Treasure - PapSmeared - One Direction (Band) [Archive of Our Own] (2024)

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Sin City Chapter Text Chapter 2: Hotel Room Chapter Text Chapter 3: One of Them Notes: Chapter Text Chapter 4: Dallie Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 5: Bank Man Chapter Text Chapter 6: Bad f*cking Energy Chapter Text Chapter 7: Prove It Chapter Text Chapter 8: Begging Chapter Text Chapter 9: Pony Chapter Text Chapter 10: Leave a Mark Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 11: Common Denominator Chapter Text Chapter 12: Chronic Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 13: Needy Puppy Chapter Text Chapter 14: House of Mirrors Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 15: Lover Boy Chapter Text Chapter 16: The Monster Chapter Text Chapter 17: Feel Real Chapter Text Chapter 18: Just Friends Chapter Text Chapter 19: Use Your Words Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 20: Front Page Chapter Text Chapter 21: Caveman Chapter Text Chapter 22: Pepper Chapter Text Chapter 23: Law of the Jungle Chapter Text Chapter 24: Dramatic Nap Chapter Text Chapter 25: Buy Love Chapter Text Chapter 26: Dance With Me Chapter Text Chapter 27: Always Chapter Text Chapter 28 Chapter Text Chapter 29: New Debt Chapter Text Chapter 30: Walking Secret Chapter Text Chapter 31: Diamonds, Pink Limo Chapter Text Chapter 32: Senile Old Woman Chapter Text Chapter 33: Ocean Of Yellow Chapter Text Chapter 34: Birthday Girl Chapter Text Chapter 35: Killers Don't Knock Chapter Text Chapter 36: Guilt, Money, and Temptation Chapter Text Chapter 37: Branding Chapter Text Chapter 38: Sugar and Salt Chapter Text Chapter 39: Tongue Fiasco Chapter Text Chapter 40: Cornered Chapter Text Chapter 41: Munchies Chapter Text Chapter 42: Colette Chapter Text Chapter 43: Make-A-Wish Chapter Text Chapter 44: Bears Eat Honey Chapter Text Chapter 45: Bachelor Chapter Text Chapter 46: Bachelorette Chapter Text Chapter 47: For As Long Chapter Text Chapter 48: Spoiled Bitches Chapter Text Chapter 49: Little Siren Chapter Text Chapter 50: El Diablo Chapter Text Chapter 51: Brush Chapter Text Chapter 52: Love Making Chapter Text Chapter 53: Treasure Chest Chapter Text Chapter 54: Anger Chapter Text Chapter 55: Forever Chapter Text Chapter 56: BONUS- MAGNOLIA NO MORE Notes: Chapter Text

Chapter 1: Sin City

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

Las Vegas, Nevada.

The land of corrupt misfits, mingling and morphing into the next act in bright lights. Drunk nights and bar fights, high rolling until the deed to your house belongs to another wealthy CEO.

Magic happens under these fake Paris statues, sinners from across the globe scramble around in hopes of finding that adrenaline high they desperately crave. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, after all.

It's a miracle that I ended up somewhere so..barbaric. This place might be pure ecstasy for anyone else, but the new round of tourists walking the streets below makes my stomach turn.

Temptation runs in my blood, but after seeing the aftermath of fun, Vegas doesn't make me want to party. The fine line between innocence and addiction is meant to be blurred within these streets and I'm wise enough to know that it's a trap. An ounce of luck turns into a lifetime of misfortune in a place like this.

My job, however, just so happens to be on the corner of a far less busy tourist street.I moved here to get away from the exact life people are searching for, just stories below the office building I'm currently sitting in.

My dream is to be a publicist for something important and impactful. I'd love to solve problems and help communities like the one I came from. I believe no kid should have to grow up the way I did, and that the system put into place to help them needs to be changed. Our youth is being failed by the adults meant to protect them.

Unfortunately, the best position you can get with a community college degree is being the personal assistant toJillian Wood, CEO and founder ofThe Strip Magazine, Las Vegas' top-selling gossip hub. The notoriously bitchy, career-shattering, snob of a woman is my boss, and I'm her coffee bitch.

I never had much opportunity, but I did work really hard to put myself through school and move out here alone. I'm only 23, and for having no family, I'm f*cking proud of where I am.

I sit in my swiveling chair, twirling a pencil around my fingers and staring out of the 30-story window. The people below look like ants, but they practically are. They're the workers, and Sin City is their queen.

They scatter around in groups, hopping from one casino to the next, pit-stopping between bad choices to refill their baton-sized beverages so they have something to wash down the vomit threatening to spew out. I've seen it far too often: the blazing sun, lack of food, and endless supply of alcohol is disastrous.

I'm slouching in my seat, one leg over the other and my heeled foot slightly waving in the air. I like to daydream about where I'll be in ten years and pray I won't end up like the ones out there. This is pretty much what my day consists of when I'm not running meaningless errands or making dinner plans for Jillian.

The experience of working in her office will hopefully put me on the right track when the time comes to further my career. I would do anything to make it in this world, I have so much to prove but somehow it landed me here.

The job itself is easy, but being pushed around by her is what makes me hate it. I wouldn't let anyone speak to me the way she does, but I know she'll be history in my life sooner or later.

The desk phone behind me rings, jolting me out of my self-pity. The pencil between my fingers falls to the floor as I straighten myself up and turn the chair to face the sleek glass table. I adjust my bottom, scooting forward so my legs are under the table. I reach for the phone and bring it to my ear.

"Strip Magazine, speaking for Jillian Wood," I reply to the inquiry in the most polite, interested voice I can muster up. I sigh inwardly and chew my lip. "She's not here right now, but I can leave a message if you'd like." I grab a pink sticky note and a pen, scribbling down the information. "Okay, I'll let her know as soon as I see her. Have a pleasant day," I end the call first, already preparing myself for Jill's attitude.

Sheishere, actually. I'm currently staring at her from across the room, locked in her own glass office. Her slender fingers are typing away on her computer and her face has the same scowl plastered across it that's probably stuck in her muscles by now.

I don't know how her face doesn't hurt from looking like that all day, but it's no wonder she does so much botox. I can never tell what she's feeling, because nothing in this life seems to please her as much as her own reflection.

I huff out a breath and push up from my desk. I reread the note before I make it to her doorway, a pange of guilt twitching in my chest. She doesn't intimidate me as much as she used to, but it never feels good to be bitched at for doing exactly what's in your job description. It's no wonder she used to go through assistants like f*cking underwear.

My knuckles lightly tap her door twice, three being the lucky number that sets the beast off. I do a quick once over of myself to make sure my skirt and blouse aren't wrinkled and my sleek ponytail doesn't have a single dark hair out of place. I'd never choose to wear clothes like this, but itiskind of fun to dress up like I'm just a character. She doesn't allow her employees to show up looking like a mess.

"Unless you plan to stand there all day,Briana, come in and make it quick." Jillian mutters, making me roll my eyes at her constant use of the wrong name. I swear she does it on purpose, I know Brinna is close to Briana, but she literally hired me. She should know my name, and if she doesn't, why the f*ck does she guess it?!

I open the door and step in, shutting it softly behind me. She doesn't look up from the screen as I step toward her desk, stopping right behind the two chairs situated in front of it. I clear my throat and cross my hands in front of me. I try to be as polite and poise as I can when I speak to her so that she doesn't feel the need to rip me to shreds.

"Your daughter called again, asking if you'll be able to make it to her school for the-" I look down at the note, making sure I have it right, "Mother-daughter tea party. Tonight at seven." Things like that never get easier to ask out loud, I can't be the only one that hears how it sounds.

Jillianreallydoesn't like taking calls, and that means from anyone. It doesn't matter if you're bleeding, birthing, on fire, or already dead, unless you have the name of the next big Australian stripper with an XXL package, you willnotbe speaking to her while she's at work. That even goes for her only child, too.

It simultaneously breaks my heart and angers my soul every time I have to lie to her about her mom, knowing she isn't as important as the article being published. The child in me hurts with her, but the adult in me wants to slap Jill across the face and tell her to wake the f*ck up before she never sees her daughter again.

I know how that goes, I haven't talked to my parents since I left for college. It doesn't feel good to be on the adult end of this, I feel like I'm helping to ruin a childhood. I feel worse for Jillian's kid though. At least with my parents, I understand why they are the way they are. I can be angry at them for something logical, something tangible even.

If I were her daughter, I would bepissedto grow up with money, a huge house, and everything I dreamed of, but no mother. Jill seems to think presents fix her absence, but she'll see one day that all Charlie wants is her mom.

It almost makes me grateful that I grew up in a loving household before it all turned to sh*t. I'm glad to be left with the memories of what it felt like to be loved by my mom and dad. She doesn't even get that luxury, I'm not sure that Jill has ever been the motherly type.

Jillian lets out a deep sigh and her hands relax in front of the keyboard. Her eyes glance me once over and her lips purse into discontentment. I knew she wouldn't be happy about this, but she could at least hide her hate for the girl, jeez.

"Did you tell Charlotte that mommy isvery busy, and doesn't have time for silly little games and pretend?" She tilts her head before returning her eyes to the screen. "If she wants a tea party, just find some café for food and order her a tea set. Have it delivered to the house. She'll be fine." She speaks lowly, now focused on her writing again.

Momentarily stunned, I almost don't catch my facial expression. It's like her work is a drug and she can't get enough of it. She looks up from the screen once more. "Is that all? You can go now. Send her my best regards." She waves me off, never stopping the keyboard clicking.

I turn on my heel and take long strides out of the door, not wanting to be in here any more than I have to. I don't know if my eyes can stop themselves from rolling much longer. I can't imagine willingly putting a child into this world just to treat them like a burden.

I've met Charlie only a handful of times and she reminds me so much of myself that it hurts. The way she talks on and on about nothing in particular, just because she wants the warmth of a conversation, tells me she really has no one. Her dad is the same story, except he moved to another country in search of a hot, young bride. It's pitiful.

I log back into my computer and search for restaurants near me with good cakes and finger foods. Every girl needs some chocolate cake after a heartbreak, especially if that hurt comes from the one person who's supposed to be on your side through everything.

I place an order to be delivered to the Wood home and then make phone calls around for a tea set. The good thing about living here is that you can get practically anything you want in minutes, all in the same few-mile radius. The magic might be entirely fabricated, but it is damn good at making sure dreams come true.

I hang up the phone and smile to myself for accomplishing another task. I sent a succulent to Charlie, too. I would send flowers, but even I know she isn't into things like that. She tries to be for her mother's sake, but the girl has her own style and I'm not going to be the one to discredit it.

"BRIANA!" Jillian's office door slams open, startling others around the room. Eyes shoot up from different tables and workstations, trying to get a peek of the commotion. They're all fairly new, we have a really horrible turn-over rate because people are so scared of her. I tune her out most of the time though.

If you're going to yell, Jilly, aim it at the right f*cking person.

I know she's speaking to me of course, she wouldn't dare associate with anyone else in this room. She believes her civility is a present and she isn't f*cking Santa Clause.

Her brows are creased and her face is more angry than usual. She stomps in her expensive heels toward me, fists hanging by her sides. "Why is my ex-husband calling me?" She seethes.

Well, f*ck if I should know.

"You gave him your office number for emergencies, ma'am. I haven't received a call from him today." I fold my hands in my lap and don't dare look away from her light eyes.

"Andwhymight he be calling me to tell me that Charlotte is throwing a tantrum and scaring her maids?" Her hands find their way to her hips. She looks like an old school teacher waiting for the class to quiet down.

Because her mommy ignores her and when kids don't get the attention they need, they lash out. Any attention is good enough when you get none.

My face must be telling on me right now. I don't notice my staring until Jillian's long red nails snap in front of my face, breaking me of my thoughts. "If you have something you want tosayto me, you better make it worth it, because one wrongf*ckingword and you're out of a job."

My brows shoot up in confusion. I shake away my thoughts and clear my throat, preparing myself for the worst, "She just sounded kind of, well, disappointed. On the phone earlier. But I ordered her everything you said to-"

"Are you saying I'm a bad mother? You think Idisappointher, do you?" Her voice is scarily quiet. Her hands grip the edge of my desk behind my computer, her cold eyes unmoving from my shocked ones. Her hand reaches out, grabbing a picture frame next to the screen.

"I don't know what kind of life you come from," She examines the picture of my parents in high school, "but here, you're inmyworld. You work forme. I pay your bills, I tell you to jump and you ask how high." She slams the picture back down on my desk, making me flinch slightly. Her face leans into mine.

"I suggest you take the rest of the day off and think about how badly you want to be here, because if I get any more calls about how horrible of a mother you all think I am, I will make sure your name is black listed from every single company your dull little head could possibly imagine."

Dull? Ouch.

She stands up from her slouched position over my desk and straightens her suit jacket. She turns and surveys the room of people staring at us like an attraction.

"And the rest of you, back to work. If you keep treating Fridays like the start of your weekend, I'll make sure you never see a Saturday again." She barks and stomps back to her office, the door banging shut once again.

I close my eyes and throw my head back, sighing deeply to collect myself. I turn in my chair slightly and bend at the waist to collect my bag from beneath the table.

I wish she did know what kind of family I came from, because she doesn't even realize that shes looking at her future if she keeps neglecting Charlie. But at least I get to go home early. More time to do absolutely nothing. Maybe I can finally binge-watch a new show, or go to bed at 7 pm like I usually do.Perfect.

"Jeez, Brin. You alright?" Grace whispers, sympathy lacing her hushed tone. I sit up with my bag in hand, swiveling to face her sitting on the edge of the glass tabletop. I huff out a small laugh and smile amused.

"It's going to take a lot more than her projecting her insecurities on me to make me crack, babe. I'm fine, dealt with a lot worse than her." I shrug and stand up, hauling the tote over my shoulder.

Grace's short blonde hair bounces around as she watches me move, the sunlight tinting it a shiny honey color. I was surprised when I met Grace here, I always show new hires to their places and go over rules regarding Jillian. She isn't anything like the typical hire.

Usually, Jill is very against hiring people like Grace, but her father owns some of the biggest hotels on the strip, so a little bribery got his daughter the normal job she had been begging for.

She's spoiled, and sometimes she gets on my last nerve with her 'problems' regarding not getting exclusive new shoes or missing Rod Stewart's latest party. I admire her though, it must be easy to live a life where normalcy is exciting when the rest of us are just trying to survive it.

I do feel bad for other parts of her. Her name isn't actually Grace. Well, herfirstname at least. There must be something about rich parents and hating their children because on the marvelous night she was born,Diamond Gracewould forever be mistaken as a Las Vegas hooker and not the daughter of the man providing you with a luxury hotel suite.

Her name was actually going to be Diamond Ace, both names being tributes to her daddy'sgambling addiction. Thank god her grandma demanded she be given a normal name, that being the one she goes by. She's got the tabloid perfect family, but everyone has skeletons in their closet and I know shes angry at heart.

She's my saving Grace.

She really has been the only family I have in this place. She's a wild party girl with way too much free time, but I like to think our personalities balance each other out. She never judges me for staying as far away from nightclubs and other temptations. She understands why I stay away, and she's made an effort to keep her drug habits away from me.

It's not that I judge her for the choices she makes, but I know if I were to allow myself to do the same, I would get hooked. I'd never forgive myself if I turned out like my parents did and she's been so helpful with making sure I don't. I know she wishes I would let myself live a little, but I can't.

I walk out around my desk and Grace follows shortly after, the taps of her heels clicking furiously across the marble floor. "Come out with me tonight." She puts her hand on my shoulder to make me slow down. She asks me to a lot, but she never really expects me to.

I stop before the glass doors leading to the elevators. I sigh and turn around to meet her gaze, "You know I can't. I have too much work to get done." I shake my head and move to turn back around.

"Brinna! Please! It's Friday night and your boss almost ripped your head off. I just read an article about a hot new club that opened up at that weird pirate casino. Come check it out with me. Just us, no drinking, no games." She pleads, her hands dropping to grab mine.

My shoulders drop and my eyes flick between hers. She knows I have a soft spot for her pouty face. "Pirate club?" I question, weighing my options for some reason. I should just say no. I don't go out. But I also don't really have a lot of work to do..

"Yeah, the treasure one, you know,arrrrrg, booty.." She tries to impersonate a pirate and fails miserably, making me scrunch my nose and laugh.

I blow out a raspberry and squeeze her hands in mine. "f*ck, Gracie. You're going to be the death of me." I sigh at her, her eyes lighting up at my way of saying yes. "No funny business, right?"

"Promise! No funny business!" She squeals and wraps her arms around my neck, "Yay! Girls night out!" She bounces up and down, making me smile with an eye roll.

"Okay, okay. Release the death grip." I chuckle into her neck. She pulls away and leaves a sloppy peck on my cheek. I open the glass door and let her walk through it first, her moving to press the elevator button. I step in and press ground level, watching her amusem*nt as the door starts to close.

"I'm coming over at 9! Be ready to have your tit* out, Brin!" She yells far too loudly in this posh office before the door closes completely, taking me down to the building entrance. My head leans back on the cold metal wall.

I have no idea why I'm agreeing to this, I've lived in this state for years now and I haven't been to more than a movie premiere. I do occasionally drink at my house, but nothing crazy. None of the city's offerings excite me the way they do other people.

Sure, I bet it's great to dress up and get sh*t-faced by huge water fountains and fake Eiffel Towers, but I'm smart enough to not fall for it. I can't f*ck this up like everyone expects me to. I can't let myself get distracted.

__

"Come on!Suck. It. In!"Grace is attempting to zip up one of her sparkly black dresses on my body, but the one good thing my mom left me with was curves, so it's more like trying to stuff my butt into a tube sock.

"I can't suck in asscheeks, Grace!" I was being yanked around like a ragdoll, already irritated and wanting to crawl into my bed and sleep. She curled my hair and put an obnoxious amount of makeup on me when she got here. She's well aware of my protests by now, but I let her do whatever she wants to save the bickering.

The zipper finally moves, my insides having to fight over space in order for me to be able to breathe in this glorified body condom. The dress is very pretty, and dare I say flattering, but it's way out of my comfort zone. I was going to wear jeans and a nice shirt but she nearly stabbed me with her gaudy earring when I didn't want to change.

"Okay, turn around. Let me see." She huffs and moves my shoulders so I face her in my dimly lit bedroom. She scans over my entire body, stopping at my chest to adjust the cups so my boobs stick out way more than natural.

I frown at the tit-job she just gave me and look back to her eyes. She has a huge grin on her face and her hands are lightly clapping together. She always manages to look good, so it's no surprise that she has a natural skill at polishing other people too.

"You look so f*ckinghot. I would kiss you right now if I didn't care about my lipstick." She nearly pants as her eyes dart around my face.

She means it, too. One of the things Grace has helped me with is learning about my sexuality and helping me figure out exactly what I like. She's the first woman I've ever kissed, and while we haven't goneall the waytogether, we have explored each other in a way that friends probably shouldn't.

She's much more comfortable labeling her sexuality and openly enjoying anyone that she wants to, though. I'm just not there yet. I don't like to label anything, because I don't really know what I am. I like to kiss women, I really like to make them cum, but I don't feel the romantic desire to have a relationship with one.

I'm not exactly looking for a relationship with anyone, but if I were, it would be with a man. I don't really understand it, so I don't try to. I just have the fun I want to have, if I ever get the chance to. It's been a long time since I've been with anyone.

I'm not ashamed of who I am, but I do end up feeling guilty when I let myself partake in activities that I enjoy too much.

I've honestly made out with Grace more than I have with probably everyone else combined. It's easy with her because we both know our love is platonic and we don't have to feel guilty for being attracted to each other over a bottle of wine. It's not complicated, and I like it that way.

I blow her a co*cky air-kiss, blushing at her compliment. "You don't look too bad yourself, babe." I take her hand in mine and twirl her around, pulling her into me so we're both facing the wall mirror. I sway her slightly in my hold as we both smile at ourselves, my chin resting on her naked shoulder.

She bites her lip, practically buzzing with anticipation. "Now let's go f*ck it up in Vegas, baby!" She yells and leaps out of my arms, making me follow her to my front door.

"Youlivehere, there's no way you're excited like you haven't seen it a thousand times already." I chuckle and pick up my clutch, checking to make sure I have everything before locking the door behind us. I never understood her child-like wonder for this city.

Her driver brought her here and is going to be the one taking us to the club tonight, too. I saw the article she was talking about earlier, with the pirate club. She was totally off, by the way. The place is calledTreasure Chest Casino and Club, and it definitely doesn't have anything to do with sea thieves.

It actually looked kind of cool from the picture I saw. Very underwater-y and mermaid-y, which I can appreciate. The man in the picture cutting the ribbon didn't look half bad, either. But the owners of these places are never at their establishments, they just collect all the profit at the end of the day.

We pull up to the entrance, and a man with white gloves opens the car door for us. Florescent lights hit my eyes and I squint at the brightness contrasted to the dark sky. He tips his funny little hat toward us as we step out. Grace adjusts her skirt before locking our arms together and leads us to the doors, pushing us both into the small pod swiveling around in a circle.

We giggle together, smooshed into the small space and walk in a half circle before we exit to the casino floor. It's dark as hell in here, and kind of smokey. It smells like weed and not cigarettes, which is much more pleasant than I expected. The floor is dark carpet and there's a lit-up walkway leading through the entire game floor.

The ceiling is truly amazing, though. Nautical ropes weave through beams. Lights twinkle in an array of blues and greens like algae illuminating the sea. There's fake seaweed hanging from some beams and in the middle of the room is a large wooden pole with a gold mermaid wrapped around it. Her tail is around the pole and her arm hangs to the wood.

Her hair is meant to be flowing like shes underwater and her boobs aren't covered by anything, but her nipples are two shimmering pearls. She has chains of gold and gems draping off her body. The lights pointed at the statue make it glow and sparkle. It's captivating.

Grace must have stopped at the same time I did because an old f*cking prick bumped into us and told us tokeep it moving or show more ass if we want to be in the way.I scoffed at him as he walked away.

"Where's the f*cking bar? I want to pregame before we get into the club section, especially if this place is crawling with creeps like that." She tugs my arm so we keep walking down the path, not even giving the guy a second of her time. She's pretty used to people cat-calling her. She wears sexy clothing because she loves the way she looks, but the comments are so common that she's tuned them out.

I like that about her, the way she's completely comfortable to be herself despite what other people say or think. I wish I had the guts to be like her. I think that's why I'm so drawn to her, she exudes a confidence that I want to absorb into my own skin.

We weave through drunk bachelorette parties, men losing life savings, and plenty of unamused workers before reaching the bar next to the roped-off club entrance. A man in a black suit stood stone-faced, letting people in every few minutes.

She orders four shots as I stand next to her and glance around the room. I don't understand why people spend so much time and money coming to places like this. The energy of this room is so gross and sad, just people trying to fill their souls with phony dopamine.

I turn back to the red bar and glance at Grace's hand, her gesturing at me to take the shots with her. I grimace and smell the small glass, my lips curling in disgust. "What is that?" I ask loudly over the chatter in the room. I prefer a red wine, but I take it they don't serve wine shots.

She smiles and places the glass in my hand. "Tequila baby, drink up!" she knocks her two back like they're water. I shake my head, wishing they reallywerejust water. This is a dangerous game for me to be playing.

"I'll dooneshot, Gracie. That's it. No more." I huff and knock back the drink. The liquid burned my throat and chest, making me cough and shake out the feeling. There's no way people actually enjoy the taste of liquor, that sh*t tastes like a nail salon.

"Atta girl!" She cheers. "Let's party!" She drinks my second shot and pulls me away from the bar, towards the club. I groan and follow, clutching my bag and praying that I make it out of here alive.

This should be fun,right?

Chapter 2: Hotel Room

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

Sweet mother of baby Jesus, I am sh*t faced.

Getting through the club line was quicker than I imagined, the squirrely boy at the rope got a little show from Gracie and voila, we magically cut a 30-person line. Who knew boobies held so much power? Enough to take down big, bad, bodyguards apparently.Men are so easy.

The inside of this place is nothing like I imagined, we walked through the curtains and were met with a small hallway and a huge black door. The entire hall was dark and gold seashells lined the walls. I didn't even realize that I couldn't hear any music before I opened the door. It must be soundproof to block out some of the club noise in the casino.

Strobe lights flash and sweaty bodies bounce around the room, bumping in rhythm to the DJ working up in the front of the room on a raised stage. Ladies in short dresses walk around with bright smiles and trays held above their heads. There are poles scattered around the room, some being expertly occupied by women wearing practically nothing.

Grace made sure to make a bee-line straight to the bar, despite our pregame. It's like she has a radar for alcohol, she was sniffing the air like a hound dog. We stopped at the bar and she waved the man over, flirting with him and asking about drinks.

I really didn't want to drink tonight, and I know she promised we wouldn't but I'm grown enough to say no. She told me that she would order something not too strong and not as gross as the tequila if I was up for it. My self-control must be sh*t because I havenotbeen saying no.

I took one sip of her fruity co*cktail and the next thing I knew, I was down four of my own and my hands were on Grace's hips. I don't even remember drinking them, but the burning in my chest is evidence enough. I've lost count of how many shots I've had, men like to buy you things when you look like the reincarnation of young Megan Fox.

I knew I shouldn't have stepped into this club. I've done so good at staying away and keeping my own temptations at bay. I started to panic and get fidgety after so many drinks, but by the time I was sweating out my anxiety and Grace was trying to convince me to dance, the alcohol hit me in full force.

My limbs seemed to be floating around, chasing my pretty dance partner through the sea of sticky bodies. Their skillful grinding and humping had my cheeks blushing and I couldn't stop admiring the way everyone seemed so free. It probably looked like I was staring at tit* though.

Which brings us to now, we're currently in the middle of the lit-up dance floor, on a slightly raised platform, dancing like we're animals. I don't even know how to but everything seems to be running on autopilot.

Grace is bent over in front of me, legs spread and hands on the floor. Her ass is grinding between my hips and my f*cking hands can't decide where they want to stay. I can't seem to get enough of her under the pads of my fingers.

I decide to keep them on her hips to help her stay semi-standing while we dance. I know she drinks more than me, but she has to be getting dizzy from being bent over. I pull her back into me with every sway of the music, pink and white lights glazing over our sweaty faces.

The room is hot and people around us are cheering for the girl-on-girl action. I throw my head back and smile to the ceiling, soaking in the intoxicants soaring around me. Smoke puffs out of machines every couple of minutes, keeping the room foggy. It smells like stale pot and body spray in here but I don't mind it.

Usually, I'd be mortified that people are watching us practically dry hump, but the liquor in my body is shutting out every negative thought I should be having. She feels so right against me and this is sofun.

I can't believe I'm drunk, grinding with my best friend, in the middle of a Vegas club. f*ck.

f*ck... yes.

Grace stands up as the song changes, leaning into me and swaying slightly from the posture change. My hands smooth over the front of her body, grazing the tops of her thighs. Her skin is glistening with a mixture of body glitter and moisture.

She arches back into me and our grinding slows to a light bop together. Her head falls back to my shoulder and the mix of her sweet perfume and sweat floods my nostrils.

What is happening to me right now? The music filling my head is literally jumbling my brain because it's so loud. I can't stop touching her and loving every second of her being on me. I think I love the attention, too. I feel like her confidence is rubbing off on me and the applause is only hyping me up more. I could listen to the whistles and cheers forever, it's so exhilarating.

I smile against the side of her face and dip my head to her neck, kissing a small trail down the damp skin. She's usually shorter than I am, but the heels she's wearing give me perfect access to her sweet spots. She tilts her head, granting me more access. My lips part on her and I pant out a few breaths under her ear.

I playfully bite down on her neck, still gripping her hips and moving to the thumping bass. A tipsy chuckle leaves my lips and my only focus is on her now. My dress isn't helping the attention building around us, I'm sure everyone in this club can see it sparkling like a disco ball on this platform.

My lips kiss over the skin I just bit before I suck harshly over the reddened patch. Grace's hand moves to the back of my neck, her lips falling open with a gasp at my contact on her neck. I can't help but smile against her, feeling turned on by the way she's melting into my simple touches. I hope she doesn't mind the mark that's going to be left behind because my lips aren't letting up their attack.

Fruity alcohol makes fruity Brinna. Me likey.

She turns in my hold so my hands are around her waist and clasped at her lower back. She raises both arms around my neck and pushes my hair behind my ear. Her smile is subtle andsoglazed over from the drinks we had hours earlier. She's looking at me like a hungry animal and I hope to god she wants a taste. I lick my lips, the sweet strawberry remnants coating my tongue.

Before I can make another move, a remix ofBorn This Waycomes on and I swear we both had the same thought. Her eyes widen in excitement and we both start jumping to the music, laughing and pulling each other around to dance.

Excitement fills the air as other drunk friend groups close in on us. I've never felt more alive than I do right now. The air feels ten times hotter and she looks it, too.

"I'm on the right track baby I was born this way!"

We both belt out, faces only an inch from each other. Her smile is magnetic and it's pulling me in. I stop jumping and cup her face, panting and glancing down at her lips.

I don't know if it's the alcohol or if I've never felt true happiness before, but I can't stop my mouth before it crashes into hers in the middle of the crowded dance floor. Her body stills and she kisses me back furiously, teeth and tongues clashing like a back alley symphony.

I can taste the artificial fruit syrup mixed with rum as my tongue swirls around hers. I pull her closer to me if at all possible and she tilts her head back to open her mouth to grant me more access. I hum into the kiss and move my lips with hers before I take her bottom lip between my teeth and tug lightly.

People around us cheer and whistle, jumping at our grand finale make-out session. I don't want to stop myself from practically eating her face when I feel something flutter over my shoulder, but when we finally pull away for air, we notice people raining dollar bills over us.

We stare at each other in shock and then burst out laughing, money falling all around us to the dirty floor. I give her another quick peck on the side of her mouth amidst our laughing and she pulls my head to her mouth.

"I have to pee, Brin!" She shouts in my ear over the party surrounding us. I nod at her and take her hand so we don't get lost in the crowd on the way there. We push through the bodies and eventually find our way to the bathroom doors by the club exit.

I let go of her hand and follow her into the curtain and down the hall to the women's restroom. One door has a mermaid withverylarge titt*es, and the other has a merman... only, the top half of him is a fish.

His bottom half isnota fish.

I giggle at the drawing and stumble into the door, nearly eating sh*t when I turn my head too fast. The bright lights in the bathroom are giving me a headache and showing me just how horrible I look in the mirror. Who maimed me?

I cringe at myself and walk into a stall, holding on to the walls for stability. I heard one time that you never know how drunk you are until you're sitting on the toilet, and f*ck I think that's the realest thing I've ever heard. Am I the drunk girl in a club toilet, right now?

My panties are around my ankles and my knees are bent inwards. My feet are aching in these heels, I can't wait to get home and take them off. I know why people like places like this so much now, and the longer I sit on this toilet the more I'm starting to regret coming here. I'm for sure going to get hooked, it's just in my nature.

I hear the music thumping through the bathroom door and my hand raises slightly in a fist pump. The alcohol is trying to shut my brain the f*ck up again, and honestly, I don't mind it. The motion of my fist mixed with sitting on this toilet for what feels like forever has me f*cking dizzy. Can you get seasick on dry land?

I fall forward and catch myself on the door, giggling at the impact. The metal clangs together, sending a harsh noise through the bathroom. I pull myself together and straighten up again, my arms out on my sides and palms flush against the walls. I try to read some of the words but I'm far too f*cked to focus.

Alrighty, time to get up. Enough sitting around. I need to make sure Grace is still alive so we can get out of this club. I don't know what time it is but we've been here for f*cking ever and I'm starting to get sleepy.

Uppity we go, leggies-oh f*ck, okay.

Down we go, leggies.Two more minutes.I blow a sharp breath out of my nose.

"Brinnie? Briiiiiinie?" Pink heels stop in front of my stall door, a sing-song voice echoing through the tiled bathroom. I smile up at the metal and blink my eyes like a lizard, one after the other. Yes, Gracie?

"Brinna?" she asks again, voice sounding more serious now.

f*ck, did I not say that out loud? I thought I did for sure.

"I'm in here." I slur, giggling and pulling my underwear up. I unlock the door and hold on to the top of it as it opens. My eyes drag up until I meet hers. She looks like she actually did just get mauled, her skirt is hiked up and she's panting. I can't help but notice the mark I left near the base of her neck, it looks good on her.

"So don't hate me.." Her face is flushed and her lipstick is far more smeared than I left it. "I'm going to go get railed by this sexy son of a bitch." She smiles and points her thumb behind her shoulder to a tall man lazily holding her hip. I study his face for a minute more, waiting for my sus radar to ping.

How did I not notice him? I feel myself squinting but I can't stop. Why is he in a women's bathroom? Where did she find him?

"Sup." He nods at me and I nod back, unable to form a coherent sentence.

"Do you want to come back with us? I can have Brahm drive you home. You look.. not great." My eyes flick back to hers as I try to register what she's saying. I can tell the alcohol is hitting me a lot more than it's hitting her.

I really don't want to go back with them. My brain is cloudy enough already and I don't think I can stomach the tongue f*cking that's bound to happen in the back seat of her car. The thought makes me cringe to myself and my knee buckles under me, making me smack into the stall wall.

f*ck, maybe I should go back. I'm way too sh*t-faced to even stand here straight.

But I'm having so much fun and now I know what I like to drink. I'm sure anyone here would love to dance with me.

Ugh. This is exactly the problem, Brin. Your addictive personality is showing, wrap it up before you destroy your life.

One night won't do that.. right?

I giggle at the devil-angel interaction going on in my head and glance between the two of them before squinting my eyes so I can focus on Grace. "I'm staying. I'll just call a cab and wait at the bar." I raise my eyebrows, trying to look like a normal person.

I can tell she's trying to figure out if that's the right answer, but her drunken horniness is taking over. "Okay, please call me if you need anything. Love you," She kisses my forehead and I smile lazily at her.

"Use a condom, lovebirds!" I watch them exit the bathroom and I finally will my legs to move over to the counter. I make faces at myself in the mirror, squishing my cheeks and wiping some smeared mascara from under my eyes.

