PRE-ORDER THE EDITED AND EXTENDED VERSION BELOW
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
“They've promised that dreams can come true - but forgot to mention that nightmares are dreams, too.” ~Oscar Wilde~
*unedited and subject to change
*Copyright Zoe Hill 2020
Last night, I killed my husband.
At least, I dreamt I did.
Silencing the alarm that interrupted my homicidal crusade, I flop onto my back and hold my hands in front of my face to examine them. Although my fingers feel wet and tacky, my usual porcelain skin greets me.
Not quite believing my eyes, I blink twice then look again.
The smooth skin that I constantly moisturize to silence the nagging voice that lives in my head—the voice that sounds suspiciously like my mother-in-law—shows no sign of the heinous crime I committed during my slumber. Once again, Abi’s voice reminds me that hands are always the best indicator of a woman’s real age, and that mine are wearing the signs of the past few months. I mentally shake her nagging free and continue my drowsy perusal. A white ring circles the finger from where my antique white-gold and diamond bridal set previously glistened while my grandmother’s ruby still graces the middle finger of my right hand. The buffed and manicured nails I once spent a fortune to maintain are chipped, but blood free. The tiny freckle near the plumpest part of my thumb is where it should be.
My hands are clean.
Yet, my racing heart and jangled nerves refuse to believe what my eyes can see.
In my stomach, an inferno still rages, burning from the inside out, fed by the guilt that I robbed the man I loved of his life with nothing more than a sharp kitchen knife and self-righteous determination. As I’d plunged the knife into him, I felt nothing bar an overriding sense of justification. It had coursed through my veins, fueling me, exhilarating me, promising me that once he was dead, all would be right in my life again.
My bottom lip trembles.
My heart beats a disjointed rhythm that steals my ability to breathe properly.
My mind whirls with one question.
What could drive me to do such a thing?
“I'm a fighter. I believe in the eye-for-an-eye business. I'm no cheek turner. I got no respect for a man who won't hit back. You kill my dog; you better hide your cat.” ~Muhammad Ali~
Craning my head, I stare up as high as I can without snapping my neck. It doesn’t work. Stepping back until I’m almost in the busy New York City traffic—I peer up until I can just see the penthouse apartment that houses my enemy. The muted, late winter sun reflects off the black glass that sits between the Gothic pillars that stretch high into the sky. This apartment building has a prestigious address and overlooks Central Park, yet none of that matters to me because I know that it’s simply a sky-high enclave that protects the scum who think they run this city.
Even without seeing inside, I know the penthouse will be filled with fancy as fuck furniture and expensive trinkets financed by the blood of those they’ve crushed on their gilded path to power. Expensive and upmarket, wealth drips from everything I can see and, despite the zeroes in my own bank account, a surge of envy-tinged rage fills me when the damning thought of how little these people paid for the crime that cost me everything.
Sabrina Brielle Archimedes.
The girl with dreams of escape in her dark eyes.
The girl I’ll fight to avenge for as long as there’s breath in my lungs.
And although I know, rationally, that there must have been something other than Gareth Averell’s riches that turned her head and led her down the path to her destruction, it doesn’t stop me from glaring at the top of the building in front of me like it’s personally responsible.
Rationality isn’t something I have a good grasp on right now.
Grief has a funny way of stripping a man back to his basics.
“Excuse me, Sir?” the door man shuffles his feet in front of me. He blows on his hand while he waits for my response. The stark white gloves that cover his hands apparently too thin to keep his fingers warm. When it becomes obvious that I’m not going to reply, he quirks an eyebrow and the congeniality that had previously covered his face disappears. “Look, my man. You need to move on. Lingering in front of this building will only get the likes of you in trouble.”
I lift my gaze from his hands and meet his eyes. He takes an involuntary step backward at my expression. A blur of white catches my eye when he flaps his hands around uselessly.
“No harm. No foul, my… Mr. Archimedes,” he stammers. “Didn’t know it was you.”
Running my tongue between my top lip and my teeth, I regard him. I’m used to this reaction, although it’s not something I usually encounter from a fellow black man. No, this type of effusive and apologetic politeness is the norm with pasty-ass, rich as fuck, white men who aren’t sure how to take the presence of an uppity black man with a bank balance bigger than most encroaching on their exclusive domain.
