Alpha, p.28
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       Alpha, p.28

         Part #1 of Alpha series by Jasinda Wilder
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Okay, not totally, it didn’t.

  I thought about him week after week as I filed the same exact piece of paper a f**king butt-trillion times, answered the same exact phone call a f**king butt-trillion times. I thought about him in the shower, and I even touched myself thinking about him. My fingers couldn’t possibly live up to my physical memory of Valentine’s fingers inside me, making me shake and shiver and come apart in mere moments. I was never an avid masturbator, and Roth had even ruined that for me.

  Layla let me make my own way through it. She never pushed me one way or another. I didn’t ask her what she thought I should do, or what she would do if she were in my shoes, and she didn’t offer to tell me. We were once again two single girls making our way through life together, roommates, best friends, and each other’s only constant companion. We got drunk on Friday nights, and reinstituted our policy of chick flick Saturdays, which required a minimum of three bottles of cheap red wine, a gallon of Rocky Road ice cream, and a bag of Ruffles potato chips.

  And I never heard a peep from Roth.

  After being back in Detroit for about six weeks, I found myself at the Delta ticketing counter of the Oakland County International Airport, about to ask for a one-way ticket to La Guardia.

  I chickened out, and went home.

  I didn’t know where his building was, for one thing. I didn’t have a phone number, an address, anything.

  I tried to forget. Tried to stop thinking about it. I couldn’t come to a decision, couldn’t figure it out. No matter how hard I tried, I was at a stalemate. Couldn’t go back to the way things were, couldn’t have him, couldn’t figure out how to live without him.

  On a Friday evening, two months after my return from New York, I got a speeding ticket. Two points and $175. The following Monday I went in to the courthouse to pay it. I handed the clerk my copy of the ticket and my debit card. The clerk, an overweight, middle-aged woman with dishwater-blonde hair, stared at the ticket, typed in the number, and then looked up at me with a blank expression.

  “You’re all set,” she said.

  “What?” I frowned at her. “What do you mean, all set?”

  “It’s been paid already. ” She seemed ready to dismiss me.

  “By whom?”

  She shrugged. “I dunno, dear. All my system tells me is that it’s paid. ” She peered around behind me. “NEXT!”

  So I left the courthouse and went home. I couldn’t claim to be mystified, because it was obvious who was behind it. There was nothing in the mail, however, and no other hints of Roth after that.

  At least, not until the beginning of the next month.

  Layla was sitting on the floor in front of the coffee table, sorting through bills. I walked in from a late night class, and she looked up at me. “Hey. Thanks for taking care of the rent, by the way. ”

  I set my purse down slowly. “What?”

  She didn’t look up from the check she was writing for the electric company. “The rent. You paid the rent again. ”

  “No, I didn’t. ”

  That got her attention. “You didn’t?”


  “Well, I didn’t. ”


  She blinked at me owlishly. “Valentine?”

  I nodded. “Valentine. I got a speeding ticket last month, and he paid that, too. ”

  Page 78


  “Has he contacted you?”

  I shook my head. “Not a word. ” I went into the kitchen and grabbed two beers and the box of leftover pizza from the night before, and took a seat on the floor beside Layla. “Before he told me what happened, he told me, and I quote, ‘You will always be mine. And I take care of what is mine. So if you do walk away, you will have no worries. Never again, no matter what. ’” I twisted the top off my beer and took a swig. “So I guess this is his way of reminding me of that. ” I frowned as I realized something. “Wait. You said, ‘again. ’”

  Layla grabbed her beer and a slice of cold Little Caesar’s. “Yeah. Last month and this month. ”

  I sighed. “Not me either time. I was planning on helping out this month, though. ”

  A few moments later Layla peered at me with a curious expression. “What about your mom and Cal?”

  I picked a pepperoni off my slice and ate it. “He was there, too. I checked on Mom the other day, and they said there was a ‘sizable donation’ to my account, meaning she’s set for…basically forever. What that means, I think, is that he bought the nursing home and is writing off her care. Cal’s tuition has been paid, too. All of it, up front. He doesn’t know, though. I wouldn’t even know how to start telling Cal about any of this. ”

  “So he’s basically taking care of you. And me. And your mom and brother. ”

  “Yep. ” I dabbed at my mouth. “And Grandma and Grandpa. ”

  “But he hasn’t called you, texted you, written you, nothing. Even though, if we’re to believe him, what happened was an accident. And you walked away from him. ”

  “Yep. ”

  “After he flat-out told you he’d fallen for you. ”

  “Yep. ”

  Layla stared at me with a flat expression. “And you, clearly, are still in love with him. ”

  “Why clearly?”

