Twisted love by ANA HUANG ,chapter 20,ALEX

I WAS ON A WARPATH, AND EVERYONE GAVE ME WIDE BERTH AS I STALKED down the hall toward the elevators. My new assistant, who I’d hired after firing the congressman’s insipid daughter for leaking my cell number to the Gruppmann CEO, pretended to be on the phone when I passed, and the rest of the staff kept their eyes glued to their computer screens like their lives depended on it. I didn’t blame them. I’d been biting people’s heads off left and right for the past week. Incompetent, every single one of them. I refused to entertain any other reason I’d been so cranky since my birthday, especially if that “other reason” happened to be five-five with black hair and lips that tasted sweeter than sin. I ignored the two people who scrambled off the elevator when they saw me enter, and jabbed the button for the lobby. That fucking kiss. It’d tattooed itself onto my mind, and I found myself thinking about it—about the way Ava tasted and felt in my arms—far more than I should. Thanks to the “gift” of my memory, I relived those few minutes in Ralph’s kitchen like they were real every night in the shower, my fist wrapped tight around my cock and my chest burning with self-loathing. I hadn’t seen or heard from Ava since that night. She’d skipped our swimming prep sessions this week, and I didn’t even hear from her directly. Jules was the one who texted saying Ava was busy. Her absence chafed more than I cared to admit. I got into my car and deliberated. One. Two. Three. Four. I tapped my fingers against the steering wheel, torn, before I finally gritted my teeth and
set the GPS for the McCann Gallery in Hazelburg. Nineteen minutes later, I strode into the gallery, my eyes flitting over the pale wood floors, the framed prints hanging on the stark white walls, and the half dozen well-dressed patrons wandering the space before I zeroed in on the brunette behind the counter. Ava rang up a customer, her face animated and her smile bright as she said something that caused the woman to smile in return. She had a knack for doing that, bringing out the joy in others. She hadn’t noticed me yet, and for a while, I simply watched her, letting her light creep into the shadowed corners of my soul. Once the customer left, I walked over, my custom-made loafers silent against the polished floors. It wasn’t until my shadow enveloped her that Ava looked up with a polite, professional smile that wilted the second she saw me. She swallowed hard, and the sight of that small throat bob sent an unwelcome jolt of desire straight to my dick. I hadn’t fucked anyone except my right hand in months, and the celibacy was addling my brain. “Hi.” She sounded wary. “Here.” I placed a brand-new phone—the latest model, which wasn’t available on the market yet and cost me several grand—on the counter. Her brow knit in confusion. “Your current phone is clearly broken, since I haven’t received so much as a text from you in the past five days,” I said icily. The confusion lingered for a beat before it melted into a teasing expression, and my heart kicked like a damn Rockette at Radio City Hall. I made a mental note to discuss this with my doctor during my annual checkup. “You miss me,” she said. My hands curled around the edge of the counter. “I do not.” “You showed up at my work and bought me a new phone because I didn’t text you for a few days.” Ava’s eyes gleamed with mischief. “I think that amounts to missing me.” “You think wrong. I bought you the phone in case you needed a new one for emergencies.” “In that case—” She pushed the box toward me. “I don’t need it. My phone works fine. I’ve just been busy.” “Doing what? Attending a silent ashram in the middle of the desert?” “That’s for me to know and for you never to find out.”
A vein throbbed at my temple. “Dammit, Ava, this isn’t funny.” “I never said it was.” She threw her hands in the air. “I don’t know what you want me to say. I kissed you, you kissed me back, then you said it was a mistake, and we agreed never to do it again. I thought you wanted space, and I gave it to you. I’m not one of those girls who chases after guys who don’t want them.” Ava pressed her lips together. “I know everything’s been messed up between us since Saturday. Maybe we need to…not spend as much time together. I can do the visualizations on my own, and when the time comes, I can find another swim instructor—” My blood pressure hit a record high. “The hell you will,” I snapped. “You asked me to teach you how to swim. I’m the one who worked with you all these weeks. If you think I’m going to let some fucker swoop in and take what’s mine, you don’t know me at all.” Ava stared at me, her eyes wide with shock. “We’re resuming lessons this weekend. Don’t even think of trying to find someone else.” “Fine, no need to yell.” “I’m not yelling.” I never raised my voice. Period. “Then why is everyone staring at us?” Ava winced. “Shit, including my manager. He’s looking right at us.” She busied herself with papers behind the counter. “I promise only to learn swimming with you, okay? Now leave before I get in trouble.” I turned and saw an older male with an unfortunate toupee glowering at us. “Do you get sales commission?” I asked Ava without taking my eyes off her manager, who marched toward us, his paunch jiggling over his belt with each step. “Yes. Why?” “I’d like to buy a piece from the gallery.” I turned back to Ava when her manager reached us. His name tag read “Fred.” Figured. He was a Fred if I ever saw one. “The most expensive one you have.” Her jaw dropped. “Alex, the most expensive piece in the gallery is—” “Perfect for your needs, I’m sure,” Fred cut in. He’d lost his scowl and now beamed at me like I was the second coming of Jesus. “Ava, why don’t you ring this gentleman up for the Richard Argus moonlight piece?” She looked uneasy. “But—” “Now.” My smile cut across my face with the precision of a honed knife. “Careful
with the tone, Fred. Ava is your best employee. You wouldn’t want to alienate her or any customers who value her opinion very highly, would you?” He blinked, his eyes darting around as his tiny brain struggled to process the not-so-subtle threat behind my words. “N-no, of course not,” Fred stuttered. “In fact, Ava, you stay right here with this gentleman. I’ll pack the piece myself.” “But she’ll get the commission.” I arched an eyebrow. “Yes.” The manager nodded so fast he resembled a bobblehead doll. “Of course.” While he scurried off to another part of the gallery, Ava leaned in and hissed, “Alex, the piece costs $40,000.” “Really? Shit.” “I’m sure we can—” “I thought it was expensive.” I allowed myself a soft laugh at her stunned expression. “It’s not a big deal. I’ll own a new piece of art, you’ll receive a hefty commission, and your manager will kiss your ass until the end of days. Win-win.” Fred returned with a large black-and-white print. Fifteen minutes later, the print had been packaged with the same care one would use to handle a newborn baby, and my bank account was forty thousand dollars lighter. “This weekend, our usual time, Z Hotel,” I told Ava after dismissing Fred. Her eyebrows shot up. We usually practiced at one of our houses or near a lake or Thayer’s pool so she could get more comfortable near water. “It has the best indoor pool in D.C.,” I explained. “You’re ready for actual swimming lessons.” She’d been ready for a while, but I’d wanted to make sure before throwing her into the deep end, so to speak. Ava sucked in a breath. “Really?” “Yeah.” I flashed a crooked smile. “See you Saturday, Sunshine.” I left the gallery in a remarkably better mood than when I’d entered.

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