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Business was going well, and private life even better.
I actually wanted to talk Amelia first for once, before she asked questions. I told her about the weekend, as vaguely as possible. The sex, as amazing as it had been, wasn’t what I really wanted to discuss.
“He said that he loves me.”
Her brows were almost at her hairline. “And you love him too?”
“Oh my God.” She had a hand over her mouth, but I could tell she was grinning from her cheeks and eyes. “It really is serious, then.”
I smirked, fiddling with a pen on my desk. “Are you and Zack still worrying about him breaking my heart?”
“No, it’s not that we… Tyler’s always had his problems. But I think he’s a man with a lot of love to give, he’s just never found the right person before. Oh my God, you don’t understand how happy this makes me. How happy I am for you. Can I just…?” She came around the desk and squeezed me.
“I suppose I have you to thank for this,” I said.
“I never would’ve thought… Well, I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t crossed my mind. But I didn’t think we’d be here now, like this. Oh my God. You’re like two halves of my life, and now you’ve come together. It’s like everything’s come full circle.”
She pulled back with that beaming smile on her face, and her eyes even looked a little watery. I could swear she was more emotional over my relationship than I was.
“I really do think Tyler’s in love with you,” she said. “You should ask Zack. He says he’s never seen him look at someone before, the way he looks at you.”
“Everything’s been going so well it’s almost too good to be true.”
“You deserve this. You deserve a break, things going right for once.”
“It’s not been that bad…”
“Tyler needs this too.” She clasped that hand over her mouth again.
“Don’t cry on me.”
“Why, because you’ll start too?”
I chuckled and got to my feet to hug her. She squeezed my ribs so tight I thought one would snap. The office door came open, and Zack peered in with a quizzically cocked brow.
“Is everything all right?”
Amelia released me and spun to him. “They’re in love!”
“They’ve admitted it to each other!”
I loved how calm he always was in the face of her bubbling energy. They were storybook perfect. Were Tyler and I so perfect? What did it look like to the outside?
Tyler said he would sort the pool, and kept to his word. He emptied it and cleaned out the whole thing with the help of my gardener, Rick. It took them three days.
Rick was in his 50s, and proudly gay. He’d been a good friend to me for years, and had even set me up on dates with his expansive social network. He couldn’t believe I’d found this one without his help. He thought he knew every handsome stud in England.
I was letting Tyler in, letting him meet everyone else who meant something to me, letting him into my life. I wasn’t just a man who juggled big numbers and talked with people from the military.
He hit it off with Rick, and they cursed and swore at each other with the frustrations of their enormous job. Rick kept wheezing and coughing with laughter nearly every other sentence. Everyone seemed to receive Tyler so well, which was a relief. He was charismatic, and he was funny. His brazen, borderline offensive humour caught everybody off-guard, and they would laugh and gasp, wide-eyed, while wanting more.
I could relate to that sensation.
I don’t think he realised the full scale of his effect on people. He liked to make himself the butt of his own jokes far too much.
That pool and patio had never seen much use over the years, but it was amazing to spend summer evenings sitting out there reading, while Tyler enjoyed the fruits of his labour. He was a good swimmer, one of those people who covered lengths with speed and perfect techniques. He looked like he could have been competitive with it when he was younger.
He didn’t have to get any more attractive, but he did. He looked so lithe and agile in the water.
“You are the definition of an otter,” I said.
He hung on the edge of the pool with his elbows, grinning at me, wet hair sticking to his forehead. “I never really got that.”
“How gay guys call each other animals. I never understood it.”
“You haven’t spent much time in the gay community then?”
“Well, no. They never really accepted me.”
I frowned, he wiped a hand down his face.
“Being bisexual and that. Never really been accepted anywhere. It was always like, ‘you’re just gay aren’t you, why won’t you come out the closet yet?'”
It struck me surprisingly hard. People who might spend their lives being ostracised could be hypocrites and do it to another. I’ll admit that I had been somewhat skeptical over whether bisexuals were a legitimate thing or not, too, but this was a layer of realisation I was ashamed I hadn’t given thought to earlier. They weren’t one or the other. How were they supposed to fit in?
“Do bisexuals have bahis firmaları to come out the closet the same? What’s it like?”
