of familiar rotating names when I needed a release; both sides knew what to expect.

The blonde was not making it onto that roster.

“Not tonight.” I swirled the ice in my glass. “It’s my friend’s farewell party.”

She followed my gaze toward Josh, who was basking in female attention of his own. He sprawled on the couch, one of the few remaining pieces of furniture after he’d packed the house up in anticipation of his year abroad, and grinned while three women fawned over him. He’d always been the charming one. While I put people on edge, he put them at ease, and his approach toward the fairer sex was the opposite of mine. The more, the merrier, according to Josh. He’d probably fucked half the D.C. metro area’s female population by now.

“He can join too.” The blonde edged closer until her tits grazed my arm. “I don’t mind.”

“Same.” Her friend, a petite brunette who had been quiet up till now but who’d eyed me like I was a juicy steak since I walked in the door, piped up. “Lyss and I do everything together.”

The insinuation couldn’t have been clearer had she tattooed it across her exposed cleavage.

Most guys would’ve jumped at the opportunity, but I was already bored with the conversation. Nothing turned me off more than desperation, which reeked stronger than their perfume.

I didn’t bother answering. Instead, I scanned the room for something more interesting to hold my attention. If it were a party for anyone else but Josh, I would’ve skipped it. Between my job as COO of The Archer Group and my…side project, I had enough on my plate without attending pointless social gatherings. But Josh was my best friend—one of the few people whose company I could stand for more than an hour at a time—and he was leaving Monday for his gap year as a medical volunteer in Central America. So here I was, pretending like I actually wanted to be here.

A silvery laugh pealed through the air, drawing my eyes toward the source.

Ava.Of course.

Josh’s little sister was so sweet and sunshiney all the time, I half-expected flowers to sprout on the ground wherever she walked and a coterie of singing woodland animals to trail behind her while she traipsed through meadows or whatever girls like her did.

She stood in the corner with her friends, her face bright with animation as she laughed at something one of them said. I wondered if it was a real laugh or a fake laugh. Most laughs—hell, most people—were fake. They woke up every morning and put on a mask according to what they wanted that day and who they wanted the world to see. They smiled at people they hated, laughed at jokes that weren’t funny, and kissed the asses of those they secretly hoped to dethrone.

I wasn’t judging. Like everyone else, I had my masks, and they ran layers deep. But unlike everyone else, I had as much interest in ass-kissing and small talk as I did in injecting bleach into my veins.

Knowing Ava, her laugh was real.

Poor girl. The world would eat her alive once she left the Thayer bubble.

Not my problem.

“Yo.” Josh appeared beside me, his hair tousled and his mouth stretched into a wide grin. His hangers-on were nowhere—wait, nope. There they were, dancing to Beyoncé like they were auditioning for a gig at The Strip Angel while a circle of guys watched them with their tongues lolling out. Men. My gender could use a little more standards and a little less thinking with their small head. “Thanks for showing up, man. Sorry I haven’t said hi till now. I’ve been…busy.”

“I saw.” I arched an eyebrow at the lipstick print smeared on the corner of his mouth. “You have a little something on your face.”

His grin widened. “Badge of honor. Speaking of which, I’m not interrupting, am I?”

I glanced at the blonde and brunette, who’d moved on to making out with each other after failing to capture my interest.

“No.” I shook my head. “A hundred bucks says you won’t survive the full year in Bumfuck, Nowhere. No women, no parties. You’ll be back before Halloween.”

“Oh, ye of little faith. There’ll be women, and the party is wherever I am.” Josh swiped an unopened beer from a nearby cooler and cracked it open. “I actually wanted to talk to you about that. Me being gone,” he clarified.

“Don’t tell me you’re getting sentimental on me. If you bought us friendship bracelets, I’m out.”

“Fuck you, dude.” He laughed. “I wouldn’t buy your ass jewelry if you paid me. No, this is about Ava.”

My glass paused an inch from my lips before I brought it home and the sweet burn of whiskey flowed down my throat. I hate beer. It tastes like piss, but since it was the drink du jour at Josh’s parties, I always brought a flask of Macallan whenever I visited.

“What about her?”

Josh and his sister were close, even if they bickered so much I wanted to duct tape their mouths sometimes. That was the nature of siblings—something I’d never quite gotten to experience.

The whiskey turned sour in my mouth, and I set my glass down with a grimace.

“I’m worried about her.” Josh rubbed a hand over his jaw, his expression growing serious. “I know she’s a big girl and can take care of herself—unless she’s getting stranded in the middle of fucking nowhere; thanks for picking her up, by the way—but she’s never been on her own for so long and she can be a little too…trusting.”