“I’m looking for Emmaline Averell. Is she in?” My question throws him. He glances at me then in the direction of the penthouse I was glaring at a minute ago. When he visibly gulps, I see my opening. “Look. She’s expecting me… but it’s not something she wants telegraphed.”
I pause for dramatic effect and take a quick look at his name tag. “Ya feel me, Darnell?”
“Ah, sure. Let me think.” Poor Darnell doesn’t know what to with this knowledge. Me and Gareth Averell’s wife might be sneaking around… consider his mind blown. Mine would be shattered to pieces, too, if the bullshit I’m shoveling was remotely true. “I can get you access via the service elevator. It’s the only one apart from their personal one that stops at the penthouse.”
Reaching into my pocket, I pull out my bank roll and tug free two hundred-dollar bills. “For your trouble.”
Any lingering doubt leaves his gaze. He licks his lips and points inside the building. “Wait there. I’ll get my boss to check something out back, then I’ll come get ya.”
“Give me five.” Darnell scurries off and I tuck myself into the gap between the two pillars he pointed out in the lobby.
Elation—the first I’ve felt since I found out Bree was dead—courses through my veins. It takes everything I have not to burst into laughter at how easy it was to gain access to Gareth’s wife. Rich as sin and as bent as a broken elbow, Gareth Averell is about to find himself on the receiving end of the same kind of pain he reaped over my family’s head.
The big, white doorman goes rushing past my hiding spot, then Darnell taps me on the shoulder to beckon me forward. “Let’s go.”
Nodding, I follow him to the back of the lobby. He uses his security pass to summon the service elevator and I quickly find myself ascending to the top of the building. The elevator pings, then the doors open. Stepping out into a storage room packed with sporting goods and other assorted paraphernalia that screams of expensive hobbies, I find myself peering directly into the large kitchen of the Averell’s penthouse.
A boy with dirty-blond hair sits at the island bench. He swings his legs, hastily scooping cereal into his mouth while he watches some show on the huge television mounted on the wall opposite him. A housekeeper, an older woman with grey-streaked hair and a stern expression, stirs a pot on the stove.
The normalcy of the situation stops me in my tracks.
I knew Gareth had a kid.
I knew I’d eventually be depriving him of a father.
But, seeing the kid I’m going to hurt when I kill his father is something else.
The elevator doors ping again, then slide shut.
Shit. My moment of humanity is ripped away when the housekeeper lifts her head and peers in my direction. I step back between two deep shelves and out of her sight. The sound of shoes padding across a tiled surface is my only warning to get out of there. Hurriedly, I search the walls for another door or somewhere to hide, and seconds before she enters the storage room, I twist the handle to the only other exit in the room and step out into an ornately decorated hallway. A second set of stainless-steel elevator doors greet me. I shuffle past them, stooping with my ear against the door of the first room I encounter. A pair of voices can be heard murmuring inside, so I move onto the next door.
This time silence greets me.
Heart pounding a deafening beat in my ears, I slip inside and softly close the door behind me.
My back hits the painted wood and I slide to the floor. After my eyes adjust to the darkness, I discover that I’m in a study of sorts. Gareth’s office, maybe?
I drag in a steadying breath and concentrate on making the most of this unexpected opportunity.
This morning, I’d planned to put the fear of God into Emmaline Averell before I began to gather all the evidence that I needed to hustle her evil husband toward an early grave.
Seems I might manage to kill two birds with one stone today.
“Important encounters are planned by the souls, long before the bodies see each other.” ~ Paulo Coelho~
“Emma.” Once upon a time G’s morning voice sent a shiver of longing down my spine. Nowadays, I feel devastation when he greets me by the shortened version of my name. It’s hard to pretend everything’s okay when I’m empty of hope. “Are you okay?”
I close my eyes to will away the regret. Dragging in a shuddering breath, I hold it deep in my lungs before I let it out between my lips with a silent plea for the relentless memories to leave me alone.
“What’s wrong?” G tries again.
I can’t speak. How on earth can I explain how my failure is eating me alive without sounding like I’m in need of a seventy-two-hour psych hold?
When I don’t speak, my husband rolls his body over mine. He cages me inside his embrace, holding most of his weight off me, allowing the perfect amount of pressure to push my body against the mattress. Enough for to feel the hard proof that he wants me.
“Bad dream?” he asks, ducking his face into my neck and pressing his lips against my pulse point. “Was it about the babies?”
