Sasha’s perfect lips parted, and the hand at his side clenched into a fist as he took a step closer to her. All that separated them was the box he held in his other hand. “I never meant to hurt you.”

But he had anyway. Over and over. She stepped back and ignored his quasi-apology. “Ready to get this over with?” she managed to ask with a completely straight face.

“Absolutely.” The smooth line of his jaw clenched and he knelt on the floor, setting the box down and opening it. He pulled out four empty vials and scooped up some water. “I’ll need some time to find out what I can add to this that will seem like a natural impurity.”

“Why bother?”

“I don’t want him to win.”

She didn’t need to ask who “him” was. Shifting her stance, she clicked the flashlight’s on/off button a couple of times as he capped each one off. “Was I payback? A big you-can’t-tell me-what-to-do experiment?”

“No.” He didn’t elaborate and she refused to ask him anything else. After storing the vials and closing the box, he stood and held out his hand. “Shall we?”

Rose swallowed, remembering his hands on her body last night, this morning. His fingers teasing and making her cry out in pleasure. His palms gliding over her back and pulling her closer. Holding her, making her feel safe and wanted.

That was all it had been—a feeling. Fleeting and bruising her poor heart more than she’d ever imagined.

Sighing, she took his hand and they began the dark trek back to the house.

Chapter Eighteen

Sasha stood at the front door, wishing Rose would give him a proper send off. Hell, he didn’t care if it involved a knife or a rock. The need to see her alone ate at him, but Skye had shown up fifteen minutes after they’d emerged from the tunnel. He knew without a doubt that he wouldn’t get another chance.

And as if God was in a really good mood, or out to let the Devil torture him, Rose appeared at the top of the grand staircase and his heart turned over.

“Leave your house key on the table, and I’ll get the remainder of your rent back to you on Monday,” she said, staring right through him it seemed.

“Keep it.”

An elegant brow arched. “For services rendered?”

His jaw nearly dropped to the floor. “Quit thinking of yourself like that. You’re not Poppy Holland for Christ’s sake. You have a choice and—” She whirled away from him and disappeared down the hall. “Rose, come back.” He strode to the stairs and put one foot on the bottom step, poised to chase after her. But self-preservation, male ego or whatever he wanted to call it stopped him from making a complete arse of himself.

Blackbeard meowed as he crept into the foyer and threaded through Sasha’s legs.

“This is goodbye, you mangy cur.” Sasha knelt and stroked the feline’s back, making the cat purr. “Can’t say I’ve enjoyed sharing a bed with you.”

Straightening, Sasha gave a last hard look up the stairs, turned on his heel and walked out of the house. He got in his car, not really paying attention to his destination. Before he knew it, he was putting the Mercedes in park at his cousin’s house.

The cheery home with its white picket fence and carefully tended flowerbeds were the exact opposite of Strawberry Grove. No shutters threatened to fall on his head. The porch steps didn’t creak as he jogged up them and when the door swung open, there was a person responsible for it. It was utter rubbish that he wished to be back there.

“Sasha,” Christian said with a scowl.

“Why are you never happy to see me? After all I’ve done—the late nights, the research, encouraging global debauchery.” Sasha frowned at his cousin’s choice of graphic T-shirt and dark jeans. “Is she dressing you now?”

“She’s asleep, and I’ll thank you not to wake her.” Christian crossed muscular arms over his chest and adjusted his stance to block Sasha from entering.

Sasha raised a brow and looked down his nose at him, no easy feat considering they were about the same height. “I’m not welcome?”


Inwardly Sasha cringed. He’d hoped by the time Christian and his wife had returned from their honeymoon, that he’d be forgiven. Apparently, he’d hoped for too much. “Care to elaborate?”

“Not really.”

Sasha rolled his eyes and fiddled with his keys. “Not good with the big words, eh?”

Uncrossing his arms, Christian leaned back and closed the door behind him. “As much as you’re like a brother to me, I can’t have you in my life anymore. You don’t work for me. Hell, I don’t need a personal assistant anymore because of all the things you did for me.”

“You’re welcome.”

“For what?”

“Saving your ass.” There had been a time in Christian’s life when he’d not made the best of choices. Sasha had been at the right place at the right time and had gotten his cousin out of a very bad situation. But years later, thanks to the internet’s love of all things viral, it had come back to bite Christian, costing him his career and nearly making him give up the one thing he loved the most.

Christian blinked and rubbed his jaw. “That you did, but I’ll not have you spying for Vladimir. He can speculate on my personal life like everyone else—by Googling me.”

“I’m not here to spy on you.” But he was and the look on Christian’s face damned him for a liar.

“Then what are you here for—murder, mayhem or a general f**k all someone’s life for the greater evil?”

“Will there be a quiz on this later?” Sasha drawled. He hadn’t committed murder, but the other two he’d been acquainted with for years. Though what he’d done to Rose should have him sentenced to life imprisonment.

Christian raked a hand through his hair. “For once in your life, Alexander, be serious.”

“Do you think I like this sorry excuse of existence I call my life? I have to be what I am. Unlike you, I have no choice. There’s no telling Vladimir to shove off while I ride into the sunset with the woman I love. I’m not f**king allowed. So take your serious comment and bugger it.” Sasha clenched his fists, wanting to punch something or someone. Himself, mostly.

“Who is she?” Christian asked, his light eyes probing.

A woman with beautiful blue eyes and a caring soul. A woman whose rare smiles made him feel victorious when she gifted him with one. A woman who made his heart sprint by only thinking of her. A woman he helped destroy. His shoulders threatened to sag. “There is no she.”