When we reached the penthouse, the guards took post right behind me. Loud music floated outside through the closed door.
Is he working out at this time?
He had a habit of enjoying blasting music while he worked out.
Knowing he wouldn't hear the bell, I pounded my fist on the door several times and waited.
After a moment, the music slowed down before the door cracked open. Thus a girl with wild hair and a skimpy black dress, one sleeve hanging down her shoulder, came out. Cheeks flushed, breathing laboured and lips swollen as she eyed me up and down. An annoyance set on her forehead.
Well, he definitely was working out.
Clearing my throat, I stretched my lips into a smile. "Hi! I'm here to see Max."
She raised one of her arched brows. "May I know why?" Her eyes went to the paper bag of cupcakes in my hand. "I don't think we ordered anything."
My eyes widened slightly.
Did she think I was a delivery girl?
Not that it was something bad. Those who did this job worked pretty hard for it. But would four bodyguards accompany one up here?
"No, they aren't ordered. I made them for my…"
"Oh, I know," she cut me off. "What tricks some little fishes use to impress the big sharks. But sorry sweetheart, not this one. You're not his taste. He wants class and you don't have it."
My lips parted at her exaggeration. How delusional a person could be?
I had the urge to throw up at her use of words. He was my brother for God's sake!
Crossing my arms over my chest, I took a step forward. "Oh yeah? Then how come a low class like you managed to get into my brother's apartment?"
Now it was her turn to be shocked. She stared at me with her now pale face and wide eyes. At the exact time, Max appeared at the door.
"Who is it?" A frown of surprise formed on his face when he saw me outside. "Sofia? What are you doing here?"
"Just came to see you. But a certain someone crossed my path." My eyes fell on that girl as her eyes darted to me from Max nervously, like a mouse trapped between two cats with nowhere to go.
Max followed my gaze and his frown deepened. "What's the matter? Did something happen here?"
She pleaded me with her gaze, all of a sudden looking as innocent as a nun.
I shook my head.
How people could change colors like lizards with just a blink of an eye?
"What happened here, Ruby?" Max pressured, his eyes stern on her.
"Nothing, Max. Leave it. Can we go inside? I've got cupcakes for you," I said, not wanting to push it anymore.
He definitely sensed something, but he didn't query any further. Nodding his head, he simply told her to leave and she took the chance as a golden ticket. If she knew my brother's temper, then she did the wisest thing of her existence by leaving.
He stayed quiet when we sat down on the couch and took the cupcakes out of the bag, biting into one. The guards waited outside.
After a moment, I couldn't take the silence anymore and opened my mouth.
"Are you still mad at me?"
His brown gaze lifted up to me from his favorite dessert. Slowly swallowing the bite, he went for another one. "Why do you think so?"
"You're not talking to me."
"I'm eating," he replied monotonously.
Putting the cake down, he exhaled a long sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'm not mad at you, Tomato. I just...I don't know what to do to make you see the reasons for our restrictions on your life. And, I'm actually mad at myself, that I can't seem to do anything to lessen the threats hanging on our heads."
"I know you and Dad only want the best for me. But despite everything, despite me being wrong, you know why I did it." I looked down at my hands. "But I know better. Things can't always be my way. And don't fret yourself, I know you're trying your best to bring everything back to normal." I gave him a small smile.
He said nothing. He knew my reasons, my dreams, but we both knew that he couldn't do anything to help me in that matter. So he didn't make any false promises, or give me a hope of a different life.
"But don't worry, I promised, right? I won't sneak out of home again. Now pull your hung up mood, will you?" I tried to lighten the tense air around us.
A small smile tugged on his lips as he went back to his cupcakes. "They're delicious. Thank you!"
"Of course, they're! After all I made them," I boasted, causing him to chuckle.
This was the only thing I could make with efficiency. Otherwise my cooking skills were a shame. Thanks to Nana who gave me her recipe and helped me to hone it. Due to carrying a sugar tooth back then, it was a pleasure for me to do the effort.
"Anyway, does Dad know that you're here?" he asked.
"Yep, didn't want to upset him again."
