“I DON’T LIKE HIM.”
“Who?” I asked Gage as I pressed into the muscles of his oiled back with the heel of both hands, sliding to my forearms and elbows.
He grunted as I hit muscles near his spine, circling my elbow into it, kneading out the knot.
“That boy that was with you after class today.”
I sat up, still straddling his lower back, trying to remember.
“Brice or Leo?” I put more cream on my hands, rubbing them together to warm them up.
“The football player.” Gage pushed up onto his forearms to look back at me, eyebrow raised. “The one that was all over you.”
“That’s Brice.” I pushed his shoulders, spreading the cream and forcing him back down on the couch. “And first off, he wasn’t all over me, he only gave me hug. And second, him and Leo are together.” My thumbs slid up his neck, pressing into the muscles there and keeping his head from rising back up. “And third,” I leaned down, placing a kiss between his shoulder blades. “I’ve got you. I don’t pay attention to anyone else.” I wiped in the last bit of cream into his skin. “Brice is always talking about you though, he’s a bit star struck.”
“Okay then. Just make sure he keeps his hands to himself,” he relented, his hands reaching behind him to grip my thighs.
“Turn around.” I raised up on my knees to give his body space, and he turned beneath me.
I settled back on him with a smile as I slid my hands over his chest. “Tell your masseuse to keep her hands to herself. I don’t like her.” There were other people I wanted to add to this list, but the past two weeks had been going too good. Gage had been focused on training for his fight, and I was focused on school. I wasn’t about to move the conversation anywhere serious.
His stomach bounced beneath me as he laughed, and he grabbed my wrists on his chest. “She’s got to touch me. But you can take her job any day.”
“No.” I pulled my hands away. “With the amount of time you’ve been putting in at the gym, you need one, but get a guy. He’ll have strong hands.”
“You’ve only got tomorrow, and then you’re done the semester. You need a job, wouldn’t you want to do this everyday?” His eyes heated my skin as they moved over me, and his hands gripped my thighs again, the thin material of my leggings let me feel everything. I had to stop myself from rocking on him as a pleasant burn swirled low in my stomach.
“I don’t know. This is hard work, and soon my belly might get in the way.” I snapped my mouth close; I hadn’t intended to say that. That same fear pulled me down whenever I thought of the baby. A fear I couldn’t even place or explain. A fear of everything to come, the unknown.
But Gage’s full lips slid to a soft smile, and his hands slid over my stomach, cupping it like there was already a bump. “I can’t wait.” His eyes met mine, and I knew he meant it. “I think it’s already growing.” His smile grew, but I reached for his hands.
“It’s only because we just ate. In the morning it’s still flat.” I stared down at my stomach, there was a slight curve, but it had to be the food. Gage’s washboard abs taunted me and turned me on at the same time.
When I looked back up, he was staring at me, and one side of his smile dropped for a second. Then he sat up, pushing me back some. He swirled his index finger, signaling for me to turn around. “It’s my turn now.”
“I wasn’t finished, we didn’t get your chest.” He was lifting me, forcing me to turn and sit back down on his lap.
“I’ll get Lin to do it tomorrow, now sit still.”
“Lin? Of course she’ll be more than happy to—oh.” I sunk into his fingers as they ran up my spine, arching my back like a cat on a post. He pressed into the muscles in a way that had me melting and moving to get more. I hadn’t realized how sore I was until this moment.
“Your shoulders are really tense, babe. You need to relax more.” He pulled me back against his warm chest as his long fingers slid over my collar bone and shoulders. “I’ll get Lin to give you a massage tomorrow too, after your test.”
“Don’t remind me.” I rolled my neck to the side, giving his fingers full access. “I can’t wait for that last final to be over.”
His breath was cool on my neck compared to his heated hands. “And the doctors appointment is Thursday right?”
“Yes, at 5:30.” I focused on the feel of his hands, a moan escaping as he kneaded a knot between my shoulders.
His teeth clamped light on my ear. “Stop making that noise or this massage is going to get cut short.”
I rocked into his lap, feeling the length of his hardness press between my ass and his stomach. Rolling my head back on his shoulder, I spoke into the skin of his neck. “Is that a promise?”