  She shrugged. “Because it’s obvious. You’re moping. ”

  “I’m not moping!”

  She gave me an are you kidding me? glare. “Yes. You are. I’ve stood by for the last three months and let you have this your way. But now it’s affecting me. ” She set her bottle down, which meant she was serious. She never put her bottle down until it was empty. “I don’t like being in debt to someone. And now he’s paying my rent. ”

  “I didn’t know he’d do that. ”

  “I know that. ” She clutched my fingers. “You need to figure your shit out, babe. ”

  “I’m trying. ”

  She shook her head. “No, you’re not. You’re trying to think it through, trying to make sense of it. The thing is, though, it doesn’t make sense. It never will. You can’t equal it out. What he did and how you feel for him may never…wash, I guess. You just have to make a decision and stick to it. Right now, you’re basically just burying your head in the sand and hoping it goes away. ” She emptied her bottle and then stood up. “And from what you told me about Roth, a man like him doesn’t just go away. ”

  I scrubbed my face with one hand. “You’re right. I know you’re right. But I still don’t know what the right thing is. ”

  “Sometimes…I think sometimes, Key, there is no right thing. There’s just…the best thing. The only thing. I’m not saying I know what that is for you, but I think you do. You’re just…avoiding it. ”

  Goddamn Layla. That was why she was my best friend: She was willing to say the shit that I didn’t want to hear. She kissed the top of my head in a very rare display of affection, then went into her bedroom, leaving me alone in the living room, my thoughts whirling and skirling, desire and fear and anger and confusion duking it out in my skull.

  I was torn in three parts, you see.

  One part, my head, was a confused mess, a boiling cesspool of turmoil and memory. I missed my father, missed how my mother had been before her breakdown. Missed being an innocent girl with no worries except my grades. Yet I also desperately missed Roth. I hated that he was responsible for Daddy’s death, but I also understood that it was an accident rather than malicious homicide. Yet again, if Roth hadn’t been so underhanded in his tactics…and around and around it went.

  My heart was less complicated. I was in love with Roth, and desperately wanted to go to him, to leave a note for Harris to find, to do anything I could to get Roth back in my life. My heart didn’t care about what had happened. I’d come to a kind of peace with Daddy’s death long before I’d met Roth. I mean, I don’t think you’re ever truly over the loss of a parent, not when they’re taken so suddenly, and especially not when, in my c
ase, he was taken so violently and mysteriously. So I missed him, but he was gone. I had good memories of him. I knew he’d loved me. And nothing Roth did or said could change that.

  And then there was my body. There was no question at all in that department. I was lonely and horny and frustrated. I wanted Roth. I wanted his mouth on me. I wanted his c**k inside me. I wanted his hands, and his muscles and his tongue and his eyes and his words and that spicy cologne he wore.

  The problem was reconciling head, heart, and body into one decision that would affect the rest of my life. Contact Roth, and tell him to leave me alone, let me live my life and pay my own bills? Contact Roth, and go back to him? Ignore him, and try to move on? I thought one thing, then the other, in rotating cycles moment by moment. The thought of picking one and just going with it terrified me into paralysis. What if I chose the wrong thing? What if I eradicated him from my life and couldn’t ever get over him, never stopped wanting and loving and missing him? What if I went back to him and had misjudged him, or misconstrued my feelings for him, or what if he’d moved on and didn’t want me anymore? Or what if I tried to ignore him and hope he went away, but he never did and I never got over him and never moved forward, and just lived my life in a confused spiral of going-nowhere misery?


  Imagine my trepidation, then, when, at the end of three months, I found an Envelope. Roth’s unmistakable handwriting. My name.

  I slumped to my butt, sitting on the stairs just inside the foyer of our apartment building. I slid a shaky finger under the flap of the envelope, managing to give myself a paper cut in the process.

  No check this time.

  A letter. Written in his clear, firm, masculine hand.