Who knew dancing could make you look like you ran a f*cking marathon. My hair is knotted and my tit* definitely didn't stay in place. I shrug and half nod, giving myself astill hotexpression.

I grab my clutch off the bathroom counter and fumble to the door, holding the cold wall as I make my way back up the hallway to the club. The music is thumping louder and I can't help but close my eyes and smile.

Making my way out of the curtain, I glance around the room until I find the bar again, taking my time to move around people so I don't trip over my feet. I climb into the tall chair like a toddler and spin around to face the tabletop. The stool cushion sticks to the back of my bare thighs, making me grumble. I hate when my thighs stick to chairs. Icky.

I knock on the wood bar to usher the attendant to order another strawberry daiquiri. These motherf*ckers are good. I sip the drink and hum in approval, some of the liquid slipping down my chin. I turn to pick up a napkin from the pile on the counter and startle when I see a large man standing next to me. How long has he been standing there?

"Wellhello, sexy thing. Seems like you've been enjoying yourself." The man speaks with a sinister smile, only he doesn't look into my eyes. He keeps his focus on my cleavage. The gesture alone is enough to make my skin crawl and suddenly I'mnothaving fun.

"Iwasbefore you showed up." I glare, hoping it's not apparent how out of it I am.

"That's no way to talk to customers." He tsks and comes closer to my face, the smell of liquor and cigarettes heavy on his breath. His bald head is glistening in sweat and his jacket is filthy. How did he get in the door looking like that?

Customers? I don't work here. I'm just sitting at the bar like anyone else. Why would he think I work here?

"Club's still open which means your shift isn't over. I don't give a f*ck if you're on break. I pay good money to have any whor* I want, so you're coming with me. Get the f*ck up, stop being a bitch." His hand smacks on the wood bar in front of me, making me jump. My eyes widen, slight panic taking over.

"I don't- I'm not-" I try to assess the situation and find the words to plead my case. I should have gone home. Why didn't I go home? The back of my neck breaks out in a cold sweat. Someone else has to be seeing this, why isn't anyone stopping him?

He grabs my arm and yanks me from the seat, my drink spilling to the floor. A gasp leaves my mouth at the sharp pain in my upper arm, his fingers are wrapped around me so tight that I feel like it's going to leave a bruise.

The room is spinning from the sudden movement and I'm struggling to stay standing on my high heels. "Shut the f*ck up. Start walking." he grits into my ear. His hot breath makes me cringe.

He whips us around, my hands coming out in front of me to try and stabilize the last bit of my weak legs that I can. We don't even make it a step before the man crashes into another body. I stumble back a little but the pain shooting through me has me standing still quickly.

He's about the same height as the one currently holding my arm, but he's much more built. His hair is up in a bun and it looks to be a dark brown, or maybe even black. The lights are making it hard to tell. Tattoos are peaking out of his open button-up shirt and a cross necklace is hanging around his neck.

How ironic, because holy sh*t you're hot.

He lookspissed. His arms are folded over his abdomen and his brows are furrowed, leaving a deep crease between his eyes. His head is tilted to look only at the man. I can't tell what color his eyes are in the darkness of the club, but they're filled with irritation that only grows when he looks at the way my arm is currently being trapped.

"Styles," The man puffs out his chest. "You need to wrangle your whor*s. This one's got a f*cking attitude." He yanks my arm, probably to show his dominance over me. I yelp and my mouth drops slightly. My knees are shaking and I feel nauseous. I don't pray, but I'm mentally screaming at the man in front of me to see that this isn't right. No way he thinks this is normal.

He gives me a glance, staring into my wide eyes.Please read my mind. Please see how f*cking scared I am right now.He has to be hearing my heartbeat, I swear it's louder than the bass right now.

He sighs and turns his attention back to the nasty man. "She doesn't work here, Ben. And even if she did, mydancersarenotfor you to f*ck. They're people before they're employees, and it's no one's fault but your own that you can't get any puss*. You don't get to touch anyone without them telling you that you can."

He steps closer toBen, them being practically chest to chest now, "Get your f*cking handsoffof her before I break each and every finger off of your grimy paws. And get out of my f*cking sight before you piss me off any more than you already have." He grits through his teeth.

Ben drops my arm from his hold and I immediately grab the burning flesh. I hiss out at the pain and inspect the handprint left behind on my fair skin. "Mother f*cker," I whisper to myself.

There's no mistaking the outline of a perfectly stamped hand around my arm, I hope it doesn't f*cking bruise because I don't know how to cover that. Grace would hate herself if she knew what almost happened.

I hold the mark and look up at the man still in front of me. I blink a few times, trying to decide which of the three of him is the real one.It's the middle, right?

I shut my eyes and take a deep breath, but that only makes it worse. I stumble over and trip on my own feet. Everything is spinning so hard right now and the ground is so-

Wait. The ground?

I open one eye and look down, seeing that I'm not actually face-planted like I expected to be. Two ringed hands are holding my shoulders and he's looking into my blue eyes. His lips are moving but I only see the cherry color they hold.

Wow, he looks absolutely terrifying and so sexy when he's... concerned?

"Hello?" I'm shaken lightly. "Are you alright? I think it's time for you to leave. Where is your girlfriend?" He looks around for her as he waits for me to answer.

I squint at him and shake my head. "Girlfriend?" I don't have a girlfriend. I was just sitting alone-oh..I smile at him, my grin reaching ear to ear. "She left with someone a little while ago, they're totally going to f*ck." I belt out, not even realizing the words I'm saying, the alcohol making my honesty flow through me.

"She left you here like this?" His tone drops again and I swear to god I hear purring now. How is his voice getting deeper?

"I told her to, I'm totally fine!" I wave him off. "I was just leaving anyway. I'm just gonna-whoop."I point to the exit and try to take a step, but only my knees bend.

"Christ." He mutters under his breath. He keeps his hold on my shoulders firm but not painful and looks around for a moment. "Do you have anyone waiting for you at home?"

Well, that's f*cking ominous, Mr. Styles.

I pinch up my face in disgust. "Did you just save me so you could try the same sh*t?" My drunken rage boils over way too fast. He looks at me confused for a moment before he realizes what I mean.

"No, f*ck. I mean I can't put you in a cab if you don't have someone waiting for you. Can't have something happening to a drunk girl that I send home." He sighs and darts his eyes between mine. "You're way too sh*tfaced to leave. C'mon. Put your arm around me, I'll get you a hotel room for the night."

I comply for some reason, throwing my arm around his tall shoulder. He's still doing most of the work but I like to feel like I'm helping. I look up at his side profile as he walks us through the club to the exit. His jawline is so tense and sharp. He needs to unclench before he breaks his teeth. I wish I could reach up and smooth out the crease between his eyebrows. Why is someone so pretty so permanently angry?

He starts talking on his cellphone and I'm trying my hardest to focus but it's like the words are literally going in one ear and out the other. I can practically feel them. Am I still staring at him? He's got pretty eyelashes.

"Yeah, I need a hangover package and a suite. Just put it on my tab, I'm heading up there now. Bring the key up too. I can't stop at the desk right now." He speaks assertively, eyes focused on the exit and arm slung around my hip.

"No, Maggie. I'm not gettinglaid. I know I already live here, the room isn't for me." He rolls his eyes.

"C'mon baby, you know I wouldn't do you like that," He coos into the phone. "Yeah, I'll be done in like an hour tops. Come see me." His face never changes expression but his tone softens. Is he seriously trying to get some while he's practically carrying me out of here? Why is everyone ditching me for sex?

He hangs up the phone and glances down at me. We continue walking through the casino until we exit through a different door into an adjoining hotel lobby. He walks straight to the elevators and presses the up button. I take a minute to look around, his scent wafting into my nostrils when I turn my head.Mmm, smells good. Smells warm and cozy.

"Are you sniffing me right now?" An amused accent asks in the empty elevator.

My eyes snap open and I realize that my face is nuzzled in the side of him and I am indeed sniffing the stranger next to me.Way to be a f*cking creep, B.

He laughs but doesn't make any effort to move me away from him. Probably because he knows I'd fall and concuss myself if he did. I groan, my head falling forward. My cheeks puff out as the elevator stops and the door opens. My stomach twists at the abrupt jolt and I feel a lump growing in my throat. "Oh god- I'm gonna be sick." I groan.

His eyes widen and he pulls me out of the elevator. "Please hold it, you've got like ten more steps and then you can spew your guts." He rushes out and glances at the numbers on each door.

Oh shut the f*ck up, you are not helping me right now.

I wince at his words and put my hand over my mouth. He stops in front of a door and picks up the keycard under a tray full of things. He unlocks the door and I rush in to find the bathroom. My eyes scan around the room, panicking in search of a toilet before I paint this room with my insides.

I make my way to the only other door, an automatic light coming on at my entry. I barrel toward the toilet and drop to my knees in front of it, emptying the contents of my stomach into the bowl. My throat burns and tears are threatening to escape my closed eyes.

Warm hands gather my hair off of my shoulders but I'm far too busy to think about it too hard. My hair is being tied in a bun and my throwing up finally slows to a stop. I huff out a breath and groan into the toilet, my whole body shaking on the cold floor.

"Feel better?" A deep voice asks next to me. I look up, grabbing the toilet paper in his hand to wipe my mouth. My eyes widen when I finally get a good look at him. I must look f*cking crazy, of course this would be happening.

My head falls to my arm resting on the toilet and I let out a nervous chuckle. "You're even hotter in good lighting," I laugh. "Of course you'd be the one to watch me puke my guts out. That would be my luck." I sigh and shift on my shins, not daring to make eye contact with him.

"Trust me, nothing tourists do surprises me anymore. I've seen plenty, you throwing up is the tamest incident tonight." He shrugs, ignoring my compliment. He sits back on the bathroom counter, observing me. "Here, take this. It'll help with your hangover tomorrow morning." He opens a pack of pills and hands me two. He opens a bottle of water with it.

I pop the pills in my mouth, not entirely sure why I didn't even ask what they are, and pour the cold water into my mouth too. The liquid coats my burning throat and I hum in contentment at the relief. I open my eyes after chugging some of it to see him staring through my soul with piercinggreeneyes.

Mother f*cker. I know him.

It's almost like he read my thoughts because a smirk grows on his face at the same time my eyes roll.

"It'syourcasino. You'reHarry. You just dragged me out of your club and watched me throw up in your hotel." I recognize that face from the ribbon-cutting picture. Of. f*cking. Course.

His smile grows but he tuts at my last remark. "Not my hotel, I just own the casino and club. IamHarry though." He pushes off the counter. "There's snacks, toiletries, and I had someone bring a change of clothes for you too. You can sleep here, the room is taken care of already. I'll leave both keys in here so you can leave whenever you want. Just, sleep it off first, yeah?"

He walks to the bathroom door, not waiting for my response. "I'm going to wait out here for you to change so I know you haven't fallen and killed yourself."

I nod and wait for him to shut the door, my embarrassment taking over the alcohol slowly leaving my bloodstream. I shake my head and drop it back down to my arms. My lips curl up when a disgusting smell hits my nose, reminding me of what's in the toilet.

"So gross," I mutter and flush the contents of the bowl down. I scoot away from the toilet and lean against the bathroom wall. The cold feels so good against my hot skin. I let out a deep breath and fold my arms over my stomach and stretch out my legs. I kick the heels off, rolling my ankles and embracing the ache that's ringing through my feet. My entire body is throbbing from the hardcore dancing I endured.

I know I should get up, but my tummy feels better and my eyes are just..

so..

heavy..

Chapter 3: One of Them

Notes:

Tw- brief depiction of self harm

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

Fire. My body is on fire.

My bed feels comfier than usual, though. Did I get new bedding? God, these sheets feel like ice on my hot skin.

My head feels like it's being split open with a dull axe, what the f*ck happened?

I sigh and open my eyes, blinking at the white surrounding my entire body. Am I dead? Am I in a cloud? f*ckin' feels like it.

My lips smack together, a sour taste in my mouth making me cough. God, my throat is dry. Have I not had any water in a week? Maybe I hit my head and I actually just woke up from a coma. I close my eyes again, groaning and stretching out my body. My hands feel around the expensive bedding I'm cocooned in and suddenly it hits me:

This isn't my bed. This isn't myhouse.

f*ck. f*ck, f*ck,f*ck.

I shoot up from the blankets, holding myself up on my hands and knees since I was asleep on my stomach. I try to look around but the sudden jolt makes my head ring. My face falls back down into the pillow, brows pinching up from the pain.

"Ah- sh*t. Okay, okay, mercy." I plead to no one, willing away the headache that's frying my last remaining brain cell. I'm facing the headboard of the bed, and when I finally open my eyes again I sit back on my ankles. The blanket falls from my shoulders and I realize the sun is what's making it so f*cking hot in here.

"Morning. Don't freak out." A deep accent behind me makes me jump. I whip around in my spot, eyes landing on a freshly dressed Harry. He's sitting in a chair with his ankle resting on the opposite knee. His hands are rested on the arms of the chair and he looks far too amused.

I furrow my brows, unable to speak from both the confusion and the sandpaper in my throat. Freak out? Do I need to be..?Did we sleep together?sh*t. I drank so much I can't even remember if we had sex.

Oh god. This is it, I'm ruined. One night is all it takes and I f*cking did it.

"Woah,relax." He leans forward in the armchair facing the bed. "Why do you look like you're about to freak out? I saiddon't, everything is fine. You're fine." He sounds confused now, too.

"We didn't sleep together, right?" I ask, now shaking. My breathing is unsteady in my chest.

He shakes his head. "I wouldn't ever sleep with someone as drunk as you got." He says sternly. "Do you do that a lot? You passed out in the f*cking bathroom with vomit down your clothes." He chuckles. My cheeks heat and I rub my hands over my face.

This is bad. I f*cked up. I broke my streak of being good and now I'm sitting in a random hotel with a man that I don't know.

Wait,why is he in here if we didn't sleep together?

"I thought you said you were going to leave the keys and not come back?" I look up from my hands. "Why are you watching me sleep?" I pull the cover over my body more, feeling self-conscious at the realization that I don't know how long he's been here.

"Well, you hit your head a little which is how I found you. You didn't answer me after I heard a thud. You passed out before you changed, so I had to clean you up and put some new clothes on you. And then I put you in the bed." he shrugs casually like it's no big deal to do that to a complete stranger.

"But why are you herenow?" I don't understand.

He f*cking changed my clothes?!

"Figured I should make sure you woke up and ate something. I have a car waiting for you whenever you're ready to go back to.. wherever you're staying. Hopefully, you didn't have any attractions to go see today, I'm sure you feel like sh*t." He grins.

"I'm not atourist, I live here. I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself." I shuffle to the end of the bed and put my feet on the ground. My vision sways slightly as I try to stand, needing another minute before I finally can.

"Could have fooled me, I've never seen someone dance the way you and your girlfriend did in my club and be a resident. That was some straight up one-night-in-Vegas sh*t. Almost had to hose you two off." He rambles and glances sideways at me. "Why did she leave you here alone? You two like, swingers or somethin'?"

I walk towards the bathroom door and roll my eyes. Why is everyone so obsessed with women kissing other women? "She's not my girlfriend," I mutter. "I told her to leave, she isn't my babysitter." The bright light in the bathroom catches me off guard, making me flinch and bring my arm up to shield my eyes.

I look at myself in the mirror, even more confused than when I woke up. What the f*ck am I wearing? When did my hair get put up? I peek my head out of the bathroom door, glaring daggers at Harry whos sitting chipper as a f*cking bird, perfectly relaxed.

"What isthis?" I gesture to my bright outfit. "Why am I dressed head to toe in yellow M&M clothing?"

He scoffs playfully. "Well, you didn't look comfortable in that dress especially after you threw up all over it, and it was either the yellow guy or the blue one, and I hate that blue f*cker." He smirks and looks over the huge shirt and shorts on my body. "You should be thanking me, I was a good boy and didn't even look." His knee bounces as he pops a dimple.

"Thank yousomuch for getting me naked and not looking. You're myhero." I roll my eyes and turn back into the bathroom. I shut the door and peek down the inside of my shirt to make sure my bra is still on.

Phew. At least he didn't take that off.

I can't believe a stranger undressed me while I was unconscious and took care of me. What if he..no. He wouldn't be sitting there if he did anything, right? f*ck, I feel like I'm going to be sick again.

I bend over the counter, my hands gripping the cold marble.Breathe, Brinna.You're fine. You can make up for this. It won't be like your parents. This is fine.

Tears start leaking out of my eyes and my lip trembles.

I'm weak just like them. I'm their blood, of course I would f*ck this up. I am a f*ck up. I was destined to turn out just like them. How did I let this happen?

A cry leaves my throat and I quickly scramble to turn on the sink before Harry hears my pathetic sobbing. I can't let him, or anyone, hear me be so weak. This is my own fault. I can't cry about things I brought on myself.

I look in the mirror and hate the person I see. Rage fills me and suddenly I can point out every single feature I got from my parents. I hate that I look so much like them. Why wasn't I enough for them?

I splash cold water on my face and stand up straighter. I need to go home. I need to go flush out my system and call a f*cking rehab center, probably. Lord knows I'll end up there anyway, I'm no better than what I came from. One night of fun is too many and I hate myself for letting this happen.

My eyes shut, not wanting to stare at the failure in the mirror any longer. I stand around for a couple of minutes before gathering my clothes from last night and rushing out of the bathroom. My head is throbbing from both the hangover and the breakdown threatening to spill out. I just need to hold it in until I get home.

"I need to leave, right now." I keep my head down, rushing my words out to hide their shaking.

Harry stands from the chair and looks at me confused. "Are you crying?" he whispers. "Is it because I changed your clothes? Look, I'm sorry I did that, I would have left them but you were covered in vomit and I didn't want to leave you like that. I swear I didn't do-"

"Stop." I breathe out, not wanting to listen to his rambling anymore. "I'm fine. You didn't do anything wrong. You shouldn't have even helped me, I didn't deserve it. I f*cked up." I grab my clutch off the nightstand and go back to the hotel room door, whipping it open in hopes he'll get the hint.

__

The car he had waiting for me, was his own, apparently. Harry drove me home in silence, not even playing music from his expensive car radio. My knees are facing the door and my head is resting on the cold glass window. It doesn't help much, but it's better than nothing right now.

All I want to do is be alone so I can release every pent-up emotion I have. I'm fully expecting a breakdown over this, after all, it's the stupidest thing I could have done.

Harry pulls up to the curb in front of my apartment building and I fly out of the door as fast as humanly possible, holding my heels in one hand and all of my clothes in my arm. I look like a psychopath right now, my hair is up in a messy nest, I'm wearing f*cking candy clothes that are way too big on me, and I have no shoes on.

I keep my eyes forward, walking through the grass and into the hallway leading to my front door. I dig my key out of my clutch and fumble to unlock it, my palms being too sweaty to hold this tiny, stupid key straight.

I can feel it coming. I need to cry. I need to full-on, ugly snot cry and curl up in bed to die.

I finally unlatch the door and shove it open, noticing Harry's car still sitting by the sidewalk in my peripheral vision. Why the f*ck is he still here? I'm perfectly fine. I don't need anyone watching me or worrying about me.

I slam the wood shut and lock the top latch again. Times like these would be nice to have a pet or something, anything warm and lively to cuddle with me and keep me grounded.

I'd love to have a cat, but I swear to god if I have to take care of one more living thing that isn't me, I might burn the entire apartment complex down. I barely have enough time for myself, and the last thing I need is the burden of taking care of something else again.

I put my hands on my hips and stand in the middle of my open-concept home. It's small and full of meaningless sh*t, but at least it's all mine. A shaky breath leaves my lips and my vision blurs with tears. My head falls to my chest, and with it, the floodgates open.

I drop to my knees and my palms smack to the floor. I suck in a sharp breath through my mouth with a strangled sob, releasing the 23 years of anger and hurt I've carried with me.

I promised myself that when I left my parent's house, I wouldn't be like them. I wouldn't let myself get distracted, or indulge in the sh*t that destroyed our family. I am sodisappointedin myself.

I don't know what's worse, the fact that I allowed myself to get blackout drunk in a club complete with a sexy show, or the way that I absolutelylovedevery second of it.

I am just like them. I am no better than them. I am destined to be like them.

I slowly pull myself up from my knees and trudge to my bedroom, avoiding anything reflective so I don't have to acknowledge the monster I feel like. I should be calling Grace right now to make sure she got home safe, but I can't even be bothered to worry about her because I'm already too caught up in my selfishness.

I peel off my clothes and throw them in the corner of my small bedroom. My arms cross over my chest since I'm feeling especially vulnerable right now. I stand completely exposed, both mentally and physically. Tears are still dripping down my cheeks, the salty liquid dribbling to my lips.

I need to shower, hopefully the water will melt away all of my sins and I can start fresh. Walking back out of my bedroom and the few steps to the bathroom, I reach into the small walk-in shower and turn the handle all the way up until the room is steaming.

I don'twantto hurt myself, but I don't know how else to handle this. I don't know how to make myself change, make sure I never step foot into that place again.

I take a few quick breaths and shove myself into the boiling water, a pained sob leaving my lips as it burns into my skin. I redden in the blink of an eye and hold myself under the stream until it hurts too badly. I back away, huffing out through my trembling lips, until my back hits the corner of the tiled shower.

I shiver from the sudden temperature drop now that my skin is being cooled off by the wall. How could I be so stupid? Nothing is enough to make me stop, I need to just f*cking do it. I need to remember what my parents put me through and suck it up before I ruin my life.

I turn the handle to cold, not feeling that warmth is enough of a punishment. I shake in the icy water, washing my body and hair quickly before I decide it's not worth it. My head is throbbing and I can barely breathe from the mucus in my nose.

I shut the water off and step out to the mat. I stand there for a moment, defeated and sad. I can't bear to look at myself right now. I open the cabinet door and wrap the thin towel around my body. I'll worry about skincare when I feel like a person and not a shell of one.

I sniffle as I enter my bedroom. I pull a hoodie over my head, the back of it becoming wet from my lack of drying my hair even slightly. I put on a pair of comfortable underwear and head for my bed to let the blankets smother me, if they would be so kind to.

My phone is in the clutch on my living room floor, but I don't deserve a distraction right now. I need to feel all of this so that I don't f*ck up again. If I'm not completely ruined by the time my breakdown is over, I'm going to have to rid my soul of the memories of last night.

I could live in that feeling forever. The warmth radiating down my throat and through my chest, a body to hold on to and kiss. Mindless activities for mindless people.I want to be one of them. It's alluring, like a potent drug dangling in front of my face. I'm starting to think the mermaid is really a siren because I fell for her trap.

I shuffle under my blankets and pull them over my head. My hood is pulled all the way up so I'm sitting in darkness. It's quiet in this room other than my muffled crying. I grab a pillow and drag it under the abyss with me, clinging on to it like it's the warm body I desperately crave in times like these.

I can't help but think of how different my life could be right now if life wasn't cruel to the wrong people. I had the perfect life. I had everything a kid could dream of, down to the grassy yard and dad to play catch with.

I'm tired. I amso tired. Nothing I do feels good enough. I've spent so long trying to force myself to do better, to have a purpose, but nothing I've accomplished has felt as good as my mistakes last night.

My childhood crumbled away so fast, and now I'm sitting here, alone in the world, trying to pull myself out of a mess that was never mine to begin with. One thing hurts more than anything, though.

I miss my parents.

Chapter 4: Dallie

Summary:

Tw- late term miscarriage, physical abuse, substance abuse, cheating. Maybe others? Read at your own discretion. Luv u

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

9 years ago

It had been nearly nine years since the Harper family's world got completely turned upside down. Nine years of Brinna Harper finding her way through a world that was never meant for her.

Mikey and Coco had been together since high school, and you would swear the world had never seen such a beautiful couple. The star baseball player and lead flutist were inseparable, practically bound by the hip. Everyone knew of them, and everyone knew they were sneaking off to be with each other in the night.

They were young parents, having accidentally gotten pregnant with their first child at the ages of 18 and 19. Their parents were all completely against the couple having a child. They hadn't even made it out of high school, after all. Word travels fast in a small town and soon enough the cute comments turned into hateful, ugly gossip.

No obstacle or cruel comment stopped the pair from loving each other deeper than the sea. They tuned out all of the negativity around them, being completely blinded by the baby growing quickly in Colette's stomach.

The two of them worked opposite shifts for the first few years of Brinna's life, making sure that her Christmases were always magical and her table never ran empty of delicious meals. She was dressed in the finest clothes while the two of them wore older, tattered-up articles. They never minded it, as long as she had the world in her hands, they were happy.

Mom and Dad were tired, but they were so madly in love that nothing was going to get in the way of them and their little family. It took a lot of late nights and time away from his family, but Michael ended up scoring an incredible job opportunity which meant the three of them would be moving to a new state.

They were so excited, Colette had always dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom to Brinna, and Michael made it happen for her. He loved how his chest swelled with pride at the sight of his beautiful wife and fast-growing daughter. He would move mountains for his girls. He had proven his parents wrong and provided them with a beautiful life.

Everything was finally good, money troubles were long gone and the family started to feel secure in the world, like every sacrifice had finally paid off. The pair loved to spoil Brinna with trips and toys, and when Colette presented the positive pregnancy test to her husband and daughter, they couldn't be happier to bring one more child into the mix.

They had so much happiness to offer that there was no doubt or deliberation about the newest family member.

Michael's thrill only enlarged when the days neared the birth of his son, Dallie Harper. It had been 14 years since the birth of their first child. He loved Brinna, but he always dreamt of having a son to keep the bloodline going.

He loved to take care of his girls. He made sure Brinna had the best teachers for whatever new hobby she embarked on and he made sure his very pregnant wife had a warm bath waiting for her every single night.

He wanted them to always be able to relax, never having to lift a finger. The hands-on dirty work of the real world was no place for manicured hands and pink dresses.

The Harper's had it all: a growing family, a brand new home, and a healthy marriage. They did it all together, blossoming from the love they had for each other, despite no one believing in them. They were picture-perfect and unstoppable.

The night their final missing piece was supposed to come into this world was going to be magical. Michael spared no expense to make sure Colette had everything she dreamed of when it came to taking care of a newborn, this being the first time they had money to blow. They had everything set up for his arrival and all that was left to do was for Colette to gift Michael his son.

But Dallie never took his first breath.

Colette had gone into labor just as she did with Brinna. Michael was quick to bring the car around and kiss Brinna goodbye, promising to come back with her new sibling. The entire neighborhood was buzzing with anticipation, they had been so fortunate to befriend so many people and build their own type of family.

Nothing had been wrong with Colette's pregnancy. In fact, it was almost boring with how easy it was. She had been very lucky to have two perfect pregnancies. Her favorite part was nearing, and she was glowing with excitement. It had been so long since they held their own baby, it was going to be unforgettable.

Her water broke on the way into the hospital doors and Michael demanded that the nurses take care of his wife and child. Although he had been intimidating to everyone else in the room, his arm never unwrapped from Colette and his hand never stopped rubbing her contracting stomach. He made sure they had the best team for the love of his life.

The pair were quickly ushered into a birthing suite. Colette dressed herself in the usual gown with the help of her husband and she was instructed to lay back on the bed so they could hook her up and monitor how Dallie reacted to her laboring.

Little did they know, he was already gone in his mother's womb.

The nurse kept a straight face as she tried to find a heartbeat and Colette's contractions were coming on stronger now. She writhed and moaned in pain atop the sterile bed, sounding like a feral animal. The pain was almost unbearable at this point, but she knew that meant she was close.

Her doctor soon came into the room to aid the nurse in her exploration of the baby's vitals. Colette begged the doctor to give her pain relief but when he checked her progress, it was time to push. There was no more time to waste trying to hook her up when the baby's dark hair was apparent now.

She held onto Michael's hand so hard he thought it might break, but seeing her in that amount of pain meant he'd do anything to ease her discomfort. She sobbed out a pained cry, telling him that she couldn't do it and that she was scared. His soft eyes were filled with nothing but love and adoration.

He kissed her forehead and ran his hand through her hair.It's me and you, Coco. I'm right here. I won't leave your side. You're a strong woman, Colette. You're about to change the world. I love you more than life itself. Let's do this, baby, you're going to complete our family.

He coached her but his words were cut short by a blood-curdling scream. The doctor was between Colette's legs, guiding her through her pushing. Michael kept his eyes where his son was slowly emerging from, a smile full of nerves and excitement plastered on his face.

Most men would look away, but he was so fascinated by the beauty of what a woman's body could do. He was so proud of his wife for being so strong that he was glowing.

Nurses were gathering blankets and suction for the life ready to come Earth-side. The baby's cot was brought over, and a tiny diaper and hat were laid out waiting to be filled. A card sat proudly on the back of the cot, displaying the baby's name written in Michael's handwriting. One final push and he was here.

The room fell silent and all of the air turned cold. No nurse rushed to wrap the baby or clear his lungs. Excitement turned to sorrow. There was no cry. No noise to alert the world that a new soul had entered.

Dallie was born still.

His lifeless little body was gray and his chest was unmoving. The world at that moment stopped.What's wrong with him? Why isn't he crying?Colette's shrill voice was the only sound Michael could hear. Her sobs filled his chest with a feeling he hadn't experienced in a long time: desperation. Everything slowed and he couldn't look away from his son.

His once healthy, alive son. He felt him kick just last night. He talked to him every chance he got, telling baby Dallie about his big sister and the room he painted just for him. He even bought matching baseball jerseys for the two of them to wear together. He had so many plans for his son. He had so much love to give him.

Why weren't they helping his son? Why wasn't he moving? Why aren't they wrapping him up? He's going to get cold. He needs to eat soon. Was his sister so quiet too?

Tears pricked Michael's eyes and the entire world crumbled beneath him. Earth-shattering screams brought him back to reality. The nurses were trying to calm Colette down but Michael couldn't move. His limbs were completely frozen. He hadn't even noticed when he stopped holding his wife.

His son was dead. They wouldn't be leaving the hospital with a baby. Their family won't ever be complete.

Michael felt sick to his stomach. His ears rang and his hands were clammy. Was he having a heart attack? Was his heart actually shredding itself to pieces at the chaos in front of him? Was this a cruel joke? Did his lungs forget how to breathe?

He looked to his wife who was now being held down by two nurses, a sedative slowly pushing into her arm. Her movements halted and her face relaxed but the tears didn't stop pouring out of her eyes. She looked soulless. She was so pale and clammy, nothing like the beautiful woman who walked into this room.

Michael was suddenly aware ofeverythingin the room. The white lights illuminated the blood underneath Colette and the smell made his stomach turn. He had seen plenty of blood in his life but none had ever felt so fatal. There was so much of it, he thought she was going to leave him too.

A nurse was behind him now, pushing him down by the shoulders to sit in a chair. He didn't even see her behind him before she touched him. He saw mouths moving but no sound came out. The baby was wrapped up now. Is he fine? Did everything get fixed?

Michael?He heard a soft male voice.Mikey, can you look at me?A light was shining in his eyes. Michael's body was working faster than his brain now. He stood up from the chair, the old wood falling back and clattering to the floor. His feet carried him to the hallway in search of an exit.

The floors were so white. The walls were so white. The bright lights were so f*cking white. Did he die too? Is this heaven? It feels like hell.

Cold air smacked his face and he was now knelt over the sidewalk in front of the hospital, emptying the contents of his stomach. His throat burned from the intensity and he couldn't catch his breath. The vomit kept coming until he was practically choking on it.

His vision was spotty when he finally stopped throwing up. He sat back on his shins and screamed into the night sky, cursing the heavens for stealing his son away from him. Why Dallie? Why would an innocent baby be taken away from his family?

The next two days were spent in complete silence. Colette had been bed-bound by endless monitors and IV ports and she hadn't said a single word. Not that Michael had been trying to make conversation, either. No words needed to be said between them. They had always felt a soul connection, so right now they just needed to be together.

He sat in the corner of her recovery room with his head between his hands. The tears had stopped but his mind seemed to be going faster than it ever had been before. His wife was refusing to eat and stayed curled up on her side, going between complete silence and loud sobs that crushed him more than he already had been.

He didn't know how to fix this. No amount of money could make this better. No amount of pleading could bring Dallie back to them. How had this gone so wrong? How do you move on from heartbreak like this?

The Harper family had completely crashed within 72 hours and it felt like a billion lifetimes of heartache at once.

The mourning couple left the hospital babyless and traumatized. Colette still hadn't said anything and Michael was now in the anger stage of his grief. He didn't understand how a healthy baby died so suddenly and heblamedhis wife. He tried to make sense of it, but nothing made him feel better.

She must have done something wrong. He gave her the world and she took his away. He hated her at that moment. He couldn't even look at her. He didn't feel any compassion for the woman who took away his only son. How could she fail him so miserably?

The street was no longer buzzing with excitement. It was dreary and the air felt empty. Birds didn't sing and the sun had gone away behind clouds of sorrow. Home felt like a punishment.

He parked the car in front of their house and got out without making sure Colette was behind him. A neighbor rushed to the car and helped her walk along the gravel and into the house. She was still recovering from the birth and blood loss and hadn't been up walking in days.

Many of Colette's friends were waiting at the home upon their arrival. Brinna was being held close to one of the older ladies, Maria. Her mother's sobs soon filled the echoing corridor and it was a sound that would haunt her forever. The ladies tried to explain to Brinna what had happened, but no one was brave enough to say the words.

Michael walked past each and every pair of wandering eyes without so much as a glance towards them. He reached the top of his grand stairs and disappeared into his office without a single word. He needed to grieve alone. No amount of love could help him right now.

Colette had spent her every moment in Dallie's nursery. She sat in the rocking chair that had been passed down to her and stared out of the window. An older woman had brought her a baby doll in hopes it would bring her some comfort, saying how it helped some of her dementia patients feel grounded.

Michael tried to take care of his sweet Coco the best he could, but the guilt of blaming her for something so awful was eating away at him. He was a logical man, and none of this made sense, so he didn't know what to do for his wife or daughter. He was getting hopeless that his family would never be fixed.

