“What’s the prognosis?” Acheron asked as his long-time friend joined him at his private bar.
“Dehydration, and while I’ll need tests for actual confirmation, I suspect drug use in the past forty-eight hours.” Track marks – and their location – could say a lot about a person’s habits, when one knew what to look for.
Acheron knew a ‘but’ tone when he heard one, and his lips tightened. “There’s something else, isn’t it?”
“I also believe she’s a victim of physical abuse, most likely domestic.” Alistair paused. “But you and Wickham are already aware of this, aren’t you?”
“The three of us belonged to the same…family when we were young.”
“No need to pussyfoot on my account, Wick.” Glancing at his friend, Acheron said evenly, “She was already the big man’s mistress when Wick and I were recruited. Had been so since she was thirteen.”
Alistair bit out an expletive.
The Greek billionaire inclined his head. “My sentiments exactly.”
“If not for Amy’s interference,” Wick said heavily, “we might never have been able to leave the gang at all.”
“But she didn’t go with you,” Alistair surmised.
“It’s too late for her.” It was always the excuse Amelia gave Acheron every damn time he tried to convince her to start a new life, and his voice held a bitter edge as he repeated the words for his friend.
Listening to Acheron’s story, Alistair started remembering some of the oldest conversations he had with his friend, and he drew his breath when the truth eventually dawned on him. “It’s her, isn’t it?” he asked in surprise. “Amy is Amelia. The great love from your past that you used to talk about whenever you’re trousered.”
The all-too-British term had Acheron’s lips twisting in a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “She is an important person in my life, ne.”
Alistair’s puzzlement only grew. “Then shouldn’t you be happy she’s finally left the old life behind? That’s what she’s here for, isn’t it?”
“She also thinks we can resume our relationship,” Acheron revealed curtly, “and I have a feeling she’ll bolt the moment I tell her that ship’s long sailed.”
“Then just fake it until she’s strong enough to handle being on her own.” Alistair had always been a pragmatic man, and romantic feelings had never been of much importance to him.
Acheron downed the rest of his brandy in one gulp. “I can’t.”
Before Alistair could ask why, a suddenly uneasy-looking Wickham interrupted them then, saying tensely, “There’s something you should know, Mr. Simonides. Earlier, I was trying to tell you—”
“Ah, yes.” Acheron did recall Wickham making several attempts to call his attention to something, but in his concern to get Amelia away from prying eyes, he had told the other man to keep a lid on it until he had his ex-lover safely settled in his apartment. “What was it you wanted to say?”
“It’s Ms. Jones, sir.”
“Since I had left strict instructions that you were not to be disturbed, security had been intending to see Amy out when she started causing a disturbance. Ms. Jones witnessed their altercation—”
Acheron could feel the blood draining from his face. “Are you saying Pippi’s seen Amelia?”
“It’s more than that.” Wickham’s tone was heavy. “Ms. Jones chose to intervene on Amy’s behalf, and it was she who called me. She said…a woman who had introduced herself as your girlfriend—-”
He excused himself from his friend, and he already had his phone out and was dialing Pippi’s number even before he reached his study. But it was as he feared, and his call went straight to voice mail once more.
The sickening feeling in his stomach was disturbingly familiar now, and cold sweat enveloped his skin as he thought of all the things he had to make up to Pippi. If she ended up asking for his head, he’d gladly serve it on a silver platter.
Right now, all he needed was to have her back.
It was almost eight in the evening when Pippi got off the bus, feeling emptier than ever but thankfully dry-eyed, which was all she cared about. It hadn’t been the case when she left the office, and the hurt had just kept swelling inside of her that she had found herself running to the nearest alley.
And then she had bawled like a child.
I should’ve known he was only messing with me.
I should’ve known.
I should’ve known.
And with her tears showing no signs of stopping, she had decided to send Astrid a message and lied about having overtime. After that, she had walked aimlessly around town, walking and walking until she had run out of tears to cry.
The only thing left to do now, she thought, was to make sure she could act like everything was okay.
But when she went around the corner, Pippi realized there were other bigger things she had to worry about than keeping her family from realizing how heartbroken she was.