  Page 79


  I’ve given you three months. I allowed you to walk away from me, because I knew you needed time to process what I’d revealed to you. But I must remind you, my love, that you are mine. I own you. I will always own you.

  And you own me. That’s the deepest secret I possess.

  I cannot know your heart, but I am driven to show you mine:

  I love you.

  I’m not sure how that happened. It was unexpected, to say the least. I expected to spend a few days tasting the sweetness of your perfect body, but I never expected to find myself embroiled in the beauty of your soul. I told you, when I revealed my guilt, that I knew you deserved more from me than some meaningless tryst. Yet, when I sent Harris to bring you to me, that was all I intended. I’d fought my desire for you for seven years. I never allowed Harris to take revealing or immodest photographs of you, because I knew if I got but a single glimpse of your naked body, I’d be unable to resist making you mine. So I kept my distance.

  For seven years, I fought this battle.

  My feelings were based on a single vision of you. That one moment when you walked into your father’s office was the moment when you hooked me. I remember it vividly. You wore a lime-green dress. It came to just above your knees, and it hugged your hips. It was cut low between your perfect br**sts, which swayed and bounced with every step you took. They mesmerized me. I felt like a randy schoolboy all over again, unable to stop myself from staring at you, going hard as a rock in my pants with one look. You glanced at me and dismissed me, focused on your father, but I wasn’t so capable of moving on. Right then, I wanted to throw you over my shoulder and drag you to my hotel room. I fantasized about ripping that dress from your body and licking your perfect tanned skin all over, and making you come, and making you mine.

  But that was mere lust. I possessed more self-control than that. I would not succumb to lust, not when I knew you deserved more than the lust of a man like me.

  Yet I couldn’t ever shake you out of my mind. I used the excuse of taking care of you to keep you on the periphery of my life. You tantalized me, Kyrie. Every day for seven years, you tantalized me.

  Yet every one of those 2,555 days (the day you arrived in the foyer of my Manhattan home was exactly seven years to the day from the first time I laid eyes on you, in that Detroit office) was also fraught with the reminder of my guilt.

  What happened to your father was an accident, but I am still at fault. I am not a man to absolve myself with excuses of “I didn’t mean it. ” I do not expect you to forgive me.

  Yet I hope you can.

  If, my sweet, lovely, perfect Kyrie, you find yourself capable of such a thing, you have but to walk out your door.

  Valentine Roth.



  My hands shook, fluttering the letter like a leaf in the wind.

  Directly in front of me was a door. Faded green, battered metal. To either side of the door was a narrow window of reinforced safety glass. So dirty as to be nearly opaque. Yet I could just barely see through it, and I wasn’t sure I was capable of believing what I saw on the other side. A long, low shape. A car.

  I stood slowly, the letter fluttering to the threadbare carpet of the stairs. A step down, a second, a third and a fourth. The cold metal knob twisting in my fist. Hesitating, a riot of conflicting emotions giving me pause.

  Behind me, a door opened. “Key? You get lost out here? I saw your car pull up, but you never came in—” Layla’s voice couldn’t break through my trance, but I heard her nonetheless. I heard her steps on the stair, heard paper rustle as she picked up the letter. Moments passed, long enough for her to skim it. “Ho-ly shit. ‘Embroiled in the beauty of your soul. ’ Who the hell says something like that?”

  I heard her come down the stairs, felt her beside me. My hand shook as I gripped the knob, yet I couldn’t open the door. “Roth,” I whispered. “That’s the kind of thing Valentine says to me. ”

  “Goddamn. That’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard. ” She peered out the window. “Is that—? It is! That guy! Harry! He’s out there. ” Layla stared at me in horror. “Girl, I love you. You’re my sister, the only family I give two shits about. But if you don’t get your fine white ass out that door, I swear to Jesus, Mary, and all the saints that I’ll never forgive you. ”

  “You think I should go with him?”