Colette was put on an abundance of medications, including painkillers after Michael had found her cut up and covered in blood, pictures of Dallie in her belly scattered all over the nursery. She tore the place completely to shreds, angry and in pain. She truly felt animalistic, a piece of her soul was forever lost and her grief wasn't getting any better.

There is no pain like a mother losing her young. She gave her entire body to grow a healthy baby and her hard work was greeted with every mother's worst nightmare. Her soul left with Dallie's that day. She didn't want it back. She wanted to be with him. She didn't care about the life she had on Earth, this was no place for her anymore.

Young Brinna spent a lot of time having sleepovers with the neighbor kids. Her dad worked a lot more hours, trying to occupy himself in any way he could. There were no more expensive holidays, no more hot meals on the table, no more playing catch in the yard. No one noticed Brinna's absence because they were too caught up in the child they never brought home.

Colette got hooked on her pills. She was taking so many that she slept pretty much all day, every single day. That mixed with the alcohol, she turned into a raging monster, screaming and fighting with Michael every chance she got.

He would try his hardest to calm her down, telling her that he loved her and they could get her help. He wanted his wife back, heneededColette. It had always been them against the world, but now they were against each other.

She blamed him for leaving her when she needed him the most, and he argued back that someone had to keep their family afloat. Their hurt over the mutual loss turned into petty disputes.

They had forgotten about Brinna weeks ago, she stayed around other kids because the fighting made her anxiety spike and she didn't like the way panic attacks made her feel. She never had them before she experienced the pain of losing a whole family in one shot.

She missed her parents. She missed her mom's hugs and her dad's smile. No one smiled anymore. She felt guilty for being alive, and she didn't understand why it felt like they were angry at her for being the one to survive.

That's all she did now, survive. She wished she could trade places with Dallie so her parents would love each other again. She hadn't been told I love you since the night they left for the hospital.

The arguing soon turned into full-on fighting, Michael trying to force Colette off of him until eventually, he hit her back. She would beg him to hit her, to make her feel something again.

She screamed that it was the only way he would touch her anymore, and even though Brinna didn't entirely understand what that meant, she did notice the times Michael came home with lipstick stains on his shirt.

This became a nightly occurrence, the two of them arguing, and then beating each other, and then drunkenly crying together. Their love burned so hot but eventually, even the brightest stars combust. They were definitely wilting away.

He started drinking too, and that made it very hard to focus on his work. He didn't have the same drive he once did. He didn't care about his family like he did when Dallie was a promise and not an open wound.

Brinna locked herself away, only dealing with the aftermath. The nights she couldn't find somewhere to stay were the worst. She couldn't focus in class because the hunger mixed with the anxiety made her unbelievably nauseous.

She usually made dinner for herself late at night after the both of them passed out. Sometimes she would be lucky enough to find scraps of takeout her parents ordered. She put out cigarettes that were lit in ashtrays and she threw away the glass beer bottles so her parents wouldn't try to stab each other again.

She tried to clean the best she could, but no one ever showed her how to wash her clothes properly or which setting the dishwasher needed to be on.

The house was disgusting despite her efforts, it began to gather dust and ash. The air was always grimy with tobacco smoke and sometimes Brinna would step on broken glass after a bad fight. She didn't know how to get the pee stains out of the carpet after her dad got so drunk he would urinate on the floor.

Michael lost his job when he showed up to work plastered, having only been wearing one shoe and dress pants. They lost everything when they lost Dallie, including the passion they had for Brinna. The house was foreclosed on, forcing them to move back home where they were shunned and ridiculed with a plethora ofI-told-you-so's.

Brinna was the only sober one in the house. They could barely afford to put food on the table, much less take care of her when they were out buying more pills and alcohol than you'd need in a lifetime. Not a day went by that the house was quiet, not until Colette and Michael finally consumed enough poison to knock them out for a few hours.

But the drugs weren't enough, soon those highs didn't feel good and the couple found a new hobby to share, something that brought them back together. It made them feel so good that they started calling each other Coco and Mikey again like they did when they were kids.

They helped each other tie bands around their arms. They always shared the needle when they did it, and even passed a cigarette between their lips. One held the lighter and the other held the spoon. They loved to shoot up anything they could get their hands on. They almost seemed as in love with the drug as they once were with each other.

Brinna had resorted to stealing money from her parents to pay bills and buy food. She was entirely on her own, and her addict parents were too far gone to be saved. She knew if she told anyone she would be taken away, and even though the yelling scared her, she loved her parents and she didn't want them to be alone.

She was scared they might overdose, and she wouldn't be able to live with herself if she wasn't there to save them.

She started showing up to school dirty after the water got cut off. She lost a noticeable amount of weight from food spoiling or being too bug-infested to eat. She was ashamed of her life which meant she had no friends to turn to. No one wanted to associate with the dirty daughter of two heroin addicts. No one knew just how bad she had it, but bullies don't care about things like that anyway.

When she was finally old enough, she got a job and worked as much as she could to pay bills. Her father didn't like the fact that his own child was showing him up, and eventually, Michael lashed out when she refused to give him drug money.

He beat Brinna until her face was swollen and bruised. He took every cent she had hidden away for her future and left her crying on the floor of her bedroom. That day shattered her. She was completely, entirely drained.

Brinna left the day she turned 18. She found a roommate and applied for community college. It wasn't much, but it was better than falling into the hole her parents had dug. She lost countless hours of sleep and had many breakdowns between the bus ride from her work to her school.

She nearly gave up when she started getting invited to her roommate's parties, but the voice in the back of her head guilt-tripped her until it was a constant shout of anxiety, screaming at her to not f*ck it up. Do better. Behave.Don't turn out like your parents.

She had so much to prove, she was more than her addict parents, more than the dirty kid that skipped school so she could work, and more than all the bullsh*t the world threw at her. She didn't want to be pushed around and used anymore. She wanted security and simplicity. She knew she wouldn't find that with her family, so she cut off all contact with them.

It hurt her soul for a long time. She didn't want it to be like this, but the longer she held on, the more they dragged her down. She moved as far away as she could in search of job opportunities, hoping her parents wouldn't be able to find her.

She never stopped loving them but loving them hurt. She couldn't stand to watch them kill themselves instead of trying to get clean for the child they still had.

She never got over the feelings of abandonment her parents instilled in her after her brother died. She hides it well, but she feels expendable. She couldn't let herself rely on anyone else, she didn't even want the responsibility of a pet because that would probably run away from her, too. If her parents couldn't love her, how could anyone else? They chose drugs over her, they choseeach otherover her.

I guess that's the worst part of it all. They left her for each other. Their love knew no bounds and that included forgetting about their daughter. She was a side quest on their journey, a distant memory replaced by a dirty syringe and an addicting high.

She landed a job in a city full of scum like her parents, but that only determined her more. She saw what happens when you give in to temptation and she wasn't going to let herself indulge. She knew her addictive personality would get her in trouble if she let it.

As sad as it is, her work ended up being the same cycle as her parents. Brinna was once again taking care of her own bully, scampering around to fulfill their needs before her own. She had toughened up from her own parents, but it hurt a piece of her that she had worked so hard to bury.

She turned cold, only letting a few people in and shutting the rest of the world out. She liked her little bubble. She liked not having to worry about the things she was missing, but rather filling her small world with trinkets and art that fixed a piece of her broken childhood. She thrived on consistency and there's only one person you can truly rely on for that: yourself.

Easy was good. Simple was good. She pushed down all of her hurt feelings with a good-girl grin plastered on her face and thrived in that environment for a long time.

That is until she French kissed the devil and tasted the sweet release of alcohol-induced ecstasy. Brinna broke all of her own promises and she really liked it. Shelovedit.

It scared her to know what it felt like to have fun, but it was even worse when she found herself craving more.

There's no going back once you sign away your soul.

Chapter 5: Bank Man

Chapter Text

H A R R Y

It's been a few days now since I drove the drunk party girl home after putting her in a hotel room for the night. I didn't even catch her name, I was too busy trying to make sure she didn't get traumatized in my club or aspirate in the bathroom afterward.

I called my lawyer to give him a heads-up in case she decides to sue me for emotional damage or some sh*t. I don't know why she was crying before we left, but Iamf*cking loaded, so it wouldn't be the first time someone tried to scam money out of me.

I really didn't do anything to her, I'm not a low-life who has to prey on vulnerable women in order to get myself off. I left right after I put her in the bed and then I met Maggie in my penthouse. She would be able to give averygraphic testimony if I ever needed it.

She works at the front desk of the hotel connected to my casino, and when I first started f*cking her, it was just supposed to be a one-and-done thing, but she practically begs to suck me off and I'm not going to turn down a blow j*b.

She hates it when I walk through the lobby with other women, though. Sometimes I do it just to piss her off because the angry sex she gives me afterward is straight from a p*rno. She seems to think we're exclusive, but I'm not the type to date, and certainly not with her.

She's good for a f*ck but I can't stand to talk to her more than I have to. Bless the girl's skill, but I like feeling her mouth more than I like listening to it.

I'm sitting in my usual spot at the club, a roped-off area on the second level. I can see everything from up here. I'm usually not the one to handle people unless I really need to. I have plenty of guys to sort out fights and drunk chicks, but I don't let anyone handle my associates other than me.

The Treasure Chest is a perfect cover for my real job. It's too easy to launder money under the noses of drunk attendants. It's crazy how much cash flows through Vegas. People get drunk and love spending money on shiny games and fun co*cktails.

Not to mention, no one bats an eye at getting paid ina lotof cash. None of my employees know it's a front, but the creepy sh*t-faced men that try to grope and grab any flesh they can, certainly know what I'm doing.

I don't like them being in my club, but it's the only place with a big enough basem*nt to store stashes and handle business.

Like Ben, he's frequently a problem and he makes my dancers uncomfortable, but it's either he has access to Treasure Chest or his mommy cuts off my fingers for hurting her son's feelings. I happen to beverygood with my fingers, so they stay and so does Ben.

I saw the girl he was going after dancing last Saturday and I even had to ask one of the girls on the couch if she worked here. She and her..not girlfriend?.. were tearing it up and gathering crowds on my floor.

It doesn't surprise me to see things like that, but it did surprise me to find out that she lives here and that wasn't just a stupid, fun night out. I know the club is new, but I haven't ever seen her here before, or frankly anywhere. I didn't get a good enough view of her partner but she did seem slightly more familiar.

I liked the energy they were bringing in, so I shot my DJ a text and told him to play a song I thought they would enjoy. I was right, like I always am, and the party around them went crazy at the music.

And then they kissed, which made Ben practically foam at the mouth.Okay, so it was more than a kiss, I thought they were going to start taking each other's clothes off. He made his way down the stairs before they even came off of each other for air. I asked him where he thought he was going in the middle of our meeting and when I realized they had left the dance floor, I knew he was going to do some stupid sh*t.

I finally found him at the bar, way too f*cking close to her. I didn't see her friend anywhere around and the girl was absolutely sh*t-faced. She could barely stand even with his grip on her and I know that sh*t was painfully secure.

Her eyes were begging me to get him away from her, I was already planning to, but the look she gave me only made me want to beat his face in more. He's lucky he's practically untouchable because he's getting on my last f*cking nerve with scaring women in my presence.

I don't ever get people hotel rooms, but my conscious wasn't letting me leave her alone. The more time that passes since I saw Peter has done something to me, and I just couldn't let the opportunity for a little good karma to come my way. I've been screaming for a chance and the universe sent me one in the form of a short, drunken girl.

It totally blew up in my face, but I digress.

Mags is not happy with me for helping the girl, and when I told her that I never even got her name, she got even more mad remembering that I didn't know hers the first month either. I never said I was a good person, but even that made me feel a little bit bad.Yikes.

It's a good thing she can't come in here while she's working or else she'd cut my dick off for having a prettier girl on my lap. It's nothing new, I said my dancers weren't here to f*ck, but I just meant that for Ben.

One of them is straddling my lap and kissing my neck, her short red dress riding up to show the bottom of her ass. Her long fingernails are twisted up in my hair the way she knows I like it and her flowery perfume is invading my nose every time she moves around on my crotch.

I'm too busy rolling blunts for her to get anywhere past my neck, though. She likes to be on me and I don't stop her, but that also means I don't have to acknowledge her. Pretty much all of these women are perfectly fine doing all of the work as long as I let them.

I lick the rolling paper and seal the wrap before inspecting it. I hold the drug between my pointer finger and thumb, twisting it around to admire my work. My free hand gets shoved in the pocket of my jeans under Lola's leg, searching around for a lighter.

I snatch the little black rectangle out and put the blunt between my lips, sitting up a little to cup my hand around the tip so I can light it. My chin is resting on her shoulder and her arms are still around my neck.

"Don't move, baby," I speak between the weed. "Don't want to catch that pretty hair on fire, with the amount of sh*t you put in it," I mumble and flick the lighter on. She giggles and presses her lips deeper into my neck. I wasn't trying to be funny, I've seen how much hairspray she uses and if she was any closer she would probably explode.

"There you f*cking are, we've been waiting for you for half an hour, Harry. Get the f*ck up and let'sgo!" I hear my name being called over the thumping bass.

My shoulders slouch and I take my thumb off of the lighter. "If I wanted to be down there, I f*cking would be, Zayn." I know I need to be there, but I was really trying to get high first so I can deal with this bullsh*t. I stand up with Lola in my hold and toss her onto the couch. She yelps and holds her boobs so they don't spill out of her top from the bounce back.

"Hey! Be gentle, asshole!" She scowls at me and straightens up on the seat. I take the blunt out of my mouth and put it between her lips.

"For your troubles,sweetheart." I give her a fake smile and turn back to Zayn, who's very impatiently waiting for me to oversee the issue going on in the basem*nt.

I walk past him, bumping his shoulder with mine, and hop down the stairs. By the time I reach the bottom, my forehead is broken out in a sweat and I'm lightly panting.

When did those get so f*cking difficult?

Zayn stays close behind me, weaving through the crowds and tables until we reach a door in the far corner of the club. I fist bump the guard and he steps to the side, letting us into the door.

It's pretty well concealed, I made sure it was flush with the rest of the wall and doesn't have a handle. I can't have someone stumbling in here looking for a bathroom only to be met with mounds and mounds of fake cash.

We walk down the dark staircase and make a right at the bottom. I open up the velvet curtain and walk in with my hands clasped behind my back. I scan the room, my eyes meeting each set staring back at me. We're in the briefing room, which leads into the money vault. I don't let anyone other than myself go in the vault, so all of our "meetings" are held here.

There's a large table in the middle of the room, 3 men scattered around it. I stop at the opposite end of the table and furrow my brows. "Where are your bags?" I question, gesturing to the empty table. "You're either here to get more money to wash or drop off what you already did, you know you don't show up here empty-handed."

The three of them look at each other nervously. I scoff and smack my hands down on the table. Zayn is watching from the corner of the room, observing them so no one tries to pull a weapon or something stupid.

"Well, we uh-" One man starts, trembling in the chair. He gets cut off quickly by a larger man.

"That's why we're here. Our cash got swiped. We were hoping to work out a deal.." He tried to maintain eye contact but my eyes were forcing him back in his seat.

Theylostmoney? Why would they even come here to tell me that? I would have cut my losses and killed myself, now they get to deal withme.

I straighten back up, the tips of my fingers still grazing the wood. "Was it clean?" It's much more acceptable to lose the unwashed cash, I could just print more of that. It's the washed cash that's a problem because that's the entire point of this scheme. They shouldn't have lost it either way, they aren't walking out of here with the same amount of limbs they walked in with.

The man nodded his head slowly. I sucked in a sharp breath through closed teeth. "I wasreallyhoping it wasn't, buddy. You must be really f*cking brave, or really f*cking stupid to be sitting in that chair knowing you lost my money." I tsk at him. "You might as well have stolen it from me, and I don't f*cking like thieves. Do you know what that money was going to be used for?Whothat money was for?"

I'd be in a different country right now if I were them. The three of them don't realize the chain they just started.

"You just stole from every single criminal in this city. Every hitman, every drug dealer, every gun-running cartel member. Worst of all, you stole frommyboss. If you think working for me is scary, you have no f*cking idea whose sh*t list you just landed on. She doesnotlike when people f*ck with her money." I shake my head.

I'm responsible for keeping track of the washed money in order to pay our connections and associates. Lillith is the brain behind all of this, I've been working for her cartel for quite some time now. She has an army's worth of people working under her and I make sure everyone gets their cut.

The gun runners depend on the fake cash to get better, more illegal weapons, which they sell across the border for real cash. We have fake autobody shops to smuggle drugs over too.

I'm in charge of the more fun business though. The club and casino are mainly cash transactions. We don't get many card transactions, so if we only make ten grand a night, I just add a couple of zeros to the bank slip before depositing the money.

Since there's no way to track a cash transaction, Mr. Government Bank Man doesn't have any reason to sniff around aboutwhereall of this money comes from. The money gets deposited into my bank account and then voila, it's washed and legitimate.

It's simple, really. Drunk people love to spend money and gambling addictions are so real, no one bats an eye and I become one very rich motherf*cker. We're like a spider web and Lillith has us all wrapped up like flies.

The three idiots in front of me look as pale as my ass cheeks right now. "Who wants to go first?" I jump straight to the chase, wanting to return to my spot so I can finally get high. I've been trying to lay off the heavy drugs for..otherreasons, and weed is the only thing that's been helping.

At least, that's what I tell myself every time I snort a line of co*ke after being away from it for two days. sh*ts not easy to stop.

Two of their heads snap to the third guy, who looks like he just got ratted out for being the idiot that f*cked their job up. "So you're all thievesandf*cking snitches. Good to know." I pull a gun out of the waistband of my pants and co*ck it. "Everyone get the f*ck up and strip."

They look around confused like I wasn't just perfectly clear. "Get thef*ckupand get those f*cking clothes off, boys!" I point my gun at the man in the middle, who jumps up and starts undoing his belt.

The three of them scramble, tripping over their own feet and getting stuck in their shirts as they try to undress as fast as they can. I sigh and roll my eyes, not having the patience for their trembling.

They stand before me, butt-ass naked, holding their hands over their dicks. I hope they know they won't be able to protect their little shrimps from what's coming. I look each of them in the eyes and a sinister smile spreads across my face.

"I hope that if you make it out of here alive, your families will at least be able to recognize you a little." I give them a playful pout. "Hands up, start f*cking walking." I usher them out of the small room and back towards the stairs. Instead of going up them, we go straight down the opposite side we came from.

Zayn opens the metal door and the same smell of concrete and old blood spills out. I need to bleach that f*cking room, the thing is disgusting. A single lightbulb hanging from the ceiling provides just enough light to see the stained flooring. Chains are drilled into the wall and the floor slightly curves inward so that any..fluid.. can be caught in the drain in the center of the room.

I hum and watch them line up against the wall, hands falling once more to their groins. Zayn shuts the door behind all of us and stands slightly behind and to the left of me. "Is this going to be messy, I just cleaned these f*ckin' shoes." he asks and I chuckle and turn slightly to look at him.

"Get the dogs." My voice is cold and harsh. I turn back around to face the men, teeth showing through my grin. "They haven't eaten in a while."

__

I saunter up the basem*nt stairs, rolling the sleeves of my black dress shirt up past my elbows. I tell Zayn over my shoulder to make a note reminding me to contact the families of those men, I don't know their names but someone has to. I definitely can't use facial recognition to track them down anymore, those mutts did their job as I expected.

I reach the top of the stairs, slowly opening it to let the guard know I'm coming through. The hot air hits me, men's cologne and sweat being thick in the atmosphere. I nod at him, a silent praise for doing his job well. A remix ofWhere Have You Beenis vibrating through the floor and everyone is completely oblivious to the fact that three people died below them.

I don't feel bad for doing it, it had to happen. You don't get to where I am by letting people walk all over you. I have a lot of people trusting me with the most powerful thing in the world, and three nobodies won't be f*cking that up for me. Especially because they'll be in an unmarked grave by tomorrow.

I walk through tables and dark couches filled with half-naked people exchanging sloppy kisses until I make it to the bar. I need a drink, or two, or five. Don't underestimate the power of a dog's jaw, that's for f*cking sure. I bring my leg up to sit on the chair and pound my fist into the wood, "Scotch on the rocks, and keep 'em coming."

Luke looks up at me, already pouring my drink and bopping to the music. "I'll need to see some ID, princess!" He smirks at me and walks toward me with the glass.

I chuckle at him and flip him off, "I'll show you my taint before I ever show you that sh*t!" I chug down the contents of the glass and he slides me another, shaking his head with a laugh.

"You got a deal, Boss!" He laughs and throws a towel over his shoulder, moving to the next customer down the line. I sip my drink and shut my eyes, trying to get back into party mode. Things like that always kill my mood, I can't stand whiny bitches that f*ck up the most simple tasks.

So I lied, one of my workers knows about what I really do. Luke finds me crazy strains of weed and we've partied together on plenty of occasions. He's a bartender and those f*ckers know everyone's secrets, he's not a snitch and I pay him very well.

I turn on the swiveling barstool, scanning the room and taking sips out of the glass. Lola seems to have gotten back to work, and not without smoking that entire blunt apparently. She's on a pole trying to be seductive, but it looks more like a limp noodle twirling around and giggling.

I shake my head and turn back around, ready to get another drink. The club is pretty packed tonight because of the long weekend, but I'm in no rush. Luke walks behind the long bar, nodding at me and sliding me another glass of dark liquor.

"Hey! Strawberry daiquiri again? Or are we back for something better?" he shouts a couple of seats down from me.

Are you flirting with someone on the job, Lukey?

I smirk and turn to my left, following down the bar to see where he's leaning over, blushing under the strobe lights and chatting up some...

Tourist?

I furrow my brows at the interaction, recognizing the dark-haired girl sitting stools down from me. She looks different, though. Her hair is down and she's wearing high-waisted jeans and a black satin tank top. She doesn't seem to have any makeup on, at least nowhere near the amount she had on last week.

I'm surprised she came back here, she seemed pretty shaken up the morning after she dry-humped another woman on my dance floor. Speaking of, her friend isn't with her. She looks so out of place compared to everyone else around her. Did she come back just for Luke? Is he not wearing his f*cking wedding ring?

I must have stared too long because the still unnamed woman turned her head slightly as if she could feel my eyes on her. She looks back to Luke and then does a double take, frantic eyes scanning over me. I flash her a subtle grin, now curious about why she's back.

"Hey Luke," I call out, nodding him over, "put her drinks on my tab. She can have as many as she wants." I glance back over to see her stirring her co*cktail with a tiny straw. He walks back over to her and leans in to tell her, her face dropping in shock at the news.

I stand up from my seat and walk towards hers, tapping some random dude on the shoulder and making him get up. I sit in the seat next to hers and face her, being completely obvious about my staring. My elbow rests bent on the counter and my head is resting on my fist.

"Nice to see you here again, tourist. Looking for another dance partner?" I ask, her not even realizing I'm sitting here yet.

She whips her face around, some of the drink she was inhaling coming back up in a cough. Her free hand moves to her mouth, wiping away the dribbling liquid. She looks almost embarrassed at my question. I meant it when I told her that a little vomit was the least of my worries, but I bet she's mortified about that night, especially after admitting that she thinks I'mhot.

I raise my eyebrows, waiting for her to answer me. She sets her drink down and turns more toward me. "No, I'm just doing what everyone else does after a sh*tty week." She shrugs and looks away from me, cheeks heating the longer I stare at her. "And you didn't need to buy my drinks, I'm perfectly capable of paying for them myself." She mumbles.

I lift my head from my hand and put it in my lap. "I wanted to. Besides, I'm technically already buying the bottles for the club, I just jack up the prices to make a profit. I'll survive without a couple of daiquiris on the books." I take a sip out of my own cup and suck in my lip at the bitter taste. "You know, people usually go to dive bars after work, not a nightclub on the strip. Are you sure you're from here?" I chuckle.

I really was curious even though it sounded like a dig at her. I can't imagine living in this city and acting like you've never seen the culture. It's touristy sh*t, the locals know where the good stuff is and the rest is just a money grab. Plus, who wants to deal with out-of-state drunks after a bad day?

"Look, your sad attempt at flirting with me isn't going to get you anywhere." She rolls her eyes. "You're right, I probably shouldn't be here, so let me finish this drink in peace so I can leave like this never happened."

She obviously isn't happy. What a strange place to get sad drunk at. Her energy last week was spectacular, a sh*t day at work wouldn't have drained her so badly. I've had plenty of sh*t days and the only thing I get from this place is high off cocaine and a couple of girls in my bed the next morning. You drown out the sadness here, you don't wallow in it.

"If I was trying to flirt with you, I'd probably find out your name first." I smile at her. She scoffs and turns to hop off of her stool. Without even thinking, I reach my hand out, palm lying flush against her knuckles on the edge of the bar.

"Wait, don't leave.." I nearly beg.

What the f*ck am I doing? Why should I care if she's sad? She's pretty, but my dick isn't talking right now, and besides that, I don't beg for them. They beg for me, which she very much is not.

She glares down at our hands and I pull mine away. With a throat clear, my eyes meet hers again, "I just mean, have a few more drinks with me. You just got here. I can't let you walk in here sulking and walk back out the same way. I'd be a bad host if I didn't at least make your night better."

I wave Luke over and order a round of shots. He slides four small glasses at us and I push two to her. I lift one up, brows raised, waiting for her to cheers with me. She slowly sits back down on her stool and picks up the glass, examining it like it might be poisoned. Her apprehensiveness turns to curiosity, the drink slowly rising in her hand to be level with mine.

"Brinna.." She whispers, not looking at me but at the glass.

I give her a questioning look, to which she clinks our glasses together and throws back her shot. "My name is Brinna." Her smile grows and she drinks the second shot.

I hurry to catch up with her, four empty glasses now sitting in front of us. "Well,Brinna, I'm Harry." I grin back, feeling buzzed from my previous drinks. "Now let's make sure that pretty smile stays put.Lukey baby! Four more!"

Her head falls back as she laughs, "You're going to kill me!"

"You're telling me Miss Party Girl can't handle her liquor? You could have fooled me." I laugh back. Her hair is pushed over her shoulder and her white teeth are fluorescent under these lights. Her smile is infectious, and my cheeks hurt from looking at her.

She shakes her head with a nose scrunch, swallowing down another bitter liquid. "Despite my raging dance moves, I don't belong in a place like this." She licks her lips, "I'm not like everyone else here." She turns to look at the crowd.

I let her words sink in for a moment, not taking offense to the sentiment like I probably should. I kind of get that vibe from her though, she certainly looks out of place without her friend, which probably means it wasn't her idea to be here the first time. But she came back alone, obviously in search of something.

"I think you'd be surprised to know they don't think they belong here either." I look back at the crowd with her. "Everyone's trying to escape from something, though. The only difference is, they don't think about it as hard as you are." She turns to face me, brows furrowed in confusion. "Do you like to have fun, Brinna?"

"Ishouldn't."

"But do you like to?" I pry.

"I never really have before the last time I was here." She blows a breath out. "Ireallyliked it.." She cringes, not buzzed enough yet to forget about her embarrassment.

"So stop thinking about tomorrow and let's have some fun." I hop off the bar stool, holding my hand out for her. Her smile grows as she puts her hand in mine, stepping off of her seat and letting me pull her along.

I could tell her drinks were hitting her by now because she was loosening up and giving flirtatious looks to people around us. I brought her to some of the dancers and told them to show her some moves.

She got along with them right away, dancing with them and touching them like they did to her. She even asked if she could try out a pole and I nodded, not caring that they were only meant for the workers.

I was enjoying sitting back and watching her. I leaned against the wall pretty much the whole time she spun around with the girls, smirking every time she would start laughing or get dizzy from the drinks and dancing.

Until she tried to run and jump on the pole and entirely f*cking missed, smacking into the stage floor so hard I thought she might have actually lost a few f*cking teeth.

She was lying face down on the ground, the girls around her gasping and stepping away from her like she was dead. The music was still playing but everyone within a ten-foot radius had stopped dancing at the sound of her body colliding into the floor. Swear to god I would have had to scrape her off of it if she hit it any harder.

My jaw was on the floor when I set my drink down to make sure she didn't actually just kill herself in my club trying to pole dance. That would be really f*cking bad and kind of ironic seeing as how three people already died here tonight. I knelt over her and grabbed her shoulder to roll her over so she was on her back.

Her eyes met mine and she started uncontrollably laughing as her fists shot up in the air. The crowd around us erupted, cheering her on and jumping like they had just seen the best trick of their life. I just shook my head at her with a grin and picked her up by the arms.

I had decided for her that she had had enough dancing for tonight, so I brought her upstairs where my personal lounge is. It was a f*cking mess trying to guide her up when my own body felt like it was going to collapse from the intoxication.

She's currently sitting on the couch next to me, eyes closed and head bopping to the music. Her hands come up every so often to touch her lip, which is slightly split in the middle, which makes her wince and then laugh at the memory of how she got it. I tried to give her an ice pack but she didn't want to look lame holding it to her face.

Zayn is still off dealing with the aftermath of earlier, but a few of my associates are sat around in different chairs, some with women on their laps. It's not unusual for me to have a girl here, so nothing really seems out of place. The only odd thing is that she isn't trying to climb on me like the rest of them do.

I sprinkle some ground-up weed onto a rolling paper, tapping the side of it to spread the drug evenly. In front of me on the coffee table is an assortment of different drugs, Brinna didn't seem to notice them, or if she did she doesn't mind the sight of them.

It's pretty common for people to snort an assortment of things here, so I'm not shy to have it out. No one in here is going to snitch.

I roll up my joint and bring it up to my mouth, sticking my tongue out to wet the end of the paper. I see her staring at me from the corner of my eye, so I turn to her, sealing the edge with my thumb.

She didn't look distraught over it, she really didn't have an expression I could even decipher. She just watched me as I finished, eyes wandering over my hands and mouth. I put the end of the stick in my mouth and smiled. "Do you smoke?"

She shook her head, still looking indifferent. "Not in a long time. Makes me twitchy."

"Twitchy?" I ask, bringing the lighter out of my pocket and flicking it on.

"Yeah, like my limbs get all jittery and spasm. And it makes me not be able to shut the f*ck up." She grins, watching as I suck in the freshly lit smoke. I nod at her and take the joint out of my mouth.

"Makes me quiet. You can talk enough for the both of us if you want." I shrug and try to pass it to her.

"I.. I probably shouldn't. I have to work tomorrow.." She bites her lip, trying to convince herself more than me.

"It's well past midnight and you're sitting here drunk with me. I think we're past being concerned about work." I chuckle and take another long drag. I set the joint down in an ashtray on the coffee table and gestured for her to sit up.

My hands find their way to her jaw, cupping it lightly to pull her toward my face. Her eyes dart around mine and her lips part slightly. She looks completely oblivious but ready to surrender to my touch. I bring my face in closer to hers, our noses brushing together.

I stop my lips right before they touch her parted ones and blow my smoke into her mouth, her gasping when it passes through her lips. I lean back, still holding her face and smile at her relaxed expression.

Her eyes open on mine and she matches my smile. Suddenly she launches forward in her seat and nearly knocks me back when she crashes her lips fully into mine, kissing me so deeply that all of the oxygen left my lungs.

She won't be leaving here sad tonight.

Chapter 6: Bad f*cking Energy

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

Well, I'm officially the world's biggest f*cking loser.

I somehow ended up back in the wicked club that made me have a week-long breakdown the first time I left it. I spent the whole week hating myself and completely engulfing myself in work to forget about the horrible time I had.

Okay, so it wasn'thorrible.It was fun. It was sexy and alluring, and that's why itshouldbe terrible. I'm not supposed to like those things. I like my job, my simple home, my one friend, and I like not feeling guilty for enjoying the club as much as I do.

Last night was even better, too. I don't know how long we sat on that couch, sharing a joint and kissing each other like it was part of the drug, but by the time the lights came on and people scrambled out of the facility, the two of us were leaning on each other and stumbling into a cab.

And to remind me of just how idiotic it was to step foot back in Treasure Chest, I woke up this morning with a headache that was practically f*cking me with how hard my head was pounding.

I have to work today, and I've already spent an extra twenty minutes laying here, trying to will away the lump in my throat. Thank god it's Friday so I can lay low. I really don't want to hear Jillian's bitching today. She's been extra petty this week and I already know she's going to send me out for more meaningless errands.

My hands slowly peel the covers off my body and my blurry eyes wince at the sunlight pouring into the bedroom. I roll over and plant my feet on the floor before sitting up like a vampire in a coffin.

My eyes pinch shut as I groan, pushing myself up to stand. My hand reaches out for my nightstand, patting around it blindly to find the water bottle I keep there. It's probably weeks old and tastes like stale cardboard, but my throat is as dry as the Sahara right now.

I unscrew the cap and bring it to my lips, rolling my head back to allow some of the liquid in. I let it drip out of the side of my mouth as I chugged the water down. The plastic bottle crinkles, the sound making me wince in pain from the noise it blasted straight into my brain.

I toss the bottle in front of me and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand. I open one of my eyes enough so I can see where to walk and make my way to my bathroom to get ready.

I turn the shower on and walk back to the counter, my hands resting on the edge while my head drops forward. I don't know how I'm going to make it through today, but that's just more motivation to stop f*cking up.

I don't know how I keep ending up back there. It's ended catastrophically both times, yet I can't stop smiling when I think about it. What is wrong with me?

I've spent all this time trying to perfect my life just for it to be smacked away in two nights. My priorities are slipping through my fingers and I've seen how this ends. I need to stop. Last night was enough, no more going out and partying like I can afford to do stupid sh*t like that.

I am not my parents.

I can stop whenever I want to, and Idowant to. So I am.

I lift my head and undress myself, peeling the sleep shirt over my head and tossing it to the floor. Harry came inside last night to use the bathroom, I'm kind of surprised I didn't wake up to a puddle of piss with how drunk he was. I'm sure the weed didn't help his friendly intoxication.

