That was who.
I entertained this insane idea for many reasons, all of them wrong:
No more money problems.
A sure divorce from Paxton.
Having Cillian’s company, and undivided attention, even if just for a few short years.
Who knew? Maybe Auntie Tilda was going to deliver after all. We could start off as an arrangement and end up as a real couple.
No. I couldn’t board his train to Crazy Town. The last stop was Heartbreak, and I’d had enough of that in my life. Paxton had already crushed me. But my infatuation with Pax was sweet and comfortable. Cillian always stirred in me something raw and wild that could enrapture me.
I needed to think about it clearly without him getting in my face with his drugging scent and square jaw and cold flawlessness.
I stepped sideways, toward the stairway. “Look, can I think about it?”
“Of course. You have plenty of time. It’s not like the mob is after you,” his rich-boy diction mocked me.
I knew exactly how bad my situation was. Still, if I was going to officially sign the rest of my life over to the man who crushed me, I needed to at least give myself a few days to process it.
“Give me a week.”
“Twenty-four hours,” he fired back.
“Four days. You’re talking about the rest of my life here.”
“You’re not going to have a life if you don’t accept. Forty-eight hours. That’s my final offer, and it’s a generous one. You know where to find me.”
He turned around, making his way to the door.
“Wait,” I yelped.
He paused, not turning around.
A flashback of myself watching him leave and asking him to stay at Sailor and Hunter’s wedding slammed into me. I knew, with certainty that scorched my soul, that it was going to be our norm if I accepted his offer.
I would always seek him out, and he would always retreat to the shadows. A dusky, heady smoke of a man I could feel and see but never catch.
“Give me your home address. I don’t want to go to your office again. It makes me feel like we’re conducting business.”
“We are conducting business.”
“Your PA is horrible. She almost stabbed me that day I visited you.”
“Almost is the operative word here.” Producing a business card, he flipped it over and scribbled down his address. “I wouldn’t have covered her legal fees, and she knows it.”
He handed the card to me.
“Forty-eight hours,” he reminded me. “If I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume you declined my offer or were offed prematurely, and move on to the next candidate on my list.”
“There’s a list.” My jaw dropped.
Of course there was a list. I was just one of many women who ticked all the boxes for the mighty Cillian Fitzpatrick.
I wondered what said boxes included.
I swallowed, but the ball in my throat didn’t budge. I felt about as disposable as a diaper and just as desirable.
Cillian shot me an icy look.
“Go browse through your mail-order brides catalog, Cillian.” I narrowed my eyes at him. “I’ll let you know my answer.”
I watched him go, carrying my freedom, hopes, and choices in his designer pocket.
Knowing it didn’t matter whether I refused or accepted his offer—either choice would be a mistake.
The next day, I showed up at work in a coffee-stained dress and with bloodshot eyes. I’d called Sailor, swallowing my pride and doing what I promised not to do—ask her for a loan. But before I could even utter out the request, she told me she’d been feeling suspicious cramps in her abdomen, and I couldn’t bring myself to ask.
I spent my lunch break calling every cash loaner in Boston. Most hung up on me, some laughed, and a handful expressed their regret, but said they’d have to pass on my business.
I even tried calling Sam Brennan. I was met with an electronic message asking for a code to get through to him.
I didn’t have access to the most mysterious man in Boston.
Though I grew up as his younger sister’s best friend, I was as invisible to him as the rest of my friends.
Belle was at work when I got home. I was glad she was because a box waited outside her apartment door. The parcel was addressed to me, so I opened it. There were two pieces of lingerie inside.
I picked up a black lace thong, realizing inside the lingerie waited a bullet.
I ran to the bathroom, throwing up the very little I’d eaten.
Shoving a sleeve of crackers into my mouth, I swallowed a small chunk of cheese, and washed them down with orange juice.
I crawled into Belle’s bed, still in my work dress. It was cold and empty. The rain knocking on the window reminded me of how alone I was.
Mom and Dad had moved to the suburbs a couple of years ago. Moving in with them now would invite trouble to their doorstep—deadly trouble—and I couldn’t do it to them.
Sailor was married and having a baby, running a successful food blog and training young archers as a part of a charity foundation she started. Her life was full, complete, and good.
Ash was busy coming up with schemes to win Sam Brennan over, going to med school, and blossoming into one of the most fantastic women I’d ever met.
And Belle was making a career for herself.
Lying still in the darkness, I watched through the window as Lady Night went through all her outfits. The sky turned from midnight to neon blue, then finally, orange and pink. When the sun climbed up Boston’s high-rise skyline, inch by inch like a queen rising from her throne, I knew I had to make a decision.
The sky was cloudless.
Auntie Tilda wasn’t going to help me get out of this one. It was my decision to make. My responsibility.
Silence buzzed through the apartment. Belle hadn’t returned home last night. She was probably inside a handsome man’s bed, splaying her curves like a work of art for him to worship.
Scurrying out of bed, I padded barefoot into the kitchenette, then flicked on the coffee machine and Belle’s vintage radio. The same eighties station that never failed to lift my spirits belted out the last few notes of “How Will I Know” by Whitney Houston, followed by a weather forecast, warning about an impending storm.
There was a vase full of fresh roses on the counter, courtesy of one of the many admirers who frequented Madame Mayhem in hopes to capture my sister’s interest.