Twisted love by ANA HUANG ,chapter 35,ALEX

MY WORLD CRASHED DOWN TWO WEEKS AFTER MY UNCLE’S VISIT. I was driving to work when I received a call from Ivan “requesting” I visit him ASAP. He’d been suspiciously quiet since he was dethroned as CEO, but I knew why. I also knew why he’d asked for a visit—I’d been expecting it. I called my assistant and told her to cancel the rest of my meetings for the day and made it to Philadelphia in two hours flat. I slowed my steps as I walked up the stairs to my uncle’s office, sure he had cameras monitoring my every move since I pulled up to the estate’s gates. I found him sitting behind his desk, watching his beloved Russian drama on the TV. “Hello, uncle.” I leaned against the wall and stuffed my hands in my pockets, the picture of casual indifference. Ivan’s eye twitched. “So you finally made it, you little shit.” I suppressed a smile. My uncle rarely cursed; he must have been out of his mind with anger. I could see why; he looked horrible. I spotted a bald spot in his hair, as well as scaly red patches and a few nasty-looking pustular eruptions on his skin. His face looked haggard, his complexion wan. For someone as vain as my uncle, the deterioration of his looks must be a living nightmare. “I’ll always make time to visit my favorite uncle.” My only uncle, though not for much longer. “You don’t look so well. Stressed over losing your job?” A muscle ticked in his jaw. “You’re handing the CEO position back to me.”
I almost laughed out loud. “Why would I do that?” “Because.” Ivan leaned back and laced his hands over his stomach. “I have something you want, and I have a feeling you’ll do anything to get it back—including resigning from Archer Group, reinstating me as CEO, and wiring me fifty million dollars. For the emotional distress,” he explained. His mental facilities must be deteriorating faster than his physical appearance if he thought I would do any of those things. “Sure you do,” I said indulgently. “Let’s see what this magical ‘something’ is first.” “Did I say ‘something’?” Ivan’s eyes glowed with malice. “I meant ‘someone.’ Bring them in.” He barked the last statement in Russian. There was a scuffle outside the door, and my blood ran cold when a massive man in camo pants and dog tags entered, dragging two bound and gagged girls behind him. Ava and Bridget. They stared at me, fear stamped on every inch of their faces. It took every ounce of willpower not to display a visible reaction. “I see,” I said in a bored voice. “Sorry, Uncle, but I don’t see anything— or anyone—that would make me consider giving you dogshit, much less fifty million dollars.” A small cut marred Ava’s face. Tears stained her cheeks, and she stared at me with wide eyes, her distress evident. Bruises marked her arms from where Camo grabbed her, and I glimpsed red, chafed skin from where the rope dug into her wrists. Ava. Hurt. Wild, all-consuming anger erupted in my stomach until it filled every inch of my being. I stared at Camo, and he stared back, smugness oozing from his ugly mug. Not for much longer. He was going to die today. Slowly. Painfully. I was pleased to note he had several cuts and bruises of his own. Ava and Bridget had clearly put up a fight, but that didn’t matter. He’d dared touch what was mine, and for that, I’d make him beg for something as sweet as death. The guard I’d hired to look after Ava in case my uncle pulled shit like this? He would die too for failing at his job.