The care he takes to keep his tone neutral hits me in the heart. Deep down, I know my inability to carry another baby to term hurts him as much as it hurts me, yet he’s never once been anything other than sympathetic to my ongoing distress. Sometimes, I wish he was the type of man to lash out in pain.
At least, then I could let the full force of my grief free as well.
“Something like that,” I reply. With shaking hands, I move my fingertips over his defined back. As distractions go, it’s fool proof. He’s been hinting for weeks that he’s ready to resume the physical part of our marriage, and at my touch, I immediately feel his cock twitch against my bare heat.
While my needy body feels as taut as a tightrope, my mind attempts a revolt at the thought of being intimate again. I love my husband. I love having sex with my husband. I want to be with my husband again. Unfortunately, using sex as a balm for my aching soul is like pouring more water over the head of a drowning man to revive him.
It’s both the cause and the consolation.
Getting pregnant hasn’t been the problem. It’s staying pregnant that’s the tricky bit.
Apart from the one aberration that resulted in my son, Devon, I’ve almost spent more time pregnant than not since we married. Two years ago, I’d promised myself that I’d stop counting the lost pregnancies since the number had hit double digits, but like any woman who’s ever miscarried, I still have the numbers, dates, and times tattooed on my heart.
Twelve times pregnant. One six-year-old son and eleven angel babies to show for it.
“Lilly Pilly,” G whispers his pet name against the side of my neck. He rocks against me with urgency in his movements and croons to me, “I’m gonna give it to you so good. Gonna make everything better. I’ve missed your beautiful body so much. Missed feeling your pussy holding me tight even more.”
While he speaks, G nudges my legs wider apart and settles his trim hips between them. He gives me a pleading look and I tilt my pelvis with wordless acquiescence. Tense all over, I hold my breath as my husband pushes inside my body for the first time since we lost our last baby at seventeen weeks and I was forced to give birth to the lifeless body of our tiny, perfect daughter.
Whatever I was expecting—pain, maybe—doesn’t eventuate. Instead, I feel the typical burn and stretch of his invasion as G thrusts all the way inside me. Hooking one leg around his hip, I move back and forth, meeting his pumping hips with the matching motion of my own. Like well-rehearsed dancers, we find the rhythm that pleasures us both with ease. Twenty years of practice has made our love making a finely tuned exercise and it’s habit that sends my hands roaming his shoulder blades, his shoulders, and his biceps, and gripping his upper arms with tight fingers when his thrusts pick up pace.
G nibbles along my collar bone then he retraces the path with his tongue. Nipping at my chin with sharp teeth, he smiles when I gasp. Tucking both hands under my ass, he lifts my hips and holds me at the angle we enjoy most. He lowers his lips to mine, devouring my mouth, invading the inner recesses with his tongue, demanding I match his passion with pumps of his hips that mimic the actions of his tongue.
“Oh, my…” I moan when he uses his cock to drive me toward the summit. Arching my back, I let the leg resting on his hip drop back to the bed. “I think I’m gonna—”
“I know you’re gonna come, baby,” G groans his promise against my mouth.
“You need this, Lilly.” My husband’s tone brooks no arguments. His hips piston faster. His intent is clear. “You deserve this. Let it happen. Let me make you feel good. Let me make us both feel good.”
It feels wrong to enjoy the process when the eventual outcome is so painful. I’m unprotected—contraceptive-free—and his cock is bare inside me. My heart’s not ready for another sorrow, which is all we seem to create when we love each other like this.
Hence this being the first time in months I’ve allowed him inside me.
Stupid, stupid sleeping tablet. If I’d woken up early, like I have for the past few months, I would’ve been in the shower before he was properly awake.
“Yes, you can,” G promises. He slows his pace to strong, measured thrusts before he peppers my face with tiny kisses. Lifting his head, he peers deep into my eyes. His pupils dilate when he pleads, “Let me show you how much I love you.”
Without waiting for my response, he pumps his hips like a man possessed, sliding in and out of my body, a jagged breath punctuating his low groans. He has total control—and I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t feel good to let go. In response to his ministrations, I arch my back further. G knows me too well. When you’ve given one man all your firsts—and seconds and thirds—he becomes adept at using your own body against you. Propping my hips with one hand, he angles the head of his cock against the spot inside me that sends sparks shooting through my nerve endings, then he uses the thumb of the hand not holding my hip to work my clit in a figure-eight.
