CHAPTER 1

Her Life

When I first met Alex, he introduced himself as Alexander. I thought it was strange that he used the formal version of his name, given he arrived in worn jeans and a long-sleeve faded tee.

He arrived on a Sunday.

My husband Gerard and I had been out all morning playing golf with friends, and we didn’t notice him at first. Gerard had gone inside with the golf bags leaving me to collect our sweaters from the back seat of the car. I sensed Alex before I saw him, causing me to spin on my soft spikes as he approached from behind.

“Do you need any help?” he asked.

Alex looked different from how I’d imagined him when Gerard told me he might drop by sometime. I’d pictured him with menacing features—a sharp nose, lots of piercings or tattoos crawling up his thick neck. A shaved head perhaps. Well, I got the thick neck right. But without a photo from my husband, I’d been at the mercy of my wild imagination, and I was sure his stepbrother would be someone to fear, even with assurance from Gerard that Alex was not that type of badass to land himself in prison.  

“No thanks, I’m fine.” I scanned our driveway and yard, confused how he had arrived. He later told us he’d been dropped off by a taxi, that he’d been waiting in the gazebo and had fallen asleep. I doubt that now. I can almost guarantee he’d been watching us from the moment we’d arrived. Assessing our life, calculating where and how he would pull it apart.

When I squared myself to address him, he cocked his head then frowned. Through dark, thick lashes, his intense green eyes searched mine—like he recognized me from somewhere or that I reminded him of someone. I wasn’t sure if my heart skipped a beat because I felt nervous, or because I became intoxicated by the cologne he was wearing. A scent that was sweet, musky, and reeking of trouble.

“Christ, that’s a crop of red hair. You must be Paige,” he guessed, thrusting out a well-abused hand. “I’m Alexander, it’s about time we met.”
I was shaking his hand, still stunned by his blatant reference to my hair, when Gerard burst out the French doors, throwing his arms upward toward the clouding sky. “Aaaa-lex,” he exclaimed, surprised by Alex’s unexpected arrival.  

“In the flesh,” Alex sang out, squeezing my hand before dropping it and moving onward to meet Gerard halfway. I rubbed my palm where his touch still lingered, acutely aware of the chemical sensation his contact seemed to have left behind.

Gerard had spoken little of Alex before that day. I figured he was ashamed, perhaps embarrassed that his stepbrother had become incarcerated. It wasn’t exactly something Gerard, a newly appointed attorney, needed overshadowing his career, and I doubt he wanted to risk me discussing Alex amongst our friends. Not that I ever would. And so, Alex was out and looking for work, and it seemed Gerard couldn’t have been happier.

Ignoring me, they plunged into a conversation and made their way inside, leaving me to collect the last of our things from the car. I played hostess for a while, throwing together a platter of food for them to eat before I disappeared through the double doors into the living room, hoping to finish the novel I was reading. When Gerard needed to return calls that kept interrupting them, Alex was left wandering around the house until he found me.  

I admit, I was curious about Alex and my imagination went wild as he entered the room. I’d never seen a man like him up close before, at least not in the flesh. His lightly tattooed forearms looked as though he’d spent his days doing chin-ups using the prison’s overhead plumbing. I pictured him pinning down an inmate to beat the crap out of him, complete with blood and teeth scattered across a concrete floor. I shivered, but for some reason, I felt a strange desire to know how a woman would feel being caressed by his thick, strong hands. Did he even have a woman? Had there been one before he went to prison? Suddenly, I had so many questions; I found myself staring. My tongue was twitching, but my mind became frozen as fantasies of him banging a raven-haired beauty materialized in my mind’s eye. Her face being pressed up against a wall not giving one iota of resistance, even though her skin would later look pockmarked from the brick indentations, his lust being worth both the pleasure and the pain.  

He wore his boots inside—the type bikers wear. I was hoping he wouldn’t dirty the expensive rug as he made his way around the room, checking out our belongings. He looked scruffy—his shirt having seen better days. Tattered, it was missing almost all its buttons and was too small; by the way it molded itself over the contours of his chest, highlighting his muscular physique. Regardless of his unkempt appearance, Alex exuded a level of confidence I’d never sensed in anyone before. Strong yet unassuming, he was—intimidating.

“You guys have got a lot of nice stuff.” Alex nodded, I gather in appreciation, while he picked up random knick-knacks before his hand caressed a large glass egg. A Jack Storm original, whose price tag could feed a small village rather than be collecting dust in our home. From out of nowhere, I began wondering if Alex was casing the place, causing more heat to find my face.  