His chest rumbled behind me, vibrating through me. He dropped his hands to my thighs, spreading them as his lips covered mine, and I tasted his groan. His fingers dipped into the waistband of my leggings, sliding into me, pumping and building pressure. I more than moaned, and he drank them down, absorbing them into his mouth.
I awoke to the click of a door, Gage’s voice trailing down the hall beyond it, fading as he walked away.
I sat up disoriented, trying to place the where and when in the dark. I had been in the middle of a confusing dream. The tableside clock read 4:08 am.
Only the soft buzz of silence surrounded me now, Gage was out of hearing range. I untangled myself from the sheets and went to see where he went, what was going on.
Since Vegas, we had only focused on his training. That’s what we talked about, but I knew he still had “meetings” with Viktor and still stopped by the club. But I knew that all came with Gage, he’d told me repeatedly there was no getting out. There had been no late nights recently though, and I’d reveled in the time I had with him, even if it felt like I was holding my breath, just waiting for the jump, for something to happen.
As I walked down the hallway, my skin goose bumped from more than the chill in the air. He was speaking low, the murmur of his voice getting clearer the closer I got to his office.
“When?…I remember…You know I will…I’ll be there…”
I stood outside the door, palm on the handle. I was going to open it. I wasn’t sneaking around. I wasn’t spying on him. That’s what I told myself, but I stood frozen, listening to the sounds coming from the other side of the door, soft sliding and thumps as he opened and closed drawers.
“Is that what she said?…Come on now, you know better…they won’t listen to that. We’ve already come to terms.” His quiet tone was rising as a tide of frustration built in his words. “Forget it. I’ll be there, just—don’t fucking speak or make another move till I get there.” One last drawer closed, and then there was silence.
I turned the knob, about to enter, when the door opened. Gage’s eyes flashed with surprise to see me, but his body relaxed in the next second, and his hand slid over my shoulder, walking us back to our room.
“Did I wake you up? I’m sorry, there was a call I had to take.”
“I heard.” I returned his honesty with my own, sliding my arm around his bare waist, he was only in his boxers.
The urgency I heard on the phone was absent from him now, and I was trying to keep from jumping to conclusions.
He nodded, waiting till we were in the bedroom to speak. “Go back to bed. I’ve got to go, but I’ll make sure someone’s here to take you to school today.” He sat me on the mattress and disappeared into the closet.
I stayed seated on the edge of the bed, gripping the sheets under my fingers. When he came back out of the closet, buttoning up his shirt with dark pants on, I questioned him. “What’s going on?”
He lifted his eyes from his buttons, meeting mine, and then shook his head, dismissing the question. “Nothing you need to worry about.” He stepped close, his hands dropping to my head and sliding down to my shoulders as his lips grazed my forehead. “Get your rest, and go take your test. I’ll be home later.”
I gripped his hands before he could walk away. “Don’t do that.”
He paused, questions in his eyes.
“Don’t dismiss me like that. I asked what’s going on, and you promised to keep me in the loop.”
He sighed, dropping down onto the bed next to me. “It’s only business. Ian’s taking on too much at once and not juggling it well. I’ve got to go sort it out now, before it becomes anything big.”
“Come on, Gage. I know it’s not just club business.” I leaned back from him.
He ran his hands over his head. “I didn’t say it was. I said it was business, and it is.” He stood up, pulling his gun holster from a drawer and sliding it over his shoulders. He turned back around, facing me. “And I meant it, it doesn’t involve you, don’t worry.” He stepped towards me. “I’ll be home later, I’ll fill you in then.” He slid his hand under my hair, behind my neck, not letting me pull away. “Now, wait for Sal. He’ll take you to school, and you can ace your test.” He pressed his lips to mine and then left the room.
His avoidance of the question stirred my agitation, but I tried to still it. I’d hold him to his word of telling me later, but I was too jumpy to go back to bed. Instead, I pulled out my statistics book and spent the next few hours studying, or more like stared at the page of formulas while thinking about what Gage was doing.
I don’t know if I aced my test. It was one of those things where I zipped through it unsure if I understood it all or only thought I did and was getting it all wrong. But I know Gage didn’t come home like he said he would, and he didn’t talk like he said he would.