“Please, Gareth,” I beg, shaking my head from side to side. Tears well in my eyes and as the first shards of my orgasm splinters free, they spill down my cheeks and over my ears to the pillow under my head. “Please, stop. I can’t.”
“No,” my husband vows. He rests his forehead against mine and looks me in the eyes. This time he lets his own anguish show. “You can, and you will. I won’t stop until I’ve wrung every last drop from you.”
His green eyes shine wetly. I see all the despair that I’m feeling in the emerald depths. “Can’t you see that I need you back? It kills me to see you in pain. I need you more than I need air. Don’t deny me my oxygen. Please, Lilly.”
Blinking fast, I try to stop the tears from flowing and concentrate instead on the climax that’s currently sending my vaginal walls into spasms. If my husband needs my pleasure to feel better about us, then that’s what I’ll give him.
It’s the least I can do since I can’t give him a child.
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“Sometimes it takes a wrong turn to get you to the right place.” ~Mandy Hale~
*unedited and subject to change
*Copyright Zoe Hill 2020
The walnut colored, oak desk beckons me forward. It promises knowledge, and since everyone with more than two functioning brain cells knows that knowledge is power, I’m not going to let this unexpected boon pass me by. There must be something in this room that I can use against Gareth Averell and his family.
There has to be… after all, I’m pitting myself—a ex-pro footballer turned commentator—against one of the elites. The Averell’s have been firmly entrenched in the running of New York City for more than three generations, and although they’ve never taken on the mantle of power for themselves, their puppet mastery from behind the scenes is legendary.
Brimming with myth and murder, the Averell’s are one of four families that allegedly make up the Coalition. As purported members of the notoriously shadowy group, the Ingram-Greaves, Averell, Zidane, and Du Croix families have managed to remain free of legal repercussions while running both legitimate businesses and their various underground crime syndicates. It’s been whispered for decades that they control the interests of America’s main power brokers and influence both the U.N. and the International Monetary Fund.
My beef with the Averell’s is personal, but I won’t hesitate to take down the Coalition if I can manage it without signing my own death warrant.
For now, I’m satisfied with going after Gareth for what he did to Bree.
Dismissing the laptop since me and technology don’t mix, I check his desktop. There’s an annotated draft speech, a few sticky notes, and some framed photos. I read the first page of the speech, then offer the pictures a furtive glance. The smiling faces of the trio who reside in this lavish penthouse stare back at me from beneath the glass barricade that shields their happiness from the interloper in their midst. A quick search of the desk drawers yields nothing but stationery and a box of cigars, so I move onto the three filing cabinets that line the furthest wall. Tugging on the handles, desperation begins to flare in the center of my chest when I discover that the first one is locked. One by one, I yank on the drawers, but nothing happens.
Anger bubbles within me, threatening to overcome me as it pulses through my muscles and my mind taunts me with my failure. I’m on the verge of tossing the filing cabinets to the ground and stomping them until they bare the secrets locked inside to me when I spot a briefcase wedged behind the leather sofa that dominates the other wall. Falling to my knees, I crawl across the floor and rip every sheet of paper out of the unlocked rawhide case.
The printed words I skim begin to swim on the page when my suspicions of the Averell’s are confirmed. They’re sick of being puppet masters and are making plans to front the world with their own version of greed and lies disguised as philanthropy. The terror twins—Gareth Averell and his older brother, Edward—will be taking centre-stage once they’ve cleaned their house of any potential liabilities.
And Bree is only the first victim on their hit list.
Because, the next chalk outline on their way to the top, is the current face of their corruption. Seems like Matthew Payne, the Governor of New York City, is about to learn the hard way the price for stepping out on the Averell’s and their powerful friends.
Followed by Emmaline herself… if the documents I’m holding in my shaking hand are telling the truth.
With my phone, I take photos of each damning page, then slide them back inside the briefcase. I’ve barely returned the case to its rightful place when the door to the study is pushed open and a tall woman stumbles inside. I crouch down next to the antique, Chesterfield sofa and hope like hell that she doesn’t flick on the lights.
There’s no way my six-foot-seven frame is going to remain out of sight if the study is illuminated.
“I’ll just be a sec,” the woman tells a tall figure in the hallway before closing the door.
After the lock engages, the woman re-enacts my earlier reaction when she slides down the door until her backside touches the plush carpet. Instead of pausing to catch her breath like I did, she drops her head into her hands. A moment later, sobbing fills the room and her thin shoulders shake.
