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Emmaline Averell knows her marriage is in trouble. She also knows it’s her fault.

Determined to find a solution to their problems, she begins to dig deeper into her husband’s family and unwittingly uncovers their plans to seize political power. It’s a plot stained with the blood of innocents… including that of her son.

Unsure where else to turn, Emmaline appeals to Solomon Archimedes for help—despite her husband’s warning to stay away from him because he’s dangerous.

Discovering that the Averell family has rained down nothing but pain over his family, Emmaline joins forces with Solomon in his pursuit of vengeance and quickly learns that she’s the key bringing her husband’s family to their knees.  

With the Averell family and their collaborators out to silence them both, have Emmaline and Solomon found an ally in each other or is there a double cross in play that nobody saw coming?

  • EPISODE ONE
  • EPISODE TWO
  • EPISODE THREE

SIX 

“The truth only hurts when you want to believe a lie.” ~Jennifer McVey~

EMMALINE

*unedited and subject to change 

*Copyright Zoe Hill 2020

As I sing, my tears mingle with the shower water that falls on the top of my shower-capped head. Together, both types of liquid rush over my checks and down my neck in a cleansing cascade. One washes my body, the other purges my soul. As one, the torrent gives me the strength to get through the day ahead.

The shower is my sole sanctuary in this penthouse that’s supposed to be my home. For the past seventeen years, I’ve fought to make my mark within these four walls. For seventeen years, I’ve failed.

First it was the housekeeper I didn’t want. Then came the instructions that were concealed as advice. Now I’m firmly ensconced in my place—and it isn’t pretty. In my world, Abi Averell is Queen and I’m not even high enough on the totem pole to pretend I’m Cinderella. No, that position is held by Martha, which means I’m more like the fat pumpkin from the garden that turns into a stagecoach upon request.

I’m good enough to nourish their offspring and add glamour to their lives when the need arises, after which I’m best left languishing in the garden with the other vegetables.  

When the ping of the elevator pulls me from my dark thoughts, I allow myself one last sobbing rendition of the chorus to Love the Way You Lie before I swallow my sorrow and move past my upset at yet another day where I’m forced to set aside my pride and allow Abigail Averell to take over my son’s life like she has mine and G’s.

I hate that woman almost as much as I fear her.

With my woven silk loofah, I soap up my body and the resulting bubbles run down my curves. They skate down the peaks and valleys, circling my belly button, then finalising their descent to the floor in a rivulet down my inner thighs. Through puffy eyes, I survey my skin as the bubbles traverse my body. I spare my empty stomach a scowl, after which I pull out the razor I hid in the back of my shower recess, and make quick work of shaving my legs and under my arms. My mother-in-law would have a conniption if she knew I shaved rather than waxed, since it’s beneath her poor son to slum it with a less than perfectly manicured woman.

As stands go, my leg shaving habit isn’t going to win me the Nobel Peace Prize. It does, however, yield me the tiniest skerrick of control, and I consider that a win.

After flipping the water off, I quickly dry my body and shake my hair out of my shower cap. I pad through my empty bedroom to our walk-in closet and snag the red dress G requested from the rack. My matching red Carine Gilson bra and thong set is the only acceptable underwear with this scrap of a dress, so I slip into them before I settle myself at my mirrored vanity and commence the process of making up my face.

A public lunch date with G would normally require attendance from my glam team, however I’m in a rush today, and the skills I rapidly honed during my previous (fleeting) career will come in handy this morning. It takes me less than twenty minutes to circle my eyes with brown-black liner, contour my face, and highlight my mouth with the red that matches my dress. As I paint one last coat on my lips, my mind whirls as I struggle to plan my journey to my secret gynecologist.

Yes, that’s right—my life is so fantastic that I keep my gynecologist secret from my husband.

Making love to G this morning isn’t something I’m going to be able to walk back. Now that I’ve slept with him once, he’s going to expect the routine of our normal sex life to fall back into place. That’s always been the routine after our losses. He leaves me alone for a while, but once I let him touch me again, there’s no turning back. Regular contraception and a course of Plan B needs to be organised before I see him for lunch, because I’ve decided that I’ve miscarried for the last time. My husband and his family need to explore more options if they wish to expand their lineage. My thirty-five-year-old body is no longer in the business of attempted procreation.