Beside Ava, Bridget shifted, her face pale. The small movement prompted Camo to yank her arm in warning, but to her credit, she didn’t flinch. Instead, she glared at him, her gaze flinty. The regal princess, even when kidnapped. Speaking of which, where the fuck was her bodyguard? Rhys was an exNavy SEAL. He should be more competent than the apparent moron I’d hired. I didn’t have time to dwell on that question. I shifted my attention back to my uncle, who wore a knowing smirk. “You can’t fool me, Alex,” he said, his voice thin and reedy. “I saw the way you looked at her. She’s the reason you pulled your punches with the revenge plan. You love her. But will she love you after she finds out what you did?” A thick pressure circled my neck, squeezing. My breath quickened. I knew what my uncle was doing. He was forcing me to confess—the biggest lie I’d ever told, the worst thing I’d ever done. He wanted Ava to hate me. And the worst part was, I had to do it. I would give her up if it meant saving her. “That’s where you’re wrong,” I drawled, keeping my gaze locked on Ivan’s. “You underestimate me, uncle. She was never more than a pawn in my game. Why do you think I pulled back after her father went to jail? She was useless to me after that. I admit, the sex was good.” I shrugged. “That was the only reason I didn’t cut her off entirely.” I saw Ava’s head jerk up out of the corner of my eye. “Sorry, Sunshine.” I forced myself to inject a mocking lilt into her nickname. “The cat’s out of the bag, so I might as well tell you the whole story. The man I told you about, the one who murdered my parents? That was your father—well, fake father. Michael Chen.” Ava’s eyes popped, and Bridget finally stirred, her sharp intake of breath audible even through her gag. “I always knew.” I pushed off the wall and walked toward her. Camo tensed and stepped in my direction, but Ivan waved him off with a delighted smile. He was enjoying this, that bastard. “You think it was a coincidence that Josh and I were assigned to the same room our freshman year? A hefty bribe with the right person goes far, and there’s no better way to destroy your enemy than from the inside. I played the ‘dead parents’ card to gain his
sympathy until he invited me over for the holidays, and while everyone was asleep, I snooped. I bugged your house, went through your father’s files… found lots of interesting information. Why do you think his business took so many hits over the years?” A tear rolled down Ava’s cheek, but I kept going. I’m sorry, Sunshine. “I dismantled his empire, piece by piece, and you and Josh had no clue.” I uttered a soft laugh even as my chest burned. “This year was going to be the grand finale. The year in which my plan to take down his company publicly and humiliatingly came together. But I needed one more piece of information, one more excuse to search through his office. Then Josh—my ticket into your house every Thanksgiving—announced he was volunteering in Central America. Most inconvenient. I needed another in.” I cupped her face with one hand, knowing this might be the last time I touched her. “That’s where you enter the picture. Josh did most of the heavy lifting himself when he asked me to look after you, but I planted the idea of moving into his house. After all.” I smiled, my heart slowly shredding itself apart. “It’s much easier to make you fall in love with me when you have to see me every day. And you did. It was so easy it was almost embarrassing. Sweet, trusting Ava, so eager to fix broken things. So desperate for love she’d take it anywhere she could find it.” She shook her head, her chest heaving. She’d stopped crying, but her eyes burned with anger and betrayal. That’s my girl. Hate me. Don’t cry over me. Never cry over me. I’m not worth it. “That night after Thanksgiving dinner? I found the information I was looking for,” I said. “Your father got desperate over the years as his business crumbled, and he made a few bad deals with bad people. I had it all lined up…the FBI bust, the media circus.” I left out the part where I’d planned to have Michael killed in prison. The jury was still out on whether I’d pull that plug. “But imagine my surprise when you regained your memories. It was like an early Christmas surprise. If I couldn’t nail him on the corporate stuff, I could nail him on attempted murder. And it worked. Except…” I turned back to my uncle, whose eyes gleamed with malice. “I was wrong. It was never Michael. Was it, uncle?” Ivan’s lips stretched into a thin grin. He bore no resemblance to the man who’d brought me into his house and treated me like his son—or so I thought. It took years to build a relationship and a second to destroy one, and ours had been ruined beyond repair.
