When I first met Alex, he introduced himself as Alexander. I thought it was strange he used the formal version of his name, given he arrived in worn jeans and a faded long sleeve 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 while I collected our sweaters from the back seat of our car. I sensed Alex’s presence before I saw him, quickly turning as he approached from behind.
“Do you need any help?” he asked.
He looked different from how I’d imagined him when Gerard told me he might drop by sometime. I’d pictured Alex 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 Gerard, I’d been at the mercy of my wild imagination, and I was sure Alex would be someone to fear, even with assurance from Gerard that Alex was not that kind of bad-ass that lands himself in prison.
“No thanks, I’m fine,” I replied, scanning our driveway and yard, confused how he had arrived. Later, he would tell 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 could 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 was becoming intoxicated by the cologne he was wearing. Sweet, musky, and just 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, stunned at his blatant reference to my hair when Gerard burst out the French doors.
“Alex…” he drew out his name, throwing his arms upward toward the clouding sky, gesturing his surprise at Alex’s unexpected arrival.
“In the flesh,” he 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 among our friends. Not that I ever would. And now, Alex was out and looking for work, and it seemed Gerard couldn’t have been happier. The brothers shook hands then went in for the hug, making the physical contrast in them fascinatingly obvious.
Ignoring me, they plunged into a conversation and made their way inside, while I collected 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 disappearing into the lounge—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 could picture him straddling an inmate to beat the crap out of him, complete with blood and teeth scattering across a concrete floor. I shivered, but for some reason, I felt a strange desire to know how a woman felt beneath those thick, strong hands while he caressed their tender flesh. Did he even have a woman? I wondered. 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, while checking out our belongings. He looked scruffy—his long sleeve shirt having seen better days. Faded, 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. 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 assumed in appreciation, while picking up random knick-knacks before his hand caressed a large glass egg. A Jack Storm original, whose price tag could have fed a small village rather than be here, collecting dust in our home. Suddenly, I was wondering whether Alex was casing the place, causing more heat to find my face.
“Thanks, mostly it’s Gerard’s,” I said, looking back down at my book, fiddling with the corners of the page while he continued to hover around the room.
Drifting over to the bookshelf, he bent and peered at the horizontal bottle containing a model ship that I’d bought Gerard when we first started dating, some five years ago. Suddenly, Alex glanced back, startling 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 while I tried to get 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 slightly. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He was so confident, raw, and masculine.
“What are you reading?” he asked. His back was still turned away just staring out at the yard and pool and I wondered why he cared. I became anxious that he was interested in me at all. Suddenly, I could smell his cologne again, see his broad shoulders rise and fall with every deep breath he seemed to take. I noticed the way his dark hair was matted in places, and I became intrigued by the oddly shaped scar at the back of his neck. The room became so thick of him, I could almost taste him.
“What?” I asked in an almost stupid whimper like it wasn’t a reasonable question, confused because he was affecting me while barely doing a thing.
“What are you reading?” he repeated, still staring out the window.
“I can see that,” he said, finally turning around. “But what’s it about?”
“Oh. Um,” I stammered before looking like a complete idiot because I turned the cover over to look at the title. I heard him chuckle, and when I looked up, a smile was still lingering. A cheeky grin that soften what I first thought a harsh face.
My cheeks became so heated, I glanced up at the air conditioner, mentally willing it to turn itself on.
“It’s nonfiction, a memoir,” I managed to say.
“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 was 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, sitting, book in hand, and frowned.
“Paige, don’t we have any cold beers in the fridge?” he asked, sounding 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 Gerard lead Alex over to his prized collection of rare books, he kept staring at 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 before placing 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 the book he’d plucked off the shelf. I went over to them and held out the opened bottles. Gerard took the beer absentmindedly while chatting on, but when Alex took hold, his hand covered mine and for the longest moment, he held tight.
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 there. It both scared and thrilled me he 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 touched me, and it’s most likely why I didn’t jerk my hand away. It 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, while 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 had been there that afternoon, Alex would have slowly and seductively drilled me. Found out everything he could. Studied my flaws, preyed on my weaknesses.
Once I was under the water, I let myself cry. For the last five years I’d been living a blissful, happy life with the man of my dreams, and 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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