I had an inkling of where Josh was going with this, and I didn’t like it. At all. “She won’t be alone. She has her friends.” I inclined my head toward said friends. One of them, a curvy redhead in a gold skirt that made her look like a disco ball, chose that moment to hop onto the table and shake her ass to the rap song blasting through the speakers.

Josh snorted. “Jules? She’s a liability, not help. Stella is as trusting as Ava, and Bridget…well, she has security, but she’s not around as much.”

“You don’t need to worry. Thayer’s safe, and the crime rate here is close to zero.”

“Yeah, but I’d feel better if I had someone I trusted looking after her, ya know?”

Fuck. The train was heading straight off a cliff, and I couldn’t do anything to stop it.

“I wouldn’t ask—I know you’ve got a lot of shit going on—but she broke up with her ex a couple of weeks ago, and he’s been harassing her. I always knew he was a little shit, but she wouldn’t listen to me. Anyway, if you could keep an eye on her—just to make sure she doesn’t get killed or kidnapped or anything? I’d owe you big.”

“You already owe me for all those times I saved your ass,” I said wryly.

“You had fun while doing it. You’re too uptight sometimes.” Josh grinned. “So, is that a yes?”

I glanced at Ava again. Took her in. She was twenty-two, four years younger than Josh and me, and she managed to appear both younger and older than her years. It was the way she carried herself, like she’d seen it all—the good, the bad, the downright ugly—and still believed in goodness.

It was as stupid as it was admirable.

She must’ve felt me staring because she paused her conversation and looked directly at me, her cheeks tinting pink at my unflinching gaze. She’d changed out of her jeans and T-shirt into a purple dress that swirled around her knees.

Too bad. The dress was nice, but my mind flashed back to our car ride, when her damp shirt had clung to her like a second skin and her nipples had strained against the decadent red lace of her bra. I’d meant what I’d said about her not being my type, but I’d enjoyed the view. I could imagine myself lifting that shirt, tugging her bra aside with my teeth, and closing my mouth around those sweet, hardened peaks—

I yanked myself out of that startling fantasy fast. What the fuck was wrong with me? That was Josh’s sister. Innocent, doe-eyed, and so sweet I could throw up. The total opposite of the sophisticated, jaded women I preferred both in and out of bed. I didn’t have to worry about feelings with the latter; they knew better than to develop any around me. Ava was nothing but feelings, with a hint of sass.

A ghost of a smile passed over my mouth when I remembered her parting shot earlier. I hope that stick in your ass punctures a vital organ.

Not the worst thing anyone’s said to me, not by a long shot, but more aggressive than I’d expected coming from her. I’d never heard her say a bad word to or about anyone before. I took perverse pleasure in the fact that I could rile her up so much.

“Alex,” Josh prompted.

“I don’t know, man.” I dragged my eyes away from Ava and her purple dress. “I’m not much of a babysitter.”

“Good thing she’s not a baby,” he quipped. “Look, I know this is a big ask, but you’re the only person I trust not to, you know—”

“Fuck her?”

“Jesus, dude.” Josh looked like he’d swallowed a lemon. “Don’t use that word in relation to my sister. It’s gross. But…yeah. I mean, we both know she’s not your type, and even if she was, you’d never go there.”

A sliver of guilt flashed through me when I remembered my errant fantasy a few moments ago. It was time for me to call up someone from my roster if I was fantasizing about Ava Chen, of all people.

“But it’s more than that,” Josh continued. “You’re the only person I trust, period, outside of my family. And you know how worried I am about Ava, especially considering this whole thing with her ex.” His face darkened. “I swear, if I ever see that fucker…”

I sighed. “I’ll take care of her. Don’t worry.”

I was going to regret this. I knew it, yet here I was, signing my life away, at least for the next year. I didn’t make a lot of promises, but when I did, I kept them. Committed myself to them. Which meant if I promised Josh I’d look after Ava, I’d fucking look after her, and I’m not talking about a text check-in every two weeks.

She was under my protection now.

A familiar, creeping sense of doom slithered around my neck and squeezed, tighter and tighter, until oxygen ran scarce and tiny lights danced before my eyes.

Blood. Everywhere.

On my hands. On my clothes. Splattered over the cream rug she’d loved so much—the one she’d brought back from Europe on her last trip abroad.

An inane urge to scrub the rug and tear those bloody particles out of the soft wool fibers, one by one, gripped me, but I couldn’t move.

All I could do was stand and stare at the grotesque scene in my living room—a room which, not half an hour earlier, had burst with warmth and laughter and love. Now it was cold and lifeless, like the three bodies at my feet.

I blinked, and they disappeared—the lights, the memories, the noose around my neck.

But they’d come back. They always did.