This time I’m going to stand up for myself.

I won’t survive the death of another baby.

My phone pings. I allow myself one last glance in the mirror. Near perfection looks back at me. It’s the best I can manage—nothing will bring the sparkle back to my eyes except the ability to turn back time. I attempt a smile, quirking my lips skyward until the lines around my eyes become more pronounced. As distractions go, it’ll work on Abi since she’ll be too busy haranguing me about my need for Botox.

Whether G buys my act, like he seemed to this morning, remains to be seen. To me, the sheen of suppressed tears that makes my eyes glisten is unmissable. Hopefully, I can tamp them down before lunch.

When my phone beeps with another incoming text, I wobble to my feet and slip into the figure-hugging dress. I add the watch G gave me when I accepted his proposal and the locket with a picture of our family in it, then search for the perfect shoes. My nude Louboutin’s finish the look—the red soles add a pop of colour that is the same hue as my dress. Fluffing my hair, I hold my head up high and, stopping only to swipe my phone from my bedside table, I march my way to the cloak room to grab my jacket and purse.

I don’t need to check my phone to know that time is running out. I need to leave right now. Abi always pops in here to finalise issues after she escorts my son to school, and I’m not in the head space for a lecture about my failings as a wife and mother.

After shrugging into my jacket, I clutch my purse to my chest and march out to the foyer. Pressing the elevator call button, I survey the foyer. The impeccable presentation of my home irks me on a visceral level. Since the elevator will still be down the bottom after Martha took Devon down to meet Abi, I use the time to rearrange the vases on the decorative hall stand. I push them all an inch to the side and change the fresh flowers from one vase to another.

Ever tiny aspect of the penthouse is micromanaged by my mother-in-law before Martha’s services are engaged to uphold her standards. There’s a display-home precision crossed with hospital like sterility to my surroundings, and not one piece of décor was chosen by me—or G, if I’m honest. Messing with the insignificant details is just another of my rebellions.

Quicker than I expected, the elevator doors slide open. Furrowing my brow, I finish my impromptu decorating session then step inside. When I reach over to press the button for the lobby, my hand touches another and I jump back with a shriek. My purse drops to the floor when I plaster my hands against my heart.

“Who the hell are you?”

The giant of a man leaning his shoulder against the side wall simply grins at me while he looks me over with cold sneer. His perusal strips me bare and reduces me to the scared teenager I was when I first entered this world. Quaking in my Louboutin’s, I find myself unable to meet his eyes, so I glance at the gaping elevator doors and weigh up my chances of getting away from him. If I’m quick enough, I can make it back into the penthouse and hit the panic button before he can stop me.

“Don’t even think about it,” he muses in a deep voice. I screw my eyes shut and will away the trembling that has taken hold of my body as the threat in his tone registers. “I only want to talk.”

It takes me a second, but I manage to reopen my eyes and meet his gaze. “I don’t talk to strange men.”

His mahogany brown eyes don’t move from mine, even when he replies. “My name’s Solomon Archimedes.”

He says it in a way that makes it sounds like I should know who he is, but I don’t have the first clue. Digging deep, I bring some of my usual snark to the surface, then tilt my head to one side and scoff, “Am I supposed to know you?”

Something dangerous glimmers in his dark eyes. It sends a shiver up my spine that tells me that I need to get away from him. Without waiting for an answer, I dash toward the open doors and the safety of my apartment.

Even though running in heels is second nature to me, Solomon still catches me before I reach the middle of the foyer. A vise-like grip closes around my upper arm, his fingers biting into my bicep when he yanks me back inside the elevator and shoves me to the back corner. I land hard against the steel wall, then fall to the cold floor. The impact knocks the wind out of me and buys my attacker enough time to kick my purse back inside the elevator and hit the button to close the doors. As the elevator lurches back to life and begins its descent to the lobby, I draw in enough air to throw my head back and scream. Solomon drags me back to my feet and covers my mouth with his large hand.