From my position, I can see her clearly. My eyes have adjusted to the dim light provided by the space around the blinds and the crack under the door. After making the sign of the cross, I pray to the Lord above that she keeps her head down until she’s finished crying then leaves without looking my way.
“God, please,” her quiet voice breaks the silence. “Don’t let me get pregnant from this morning. If you do this for me, I promise I’ll get on the pill straightaway whether G agrees or not.”
Great minds think alike and all that, but while my prayer makes sense, Emmaline’s is certainly strange for a married mother. Especially since she’s wed to a man who could afford to raise a dozen children without blinking.
Maybe she’s too vain to go through another pregnancy?
When she takes her hands from her face and reaches up to smooth down her hair, I get a good look at her face and her perfectly highlighted blonde hair and symmetrical face consolidates my thoughts. Emmaline is a trophy wife. Beautiful enough to grace the cover of magazines. Aesthetically pleasing to even the most discerning eye. Complete with razor sharp cheekbones, permanently pursed lips, and bright eyes; Emmaline Averell is a living and breathing mannequin.
A barely audible sneer escapes my mouth.
I bet she gives blow jobs on command and can order her staff to prepare a seven-course meal without blinking. She’ll fill her days with charitable events that reflect well on Gareth and she’ll charm every man in their circle into following her husband and his family further up the food chain, ignoring the poor fools they use as stepping stones on their way.
Nothing but the finest arm candy will do for Gareth Averell, after all.
I freeze when Emmaline lifts her head toward the ceiling and whispers.
“Please, God.” She wipes her tearful face, then presses her hands together and holds them under her chin in the prayer position. “I need you to help me.”
The pain in her voice jolts me out of my judgement. This woman is in distress. In the dark, I reach out to her, almost like I’m going to stroke her hair and pat her back. That’s what I’d do to Bree when she was upset, and something about this woman makes me want to console her similarly. Thankfully, my wits return before I follow through with my stupidity and I lower my arm in the next instant.
Holding my breath, I wait for her to discover my presence.
She doesn’t because she’s too busy pushing back to her feet and traipsing over to the desk. The belt of the silky white robe she’s wearing catches on the office chair and the knot lets go. In the next second, Emmaline’s bare breasts, softly toned stomach, and waxed pussy are exposed to me. Unaware that she’s flashing the stranger hiding in her home, she breezes past me, close enough for her perfume to invade my nostrils. Unconsciously, I let go of the breath I was holding and drag in a lungful of her scent.
It’s flowery. Subtle yet lingering.
After Emmaline picks up the draft of the speech I found on the desk, she turns with enough speed for the edges of her robe to brush my face. Once again, my hand lifts of its own accord and I reach out to touch her.
Only this time I don’t want to soothe her.
No. I want to learn if her fragrant skin is as soft as it looks.
Fortunately, she doesn’t notice me when she stops at the door to retie her robe. Once it’s safely secured, Emmaline unlocks the door and slips back out into the bright hallway.
“Fuck me dead,” I groan once I’m alone again.
Falling from my crouched position onto my ass, I close my eyes and thank my lucky stars that my idiocy didn’t blow my cover. Breathing hard, I rub my palms over my buzzed head and try to ignore my racing pulse and muddled wits.
Emmaline Averell just rattled my cage.
“Forever is composed of nows.” ~Emily Dickens~
“I’ve been through them all,” I tell G when I enter the kitchen. “My comments are in the margins, but I think you’re good to go.”
“Thank you,” he replies, taking the pages from my hands. The look in his eyes when he leans down to kiss me on the cheek makes it clear that he’s not only talking about the speech I went through for him last night. Taking hold of my waist he pulls me against him. “You look ravishing today. If I make time, will you meet me for lunch? Everyone at the office misses you.”
A rumble of guilt invades my stomach. It’s an unwelcome reminder that what happened this morning was unfair. G thinks I’m back on the right path—that I’m finally getting over our latest loss—and I don’t have the heart to tell him that it was easier to let him inside my body this morning, than it was to bare my heart to him.
It’s this shame that propels me to lie to him once more, despite the barely dried tears from my cry in his office still streaking my cheeks. “That sounds wonderful. Let me know what your diary looks like and I’ll move a few things around to match you.”