You hear a lot of things about cannabis, every teacher says it's a gateway drug but any stoner will tell you it's not.

I think we have it all wrong about drugs, though. Anything can be addicting, anything can be your gateway. People, places, smells, if it excites you enough to want more, it's a gateway.

Trauma can be a gateway too. Your brain is chemically alternated by this one event, it practically becomes part of your DNA. No matter how much you want to forget it, you'll always think about it and think about how it made you feel.

Especially if it was something donetoyou. People like feeling in control, so they reenact the scenarios that wounded them knowing they have the power to stop it.

At least, that's what I'm telling myself is happening right now. I'm just trying to have the power back. It's not that I'm enjoying this, it's that I need to feel in control of something I didn't get to be as a kid. That's all this is. Harmless role-playing, it's not who I am.

The hot water rolls down my body as I stand completely under the stream. I push my hair back with both of my hands and turn so that my back is to the water now, picking up my bottle of shampoo to lather onto my scalp.

I let myself be sad last week, but now it's time to focus. I'm not going to cry about it anymore, I did it to myself. Once is a mistake, twice is a choice, and now I'll have to live with that choice if I want to succeed.

I rinse off my soapy hand and grab my toothbrush, wetting it and putting on some toothpaste. I always keep one in my shower especially if I know I'll be showering in the morning. I feel like I can be messier when I brush, which makes me feel like my mouth is cleaner.

Light sounds of bubbles pop in my ear from the suds on my hair. I scrub my teeth and lean my head against the cold wall, sighing at the relief it's bringing to my head.

Bang.

My eyes open.Huh? Did I imagine that?

The toothbrush stops moving in my mouth.

Bang bang bang.

What the hell? Who's knocking at my door at 6 a.m. on a Friday morning?

I rip the shower curtain back, the metal hooks sounding like nails on a chalkboard against the curtain rod. My hair is still full of soap, but I'm too frazzled to wash it out before finding out who's pounding down the door.

I snatch a towel out of the cupboard and cover my body, stomping to the front of my apartment. The hand on the opposite side of the wood knocks again, the sound making me angrier every time I hear it.

Bang, bang, bang!

"I'm f*ckingCOMING!"I yell, ripping the door open with one hand while the other clutches the top of my towel. Water is dripping off of my legs and pooling at my feet, making me even more pissed at the disgusting feeling between my toes.

"Oh, are you now?" Harry's tall figure is leaning in my doorway, an arm up over his head holding on to the frame. One leg is crossed over the other and he has a disgustingly smug grin on his face.

Of course he's up early as f*ck, dressed perfectly and not an ounce of hangover or sleepiness anywhere on his face. How does he do that? I literally had to show him to my front door before he crawled into my bed last night. How is he standing here looking that good?

Even the f*cking sunrise is shining on him right now, washing half of his face in a golden light that looks like it was put right there to illuminate him by God himself.

"What are you doing here, Harry?" I furrow my brows and wrap my other arm around my chest, suddenly very much aware of how naked I am under this towel.

"Well good morning to you too, Brinna. You should be happy to see me, I happen to-"

"AH! Mother f*cker!"I yipe and speed walk away from the door, leaving it open with Harry still standing there.

"Hey now, I haven't done that in a long time, how would you even know about that?sh*t, did I sleep with your mom? Is that why you're pissed?" He walks into my apartment and follows me, eyes taking in all of the decor without him being intoxicated.

"No, I have soap in my eye, you idiot. Why are you f*cking people's mothers? Jesus-ah!" I turn my kitchen sink on, whining at the pain shooting through my eye, knowing it's going to be a crazy shade of red after I wash it out.

I splash water on my face, realizing I need to just rinse my hair out as a whole because the soap keeps coming down my face. I take the sprayer out of the holder and start rinsing out my hair, suds floating down the drain. Harry is standing to my right, examining my choice of wall art.

I turn off the faucet and scrunch my hair to rid of the excess wetness. Still bent over my sink, I turn toward him. "Why are you here?" I ask again, more agitated now because I have to go to work and I haven't even finished my shower.

"What is all of this?" He avoids my question entirely, nearly pushing me over the edge because it should be pretty f*cking obvious what he's looking at.

"Harry! I have sh*t to do! What are you doing in my house?" I raise my voice, to which he turns around with asmile.

He reaches into his pocket and plucks out a brown rectangle, holding it up proudly between his two fingers. "I was just returning this. I would have liked a thank you for the trouble, but it seems like you didn't get enough sleep after last night." He smirks, implying that we did anything more than kiss. "You might want to wash it though, I was getting a blow j*b when I found it. Touched my asscheek-"

I scoff and snatch my wallet from him, trying to touch it as little as possible. I didn't even realize it was gone, and although I am thankful to have it back, I could have done without him inviting himself in while I'm practically naked. And with less sex on my wallet.

"Thank you, now leave." I brush past him, trying to get ready quickly so I'm not late.

"You've got a weird way of decorating. I dig it." He follows me into my small bathroom and I whip around to face him, irritated by his comfortableness.

"I will drop this towel and go about my business like you're not here if you don't get out of my house, Harry." I scowl, pointer finger pushing into his chest.

"Okay."

I throw a hand up and squeal in frustration, officially tired of his sh*t. "Get out." I push his chest, urging him to walk toward the front door. "I'm not doing this with you. We kissed one time on a drunken mistake, you don't get to show up here like it meant anything."

"Youkissedmeif I remember correctly." He states co*ckily. "Is this like a kink for you or something? Why do you get so weird after you go out? I thought we were having fun last night." He smiles as we reach my front door.

"I don't need your fun. It was a mistake. I'm not going to f*ck up my life in some dingy, disgusting club." He stands on my welcome mat, an amused-shocked expression making his mouth hang open. I slam the door and lock it, leaving him dumbfounded behind it.

"You should get rid of this welcome mat, Brinna!" He shouts through the wood. "You're welcoming in all that bad f*cking energy!" His voice fades as I walk away from the door to go back to my bathroom.

Who just shows up to someone's house like that, this early in the morning, and then invites themselves in? We aren't friends, we aren't acquaintances, he is nothing to me and I need him to stay away from me before he makes me break my rules again.

Nothing about this is funny, yet he couldn't go through one 15-minute interaction without being an idiot. It must be nice to have a perfect life, you can do whatever mindless sh*t you want to without thinking of anyone else and how they might be trying to survive instead of pretending like nothing matters.

It must bereallynice.

__

I made it to work with only minutes to spare after picking up Jillian's coffee. I ran to put it on her desk before she arrived, scurrying back to my desk so Grace could help me fix my hair. I had no time to do it this morning, so it dried in its natural wavy-frizz ball of mess.

I put on a simple cropped plaid pantsuit, the jacket being synched to my waist. I drove here in my slippers, thanking the heavens when I remembered the heels I had abandoned in my car after work yesterday.

"Why are you so worked up today?" Grace asks, brushing my hair back so she can put it into a sleek bun. "You're never late. I think this is the first time I've been here before you."

"I had a busy night," I reply, not wanting to get into specifics. Her hands stop on my head and she pulls the ponytail back slightly. "Ow." I wince.

"With a guy?" She prods, easing her grip.

"With.. work. I was working." My cheeks heat.

Working on being a dumb bitch, more like.

I hope she doesn't catch on to my lie. She's the type to ask and ask until she breaks you down so bad you're practically screaming your secret into her ear. She's the most determined person I know when it comes to gossip. She's actually perfect for this job, she gets good information out of practically everyone.

"Was he good at least?" She resumes her work on my head.

I can't even imagine how good he is if his tongue feels likethat.I'm not shy about making out, and I've kissed plenty of people, but he was practically ballroom dancing with my tongue. I felt like I was floating, he was luring me into him with every nibble and suck. Maybehe'sthe siren.

"That bad, huh?" She asks, cluing into my silence.

"There isn't a story to tell, I wasn't with anyone last night. I really was working." I murmur, picking at the skin around my fingernails.

She sighs lightly and pats my shoulder, "Okay, well, your hair is done. If you ever want to talk aboutwork, you know I'd love to listen." She pecks the side of my head and walks toward her own desk.

Is it that obvious that I was with someone? Maybe she's just as hung over as I am and doesn't feel like listening about my night. Which is fine, I wasn't going to tell her anyway.

Grace is really good at not forcing me to go outside of my comfort zone, but the second I decide to act out, she's all over the opportunity to party with me. I don't blame her for that, bad decisions are like oxygen for her and I'm not her responsibility.

I know if I told her I willingly went to Treasure Chest on my own, got so sh*t-faced I flung myself off of a stripper pole like a dead fish, smoked weed around a bunch of shady men, and then made out with the owner of the club before we went back to my house, she would go absolutely feral. I don't need to open the floodgates for her. I need to lock it up and throw away the key.

I have a lot to do today to get ready for this month's issue of Strip, I'm in charge of keeping track of important papers that Jillian needs in order to choose the layout of the magazine. I also have to pick up lunch for her meeting today, where all of the top editors discuss articles and what deserves to be plastered on the front cover.

Speaking of the devil, Jillian finally makes it to the office, whipping off her sunglasses and long coat. I don't know how she wears such gaudy layers, it's hot as f*ck this time of year.

Her heels click across the floor as she makes her way to me to retrieve her papers. She gives me a scowl, looking over my outfit. "That is horrendous,Briana." She purses her lips, nibbling the end of her sunglasses. "Not every pattern is for your..body type." She furrows her brows, grabs the papers, and walks away like she didn't just say that.

That's bold coming from a fifty-year-old woman who spends more money on filler than she does on her own child.

I look down at my outfit, mouth slightly parted. I'm not one to be insecure usually because even though I'm not a size 2, I like my soft tummy and my ass jiggles in all the right places.

Not that I need them, but I get plenty of compliments from people I've been with previously. And I know I look good in this outfit, the model on Fashion Nova looked f*cking hot which is why I bought it.

I get a lot of my work clothes from places like that because I can look good while fitting the dress code, plus they're cheap enough that I don't have to repeat an outfit before someone forgets about me wearing it.

I know not to take anything Jill says to heart, especially during finalization days, but she's been unnecessarily cruel this week. My self-hatred and her attitude have been doing a number on me, and I can't wait to curl up and do nothing this weekend, the way it's supposed to be.

If today doesn't kill me, hopefully the weekend won't, either.

Chapter 7: Prove It

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

I miraculously stayed away from my temptations this weekend. I really did stay curled up on my bed or couch, binge-watching horrible reality TV shows and eating snacks just like I wanted to. It was boring and safe. Just what I needed to rid of my mistakes.

I feel good today, even though it's Monday, I feel put together and refreshed. I needed to stay put and prove to myself that Iamstronger than I had been in the last few weeks. I haven't even thought about Harry or dancing with Grace like I thought I would, those times are simply memories I've locked away.

I was expecting some kind of withdrawal, that's what all of these addicts go through when they stop their drug of choice, but I guess I haven't become addicted yet, which makes my soul calmer. It's good to know that I really can stop whenever I want.

I'm excited to be at work today, this month's issue ofStripis being put on shelves as we speak which means we get to have our monthly 'party'. It's the only type of party I'll allow myself at ever again, but it's really just a potluck and Jillian getting wine drunk in her office.

The whole office is buzzing with chatter, putting out their homemade dishes and taste testing other people's. Grace and I are sitting at my desk, nibbling on finger foods while she tells me all about the wild sex she had this weekend.

Apparently, she found some hot girl at a party and when they were going to go find a bedroom, the girl's boyfriend refused to leave her side because he didn't know anyone else at the party. They decided to let him stay in the bedroom, but they didn't let him join in. They made him sit in a chair and watch, and if I know Grace, she probably showed the girl that men don't have asingleclue of what they're doing.

Like I said, she isverycomfortable with her sexuality.

I'm glad to be able to listen to stories about her adventures and not have to be apart of them. She begged me to come out with her after the amount of attention we got last time, but she didn't ask me more than once. Probably because she could tell I was still in a funk from our previous conversation.

Jillian's door opening with loud laughter spilling out of it broke our conversation. It's rare to see her at all when her work is being put out for the public, it makes her incredibly nervous. She walked out first, blushing and waving the air like she was trying to bring more oxygen to her.

Did she have a meeting today that I didn't know about? I never set anything up on these days. Did she bring Charlie to work?

"Oh, you didn't bother me atall!" She speaks over her shoulder like a swooning teenager. "You come back any time you want to, please send me those pictures and I'll make sure you're on the front page of next months magazine,Harry!"

What thef*ck?

My eyes widen as the curly-headed asshole steps out from her office behind her, a playful smile stretching ear to ear and making his dimples pop out. "Jilly, you're too good to me. I didn't know you could be so smartandsexy. Your husband is a lucky man." He skims down her body as they..walk toward my desk?

Oh no. Oh no, no, no. Not today. Please do not-

"Briana! Be a doll and add Harry to my list of in-office calls. That'sHarry Stylesfor the contact name, he's going to be on next month's front page!" She can't contain her giggling as she brushes her hand over his muscular clothed arm.

I can see Grace's jaw dropping next to me, probably because of the gorgeous man eye-f*cking our horrendous boss. She doesn't know that I've seen him three times now, including three days ago when he showed up at my front door. And the face-sucking the night before that.

My eyes stay trained on Jill's as I punch Grace in her thigh to silently tell her to close her mouth. She snaps her head to me and then clears her throat. "You want him to be able to call you, like whenever he wants to?" I question, not entirely sure why he would even need to.

"Don't be silly, he doesn't need to deal withyouif he needs to speak to me." Her laughter stops and she speaks in a more stern tone, still holding a smile. I nod and begin to unlock my computer to add him onto the extension line.

"Well, I need to be getting back to my work but thank you so much for your visit. It was apleasure." She licks her lips, giving his arm one last squeeze before turning away toward her office.

My eyes furrow on his co*cky face, watching as he stands with his hands clasped behind his back. He blows out a whistle and sucks on his teeth, "Man, that woman is a JILF." He says with a smile, shaking his head slightly.

I glance at Grace, who looks like she's seen a f*cking unicorn. "A what?" I ask, now facing him with my arms crossed defensively.

"A Jill I'd Like To Fu-"

"Okay!" I say, holding my hand up to stop him from finishing his sentence. He chuckles and leans his hands down on the back of my desk, trying to get a better view of my screen. What is with people touching my desk?

"Do you need my contact information so I can call up sweet Jilly whenever I want?" He flutters his lashes, a stupid grin prominent on his lips. "Y'know, I don't actually mind if you want to answer my calls first."

Grace gasps under her breath next to me, practically clinging to the edge of her seat. Her eyes are flicking between the two of us as we keep our intense staring.

"Whyare you speaking to Jillian? What are you doing here?" I ask, not caring to put him in the system because she'll probably forget about him by next week anyway.

"Some people happen to like mydingy, disgustingclub, Brinna." He quotes me, looking entirely amused at my flustered state. "I knew when I found her business card in your wallet I just had to talk to her. She's pretty easy, a few nice words in her ear and Treasure Chest will be promoted in every single store across Nevada by next month." He shrugs.

"You went through my wallet?" I ask loudly.

"You own Treasure Chest?"Grace's mouth drops open again.

"I haven't ever met a girl that carries a condom with her though, I thought only guys did that. I could have sworn you said you don't have fun. Well,we know that's a lie, but a wallet condom is bold."

"You know him?!"Grace faces me but I can't bring myself to look back."Is he the reason you were all f*cking weird last week?"She turns to look at Harry now, foaming at the mouth for more information. "You were with her on Thursday?!"

"And Friday," he answers back.

"Brinna!" She laughs out, astonished by her discovery.

"We didn't do anything!" I bark back at her, "I left my wallet at the club after a few drinks and he brought it to me the next morning. And apparently f*cking stole things out of it too." I scold him.

"You went to the club without me?" She lowers her voice, now seeming concerned.

I huff and swivel in my chair to face her. "It was no big deal, I just had a drink."

"Yeah, tell that to my dancers you almost traumatized by trying to kill yourself on their pole." He scoffs.

"Youwhat?"

"I.. tripped. He's being dramatic. Can we talk about this later?" I plead with her. I know that she knows its bad that I went alone. I didn't want to tell her for this reason, she shouldn't be worrying about me and he shouldn't be spilling my business like that.

She knows about my parents and that they're the reason why I'm so careful so I'm sure this is the last thing she would ever expect from me.

"Sure.." She says, eyes now flicking cautiously between the two of us in front of her. "I'm just gonna.." she starts rolling away on her chair, ".. go talk to other people, I guess."

Harry waves his fingers at her as she scoots off, looking absolutely bewildered.

"So, should I be expecting you back again this weekend? I can pad the floor if you want to try again." He smiles lazily, eyes wandering around the things on my desk.

"No, I won't be going back. Ever, I mean. I've had enough disappointment by going there at all and I won't be making that mistake three times."

"Who are you disappointing?" He tilts his head. "Mommy and daddydon't like you hanging around places like mine?"

"My parents aredead,Harry." I glare.

"Oh sh*t, I didn't, I wouldn't have-" His face drops to guilt.

"Save it. Doesn't matter. I'm not coming back so you can stop trying to lure me in. I don't know why you care so much, it's not like one lost customer is going to ruin you."

He sighs and picks at his lip, looking at me like he's either got a million things to say or not a single one. He stands there in silence for a minute before blowing out a deep breath through his nose. He turns on his heel, walking away from my desk.

My brows pinch up in confusion and I shake my head. I don't watch him leave, though. My head drops down to my desktop where I start pulling up files and meaningless bits of work to take my mind off of what just happened.

My knee is bouncing under my desk and it's a good thing I ate this morning after my coffee because the anxiety mixed with caffeine would have made me sick. My fingers type away, the office moving around me becoming unnoticeable the longer I focus.

Screeeeeech.

I look up from my screen, the noise grinding in my ears.

Harry is dragging a metal folding chair across the floor, the legs of it scraping in its path. He's holding it behind his body and letting it drag obnoxiously slow, and very f*cking loudly.

His head is hanging and he's dragging his feet like a child. He walks it across the entire room, conversations being stopped by the ear piercing noise. Eyes squint at him but he doesn't notice any of them.

He stops right in front of my desk again, chair still behind his back. He lifts his head to meet my eyes and tries to hide his smile. "Is this seat taken?"

"You brought it over here, what do you mean is it taken?"

"Shh."He puts his hand up slightly. "We're starting over. I don't like it when people don't like me.Is this seat taken?"

I chew the inside of my cheek and look over his droopy stature. I roll my eyes and lean forward on my desk, gesturing for him to take a seat. "Go on. It's all yours."

He smiles and whips the chair in front of him, flinging it open and letting it smack to the ground loudly. People have to hate him right now, I f*cking do. I can't believe he's so comfortable walking in to literally anywhere acting like he owns the place.

"I'm Harry." He holds his hand out for me to shake.

"Brinna." I give him a tight lipped smile, not grabbing his hand like he intended.

"Hmm, could have sworn I heard it wasBriana."He jokes.

"Okay, well, that was fun for all of the 20 seconds it lasted. Time for you to go Harry." I lean back in my chair.

"No,stop. Lighten up a little. Why are you so on edge? Life isn't so bad, y'know." He leans over the tabletop. "I told you everyone is trying to escape from something. What're you trying to hide from? Hmm?"

"I'm nothidingfrom anything, thank you. I'm trying to stay away from people like you, though."

"Ouch, Brinna. Stab me with a knife next time, it'll hurt less." He chuckles and holds his hands over his heart.

I keep a cold expression, not giving in to his jokes.

"I thought we had a good time, you know. I enjoyed it. I don't think you suck face with people you're trying to stay away from."

"I regret every second of it. It was a mistake. I told you this." I throw back.

"I don't think you regret it."

"How would you know what I do and don't do?"

"I know you liked dancing with your friend the first time you were at my club and I know you liked hanging out with me the second time. You wouldn't have come back if you regretted it that much."

He's right, and he knows it too. I don't regret it as much as I should. I don't even reallywantto regret it. I know I have to, for the sake of my future. I want nothing more than to give in and keep having fun every Friday night.

I've never felt more alive than when I was dancing and getting money thrown on me. That's such a bizarre thing, but it made me feel important. It made me feel like I was doing something other people liked, like I was doing something meaningful.

I don't even feel that way about my work, and here I am calling a drunk club grinding session meaningful.

"I shouldn't have gone there. I have more important things to focus on. I'm glad you get to f*ck around all day long, but not all of us get that lucky." I turn back to my work.

"So why do you keep coming back, then? What is a girl likeyoudoing in a place likethat?"

I give him awhat?expression, not knowing what he means entirely.

"You said you don't belong in a place like that. You said you aren't like all the other people there.Prove it.Why are you so much better than all of them when you can't stay away from it, either?"

Now who's stabbing who?

I scoff at him, trying to act offended but really I have no answer for him. I don't know how to answer him without lying.

I know I'm not better than them. I am a carbon copy of my f*ck up parents, it's not that I think I'm better than anyone, I just have to actively try to not be worse. If anything, those people are better than me. My self-control is at 0% and it can't just be simple for someone like me in a place like that.

My "too much" gene goes into overdrive and I can't let that happen.

"Exactly." He stands up from the seat. "You're not, Brinna. You're lying to yourself and you're the only one that believes it. I've been in this game for a long time, I know your type. It's going to drive you f*cking crazy if you let it."

And with that, he walks out of the office, leaving me to ponder over his words. They soak into my skin like acid, burning until they reach my bones.

I thought Sirens sang pretty things.

"What the f*ck was that?" Grace whispers off to my right. I whip my head around and blink away my thoughts, not even sure about what just happened. I furrow my brows and take a deep inhale through my nose.

"Do you believe in mythological sex mermaids, Gracie?"

Chapter 8: Begging

Chapter Text

H A R R Y

My favorite part about living in this city is its ability to transform you into anything you want to be. Drag queens and Elvis impersonators dress up every night and change their names. Brutal CEOs crawl back to their dominatrix to be walked like dogs. Nothing is as it seems, and it's good that way.

I get to act like a laid-back, drugged-up, entitled asshole that's getting under Brinna's skin because I like to see her mad, and not because she has completely caught my attention with the way she confuses the absolute sh*t out of me.

I get to pretend that everything is perfectly fine and that I'm not clinging on to anything I can to give me an ounce of happiness.

I don't deserve the happiness, and I'm not even sure Brinna will ever stop being stubborn enough to let me in, but I'm going crazy and she's the only thing on my mind besides what I'm trying to hide from.

Everyone is hiding from something.

Maybe I was being cryptic because I was talking about myself. Maybe I've been talking about myself every time I told her something aboutherself. I'm not a f*cking shrink, but I don't need one to tell me this unhealthy coping strategy is going to end in blazing f*cking flames.

Totally fine, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I'll be focusing on what's in front of me. I won't be thinking about tomorrow. I can hardly think about anything other than her eyes right now, anyway.

I think what's drawing me into her is the fact that she seems to be so clueless about anything to do with my lifestyle. She doesn't know me, she doesn't know anything about being social, and she doesn't even know what she's feeling.

I won't claim to know her emotions better than she does, but I really do see people like her all the time. She's trying so hard to bury her past by piling it up with work as if that'll fill the sinkhole in her heart. She stays away from all of the 'bad' things so she doesn't get distracted from her goal.

But what happens when she gets to wherever it is that she's going?

She's going to crash harder than any one night on the strip has ever made her. She's going to reach her goal and realize it's not as extraordinary as she wishes it was, and she's going to dive into all of the things she's been avoiding ten times harder than if she just let herself experience a little bit of life right now.

People like her are all or nothing. Maybe she has a hard time deciphering right from wrong, or maybe she knows she really can't do something without it being all or nothing. Either way, I think her priorities are going to give her more trouble down the road than she realizes.

Bugging her has been one of my favorite games recently. She was kind of right when she said I get to do whatever I want because I've shown up to her job every single day for the last 6 days.

Of course, I have to get past the Jill-a monster first. I swear she's actually a lizard, no one is that cold-blooded. Not only is she bitchy, but she really is literally cold. Her icy hands make my skin crawl every time she touches me, but it's all worth it to be able to see Brinna's grossed-out face.

Each morning I've shown up with a new flavor of donut and coffee. If she isn't going to come back to my playground, I'm just going to have to be at hers. They were supposed to be my peace offering, a little pick me up for dealing with me every single day. I figure if I'm going to bug the girl, I might as well bring her food. Girls love food. Right?

Wrong, she must live off of air because every day my gift ended up in the trash.

I even ended up askingGrace,which I learned is her name after she asked me a million questions about why I keep bringing her best friend things, to tell me Brinna's favorite coffee order.

You should have seen the look on her face when I managed to track down an Iced Sugar Cookie Latte in f*cking May. I'm practically a magician at this point. I even got Grace a thank-you present for aiding me in my plan, she doesn't have a favorite coffee as long as the creamer is whiskey.

That was the first coffee to not end up in the trash. Brinna's, I mean. She drank the entire thing before I was even done with Jillian's daily grope session. I'm a strong soldier, don't ask me why I'm letting lizard-bitch touch my abs just to be closer to a girl that I'm not even trying to sleep with. I don't beg for women.

This is not me begging.

I'm just trying to figure out the woman who keeps being the life of the party and then cries about it afterward. She's complex and I don't even have to know more than her name and favorite coffee to see that she's battling no one but herself in that pretty little head of hers.

But I have nothing better to do while I await my fate, so I guess I'm going to keep doing this for a while. Sometimes in life, you have to take opportunities before they slip through your fingers. I won't get a second chance if I stop now, and luckily I'm one determined son of a bitch.

I pull my pants up to my hips and zip them shut. Jillian is crouched down under her desk while I'm sitting in her chair. She wipes her smeared lipstick as I buckle my belt and stand up.

I said I never turn down a blow j*b and I meant it. Sue me.

She isn't even off the floor yet before I reach the door, fluffing my hair and pushing it back off of my face. "But wait, don't you want to-" She jumps up and motions toward the desk.

Her face is flushed and damp, mascara now slightly smeared from her previous gag tears. It's crazy how much power you can have over someone as influential as her. Being lonely will do that though, she melts under any positivity I give her.

"Not today, Jilly. I've got important business to attend to." I say, abruptly whipping the door open and shutting it behind me before she can say another word. She's too blindsided by my co*ck to realize she's just my first stop before I get to the reason why I'm really here.

So what if I'm using her? She f*cking deserves it for talking the way she does to Brinna. She doesn't even know the girl's name yet she tasks her with all of the most important things in her life. Don't even get me started on the daughter situation either, I've been in her office when she gets a new message and it's absolutely vile the way she speaks about Charlotte.

She clearly doesn't give a f*ck about anyone else but herself, why should I care about her feelings? Someone's gotta knock her ego down a few notches.

I adjust the collar of my black dress shirt, peeking around it to make sure I don't have any lipstick on me. I can feel eyes on me all around the room which makes me smirk. I know that office isn't soundproof.

I straighten up, not caring to acknowledge any of the workers scattered around trying to focus on photoshoots and articles. My eyes are focused straight in front of me on Brinna's desk. She's been trying her hardest to avoid me all week despite my constant attempts at talking to her.

I stroll over to her, standing in front of her desk while she's taking a phone call. She gives me a quick glare before tearing a sticky note off the pad and writing down some information. Whoever she's talking to seems to be in a hurry, which means this is a perfect time to f*ck with her.

I walk around her desk and stand behind her, close enough that she can feel my presence. I lean forward, arms on either side of her body in her chair, and rest my hands on the desk beside her. She stiffens and her writing pauses only momentarily, making me smile because she's giving me exactly what I want.

I grab the pad of sticky notes and a pen from the cup, awkwardly wrapping my arms around hers so I can start writing my own note. My face is right next to her ear that isn't listening to the caller. She shivers when I sigh a deep breath next to her head. I scribble down a sentence and pluck it off the stack, holding it directly in her line of sight so she can't see her own.

who r u talking to? :)

She glances over the note before pushing my hand away and continuing to write and speak to whoever it is. I press the note to the screen of her computer and start writing another one.

do u want a massage? u seem tense. something got u worked up? ;)

I chuckle as I purposely brush my nose over her hair, putting the note back up in front of her eyes. She slams her pen onto the table and rips the note away from my fingers, throwing it off to the side. I scoff, watching as it flutters to the ground like a leaf.

I snatch the pen she just let go of before she can pick it up again and start writing a third note. She throws her hand up in frustration, grabbing a new one from the cup and finishing the last of her note. I hold mine up as she's ending the call.

not nice of you pretty girl.. i can think of other ways to relax you if you dont like massages

"Thank you so much for choosing us. I'll make sure your advertisem*nt gets shown in the next meeting. As soon as Jillian makes her decision, I'll be the one to call you back. You have a good day too, bye now." Her voice is calm and very secretary like.

"Thank you sooo much."I whisper in her ear with a snicker as she puts the phone back down on the receiver. She sighs loudly, pushing her chair back to force me out from behind her. I laugh and step to the side, resting the back of my thighs on the side of her desk that isn't occupied by work.

She ignores me still, crumpling up my notes and tossing them into the bin beneath her desk. I cross my arms and hum out an exaggerated breath, waiting for her to look at me. She continues on with typing in some information, ignoring the giant man on her work space.

I sigh again, this time making my whine louder.Still nothing. I let my hand fall from my chest and walk my fingers toward her like a pair of legs. I lean over with them, walking them all the way to her keyboard. She tries to shove away my hand with her elbow, but I dodge it and keep on my path.

My fingers make it to the keys and before she realizes, I mash a bunch of random letters and symbols so her perfectly worded sentence is now a mash up of gibberish and English. She gasps, raising her hands off the board and looks to my hand typing.

She whips around in her seat, now looking directly at me but our faces are only inches apart due to me leaning over. "Harry!" She whisper shouts, eyes filling with anger.

"Hi."

"Get away from my desk! I'm trying to work. Some of us have things to do!" She pushes my arm away so I'm sitting up straight again. Her dark hair is pulled back into a ponytail and I can't help but notice the way the sun hits it when it waves around as she talks. Her hair is brown, but in the right lighting it looks almost auburn, like rays of burnt ember are painted through her locks.

Her dark eye liner accentuates the arctic blue of her irises and her long lashes nearly reach her eyebrows with only mascara on. She's wearing a short skirt and a blouse today, her legs looking so soft where her skin is showing. She looks so pretty even when she's red and flustered like this.

"I just wanted to make sure I got your coffee right today. That was hard to track down, you know. I had to make lots of phone calls just for you to have a little caffeine fix." I stand up, crossing my arms over my chest again with a grin.

"It was gross, I threw it away."

"No she didn't!"Grace yells across the room, apparently paying very close attention to our interaction right now.

We both turn to look at her hiding behind her computer screen. I laugh and turn to face Brinna, who practically has steam coming from her ears. "You need to leave me alone, Harry. I don't know what game you're playing but I'm done with it." She mutters, turning away from Grace.

"I'm not playing a game." I answer her quickly.

"Why won't you leave me alone?" She leans back in her chair and crosses her legs, her skirt riding up a little more in the process.

I swallow, trying to keep my focus on her face. "Why are you trying so hard to pretend like you don't like it?" I know how annoying that is to answer her question with another question, but to be fair I think its a perfectly valid response.

She sighs and shakes her head. "You're nothing more than another temptation trying to make me forget about all of my priorities."

You're tempting for me too, Brinna. That's why I keep showing up here every morning to try and talk to you one more time.

"Do you really regret coming to my club?" I know her answer, but I want to study her face when she lies about it.

"Yep. I do. Every single second." She bites the inside of her cheek and her leg starts moving, telling me what I already knew. She's nervous twitching, trying to convince herself once again.

"I can show you fun that you don't have to regret." My voice is deep and low and I keep my eyes on hers only. I want her to know that I mean it, and that I'm really offering her more than a coffee.

Her eyebrows pinch up and her mouth drops slightly, the reaction slightly confusing me. "What, just like you show Jillian? You're so gross. What could possibly make you think I want to do something like that with you? You're being a f*cking creep!"

sh*t.

"No! No, no. That isn't what I meant, at all!" I scramble, running my hand over my face to rid some of the sweat that just coated my skin. That was the last thing on my mind and now I look like a douche bag when I wasn't trying to be. f*ck.

She looks completely unconvinced at my pleading. I take it back, she's scary when she's mad.

Or is that just the grip she has on me already? Am I really trying to get her to come out with meandgroveling to take back my statement that came out wrong. Absolutely. I know what I'm doing..

"I didn't mean it like that. I just meant that, well.. I want to get to know you. Maybe showing up here was the wrong way to do it, but I didn't want to keep meeting how we have before. I don't want you at my club if it's going to eat you up every time you leave." I start, lowering my voice as I sit back down to be closer to her.

She folds her arms and slightly eases her face, waiting for me to continue. "You probably haven't been to a lot of places around here, right?" I ask, now waiting for her.

She shakes her head no and bites her cheek like she's stopping herself from arguing with me again. "It's not all like Treasure Chest. There's some really cool things if you know where to look. I just thought.. maybe I could show you what you've been missing? So that you don't have to think all there is to life is work and regret."

Embarrassingly, there's a lot of places I wouldn't mind seeing again, too. I can't imagine living here and not knowing about them, so why not kill two birds with one stone?

"Idon'tthink all there is to life is work and regret. I work so I don't have to regret my life. If I wanted to go out, I would. But I don't, and especially not with you after you've been hounding me all week. You know I can hear you in that office before you come over here, right? What kind of person asks someone out on a date after f*cking her boss?"

I smile before I can catch it. "A date? You wanna go on a date with me?"

She scoffs and starts to get up, probably to run the message she got earlier to Jillian. I reach my hand out as a last resort to get her attention.

"I'll leave you alone if you go on one date with me."

She says nothing and keeps walking, quickly making her way to Jill's door.

"I promise." My voice comes out louder than I mean it to, "If you hate it, you won't ever see me again." My hands are out to my sides as her back is to me. I probably look pathetic but life is too short to not be a little bit pathetic. At least, that's what I'll tell myself so I don't feel stupid.

"One time." She grumbles, opening the door and shutting it to leave me standing in the middle of her work.