“Now, now, Mrs. Averell.” His gravelly tone mocks me. “This type of behaviour isn’t what I’d call conductive toward conversation.”

He hits the emergency stop button and another lick of danger burns its way up my spine. My legs are shaky. Against my better judgement, I sag in his grip and lean my forehead against his massive chest. When Solomon links his hands at the small of my back and takes my weight in his arms, my fear reduces a little.

It’s stupid, yet I feel relieved that this man is the one to come after me. Being married to an Averell, I’ve always felt a sense of inevitability that an encounter like this would occur. I’ve known since the start that his family isn’t necessarily above board with their dealings, and it has crossed my mind that their activities could blow back on my little family one day. G always acted like I was overreacting whenever I mentioned since he’s the only legit member of his family

I still couldn’t push the worry away.

Unless he’s the biggest sadist on earth, I feel like Solomon is telling the truth. He’s here to talk, not hurt me, because if he’d wanted to, I could be dead half a dozen times over by now. He’s huge. Muscled like a linebacker, Solomon’s brooding eyes and shaved head all add up to create one threatening package.

“What did they do to you?” I whisper. When I speak, Solomon’s scent infiltrates my senses. Nostalgia vies for supremacy with the terror surging me and I find myself suppressing the need to sob with sorrow. Wearing the same cologne my father wore every day until he died when I was thirteen, Solomon Archimedes smells like sanctuary to my addled mind. “I have some money put away or I can speak to my husband. We can help if you need—”

“I don’t want your blood money,” Solomon exclaims. He grabs my shoulders and shakes me. The momentary illusion of safety I felt is stripped away from me in an instant. “Or a dime from your fucking husband. He’s the reason I’m here...”

As abruptly as he started ranting, Solomon stops. He holds me out from him, and his dark gaze burns a path over my face. I try my best not to betray my panic, holding my breath so I don’t blurt out something stupid that sets him off again. The silence between us is heavy and it becomes weightier as confusion clouds his expression. His touch is gentle when he takes hold of my left hand and pulls my fingers straight.

“You don’t know, do you?” He searches my face with measuring eyes, then flicks his thumb over the bridal set that adorns my ring finger. “This means everything to you, doesn’t it?”

His questions are posed in a soft tone, yet I feel like he’s asking me to expose my soul to him.

“If you don’t want money, then I don’t understand what you want from me,” I hedge. Solomon’s warm touch is making something flutter deep in my stomach. My mouth is dry, so I swallow hard before I lock eyes with him and plead, “Please, leave.”

My voice quavers, but I manage to hold his gaze. His eyes widen, but rather than listen, he pulls me closer. I struggle, slapping my palms against his wide chest and clawing at his neck, until my arms are trapped between our bodies and I can’t move anymore. Looking up at him, I try to read his enigmatic expression.

On the surface, it seems like he’s giving away nothing, however I recognize the same bleakness in him that bubbles beneath my calm façade whenever life threatens to overwhelm me.

Sensing a kindred spirit, I feel protected in his embrace.

Call me stupid, but that’s how I feel.

“I am going to leave, Emmaline.” The way he purrs my name makes my pulse race and my stomach flutter. In some ways, it feels like a violation. Too personal. An invitation of sorts. Swallowing hard, I try to ignore the effect he has on me. He negates my attempts at gaining control of myself when he leans close and murmurs in my ear, “But first I’m going to offer you some advice.”

His warm breath makes me shiver. “Ask your husband about Sabrina Archimedes. Ask him why she’s dead and when he’s going to step up and take care of Rosa? Ask him, Emmaline, then call me. I think you’ll find we have a lot more to talk about than you first thought.”

My world spins as his words sink into my brain. Solomon thrusts me away from him and I stumble backward until I reach the wall behind me. I slump against the cold steel, observing him through disbelieving eyes when he pushes in the emergency stop button and the elevator lurches back to life.

As we descend, I watch the numbers on the illuminated panel above the doors count down my arrival at the ground floor with a feeling of doom pounding in my ears. My eyes fill with tears that spill down over my cheeks when Solomon’s advice begins to penetrate the shield of denial my shocked mind has erected to save me from myself.

Who is Sabrina?