"Good. Just make sure you don't go anywhere without the guards."
"Don't worry, nothing is gonna happen to me here. And leave some for Sam, will you? I didn't give him any earlier in the morning."
After that, we talked some more on various topics. I wanted to ask him about Checknov, it was at the tip of my tongue the whole time, but ended up not doing it. I had to explain how did I know about it then. And getting to know about my eavesdropping wouldn't make him much happy.
He wanted to discuss something with the guards, so I decided to check on Sam and give him his share of cupcakes. And despite this place being ultimately secured, and I had to just cross a floor of distance, he sent one guard behind me. And I had no choice but to tag him along. Though my displeasure kept him some feet away.
I sent a message to Sam to know if he was busy as I took the staircase.
I didn't go for the elevator, I didn't need to. He was at the thirty-three floor, meant just down this one, where all the meetings and conferences were held.
Just as I reached at the foot of the staircase, my phone vibrated with Sam's green signal. And at the same time a thud floated to my ear making me look up.
The girl with Adrian Larsen earlier this morning. My gaze locked with her cat eyes as she stood there with files in one hand while the other was still on the door knob.
She gave me a look I couldn't decipher. But it definitely wasn't a pleasant one.
If she was here, then he must be around. They must've come here for some meeting.
The thought of him in our hotel was still a matter of surprise to me.
Ignoring her, I continued on my way with the guard in a respectable distance.
She started to walk beside me, her eyes straight forward. Only the echoes of our heels could be heard in the empty hallway, followed by the faint sound of the guard's boots. I didn't even know this girl until this morning, and I already felt a tension between us. I wasn't certain for mine, but it was sure in her case.
She suddenly slowed down and walked behind me. Not looking at her, I glanced at my phone to check the time.
I wasn't heading back home until evening. I would rather spend the whole day here with a space to breathe than going back into that cage of four walls.
Tranced, as I turned to the corner, a force hit against my back causing me to gasp as I stumbled on my legs, the bag of cupcakes slipped from my hands and fell on the ground. And before I joined them on the floor too, a pair of strong arms caught me in their captive.
"Oops, I'm so sorry! I lost my balance," a voice said in the background.
My hands grasped at the broad shoulders for support. Familiar smell of a sharp cologne hit my nostrils. And as soon as I looked up at the person, a sense of deja vu hit me.
Blue eyes peered into my soul. My heart palpitated beneath my chest at the intensity of them.
The surprise to come across him for the second time of the day got lost into his electric pools of blue eyes, framed with long dense beautiful lashes.
I almost sucked in my breath when he leaned in and spilled out a breathy whisper.
"Why is it always me who saves you from falling?"
And with that I came out of my momentary haze.
Untangling myself from his overwhelming grip, I put a safe distance between us. His eyes glanced at my back at the guard who was definitely on alert to look out for any danger, and then flickered to the girl with a look that could freeze you on the spot under their command.
She cowered away and mumbled a small apology. I was certain she wasn't sorry at all. I knew she did it on purpose.
"Thanks for the help. But for your kind information, it was just a second sheer coincidence that you saved me from falling," with lips pressed tight, I said, snatching his attention back on me.
A tiny smirk twitched at the corner of his lips, his eyes glinted with mischievousness.
"I don't mind you falling for me though."
I gaped at him as my eyes widened. The nerve of this man!
"You wish?" I snorted. "Keep dreaming, I don't do guys like you."
Tilting his head at the side, he watched me with curiosity. "Guys like me?"
"Guys like you who are so procurable that every girl," I glanced at the girl, "even their employees could put their claws on them without even trying. And easy is not my forte."
I still remembered how she was literally throwing herself at him in the elevator. And I was certain, she wasn't the only one in the line. And he enjoyed it. He didn't get that infamous just like that.
I also knew that she was his employee. The work files in her hand and the way she cowered away under his glare were the proof.
I expected a reaction from him. An offended or an angry reaction. And I got one.
But it wasn't any of my expectations. Instead, his eyes held amusement as he raised both of his brows.