“…You’re the best,” Josh was saying, his grin back now that I’d agreed to take on a role I had no business taking. I wasn’t a protector; I was a destroyer. I broke hearts, crushed business opponents, and didn’t care about the aftermath. If someone was stupid enough to fall for me or cross me—two things I warned people never, ever to do—they had it coming. “I’ll bring you back—fuck, I don’t know. Coffee. Chocolate. Pounds of whatever is good down there. And I owe you a big, fat favor in the future.”

I forced a smile. Before I could respond, my phone rang, and I held up a finger. “Be right back. I have to take this.”

“Take your time, man.” Josh was already distracted by the blonde and brunette who’d been all over me earlier and who found a much more willing audience in my best friend. By the time I stepped into the backyard and answered my call, they had their hands beneath his shirt.

“??????,” I said, using the Ukrainian term for uncle.

“Alex.” My uncle’s voice rasped over the line, scratchy from decades of cigarettes and the wear and tear of life. “I hope I’m not interrupting.”

“No.” I glanced through the sliding glass door at the revelry inside. Josh had lived in the same rambling, two-story house off Thayer’s campus since undergrad. We’d roomed together until I graduated and moved to D.C. proper to be closer to my office—and to get away from the hordes of shrieking, drunken college students that paraded through campus and the surrounding neighborhoods every night.

Everyone had turned out for Josh’s farewell party, and by everyone, I mean half the population of Hazelburg, Maryland, where Thayer was located. He was a town favorite, and I imagined people would miss his parties as much as they missed Josh himself.

For someone who always claimed to be drowning in schoolwork, he found a lot of time for drinking and sex. Not that it hurt his academic performance. The bastard had a 4.0 GPA.

“Did you take care of the problem?” my uncle asked.

I heard a drawer open and close, followed by the faint click of a lighter. I’d urged him to quit smoking countless times, but he always brushed me off. Old habits die hard; old, bad habits even more so, and Ivan Volkov had reached the age where he couldn’t be bothered.

“Not yet.” The moon hung low in the sky, casting ribbons of light that snaked through the otherwise-inky darkness of the backyard. Light and shadow. Two halves of the same coin. “I will. We’re close.”

To justice. Vengeance. Salvation.

For sixteen years, the pursuit of those three things had consumed me. They were my every waking thought, my every dream and nightmare. My reason for living. Even in situations when I’d been distracted by something else—the chess-play of corporate politics, the fleeting pleasure of burying myself into the tight, warm heat of a willing body—they’d lurked in my consciousness, driving me to greater heights of ambition and ruthlessness.

Sixteen years might seem like a long time, but I specialize in the long game. It doesn’t matter how many years I have to wait as long as the end is worth it.

And the end of the man who had destroyed my family? It would be glorious.

“Good.” My uncle coughed, and my lips pinched.

One of these days, I’d convince him to quit smoking. Life had driven any sentimentality out of me years ago, but Ivan was my only living relative. He took me in, raised me as his own, and stuck by me through every thorny twist of my path toward revenge, so I owed him that much, at least.

“Your family will be at peace soon,” he said.

Perhaps. Whether the same could be said of me…well, that was a question for another day.

“There’s a board meeting next week,” I said, switching topics. “I’ll be in town for the day.” My uncle was the official CEO of Archer Group, the real estate development company he’d founded a decade ago with my guidance. I’d had a knack for business even as a teenager.

Archer Group headquarters called Philadelphia home, but it had offices across the country. Since I was based in D.C., that was the company’s real power center, though board meetings still took place at HQ.

I could’ve taken over as CEO years ago, per my uncle’s and my agreement when we started the company, but the COO position offered me more flexibility until I finished what I had to do. Besides, everyone knew I was the power behind the throne, anyway. Ivan was a decent CEO, but it was my strategies that had catapulted it into the Fortune 500 after a mere decade.

My uncle and I talked business for a while longer before I hung up and rejoined the party. The gears in my head cranked into motion as I took stock of the evening’s developments—my promise to Josh, my uncle’s nudge about the minor hiccup in my revenge plan. Somehow, I had to reconcile the two over the next year.

I mentally rearranged the pieces of my life into different patterns, playing each scenario out to the end, weighing the pros and cons, and examining them for potential cracks until I reached a decision.

“Everything good?” Josh called out from the couch, where the blonde kissed his neck while the brunette’s hands became intimately acquainted with the region below his belt.

“Yes.” To my irritation, my gaze strayed toward Ava again. She was in the kitchen, fussing over the half-eaten cake from Crumble & Bake. Her tanned skin glowed with a faint sheen of sweat from dancing, and her raven hair billowed around her face in a soft cloud. “About your earlier request…I have an idea.”


Comment

  1. khchtcjyhfcjgf says:

    GOT ME BLUSHIN & SHIII

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    1. 34huir32oihi says:

      ur so real 4 that

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      0

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