“Meet me at one,” he replies. His handsome face lights up. Strong hands drop from my waist to the globes of my backside and he kneads the soft flesh while he kisses me hard on the lips. “Bloody happy to have you back, Lilly Pilly.”
“Gross,” Devon calls from the breakfast counter. He swings on his stool, spilling some of the milk from his cereal onto the counter when he lifts his spoon to his mouth.
I use the mess as an excuse to disentangle myself from G’s clutches. Of course, Martha, our housekeeper, beats me to it, wringing out a cloth and wiping down the counter before I’ve taken more than a step. I’m left looking like a useless idiot—an awkward distance from both G and Devon. My husband’s hand has slipped to my hip and bereft of another reason to move further out of his embrace, I turn back to him with what I hope is a smile on my face.
My lips don’t seem to be cooperating properly and I worry I might resemble the Joker. Unhinged and desperate.
“Well, have a good day,” I mutter uselessly.
A strange look invades his face, although G chooses to ignore me and turns his attention to Devon. “It’s not gross, my boy. It’s love. Now, eat up your breakfast so you’re not late for school.”
Devon nods his head, kicking his feet against the step of his stool as he blows G a kiss. My husband catches it in the air and plants it on his cheek, then repeats the gesture. The fingers of his other hand tighten on my hip and he uses the belt of my robe to discreetly tug me after him while my son giggles from the kitchen.
Wordlessly, I allow myself to be pulled along, all the while my mind works at a million miles an hour, trying to work out what his expression means.
I don’t have to wait long. My husband gently maneuvers me until my back is against the wall next to his study door. He pushes himself against me, his hardening bulge pressing into my belly when he nuzzles the side of my neck with his mouth. I lay my hands on his chest, pushing in a futile attempt to keep space between us, even as my body yields and a tremor of desire runs the length of my spine.
“I don’t expect you to get better overnight,” G whispers. He punctuates his words with tiny kisses on my pulse point. “But you can’t keep focusing on Devon and blocking me out. I love you. I need you. Please let me have you.”
Lifting my hands from his chest, I slide them around his waist and pull him into me. “I’m sorry.”
“There’s nothing for you to be sorry about,’ he croons against my hair. “We both want another child so much it hurts to even think about it. I understand why you’ve pulled away from me and concentrated on our boy… I’m a constant reminder of our pain while he’s everything you want.”
With a sigh, I lean my entire weight on him. He’s finally verbalized some of what I’ve been feeling, even though he’s still got the wrong end of the stick. Although, after seven years what do I expect? He’s not going to magically work out what I accidentally did back then.
No, that secret will be buried with me.
Relief makes my knees buckle and I clutch my husband tighter. Gareth is taller than me by half a foot, the top of my head at his chin height, and he outweighs me by a seventy-five pounds of lithe muscle, yet I feel his body stiffen when I rest against him, as if I’m a heavy burden he’s unsure he can handle.
It only lasts for a second before he relaxes and holds me tight. “You have no idea how good it feels hold you properly. I think that hurts the most, knowing that you don’t trust me to keep you safe anymore. It kills me that I can’t stop your pain. I hope you know that. Just like I hope you’ll consider trying again soon. We’re not getting any younger.”
My eyes burn, revulsion vying for supremacy with my never-ending sadness when he mentions trying again. I blink hurriedly, trying to stave off another round of tears. It doesn’t work, so I embrace them and let them fall. Deep down, I want G to push the point.
Maybe then I can find the strength to explain how much his flippant suggestion hurts.
When his silent expectation becomes too much, I succumb to my inner coward and change the subject instead. “I’ve missed leaning on you.”
G lifts his head. He lays a finger under my chin and tilts my face until I’m looking up at him. Wiping my tears away with his thumbs, I see nothing but love and understanding painted on his face when he speaks. “Anytime. I’ll always be here. For forever and an eternity—”
The sound of G’s cell ringing in his pocket cuts him off.
Instantly, he steps away from me and pulls it free.
“Unconditionally and for infinity.” I finish the final line of the vows we exchanged seventeen years ago, but G doesn’t acknowledge me. He’s already in work-mode, answering the person on the other end of the call with rapid-fire responses.
Ducking around him, I pat his arm to regain his attention. He looks at me, apology in his expression, then covers the speaker of his cell phone.
“Please think about what I said,” he states. I nod, a fake smile painted on my face. “Wear your red dress for me.”
