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Currently releasing as monthly episodes, The Unsuitable Wife is a free dark, romantic suspense serial.

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 to 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?

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PROLOGUE

“They've promised that dreams can come true - but forgot to mention that nightmares are dreams, too.” ~Oscar Wilde~

EMMALINE

*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?


ONE 

“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~ 

SOLOMON


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.”

“Sounds good.”

“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. 


TWO 

“Important encounters are planned by the souls, long before the bodies see each other.” ~ Paulo Coelho~ 

EMMALINE


“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.

“No, I—”

“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.”

“I can’t.”

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. 


THREE 

“Sometimes it takes a wrong turn to get you to the right place.” ~Mandy Hale~ 

SOLOMON


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.

Fuck.

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.

Badly. 


FOUR 

“Forever is composed of nows.” ~Emily Dickens~

EMMALINE


“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.

It’s unfair.

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.” 


FIVE 

“She's a devil in disguise, I can tell by looking in her eyes, little Miss Strange.” ~Jimi Hendrix~ 

SOLOMON


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.

It pings.

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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