And why should G take care of Rosa?

The answers try to pummel their way to the forefront of my consciousness, but I refuse to acknowledge them. I refuse to think because once I start thinking again, the truth is going to cut me to shreds. It’s going to dump my life on its head and destroy every ounce of belief I had in the sanctity of my marriage.

When the number four is lit up, Solomon turns to me. He approaches with a swagger in his step that doesn’t match the apology in his eyes. Nonetheless, I shrink back from him like he’s going to hit me.

He doesn’t.

What he does is so much worse.

With his index finger, Solomon pulls the tight bodice of my dress away from my skin and tucks a business card into my cleavage. His warm touch singes a path over the swell of my breast, then he drops down to circle my nipple before traveling to the pulse point in my neck. I hunch my shoulders to avoid his caress, although it doesn’t deter him as he moves over my chin to lay a single finger against the seam of my lips.

“Ring me when you’re ready to talk,” he says as he presses my purse into my hands.

I pretend I can’t hear him.

I pretend I can’t see him.

I pretend he doesn’t exist.

And then I pretend I can’t see any of the judgmental gazes that follow me when I run out of my building like there’s a demon on my tail. 


SEVEN 

“Do not allow yourself to be blinded by fear and anger. Everything is only as it is.” ~Yuki Urishibara~

SOLOMON 

Emmaline takes off before I can take more than two steps out of the elevator. The staccato clicks of her high heels on the marble floor echo through the lobby and she manages to gain everyone’s attention before she disappears out of view. Once she’s gone, the gawkers transfer their attention to me.

The big, black man who just followed a sobbing white woman off a private elevator.

Fuck. I couldn’t have made this situation harder for myself if I’d tried.

I scrub my hands over my head. The short buzz cut scratches against my palms and it momentarily soothes my smoldering fingers. Of course, the flame returns, incinerating me in the fire caused by the arousal touching Emmaline generated within me. Every inch of my body burns with desire. My hardened cock aches for release. My chest is tight, gripped in vice of forbidden craving that serves to make me regret my stupidity.

Giving into my need to touch her was more than foolish. I had her where I wanted her—she was broken by the truth—and that should’ve been enough. The itch I felt around Emmaline could have been scratched in a dozen different places after I was finished with her, yet I gave into my urge to touch Emmaline with the barest of provocation.

I’m a man who relishes control.

I never give it up without first calculating the cost.

Until Emmaline Averell stepped into my vortex and stripped me of all discipline.

There’s something about her that calls to the man in me. She sends my protective instincts into overdrive and my lust into another stratosphere, and so far, I’ve been powerless to stop her.

“Ahem.” A white man wearing a doorman’s uniform clears his throat as he steps in front of me. “Do you have business here?”

Arching an eyebrow, I stare down the older man in front of me. We both know what he’s really asking—everyone saw Emmaline run away from me. He moves from foot to foot, wilting beneath my perusal until he sighs in submission. Satisfied that he’s sufficiently intimidated, I rearrange my face into a slightly friendlier expression.

“My visit was personal,” I state, although my words are laced with innuendo. “And, I’ll be sure to let Mrs. Averell know that she can rely on your discretion.”

His jowls wobble when he swallows. Turning around, he gestures for someone to join us. I hold my breath, visions of coming face-to-face with Gareth Averell or one of his minions invading my mind’s eye, while I wait for my ruse to come to an abrupt end.

When my little buddy, Darnell approaches us, I allow myself to relax a bit.

“Did you let this man into the penthouse?”

Darnell hits me with a questioning look. I incline my head just enough to let him know it’s safe to tell the truth. Well, the truth as he knows it, anyway.

“Ah, yes. Mr. Archimedes was a guest of Mrs. Averell’s. I let him up approximately an hour ago,’ Darnell offers, emphasizing my last name. His words trip over each other when he rushes to add, “He arrived while you were occupied with the, ah, delivery problem.”

The longer Darnell speaks the more color leaches from the older man’s face. He’s almost ghostly white and seems to have completely shrunk into himself before Darnell finishes. Mumbling an inaudible apology, he waves me toward the reception desk. I follow, perverse delight lifting some of the regret I was feeling over my misstep with Emmaline from my shoulders.