"Procurable, huh?" He chuckled, a deep masculine one that did a weird thing to my system. Somehow the intensity of his smoldering gaze turned into a hot flame. Not because of anger, but something else that sent shivers down my spine.
Before the conversation went any further, an African American man came and requested this jerk to go with him.
But his eyes didn't move away from mine.
Not wanting to be there anymore, I picked up the paper bag from the floor and fled away from there. Away from him and his overwhelming presence.
When I was planning to spend the whole day at the hotel, Dad crushed my hope by ordering Max to send me home in an hour.
'It's not safe for her to stay out that long', were his words.
And being the most obedient to Dad among us three siblings, Max sent me back despite my dismay.
I was actually planning to have lunch with him and Alex. I missed the time we used to spend together. It's been years since we had a good sibling moment. And the reason was: the lack of bonding between them.
It wasn't always like this. They used to be really close. But with time, they grew apart. Max's joining the mafia and staying busy most of the time was one of the reasons. Though Alex's insecurities could've had a hand in this. Dad's always preferring Max in taking decisions and showing more trust in him didn't do good to Alex.
And truth to be told, Dad didn't give much attention to this. As long as there wasn't any major issue among them, everything was fine for him. But it wasn't for Mom and me.
The car halted in the traffic, just as my phone blared in the car.
"What? Just hmm?" Came her voice from the other side. "Let me guess, another decision was made for you by your Dad and you couldn't have a say in it?" She meant the numerous decisions of my life that were snatched from me.
One of them was not letting me go to college and forcing me into taking online classes at home. Just like the homeschooling I got after turning fourteen.
I let out a dry laugh. "Nothing major. My curfews, as usual. Going back home, couldn't stay at the hotel any longer. Anyway, what's up with you? Got any new tasks?"
"Yes! That's what I called to inform you. I won't be in the city for a week. An old member of our gang was caught associating with a rival gang, and now went missing. Need to find that mutt and drag him back here to the city to know what information he puked to them," excitement was clear in her voice as she spoke. "Finally! I will get to do something to prove my worth to everyone in the gang. Especially to Dad. I want to make him proud, Sofia."
Something tugged at my heart. Envy, longing. Not that I wasn't happy for her. I was very happy for her. After all, she was getting to do something she always wanted to do. Prove her worth.
Something that I won't ever be able to do.
She had everything I won't ever have. Independence, self-reliance, freedom, whatever you call it.
I shook my head.
I felt like a terrible friend, mourning for myself where I should be happy for her.
"Oh, umm, I'm sorry, Sof! I didn't mean it that way. I just wanted to share it with you," she said, perceiving my silence, as usual. She always knew what I was thinking without even seeing my face.
"No, Laura. I'm sorry. I just got off the track for a moment," I apologized. "And you don't need to do anything to make him proud, he is already proud of you. We all are."
"That's so sweet. But don't change the topic. Are you okay?"
Her concern put a smile on my face. "Yes, I'm. Don't worry. You go on your mission and come back soon. And be careful, alright? Things can get worse."
"No worries! I will be fine. Alright, I gotta go now. Talk to you later. Bye, love ya!"
"Love you too!"
The car started to move as I leaned back on the seat and watched the cars passing away one by one in a line.
The frown on the middle-aged man's forehead only deepened in the car next to us when the vehicles started to slow down again as the red signal appeared faster than his wish. While the others were either waiting patiently or blaring the horns as if telling the red signal to turn green.
I tried to notice everything and think of anything, but my mood didn't lift up. All of a sudden, I felt suffocated. An urge to leave. Leave everything behind and never look back. No restrictions, no danger and no enemies. Only if I could do it.
A big red signboard caught my eyes on the other side of the road.
Harmonie's Pizza House.
What could be better than a slice of pizza to brighten your day?
So without wasting any more time, I guided the driver to it and stepped out of the car. The bodyguards were beside me in an instant.
"Miss, it's not safe for you to come out of your car in the middle of a busy place like this. If you need anything, one of us will get it for you," one of the guards said.
I shook my head. "It's alright. Nobody would come to kill me in the middle of a busy street."