My hands drop, a wave of confusion and relief washing over me. I turn, looking around at all of the people going about their business. My hands find their way to my hips and I stop looking when my eyes land on Grace's.

"You see that?" I ask, pointing with my thumb to the office. "That happened, right?"

She looks just as confused as me, blinking slowly and nodding her head with her lips to the side of her mouth. "She's totally going to ditch you."

I tut at her, walking back towards Brinna's desk. "You have no faith in my persistence. I always get what I want." I smile at her, taking off a pen cap with my teeth. She shakes her head at me with a grin and goes back to doing her work.

I scribble one last note onto the pink paper before leaving it smack dab in the middle of her computer screen so I know she'll see it.

picking you up tonight at 8. wear whatever makes you feel good. :) H

Chapter 9: Pony

Chapter Text

H A R R Y

It's 7:02 p.m. and I'm sitting on my couch, trying to stop myself from leaving right now to pick up Brinna. I've been ready for an hour already. I'm excited to take her out tonight, I had to make a few calls, but I've got something good planned and I hope it makes her laugh. I honestly feel like a giddy teenage girl going to prom.

Ireallyhope it makes her laugh..

This could be the stupidest thing I've ever done, and I might blow any chance I have at seeing her ever again, but she deserves fun and I couldn't think of anything better than this. It doesn't require drinking, there won't be any drugs, and she still gets to dance which I know she loves to do. We even get to take a nice walk past some pretty lights before we get there.

My knee is bouncing and I can't stop glancing at my phone to check the time. It's pretty much dark outside, but the city lights keep it illuminated. I have a nice view from my livingroom, if the clouds are away I can see a little bit of Brinna's work too.

I decided to just wear a plain black T-shirt and a pair of jeans. We're probably going to get hot, so I didn't feel like my usual work button-up. All of my rings are on and I even put some type of cream sh*t in my hair to make my curls look better.

I don't do things like that usually, but the woman at the salon wouldn't shut the f*ck up about my hair when I was getting a trim, so I bought all of the products she recommended so she would stop talking. They work, though. My hair has never looked better.

I wonder if Brinna will like it.

I check my phone again, the screen lighting up the dark space around me.7:10.I groan and throw my head back to the back of the couch. Is it that bad to show up early? I could walk her around the longer way and we could people watch. That's almost as fun as the place we're going, there are so many crazy things to see on the strip.

Maybe we can catch the Bellagio show if I leave now.

f*ck it, I'm leaving. Who cares if I show up half an hour early? Maybe she likes punctual men.

I jump up from the couch, hopping lightly on my feet. I walk toward my front door where the entry table is and give myself one more look over before grabbing all of my things.

Phone, keys, wallet- oh sh*t, right. The check.

I wrote a check for the host tonight, I felt bad calling with such short notice but he was so chill about the whole ordeal. I can't believe he let me do this, he gave us front-row seats and promised that he would have everything set in place by the time we got there.

I wrote him a check as a thank you, and as an apology because he had to cancel someone else's reservations in order to get us the best seats. I'm sure they're going to leave him a nasty review after that.

I fold the paper and put it in one of the pockets of my wallet so I can give it to him later. Maybe I'll send him a bottle of champagne too, if this goes well he'll have to be the best man at our wedding for making our date go smoothly.

Hold up.Take it back there, Harry. There will be no wedding. One day at a time, don't think about tomorrow. It'll hurt less that way.

I open my front door and lock it behind me. I'm the only one on this floor, so I have a small lobby outside of my door with a couch and coffee table. The elevator is out here too, I liked the design of this rather than it being in my house. On the off chance anyone gets access to the elevator, they can't get into my house.

I tap the button and step in once the silver door opens. I move to the corner and pull out my phone as the door shuts, taking me down to the lobby. Maggie is probably working tonight and I just know she'll be asking a million questions about where I'm going.

I scroll through apps before clicking on Instagram and pulling up the search bar. I don't have to type in the full name, because I've been looking at this page all day already. Not in a creepy way, I just have a lot of time on my hands.

Brinna doesn't have an Instagram page, but Grace happens to have one that she updates every single day. A girl like her has an audience to maintain, and she does it well. Her whole feed is full of whatever meal she's eating, every faux workout session, random pictures of the city, and every party she attends.

It's perfectly crafted, every photo is made to look totally in the moment but her perfectly timed facial expressions tell me that not a single one is. She's good at making her followers see her authenticity. The type of authenticity that's entirely fabricated, that is. None of those pictures are anything more than who Grace wants others to believe she is.

Most importantly though, every so often you'll find a picture of the real Grace. They don't happen very often, but with the amount she documents, there are plenty of them scattered through her media page.

That happens to be every time she's with Brinna, which is also conveniently captured and turned into content. The only difference is that there are no filters on these pictures, no crazy strobe light backgrounds, and no aesthetics. Just them.

It's not like I'm doing anythingwrong.. the page is public and she likes the views. I'm just helping her engagement. I don'tsavepictures of Brinna, I just look at them until they're etched into my memory.

Listen, I never claimed to be a well-adjusted person. I hyperfixate. I study my new obsessions until they're mapped out in my brain like a Van Gogh painting.

Okay, maybe that's a bad example. That f*cker cut his ear off, and I'm not that crazy. It's totally normal to return a wallet by finding someone's address on their license. It's also very normal to show up to their work every day until they agree to go out with you.

I'm on a time crunch here, I can't wait for her to fall into my arms by chance. I have to be the one to trip her, and that's exactly what I'm doing. Just giving her a little bit of a shove in the right direction so I can sweep her off her feet.

It's me.I'm the right direction. Our date is the shove, and I'mveryexcited to give her a push.

The elevator door opens with a ding, breaking my entirely normal thoughts. I lock my phone screen and shove it into my pocket, pushing myself off of the wall and walking out toward the lobby. I keep my eyes on the glass doors, seeing that my car has already been pulled up by the valet.

"Harry!" Maggie jumps up from her seat behind the desk. "Harry?"

"Not tonight, Magnolia." I use her full government name like she hates. I like to get under her skin, but tonight I just really don't have the time for her.

"Excuseme?" She squawks.

I turn to her, ready to tell her to get bent but something on her desk catches my eyes. "What're those?" I point to the vase of flowers with a card hanging from them.

She furrows her brows. "They're flowers for some resident in the building. They got delivered a few minutes ago. Why, are you jealous thinking someone sent them for me?" She perks up.

"God, no." I nearly laugh at her assumption, walking toward the vase. "Tell whoever these are for that mydateis going to love them." I pluck the card off of them, flinging it in her direction. I pick up the flowers by the stems, making the water splash out all over her desk and leave a trail behind me.

She gasps and pulls out a roll of paper towels as I stroll toward the front door with a beautiful arrangement of white and pink roses. I push open the doors and let the hot air hit my face. Even at night here it's blazing balls. Maybe I should have kept them in water, I hope they don't wilt before I can give them to her.

I nod at the valet and take my keys from him, hopping into the front seat and putting the flowers down delicately on the passenger seat. Maybe I should buckle them in so they don't fly all over the place..

It's a ten-minute drive, what am I doing?

I roll my eyes with a sigh, buckling my own seatbelt and turning on the vehicle. It's now 7:19 p.m. and for a Saturday night, the streets are awfully quiet. It's nice that she lives in the outer part of the city where the attractions stop.

I like getting to the normal part of my hometown. I always forget that normal people casually live here, why would anyone choose this place to settle down?

My nerves start to rise as I pull up to the familiar apartment building, making my palms lightly sweat on the steering wheel. My eyes dart to the mirror to make sure I don't look crazy or have a booger or something. That would be my luck, get the girl to come out with me and embarrass myself before we even leave.

I puff out a breath, grab the flowers, and open the car door. My feet hit the pavement and my heart drops to my ass.

This is going to go great, Harry. You have flowers, a fun night planned that she won't regret, and she'll want to see you again. You won't be rejected.She agreed to come out for a reason, she wants to be here, so stop being a nervous prick and just knock on her door.

My hand raises to the wood, flowers trembling slightly behind my back.

I can't, this was stupid. I don't do dates. This was a bad idea..

No, knock you idiot. You're fine. Don't think about tomorrow.

I knock three times and wait for her to answer. I don't hear any movement behind her door, and I'm kind of worried she's standing me up. I look around, checking to ensure I'm in the right place.

I raise my hand to knock again, not ready to give up on what I had planned for us.

Right as my knuckles tap the wood, she opens the door wide-eyed with a toothbrush in her mouth. She's wearing jean shorts and a white corset-type shirt tucked into her bottoms. The top is outlining her boobs and pushing them out.

She looks like an angel standing in front of me, somehow not a single hair is out of place and the lamp behind her makes her look like she has a golden aura. I wouldn't be surprised if wings grew out of her back and took her to heaven right now, that's where she belongs after all.

"What are you staring at?" She grumbles at me, her voice muffled by her foaming toothpaste and brush.

I close my mouth and clear my throat before smiling at her already pissed-off attitude. "You look nice."

She rolls her eyes and turns around, leaving the door open for me to step in. She walks to her bathroom and I hear her spit out the toothpaste before rinsing it down the sink. "You're early." She calls out.

My eyes wander around her apartment, taking in all of the things covering it. I looked for only a minute the first time I was here, but it seems like a completely new room now that I have the chance to really take it in.

Nothing in here seems to match but it all flows together, if that makes sense. I can't find a single inch of her walls that isn't covered by something, whether that be vinyl records, posters, shelves with knickknacks or plants. She even has framed bugs and old-timey pictures with tattered edges.

Her furniture is a mixture of deep greens and woods, with some cream pillows and blankets strewn across the couch.

"What's behind your back?" She startles me, now standing in the short hallway in front of me.

"Oh, uh.." I look around, suddenly embarrassed. I pull the bouquet of flowers out from behind my back, gesturing them toward her. "I stole these for you."

Dammit. Why did I tell her that? I meant to tell her that I hand-picked them fresh from the farmer's market especially for our date. That's believable, right? I think they have those here, f*ck if I know, I've been high or drunk pretty much the entire time I've lived here.

She bites her lip to hide her grin and takes them from my hand, inspecting the delicate little white flowers. "Youstolethese?" She laughs through her nose and starts walking toward the kitchen. I follow her like the lost puppy I am and watch as she bends down to the cabinet below the sink and retrieves a vase.

She starts filling it up with water, glancing over at the flowers while it fills. I try to look at more of her kitchen but one space in particular keeps my attention. The same wall as last time, covered ceiling to floor in menus from different restaurants.

Some of them are fancy and covered with thin plastic casings, while others are laminated paper from burger joints. None of them are from the same place as far as I can tell.

"What is all of this?" I ask with my back to her, reading some names that I recognize on her wall.

"Istolethem."

"You steal menus?" I look over my shoulder amused. "Why would you steal those?"

"It started a conversation, didn't it?" She shrugs and arranges the bouquet. "They're fun to look at. Sometimes when I can't think of what to make for dinner I look at the menus until I get hungry for something."

"It's really fun to look at, I haven't been able to keep my eyes off of it both times I've seen it." I agree with her. "But whymenus?"

She ponders my question for a minute like she's debating on telling me the real answer.

"It started as a joke. One time Grace walked out of a bar with their drink menu and we were drunk so it was the funniest thing ever. And then the next time we went out for dinner, it made me think about the most difficult thing to take from a restaurant."

I turn fully around to face her, suddenly intrigued by her story. "Like okay, say I drop a fork, they're just going to bring me another one. But when they clear the dishes away at the end of the meal, they won't be counting the forks. And when they seat you, they ask you how many menus you need and then they take back that exact number. So we started seeing how many ways we could distract them to steal a menu." Her cheeks are tinted pink now.

"Weren't youjustscolding me for stealing something out of your wallet?"

"That's different! You stalked me after stealing something from my wallet, I just get a little adrenaline rush after getting a new menu." She shrugs.

"So miss good girl Brinna is an adrenaline junkie?" I wiggle my eyebrows at her.

"If you call asking for a dessert menu and then leaving before we order being an adrenaline junkie, then yes." She laughs at the reality of it.

So shedoeshave fun. She likes the rush she gets when she does something she isn't supposed to, even if it is something as small as taking a menu. I would have expected as much, seeing as how she ate up the attention she got on my dance floor. But that type of fun makes her feel bad, this seems to be a way she can get her fix without feeling guilty.

I check the time again, the clock reading 8:23 p.m. She sets her new decoration on the kitchen counter and picks up a small white purse next to it. She digs around in it for a minute before pulling out a pair of sunglasses and putting them on her face. "Ready to go?" She grins at me.

"You know it's dark outside, right?" I follow her out of the small apartment. "You look like a raccoon."

She chuckles and locks the door. "Adds to the mystery. You can't let anyone know your next move."

I hum out a breath, walking side by side with her. "Sunglasses at night and stealing things for fun. You're like a little raccoon bandit."

Bandit.

__

The drive was quiet, I didn't know what type of music she listened to so I just played my usual playlist that consisted of Gym Class Heros, Arctic Monkeys, Hozier, and other songs of that nature. She didn't seem to mind it, she even tapped along to some of the music.

I pulled the car into a parking garage just a few minutes from where we were going. I really hope she doesn't mind walking to get there, I want to be able to show her some of the pretty lights on the way. And if she hates me afterward, she'll have to cool down during the walk back to the car so she doesn't kill me.

My stomach is swirling with nerves thinking about this. I don't know a lot of things, but I'm banking on my limited knowledge of her to make sure she wants to see me again. Maybe that sounds delusional, she very clearly didn't want to go out, and maybe I did practically beg her until she told me yes, but if she really didn't want to be here, she could have just told me to f*ck off. Right?

She debated it, and even that split moment of apprehension let me know that she was probably telling me no initially because of how she thought she was going to feel after our date. But this is the whole reason I chose this place, we don't have to get intoxicated to enjoy this experience and I'll make sure we don't use anything that would make her upset.

I just hope I didn't do too much for this being the first time she's gone out with me, or on the strip at all. Maybe it was abitmuch, but when I tell you that I couldn't think of a single other thing that checked the boxes it needed to, I really couldn't.

Not based on the few days I had seen her, anyway. Maybe if she wants to do more things like this together, I can learn more about her and really be a good tour guide.

I put the car in park and sit still for a moment, debating if I should even take her to the place or if I should just walk until I find something more tame. I blow out a deep breath and tap the steering wheel, glancing around at the sea of cars parked around us.

"This is a wild first date." Brinna jokes, face glowing from the orange lights illuminating the concrete building. "Are we gonna..?"

"Right, yeah. We can go now, we probably should before it starts." I avoid eye contact with her. "You don't mind walking a few minutes, right?"

"I wore my comfy shoes for a reason, curly." She taps the toes of her beat-up vans together and opens the car door. I follow her lead, getting out and walking around the SUV to catch up. "I'm excited," She admits.

"Well, if you don't hate me after this is over, I have a lot of exciting things I can show you." I nudge her arm, "but save your excitement for after the show, I'm practically sweating bullets over here. You might strangle me."

We walk out of the garage and onto the busy street of the Las Vegas strip. Cars are honking, inching down the street as people run across crosswalks and stumble into the road on drunken adventures. Hotels are lit up in all different colors, making it seem like we're standing here at noon instead of nearly nine at night.

"sh*t," I mumble, looking at one of the huge lit-up screens displaying the time. "We've got five minutes before the door closes. We've gotta hurry this up, you up for that?" I give her a smile and hold out my hand.

"That's fine but why are you-?" She gestures to my hand, slightly confused.

"No time!" I shout, grabbing her hand and pulling her behind me as I start jogging through crowds of people along the sidewalk. My grip on her hand is tight as I keep her close to me, knocking into shoulders and backs to make sure we get to the hotel on time.

"Harry! Oh god, I'm sorry! He's an asshole!" Brinna apologizes over and over to people we pass which makes me laugh and give her hand a squeeze. There's a breeze flowing through my loose hair and a thin coat of sweat on my forehead.

When I turn back to look at her, her beautiful brown hair is flying behind her and even though her eyes are trained on the ground, I can see the huge smile across her face.

She likes this too, this rush. This urgency is giving her a little taste of the high she wants. She doesn't even know what we're doing and she's already enjoying it.

I pull her up a set of stairs and across a bridge that overlooks the busy street below, waving at a few flapper girls as we pass. "I love your feathers!" Brinna belts out between her giggle fit, trying to catch her breath whilst being polite to the annoyed people around us.

I let go of her hand so we can run down the staircase on the opposite side, turning back slightly so I know she's still behind me. I jump down the last stair and drop my hands to my knees, smiling and trying to catch my breath. I glance up at the clock again.8:58 p.m.

This was probably a horrible idea, Peter told me to keep it calm, and running like that knocked the wind straight out of me. I used to be so good at running, I used to love it. I stand back up, turning to see Brinna adjusting her top. I didn't even think about that, she might have given more of a show than we're about to see.Oops.

"Look at me, Brinna." I pant, not wanting her to read any advertisem*nts around us.

"Where are we going?"

"We're here, but you can't look at what's around us until we get inside, okay? I don't want you trying to guess before we get there."

"You made us run like madmen across one street?" She laughs, trying to focus on me but the lights around us blink and twinkle like stars. Her eyes are glistening with them, whispering to me like subtle waves crashing to the shore.

When I was a kid, my parents took me to the beach, I wasn't excited about it, because they wouldn't let me play in the water. They made me wear jeans instead of swimming trunks and we only went at night. We sat in silence on the sand, and I didn't understand their fascination with it until I finally stopped pouting about not getting the sunshine and sandcastles I wanted.

The air was sharp and it smelled like salt and sea life. My toes were buried in the earth, wiggling in the coolness below. The waves fizzled out before us and when they settled, the water glowed with blue algae. The tide pulled it back into the ocean, scattering the organisms around on the sand.

Her eyes remind me of the hypnotic way the water crashed and waved. The fierce glow they have is captivating me. Sometimes in life, the experiences we want aren't what we get, but we do end up with something better. The calmness of the beach is behind me and her eyes are in front of me, dragging me into her nature like water returning to the sea.

"It's more exciting that way, pretty girl." My voice is hushed like I'm talking more to myself than to her. "Let's go inside." My gaze drops back to her hand, lacing her fingers with mine to feel close to her again. I don't know if she held my hand because she didn't know where to go, or if it was because in that moment, she needed the feeling too.

She stayed slightly behind me the entire walk through the hotel until we wound up in the casino. I guided her through it, the scent of coconut and cigarettes burning into my nose. These places always smell weird, but they pump sh*t through the vents to make customers come back. Isn't that strange? Blame your gambling addiction on the oxygen next time.

We went up a small three-step staircase that led into a curtained theatre. The man at the door nodded us through, not even bothering to check any list. The owner probably told him about us and was expecting us tonight.

I tug her hand so she stands next to me instead of behind me, letting her take in the room before us. The entire room is a deep oak, the floor patterned into V shapes with different shades of wood. There's a raised stage in the middle of the room with a metal light box pouring down blue lights. A red couch sits on each side of the square stage, metal chairs lining behind the couches for a few rows.

The whole room is full of seating, some at small tables, and some stools at bars along the walls. There's even a second story with theatre chairs in different colors of reds and greens. Stage lights are set up all over the ceiling, pointing at different props like the pipes hanging along the railing and metal fireman ladders.

The show hasn't started yet luckily, but the lights are off and the stage is lit up, so I know it will soon. I usher her down the staircase and toward the stage. I glance around until I find the open spot the owner was telling me about, seeing the empty leather couch on the opposite side of the stage. He was not kidding when he said he got us good seats, I could literally touch the edge of the railing if I wanted to. I sit down on the cushion and pat the seat next to mine.

Brinna sits down a little ways away from me, looking around at the room full of women buzzing with excited chatter. Some of them are dressed head to toe in "Bride-To-Be" gear, while others look like they just got done working with Lola.

She looks increasingly confused the longer we sit here and I can't help but pick at my nails watching her try to figure it out. I was hoping she wouldn't see the giant "magic" sign where we walked in from now that we were facing it.

"What is this-?" All of the lights in the room shut off, making the crowd of women cheer and holler at what they know is coming. Brinna reaches out for my arm in the dark, squeezing it and whispering things I can't understand through all of the shouting.

Sirens start, red lights glowing with them in sync. Smoke machines fill the top of the room with clouds, and the red lights turn to flashing rays of white. I see her confused face each time the room is lit up momentarily.Ponystarts playing through the speakers, vibrating through the floor boards and up through the cushions we're sitting on.

(!)

I smile at the chaos and lean back on the couch, crossing my arms over my chest as I observe Brinna's face. She turns to me once she realizes what the song is and her eyes nearly pop out of her head when huge, muscular, body-glittered men start climbing down the ladders and make their way through the crowd and up onto the stage.

"You f*cking did not," she looks at me as it suddenly clicks: I've taken her to watchMagic Mike Liveon our first date. I can't contain my smile at her horrified expression.

"You love dancing!" I shout, blowing a whistle out for the men unbuttoning their shirts on stage. "Watch the dancers, Brin!" The nickname seemed to just flow out of my mouth, but she didn't notice.

If you're horny, let's do it, ride it, my pony

The man in front of us throws his white shirt directly at Brinna's face, making her shriek and whip it off to the floor. I throw my head back with a loud laugh, clapping at the man humping the floor. He's got some f*cking skill, I'll give him that.

He's on his hands and knees, humping and grinding into the stage. He jumps onto his back, holding on to the edge of the stage and bucking his hips up into the air. Every side of the stage has a man doing the same moves, like an erotic synchronized swim routine.

The four of them stand up and rip their pants off, throwing them to the side and grabbing their crotches through their tight black underwear. The one in front of us jumps off the stage in front of us, eyes locked on Brinna practically shaking on the couch. She's so tense she might actually explode from the nerves.

He jumps up, feet landing on either side of her thighs as he swivels his hips around in her face. "Oh my god! Oh god, oh my god,oh my god-" She covers her eyes, but he grabs her wrists and puts her hands on his thighs as he humps to the beat of the music.

She falls back onto the couch, jaw practically on the floor. Her legs are clenched together so hard that her ankles are wrapped around each other. My arms are relaxed on the back of the couch now, head bopping to the music as she freaks out.

The stripper jumps back off the couch, sliding onto the stage with a seductive smirk on his face. "HOO, HOO, HOO!" I practically bark at the man, Brinna snapping her head to me. Her perplexed face looks like she has about a million things to say, but she can't get a single thing out.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a very special woman in the house tonight!"An announcer speaks somewhere in the club, lights start circling the room. Her eyes widen on mine as she starts shaking her head, to which I can only start nodding mine with a huge smile on my face.

"Harry you didn't-" She grips onto the edge of the couch.

"Please give it up for the lady of the night, Briiiiiinnaaaaaaa!"A large circular white light stops directly on her, the audience cheering a string of woos and get-it-girl-s! I cheer along with them, completely infatuated by her nervousness. I have no doubt by the time this is over, she'll be on the high she craves.

A large man with a few tattoos on his chest stands in front of her in his briefs, crotch level with her head. His hair is to his shoulders, dark and curly.

"I requested you the most handsome one! Take her away, baby!" I clap and watch her eyes dart between the two of us.

He kneels down in front of her, gripping her thighs and prying them apart. She unwraps her ankles, allowing him to move his hands up her thighs. In the blink of an eye, he scoops her up with his hands under her legs and stands, hoisting her up to sit around his hips.

"AHH! Oh f*ck!" She grips onto his shoulders and tightens her legs so she doesn't fall off this f*ckin' tree of a man. I wave my fingers at her as he walks her up the stage steps.

"Ride that pony, Brinna!" I shout over the crowd, feeling like one of the horny girls cheering on their best friend behind me. My head bops to the song and I genuinely don't remember the last time I felt this happy, I haven't been this way without some type of drug for as long as I can remember.

He takes her to a single metal chair in the center of the stage and sets her in it gently. He walks behind the chair, his hand ghosting over her shoulder and around to her opposite arm. He takes her wrist and places it on his bare abs, her fingers gliding through each curve and dip.

He stands in front of her, gripping onto the sides of her chair as he grinds his body into her. He lowers himself to his knees, spreading her legs and kissing up her bare thighs. He grinds his hips seductively and touches his own abs. She watches him intently, her cheeks on fire and her eyes scanning over his body.

He loops his arms around her legs behind her back, lifting her up and spinning them in a half circle. His face is right in her crotch and her hands are in his hair while her thighs are over his shoulders. When she spins in my direction, I see her head is fallen back and she has a smile on her lips.

He lowers them to the floor, laying her out straight before grabbing her ankles and sliding her toward him until their centers meet. Her hands are on her chest, making sure her boobs don't spill out of her top at the angle. I can hear her laughter faintly over the thumping music and screams from the crowd.

I raise my hands in the air, cheering the two of them on. He starts humping into her with the music before crawling over the length of her body until he's right in the crook of her ear. Her hands find his sides as he keeps his dancing above her.

He leaps up to his feet, pulling her up with him to press into his chest. He drops her hands and grabs her hips, spinning her around fast and bending her slightly to pretend to spank her. The crowd goes wild at this, which makes Brinna lean over all the way and throw it back on him even more. The two of them dance against each other until the music starts to fade, making them both stand up straighter.

He turns her back around, taking her hand to kiss the back of it and thanking her for coming up on stage. He turns to the crowd and raises her arm, gesturing at her for the crowd to applaud. He bows and leads her off the stage and back to the couch next to me.

"It's getting hot in here, baby! Give it up one more time for our lady of the night!"The dancers and crowd go wild again as she's a giggling mess beside me, fixing her hair and fanning off her face. I notice she decided to sit slightly closer to me than she was before, seeming far more relaxed now.

I knew she would get a kick out of this.

Okay, I didn't know. I was actually sh*tting my pants hoping I didn't majorly f*ck up by doing this.

The dancers wrap up their show, exiting through the crowd to wherever it is they came out from. The lights slowly turn on as the final applause fades, and I keep my eyes on hers to see if she's going to crash soon. I really f*cking hope I didn't do too much.

I stand up, wanting to get out of this hot room and maybe go find something to eat. She jumps up with me, eyes focused on the exit and doesn't say a single thing as we walk out of the building and onto the street. She's making me kind of nervous with her fast pace and lack of emotion.

"You set all of that up?" She whips around to face me, no readable expression on her face.

I gulp and nod slightly. "I- If that was too much, I'm so -"

"Harry shut up, you did that?" She asks again, eyes flicking between mine.

"I thought you would like the experience of dancing for a crowd without all the other..stuff."

She looks at me for a minute, examining the worried look on my face, before she topples over and lets out a loud laugh, one that comes from deep in your belly and makes your muscles hurt from how hard they're straining. Her laughter echoes through my ears and leaves me with a confused grin.

She grabs onto my arm as she keeps cackling so she doesn't fall over. I hold her arm back, trying to figure out if this is a good thing or a bad thing. She finally slows down her laughing and stands up straight to look at me with watery eyes. "That was- that was so good!" She gets out between the last straying giggles.

"Youlikedit?"

I thought for sure she was about to kick my ass in front of this hotel for everyone on the strip to see. I thought I was going to have to explain to my associates why a five-foot woman beat me up after I took her to a male stripper show and asked them to practically f*ck her with an audience watching.

But shelikedit.

Maybe I do know everything.

"Harry that was the most fun I've ever had and I didn't have a drop of alcohol." She says seriously. She leans up on her tippy toes and moves her hands up my arms until they reach my shoulders. "But I think you should take me home." She whispers, looking at my lips.

Before I can even process what she's saying, she's grabbing my hand and pulling me across the street toward my parked car, not even caring about the traffic currently driving down the busy road. Horns honk at us, and this time I'm the one apologizing while theBanditin front of me takes us back to my car.

Chapter 10: Leave a Mark

Summary:

SEGGS!!!1!1!1!1!1!!!

Smut warning (:

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

I don't know what's gotten into me, but this feeling isgood.This isn't like the other times that I've gotten too drunk, or too high, and then woken up the next morning to regret every single second of it. Our night hasn't even ended, but I already know this is different.

I didn't have to abuse a substance to have fun.I had fun with Harry.I didn't hate it, and I didn't break my rules to do it.

How could he have possibly known that I didn't want to drink? He never even once asked if I wanted one, not out of rudeness, but because he had a goal in mind for tonight and that didn't include us being wasted again.

I'm on an adrenaline high, like the ones I get from my petty theft crimes but this time it's.. bigger. This isn't a small jolt of electricity, this is a whole electrical fire.Thisis the feeling people chase. This is what I've been both searching for andrunning from.

I didn't hurt anyone doing this. I didn't ruin a family, or a marriage. I didn't get addicted to something, and I didn't have to use something to feel this good. I'm not likethem.

...you can't get addicted to this, right?

That's a bridge I'll have to cross later, because after a 20-minute car ride through sh*t traffic, with Harry's hand grazing up my thigh the entire time, I'm going to go feral if I don't rip his clothes off and bone him right the f*ck now.

He slams the car into park, practically crashing it into the curb and ripping the seatbelt off of my body to get me out of his car faster. He jogs around the car to catch up with me speed walking through the grass to the hallway where my front door is. We probably look like we're trying to murder someone being so frantic.

I open my stupid tiny purse, scrambling through it to try and find my keys. I don't know why I put so much sh*t in this bag, I never use any of it and its becoming a major f*cking co*ckblock.

We're both stopped in front of my door, me digging through the bag and Harry holding my hips and pressing sloppy kisses into my neck making it even harder to focus on these goddamn keys. I think his lips have poison in them, I can hardly focus every time I feel the warmth of him back on my skin. He's probably one of those frogs people lick to get high.

"Finally!" I rip the key ring out of my purse, trying to shove the silver piece into it's slot and failing miserably. The ordeal is making me laugh out of frustration, but also because the entire thing is so horny-teenager of us. Harry leans in closer to me, putting one of his hands on the door above my head while his lips suck a sweet spot behind my ear.

"If you don't hurry up I'm going to end up f*cking you right here for all of your neighbors to see." He rasps into my ear, cold air blowing onto the wet spot making me shiver. I use the last remaining ounce of will power I have left and focus on the task in front of me.

I let out a frustrated groan and finally shove the key in, twisting it and bursting through the door like cops raiding a drug den. The two of us are kicking off shoes and popping buttons, shirts being ripped away like we're on a schedule with our clothes leaving a trail to my bedroom.

I walk backwards, bumping into the wall from his eagerness and knocking pictures off of it while his hands cup my face to pull me closer to him. Our eyes are closed while our tongues dance around each other's, sloppily smacking and fighting for dominance.

We reach the foot of my bed, both of us in just our underwear. His hands grab the bottoms of my thighs, lifting me up to sit on the edge. He makes an effort to not break our kiss, ushering me back toward the pillows while he crawls over me like a cougar stalking its prey.

He moves away from my mouth to trail kisses down my neck, biting and lapping up the sting he leaves behind. His teeth graze over my collar bone while my hands have a mind of their own, roaming anywhere I can over his muscular arms and shoulders.

My head rolls to the side to give him more access and my mouth falls open with a needy pant. His lips are so skilled on my skin that I can feel the pressure growing between my hips already, making me writhe underneath him the best I can.

My legs are trapped beneath his and his prominent buldge is pressed against my lower stomach, only tightening the coil beneath my belly button. He groans next to my ear and the sound purrs through me, rippling through every bone straight to my fingertips. I smile and bite my lip, eyes closed in pure ecstasy just by listening to him.

He pulls his lips away from their attack on my neck and presses his forehead to mine, panting at the lack of oxygen we had from the trip into bed. "Are you sure you want this?" He whispers into the dark, sounding like his thoughts got the better of him.

I open my eyes all the way to look at him and sigh quietly, trying to ease his nerves before mine start. My tongue wets my lips as I brush the stray curls out of his face. "I'm sure." I nod at him, hoping he'll continue before I let my own thoughts get too loud.

"I just don't want to be something you regret, Brinna. I can wait, I'd wait for you forever if I had to I just don't want to-"

I cut him off with another kiss before he could continue his ramble. "I won't regret it," I promise, pecking his lips again. "You did good tonight, Harry." I run my hands through his long hair, twirling a curl around my finger.

Maybe it was the adrenaline speaking, or maybe his siren song finally got me where he wanted me all along, but right now in this moment I don't care if he's being genuine or not, I just want him.

He nods and nuzzles into the crook of my neck, panting hot breaths in my ear that makes a shiver run up my spine and electrify every vein running through my body. "So good that you need me now, yeah? You looked good on that stage, wanted to take his place up there."

He sucks harshly on my skin when I open my lips to answer, words being replaced with a moan. "You picked me the best one, but I couldn't have him." I giggle and squirm my legs, wanting him to be between them so I can get any bit of friction in any way possible.

"I'll have to f*ck him out of your memory then, won't I?" He trails wet open mouthed kisses down my collarbones and between the valley of my breasts, nipping at the skin as he goes. His hands move to my back and I angle myself slightly so he can unclasp the bra.

He gets it undone in one go, whipping it off and throwing it to the side before greedily grabbing handfuls of my boobs. He massages them, a growl-like noise coming from the back of his throat as he watches my nipples form into peaks under his touch.

His mouth sucks on to my nipple, tugging and lapping around the nub. He pinches the other between his thumb and pointer finger, rolling and pulling it until my back is arching off the mattress to be as close to him as I can.

His lips continue down my abdomen, brushing kisses all the way down to the band of my underwear. My hips shift when he bites the dainty fabric, making him chuckle and look up at me from his position below.

His eyes are dark and full of crazed lust, I would think I was in danger if it wasn't soapparenthow turned on he was right now too. A needy whine falls from my lips when he shifts back, sitting on his ankles.

He chuckles, shaking his head and looking at me through hooded eyes. "I don't think you're as nice as you look, Brinna." He starts, taking the elastic off his wrist and gathering his hair on the top of his head. I sit up a little on my elbows and raise my brow at his statement.

He finishes off his bun and glances at me again. "But I bet you do taste as sweet." His large hands push open my legs so he's in between them instead of over them, gliding them all the way up my thighs until he meets the last piece of clothing on my body. With no hesitation, he rips them off of my body and down my legs, discarding them with my bra.