  Layla put her hand to my forehead as if checking for a fever. “Kyrie. Babe. He’s embroiled in the beauty of your soul. Of course you should go with him. You’d be a fool not to. ”

  She pushed the door open and shoved me through it. I was force-marched by my best friend over to the long, white Bentley limousine. She waved to Harris. “Hey, there, Harry. She’s just nervous. ”

  Harris frowned. “Miss St. Claire. Miss Campari. ”

  Layla kept marching me directly to the passenger door. Harris just barely got there in time to open the door for us. “Miss Campari, I don’t think you should—”

  “It’s fine, Harry. I just want to see my girl off. ”

  “My name is Harris. ”

  Layla eyed him up and down. “Sure it is. ” She took my face in her hands, squishing my cheeks. “This is what you want. Give yourself permission to have it. ”

  I stared into Layla’s eyes for a long moment, then, tearing up, pulled her in for a hug. “What would I do without you, Layla?”

  “I really don’t know, but it’s a good thing you don’t have to find out, isn’t it?” Layla squeezed me one more time, then pushed away. “Now go. Before I whack you upside the head and take your place, you lucky bitch. ”

  I licked my lips, hesitating still, knowing that if I got into the car, everything would change again. Yet…it already had. It had just taken me a long time to catch up. But really, there was no other choice.

  I clutched at Layla’s hand. “Thanks. ”

  This time, she didn’t make a snarky comment. She just smiled at me and nodded.

  I met Harris’s eyes briefly, seeing relief in them. “Miss St. Claire. I’m glad to see you. ” He nodded at me.

  I didn’t know what to say to th
at, so I just smiled at him as steadily as I could. I didn’t know what was happening. Was Roth really in this car? Or was I about to embark on another mysterious journey to who knows where? It was near the end of September, and I remembered him saying he traveled from September to November.

  In the end, all I could do was duck my head and slide into the soft cream leather. I honestly didn’t expect to see Roth. Yet there he was, at the far end of the car, breathtaking in khaki chinos and a forest-green Henley, the sleeves pulled up around his elbows, the fabric stretched tight across his chest and molded to his broad arms.

  Page 80


  “Valentine…. ” I breathed. My chest was tight, my lungs refusing to work properly, my heart pounding like tribal drum.

  I saw Layla out of the corner of my eye, peeking in to get a glimpse of Valentine. “Holy shit. You were right, Key. ” She pecked me on the cheek, and then winked at Valentine. “Don’t worry, gorgeous. I can keep a secret. ” And then she was gone, but not before leaving my letter from Roth on my lap.

  Roth didn’t move for several seconds. The door closed, and then I heard the driver’s-side door swing up and close. The engine was a gentle, distant rumble, the sense of motion vague. His eyes were windows to the sky, blue and pale, but they were guarded.

  Neither of us spoke for nearly five minutes.

  Finally I couldn’t take it any longer. I lifted the letter. “What you wrote in here…you really meant it?”

  His brow furrowed. “Of course. ”

  “You said…you said you love me. ” I didn’t dare look away from him, didn’t dare move or breathe.

  “I do. Deeply. ” He said it so casually, as if that wasn’t the most impossible, inexplicable thing in the world. As if hearing him say that didn’t rock me to the core.

  His eyes were hot and intense on mine, flicking back and forth, searching, hoping. Yet his body language was hard and closed off, arms crossed over his chest, one leg hooked over the other.

  “I don’t…I don’t know what to say, what to do. ” I tried a deep breath, let it out shakily. “I’ve been…so mixed up, Roth. Nothing makes any sense. I can’t let go of what…what happened. What you told me. Yet I can’t let go of you, either. ” I stopped, expecting him to say something.

  “Go on,” was all he said.

  I cleared my throat, folding the letter and idly sliding my finger along the creases. “There’s something I probably should tell you. Something that…that was true before you told me about my father. ” I kept my gaze locked on his, refusing to even blink. “I love you. ”

  He let out a long sigh. “You love me. ”

  I nodded. “Yes. But I—I don’t know how to reconcile that with everything else. I lost my father because…because of you. I know it was an accident, and I believe everything you told me. But I’m still…messed up about it. A little angry, I guess. I mean, I struggled. I suffered, Roth. Alone, scared, barely making it. Trying to be an adult when I should’ve been a clueless college girl, getting drunk with my sorority and hooking up with frat boys. But none of that changes how I feel about you. ” I set the letter aside. “I’ve been in circles about this over and over. And the only conclusion I can come to is that…I belong to you. I just don’t know where we go from here. I…I don’t know how to resolve this. I love you, Valentine. I do. I want to be with you, but I just don’t know if—if I can. ”

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