He shrugged a shoulder and was grinning again, the mischievous lip curl. “I guess we sorta have to stick one leg out, but the other one can stay in.”
“Most people just thought I was a slut, way too willing to fuck anybody and everybody.”
“And you weren’t?”
“I’ve always had standards, I just used to drink too much.” He kicked off the side to swim another length and back.
I didn’t mind the experience he already had with his own body. He might’ve fucked a hundred other people but I didn’t care, because he was mine now. We both had our histories.
He resurfaced with a gasp of breath, holding the side again. “So I’m an otter? What are you? A wolf?”
I shrugged. “I dunno.”
“Ask Rick for his opinion next time you see him. He really likes the labels.”
He clambered out, weight straining on his arms as he lifted his body from the buoyancy of the water. He would never stop making my heart do flips. “Rick strikes me as an aged porn star.”
“You’re spot on.”
He erupted with that adorable yelping laughter. “Seriously? Jesus Christ! He didn’t quit ’cause he got AIDs, did he?”
“No, he’s perfectly healthy as far as I know.”
He sat between my legs, arms looped over my knees, head resting against my crotch and stomach, soaking my trousers and shirt with his hair. I didn’t really care – he looked so content.
“We’re having such good weather this summer,” he said. And he was right. It was still so warm even with the sun setting.
“Is this a hint that you want time off for a holiday?”
“Nah. Or actually, do you have, like, a holiday home in Cyprus or something? Isn’t that a normal rich people thing?”
“No. If I take holidays I like to go to the southern hemisphere during winter.”
“Because it’s summer there then. I see. Clever.”
“I’ve been to New Zealand a few times. It’s beautiful. I’d love to take you.”
His head tilted back to look up at me. “I’d like that.”
“Monster of a plane journey, though.”
“Yeah, other side of the planet.” He shifted and turned, hand on my stomach. “Can I stay tonight?”
“Yeah, I know. I don’t care.”
I smiled. “Sure. I’ll let Zack know he doesn’t have to give me a lift.”
“I’d like to drive you every morning, even if I don’t stay over.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” He leant up further to kiss me, lips faintly tasting of chlorine. “Gonna go shower.”
I had wanted to at least finish the page I was on, but his lure was too strong. If he was staying the night, we were having sex.
I was down in the labs, wearing my white coat, goggles, and rubber gloves, feeling like such a damn scientist. Officially, I was. I had bits of paper to prove it.
I was in the thick of things with my team when Amelia came in looking for me.
“Can you come with me.” It was the way it sounded more a statement than a question. Her tight voice. I looked around. It was evident on her face, however much she was hiding it.
She held a hand up briefly, giving a flick of the whites of her eyes. “Just come.”
Okay, no drama in front of everybody else. I pulled off the goggles and gloves and followed her out. “What’s going on?” I asked in the corridor. She pressed the button for the lift, and the doors opened almost immediately. We stepped in.
“I don’t know exactly,” she said. “Something happened in a meeting. Zack’s been in a fight.”
She shook her head at me with pursed lips. She really didn’t know.
We raced through the complex as fast as we could, while somehow trying not to show that something was wrong. When we passed the reception one of the women gave Amelia a look with her eyes, and she just looked back. Some wordless conversation. We took stairs instead of lifts. I was too confused at what the hell was going on to be feeling the worry yet.
Commotion started to show towards the conference rooms. That’s when the nerves began. There was a crowd filling a corridor.
People looked around and parted for us. I was feeling my rank as I rushed through the crowd, lab coat billowing behind me, Amelia trotting in the path I created.
I spotted him instantly, towering over everyone. Zack. His shirt looked like the top few buttons had been ripped open and it was red with blood. From the pattern of it and the dried rivulets on his neck, it was from a nosebleed. He was bristling, almost snarling, throwing the weight of his shoulders around with his shifting movements. I hadn’t seen him in his guard-dog state in a long time, but I knew it when I saw it.
People were trying to get by and he wouldn’t let them past. They were trying to reach Darren, and he wouldn’t let anyone near. He held that space with his body language and glares. People were talking but I couldn’t make out kaçak iddaa what anyone was saying.
Why was he guarding Darren? What had happened?
