Well, maybe a ten percent chance.
It was probably somewhere around twenty-five but definitely no more than that.
The minute I got into my building, I reached for the switch. To my surprise, the light was already on. A strong hand gripped my wrist, spinning me around to face the person it belonged to.
Fight or flight? my body asked me.
Fight, my brain answered. Always fight.
I threw my bag in the intruder’s face, a growl ripping out of my mouth. He dodged it effortlessly, dumping it to the floor and causing the contents of my bag to roll out. I reached up to claw his eyes. He snatched both my wrists in one palm, locking them in place between us before backing me against the entrance door so we were flush against each other.
“Let me go!” I screamed.
To my shock, the dark, mammoth figure did just that, stepping back and picking up the pepper spray that fell from my bag to examine it flippantly.
I resisted the urge to rub my eyes in disbelief. But there he was, wearing a designer trench coat, pointy Italian loafers, and his signature go-fuck-yourself scowl that made my heart loop around like a stripper on a pole.
“You’re here,” I said, more to myself than to him.
Why? How? When? So many questions floated in my foggy brain.
“I sincerely hope our children won’t inherit your tendency to point out the obvious. I find it extremely trivial.” He popped the safety off the pepper spray and screwed it back right, so the next time I tried to use it, it would be ready to go.
“Hmm, what?” I swatted away wisps of hair that flopped over my eyes like stubborn branches in a jungle. The five o’clock shadow veiling the thick column of his throat made me want to press my lips to his neck.
His imperfections made him intimately beautiful. I despised every second of being around him.
“Remember I told you I don’t hand out free favors?” He rolled the pepper spray between his fingers, his eyes on the small canister.
“Kind of hard to forget.”
“Well, it’s your lucky day.”
“Allow me to be skeptical.”
At this point, I wasn’t down on my luck. I was six feet under it. Somewhere between hapless and cursed.
“I figured out what I want from you.”
“You want something from little ole me?” I put my hand to my chest with a mocking gasp while I tried to regulate my racing heartbeat. I couldn’t help it. He never missed a chance to belittle me. “I’m speechless.”
“Don’t get my hopes up, Flower Girl,” he muttered.
My nickname didn’t escape me. The Flower Girl was traditionally the toddler at the wedding, designed to draw coos and positive attention. The naïve kid whose job was to walk a straight line.
He stepped toward me, invading my personal space. His scent of male, dry cedar, and leather seeped into my system, making me drunk.
“For this to work, you mustn’t develop any feelings for me,” he warned darkly.
There was no point in telling him I’d never gotten over him in the first place. Not really. Not in all the ways that mattered.
He removed a lock of damp hair from my temple without touching my skin. The way he stared at me unnerved me. With cold contempt, suggesting he was brought here at gunpoint and not of his own free will.
“I will take care of your money and divorce problems. Make them go away. Not as a loan, but a gift.”
My body sagged with relief.
“Oh, God. Cillian, thank you so—”
“Let me finish,” he hissed, his voice cracking through the air like a whip. “I never let a good crisis go to waste, and yours might be very beneficial for me. You won’t have to pay me because your form of compensation will be on the unconventional side. You are going to be my wife. You will marry me, Persephone Penrose. Smile for the cameras for me. Attend charity events on my behalf. And give me children. As many as needed until I have a son. Be it one, three, or six.”
“Anything!” I cried out, rushing to accept his offer before his words sank in. “I would love to—”
For a long moment, I simply stared at him. I was trying to decide whether he was making some elaborate joke on my behalf.
Somehow, I didn’t think he was. For one thing, Cillian Fitzpatrick did not possess a sense of humor. If humor met him in a dark alley, it would shrivel into itself and explode into a cloud of squeaking bats. For another, more than he was cruel, Kill was terrifyingly pragmatic. He wouldn’t waste his precious time on pranking me.
“You want me to marry you?” I repeated dumbly.
His face was resigned and solemn. He offered me a curt nod.
Holy hell, he wasn’t kidding. The man of my dreams wanted to wed me. To take me as a wife.
There was only one possible answer for that.
“No.” I pushed him away. “Not in a million years. No, nope, nien, niet.” I was rummaging through my memory for other languages to refuse him in. “No,” I said again. “The last one was in Spanish, not English.”
“Elaborate,” he demanded.
“We can’t marry. We don’t love each other.” I tilted my chin up defiantly. “And yes, I know love is so very working class.”
“Middle class,” he corrected. “The happy, dumb medium is comfortable enough not to care, and stupid enough not to aim higher. Working and upper classes always take financial matters into consideration. May I remind you the last time you married for love,” he said the word as you would say herpes, “it ended with a massive debt, a runaway husband, and death threats? Love is overrated, not to mention fickle. It comes and goes. You can’t build a foundation on it. Mutual interests and alliance are a different story.”
But here was the really pathetic part—I didn’t want to marry him precisely because a part of me did love him.
Putting my happiness in his hands was the dumbest idea I’d ever have.
No matter how much I tried to ignore it, Kill was my first real crush. My first obsession. My unfulfilled wish. He would always hold a piece of my heart, and I didn’t want to think of all the ways he was going to abuse it if we were together.
Plus, marrying Boston’s most notorious villain was a bad idea, and I was pretty sure I’d filled my quota of asshole husbands for this century.
“Look, how about a compromise?” I smiled brightly. “I can date you. Be your girlfriend. Hang on your arm and take a good picture. We’ll have a little arrangement.”