Don’t trust anyone, Alex. It’s always the people you least expect who’ll stab you in the back. “That’s the beauty of it,” he said, even as he winced. I reveled in the pleasure of that small movement—it’d been two weeks; he must be in serious pain by now—even as my heart tore itself apart at the way Ava looked like at me. Like she didn’t know me at all. In some ways, she didn’t. “Michael was one of your father’s business rivals when Anton started expanding into Maryland. They’d never gotten along—Anton hated the way Michael conducted business, and Michael hated that anyone dared encroach on ‘his’ territory. They eventually reached a truce, but Michael made an easy scapegoat. It didn’t take much to plant ‘evidence’ that an impressionable teen like yourself would believe.” Ivan coughed. “You’re a smart kid, but your desire for vengeance blinded you. I always hated the man, anyway. He humiliated me once at a party your father invited him to as a ‘gesture of goodwill’—even though I told Anton not to—and I wasn’t surprised to learn Michael’s a psychopath as well.” “You’re one to talk,” I said coldly. My uncle would be deranged enough to hold on to a grudge over some slight at a party that happened decades ago. I’d gone to painstaking lengths to ensure Michael wouldn’t know of Ivan’s nor my connection with my father, because he wouldn’t exactly welcome the son of the man he’d murdered (or so I thought) into his home. I’d changed our last names and erased any evidence that would tie us to Anton Dudik. My uncle and I had been born Ivan and Alex Dudik; we were now Ivan and Alex Volkov. I was lucky my uncle was so paranoid—there were few public photos or traces of him before we started Archer Group, which made my job easier. Apparently, that had all been for naught, since Michael had already met Ivan and knew of his connection to my father. He hadn’t liked me, but he also hadn’t cared about having me in his house, because he wasn’t the murderer. I couldn’t believe my uncle pulled the wool over my eyes for so long. I was supposed to be a genius. A master strategist. But I’d fallen prey to the same failing as all other humans—believing the best of someone simply because they were there for you at your worst. He was my only living relative left, and I’d let that color my perception of him. Now, because of my fuckup, Ava was hurt. My stomach clenched. I kept my gaze averted from her—if I looked at
her, I would lose it, and I couldn’t afford to lose it. Not with Camo pointing a gun at her and my uncle’s sharp eyes watching everything. He may be dying, but I wouldn’t underestimate him until he was six feet in the ground. “I can say the same for you.” Ivan winced again, though he tried to hide it. I hoped the bastard suffered until his last breath on earth. “You, me, Michael. We’re all cut from the same dark cloth. We’re willing to do whatever it takes to achieve what we want. I knew it was smart taking you in,” he said. “You were so grateful, and I couldn’t let that intellect of yours go to waste. We’ve done well for ourselves, haven’t we?” He swept an arm around his grand office. “I did well. You leeched off me like the parasite you are.” Ivan clucked in disappointment. “Is that any way to speak to the man who kept you from being put into the horrid foster system? Really, you should be more grateful.” He really was deranged. “No wonder my mom wanted nothing to do with you,” I said. “She must’ve smelled the crazy from a mile away.” Ivan’s fake smile melted, and his face twitched with anger. “Your mother was a stupid whore,” he spat. “I loved her, but she turned me down—me, the one who’d been there for her long before she met your father—for naïve, soft-hearted Anton. I waited and waited for her to come to her senses, but she never did.” He snorted. “When she told Anton about my letters, he stopped speaking to me. Wasn’t man enough to confront me face to face, but he ran his mouth to our mutual friends, all of whom cut me off too.” His eyes shone with hatred. “No one crosses me like that. He took what I loved from me, so I took what he loved from him.” “Not what. Who,” I said through gritted teeth. “My mother was not an object.” Ivan cackled. “Oh, Alex, love did make you soft after all.” I clenched my jaw. “I’m not in love.” “That’s not what a little birdie told me.” A cough rattled in his lungs. “I had some interesting conversations with a pretty little blonde by the name of Madeline. She had a lot to say about how you reacted when she pushed poor Ava into a pool.” Fury sliced through me. Madeline. I didn’t know how she and my uncle met, but Ivan must’ve been tracking me longer than I thought. Once again, I cursed myself for letting my guard slip. By this time next month, Hauss Industries would be toast. I’d make sure
of it. I’d already gathered the kindling after the pool incident; I just needed to set it on fire. “All you have to do is give me the money and position, sign a contract saying you’ll never come after me or hold corporate office again, and I’ll let Ava and her little friend go,” Ivan said. “It’s a simple trade.” I wondered if he knew Bridget was the Princess of Eldorra. If he did, he was an idiot for dragging her into this. If he didn’t, he was an idiot for not doing his research. And if he thought I’d believe he would let any of us go after he all but admitted to murder in front of us, he must think I was an idiot. I weighed my options. Ivan wouldn’t do anything to me, Ava, or Bridget until I’d wired the money and given him back his position, but that wouldn’t take long. He knew I had the board under my thumb. I could make him CEO again with one call. “To be clear, that wasn’t a request,” Ivan said. I smiled, the gears in my brain clicking into place. “Sure. I can agree to your request—” My uncle smirked. “—or I can save your life. You choose.” The smirk disappeared. “What the hell are you talking about?” I stepped toward him. Camo raised his gun in warning, but Ivan waved him off, his rheumy eyes narrowing as I stared pointedly at his skin, his hair, and the way his