My mouth drops open with a gasp, my chin hitting my chest when he dips his head down and flattens his tongue against me, flicking it when he meets my cl*t. He groans against me, making my head fall back with a moan at the vibrations.

His fingers grip the back of my thighs as he pushes them open farther, burying his head between my legs. I try to shut them, the intensity of his tongue flicking skillful patterns almost being too much already. The sparks coursing through my nerves are only heightened by my earlier thrill, I feel like I've been teased all night but the attention is really what got me so worked up.

His tongue is circling and flicking my cl*t like he's trying to figure out an equation, teasing the bundle of nerves with every twitch of his muscle. He flattens it back out, gliding it down to my entrance before dipping it all the way in. I pant out into the air, gripping the sheets so hard under my hands they might rip.

He grunts and sucks on my cl*t, making me fall all the way back into my pillows with a loud moan. I can't stop my hips from writhing, my stomach muscles not being able to relax under his touch. One of his hands moves off of my thigh and smacks into the side of my ass before he smoothes his palm over the reddened area.

"Be good, Brinna. Stop moving." His voice rasps just above my skin. My eyes move to his and I bite my lip, trying to stifle the moan threatening to spill out from my lips at the intensity of his tone. My chest is heaving when he places a delicate kiss to my slit. His lips suck my cl*t back into his mouth which makes my stomach muscles quiver and a moan leave my lips.

He sits up slightly, hands moving back to the tops of my thighs. I can see his painfully hard erection resting in the leg of his underwear.

f*ck, he's big. I've been with plenty of well-endowed men but he's almost intimidating. He smirks at me, chin glistening with my arousal. His tongue licks the rest of my wetness off of his lips, the back of his hand wiping away his face.

I breathe out deeply, feeling like I need to crawl back into the pillows and hide the longer he keeps his eyes trained on mine. He smiles deviously and looks back down between my legs like there's a five-course meal waiting for him. All he needs is a napkin tucked into his shirt now.

He spits a string of saliva between my legs, watching as it rolls down my naked heat. His lips are parted and plump, eyes unmoving from the mess he's currently making on me. I feel his spit rolling all the way down to my entrance.

I gasp quietly at the contact, knowing that if anyone else had done that it wouldn't be such a turn-on, but I think at this point he could hit me with a bus and I'd cum. His fingers ghost between my folds, spreading around the mixture of his spit and my arousal. My hips shift, making him stop his movement but keep his fingers right over my entrance.

He leans over my body until he's above my face, brows furrowed while I'm sure I look like a deer in the headlights. His other hand shoots up and grabs my throat, squeezing the sides and filling my head with a rush of euphoria and thrill. I can't help the smile that laces across my face, his eyes widening in shock and then attraction.

"Are you going to be good for me, baby?" He whispers and kisses next to my ear. He pushes two of his fingers all the way into me with no warning, my hands shooting up to his shoulders to steady myself despite lying down.

His fingers thrust into me, curling and rubbing spots that make me see stars. I try to shut my legs but his hand on my throat tightens as he presses his forehead into mine. "God, Harry.." I pant out, my eyes pinched shut while his own roam over my face. The wet sounds of his fingers f*cking me fill the air around us like a symphony of lust and chaos.

I clench around his fingers and whine but his lips attach to mine and catch every sound slipping out. I can't even focus on his lips with the feeling between my legs growing like fire but he doesn't seem to mind, grunting back into my mouth at the sight of my own pleasure.

"Please-ah- please f*ck me.." I can feel myself getting close but I don't want to finish on his fingers. My hand trails down his toned abdomen until I reach his boxers, toying with the hem of them. His fingers slow inside of me and he takes his hand off my throat.

"Begging for me now?" He coos, kissing the crook of my neck again. "I'll give you everything you want, pretty girl." His breath fans out over my skin and I could almost cry from how badly I want to feel him between my legs,fullyfeel him.

He pulls his fingers from between my legs and brings them to his lips, sucking off my wetness while he keeps his eyes on mine. He shifts further back, scooting off the bed toward my bedroom door. I sit up to look at him and he turns back around from his pants on my floor, holding a foil packet between two fingers and smiling at me.

He puts the packet between his teeth and walks back to the bed, standing to the side of it instead of the end. His hands move to the hem of the last piece of clothing between us, snaking his thumbs into them before pulling them down to his ankles and kicking them off to the side.

My eyes shamelessly trace down his body, landing on his erection pressed up against his stomach. I bite my lip and squirm in my spot, my hands resting up by my chest. He smirks at me and strokes his co*ck in his fist, ripping the foil packet between his teeth with the other hand.

He walks toward me, knees dipping into the mattress as he climbs back over my leg to position himself between them. His fist is resting on the bed beside my hip while the other takes the rubber out of the packet, sliding it down his length.

He crawls up my body, the tip of his length pressing between my legs, teasing me as I grind my hips. "So needy," He rubs my ribcage with his large palm. "Tell me you want me, Brin." His lips dip to my jaw, planting sloppy kisses along the soft skin.

"I want you, Harry. Please." I pant out.

He moans softly at my words and pulls back from me, making me whimper at the loss of his body heat over me. "You can have all of me," He whispers, barely audible. He grabs my hips and swiftly flips me over, my body bouncing lightly. His fingers are burning into my flesh as he pulls my hips back toward him so I'm on my knees with my cheek on the comforter.

He thrusts his entire length into me, making me moan out and grab any extra material around me. It's tight and aching but in a pleasurable way instead of being painful. "God, Brinna. You're going to be the death of me." He groans and stills his movement pressed all the way into me.

"Please keep going," I pant out, trying to grind my ass on him but his grip keeps me still.

He pulls all the way back out and slams his hips forward, making me gasp."Greedy girl,"He groans, keeping a steady pace rocking into me. His fingers dig into my bones like he's afraid I'm going to disappear from under him as he pulls me back into him, my ass clapping against his hips.

His feral grunts fill my ears and make my legs weak, there's no way I'm going to last long listening to his moaning. I haven't been with many men that moan but that throaty rasp he keeps stringing out is going to have me unraveling before I can even blink.

His hand raises up and smacks my ass again but he soothes away the sting with the cold of his rings.f*ck I hope those leave a mark.His body leans over mine, pressing the back of my neck to push me farther into the mattress. The bed creaks and groans underneath us with every hard thrust.

He drives into me faster, the new angle making the coil in my stomach tighten so much it almost hurts. I can't control the moans coming out of me as my eyes start to tear up from the pressure. He's hitting every right spot over and over again, like his dick is a f*cking hound dog searching for my prize.

"f*ck Harry!"I whine, burying my face in the bedding so my neighbors don't think an exorcism is happening in here. "Please don't stop.." I moan out between pants, my legs starting to shake as we smack into each other relentlessly.

"GodI need to see you, need to see you cum all over me Brinna." He growls next to my ear, pulling out of me so abruptly that I cry out at the loss of contact. My stomach is burning with lust from my impending org*sm being stopped until he flips me back around and drives into me, pace slowing slightly.

His arms are above my head, holding him up above me while his eyes move between our connecting cores and my pinched-up face. I feel like I'm about to go mad, between being able to see him thrusting into me, hearing how wet I am, and feeling the way he's practically in my throat.

My hands find the back of his sweaty neck, moving up until I feel the hair tie currently trapping his hair. My fingers tug on it gently, trying to remove it so I can see his curls. "You wanna pull my hair, baby?" I nod as he puts his hand over mine and pulls the band the rest of the way out, shaking his head to fluff out his hair.

My fingers loop into his hair and tug at the roots, pulling him down toward me for a sloppy kiss. It's mostly just open-mouthed panting and tongues swirling, but neither one of us wants to pull away for air. His hair is down around my head, shielding both of us into our own little bubble. It smells like expensive creams and sweat, the perfect mixture of pheromones to drive us both wild.

"Don't be gentle." He grunts into my ear, to which I give him a particularly hard pull that makes him whine and thrust into me sharply. "Gonna make me cum doin' that." he pants, pulling away from my face to sit back on his knees. He pulls my hips closer to him so they're slightly angled up.

He licks the pad of his thumb and presses it to my cl*t, rubbing slow circles over the swollen nub. I cry out a strangled moan and arch my back more as he pounds me into the mattress. His other hand slides up my inner thigh until he presses it down below my belly button.

I take it back, he's not a siren, he's the devil. An evil man with unholy sex powers.

He keeps f*cking into me relentlessly, pressing harder into my abdomen to hit every right spot while his thumb rubs me faster. I'm restless beneath him, writhing and shaking like all of the energy in the world is building up in my core.

A loud moan escapes my mouth as I feel myself tighten around him. My entire body tenses up with a sharp inhale as my eyes roll back into my head. My legs are wrapped so tightly around his hips that they almost hurt. My hands reach to grab anything I can as every single muscle in my body seizes until I almost can't take it anymore.

Harry's name followed by strings of profanities dance off my tongue as I reach the peak of my org*sm, writhing and clenching around him while he keeps f*cking into me at a fast pace to ride me through it. He takes his hands away from my core to rest his forearms by my head, nuzzling into my neck as his thrusts become sloppier.

"Christ, baby. So f*cking good, I can feel you wrapping around me." He mutters into my damp skin. He grabs my hip, still buried in my neck and gives me a few more quick thrusts before he's curling over, forehead resting on my shoulder, crying out as his org*sm ripples through him.

"f*ck."He mumbles, rubbing up and down my thighs as he catches his breath. He peels himself off of me, our bodies slightly sticky from the heat trapped between them. His body rolls next to me, the two of us still panting and completely worn out. We lay in silence for a few minutes before I decide I need to get up and pee so I don't fall asleep before I get the chance to.

I lift myself up, inching to the end of my bed to go to the bathroom. Harry is still lying on the bed, breathing heavily with his hand over his eyes. I step off the bed on wobbly legs and hear him shuffle behind me, getting up with me.

I turn to him in the doorway as he's pulling his underwear back on. "I just have to pee, you can make yourself comfortable.. or there's water in the fridge if you want, or whatever." I stumble over my words.

I'm usually at someone else's house when I do things like this, so I'm not really sure what happensafter.Do I give him a high five and send him on his way? Should I order him dinner? I just leave while the person uses the restroom but this doesn't feel like those other times.

He smiles at me and nods, sitting shirtless on my bed because the rest of our clothes are strewn across my living room. I turn and walk to the bathroom, shutting the door to do my business. I can already tell that I'm going to be sore tomorrow, but at least I'll sleep really well. I take a few minutes to properly clean myself before heading back to my bedroom.

Harry is under my covers, lying on his side with his head propped up in his hand. He smiles lazily at me, flashing a dimple, and opens up the blanket to pat the bed next to him. I grin back and walk to my dresser to put on a pair of underwear and a shirt. I can feel his eyes on me the entire time I dress, and when I turn around I prove myself right because his face has completely softened and he's looking over my entire being.

I tiptoe toward him in my bed, crawling under the covers with him but keeping my distance. The room is dark besides a small salt lamp plugged in across the room. We're facing each other, just staring as well as we can be in the dark.

"Hi." I squeak out.

A smile grows on his face and he snakes his hand toward me through the open gap on the bed. His warm palm wraps around the small of my back and he drags me closer to him until our chests are almost touching. "Hi, Bandit."

Bandit.

You're like a little raccoon bandit.

"Do you snuggle with every girl you shag?" I whisper with a chuckle.

His smile never falters as he lets my question soak in for a moment. I didn't mean it in a bad way and I think he knows that. I was honestly expecting him to be halfway home by now, but Ireally don't mind him being in my bed tonight.

"Never." He shakes his head. "You must be special."

Butterflies erupt in my belly at his words. His expression is so soft and full of adoration, he's looking at me like he's known me for his entire life. It almost felt that way, too. I can't explain it but at this moment, I feel a crazy yearning to be closer. Physically we're already as close as possible, but I feel like my soul needs to reach for his.

He hums out a contented sigh and leans forward to plant a soft kiss on my lips. "Pretty, pretty girl. Thank you for coming out with me. Do I get a second date?" He nuzzles our noses together.

I bite my lip and close my eyes, trying to absorb his touch like it's water and I haven't had a drink in months. The air around us is cold but he shares his body heat with me through tangled legs and soft touches. "Why are you being so nice?" I breathe out, letting my insecurities and doubts take over before my heart can.

"Why do you think you don't deserve my kindness?" He answers, almost like he could read my exact thoughts. His hand moves to my head, pushing hair behind my ear and scratching at my scalp with the pads of his fingers. He shut off all of my thoughts with a simple touch, drowning out every firing cannon screaming at me to stop this before I get hooked.

We stayed in that position until his hand stilled on my head, holding me there the entire night we slept. Our legs stayed entwined as he kept my body warm and my mind quiet. I slept better than I had in a long time, unsure if the sex wore me out or if I had been drunk on the type of physical contact my inner self had been craving all my life.

In the morning when I woke up, my bed was empty but my body was tucked in. The room was tranquil like my own set of stars had aligned under the ceiling of my apartment. I let myself soak up the remnants of him in my sheets until the heat of my blanket made me get up.

There was no trace of Harry in my apartment. My pictures that were once thrown to the floor in an act of lust were back on the wall, no clothes were scattered on the living room floor, and my purse was even hung up on the coat rack near the front door.

Nothing to tell me he was real except for the vase of flowers he brought me before our date and beside it,

a still hot sugar cookie latte.

Chapter 11: Common Denominator

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

I've always been a people pleaser.

Even as a young child, I made it my mission to ensure everyone else's happiness before my own. I always let my playmate pick a toy first, and take mine when they wanted it. I was never a line leader, because to be a leader means to be in control.

I never wanted to be in control of anyone, I was fine being an extra in everyone else's story. My block towers got knocked down and I thanked them because maybe I wanted to make a new one, anyway.

I wasn't taught to be like that, it's just in my nature. Adults look at children with those traits and praise the parents for having an empathetic, nurturing child. But as those kids grow up, they soak in the compliments and praise for being so kind, until they're dripping with the weight of letting others' emotions take first place to their own.

I was always picked first when other kids made groups for projects and the praise felt so good that I didn't mind doing all of the work so they didn't have to stress over it. I couldn't say no to lessening their burden, even if it made mine grow. They weren't interested in me, they just used me for my skill and even though I knew that, I let them.

Childhood people pleaser turned teenage pushover and I took care of my parents like they were my burden. I couldn't let them suffer without blaming myself for every single thing they were going through.

I spent many nights praying that God would take me and give them Dallie so their own pain could stop. I worked so hard just for them to take my earnings for drug money. And I just let them, because I couldn't handle the fighting.

I gave up my childhood for them because they were happier getting high than they were being with me. I forgave them a long time ago because even though they won't ever know it, I felt guilty that they might have felt bad for putting me through that. Something awful happened to them and I was just a reminder of it.

I found myself beingthankfulthat they had each other, even if I was alone and scared because that meant they wouldn't have to suffer in silence like I was. I never tried to stop the beatings, he just needed an outlet and I was happy it was me instead of mom again. At least I could be of some help.

Even into my adulthood, I let people order me around and I happily take it with a smile on my face. I'm a pawn, a mere toy dangling in front of power-hungry people who know an easy target when they see one. I let it show in my work when I celebrate completing a meaningless task, happy that I could be of assistance to anyone but myself.

My needs have been on the back burner for a long time. They simmer and bubble until I can physically feel them trying to boil over until I force myself to shove them all down, not for myself, but for the sake of society. They would be so disappointed to know the daughter of two drug addicts turned out the same way.

I've got a lot of people to impress, so once again, they come first. My feelings and breakdowns get hidden away so I don't make others uncomfortable.

It's not that I necessarilyliketo be walked all over, but it's easier to nod in conversations and give a pretty smile rather than having to argue with someone who isn't going to listen anyway.

It's easier to let everyone else go first so I don't have to deal with the fallout of someone else not getting what they want. It's rare that I put myself above others, the last time I did, I lost both of my parents, and that guilt has eaten me alive for years.

So instead, I'll be the doormat. I'll be the side character, the one that's used just a few times in someone else's story. I need people to like me, so I'll morph into whoever they need me to be. I keep it safe, and maybe that really means boring, but it's enough for me.

I guess that's why it was so easy for Harry to ghost me three weeks ago.

You can be anything you want in Vegas, and that night I was his lover. Nothing more than an act of sinful lust, followed by a 23-day delusional spree on my end that's only led to confused heartache. I've spent every day trying to figure out why. Why he was being nice, why he put in so much effort, why heleft. Why does everyone leave?

Gullible and people pleaser don't mix. A toxic concoction of misunderstanding waiting to bubble over the second any decent interaction comes my way. Am I bad at social cues or am I bad at realizing when they're not real? How do you tell the difference when someone seems so genuine on the outside?

My addictive personality got the better of me again. He told me sweet words and called me sweet names, and held me just the way I needed, and I thought it meant something. Itfeltlike it meant something.

But to him, I was just another one-night stand.

I thought his act of picking up our mess the morning after was him being kind, but it now seems like he was trying to erase himself from my home and mind. He wanted to be out of my life

What I don't understand is why he would go through so much trouble if he just wanted sex. He could have saved a lot of hurt if he was honest. He didn't have to show up to my house and work until I went out with him. He didn't have to fill me with his forged infatuation to leave me starving after he left.

I don't understand how some people can be so good at acting like they care when they don't. It was so personal, sointimate.I gave him an out and expected him to be gone by the time I came out of the bathroom, but he chose to stay in my bed and wait for me. He chose to hold me close to him. He made it personal and stupidly,I believed him.

I feel guilty for blaming this on him, maybe I was too needy or maybe I did something wrong to make him leave so suddenly. Maybe he was just too tired to drive home and he expected me to sleep on the couch but I came back to the bedroom.

"Hey."Grace snaps her fingers in my face. "You didn't do anything wrong so stop thinking about all the ways you might have. Some guys are just assholes." She gives me a sympathetic smile, passing me a flask from her spot next to me on my couch.

We've been sitting here talking on and off about this for hours tonight. I've been giving her excuses as to why Harry stopped showing up to our work but she didn't believe any of them. She might annoy me with her never-ending persistence, but she does know me.

She knew that something was wrong after I snapped at Jillian for asking me why Harry hadn't called her and where he was. She knew something was wrong after I refused to tell her anything more about our date other thanit was fine.

She ended up getting it out of me that we had amazing sex and he spent the night with me. She was shocked herself when I told her about my favorite coffee sitting on my counter, and not even she had the answers as to why he just... disappeared.

She tried to get me to go out to Treasure Chest hoping that he would be there and be jealous, but sober me refused.Sober me.Because she ended up convincing me to have a few drinks and then I blinked and we were on the dance floor.

It was the type of night I ended up regretting, which isn't helping my spiral because Harry wasn't even there. His spot on the couch was filled by someone else. It's not like I was looking for him, but he's always just shown up by me before and there wasn't a single molecule of him in the room.

"You're doing it again." Grace shoves my shoulder.

"sh*t, sorry." I shake my head, taking a sip of the dark liquor concealed in her flask. "Do you think maybe something happened? Like he got hurt, or something?" I ask, staring at the bright TV even though I haven't been paying attention to it.

"I think that you need to stop trying to rationalize someone else's sh*tty motives." She shifts to be closer to me. "Just because you can't find a problem doesn't mean youarethe problem." She lays her head on my shoulder.

I let out a deep sigh and take another larger swig of whiskey. "Then why is it always me? It's like I let myself enjoy something one time, something that I didn't end up regretting, and the same thing happened."

"Some men are just assholes, babe. He's a douchebag with a sh*tty club and too much money. He probably does this all the time." She shrugs. "I'm sure he loves the idea of screwing with people, he probably has a power kink or some sh*t."

But it'snotjust men. It's everyone. The common denominator between everyone who has left me, hurt me, used me, isme. What is so wrong with me?

I lean my head on her, handing her back the flask. "But am I so horrible that he stopped showing up to his own sh*tty club?"

Grace sits up and grabs my face in her hands, squishing my cheeks together to make my lips pucker. "Brinna Noelle, you are beautiful, smart, hardworking, you have a great set of tit* and an ass that turns heads. Any man would be lucky to spend one night with you, and even though he turned out to be a bad one, that doesn't take away from the person you are. I would marry you if I believed in monogamy, babe." She plants a quick peck on my lips, making me smile and shake out of her hold.

"You're crazy, Grace." I roll my eyes. "You would melt like a witch if you settled down with anyone."

"Which is exactly my point, I'd give up everything for a woman like you. Now get up," She grabs my hand. "My wife is going to help me make dinner, I'm sh*t in the kitchen." She pulls me to stand and drags me over to my kitchen, the two of us reading dishes off of the wall of stolen menus.

__

The two of us made a mess of my kitchen, which ended in us just ordering a pizza after we got too caught up in a buzzed makeout session after our flour fight. She took my mind off of Harry for a little while, but after we finished cleaning up and she left, I was right back where I started.

Sad, but not understanding why. I feel it in my gut, not my heart. Like my gut is telling me to stop listening to my heart and be logical. Get over it. It's been almost a month and he doesn't care.

Maybe I do need to move on, it's getting tiring now to be so caught up in someone who hasn't given me a second thought. It makes me wonder if he really did lie when I asked if he cuddles everyone he sleeps with. I'm obviously not that special to him.

My heart wants to throw all logic out of the window and track him down so he can give me an explanation of why he did that. I don't know if I want a reason or if I want him to be at my mercy, but either way, I just want to see him. To make sure my anger is warranted and I'm not mad at him while he's dealing with something bigger.

Grace calls my daily count pathetically accurate while I call it recovery. That's what addicts do, right? They count how many days sober they are, and this feels like I'm coming off a bad high. I think above all, I'm disappointed in myself for allowing the part of my brain that clings on to anything that gives it dopamine to have a say in this matter.

I had one taste of him and suddenly I'm itching for more. It's pathetic. I should be trying to convince myself that it was the feeling and not the person I've come to crave, but if it was just the feeling I would have been on the next body by now.

Something about him draws me in. My being needs his. God, that's crazy, right? Why would Ineedhim? I barely even know him. In fact, I don't know him. I know his name and I know what car he drives. I know he owns a club and I know he has the power to draw me to him like a leech.

I'm conflicted. Part of me would be satisfied knowing he did just use me for a warm body, to know that I had what he needed and I was able to give it to him. But a bigger part of me can't handle the idea of being used by him.

I don't want to be used by him. For once, it felt like someone was making my own feelings a priority and then when he went silent, I realized that once again it was me prioritizing his.

I wouldn't say I have abandonment issues, but I would say I've been good at denying them too. It hurt to be ghosted the way he did. The logical part of my brain knows this isn't about me, but the irrational part is so much louder. How could it not be me?

I'm nothing like him. I don't have fun like he can, I literally can't without it being a problem. I don't do drugs, I don't look like the women he hires, I don't even know the city we both live in.

It's cruel to disappear from someone's life without so much as a bye. He doesn't owe me anything, and my feelings aren't his to protect, but I would like to believe the man who stroked my hair as if it calmed him down as much as it calmed me, wouldn't be so heartless to dip on people like that.

But, again, I don't know him. He might be the worst person in Las Vegas, and I'm the idiot who's sitting here, alone in the dark on a Sunday night, thinking about the way his hands felt on my skin and wishing I could feel them one more time, even if he ended up hurting me again.

Chapter 12: Chronic

Summary:

Possible tw talk of health

Chapter Text

H A R R Y

It's been 23 days since I last saw Brinna, but who's counting?

I left her house early in the morning after I ordered her a coffee and picked up the place. I hope she knows that was my way of saying thank you for going out with me. I don't know what possessed me to stay overnight with her, but the sex wasn't enough. I needed more of her. I needed to feel her in a soothing way. Not that I didn't enjoy our intimacy, I very much did. I just needed to hold her against me.

I needed her warmth to mix with mine. I needed her heart to beat next to mine. I could tangle myself with her forever. I have no doubt her aura could heal me if I laid next to her enough. She has the kind of light that people search for their entire lives in the deepest corners of the world and never find, yet she brought herself to me under neon strobe lights.

It's rare to meet people you have an instant connection with, but Brinna is my four leaf clover.

I didn't mean to leave her as abruptly as I did. We went to sleep pretty late and I woke up before the sun even came up, and as bad as that looks, I swear it wasn't what it seems like. I didn't want to let go of her. I wish I could have kissed her before I left. I had to be fast before I got too bad.

I swear I wouldn't do that to her if I had the choice. I tried so hard to get her attention and it's very on-brand for the universe to pull some bullsh*t like this. I'm not meant to be happy, and apparently, one night of that is too much.

I made sure to tuck her in so she stayed warm. I put all of her pictures back where I thought they went, I refilled her vase of water, I put her clothes in a laundry basket, and I hung her purse. I might have been stumbling around and dizzy while I did it, but I needed her to know I wasn't just flaking out on her. I didn't want it to look like I was trying to sneak out.

I was having another episode and it wasn't going to stop just because I was even if for a short moment, finally at peace with Brinna in my arms.

That's the thing about being sick. It won't stop for anyone, it doesn't take holidays or weekends off. It shows up at the most inconvenient times just to punch you in the gut and remind you of how real it is, how you're a prisoner in your own body.

Zayn had to take a cab and come pick me and my car up. By the time he got there, I was far too sweaty and I could barely see anything. There was no way I was going to make it back home without crashing my car if I tried.

He had to walk me inside and lay me on my couch while I had completely lost my vision and started struggling to breathe. Usually, I don't ask him to take me to a hospital, but that night was different. It was stronger. A few months ago I would have told him to let me ride it out on my couch and tell him to go home. I would have let nature take its course, whatever that was going to be.

I ended up in the hospital for three days, hooked up to countless machines, having tests run on me, and getting copious amounts of drugs and antibiotics pumped into my veins through IV ports stuck into both of my arms.

All of the results came back the same, something I've already known for a long time, and something that is quickly starting to feel scarily inevitable.

Cirrhosis of the liver.My years of drinking and drugs have slowly killed the organ, making it so all of my healthy cells are slowly dying off and being replaced with scar tissue.

It's chronic and if left untreated, fatal. There is no going back once it starts.

I'll be honest, I never listen to Peter when he tries to explain to me what's happening. I didn't care to learn what the condition was past a few sentences, I didn't care to hear how long I could potentially live, and I didn't care to listen to his advice about slowing down my busy lifestyle.

It's a doctor's job to treat his patients. To provide them with the best care available and fix their problems. I denied all of his suggestions despite his pleading and I never started treatments. I didn't expect to live as long as I have been in this condition. Nothing about my lifestyle changed after my diagnosis, and if I'm being serious, I don't even really remember it until I have an episode.

I kept drinking and snorting co*ke and taking random pills. I kept using all of my limited energy to kill people below my club. I print money, I make drops, and I go about my business like nothing is wrong. I haven't slowed down and I don't plan to.

Or at least, Ididn'tplan to.

Call me f*cking crazy, but Ididn'tcare. Ididn'tlisten. Ididn'tchange my lifestyle.

Until I woke up at four a.m. with a pretty woman snoring softly next to me, her legs pieced so perfectly in mine that you would think we broke off of the same puzzle. Something deep in my body, something intangible, was vibrating with her.

I haven't seen her in a month and mysoulis aching to be close to her again. I've been sober from alcohol and clean from drugs for 24 days. I started, unintentionally, the day I took Brinna out. I've kept going with my sobriety, on purpose, so I can take her out again.

I've been recovering and detoxing. I didn't realize how much my body depended on other things until I stopped taking them. This was something Pete recommended to do months and months ago, but I only listened after he said itmightbuy me more time.

I'll live off a maybe if it means she'll maybe see me again.

After two weeks of not being able to take it anymore, I went to see Peter. I couldn't take the throwing up, the inability to walk myself to a bathroom, the shaking. It was becoming too much. I can handle one or the other, but withdrawals on top of a bad episode made me nervous that my body was going to give out and I needed help.

I pulled up to the medical building and parked my car like an asshole. I didn't care to make sure I was in the lines and if anyone said anything, I would have just pulled the "I'm dying" card. The receptionist knows me by now, and despite not listening to Peter, I do see him a lot. He's a retired U.S. Navy doctor and he knows his sh*t well enough.

I was moved back to a room almost immediately and waited only ten minutes for my good pal Petey to join me. He entered wearing his usual khaki pants, black shirt, and white coat. He washed his hands in the small sink and dried them off. He turned to me and grabbed the rolling chair, sitting down and rolling in my direction.

I watched the entire scene with my brows pinched together. This guys gotta be at least 7 feet tall and he's skinny as hell. If his eyes were buttons, he'd look exactly like the dad fromCoraline. He moves like a spider and he creeps me the f*ck out. Maybe that's why his name is Peter.Spidery motherf*cker.

"Mr. Styles." he clapped his hands together and then pulled his glasses off his face. "To what do I owe the pleasure today? Stab wound? Gunshot? Food poisoning?"

I just waited for him to finish his annoying spiel but when he was done I almost couldn't get the words off my tongue. I hated to admit defeat. This didn't feel like defeat in the sense that he won, but that I now had something worth living for and I was f*cking desperate.

"I want to start treatments. I want to get better. I need your help and I'll do whatever it takes at this point. I've already started to get clean. I haven't touched a drop of anything in weeks." I couldn't look him in the eyes but when I finally did, he looked shocked.

Genuinelyshocked. His brows raised and then his face fell to something almost sad. He looked at the clipboard in his hands and sighed, "Harry..." he cleared his throat. "You.. you're out of time, son. Treatments would have been a great option a year ago- even months ago- but you waited too long. There is nothing we can do for your liver. It's too far gone now. Your days should be about quality now instead of quantity. That's the best we can hope for. If you're in pain, I can give you something-"

"No." I shook my head at him. "I'm not accepting that answer. You're a f*cking doctor. Work your voodoo magic and get me started on treatments. Tell me what I need to do to fix this. I'm ready to fix this." My voice came out frantic and needy but at that moment, I didn't care, I would have begged on my knees if it meant he would fix me.

"You're right. I'm adoctor, not God. There is nothing left to do. If you want we can talk about the ending stages and what we can do to make it more comfortable for you. I'll write you a prescription for your nausea, and something for the shakiness. Congratulations on your sobriety, by the way. That's a big step for you."

I stood up and knocked the clipboard out of his hands. "This is your f*cking job, Peter! Do something!"

"I tried to do my joba year agowhen I asked you to start treatments. When I asked you to cut back on the drugs and the drinking, the recklessness. I tried, Harry, but the rest was up to you."

I knew he was right. I shouldn't have taken it out on him, butf*ck. f*ck! I needed this. I am ready to change. I need to change. I need more time. I still don't want to hear how much time I have left but for entirely different reasons now. I don't think I could bear to hear it. I didn't care before but now I feel doomed.

I opened the office door so harshly that it slammed against the wall and knocked a picture down. I stopped in the doorframe and turned to look at him with my pointer finger pushed toward him.

"You know your name means f*cking penis, right? Goddamn doctor dick!" I turned back around and started down the hallway. "Dr. f*cking Dick is ready for his next patient if you'd like to hear that you're dying! Stupid flaccid-penis-looking mother f*cker. Fix those f*cking deer legs if you aren't going to fix your patients, f*cking asshole!"

"Have a good day, Harry. It's always a pleasure to see you. Come back anytime!"His voice shouted out as I stormed my way out of the building, kicking over coffee tables covered in magazines and scaring the receptionist.

I started laughing when I left his office. A maniacal, evil, dooming laugh of pure heartache and devastation. It's been about 7 days since I saw Peter now, and for the last 20 days since getting out of the hospital, I've been recovering.

I've ridden through the lows of my withdrawals and I've been taking care of myself so I can get my strength back. I've taken the medications he's prescribed on time, I've eaten three meals a day, I've taken it easy and I haven't given in to any of my cravings, whether that be for a drug or something worse:

The deep, agonizing ache to go find Brinna and tell her how badly I need her.

I can't let her see me like this. She can't see how pale my skin is, how skinny my face has gotten. I want to look healthy for her. I don't want to scare her with the shell of who I am. She deserves Harry, not the broken mess of a man I am right now.

I didn't want to leave her. I don't want to stay away from her, but the only way to get better is to get better, so I have to stay away and keep getting betterfor her.

I'm sure that I sound entirely sick in a whole new way, but how could a woman I met just weeks ago be the reason to suddenly want to get better when I've been living with this condition for over a year now?

I don't know how much time I have, but I do know it's not enough time to debate whether or not my feelings are valid or a fever dream. They haven't stopped making butterflies swirl in my stomach every time her name flashes in my head.

My feelings toward a woman who may never want to see me again are what's making me flip my life completely around, and if that's crazy, throw me in a psych ward.

She deserves everything in the universe, and I want to make it happen. I've had a lot of time to think and I've decided that Brinna will be mine. Okay, maybe I'll have to settle for beinghersbecause my balls are practically in her back pocket already, but I won't stop until she forgives me for walking away from her the way I did.

I could be wrong about this whole situation, too. She might have just seen me as another one-night stand, and if that's the case, I'll have to pathetically beg for her to give me an ounce of attention again. I won't stop until she smiles at me again.

I have so many things I want to show her and I know she would love them. Selfishly, I don't want to be alone when I see them for the last time too. Her bright smile would be a good way to close the chapter that is my memories, and I know she would make me happy to think about instead of sad when the time comes.

I never knew how my life would come to an end, but I always knew it wouldn't be from a boo-boo f*cking liver. I work for a money laundering, drug smuggling, associate murdering cartel and a f*cking organ is not going to take me out.

That's too easy of a death for me. I don't deserve the gentleness of a hospital bed death. I deserve to be brutally murdered and punished for the amount of lives I've ruined by willingly being a part of this lifestyle.

I don't want an easy death, which is why I've spent so much time ignoring it. I never expected to make it to my prescribed death date, because karma is so real and that's just too simple of an answer for me. The universe is going to get its payback and it won't be like this.