Without any further talkings, I went inside the small shop.
As soon as I pushed open the glass door, the mouthwatering smell of cheese, yeast, oregano and baked bread wafted to my nostrils. I looked around the small place. It was warm and buzzing. People of different ages and status sat there: sipping on their drinks while discussing some heavy topics, or gossiping about a new rumor in the city and biting on their customized pizza.
I glanced at the counter where a lady with shoulder length curly hair passed the orders and takeaways with busy hands.
Walking there, I stood in the line. And the guards followed behind, holding places of four people without any intention to buy anything. People threw subtle glances and I ignored them.
After the guy in black jacket before me went aside to pay his bill, it was my turn. But I came face to face with disappointment.
"Sorry, ma'am. Our stock of pepperoni pizza is over for today. That man just ordered the last one," the lady said, pointing to the black jacket guy.
"Are you sure it's over? There must be one left."
She gave me a look of apology. "No, ma'am. We're extremely sorry. It was the last one. Any other toppings you'd like to have?"
Sighing, I shook my head. "No, thanks. My bad luck, I guess," saying, just as I moved away from the counter, a voice stopped me.
"You can have mine if you want."
Turning around, I saw that man the lady was pointing at, stood there with a pizza box in his hand.
He was somewhere in between his mid-twenties with unruly dark hair. Seeing my confusion, he smiled at me, but his dark eyes stayed blank.
"I'm sorry, I overheard you guys. I saw you were looking for this." He pointed at the box in his hand. "But since it was the last one, you can take mine. I don't have any problem taking other options," he said with a broken accent.
"Oh! No! It's alright. You already bought it, so it's yours."
"Doesn't matter. The price isn't too much. Here, you can take it." He pushed the box on my hand and gave me that unnerving smile.
He seemed nice, but there was something about him I couldn't put my finger on.
"Don't worry. I didn't add any poison in it to kill you." He chuckled.
Giving him a small smile, I took the box. "Thanks! But you must take the money."
He shook his head. "Think of it as a gift from me."
"Trust me. If I were you, I would take it without any hesitation. Accept it when life gives you something. Because…" Glancing at the guards, his eyes met mine again, piercing me with a mystic look. "When life starts taking, it won't stop."
Before I could say anything, he was already walking away. He didn't even stop to buy another pizza for himself.
Just before he reached the door, he took off his jacket and slung it over his shoulder before disappearing out of sight.
But the one thing that caught my attention was the familiar tattoo on his arm.
Three cobras wrapped around a single rose.
My visit to the pizza shop in a busy street, despite the guards' disagreement, reached Dad's ears. And that didn't sit well with him. I reached home to a fuming Dad welcoming me with his wrath. I didn't understand why he was so mad? It's not that I went there without any protection. And who would dare to attack me in the middle of a busy store? But that didn't deter him from insulting me before the guards, enunciating how careless and foolish I was. And that only fueled the fire of my smoldering temperament. "Didn't you think what could be the result of your ridiculous act? How can you be so foolish going between so many unknown people? Did you forget your promise that easily?" "I didn't break my promise. I promised not to go anywhere without any protection, and I didn't. They were with me all the time." "There is no point taking protection if you're t
I wiped my sweaty palm against the black pencil skirt and smoothed the royal blue blouse I chose to wear today for this special day. My first day at the office. I still couldn't believe I was standing here today, before the large office building. It's not that it was my first time coming here. I did, many times. But I didn't come here as an employee then. Though I could just work here as an owner, beside Alex. I had chosen to prove my worth before expecting people to work for me. Despite the dismay of my family, they were proud of my decision, I knew it. I saw it in Dad and Mom's eyes. It was still a matter of disbelief for me; the sudden change of my life. I still couldn't believe Dad would give me the permission to work with Alex. Even if I was going to work in my own family business, with my own brother, I was nervous. I couldn't tame the restless butterflies flutte