Since the day I signed my first football contract, it’s always amused how quickly men who wouldn’t normally give me the time of day will prostrate themselves at my feet simply because I can throw a ball and lay a good sack.

The doorman shoves a pen and a ball cap at me with the logo of my old team on the front at me.

“Would you mind signing this for me,” he stammers. “My son’s a huge fan.”

“Sure, thing.”

I plaster my Mr. Congeniality smile on my face and scribble my name on the brim. I’ve barely finished when he hands me a t-shirt and then a piece of paper. A short line is created, and the doorman brings me a stool to sit on while they bask in my celebrity. New Yorker’s normally pride themselves on their aloofness, but they make an exception for their sporting greats.

I can usually cope with it.

Today, I’m chomping at the bit to move onto my next target.

True to form, in the time it takes me to autograph their paraphernalia, the silent condemnation I’d received has disappeared, and everyone seems to have forgotten Emmaline’s tearful departure from the lobby.

Everyone except me.

The agony I’d caused when I’d tucked my business card between Emmaline’s tits was easy to read in her eyes. It had been joined by heartbreak when I’d degraded her further with my reminder that I was the one she should speak to if Gareth wouldn’t provide the answers I’d advised her to seek out.

Thinking about her—her perfume, her soft skin, her obvious innocence, her pain—eats at me and the urge to track her down begins to thrash around in my skull. When it becomes too much to contain, I excuse myself from my fan club with a gracious smile and a promise to shout out someone’s kid when I’m commentating next.

Darnell follows me outside. He lights up a cigarette then cocks his head toward the alley next to the skyscraper. I follow him back there, wariness in my step until he turns back to face me, and I spy genuine concern clouding his face.

“Is Mrs. Averell all right?” he asks.

“She will be.” Somehow, the unease he feels questioning me makes me feel worse than I already do. Pulling some more cash free, I slip it into his top pocket with one of my cards. “That’s got my cell number on it. Ring me when she returns. Day or night, I want to know.”

He pins me with a pointed look. “You’re not going to hurt her, are you?”

“No.” As I say the word, I find myself standing taller and straightening my shoulders. Sometime between accosting Emmaline and now, my subconscious has decided that she’s suffered enough and has scratched her name off my mental hit list. She’s no longer a direct target in my search for vengeance. “I want to look out for her. Make sure she’s safe.”

Nodding toward his pocket, I add, “I’m hoping I can trust you to keep my number and my interest in the Averell’s to yourself.”

“I can do that.” He grinds out his smoke butt with the sole of his shiny shoe and pulls out a mouth spray. Once he’s spritzed some into his mouth, he steps up into my space with his hands closed into fists. “Mrs. Averell has enough shit in her life without you adding to it. I’ll keep you in the loop, but if I get one whiff of you causing trouble for her, your number will find its way onto Twitter… ya feel me?”

“I feel you.”

Pulling the cash out of his pocket, he hands it back to me. “You can keep that. Mrs. Averell is a good woman. She’s always got a kind word for everyone. Remembers my kids’ names and all. She doesn’t deserve to be played for a fool the way her piece of shit husband and his family does. I don’t need to be paid to watch her… everyone in the building already looks out for her.”

Before I can reply, he pushes past me. Deliberately hitting my shoulder with his, he heads back around to the front of the building. I shove my hands in my pockets and watch him go with a wry grin curving my lips.

Seems Emmaline Averell has an effect on everyone she meets. My reaction to her isn’t a figment of my imagination and it doesn’t mean I’m special in any way. She’s a genuinely good woman who inspires devotion in everyone but the one man she deserves it from. And that’s a damning realization that makes me feel guiltier than ever for what I did to her in that elevator.

When I step out onto the street and lift my hand to hail a cab, I stop long enough to take one last look up at the penthouse. The tall, Gothic building hasn’t changed at all, yet in the space of one morning, my opinion has done a one-eighty.

It no longer seems like a sky-high enclave that protects the scum who run this city.

No, now I see it for what it is… a gilded cage that keeps the Coalition’s most valuable possessions locked away from the dirty hands of the plebs they rule.  