I'm not necessarily afraid of death or dying, but Brinna has shown me that there are things I want to, no-need toexperience before I end up dead one day. I don't know how much more time I have, but I'm going to throw myself full force into her. I'm going to do the cutesy sh*t, I'm going to be the person she wants and I'm probably going to end up loving every second of it.

I don't deserve the gentle touches and easy loving after the life that I've lived, but maybe if I pretend it's her who needs it more than me, I can trick the universe into letting me have her. I can keep her if I right my wrongs, and I'll start by showing her what it feels like to be loved deeply and entirely.

Call me selfish for pulling her into my problems with the intent to make her want me, but I won't stop until she's the person she wants to be. She deserves to stop hiding just as much as I need to be the one to bring her out of her shell. Iamselfish and I want her.

I just hope she won't be too angry at me. I've been doing my best for almost a month so she can have me, but maybe I've made the wrong choice by doing it the way I did.

Give me a few more days to recover, pretty girl, and I'll be bowing down at your command once more.

Chapter 13: Needy Puppy

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

26days. Today is Wednesday, a good day in the office if you're anyone else but me. We're nearing the next issue ofStripbeing released and Jillian has gone off the f*cking rails. She's been barking at me all day long about the cover photo.

You know, the one that has Harry's face plastered on it. He's sitting on his leather couch in a dark corner of the club, his legs spread open and his arms splayed on the back of the couch. He has a mean smirk on his face and his curls are extra fluffy hanging over his shoulders.

The siren must have gotten under Jill's skin because I've been making phone calls all day trying to pull it from our publisher before it gets printed. Newsflash: it's been printed and will be on shelves in two days. But because I can't fix the issue, it's my fault and not hers. Her anger isn't really at me, but she has no one else to take it out on.

She doesn't get a lot of attention so when Harry came to see her every morning, she turned into a whole new person. It's like he gave her a small glimpse of what it feels like to be wanted, and suddenly her lava turned to flowers.

I understand it, he's got a way with words. He knows how to make people feel good and he does it well. I'm not the only person he ghosted, but she doesn't even know about his..fiasco..with me.

I bet she would murder my entire family if she found out we were half Eskimo sisters.

"BRIANA!"

Well speak of the she-devil.

"How many times do I have to tell you to fix this? If I see one single copy of this picture anywhere in this city, you will regret ever coming into my office! I don't care what you have to do, or whose pants you need to undo, make it happen!" She stands in front of my desk, flustered and red as a tomato.

How bold of you to talk about getting in pants to make things happen. That sounds familiar, right Jilly?

I'm currently on the phone with the publishers again, as per her request. This time it's more of an effort to pass time and look like I'm busy. They know who Jillian is, they can hear her right now. Look, I'm on their side, this woman is crazy when she's mad and right now, she's pissed. I don't blame them at all for this, she knows as well as I do that you can't unprint that curly-headed asshole off of the magazine, yet she's going to blow a blood vessel trying.

I stare at her, taking the phone away from my ear and holding it out for her to take. My face is stoic, not wanting to give her a reason to scream more. I figure if my half-assed pleas won't get the job done, maybe she would like to try yelling useless commands at someone else. Usually, I'd be scrambling to fix this for her, I would probably go as far as hand-picking every single copy off of the shelves and burning them.

But not today. Not for the entirety of this work week, actually. I had a pretty good cry session on Sunday after Grace left my apartment, which ended in a teary-eyed mirror pep talk. I can't let people use me the way Harry did. I can't let my urges win, and I can't be distracted anymore. I let myself take his actions to heart, and if that's the way I'm going to be after spending the night with someone, I just won't anymore.

Harry was a fun night. That's all. I don't need another person in order to feel complete. I don't need someone else to take care of me. He was a good feeling, a false glimpse of what other people get to enjoy so freely, but people like me don't get that privilege.

I am totally and completely fine.

I am also trying to convince myself that I believe a single word of that.

I push along the floor in my rolling chair as Jillian stands by my desk, yelling into the phone at the poor souls on the other end. Grace has been avoiding me like wildfire today and I'm pretty sure it's because she doesn't want to get caught in the crossfire.

She's pretty unproblematic for the most part, she doesn't do well with confrontation. Her parents just threw money at her whenever something was wrong. Not that she minded it, she just doesn't have the social skills to do anything but freeze when people start getting snippy with her.

I inch myself across the room until I'm sitting next to Grace, who still hasn't acknowledged my presence the closer I come. As soon as I stop next to her, she swipes her opened phone off the table and shoves it into her desk drawer, slamming it shut and leaning over it while her face has a pretend smile on it.

"What'cha got there?" I squint my eyes at her, making it obvious that I'm looking between her and the desk drawer. Her knee is bouncing and she's trying to act as normal as possible but she's a horrible actress.

"I'm not hiding anything!" She squeaks out with wide eyes, leaning in closer to the drawer. Shedefinitelyis, given that I didn't say anything about hiding things.

"So you just always throw your phone into a locked desk drawer when I come around?" I smile at her amused. I don't really care what she's doing, she's probably looking at sexts from the hundreds of men throwing themselves at her. She's a grown woman and her phone is none of my business, I'm not her mother. I just haven't seen her flustered like this before, which is making me curious as to why she's suddenly trying to hide something from me.

This is the same girl who's shown me how to please another woman, whatever she's got on that phone has to bejuicy.

"I didn't do that." She chuckles nervously.

"Are you trying to gaslight me, Grace?" I tut at her, inching closer slowly enough that I hope she doesn't notice. Jillian has since gotten off the phone, seemingly more pissed than before, and is now locked in her office with the shades down.

I look at her posture, taking in that she genuinely looks nervous about something which is starting to worry me. She isn't a worrier, she's a doer. I don't know what her phone and me being near it has to do with making her nerves skyrocket, but she hasn't ever been like this with me.

"Hey, are you okay?" I stop my teasing. "You don't have to tell me anything but you're freaking me out." I furrow my brows at her and watch as my statement makes her even more twitchy.

"Don't freak out.." She grins, her lips curling like she can't even force out a smile.

I open my mouth to answer her, but Jillian's office door slams open, startling the both of us. "BRIANA! You're two minutes away from-oh, Harry. I wasn't expecting you today.."

Ex-f*cking-scuse me?

My head snaps toward Jillian, and apparently f*cking Harry, and all hell breaks loose in the office. The four of us look like we're about to have a standoff, eyes darting around from person to person.

"Grace?" I mumble, brows furrowed in confusion.

"Brinna?" Harry looks at me with huge, sad eyes.

"Jillian! I have news about the cover!" Grace shoots up from her chair next to me.

"Harry!" Jillian purrs, rubbing his arm.

"Not now Jill!" He shoves her away.

"Briana! Get the man some water! He's flustered." Jillian fixes her hair, suddenly forgetting about all of her anger.

"Grace, what did you do?" I glare into her eyes as she stands right in the middle of all of us trying to get each other's attention.

"I- I..eep."She squeaks, subtly pointing toward everyone as she tries to figure out who to handle first. "Jill? The cover? Should we go talk in your office?" Her voice comes out breathy.

"No!" Both Jill and I answer in unison.

"Harryis coming to my office, you girls do whatever you need to out here, the cover is handled now." She says, voice being a few octaves higher in the siren's presence.

"No, I'm here to talk to-" Harry starts but quickly gets cut off by Grace.

"I'm sorry!" She says to me, now clueing me into the fact that she was probably texting Harry to come here, which means she probably told him how worked up I've been for the last month. Who the f*ck shows up like this after that long? Especially when he has literally f*cked my boss in this office?

I look between an eager Jillian, a fidgeting Grace, and a regretful Harry who I just noticed is carrying a sunflower in his hand, roots and dirt still hanging off of it and making a mess on the floor by his feet.

"I think you three can sort this out." I push away from Grace's desk, standing from my chair and pulling it along with me to go back to my own workspace. I huff and roll my eyes at her, wondering why she thought him being here, let alone anywhere near me, would be a good idea.

I hear Jillian trying to talk Harry up behind me, to which he tells her he'll meet her in her office. My eyes roll again, so hard they might actually tumble all the way out of the door and to the highway so they can be gruesomely crushed instead of having to witness the bullsh*t happening feet away from me.

"Brinna? Can we please talk?" Harry is walking behind me, a few steps away. His voice is soft and full of emotions I can't quite pick out from his few words.

"I don't want to talk to you." I put my chair in its original place and sit in it, not making eye contact with him as I unlock my computer to start sorting through emails and documents.

"Then let me. I just- I need to apologize to you, for leaving like that." He pleads. His head drops down and he twirls the stem in his fingers for a moment, "I got you a new flower.. for your vase. The other ones are probably dead by now." He puts the yellow bud down gently but the dirt on the stem still makes a mess on the tabletop.

My eyes flick between his and the flower on my desk. "There's nothing to say. You did what you did, I felt what I felt, and now I'm over it. You can go get your dick wet with my boss now." I smile insincerely and turn back to my computer, swiping away the fallen dirt particles nearby.

"I'm not here for her. I'm here for you. Only you." His now empty hands fidget with each other like the flower was helping him stay calm. He twists the rings on his fingers and bites his lip. He seems like he just got over his dog dying, not the fact that he was the one to put us in this position.

I stand up, trying to avoid this conversation. I make my way to the photocopier across the room and he follows. I stand leaning my back against the wall, scanning documents and ignoring him. He's practically whining like a needy puppy, trying to make me look at him.

I want to give in, and if he had shown up a few days ago I would have. I was confused and upset at his disappearance at first, and now looking at him, I'm angry. Im annoyed that he's back and I'm pissed that my best friend seemingly made it happen after she was the one to tell me how much of an asshole he is.

I cross my arms while my copies are printing, finally having the courage to look at him fully. He looks lost. His face is skinnier and his skin is pale. He looks like he hasn't slept well in days. His thumb is picking at the skin of his middle finger, which already looks red and raw.

He takes a step toward me, now just a foot from me. I keep my eyes directly on his and wait for him to start explaining, or even better, get on his knees and beg. I don't want to back down from him, especially if this is some twisted game to him. I don't know why he's here but I won't let myself get strung along again.

"I know you're angry-"

"Pissed." Icorrect

"You have every right to be, and I won't make excuses for myself because there are none. I just need you to know that I didn't want to leave you like that, I've just been getting over something and it was better to stay away for a little." He inches closer to me, almost like he doesn't realize he's doing it.

"And you couldn't have just told me that?"

"I never got your number.. I only found Grace on Instagram a few days ago so I asked her if it was a bad idea to come see you in person." Our bodies are nearly pressed up against each other now. His hands find my arms and gently tug them to unfold them. I watch his face the entire time he's moving, trying to find any ounce of doubt to tell me to stop getting my hopes up.

He moves his palms down my arms until he's holding my wrists. He brings them up to his body and presses my palms flat against his chest, holding them there while the warmth radiates through my bones. His eyes are focused on the contact and he lets out a sigh as if my touch was what he had been needing for days.

His hands slip off of mine and land on the wall on either side of my head, trapping me between his body. His head dips to my cheek, curls tickling my skin as he brushes his nose over the soft skin. "I missed you, pretty girl." he plants a delicate kiss on my jawbone.

I try to stand straight and not let my head roll over so he can keep kissing me. "I don't believe you," I whisper so my voice doesn't crack. "You didn't have me long enough to miss me."

"I thought about you every single day. Let me make this up to you, don't want you mad at me." He murmurs as his lips start to trail down to my neck, pressing soft pecks that make me gasp slightly. I can feel my self-control slipping away and I'm trying to keep my eyes open so he doesn't win.

"Harry I'm at work," I push him back slightly so he's forced to stop kissing my neck. "I can't do this with you." I shake my head at him and his face looks even sadder than it did before.

"I'm sorry. I just needed to feel close to you again."

"Anyof it. I can't do any of it with you, I'm not a toy you get to play with until you get bored."

His arms fall off the wall and he looks like he actually might cry. I haven't ever gotten this reaction from someone I've dated, let alone only slept with. I can't even imagine what thoughts are going through his head right now but I almost don't want to know.

"I didn't want to have to do this, Brinna, but you leave me no choice," He croaks. I stare at him confused with pinched brows. His weepy eyes are deadlocked on mine as he drops one knee to the floor, and then the other. His hair bounces as his knees hit the ground but his gaze never leaves mine.

He shuffles forward until my feet are between his parted legs and his chin is resting below my belly button. His head is co*cked back to look at me and his lip is pushed all the way out in a pouty frown. "Brinna Noelle Harper," He starts but I cut him off.

"Why do you know my full name?" I ask, glancing over at Grace's desk to see her holding a manilla folder over her face as she's turned completely toward us. It drops slightly so she can peek out of it before she quickly pushes it back up to pretend she isn't watching what's happening. I scoff and turn back to Harry.

His arms lace around the back of my legs to pull me in closer to him, making me stumble and grab onto him for support. "Please let me make this right. I promise you I won't ever do it again, I missed you every single day I was away and I won't stop trying until you smile for me again."

"Harry get up!" I whisper shout, suddenly embarrassed about how many people are around us. I waskiddingabout the begging, I did not mean literally get down and plead.

He shakes his head against me, smooshing his cheek into my pelvis. "Not until you let me make it better. Let me take you out, please." His pretty eyelashes bat, green eyes glistening under them.

Pretty? f*ck, stay strong.

"So you can sleep with me and dip again? Surely you can find an easier way to have sex with someone." I cross my arms so I'm no longer holding his muscular shoulders.

"It's not about sex, Brin. I wantyou. Please, please, please, plea-"

"Okay!" I shout a little too loudly, "Just get off the floor!"

"Say you'll come out with me," he mumbles.

"f*ck,fine, just getupbefore Jillian sees you clinging to me like a koala bear." I try to step back from him but he holds me to him. His head turns as he looks up at me, now a wide toothy smile on his face.

He shoots up from his crouched position with his hands still on my thighs and I let out a startled yelp as he lifts me up with him and wraps my legs around his waist. His arms are crossed behind my back and his face is resting in the crook of my neck again, not kissing it but I can feel his smile against my skin.

"Put me down!" I try to lean away from him. Eyes all around the office are staring at us, and I notice Jill's office blinds are now up so she can see the entire thing if she were to look away from her computer. "You're going to get me in trouble, Harry!" He starts walking us toward my desk, the perfect view for her to see us.

"I love it when you say my name." He says, sounding perfectly relaxed while I'm freaking out in his arms. He hums out a contented sigh and squeezes me a little harder.

I tug his hair back to make him look at me, the two of us now stopped in front of my desk. He moves his face out of my neck and still has a stupid grin as he waits for me to speak. "If she sees us like this I'm going to lose my job."

He shrugs, not letting up on his grip. "I'll take care of you."

I scoff and squirm in his arms, "This isn't funny!"

"I wasn't joking." We stare at each other for a moment with the same blank expression.

He turns away from the desk, walking straight toward the glass office. He stops abruptly and his knuckles tap on the window. "Jill, sweetheart! I'm leaving and I'm taking this with me." He starts walking us along her window wall toward the exit door. "She'll be back after lunch, hope you don't mind. Don't wait up for me."

I gasp and cover my face with my hand, trying to hide my embarrassment at being carried around my workplace in front of everyone else here, and now Jillian who's madly infatuated with the man holding me, or should I say stealing me.

He snickers in my ear and gets to the door leading to the elevators, setting me down to my feet but holding onto my hand as he leads us out of the door. "Wait, I need my wallet! My purse-"

"No need." He shakes his head, pressing the button to bring the elevator to us.

"I can pay for myself, you're not going to drag me around and not even let me pay."

He pulls us into the elevator and whips me around to face him. His arm slinks around my waist, the hand still holding mine rising to the air as he starts swaying like he's dancing to the sh*tty elevator music. "I told you I'll take care of you, baby."

"You're crazy."

"You can leave anytime you want, Bandit. But I know you feel it right here, don't you?" His hand moves from my hip to my lower stomach, making me suck in a sharp breath. "That's right, baby. I know you like the thrill. Don't worry, it can be our little secret." He coos into my ear, still swaying us.

Okay, I'm not strong. No control left. Something is purring and I don't see a cat.

I bite my lip and nod my head against him, to which he chuckles a deep laugh that makes his chest vibrate against mine. The elevator dings, signaling that we've arrived at the bottom floor of the building. He stops our dancing and laces his fingers back in mine to walk us outside.

The heat hits my face as we walk out but he's quick to walk us to his car and open the door for me, helping me in and then shutting it when I get comfortable.

Am I really getting into a car with the man who for a second time, coaxed me into going out after ditching me the first time?

__

"Have you ever been here?" Harry asks with a big smile on his face. His fingers tap on my lower back as we stand side by side in front of the restaurant.

"Never. Didn't even know it was here." I shake my head, staring at the lit-upSugar Factorysign.

"Great. You'll like it." His hand urges me forward, the other opening the door for me as we step into the cold air. The whole place is white and chic, the flooring is black and white diamond tiles with black chairs accenting the floor. The ceiling is filled with square mirrors and crystal chandeliers. Loud chatter is booming through the room, and my eyes can't stop looking around at all of the crazy drinks walking around the room.

A woman greets us at the door and walks us straight to a table in the back. It's more private, the noise quieting down the closer we get to it. I'm starting to think that this entire strip knows Harry, everywhere we go he never has to say a word before he's being taken care of.

"You can order whatever you want, pretty girl, but I already called ahead to have them make us a bunch of their popular items. I didn't want to make you wait." He says resting his chin on his hand. His eyes are sparkling and he genuinely looks like he's had life blown back into him.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" I mumble, a little taken aback by his facial expression right now. I could have sworn he was just on his knees for me practically in tears and begging me to be here, and now he looks like he's madly inlovewith me. The sudden switch is freaking me out a little bit.

"You're nice to look at." He shrugs and twists the end of his straw wrapper off before blowing through the straw, making the rest of the paper fly toward me. I feel his leg move between mine while his other foot traps one of my ankles between his. I don't know if he realizes he's doing it again, but he seems to be unbelievably comfortable with holding me in any way he can.

I take a sip of my water and will away the blush in my cheeks that I know is creeping up. Even though I don't like it, I'm not really sure how to be a normal, confident person without a little liquid courage. I feel awkward sitting here with him, especially because he's so calm and laid back.

"So what is it that you've been doing for the last month?" I ask, trying to make conversation but my question comes out kind of harsh.

"I've been recovering." He answers vaguely, not at all annoyed with the question but still avoiding its entirety.

"Were you sick?" I pry.

"Something like that," He nods. "But I'm fine now, nothing that a little detox couldn't fix. And nothing that I'm going to pass to you or anything, so don't worry. Went to the doctor and everything, he said I'm healthy as a horse." He smiles and places his hands down on the table.

I nod at him. "I'm glad you're okay."

Which is true, Iamglad he's okay, but I know he's not being truthful. Maybe he's not necessarily lying, but something is off with the way he's avoiding a deeper answer. Everyone covers up with "I'm fine" at some point in their life.

The waitress comes back to our table with two more following her. They have an assortment of foods on trays, all colorful and crazy looking. The woman sets down a long plate in the middle of the table, a small laugh leaving my lips because it looks like food from the kid's showSpongeBob.

"Rainbow sliders," She says, nodding at the array of colorful buns with tiny patties. "Spinach dip.." She places another dish down. She continues until she empties her tray, the waitress behind her doing the same. The table is very much full right now but there's still one more person waiting to drop something off. The last man steps to our table, holding a smaller tray.

He sets the cup down and my eyes nearly fall out of my head at the sugar monstrosity in front of me. A tall mug completely coated in pink icing and sprinkles, filled with ice cream that's topped with whipped cream, a giant pinwheel marshmallow, a white chocolate bar, and an entire cupcake complete with a birthday candle. He places the cup down and lights the candle. "And finally, a Princess Shake." He nods and walks off.

"A princess for the princess.." Harry says softly, barely being able to speak around the grin stretching ear to ear on his face. His smile lines are showing by his eyes and his dimples are on full display. He picks up a fry and dips it into the whipped cream before popping it into his mouth.

We eat and share glances once in a while, his legs trapping mine under the table rubbing my calf every so often. I don't feel as awkward as I did before, it's kind of nice to just have his company and to be in a place I haven't been to before.

He ordered an array of fun co*cktails and made sure to let me know they were all virgin. I don't know if it's because he's driving and I'm supposed to be working or what, but I appreciate the gesture.

"This isn't me making up for being an asshole, just so you know." He sips his fruity drink. "I just wanted to take you out to lunch. It seems kind of.. tense today in the office so I figured I'd get you out of there, take you on a little adventure."

I wipe my mouth with a napkin and giggle a little bit at his choice of words. "You know, it's tense because ofyou," I tease. "I almost got my head bitten off before you showed up because your face is on her front page, and now I'mdefinitelygoing to be offed when I get back."

He blows a laugh from his nose and shakes his head. "I really didn't think the Jillian thing through. I was only trying to get closer to you and I guess it backfired."

"By gettingreallyclose with my boss?!" I fully laugh now.

"Okay, okay, I get it. Bad move," He laughs back. "But I'm not doing anything with her anymore. I meant it when I said I was there for just you, and not for anything sexual, Brinna. Are you busy tonight?"

I shake my head, "Are you planning to kidnap me again?"

"If you'll let me steal you for a few hours, yes. So I can properly make it up to you." He reaches his hands across the table and grabs one of mine, holding it in the middle of his two. He pulls my hand toward him across the short table, kissing the back of it before lowering it back down and rubbing his thumb across my knuckles.

"Tonight then. And maybe I should give you my number this time.." I wince a little, cringing at my way of implying I want him to have it.

We exchange phones and type in our numbers so both of us have a way to reach out if need be. I lean back in my chair and rub my stomach, groaning slightly. "You ordered so much, I feel like I need to unbutton my pants now. I don't even want to think about how much that cost. I'm giving you gas money when we get back."

He shakes his head immediately and straightens up in his own chair. "You don't have to worry about any of that with me. I've got too much to handle, anyway. I'd let you blow as much as you wanted really." He jokes, but there's probably more truth to his words than he lets up.

I roll my eyes at him and hum, "Dates in exchange for blowing your money. If I didn't know any better, it sounds like you're trying to be my sugar daddy." I tease him, but his cheeks actually pink at my words.

"Alright there, pretty girl. Let's get you back to work before I end up keeping you for myself." He stands up and holds his hand out for me to hold.

He drove us back to the office building and walked with me all the way up, arm never once leaving my side. Probably a good thing, too, because his fingers grazing over my hip were making my knees weak.

I'm sure it's because I'm now very full and sleepy. Not because of his poison frog touch sending waves of insanity over every inch of my body with a simple gesture.

I stop outside of the glass doors before entering my work, feeling like Harry probably wants to avoid getting mauled by Jillian right now. I turn, facing him and allowing us to be closer than we probably should be. "Thank you," I say quietly.

He smiles and cups my face in his hands. His eyes close and his forehead drops to mine. He stays silent for a few moments and I stay watching his face so close to mine, drinking in every detail of the subtle desire laced across his face. His plump lips are slightly parted and his eyebrows are pinched together like he's lost in his thoughts.

He licks his lips, keeping his eyes closed, and blows out a steady breath. "I want to kiss you right now, but not until I prove to you that I mean it when I say I'm not leaving again. I need you to forgive me first."

I nod in his hold, my mind spinning with a million thoughts that are eerily calm with his skin on mine. "Okay.." I whisper. Our lips are so close together that they're almost touching.

He pulls back from me and brushes his thumb over his cheekbone. "Okay, Bandit. Back to work you go." He smiles and pulls open the large door for me, waiting to leave until I'm seated back at my desk. He winks at me and walks into the elevator, smiling the entire time the doors close.

I stare at the spot, running through everything that happened today until a buzz on my desk breaks my gaze from the now-empty hallway.

From: Harry 3:58 pm

tonight 7 p.m. wear something comfortable :) H

Chapter 14: House of Mirrors

Summary:

Smut warning xo

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

Is this our second date? Or our third? I don't know, but I'm f*cking nervous.

For a lot of reasons really. Not all of my nerves are bad, in fact, I'm kind of excited to go somewhere with him again. He keeps taking me to places that don't match the vibe of Vegas at all, at least not what I thought it was. I expected the entire thing to be nightclubs and drugs but he's proven me wrong time and time again.

I like the feeling he keeps giving me. I know I'm too forgiving, I don't like to see people sad because of me. Was it smart to agree to go to lunch with him? Probably not. Was it smart to then agree to go out somewhere tonight? Definitely not.

But he keeps drawing me into him and I just can't tell him no when he starts with his touching and sweet f*cking mouth. I'm not as strong as I claim to be apparently because it takes no effort for me to cave.

As much as I enjoy him, the logical part of me is incredibly nervous that he's going to disappear again and I don't know if I can handle that. He hurt me when he did it the first time and the type of hurt he left is something that I've felt for a majority of my life already. I don't need it from him too.

As silly as it sounds, I don't have many people in my life that make me happy. Actually, it's just Grace. She's all I have, and while that choice was intentional, it doesn't make it any less difficult when someone else comes and goes like it's nothing.

I crave validation and I don't like to be left like my existence is transactional and not something people genuinely want. I already meant nothing to the people who put me on this earth, and I can't think about the fact that no one else here wants me either. I don't know if I like Harry or the feelings that come with him, but I can't deny to myself that I want to keep feeling them.

"What're you thinking about over there, pretty girl?" Harry's thumb is grazing over my thigh and his smooth voice sends a chill through my body, goosebumps erupting on my skin.

"Honestly?" I turn to look at him, my eyes previously focused on the sky starting to set.

"Lay it on me." He smiles and glances at me before focusing back on the road.

"I'm worried about tomorrow," I admit.

"Tomorrow?" He questions.

"You know, the after. What happens when we leave here? When you drive away from my house." I mumble, shifting in my seat slightly.

"Well, usually I would say don't think about tomorrow." He sighs, which makes a pit of doubt grow in my stomach because it sounds as though he's confirming my worries.

"Usually.." He says again. "Butthisisn't veryusualfor me. If you're worried that I'm going to flake again, Brin, I'm not. And I'm sorry that you have to think about that when you're with me now." He squeezes my thigh and then turns his hand so his palm is now facing the roof of the car. His fingers flutter, inviting me to hold his hand.

I uncross my arms and put my hand in his, laying it on top instead of intertwining our fingers. "This isn't usual for me either," I reply. "I shouldn't have even said anything,I'msorry. That was a strange thing for me to say right now, I shouldn't be expecting anything from you."

He brings my hand up to his lips and plants a kiss on the back of it, rubbing his cheek over the place his mouth was. "What if I told you I don'twantto leave? Didn't want to even when I did and I don't plan on f*cking up like that again. Is that strange too?"

"I guess we'll have to add it to our secrets," I turn my body to face him more with my hand still pressed to his cheek. "Are you going to tell me where we're going or should I be expecting more strippers?" I tease him.

He drops our hands to the center console, lacing them together finally. "I happen to be a very good dancer if you'd like another show, but tonight is different. I haven't been to one of these since I was a teenager." He smiles excitedly and taps his other fingers on the steering wheel.

"Can I have a hint?"

"You're going to get dizzy, we'll be up high, and there will be a crazy amount of lights." He says vaguely. "And it's the exact opposite of Treasure Chest."

We kept on driving for a good twenty minutes until we were well away from the city. I asked him to put on music and show me what he likes so I wasn't trying to guess. To my surprise, he's into classic rock more than anything. I don't know much about it, but he seemed to lean toward Queen and Bon Jovi.

The road changed to dirt and in the near distance, I could see a large red tent with flashing lights on every point at the top. There are dozens of different-sized objects moving, each with its own color of light.

The sun setting behind it is making it hard to tell exactly what I'm looking at, but it must be something good because cars are filling the dirt lots on either side of us and people are pulling each other toward the attraction.

Harry finds an empty parking space and pulls into it, letting go of my hand to put the car in park and turn it off. "Eh, so? What d'ya think?" He gestures his hands in front of us as we sit in the car.

"A carnival? It's been forever since I've seen one. I didn't know they had these here." I smile at him, suddenly very excited about getting out of the car and kicking his ass at the cheesy games.

He chuckles and undoes his seatbelt at the same time I do, getting out of the car and walking around to my side to stand next to me. "Do you know the best part about it?" He asks me, his arm around my shoulder as we walk through rows of vehicles.

"That I'm going to drag you onto every single ride until you're throwing up?" I quirk a brow at him.

"There's no one to bribe here for special treatment, so we get to be completely normal people tonight. Doesn't that sound refreshing? No one here to know me."

I laugh at his statement. "I had an inkling that you pay off everyone in your path. But you're forgetting that Iama normal person, it's you with the power trip, curly."

"Any time you're with me you're treated the same way I am. Only the best for my Bandit."

I guess he's right, if he's doing crazy things with his money and I'm with him, I look just as crazy. I'm not sure how I feel about that though, I'm not shy about having disposable income but not nearly as much as Harry does. I wouldn't even be able to guess how much money it takes for the entirety of Las Vegas to know him.

"Your Bandit,"I say back, kind of questioning the phrase while also letting it sink in. "What does that mean?"

"That means that you point at whatever game you want and I'll win you a prize." He avoids answering my question truthfully, pulling me into the lively carnival.

We walk through the arched balloon entryway and my senses are fighting over who gets to experience the scene in front of us first. Kids are laughing and running around with stuffed animals while game attendants call out rules and gather people to their booths.

Yellow lights are strung up over our heads and every ride is adorned with flashing bulbs in a rainbow of colors. Screams and laughs come from some of the scarier ones while the calmer ones have music playing from them.

It smells like popcorn and funnel cake, and in the distance like there's a petting zoo a ways away from the entrance. The sun is nearly completely set now, so the lights above us illuminate every crease in Harry's face as he takes it in for himself too.

I take a moment to study his features in all of their childlike wonder. I wonder what it was like for him growing up and where his parents are now. He's successful enough that I'm sure they would be proud of him. The nature of his life in Vegas does make me wonder if he ended up where he is because his parents are the complete opposite or the exact same.

He takes in a deep breath and looks down at me. I don't look away from him though, instead, I soften my gaze and smile at him. He smiles back at me and drops his forehead to mine, the two of us in our bubble while the rest of the world continues to move around us.

I find myself enjoying moments like these, where the two of us are connected in some way and everything around us seems to be shut out. I don't know how he does it, but he makes the voice in the back of my head stop. Situations like these are the exact ones I shouldn't be letting myself indulge in, yet he makes my internal conflict settle down.

He pecks the tip of my nose and pulls away, bringing me back to the noise and excitement around us. "So what ride are you going to drag me on to first?" He asks, cheeks slightly tinted pink like his thoughts are making him blush.

I turn around, pressing my back to his chest, and scan my eyes over the rides I can see. I land on the giant red swings spinning around in the air. I grab the hand that he wrapped around my waist and pull him through the crowds of people.

He keeps up with my pace until I stop at the back of the line. "I'll start you off easy," I say, letting go of his hand and standing in front of him. He leans on the railing and looks up at the chairs seating people. He looks kind of uneasy as he scans the perimeter of the machine but he doesn't say anything about it.

"You're not scared of heights, right?" I ask as we shuffle forward in the line. We step past the attendant holding open the gate and walk around to find an open swing.

"No, not at all." He shakes his head, still a little apprehensive about getting on with me. We find a seat that's a longer bench instead of two separate swings and I hurry toward it. It's a little taller than I can reach so I smile at him and wiggle my eyebrows, hoping he understands what I'm gesturing at.

"Do you need help, pretty girl?" He strolls toward me.

I nod my head and put my hands back on the swing. He grabs my hips and tells me to jump, which makes the swing move back away from me. I let out a squeal and wrap my arms around his neck, clinging to him so I don't fall straight back on my ass. He laughs into my shoulder and holds the swing steady behind my back so I can shuffle onto it.

He jumps up beside me, him being on the inner part of the swing nearest the machine. I see his eyes scanning the top of our seat where it's connected to the contraption, his nerves seemingly coming back.

"You can hold on to me if you're scared, curly." I tease him, swinging my legs back and forth in the air to make us move.

He blows a laugh out of his nose and stretches his arm on the back of our chair, playing with a strand of my hair in his fingers. His other hand is holding the chain. "I'll have you know I'm not scared of anything." He boasts. "But these rides are put together by the people running them. They're kind of sketchy."

"Well, you look like you're about to sh*t your pants." I giggle, the ride starting with a creak that makes him jolt. It lifts us higher into the air and starts moving us around. I can see the entire fairground from up here, including all of the tents of food and games.

The sun has completely set behind the mountain, meaning that all of the lights are entirely illuminated and flashing like crazy. There's a slight breeze running through my hair and my eyes shut at the feeling of it chilling my entire body. I raise my arms up and throw my head back to fully submerse myself in the feeling of flying.

I can feel Harry's gaze on me so I peek my eye open to look at him. He's got a lop-sided smile on his face and his eyes are soft. I open both of my eyes, now tilting my head and lowering my arms to look back at him. "Why are you looking at me? Look at the view! It's gorgeous up here."

He nods his head slowly and his smile only deepens, "Yeah, it is gorgeous."

I scoff and playfully roll my eyes, "Oh, hush. You're so cheesy." I nudge his shoulder and lean into him.

"I've got a lot of places I would love to show you, Brinna." He moves his arm to hold me closer to him. "If you think this is good, I promise you it'll only get better. I made a huge mistake walking away from you the way that I did, and I won't sit here and tell you that I had my reasons to because that doesn't change the fact that I hurt you."

I blow out a short sigh and lean my head further into him, waiting for him to continue. "One day I'll let you know why, you deserve the explanation but I just can't right now. Its... it's hard for me. But for now, I can promise you that I'm not going anywhere. You don't need to feel the same way but you have me. For anything, even if you don't want me like I want you, I'm not leaving until you tell me to."

I contemplate his words and try to analyze them the best I can. They make me feel good, but a feeling isn't enough to float on. I need consistency. I need someone I can truly rely on, and that's just not something I believe is possible. I like spending time with him, but to commit to something that's happened a handful of times with a month-long hiatus would be silly of me.