Letting out a huff, I slumped on the stairs, providing my butt and legs some rest. My arms held the bunch of folders tight against my chest. Sweat trickled down my spine and forehead from all the marathons I did using the staircase between the third and fifth floor. Not only me, the entire office was racing in this marathon that Adrian Larsen held kindly giving us this project. Even one minute late became a crime here now. So waiting for the elevator was out of the question. I had never seen the employees here working so fast before. That Larsen king wouldn't accept any default and sluggishness under his command. He was making sure he wouldn't have to face any kind of loss where he invested his money. He had set his eyes on here like a hawk all the time, if not him, then it would be his soldiers. I still remember the shock I got when Alex told me he was the one who gave this company this project. Though
Adrian's POV Loosing the knot of my tie, I paced around my office. My jaw clenched and unclenched, fists shook to destroy something; my vision turned red. How dare that leech come into my office building and abuse one of my employees! And then he dared try to hit Sofia! My Sofia! Fucking criminal bastard! My entire frame shook with rage. My hands itched to curl around his throat and… The thoughts disturbed me. My lips thinned at my own lack of self control. No! I've handed him over to the police, and made sure he rots behind the cells for the rest of his life. I didn't need to stoop to his standard. I didn't need to behave like a mindless criminal, some dirt of a local gang. I was not him. Even the word: criminal, brought a bitte
"Sofia, can you print those documents for me, please?" Tiffany, a girl from Blake Corporation, who was also working on the project, asked me from her cubicle. Temporary cubicle. Because we will be working here only for one and a half month. "Sure, just give me a minute." I took the documents from her hand and put them on my desk. As my neighbor cubicle, she was the one I interacted the most with. Thanking me, she went back to her work, exhaling an exhausted sigh. Work was running at its highest speed. Even if we started here just yesterday, it felt like we were doing this for weeks now. After the kickback Adrian Larsen gave us in yesterday's meeting, the team working on this project of our company and Blake's company immediately transferred to Larsen Group Of Industries. Well, for a time being. They spar
Closing the sixth file, I moved to the next one. The buzz around the office obstructed my concentration. I missed my cabin back in our office. The privacy was appreciated. Though my desk here wasn't that bad. And Tiffany's company made it better. A shadow loomed over me, making me look up. Sasha. Her blazing eyes glared at me. I raised a single brow. "The boss wants you in his cabin, now." Now it was my eyes' turn to blaze. "What does he want now?" This was the third time he was calling me in his office since this morning. Every time a new excuse. First he wanted me to report him on everyone's performance - even if this responsibility didn't fall anywhere near my job - the second time, he wanted me to fetch some files from the executive manager who worked in the other building. He was really wasting h
"Mr. Larsen, please! I beg you! Don't do this! I've a sick wife to take care of," a man in his early sixties begged.I was talking to Jason at the lobby, when Adrian strolled out of the elevator with that old man running behind him, pleading and crying. But not even an ounce of emotions softened his harsh features. With a careless manner, he walked as if no poor helpless man was running behind him for a glimpse of kindness. And his bodyguard, John, seemed equally disinterested."Mr. Larsen, please! Give me another chance. I swear, I won't give you any chance to complain!" he cried out, with his hands intertwined together before him as he begged."Enough!" Adrian bellowed.I flinched, so did the entire lobby around us. Eyes furious, he turned to that trembling man."If you want to get a job somewhere else in near future, I'd suggest you get out of my sight right
"Thank you, Mr. Larsen, for dropping us!" Sam said from the back seat. After getting a curt nod from Adrian, he got out of the car. And when I was about to follow behind, a calloused hand grasped mine causing me to turn to him. He observed every emotion on my features with that intense blue gaze. Raising his hand, his fingers gently brushed the strayed tendrils away from my face, as if he couldn't stop himself. "You looked pretty shaken up back then. You okay?" Concern laced into his eyes. For an unknown reason, vulnerability rose in my chest for a second. I wanted that comfort and warmth he provided me the other day in the elevator, I wanted his strong arms around me. But then, I composed myself. "Yeah, I'm fine. Thanks!" I still didn't pull away from the gentle stroke of his knuckle across my cheek. My body wanted to lean in. His gaz