hand shook with barely concealed pain. Realization dawned. “How?” he growled. My smile slashed across my face. “You were quite thirsty after your drive to my house a few weeks ago.” “The tea.” Ivan’s face pinched. “I checked after the symptoms started showing. The doctors said—” “That you had Guillain-Barre disease?” I sighed. “It is unfortunate that the symptoms are so similar. But no, I’m afraid it’s not Guillain-Barre.” “What did you do, you little shit?” A flash of movement behind Camo—visible only from where I stood— caught my eye. I showed no reaction even as my mental calculations adjusted to account for the new development. “You can buy anything on the black market these days,” I said, playing idly with the ugly monkey paperweight on the desk. “Including deadly poisons. The one currently destroying your system? Quite similar to thallium. It’s odorless, tasteless, colorless. Hard to identify because it’s so rare, and its symptoms often point to a range of other illnesses. But unlike thallium, it has
no widely known antidote. Luckily for you, Uncle, there is a secret antidote —and I have a vial stashed away.” My uncle trembled with rage. “How do I know you’re not lying?” I shrugged. “Guess you’ll have to trust me.” Three things happened at once. Ava threw herself at a distracted Camo and knocked the gun out of his hand, Bridget’s bodyguard tackled Camo from behind and caught him in a chokehold, and I whipped out the gun hidden in the shoulder holster beneath my coat and pointed it at my uncle. I used my other hand to send a quick, one-number message on my phone without taking my eyes off Ivan. “Stop!” he shouted. Everyone froze until we resembled a grotesque comedic tableau—Rhys with one arm around Camo’s neck and the other pressing a gun to his temple; Ava and Bridget wriggling out of their restraints, me ready to shoot my uncle point-blank in the chest. “Alex.” Ivan let out a nervous chuckle. “My dear nephew, is this necessary? We are, after all, family.” “No, we’re not. You murdered my family.” I cocked my gun, and he paled. “Ava, Bridget, leave the room.” They didn’t move. “Now.” Camo hadn’t tied their legs, so they could scramble out of the room even though their hands were still bound. “Think of all the good times we had together,” my uncle coaxed, his affable mask falling back into place. “When I took you to your first Krav Maga lesson, when we visited Kiev for your sixteenth birth—” The shot rang out loud and clear over his pleas. Ivan froze, his mouth hanging open in shock. A crimson stain bloomed across his chest. “Unfortunately for you, I’m not someone who waxes poetic before I pull the trigger,” I said. I felt no hint of remorse for the man who’d raised me. He was a murderer and a liar. I was too, but I’d resigned myself to hell a long time ago. “You’ll die today, looking as ugly on the outside as you are on the inside.” “You ungrateful—” A second shot rang out. His body jerked. “That was for my mother. The first was for my father. This—” A third shot. “Is for Nina. For Ava. For
Bridget. And this—” I cocked my gun for the last time. “Is for me.” I fired the bullet straight between his eyes. My uncle was long dead by this point, his body riddled with holes and his feet steeped in a glistening pool of blood, but my words, like my bullets, weren’t for him. They were for me, my own fucked-up version of closure. I turned to Camo, whose complexion now resembled the color of chalk. Rhys still had him pinned to the ground. I picked Camo’s gun up from the floor and examined it. “You can let him go,” I told Rhys. “He’s mine.” To his credit, the bodyguard didn’t even blink. He’d maintained the same stoic expression from the moment he entered the room. I had a feeling the man wouldn’t blink an eye even if aliens in silver tutus poofed into existence before him and started dancing the Macarena. “You sure?” He dug his gun harder into Camo’s temple. “I’m sure. Your princess is waiting for you—” My mouth formed a halfsmirk. “So let me take care of the trash.” I pointed my gun at Camo while holding the second weapon in my other hand. Rhys pulled back, keeping his gun aimed at Camo but his gaze on me. Smart man. I could tell he wanted to fuck up Camo himself, but Bridget was his priority, and a bodyguard’s mandate was cover and evacuation, not combat. The second he disappeared, I fired two shots into Camo’s kneecaps—not to kill, merely to hobble him while I went to work. I ignored his pained screams as I locked the door. “You made a mistake today,” I said conversationally, kneeling next to him. Images of Ava’s bruises and terrified face flashed through my mind, and my expression hardened. “You touched what was mine—” I pulled a wickedlooking knife from my boot. Camo’s eyes popped in terror. “You hurt what was mine—” The smell of urine filled the air as he pissed himself. For such a tough-looking dude, he scared easily. My lips curled in distaste. “And now, it’s time to pay. Don’t worry.” I pulled his shirt up and dug the tip of the blade into his abdomen. “I’ll make it slow and sweet.” If Ava and Bridget had already called the police—which I was sure they had—I only had precious minutes before they arrived. But with a few handy tools and creativity? One could make a minute feel like an eternity. We didn’t pass the ten-second mark before Camo’s screams started again.

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