Twisted love by ANA HUANG ,chapter 42,AVA

ALEX LIVED UP TO HIS PROMISE-SLASH-THREAT OF SHOWING UP EVERY. Single. Day. He was there in the morning when I left for my fellowship, usually with a vanilla latte and blueberry scone—my favorites. He was there to walk me home after my workshops. Other times, especially when I was with other people or exploring the city on the weekends, he was less conspicuous, but he was there. I felt his presence even though I couldn’t see him. I never thought Alex Volkov would become my stalker, but there we were. On top of that, gifts arrived every day. By the boatload. By the end of the first week, my apartment looked like I was opening an indoor garden. I donated everything to a local hospital—the roses of every color, the vivid purple orchids and sweet white lilies, the cheerful sunflowers and delicate peonies. By the end of the second week, I owned enough jewelry to make the Duchess of Cambridge green with envy—at least, until I pawned them. The sum I received for the pile of diamond earrings, sapphire bracelets and ruby necklaces made my eyes water, but I donated most of it to various charities and saved the rest for living expenses. London wasn’t cheap, and the fellowship stipend wasn’t exactly princely. By the end of the third week, I was knee-deep in gourmet chocolates, gift baskets, and custom-made desserts. I didn’t care about fancy jewels or flowers, so those gifts didn’t matter to me. It was the little things that tore holes in my heart—the red velvet cupcakes that spelled out I’m Sorry; a rare, vintage Japanese camera I’d
searched for for years but had never found for sale; the framed photo of Alex and me at the fall festival. I hadn’t realized he’d kept a copy from the photo booth. Why would I need photos? For the memories. To remember people and events? I don’t need photos for that. By the end of the fourth week, I was torn between tearing my hair out in frustration and crumbling like a sandcastle at high tide. “We need to talk,” I said Friday afternoon after I left my lighting techniques workshop. Alex lounged against a light pole outside the building, infuriatingly gorgeous in jeans and a white T-shirt. Aviators hid his eyes, but the intensity of his gaze seared through the glasses and burned into my flesh. A group of passing schoolgirls looked him over, giggling and whispering amongst themselves. “He is so hot,” I heard one of them squeal when she thought she was out of earshot. Spoiler: she wasn’t. I wished I could run after her and give her some unsolicited big-sister advice. Don’t fall for guys who look like they could break your heart because chances are, they will. “Sure,” Alex said, unfazed by the girls’ attention. He was probably used to it. While he followed me around London, women followed him around until we all looked like we were playing a giant game of Follow the Leader. “We can talk over dinner.” His mouth twitched when I glared at him. “That’s not happening.” I looked around and spotted a tiny alcove further down the street. Not quite an alleyway, but private enough. I didn’t want the other fellows seeing him and asking more questions. Most had already noticed Alex waiting for me every day and incorrectly assumed he was my boyfriend. “Over there.” I marched toward the alcove and waited until we were ensconced in the tiny space before I spoke again. “You have to stop.” Alex raised an eyebrow. “Stop…?” “The gifts. The waiting. The games. They won’t work.” Lies. They were close to working, which was why I was freaking out. If he kept this up, I didn’t know how long I could hold out. His smile faded. “I told you, I’m not playing games. If you want me to stop with the gifts, I’ll stop. But I’ll never stop waiting.”
“Why?” I threw my hands up in frustration. “You can have any woman you want. Why are you still here?” “Because none of them are you. I…” Alex’s throat flexed with a hard swallow. The nervous expression returned. “I didn’t want to admit it, even to myself, but—” “No.” My heart broke into a gallop. I knew what he would say next, and I was nowhere near ready to hear it. “Don’t.” “Ava, I love you.” His eyes flickered with emotion, and my chest squeezed until I thought it would burst. “When you told me you loved me, I didn’t say it back because I didn’t feel like I deserved your love. You didn’t know the truth about my plan yet, and I didn’t think…fuck.” He rubbed the back of his neck, looking uncharacteristically flustered. “This wasn’t how I’d planned to say it,” he muttered. “But it’s true. And maybe I still don’t deserve you, but I’m willing to work at it until I do.” “You don’t love me.” I shook my head, my eyes and nose burning with unshed tears. I’d cried so much lately I annoyed myself, but I couldn’t stop. “You don’t even know what love is. You lied and used me and Josh for eight years. Eight years. That’s not love. That’s manipulation. Insanity.” “It started out that way, but Josh really did become my best friend, and I really did fall for you.” Alex let out a short laugh. “You think I wanted those things to happen? I didn’t. They completely screwed my plans over. I held off on bringing down Michael for years because of you and Josh.” “How generous of you,” I said sarcastically. His jaw tightened. “I never claimed to be Prince Charming, and my love isn’t a fairy tale type of love. I’m a fucked-up person with fucked-up morals. I won’t write you poems or serenade you beneath the moonlight. But you are the only woman I have eyes for. Your enemies are my enemies, your friends are my friends, and if you wanted, I would burn down the world for you.” My heart split in half. I wanted so badly to believe him, but… “Even if that’s true, it’s not about love. It’s about trust, and I don’t trust you anymore. You proved you’re the master of the long game. What if this is just another one of those? What if one day, ten years from now, I wake up and you break my heart again? I won’t survive it a second time.” If the source of the heartbreak were anyone else, maybe. But not Alex. He was embedded not only in my heart but in my soul, and if I lost him again for whatever reason, it was game over. “Ava.” Alex’s voice cracked. Red rimmed his eyes, and I could’ve sworn
he was on the verge of crying. But this was Alex. He didn’t cry. He wasn’t capable of it. “Sweetheart, please. Tell me what I have to do. I’ll do anything.” “I don’t know if there’s anything you can do,” I whispered. “I’m sorry.” “Then I’ll just have to try everything until we find something,” he said, his face granite, his tone resolute. Alex wouldn’t give up until he got what he wanted. It wasn’t in his nature. But if I gave in to him the way my heart wanted but my mind screamed at me not to, how could I live with myself? A relationship without trust was built on a foundation of sand, and after a lifetime of drifting, I needed solid ground. “Go home to D.C., Alex,” I said, exhausted—mentally, physically, and emotionally. “You have a business to run.” Even as I said the words, my stomach lurched at the thought of an ocean separating us again. I was a mess. I had no clue what I wanted, my thoughts raced too fast for me to latch onto any of them, and— “I resigned as CEO, effective one month ago.” That shocked me out of my reverie. “What?” He was the most ambitious person I knew, and he’d been CEO for less than a year. Why hadn’t I heard about this? Then again, I didn’t follow financial news, and I’d avoided any news about Alex himself. Alex shrugged. “I couldn’t stay on as CEO while spending all my time in London with you, so I resigned,” he said matter-of-factly, like he hadn’t given up his life’s work on a whim. Except Alex did nothing on a whim. He thought through every move, and his latest one made no sense. Not unless… I squashed the brief flare of hope before it could blossom into something greater. “But what about money and expenses?” I realized how dumb that question was the second I asked it. Alex’s mouth tilted up. “I have enough in stocks, investments, and savings to last me the rest of my life. I worked because I wanted to. But now, I want to do something else.” I swallowed, my pulse thundering. “What’s that?” “Win you back. No matter how long it takes.”

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