I could just about get glimpses of Darren. He didn’t look in a state like Zack, but he was unsettled. I pushed through the crowd further.
Two police officers were there. They were trying to talk to Darren but Zack was warding them off, standing between them like a rock. Darren was pretty much hidden at the end of the corridor, trapped behind the wall Zack made with his broad frame.
That’s when I saw it. Someone was laying on the floor behind Zack. They weren’t moving. Unconscious? Oh God, please don’t be a dead body. Please Zack, no. Don’t say you had done this. Please.
I stepped beside the police officers and locked eyes with him. He didn’t bristle at me, he wasn’t seeing red. I was still an ally. I’d always been an ally. Darren looked so bewildered and confused, I had to get to him. Zack didn’t stop me.
There was a flicker in Darren’s eyes when he saw me, but he was stiff and mostly unresponsive when I hugged him. I could see the marking showing up around his cheek. He’d been hit. His collar had been ripped open and his tie was a mess.
“What the fuck happened?” I asked. He stared at me for a long second, then the voice of a police officer snapped his eyes away.
Zack had let me by and still wasn’t moving aside for the two men in uniform. I didn’t know why. I guess it was something primal. He’d spent the first 16 years of his life thinking police were the enemy. He was completely fixed in that instinctual fight-mode.
“Sir,” one of them said. “Stand down.”
“Zack,” I said.
Amelia was there, and I think she was the only one who could snap him out of it. I watched his posture melting at her touch, the person coming back behind those eyes, not just a mind controlling muscle and sinew. And then there was the slight tremble, adrenaline draining from his blood.
What have you done, Zack?
One of the officers managed to step a bit closer. “Mister Sörensen,” he repeated. “The other three fled the premises?”
“And this one was just… ‘apprehended’, by your colleague here.”
I looked at the body. Not dead, right?
The officer puffed his cheeks then blew it out, looking a little overwhelmed. He gave Zack a look which was both nervous and angry. “Your name, sir?”
“Mister Keane, you’re going to have to come with us.”
“What?” someone shouted from the clusters of people. “They attacked him! You can’t arrest him!”
The officer tried to ignore it, reaching for his belt. The second one covered him, stopping Harry from lunging forwards.
“Until we have some statements this is aggravated assault from every side.”
There was murmuring, getting louder. Darren gathered his composure, stepping forward and addressing the crowd like the company boss he was. “Will you clear out? I need room to fucking breathe.”
The throng reduced in intensity a little, but people were still going to watch the whole thing. Zack was staring down the officer. I saw Amelia’s panicking eyes, but she was keeping herself surprisingly steady. Everyone was thinking it. Was Zack going to resist arrest?
No. He didn’t object. He held his wrists out and the officer cuffed him. Damn it. What the fuck was happening? Shouldn’t they be arresting Darren, too? It felt like they were only doing this because Zack had behaved so hostile towards them. I wanted to do something. I just had to stand there and watch them take him away?
“Is this necessary?” Darren asked.
The officer gave him a look. “Procedure.” His colleague touched at his shoulder and spoke in a low tone, but I could still hear it.
“Tell the boys to send an ambulance. Don’t know what state this bloke is in.”
The first nodded and stepped away, speaking into his radio. He was trying to keep his voice low too, and the most interesting snippet I heard was ‘men in suits punching the shit out of each other’. When it was over he crouched down and put the unconscious man into a recovery position.
The second was holding Zack’s arm and starting to tug him. “Are you going to give me trouble, sir?”
“No.” What a growl. He looked over his shoulder and locked eyes with Darren. “Call Jackson.”
Amelia was increasingly panicked. “Tyler, please. Pick up David.” She dashed after the two officers taking away her husband. They just left the unconscious man where he was.
There was a pause of silence, and when I looked around at Darren’s face again, it scared me. He was glaring at the shattered crowd of his employees. Then he roared.
“Who the fuck called the police?!”
Shit. I’d never heard him shout. Not like this. It could pierce every wall and floor of the complex.
Nobody spoke up. There was a deathly silence and shocked faces.
“Get out,” Darren snapped. “All of you. Go.”
He shoved his way through the dispersing crowd and I trailed him. We passed the open kaçak bahis door of the room where the fight must have started, before spilling into the corridor. There were chairs on the floor, an overturned table, and drips of blood everywhere.
