* * *
I STARE AT the closed door, my heart pounding out of my chest. My world just crumbled in front of me.
I punch the wall. My fist easily goes through the sheetrock. It’s no match for my anger. I debate going back inside. It takes everything I have to keep myself in place as an inner battle rages inside me. I want to go back in and make Paige see reason, even if it means facing down a gun. I wouldn’t care if she shot me, as long as she heard me out. Right now all she’s seeing is betrayal and maybe that’s what I’ve done. I did betray her on some level, but I never meant to hurt her. She laid herself bare to me and told me all her secrets. Yet I still kept mine hidden, because I was afraid of what she’d think when she found out.
I worked for her father’s organization for years, and I’ve been in contact with him over the past five. I fed him bullshit intel so that I could keep tabs on him. I’ve been trying to get information on him for my handler. I’ve been undercover digging up dirt on Alexander Owens. To bring him down, as well as his operation.
He’s running drugs and weapons in the underbelly of New York, using his companies as fronts. I’d long ago had enough information to take him down, but it wasn’t just about him; it was about something bigger. But then Paige walked into my life. She sent everything into a tailspin, and I didn’t know what to do. I’ve been pulled in so many directions over the years. It’s a balancing act that I haven’t mastered.
It became clear as I stared down the barrel of a gun, with the woman I love most in the world on the other side of it. I know exactly what I need to do. So much pain was on her face. She thought another man in her life failed her, and I never wanted that for her. I will do anything to take that look off her face.
The elevator sounds, and I turn to see Mallory getting off, her panic clear on her face. When she sees me, her expression turns to anger as she heads right toward me. When she lifts her fist to swing at me, I don’t bother trying to block it. I even let my head jerk with the punch, giving her the satisfaction she’s looking for. The punch hits part of my lip, and I taste blood.
“Holy motherfucker!” she yells. Paige’s front door flies open. “Why the hell didn’t you ever tell me how much it hurts to punch someone?” Mallory is yelling, but my eyes are on Paige. She still has the gun in her hand, hanging down by her side, her face red and blotchy as tears coat her cheeks.
I take a step toward her, but the look she gives me stops me dead. It’s not anger. It’s pain now. Deep, gut-wrenching pain that almost brings me to my knees. I put that there.
“Move, asshole.” Mallory pushes me, and I step aside, letting her get to Paige. She engulfs her in a hug, and Paige’s eyes fall closed as she seeks her friend’s comfort. Not mine. I was the one who was supposed to comfort her. Not rip her apart.
Mallory pulls away and pushes Paige back into her apartment. “Leave,” Mallory growls at me, before slamming the door, leaving me alone in the hallway all over again.
This ends tonight. I take the stairs down to my apartment and go straight for my safe. After pulling out everything I need, I go over to my computer and reach out to another operative. One I know I can trust to never speak a word of what I’m about to do. He owes me from when I saved his sister and kept my mouth shut. I had him in my back pocket once the man who had hurt her suddenly went missing.
I’m calling in my favor. Fuck everything else. Fuck the job. It stopped being about the job a long time ago. Everything I did always put Paige first, but maybe I should’ve taken out Alexander sooner. I wasn’t sure if that was what she really wanted until they came face-to-face weeks ago. The terror in her eyes was real. He was a monster that haunted her dreams, and only his death would bring peace.
When I held her in my arms while she cried and told me what had happened to her mother, I realized what she truly wanted. I’m going to give it to her. I would have done it years ago if I had known, but I know now. I’ll show her that I’ll do anything for her. Even if she doesn’t want me after. Even if everything blows up in my face, she will have peace of mind.