 


EIGHT 

“Sometimes reality comes crashing down on you. Other times reality simply waits, patiently, for you to run out of the energy it takes to deny it.” ~Taylor Jenkins Reid~

EMMALINE

The mirror inside my gynecologist's waiting room is smeared, but it’s clear enough to see that I’m still a mess. In my rush to leave this morning, and then the ensuing craziness with Solomon Archimedes that ended with me fleeing in tears, I haven’t had time to stop and really appreciate the toll it’s taken on my appearance.

Seeing my dishevelment for myself, my doctor’s reaction to my surprise appearance makes sense.

So does her offer to refer me to a therapist.

If first impressions are to be believed, I’m coming apart at the seams—starting with the tear in the skirt of my dress caused by my inelegant fall to the cold floor of my supposedly private elevator.

After wiping my face clean of my ruined makeup, I unclip my purse clasp and shove the card she gave me down to the bottom. As I’m moving things around, so G doesn’t accidentally stumble upon the referral, I touch Solomon’s card, and the memory of my humiliation at his hands reappears in my head. I screw my eyes shut to block out the hard look in his eyes as he delivered the news that has the potential to ruin my life… if he’s telling the truth.

Reopening my eyes, I stare at myself in the mirror.

“Don’t be stupid,” I chide my reflection. “G loves you. He’d never cheat.”

My words ring hollow in my own ears. Ignoring the churning in my gut, I smooth down my dress then close my purse and stalk my way out of my doctor’s office with my head held high. Someone mutters something when I pass, so I pretend their censure is praise, and allow it to stiffen my spine and rebuild my shattered pride a little.

Once I’m inside my waiting cab, I rattle of the address to G’s office and lean back in the seat. We’re almost at my destination when I see a familiar building up ahead, and it sparks an idea.

“Stop here,” I request. The taxi veers toward the side of the street and I slap some of my cash into his waiting hand. Closing the door, I grimace when I realize that he’s keeping all my change as his tip, then shout after him, “You’re welcome.”

It takes less than half an hour to have my makeup repaired at the department store makeup counter. I emerge feeling refreshed and almost like my usual self. Every few minutes, Solomon pops back into my head, but I push my thoughts about him away and concentrate on weaving through the foot traffic on my way toward the state Capitol building.

 Being outside clears my head and I have a smile on my face as I walk up the stairs ready to line up for a security search before I enter the building. It disappears in the next breath when I spot Matthew Payne, the incumbent Governor of New York, and G’s best friend and boss, talking to none other than Solomon Archimedes.

My feet have a mind of their own and I find myself approaching the men before I’ve decided to change direction. The need to hurt Solomon the way he hurt me sends shock waves of spite pulsing through my body, and I compose a series of cutting remarks to pelt at Solomon in a few moments.

I refuse to find myself on the back foot like I did this morning. My pride is still dented from our last encounter and I can feel ghostly imprints of his fingertips on my upper arms from his unforgiving manhandling.

Matthew sees me coming first, and he pushes the phone Solomon is holding away from him before he turns to greet me. My new nemesis keeps his expression blank when he follows Matthew’s gaze over to me, but I can feel his unease increasing as I approach.

Good. It serves him right for trying to ruin my marriage.

“Emmaline,” Matthew exclaims. Holding his arms open, he ushers me in for a hug. “What a surprise. Gareth never mentioned that you were dropping by today.”

“We’re having lunch,” I reply, moving out of Matthew’s reach when his hand lingers too low on my back. “It was a last-minute decision.”

Matthew nods, a tightness in his usually gregarious expression that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. I think I’ve interrupted something important. “Have you met my friend, Solomon Archimedes? He’s in the media, although he’s best known for his decade with the Giants.”

Finding out who Solomon actually is diminishes my confidence a little. He’s not some nobody with an ax to grind, he’s a bonafide celebrity... with an agenda if his presence here with Matthew isn’t some kind of cosmic coincidence.

 I falter, and that gives him the opportunity to reply a beat before me.

“We’ve met,” he drawls a second before I state, “I haven’t had the pleasure.”