He slipped into our bed in the middle of the night, pulling me to him and mumbling how much he loved me, like he had been asleep instead of out. But I wouldn’t relax in his arms. I couldn’t fall back to sleep.
“What happened today?” I asked, not pulling away yet, not wanting to make more of this than I needed to.
He sighed, eyes closed as he held me tighter. “Everything that could go wrong did. And it took longer to sort out than I thought it would.”
“What went wrong?” I whispered as I turned around in his arms to face him.
He opened his eyes then and gave me a soft smile. “Just little things. I left them alone too long, and they’ve managed to mess up the order I had going. It’s going to take a little time to get it all sorted, but that’s what I’ve got to do.” His soft lips pressed to my forehead and then his eyes closed again. “Now, shh, let’s go to sleep. It’s been a long day, and I only have a couple of hours before I have to go back.”
“Wait, you haven’t really said what’s going on. What do you have to do tomorrow?”
His hand moved up and down my back, tired eyes meeting mine, looking for understanding. “I’ve got to oversee an order coming through tomorrow and meet with Viktor after. Like I said, sort it all out. It’s only typical business stuff. Now can we please go to bed? We can talk more tomorrow.”
I nodded, letting it go for now. He needed rest, I could tell, and his body was heating next to mine, pulling me back into sleep.
“Bye, Sal.” I wanted to slam the car door, but he closed it for me as I got out.
“You going anywhere else today? Should I wait?”
“No. You can go, but if you see Gage, tell him to call me.” I turned around, not caring to cover my frustration, not waiting for a response as I stepped onto the elevator, heading home.
I pulled out my phone. Still nothing. No missed calls, no text messages, nothing in response to my calls.
He had missed the doctor’s appointment. He’d been talking about it all week, but he missed it. My muscles pulled between anger and worry. I tried to focus on the anger, that was easier.
The doors slid open to our floor and I went into the condo, holding my breath. But I let it go, with my last bit of hope, when I confirmed it was empty. And still, my phone was frustratingly silent.
I was already in stretch pants, t-shirt, and tennis shoes, and my muscles screamed for release. So I left as quick as I came and went back to the elevator, only going to the gym on the first floor. I debated going to our typical gym, but I wasn’t going to let my anger cause me to take risks. Gage had been adamant about Sal taking me everywhere.
I paced myself, making sure to not push too far, listening to my body to tell me when I had enough. Unfortunately that time came too soon, not enough time had passed for Gage to call back. And each second that ticked by added to my worry, till it was overflowing. He had wanted to be there today, he had wanted to hear the heart beat. The sound was scarred into my brain; a whooshing, steady, fast beat. Our baby. Only fourteen weeks.
I showered in the empty gym locker room, not wanting to go back to the empty condo just yet. As I walked out, someone grabbed my elbow, steadying me, holding me in place at the door.
My heart stopped as I looked into Anthony’s brown eyes and I tore away from him. “What the hell are you doing here? Who let you in? You’re not allowed in this building.”
The building had security at all entrances; no one was aloud to come in without permission. His sudden appearance was making my head spin and throb.
“You never called.” He held his hands back, but his body still blocked my escape, unless I ran back in the locker room.
“And I won’t be calling. I already told you, I don’t know anything. Now get the hell out of here before I report you.”
“Regan, my offer to help you is about to expire. It’s now or never.”
“Never. Now get out.” I crossed my arms, anger filling me. He wasn’t someone I would shrink from, and he needed to see I was serious.
“You don’t understand. Things are happening, we’re getting close, and they’re feeling the pressure.” He took a step towards me, losing control of his voice as he tried to convince me. “People have gone missing, and if you don’t come over now, we can’t protect you against anything.”
“Help me? You just said people are missing, and you think being seen with you would help me? Get out of here, now.” I was certain his motives had nothing to do with helping me. I stepped towards him, pushing him back. “I told you, I don’t know anything. But this is my only warning, if you keep bothering me, it’ll be you that needs protection.”