“Okay.” I’m only agreeing to his last suggestion, but he doesn’t need to know that. “I’ll see you at lunch.”
With a happiness in his eyes, he pecks my cheek and heads through our penthouse apartment toward the main elevator doors.
“I love you,” G calls over his shoulder.
“I love you, too,” I reply, even though I can hear that he’s already resumed his phone conversation.
Although, the words ring true, I can’t be sure how much longer that will be the case. Every day I battle with the irrational need to rain my sorrow over my husband’s head like hailstones. I know it’s not all his fault, yet my subconscious continues to seep into my reality and aim anger at him.
The man who made love to me this morning has been my best friend, my confidant, and my lover since I was a fifteen-year-old runaway and he was barely eighteen. Our initial meeting was by complete chance; however, we’ve managed to build an entire life out of that once in a lifetime encounter.
I am blessed and it’s about time I remember that.
After all, as my nanna used to say, a blessed life doesn’t mean a life without pain or regret.
The elevator closes with a ding and I turn on my heel and head back into the kitchen. Now G is gone, it’s time to see if I can shoo Martha out of the way. Her absence means I’ll be able to take Devon to school without her reporting of every minute misstep back to my overbearing mother-in-law.
There’s a spring in my step and a genuine smile on my face as I re-enter the kitchen.
“Time to put on your shoes,” I cheerfully order my son. “I’m going to accompany you to school this morning.”
“She's a devil in disguise, I can tell by looking in her eyes, little Miss Strange.” ~Jimi Hendrix~
Listening to Gareth Averell dry fuck his trophy wife next to the study door is enough to set my head straight back on my shoulders. I don’t know why I reacted to her, but I do know that it’s not going to happen again.
A woman, especially a brought and paid for succubus like Emmaline, isn’t enough to distract me from the plan at hand.
Old-fashioned revenge against the family who fucked mine over.
“I love you, too.” Emmaline’s sweet voice calls out moments before the goddamned elevator doors ping and the whirling sound of mechanical parts heralds Gareth’s departure from his Upper East Side hideaway to mingle with the ordinary folk.
While the sadness I heard when she implored God to stop her from getting pregnant is almost gone, I can still hear the hollowness in her words. It’s obvious they’re having problems, considering the halted discussion I just overheard, and I’m going to find a way to use that knowledge to my advantage.
But first, I need to plant enough seeds of suspicion into the Governor’s head, so he sees the Averell’s double cross coming.
My only problem now is… how?
I’m stuck in this penthouse without an escape plan.
The elevator pings every time someone uses it.
Their housekeeper seems to live here.
The only hope I have is to find a way out of this room and back to the service elevator so I can match my exit with their departure to take the kid to school. That way anyone left in the penthouse will only hear one set of pings.
Tapping the screen on my phone, I check the time and realise that I need to formulate my next move pretty damn soon if I want to get out of here when they leave. If the education of the rich and famous has anything in common with the less-privileged, I have fifteen minutes tops to make my way from the study to the service elevator without being seen.
I crack open the study door far enough to see into the hallway. It’s empty. Muted conversation can be heard from what I think is the direction of the kitchen. Figuring that’s it now or never, I dart out of my hidey hole as well as a man my size can.
“Please, Martha,” Emmaline Averell’s pleas hit my ears a moment before she comes into view. “I can handle it from here. Come back this afternoon and finish dinner if you must. All I want to do is take my son to school like an ordinary mother.”
My heart jumps into my throat at the sight of her standing with her back to me at the other end of the passageway. With her hands on her hips, she sounds exasperated to be arguing with the hired help. Although I’d love to eavesdrop a little more, I turn and make a last-ditch dash for the storage room. Getting caught in this penthouse because I’m perpetually nosy is the last thing I need.
“Forgive me,” the older sounding woman replies in a steely tone. “However, Mrs. Averell advised me yesterday to have Master Devon meet her in the lobby so her driver can take him to school this morning. She also mentioned that you would need the time to prepare yourself for your lunch with Mr. Averell.”
“Fine,” Emmaline’s exasperated voice follows me down the wide hallway. “As usual, they win. I’ll do as I’m told.”
When my arm catches against a doorknob, I stumble. The noise I make sounds louder than it should to me. Without checking to see if I’ve been caught, I twist the handle that hampered my escape and throw myself through the doorway. Of course, my luck chooses this second to run out and I realise in a hurry that I’ve trapped myself in the main bedroom. The unmade bed and the lingering scent of sex in the air mocks me. Envy closes my throat, but I ignore it, telling myself that there’s nothing in this apartment that I want other than revenge.