His admission coupled with the emphasis I put on the word pleasure ends up making me look like a bigger liar than I am. Matthew’s forehead wrinkles when he frowns, and mistrust skitters across his handsome face. I’m wracking my brains for something to say that will clear up the misconception I’ve created when Solomon steps in. He holds out his hand and offers me the excuse I need.

“You’re right. I think I’ve mistaken you for someone else,” he apologizes, lightly. “I meet so many people, they can blur into one sometimes.”

“Ye-s,” I stammer, searching his perfectly symmetrical face for a clue to why he’s helping me. “That must… be it.”

I leave his hand hanging for a moment too long, so he takes another step closer and takes hold of my fingers. When he brushes his thumb over the underside of my wrist, my body bucks like I’m being electrocuted, and he grins. I try to move away from him, but that allows Matthew to crowd me from behind.  

Matthew slides his hand over my ass and settles his arm around waist. When he uses his touch to guide me out of Solomon’s reach, I automatically clutch Solomon’s hand tighter. Shock widens his eyes, and he returns my pressure until Matthew has moved me far enough away that our fingers cannot touch any longer.

“Ring my office and schedule a sit-down meeting,” Matthew casually tosses his order over his shoulder as he leads me to his private entrance. “I’m interested to see if your information plays out the way you believe it will.”

Matthew’s cryptic remark means little to me, but the tone he uses feels menacing… and almost like it’s directed at me. Feeling eyes on me, I look back in time to catch the Governor’s security muscling Solomon out of the foyer. My eyes lock with Solomon’s as he tries to push past them to follow us. He mouths something to me, but I miss it because the door shuts behind us.

Even as I tell myself that getting away from him is for the best, there’s a niggling feeling in my stomach that tells me otherwise. Seeing Solomon twice in one day can’t be a fluke. Now, I’m left wondering if I should’ve called the police after I got away from him at the penthouse or if I should’ve swallowed my pride long enough to question him.

Is Solomon Archimedes stalking me or was he telling me the truth when he said he only wanted to talk?

“So, Emmaline,” Matthew muses. “Tell me why you’re really here.”

My mind is racing with thoughts of Solomon, so I don’t register the hostility in Matthew’s voice until he shoves me inside the closest elevator and hits the button to close the doors like a maniac. I stumble toward the exit, determined to get away from him before I find myself trapped in an elevator with an angry man for the second time today, but Matthew grabs hold of my hair and holds me in place.

I shriek, my scalp burning from his vicious grip.

“Stay put,” he growls as the doors slide shut. “You don’t want to test me, Emma. I’ve about had enough of everyone named Averell today.”

Reaching back, I try to disentangle his fingers in my hair. Matthew responds by wrapping my locks around his wrist. He uses it as leverage to force me to my knees in front of him. The tear in my dress caused by my tussle with Solomon this morning rips all the way to my waist when my knees slip on the smooth floor. It leaves me exposed from the hips down.  

“Please,” I beg. My pulse is pounding in my ears. It increases to a steady drumming when I realize that I’m more scared on Matthew right now than I ever was of Solomon. Call me crazy, but I can feel a violence in Matthew that was missing during my clash with Solomon this morning. “Matthew, stop. You’re hurting me.”

My pleas fall on deaf ears. The blond man I’ve broken bread with hundreds of times simply glares down at me with hatred in his eyes. In his crystal-blue gaze, I see my death. It’s a painful insight, knowing that I’ve trusted a monster who wants to taste my blood for nearly two decades.

“You’re so stupid, Emmaline,” he snarls. I bite down on my bottom lip to suppress a scream when he twists my hair tighter. “Gareth fucks anything with a pulse and you treat him like he hung the fucking moon. If I had you, I wouldn’t let you out of my bed, but your husband is an Averell and the Averell’s are never satisfied with what’s they’ve got.”

The confirmation that Solomon was telling the truth is like a kick in the gut. I fold in on myself, tears burning my eyes, as my heart breaks. This was my biggest fear when the miscarriages started… Gareth finding someone who could give him what I couldn’t.