Darren slammed his office’s door into the wall when he opened it. I shut it a little timidly.
He was pulling his phone from his pocket, but turned and reached to me. I flinched, his expression flickered. He gently touched his hand to my face, stroking my cheek with his thumb, then whoever he was calling picked up.
I could faintly hear the voice coming through it. “Mister Sörensen?”
“I need you to come over here. Something’s happened.”
“Police have already turned up and taken away Zack.”
“What the fuck did he do?” The voice was hoarse and piercing.
“He protected me.”
There was a pause. “What’s happened?”
“Been attacked by four men. I need you here.”
“Shit. Darren, I’ll be an hour. Are you safe? You’ve got trusted company?”
“Where are the men now?”
“Three got away, Zack knocked one unconscious. He’s laying in the corridor right now, an ambulance and more police are undoubtedly on the way.”
“You can’t keep him there until I arrive?”
“No. I can’t interfere with the police.”
“Do not leave that complex. Stay right where you are. Get your security looking for the men who got away.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
He hung up and Darren stood there for a second, staring down at his phone’s screen.
Holy fucking shit, I had no idea what was going on. Was this all as dangerous as it seemed? I wrapped my arms around Darren and he leant into me, burying his head in my shoulder.
“Please tell me what happened.”
He pulled back and sat down in his chair. “Hold on.” He punched some numbers into the phone on his desk, calling the reception. “Melanie. The three men you saw running out front… Yes…. Yes. No. Keep them at the doors.” He hung up and buried his forehead into his hand.
I felt sick to the pit of my stomach. The bruising on his face was coming up even worse. It was dawning on me that he had just been in a violent situation, and it was hurting. I hadn’t been there.
He looked up. “We were having a meeting,” he started. “It was completely normal, but, Zack sniffed them out. You know how he is. They couldn’t answer the right questions and they were giving off bad vibes. At one point he asked too much and they started getting aggressive. I was going to call for security but Zack just… damn it.”
“He got aggressive back. And he asked them why he shouldn’t just call the police right there. They tried to leave and he blocked the door. So they attacked us.”
I leant across the desk and touched at the bruise on his cheek. “I guess this was your second fist fight, huh?”
“I barely did shit. Zack just… he took on all four of them. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Nobody fucks with Zack.”
He leant back in his chair and let out a shuddering sigh.
“Hey,” I said. “You’re okay.”
“Yeah. Just… shaken.”
“Who’s this Jackson?”
“My family’s privately hired investigator. The one who’s been managing the case on my father and cousin all this time.”
I wanted to talk about it, but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to discuss how the life of the man I loved might be in danger. Maybe it was all going to prove some huge, unrelated over-reaction and nothing would come out of it, but I was so tense, and I was trying not to be, for his sake.
I waited with him in his office while that hour passed. We were silent for a lot of it. Some more police came in with Harry, asked some brief questions, then were gone again. Darren folded his arms on the desk and put his head down. I’m pretty sure he was asleep when the phone rang; reception telling him that a certain Mister Jackson was here to see him.
“Send him up,” Darren said, and thudded it back into the receiver.
It seemed a ridiculously long wait again. I wondered if those men were hiding somewhere and ambushed Jackson before he made it. No, don’t be stupid.
The door opened and this private investigator let himself in. His eyebrows made lines in his forehead as they rose, looking at Darren with his blackened eye.
“You took a swing.”
He had a hoarse smoker’s voice, and I could smell the smoke on his clothes as soon as he walked into the room. He looked generically middle-aged with hair that was starting to grey, wrinkles around his eyes. At least he looked like someone who knew what they were doing.
He stepped towards me and held out a hand. “Jackson.”
“Tyler,” I replied, shaking it.
I frowned. “Yes.”
“Work in the labs with Amelia Keane?”
What I was wearing should’ve made that obvious enough, but I still frowned more. “Yes.”
“Don’t look so alarmed. I know nearly everything about Sörensen’s business and his employees.” His gaze switched to Darren. “Why is he your trusted company?”
“Because he’s my partner, Jackson.”
“What, like-” The realisation clicked on his face like a light bulb. “Oh.” His eyebrow rose. “That explains a lot.”
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