Blindly barreling my way through the over-sized room, I don’t stop until I find myself at the back of a walk-in-closet that’s twice the size of the bedroom.
“Holy shit,” I curse. I’m not hurting for a dollar, but I would be if I built a monstrosity like this. After kicking a pair of black men’s shoes off the specially built rack they sit on, I shake my head and curse, “Fucking show ponies.”
Soft padding footsteps interrupt my inner monologue. I creep toward the front of the closet in time to see Emmaline walk past. She heads into a different room, leaving the door open behind her. The shower starts, steam rising to the ceiling a few minutes later. Apart from the sound of running water, I hear nothing…
Then she begins singing.
I remain where I am, listening to her lilting voice sing Rihanna’s part of ‘Love the Way You Lie’. Wide eyed and disbelieving, I creep forward so I can hear her better. First, she cries to God, then she capitulates to the paid help, now she sings like a woman scorned. I don’t know her. I haven’t said a word to her. Yet, there’s a part of me that questions whether her choice of song for shower karaoke is deliberate.
Does she understand that she sleeps with the devil’s disciple in this den of deceit?
The way I see it, Emmaline is either Gareth’s pawn or his possession… or both. There’s little chance, by my calculations, of her being his partner in the Coalition’s deceptions. There isn’t a woman on this planet who can tell a man she loves him with the kind of hollow ache in her voice that I heard in Emmaline’s and then turn around and accept him having a child with another woman.
Visions on Rosa’s little cherub face invade my mind.
It’s the reminder I need to get back on track.
I rearrange my uncooperative face, then close my mouth and narrow my eyes. This is pointless. Wondering about Emmaline’s motivations will give me nothing but a headache. She may be Gareth’s possession, but she’s a pawn to me, and I have plans to use her against the Averell’s before I end my war and bring them to their knees. I want them to feel the same emptiness I do when they lose everything they love. They’ll be begging for mercy while I squeeze the last dollar from their overinflated bank accounts.
Emmaline drops something in the bathroom. I use the sound to shield my movements from her ears and sneak toward the bedroom door. With my hand on the door handle, I pause. Outside this room, I can’t hear anything.
Does that mean the housekeeper has taken the kid to the lobby or is she still in the penthouse?
The luck that’s been guiding my feet this morning—apart from the momentary lapse which forced me to seek refuge in the Averell’s closet—provides it next boon when I hear the housekeeper hurrying the boy toward the elevator.
I hold my breath and listen.
“Quick now, Master Devon. If we miss your grand-mamma, there’ll be hell to pay.”
“What kinda hell?” His innocent question makes me smile.
“The kind that will get your mommy in trouble,” she quips.
“Oh,” he replies in a small voice. “We better hurry.”
Their voices become quieter. I can barely hear them, although I do catch the housekeeper informing Devon that she’s going to make his favourite dessert once she’s been to the shops for ingredients. His cheers are the final sound I register before the elevator closes.
Finally, my exit is clear.
I waste little time making my way out of the bedroom. In my head, I run through my plan to leave via the service elevator and exit the building via the lobby like I’m an ordinary visitor.
Halfway to the storage room my feet decide they have a better idea. Pivoting to my left, I press the button to recall the main elevator, then step inside. The doors close and I don’t press the down button. Instead I lean back against the cold, steel wall with my arms across my chest and one ankle resting over the other.
My posture is relaxed. My pulse is not.
Inside my mind races—half a dozen thoughts assaulting me at once.
Why am I not thanking my lucky stars and leaving while the coast is clear?
What do I intend to say to Emmaline when she presses the elevator button and find me waiting for her?
This isn’t the smartest move, yet it feels right. I need to speak to Gareth’s wife to find out what she knows before I take another step toward my vengeance.
Bree would turn over in her grave if I broke another innocent woman in the same way she was broken in my pursuit of bloodshed.
I may be known as a monster of the highest order.
But I’m not half as bad as the Averell family and the Coalition they head up.
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“The truth only hurts when you want to believe a lie.” ~Jennifer McVey~
*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.
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.
“Do not allow yourself to be blinded by fear and anger. Everything is only as it is.” ~Yuki Urishibara~
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.”
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.
“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~
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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