 “Don’t cry. Your tears are wasted on me, slut. I know all about you… Gareth told me where he found you,” Matthew hisses at me. His voice is filled with venom and condemnation, yet I can’t believe my ears. G promised he’d never tell anyone. Time stops, freezing around me, while I brace for my second biggest secret to be spoken by the last person I ever wanted to know. “Fifteen years old and whoring yourself out to the Elite. I always knew there was a reason why my dick got so hard around you. It knows what you are, and it craved a taste of what everyone else had already had.”

He drags me upright until my mouth is level with his crotch. When I see the deranged desire in his eyes, I struggle as hard as I can. My hair tears at the roots and my knees are bruised by the floor. It doesn’t help. Matthew simply laughs at me, holding me in place while he works his belt open.

“No. Please. No,” I scream. And scream. And scream some more.

The elevator pings and the doors slide open.

“Hey, Averell,” Matthew shouts. He backhands me across the face, splitting my lip and making my head spin, then yanks me across the carpeted entry. He walks through the deserted offices, dragging me by my hair behind him. “Gareth fucking Averell. Lucifer. Judas. Whatever name you’re going by nowadays, you backstabbing snake. I have a delivery… your whore and a well-deserved dose of defeat. I know what the Coalition had planned and I’m here to tell you that I’ll happen over my dead fucking body. Little Emmaline knows everything, and I know that’s a fate worse than death for a bastard like you.”

He turns a corner, taunting my husband as we go, “How are you going to cope with your little princess knowing how dirty you really are?”

The silence that greets us when we enter G’s office is only broken by my sobbing and Matthew’s heavy breathing. When a second set of feet come into view, I’m thrown headfirst into a wall. Slumped on the carpet, my vision dims, black spots invading my eyes while I try to keep a grip on my fading consciousness. Through blurry eyes, I see the two pairs of feet moving around me as a fight breaks out between my husband and the man formerly known as his best friend. They grunt when punches are landed. They pant as they fight for the upper hand. They curse whenever the other man gains control.

I lay on the floor, tears flowing, my soul bleeding, and my pride crushed, listening to them insult each other while they engage in a war as old as time. Male dominance. Greed. Power. That’s all they want, at any expense.

The fight rages around me for so long that I lose track of their position in the office.

I don’t care who wins.

They’re both evil.

The sound of a gun going off brings an abrupt end to their battle.

“Lilly,” my husband whispers my name reverently half a minute later. He falls to his knees next to me, then pulls me into his arms. “It’s over, baby.”

I close my eyes and lean away when he stoops down to kiss me. “Don’t.”

“Please,” he begs, manhandling me until I’m straddling his waist. I keep my eyes screwed shut, even when he presses his mouth against mine again and breathes his excuses over my face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t love her. I didn’t love any of them. It’s you I love. You and Devon… that’s it. You’ve gotta believe me. Look, Lilly Pilly… I killed him. For you. You’re safe. I’ve made you safe, again. Please, trust me, baby.”

It takes everything I have left to ignore his promises. He might be saying all the right words, but there’s no way to fix what he’s done. I open my mouth to tell him that, then I clamp my lips together again.

Gareth isn’t the only guilty party in this fiasco, and that’s the cold, hard truth.

I messed up first. So instead of speaking, I concentrate on the one thing that matters in all this—my son. He’s my everything. I’d sin a thousand times over if it meant I still got to have him.  

Falling silent, G stumbles back to his feet, lifting me in his arms as he goes. He carries me to his desk and perches on the edge, clutching my shaking body to his chest. Pulling out a phone I’ve never seen before, my husband then proceeds to make a call that sends a chill down my spine.

“Dad,” he barks down the phone. “Matthew’s gone. It got messy so I need you to send a clean-up team to my office… Yeah, I’ll make sure no one comes up here beforehand… No, I’ve got Emmaline with me. I just need you to get a team down to Devon’s school… Mom should still be there with her guys, but I can’t guarantee there won’t be blow back on the Coalition.”

And, there we have it. The final dose of truth I needed today.

The veil has been lifted, and it turns out that I am as stupid as Matthew alleged.

Twenty years together, and today is the day that I find out, despite his assurances otherwise, my husband is involved with the Coalition.

Your next episode will be sent on June 25th, 2020. 

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