Twisted love by ANA HUANG ,chapter 21,AVA

THE DAY HAD FINALLY COME. I stood five feet away from the pool, my skin etched with goosebumps even though the temperature hovered at a toasty eighty-four degrees thanks to the hotel’s state-of-the-art heating system. I wore a one-piece Eres swimsuit, courtesy of Alex, who’d handed me the shopping bag without a word when he picked me up for our lesson today. After weeks of learning relaxation techniques and acclimating myself to the thought of being in water, it was time for me to get in the water. I wanted to throw up. Panic gripped me, its icy claws digging into my sweat-slicked skin and drawing invisible blood. My stomach pumped in rhythm with my wild heart, causing my breakfast to slosh around like rubber ducks in a bath. “Breathe.” Alex’s calm voice steadied me somewhat. “Remember our lessons.” “Okay.” I dragged in a lungful of air and almost gagged at the smell of chlorine. “I can do this, I can do this,” I chanted. “I’ll go in first.” He stepped into the pool until he was waist-deep in the water and held out his hand. I stared at him, willing my feet to move. “I’ll be right here. I won’t let anything happen to you.” He radiated calm confidence. “Do you trust me?” I gulped. “Y-yes.” I realized with a start that I did. One hundred percent. Alex may not be the nicest or easiest person to get along with, but I trusted him with my life. Literally.
I edged toward the pool and held my breath as I stepped in and grabbed his hand, letting his strength calm my thundering nerves. The water sloshed around my thighs, and I stumbled. The hotel’s pool room spun, the pale blue walls and terracotta tiles flashing before me in a blur. Oh God, I can’t do this. I can’t— “Close your eyes. Deep breaths,” Alex said. “That’s it…” I did as he instructed, allowing his voice to wash over me until most of the panic subsided. “How do you feel?” he asked. “Better.” I cleared my throat and tried to focus on the small radius around us instead of the entire pool. It was a standard Olympic-size pool, but it might as well be the Atlantic Ocean. “I—I’m ready.” As ready as I’ll ever be. We started on the shallow end, and Alex had me walk around so I could get used to the feeling of the water and my body’s buoyancy. After that, we went deeper until I was submerged up to my shoulders. I clung to the relaxation techniques I’d learned over the past few months, and they worked —until we reached the part of the lesson where I had to put my head underwater. I closed my eyes before I dipped my face in, unable to bear the sight of the water rushing toward me. “Help! Mommy, help me!” The words echoed in my head. So cold. So dark. I couldn’t breathe. Something glinted at the edges of my consciousness. A faint memory, perhaps, but it floated away every time I tried to grasp it. “Please!” I sank deeper. Deeper. Deeper still. Pleasepleaseplease. Icantbreathecantbreathecantbreathe. “Ava!” I gasped, the sound of my name jerking me back to the present. My screams echoed against the stone walls before fading into oblivion. I wasn’t sure how long I’d been under. It felt like mere seconds, but judging by how
cold I was and how much my throat hurt, it must’ve been longer. Alex clutched my arms, his face white. “Jesus,” he breathed, pulling me roughly into his chest while I choked out a sob. We were no longer in the pool—he must’ve carried me out during my mini blackout. “It’s okay. You’re okay. We’re out.” “I’m sorry.” I buried my face in his chest, embarrassed and furious with myself. “I thought I could do it. I thought—” “You did great,” he said firmly. “This is your first lesson. There’ll be more, and you’ll get better each time.” “Promise?” “I promise.” I shuddered, curling into his warmth. He felt strong and solid beneath my touch, and I was once again struck by the contradiction that was Alex Volkov. So cold and uncaring to the world, yet so warm and protective when he wanted to be. I’d known him for eight years, yet I hadn’t known him at all. He wasn’t the man I thought he was. He was so much better, even when he tried to convince me he was worse, and I wanted him like nothing before. Not only physically, but mentally and emotionally. I wanted every shadow of his soul and every piece of his beautiful, multilayered heart. I wanted to pour into him every drop of light I had to give until he consumed me whole. Until I was his, and he was mine. We stayed there—me cuddled up against his chest, him with his arms wrapped around me—until my lingering panic faded and I worked up the courage to say what I said next. “Alex…” “Yes, Sunshine?” He ran a gentle hand through my hair. “Kiss me.” His touch stilled, and he stiffened. “Please.” I licked my lips. “Forget about Josh or…whatever else may be on your mind. If you want me, kiss me. I know what we said on your birthday, and I’m sorry for going back on my word, but I need…” You. “I need this.” Alex closed his eyes, his expression pained. “You have no idea what you’re asking me.” “Yes, I do.” I pressed a hand against his abdomen, feeling it tremble beneath my touch. “Unless you don’t want to.” He left out a half-laugh, half-groan. “Does this feel like I don’t want to?”
He grasped my hand and pulled it down until it rested on the most masculine part of him. My breath stuttered at his sheer heat and size—obvious even under his swim trunks—and I curled my fingers around the thick rod, fascinated by the power I held in my palm. A low growl rumbled out of Alex’s chest. “What did I say about staying out of trouble, Sunshine? Keep doing that, and you’ll be in a world of trouble.” “Maybe I like trouble.” I tightened my grip, and he hissed out a curse. “Maybe I want to stay there.” “I’m beginning to think you’re the trouble I need to stay away from,” he muttered. He pinned my wrist to my side, and a jolt of excitement flashed through me. “But we can’t. You just—” He gestured toward the pool with his free hand. “I just what? Had a panic attack? I get those all the time when I’m near water. If that bothers you, we’re in a hotel. We can find a room.” It seemed like I’d recovered all the boldness I’d lost after kissing Alex on his birthday. His mouth tilted up. “When did you get so feisty?” “When I got sick of everyone treating me like I’m a fragile flower who’ll break if someone breathes on me the wrong way. Just because I have a phobia over one specific thing doesn’t mean I’ll freak out in other areas of my life.” I paused, then added, “Madeline told me. About what you—what you like in bed.” His expression darkened. The air turned ominous, and my heart gave an anxious thud. “What, exactly, did she tell you?” His voice lowered to a dangerous decibel. “She told me—” I gulped. “She told me you only do it from behind. That you don’t like kissing or face-to-face contact during sex. That you…” “That I what?” Alex asked silkily. “That you like choking and calling women names. In bed.” The danger in the air thickened until I could almost taste it, and my bravado faltered. Maybe baiting the tiger wasn’t the best idea… “Yet you’re still here, asking me to kiss you.” His grip on my wrist turned to iron. “Why is that, Sunshine?” He hadn’t denied it, which meant it must be true. My heart raced. “Maybe—” I wet my lips with my tongue, conscious of his eyes tracking
the movement the way a lion would a gazelle. “I like those things too.” Flames burned away the ice pools in his eyes until the heat seared me to my core. I couldn’t believe I’d ever thought him cold. In that moment, he was a supernova waiting to erupt and swallow me whole. And I’d love every second. Alex released me and stood, no trace of the patient, soothing man from earlier tonight in sight. In its place was something hungry and depraved that caused me to tremble with lust. “Get up,” he said, his voice soft but so commanding I obeyed without thinking. “You’re about to find out what happens when you invite yourself into the lion’s den.”

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