He didn’t flinch, but his eyes narrowed like he caught me. “Against who? Gage? Where was he today, Regan? He didn’t make it to your appointment.” He dropped his gaze to my stomach. “His priorities are going to get him put in jail. You have to be the one to make the right choice if you want that baby to stand a chance at a decent life.”
I heard the truth in his words, but I couldn’t show that to him.
He stepped back, letting me go. “Now’s the time to decide. What’s it going to be?”
I didn’t hesitate. I turned and walked away from him without looking back.
The moment I stepped into the condo and locked the door, my mask burst and all strength left me. My stomach clenched with nerves that wrecked me. I tried calling Gage repeatedly, but his phone went straight to voicemail.
Desperate, I called Sal.
“Mrs. Lawson, do you need a ride?”
“Are you with Gage?” I cut off his question.
“But you know where he is.”
He hesitated. “He’s at the Dollhouse, I’m on my way now. I’ll tell him you called.”
I hung up and called the club. A girl answered, and when I asked for Gage, she put me on hold.
“Hello, can I help you?” Cherry’s clipped tone frayed my nerves.
“I need to speak to Gage.”
“Who is this?” She questioned, voice low.
“His wife. It’s important.”
The music in the background faded and she laughed. “I’m sure it is, but we’re busy. Call his phone, he can decide if he want’s to talk to you or not.”
Anger torched my thoughts as she hung up. I wanted to strangle her. I wanted to strangle him for not answering.
I called back, but Cherry grabbed the phone from the girl that answered the second she knew who it was.
“Look, take a hint. He’s busy. Let the adults deal with business. You can whine to him later.”
She hung up again, and I went to the room and changed, grabbing my keys and gun on the way out. I had to talk to Gage and warn him about what Anthony said, but I’d also show that bitch she couldn’t dismiss me.
The drive to the club didn’t give me time to cool off. It only gave me time to replay the conversation over and over, reinforcing the anger tearing through me.
I stormed into the club on a mission, no one stopping me. The place was packed, and I couldn’t see who all filled the main room, but I weaved through the tables and people, going straight to Gage’s office—or his old office.
The door was locked, and I banged on it with no answer.
A girl, Porsha, stopped in front of me with a smile. “Mrs. Lawson, they’re all in the paradise lounge right now. Can I get you a drink?”
I shook my head and walked away, unable to pretend at any pleasantries.
There were several VIP lounges and the paradise room was the biggest. I was met with a wall of people when I entered. Too many to see through, and I felt claustrophobic as I weaved between men in suits and girls in barely anything. I spotted Ian sitting on the couch that ran along the far wall.
He saw me and rose to his feet, something flickering in his eyes. “Regan, what are you doing here?” He gripped my elbow the moment he was next to me and walked me out of the room. “Does Gage know you’re here?”
“Where is he? I need to talk with him.” I went with him, hoping he’d talk.
“I’ll get him, but…”His nervousness was suffocating as he looked around. “You shouldn’t be here. He won’t like that.”
“Just go get him.” I pulled out of his grip as we walked into the hall. Some people spotted the walls, but the open space allowed me to take a breath.
Ian looked down at me with a nod. “Yeah, okay. I’ll get him, just stay here.” Instead of stepping away, he looked down the hall some. “No, actually wait in here.” He pulled me to a smaller room and flipped on the lights, illuminating it in a soft red glow. “Wait here.”
He walked away, and I tried to make sense of what was going on, I tried to quiet the fear screaming in me.
I couldn’t stand still and went to the doorway to wait for Gage to come down the hall. But instead, what I saw made me regret leaving the condo.
Anatoli Rusnak stepped out of the Paradise room. His eyes landed on me just as retreated to hide in the room. But I realized my mistake too late. I should have stayed in the hall. I tried to step back out, but he was already at the door.
His body filled the frame, dark grey suit moving with him like a second skin. His hair was slicked back but a strand fell in his face, the only thing out of place.
“Sweetheart, I didn’t think you would come here tonight.” He smiled and stepped into the room, forcing me back further.
Then he shut the door behind him, closing my escape. I stood tall, pretending that everything in me wasn’t dissolving, that I was more than a puddle of fear. I let the weight of my gun, strapped to my leg under my boot, give me strength.