“Thanks, it’s mostly Gerard’s.” I looked back down at my book and fiddled with the corners of the page as he continued to hover around the room. Out the corner of my eye, I watched him drift over to the bookshelf, where he bent to peer at the horizontal bottle, containing a model ship I’d bought Gerard when we first started dating, some five years earlier. Suddenly, Alex glanced back and startled me.

Having caught me watching, his mouth turned up at the corners and a wicked glint lit his eyes. I didn’t know where to look. My focus darted around the room before falling on my book again, trying to gain control of my breathing.  

He wandered over to the windows next, blocking out the sunshine with his dominating stance, crossing his arms and spreading his legs wide. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He was so confident, raw, and masculine.

“What are you reading?” he asked, his back still turned away from me, just staring out at the pool and yard. His question for some reason made me anxious, confused that he was interested in me at all. Then all I could smell was his cologne again. It was as if the rise and fall of his broad shoulders as he breathed, helped the scent permeate the room. I started to notice minute things about him. Like the way his dark hair was matted in places, the oddly shaped scar at the back of his neck, and the way he clenched and unclenched his hands that were still folded against his chest. The room became so thick of him, I could almost taste him.

“I beg your pardon?” came my stuttered reply, sounding more like a stupid whimper, as though it wasn’t a reasonable question he was asking. But I was so bewildered by the effect he was having on me, I found it hard to formulate any rational thoughts.

“What are you reading?” he repeated, still transfixed by something outside.

“A book.”

Finally, he turned around. “I can see that. But what’s it about?”

“Oh. Um.” Flustered, I then looked like a complete idiot because I turned the cover over to look at the title. I heard him chuckle. When I looked up, a smile was still lingering, a cheeky grin that softened what I first thought to be a harsh face.  

I became so heated, I glanced up at the air conditioner, mentally willing it to turn itself on. “It’s nonfiction, a memoir.”

“I thought as much.” He stuffed his hands in the pockets of his jeans and rocked on his heels, his head bobbing, just staring at me.
I didn’t get to know what he meant by that, because Gerard came back and strangely, I felt like our conversation was too private to continue.

“Sorry, Alex. It seems the wicked never rest.” Gerard looked at me and frowned. “Paige, don’t we have any cold beers in the fridge?” He sounded a little annoyed that I hadn’t been hospitable.

Uncurling my legs, I apologized then made my way to the bar, all the while I could feel Alex’s eyes following me. Even when I peeked over my shoulder, as Alex was led to view Gerard’s prized collection of rare books, he was still watching me.

Squatting behind the bar and out of sight for a moment, I tried calming myself in front of the fridge. Wrapping my hands around the cold bottles, I placed them on my burning cheeks. Most likely I was warming the beer, but I didn’t care—my face was on fire.  

When I stood, Gerard was showing Alex something in a book he’d plucked off the shelf. I went over to them and held out the opened bottles. Gerard took the beer absently still chatting away, but when Alex took my offering, his hand covered mine; holding tightly for what seemed like the longest moment.  

At first, I thought it was an accident because he was paying attention to Gerard, but when he didn’t readjust his hold, I realized he meant to pin me in place. It both scared and thrilled me that Alex could be so bold, to make such a gesture with my husband right there.

Most people, when describing someone’s touch, say it was electric, like heat or a buzz. That’s not what it felt like when Alex held on to me, and it’s most likely why I didn’t jerk my hand away. His touch wasn’t electrical; it was soothing and magnetic, like he couldn’t or wouldn’t let me go. I just stood there like a zombie until he finally moved his hand, his fingers taking hold of the neck of the bottle instead. Then he winked and held my gaze. He didn’t speak, didn’t utter one word. But in those few seconds as his eyes searched mine, I could feel him questioning me.  

I eventually excused myself, saying I needed to take a shower. But really, I just needed to get away. Everything about Alex unsettled me. His actions, his deep voice. The way he kept trying to catch my eye. I knew that if Gerard hadn’t been there that afternoon, Alex would have slowly and seductively drilled me. Found out everything he could. Studied my flaws, preyed on my weaknesses.  

For the last five years I’d been living a blissful, happy life with the man of my dreams. But suddenly, Alex had me doubting myself. I felt like a fraud, and intuitively, I knew my life was about to get turned upside down.

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