And because I can't commit to anything, he doesn't owe me an explanation as to why hehadto leave like that. Yet the lack of reasoning leaves me to believe he'll do it again and when he does, it'll be too easy for him to fall back on some mystery reason and for all I know it's something like he got a cold and then forgot about me for a few weeks.

Hewantsme. But what does that even mean? Does he just want me as company to see these places with? Am I another warm body on his list of women he likes to sleep with? I can't read his mind, I won't ever be able to tell what he's really thinking, but it does strike me as sort of odd that he can come to the conclusion that hewantsme after we've been doing whatever it is that we're doing.

What even are we doing? We slept together once and he's taken me on a few dates. That's like nowhere near theI want you and I'm not leavinglevel, right? I don't know how any of this works, I don't know the right way to go about this or what to even say back. The only thing I know is that he can't be something that I commit to when I don't know anything about him.

I also know that despite all of that, I really enjoy spending my time with him and that even though every red flag is waving with bright flashing flares, I have nowhere better to be than with him on this swing. I don't know what will happen tomorrow, but I don't want to think about it.

So I won't. I'll go along with whatever he's doing for now, and if the tomorrow ever comes that he leaves again, I'll have my answer about what we are. Maybe that's stupid of me to worry about him hurting me while I let him in enough to do it, but I haven't exactly made the best decisions for myself in the last few weeks.

The swings start to lower back down to the ground, my mind thoroughly dizzy from both the spinning ride and trying to figure out his words like they're hieroglyphics. I'm sure I'm overcomplicating this like I tend to do with a lot of other things in my life, but I'm a planner and Harry is very much the impulsive type.

Our swing is now back to the ground, swaying slightly. The attendant walks around the entire ride, slowing the chairs and unhooking the bars so everyone can get off. He unlocks ours and Harry hops down. Before I can follow his lead, he stands between my legs and inches his hands up my thighs before resting them on my hips. My head is well above his so he tilts his back to look at me.

"You don't have to say anything back to that, Brin. It doesn't need to be as deep as you're making it." He gives my hips a squeeze and urges me forward to help me off the swing. I give him ahow did you knowlook. I swear sometimes he literally reads my mind.

"You spaced out after I told you I'm yours if you want me. I know what I want and that freaks you out. It doesn't need to be more complicated than the two of us just being. Do you want to justbewith me?"

I jump down to the ground with my hands on his shoulders. "We can just be." I nod with a small smile. I like the idea of just being. That leaves both no room for interpretation and an entire book to fill with thoughts. That makes this an adlib instead of a contract and I can work with filling in the blanks.

"Good. Now let's go find you the biggest prize we can so I can prove to everyone else here how much better I am than them." He takes my hand in his, lacing our fingers together and walking us out of the swings.

I guess he was right about showing everyone up too, because I challenged him to a target game. We had to shoot down ducks with a laser gun and Harry hit every single one in a 45-second time frame. While it was super impressive, it was also kind of alarming that he knew how to do that. I wouldn't have ever expected him to handle a toy gun like that, but he said it was because he and his dad used to go hunting together a lot when he was a kid.

He seemed kind of apprehensive to say anything else about it and I honestly didn't feel like getting more into it anyway. It was clear that there was more to that than he let on and it definitely isn't my place to speculate or pry.

He did win me a very large tie-dye dolphin and as much as I loved it, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to give it to a little girl trying to win her own prize. Her little face sparkled at the sight of it and her reaction was better than the stuffed animal for both Harry and I anyway.

He wanted to take me to one more attraction after we spent some time walking around with a funnel cake and played a few more games. I don't know why he was so interested in it, but somehow he dragged me into a house of mirrors, which sounds like a fun way to smack your head into glass for half an hour but these things are f*cking creepy.

I'm currently clinging to the back of his shirt as he walks us through it. "There's a trick to these, you know." He says, breathing calmly in the eerily lit, red and black mirror house.

"Usually my trick is to stay away from them, but if you know how to get us out be my guest," I mumble, trying to keep my eyes down on my feet. I always feel like a clown is going to pop out of these, or one of my ten reflections is going to wave at me.

"Are you scared?" He chuckles.

"Not at all." I lie. My toes are practically walking on his heels and I won't look up, which I know he can see in all of the reflections.

He stops moving and turns around to face me. I look up at him with wide eyes and his smile is almost frightening. He walks a few steps toward me until my back is pressed up against the cold mirror. "Do you want to know the trick, Brin?" His hands rest on either side of my head and his hushed voice isn't calming my nerves in the slightest.

He pushes off of the wall and nods his chin for me to walk. "Keep your right hand on the right wall. If you get lost, follow the wall until you get to the exit. It'll take you there eventually." His voice is still low and deep, his steps behind me quiet as I do what he says. I don't dare to look up into the mirrors because I might actually sh*t myself if he looks as creepy as he sounds.

I nod and keep walking until it hits me that I'm only hearing my own footsteps. I stop in my spot and look up.Harry isn't behind me.I turn around and look back despite all of the walls already showing me what's there.

"Harry?"I whisper out. I turn back around, suddenly feeling disoriented by all of the reflections. I pinch my eyes shut and take a deep breath in, trying to calm my nerves and not give in to his game. "I'm leaving without you," I mumble.

I keep my hand gliding along the wall, my steps being slow and careful to avoid bumping into anything. A shadow runs behind me, moving across all the walls around me. I whip my head around and look around frantically for any sign of Harry, or at this point anyone but a creepy clown coming to murder me. My hand falls off the wall as I look into every mirror around me.

"That's not funny. You're freaking me out." I turn around to the way I think I was going, my hand grazing over the coldness. Another shadow runs in front of me and down a hall I can't make out. My breathing picks up, making my chest rise and fall dramatically with every sloppy step I take to get out of this maze.

I take a few more quick steps and when I look up, Harry is standing behind me, arms down to his sides and legs spread open a fraction. He has a small smile on his lips and although it should be relieving, the sight of him is only making my stomach turn more.

I turn around to face him, ready to yell at him for freaking me out but when I do, he isn't standing in the spot behind me. My eyes widen and I glance around, trying to decide which one is really him. "Okay, you'rereallyscaring me," I breathe out, looking at all of the sets of green eyes around the room. I take a few steps backward until my body collides with a hardness.

"Boo,"Harry whispers into my ear, making me whip around once more and jump from being startled. He has a huge smile on his face and his dimples are flashing. I furrow my brows at him and cross my arms.

"That wasnotfunny!" I huff and glare at him.

"It was a little funny." He holds my shoulders and rubs them, trying to soothe me.

"I was actually scared, these things freak me out." I grin at him and roll my eyes.

His hands move down my arms until he's unfolding them and bringing them up over his shoulders. His forehead drops to mine and he takes a step toward me until I'm against a wall again.

"No need to be scared. I'll always keep you safe, pretty girl." He coos, moving his head and resting it in the crook of my neck. His lips plant gentle pecks along my skin, making me gasp lightly. My fingers run up the back of his neck until I intertwine them with his hair.

His hands slip under my shirt and rest on the bare skin of my hips. He urges them to turn so I'm facing the mirror. He looks at me through the glass and grins, the feeling of his hands making my stomach quiver. He dips his head back down to my neck to bite and kiss the soft skin.

I don't know why I'm not stopping him but at least I'm not scared anymore right? He's got a way of making my emotions do a complete 180 and I think he knows that. I shouldn't be enjoying this like I am but the adrenaline of being scared is only making my senses heighten with those poisonous lips on me.

His hands lower to the waistband of my pants and his eyes are back on mine through the mirror. "Always gonna protect you and always gonna take care of you, Brinna. Do you want me to take care of you right now?" His chest rumbles on my back and I can suddenly feel a second heartbeat.

I look into his hooded eyes through the mirror and bite my lip. My head nods slowly in the darkness.

"Words, baby." He squeezes my hips and pulls me back to him harshly.

"Y-yes. Please take care of me." I pant out pathetically.

He hums into the crook of my neck and moves a hand to the button of my jeans. "Good girl," He presses a kiss on my shoulder. "I could listen to you say that all day, baby." He unbuttons my pants and pulls the zipper down. His leg moves between mine and kicks at my foot to tell me to spread my legs wider. I comply, earning a smirk from the siren behind me.

His hand slips into my pants and he rubs his fingers over my clothed slit, tisking into my ear. "I knew you weren't a nice girl, Brin, but I wouldn't have expected you to be so eager to let me pleasure you in public." He mumbles into my ear, pressing harder into my cl*t when I don't say anything back.

I whimper and grind my hips on his hand. My hands hold onto his biceps for stability and I can already feel my eyes trying to shut at the contact.

His hand slips into my underwear and his fingers go straight to my cl*t, rubbing torturous circles into the swollen bundle of nerves. My head drops forward with a whine and my back arches slightly at the contact. The hand on my hip reaches up to grab my jaw. "Watch yourself. Watch how much you like getting off on my fingers." He growls into my ear.

My eyes are focused on his moving hand and my writhing hips. He's watching my face but I can't look at him in fear I'll actually melt on this floor under his intensity. His fingers move down my slit and graze over my entrance, teasing me and collecting the wetness spilling from it. He pushes his two middle fingers into me and a moan slips from my mouth.

"Stay quiet, baby. Unless you want to get caught, you'd probably like that, wouldn't you?" He rasps, my hips rocking steadily against his fingers f*cking me. I bite my lip to stifle any noises threatening to come out as he curls and pumps his fingers into me. The heel of his hand is on my cl*t, giving it a steady pressure while his fingers work me.

"f*ck.."I pant out, trying to keep my eyes where he wants them but the pressure in my lower stomach is making it hard to even stand, much less focus on what's happening. I'm surprising myself by letting this happen.

I don't want him to stop at all, and I think I should feel guilty about that but my mind is too clouded by how good it feels. Idolike the possibility of being caught and even though I would die of embarrassment if it happened, it's only adding to the ecstasy of the situation.

He works his hand harder in and against me and I can feel myself starting to clench around his fingers from being so close. It usually takes me so long to cum when I try myself, I don't understand how he's doing it so well like he knows my body better than I do.

I moan out uncontrollably as the pressure starts building quickly, my eyes pinch shut and my head rolls back to his shoulder. My hands tighten on his arms and I can't stop rolling my hips, trying to edge myself closer to releasing. His groans vibrate through me and his hand moves off of my jaw and up to my mouth to quiet my noises.

I gasp under his hand, trying to keep my legs up straight as a few particularly hard and quick thrusts push me over the edge and make my entire body tense up. He keeps massaging me with his fingers, driving all of my senses crazy and making me see stars. I'm a mess of strangled cries and moving hips, I couldn't stop myself even if I wanted to.

"That's right, ride it out on my fingers baby. Let me feel you cum all over my hand in the middle of this funhouse. You like it when I make you cum in public for anyone to see, yeah? My dirty girl." He kisses my now damp neck and pants over the skin like he's getting off from just watching me.

My whole body shudders against him, the peak of my org*sm hitting me full force. I cry out into his hand and squeeze my legs together and the sensitivity running through me. His fingers slow inside of me, trying to calm me down from my high while I catch my breath.

He removes his hand from my pants and brings his fingers up to his lips. He looks me in the eyes the entire time he sucks my cum off of his fingers, popping them out of his mouth with a smile.

My chest is heaving as I watch him, completely unable to form a complete sentence as I try to wrap my head around what I just let him do. He smirks and buttons my pants back up, giving my sides a gentle squeeze.

"As much as I would love to watch you do that over and over again, we should probably get out of here before they send someone in after us. Are you going to be able to walk, Bandit?" He teases, making me smile shyly at him through the mirror.

I release my grip from his arms and let my hand drag down one of them until our hands are laced together. "Let's go then, before you get us in trouble." He gives my hand a squeeze and leads us out of the maze.

We finally get to the exit and when we walk out of the door, a teenage boy is sitting at a table watching a screen. He glances over at us with an amused smirk before his eyes skim over my body and he turns back to the desktop, snickering like he's in on a joke.

Harry pays him no mind as he keeps on but my brows furrow at the interaction. I turn my head back to the boy, seeing the screen he's staring at is full ofdifferent camera angles of the entire maze.

My jaw drops to the floor and I tug on his hand. "Harry! They had cameras in there!" I whisper shout, my stomach now twisting with a bout of nausea at the thought of him watching us.

"Ohdid they?"He pulls me closer to him, wrapping his arm around my shoulder with a laugh.

"He just watched me get off!" I smack his chest with my hand, surprised at his calmness after putting on a show for someone.

"Mhmm," he breathes out. "And look, you're still here standing after it. Don't think about it too much, you probably made his entire week. I'm sure his friends are going to love hearing about the hot girl at his job." He shrugs.

I groan and shake my head, feeling my cheeks heat from embarrassment. "I need to repent after that," I grumble.

He laughs and continues walking us back toward the games. "Bandit can't leave here empty-handed." He says matter of factly. "Pick your favorite stuffed animal, you're gonna need something to cuddle when you miss me."

I look up at him confused, but turn back toward the games to look for something that sticks out. I see a large green frog with big black eyes and guide him over to the game. It's a dart game and he has to pop three of the smallest balloons to win the prize.

He pays the man with a $100 bill and tells him to keep the change because he'll only need one round to win. I gawk at the interaction but he doesn't look at me, acting like that was a completely normal thing to do. He picks up a dart and throws the first one, popping a small red balloon at the bottom of the board. "You should name the frog Harry." He states, picking up a second dart.

He closes one eye and aims at the balloon, throwing it straight into the middle of a second small balloon. My eyes widen at the board and his two perfectly lined-up darts. "You probably won't need him much because you have me, but for the nights I can't hold you, y'know." He shrugs and picks up the last dart.

He looks at me and smiles, co*cking his arm back, and throws the dart without looking. I stare at him, not believing he's going to make it until a pop draws my eyes to the balloons. His eyes never leave mine as my head turns.

The third dart landed right in line with his first two, popping the final balloon. My mouth drops open and I whip my head back around to him. He raises his eyebrows with a wiggle and chuckles at my expression. He nods up to the frog and the attendant brings it down.

"One froggy for my pretty girl." He says, handing me the stuffed toy and putting his arm back around me. "You're going to catch flies if you keep this open any longer you know." He swipes my lip with his thumb on the opposite hand, squeezing my chin to snap me out of my trance.

"How did you-" I start to ask.

"I'm a very talented man, Brin. I should have been a magician, probably." He jokes. "Let's get you and Harry Jr. back home, you've probably got a long day at work tomorrow to prepare for."

sh*t. Work. Jillian.

"She might actually kill me. She didn't come out of her office for the rest of the day after lunch and I think it was probably because she was plotting my death." I sigh and hold the frog closer to my body as we walk out of the carnival.

Our shoes crunch on the dirt as we walk back to the car. There's nothing out here to block the sky so all of the stars are out and shining above us. I shiver slightly, a chill running through my bones from the night breeze.

"If she says anything you call me and I'll come get you. You don't have to take sh*t from her, Brinna. You know that right?" He looks down at me, turning into the row we parked in.

I wish that were true. I wish it were as simple as telling her to f*ck off, but it's not. I have to work to survive, I'm not there for fun like Grace is and I'm not there to kill time while my business collects more money like Harry. I have to be there in order to get to my next step in life.

"Idothough. She's just one bump in the road to my future. I'll be okay." We stop at the car door, his arm falling off of me to open it. I step into the car and sit, buckling the seatbelt while he stands in the doorway. His hand is resting on the top of the frame. He leans in and presses his forehead to mine, taking a deep breath in.

"Say the word and the world is yours, baby. Everything you've ever dreamed of, just for you." He plants a kiss on my nose and backs away, shutting the door and leaving me momentarily alone to ponder over his words while he walks around the car.

He drove me back to my apartment with his hand running soothing patterns over the leg of my jeans. I was dozing off with the warmth of my new frog cuddled into me and from the crash of today. He gave my thigh a squeeze, jolting me out of my half-asleep state.

"C'mon baby, I'm walking you to your door." He says, unbuckling his seatbelt and cracking open his door. I do the same and hop out of the car, waiting for him to be by my side before we start up the grass to my door. I unlock it and step inside, turning slightly to see if he's coming in with me.

"I can't stay tonight." He kicks the ground around his feet. "I've got some things to take care of at Treasure Chest, but I'll text you in the morning." He grins at me.

I nod my head and whisper out anokay,leaning against the door while we stare at each other. "Goodnight, Harry. Thank you for tonight." I bite my lip to suppress my smile.

"Goodnight, Bandit." He smiles back, taking a few steps back away from the door and I shut it.

I turn around with my back pressed to the door and sigh, a deep relieved breath of happiness. My heart fluttered with nerves like a school girl and I was practically bursting at the seams.

I push off of the door and look at my frog, smooshing its cheeks in my hands. "I guess you get to be my cuddle buddy tonight." I hold it close to my chest and walk to my bedroom, ready to drift off to the memory of green eyes and soft lips.

Chapter 15: Lover Boy

Chapter Text

H A R R Y

I had to force myself to turn my car on and drive away from Brinna's house. Seriously, I waited outside of my car door for ten minutes debating with myself whether I should go to Treasure Chest and deal with Lillith or if I should turn my phone off and crawl into bed with my pretty girl.

I wish I had chosen the latter, we could have been under her blankets, skin to skin while I played with her hair and told her the sweet things that rattle around in my head all day long. I could have been kissing her like I've been dreaming of for weeks. I could have had her legs wrapped around my hips while her moans and mewls rang through my ears like Christmas bells.

Instead, I'm sitting in my empty club with Zayn, Niall, and Louis while we wait for Lillith to come by and speak to us about our performance as well as what happened here last month with the f*ckers that lost my product.

I've been avoiding telling her because I've been so caught up with the life I've kept more secret than the money laundering. I haven't told anyone about Brin yet because I don't want her name floating around people I work with.

It's not late enough for Treasure Chest to be closed, but only the club part is. I close it once a month when Mrs. Boss Lady wants to check on how we're doing, and I don't like innocent people being here when it happens because she's ruthless and will kill anyone who looks at her for too long. Innocent people don't die under my roof.

This is the stuff I don't want Brinna to be around and I'm not really sure how I expect to keep her away from it when my entire life is being controlled by Lillith. I have to do everything she says with no questions asked, but sooner or later my worlds are going to collide. I can't even tell her about what the club is really used for without her automatically being involved in its activities.

She isn't like everyone else I hang around and she doesn't deserve to be thrown in the mix with them. She's far too delicate and sweet to do what I do, but my job is what allows me to live the way I do and part of that is being able to take care of her like I want to, which means I have to shut up and take it and hope she doesn't end up on this couch with me, waiting for Lil to make her appearance.

"What's gotten into you?" Zayn asks, coughing lightly and passing me a lit joint. I take it from him and suck in a lengthy drag, hoping I can distract him long enough that he forgets he even asked.

I blow the smoke out and lean back on the couch with my feet up on the coffee table. Niall and Louis are on the chairs perpendicular to the couch we're on. "Must be moping around after Maggie ghosted him," Niall laughs and takes a drink from the bottle of liquor in his lap. "She practically threw herself at me when I walked into the lobby today."

My eyes shoot to his smug face. I furrow my brows and co*ck my head slightly, a grin forming on my lips. "Is that what Magnolia told you?" I question, bringing the joint back up to my lips for another hit.

"Said she ghosted you a month ago after you went on a date with some other bitch." He nods with a shrug.

"A date?" Louis perks up. "Harry going on a date and being dumped by his hookup, never thought I'd see the day you get rejected by women." He teases, passing the bottle between him and Niall.

"Hmm." I breathe out, amused to know that Maggie is telling everyone she chose to stop talking to me, and not that I blocked her phone number after spending the night with Brinna. I didn't even go to Maggie when I wasn't seeing Brin, that's how little I need her around me. She was good for a fix before I found what I want in life. I'm glad she can lie to make herself feel better, though.

"Some of the dancers said you brought a girl to meet them. Don't tell me that's the same one Maggie said you got a hotel room for." Zayn butts in.

"Alright I get it, you're all getting a piece of her now that she's not bothering me." I joke, passing the blunt over to Niall. "I'll have you know I've been busy with more important things." I smile, the weed making me giddy just thinking about the woman cuddling with a frog I won her earlier tonight.

"What's her name? Left hand?" Louis laughs and takes a swig from the bottle.

I put my hood over my head and cross my arms, sinking further down into the cushion. My eyes shut and I can feel my cheeks heating just by thinking about her. I hope she's sleeping peacefully. I need to remember to text her before she wakes up. Maybe I'll even take her to work so she has no choice but to see me again tomorrow. I wonder if that's something she'll let me do, I would clear my entire schedule to be her chauffeur.

"Hello, lover boy?" Niall laughs and smacks the couch arm next to me. I peel open my glazed eyes and look over at him.

"Her name.." I start. "is noooone of your business." I sing my words, waving my head with a laugh.

"So there really is aher. I bet you it's the same one you took care of last month, you never do that sh*t!" Zayn laughs and jumps in his seat a little.

"Simmer down you lot, you're not going to meet her and this is the last time you'll hear about her."

"Are you planning on dumping the poor girl already?" Niall shakes his head and puts the cap on the shared drink.

"God, no." I sit up a bit. "She's my endgame, boys. You three just don't deserve such an angel in your presence, you'll ruin her." I smile, thinking about the maze and the naughty things she let me do to her. She might look innocent but I know she loves the thrills I give her even if that means f*cking my fingers in public.

"You're so whipped, now we have to meet her," Louis says with an eye roll while Zayn laughs.

"Your endgame?" Niall questions, probably doubting everything I'm saying. "Since when do you settle down?"

I think his question over for a second before breathing out a deep sigh. "Since I found the woman that makes me feel like the piece of me that's been lost is another person." I roll my head to my left to look at Niall. "I went to see Peter for her. So I could start treatments. She's it for me. I'm at her mercy." I blow a laugh out of my mouth, knowing how crazy that sounds. I've never said it out loud before but it feels good getting off my chest.

Louis' eyes widen. "You started treatments for her?"

"We've been asking you to start that sh*t since you got diagnosed, what the f*ck man, you can't keep her away from us! This is huge!" Niall adds.

"So.. you're going to get better?" Zayn asks to my right. My head rolls back to the middle and I furrow my brows and shake my head.

With a throat clear, I answer him truthfully. "No. It's too late for me. But she makes me want to stay on this Earth with her. I won't be able to, but.." I sigh, a deep hurt erupting from my chest that makes my heart pang with agony. "But I tried for her. That's how much she means to me. She doesn't even know that, either."

I hear the door to the club squeak open, Lillith's heels clicking across the floor. I sit all the way up in my chair and run my hand over my face, trying to rid my thoughts of Brinna and this conversation that turned sour so abruptly.

"Alright, not another f*cking word about her," I whisper so only they can hear me. "I'm being so f*cking serious, don't you dare say anything else about her while she's here."

"f*ck, okay." Zayn puts his hands up and lifts his brows. The other two share awhat the hellexpression and shake their heads. She taps up the stairs and I jump up from the couch, dreading the thought of her or any of her goons hearing our conversation.

"Lillith." I nod, taking her gloved hand in mine. Maybe I forgot to mention, Lillith is an 80-year-old woman with a crazy eccentric style. She often wears feathers and rainbow clothing, huge ugly jewelry, and ridiculous heeled shoes. Totally not what you would expect from a ruthless leader, but I guess the harmless old lady disguise really helps when she unleashes her crazy.

"Sit down." She orders, holding her cane in front of her with her free hand on the crystal ball.

I let go of her hand and turn back around to sit next to Zayn. The four of us straighten up and I put out the joint in an ashtray. She looks each of us over before she sighs deeply and takes off her sunglasses. "Why are the rest of you here?" She gestures toward the three of them.

"Zayn helps me here while Niall and Louis run money to the gunmen," I answer her. She knows this, but she was alive with the f*ckin' dodo birds so she tends to forget anything besides her head men. Crazy that this is the woman responsible for ending bloodlines and cutting balls off, right?

She nods and pulls a chair away from the railing to sit. "You've been low this month, Harry. You know better than to drop my numbers." She states coldly. "Is there something more important you've been doing than your job?"

"I had an episode a few weeks ago, I was in the hospital and then recovering for a little while," I state, which isn't entirely a lie but the withdrawals didn't stop me from doing my job, I kept myself locked up so I would stay away from Brinna, which meant I put Treasure Chest on hold too. Zayn did the best he could but the two of us split the work, it's a lot for one person.

"I said something important." She squints. "Your job is your job until your last breath, I don't care if you're having anepisodeor not. I expect you to double your numbers or I'll make sure you're in the dirt quicker than your f*cking liver puts you there." She says calmly.

"It'll be doubled before the month is up." I nod.

"I know it will be." She agrees. "Now, your men that lost my money?" She pulls a cigarette and lighter out of her top and lights it between her lips.

"I took care of them. The funds have been recovered and their families have been paid off. No one is searching for them and they won't be found if police start sniffing around." I explain.

"Why is this the first time you've admitted to me that three of your men died after f*cking up their work?" She ashes her cigarette on my floor. "I had to hear from my son that you've been killing off your team without so much as a word to me."

"I didn't realize you needed to know about them. If anything like that ever happens again-"

"Ah, ah. No ifs. You hired three snitching f*ck ups that are now buried in a grave god knows where.Ifyou keep hiring people that compromise everything I've worked so hard to build, you're going to be joining them in the dirt. You're good at what you do, Harry. Don't make me cut you short because you can't get your head out of your ass."

"And lastly," she stands tapping her cane hard on the ground. "Bennett."

Great, here we go. Is Benny Boy going to be working for me? I can't imagine him having to listen to me, the idiot only ever comes here when he's looking for a girl to take home. I bet that's why she's here. Is she going to tell me I hurt his feelings after not letting him assault a woman, who now happens to be the lo- aye, aye, aye. Happens to be my Bandit. That's all.

Hard footprints clomp up the stairs, Ben being the one attached to them. His hands are tucked into the front pocket of his hoodie and his head is down, looking only at his feet as he stands next to his short mother.

"A little birdy told me my son has been causing trouble around here for your workers, Harry." She turns toward Ben, "Workers that have nothing to do with my empire and are here trying to make a living. Straighten the f*ck up, boy." She taps her cane on the back of his calf, making him grumble and look up at me.

"Bennett knows better than to be a disgusting sexist twat, but the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. A rotten f*cking apple this one is, just like his father. And you all know that I took that f*cker out of this world so I could take over this business, someone with a goddamn brain needed to." She rambles on about her late husband.

"Bennett is going to apologize for shaming my name with the bullsh*t he's done in your establishment." She stands still, waiting for her son to speak up.

"Sorry."Ben mumbles without an ounce of sincerity.

Lillith pulls an old white revolver out of the back of her pants and co*cks it, pointing it right at her son's temple. "Where's that voice you like using on these innocent women? You better start talking before you piss me off more than you have." She smacks the side of his head with the weapon.

"Ow, Ma!" He rubs the side of his head. "I'm sorry for trying to f*ck your dancers! I've been a bad boy and I'll behave myself. None of your workers deserve to.."

"To f*cking what? Just like you rehearsed in the car. Go on, you want to act tough now you get to lay in the mess you made for me, you stupid sh*t." Lillith growls at him.

"None of them deserve to be touched by a small-penis-no-brain-grimy-spineless boy. Not man, because men don't prey on women." He grumbles, looking up at the ceiling like it's killing him to be standing in front of us right now. I have to bite my cheek to hide my smile because I know Lillith is completely serious about what she's making him do.

She cut her husband's penis off and sent it to his own mother for Christmas after he tried to assault her for telling him no.

"And Harry," She points her cane at me with the gun still on Ben's head. "If you ever catch him in here and he makes even one woman uncomfortable, you put him over your knee and spank him. That's a mother's order. God knows I would do it, but his big ass would break my leg and he needs a real man to show him how to act, anyway." She lowers her gun and tucks it back in its place.

It's difficult for the four of us to stay composed at the bickering between the two of them, I would have never guessed that Lil would be as angry as she is over this because quite frankly she's done much worse things and Ben comes across as the type to still be on her teet. It's quite amusing to see his tail between his legs.

"As for you," She turns her body around to face Ben completely. "Help your poor old mother down these stairs. You're going straight back to your room with no supper when we get home. You little f*cking sh*t, I should have drowned you the second you came out of your father's ballsack. I swear you turned out to be a boy just to spite me." She laces her arm into Ben's and the two of them descend the stairs, her throwing insults at him the entire time they walk out of my club.

"Hold the f*cking door open, don't you have any manners?!" We hear her cane smack into him as he whines in pain, their voices being muffled by the distance.

I stand from my seat on the couch and walk around the coffee table to make sure they've both left along with the guards she brings with her. Once I hear the door click shut, soundproofing this room from the outside world, I face the three of them with my hands on my hips.

"Thank you." I scratch the back of my neck.

"Huh?" Zayn questions.

"For what?" Louis adds.

Niall just watches me as he rolls another blunt on the coffee table.

"For not mentioning her. I can't have Lillith getting any ideas."

"Surely you wouldn't be stupid enough to settle down with a girl that isn't already in this life, H." Zayn mutters.

"She doesn't know about any of this." I shake my head. "And she won't be dragged into it because of me. I'm keeping her away from all of it. She isn't like us, she wouldn't hurt a fly."

"You're an idiot." Niall shakes his head. "You think you can keep her away from every single associate when she's here? This is literally your factory, if you're bringing her around she's going to hear about what this is."

"Well, luckily for you, this idiot doesn't bring her here. She doesn't like to drink." I shrug. She actually loves it, but then she hates it the next morning. I don't understand it but hopefully one day she'll clue me in. I won't pressure her though, her lack of intoxication doesn't make me want her less. That's just more authentic moments we get to have together without being blinded by alcohol.

"You're in love with a woman who isn't in this life and doesn't party at your club?" Louis laughs. "What the f*ck do you do together, play chess?"

I'm not in love with her. It's more like, my entire body thinks about her all day long and every second I'm not with her. My chest hurts until she's near me again. I just think about her hand in mine and the smell of her perfume all of the time. It's not love, I'm completely and entirely obsessed with her and I want to give her the entire world.

"Tell us her name, H. I can't keep up my f*ckin' head is spinning from the weed." Zayn groans.

"You don't get to say her name." I smile, liking the fact that it only comes from my lips. She's like my secret treasure.I miss her.

"Oh come on, a first name isn't going to get her killed." Niall lights his joint.

"Don't even joke like that, I'll cut your tongue out I swear to god."

He raises his hands up and laughs. "Oooooh, I'm so scared, Mr. Dick Whipped is gonna French me for talking about his girlfriend."

I scoff at him. "She isn't my girlfriend."

"You're settling down for a girl that isn't your girlfriend?" Zayn pipes up. "How cute of you. She must be good to you." He smiles at me with red eyes.

I take the chair Lillith was sitting in and bring it to the group, spinning it around so I can sit in it backward. My chin is resting on the top of the metal back as I stare down at the floor, thinking over his words.

She is good to me, but I don't think she's trying to be. I'm trying to be good to her so that eventually, she'll want me as bad as I want her. Right now I think it's one-sided. I know what I want and I'm hers, but that doesn't mean she's mine. She lets me take her out and spoil her, but I think that's because I'm asking her to come along and not becausesheis the one who wants me to take her out.

Hopefully, she'll start feeling more comfortable with me soon. I want her to be able to tell me everything she wants so I can provide it. I want all of her love soaking into me, her touches that are completely natural instead of in the heat of the moment. She deserves to feel loved and have someone to love. Plus, I would pay her to let me spend all of my money on her. Call me crazy, I have too much and I would literally buy her the moon if she wanted it.

"You're gonna f*ck her up when you go, dude," Louis states, staring blankly at me, but not really focusing on me.

"I know I am. I'm not going to think about tomorrow, though." I sigh and pull out my phone, not looking up at their reactions to save my own feelings.

"Tomorrow? You think you're going to die tomorrow?" Niall asks, now sounding just as dazed as Louis.

"No, but eventually there's going to be a tomorrow that Ido.And when that tomorrow comes, she's going to be heartbroken but I'm too selfish to stop myself. I want her. Ineedher. She showed me a feeling I thought I never deserved and the universe is letting me keep her. She took me back after I left the first time. Maybe she's my cure." I smile at her contact on my dimly lit phone screen.

"Maybe." Zayn agrees, zooted out of his f*cking mind on my couch. I don't even think he heard what I said, he's on a whole other planet right now.

The three of them are thoroughly f*cked, which is a good thing because I don't want to keep talking about the inevitable. If I keep ignoring it, it won't turn into this big monstrous cloud of anxiety. Brinna doesn't know I'm sick and I plan on keeping it that way. I don't have the heart to tell her just yet. The moment I say it out loud it becomes real, it becomes a looming thought for the both of us and I don't want to do that to her.

To: Bandit 12:03 am

Thinking about you, pretty girl. Don't get Harry Jr. used to your cuddles. I'm taking my spot back soon. xo

I reread my message and shut off the screen, putting the phone back in my pocket. I stand from my chair and set it back where it belongs before turning to the three of them and clapping my hands together. "You guys good here?"

"You're not going to stay and party? Don't tell me she's got you that wrapped already." Louis slurs his words with a lopsided smile. "We were just about to call some of the girls up, maybe you can get a dance and unf*ck yourself from your little mess."

My phone buzzing in my pocket stops me from replying.

From: Bandit 12:07 am

You might have to fight him for me, curly. He gives a mean hug. Everything okay at the club?

I smile at the screen and bite my lip. She makes my heart flutter with just a few words, I don't know how she does it but it's a feeling that makes me forget how good of a high I got from the co*ke and pills. She's my high.

"Well, lucky for you, my little mess just saved you from having your balls hanging off of my keychain." I turn to Zayn, who has a key to the building but not to the basem*nt. "Lock up when you're done and don't cum on my furniture." I flip them all off and walk backward toward the stairs. I turn at the top of them and hop down, a giant smile on my face.

I'm just going back to my penthouse, maybe I'll talk to Brinna for a while, maybe I'll think about her in my shower. I don't have a plan but whatever it is, I don't want to sit around mostly sober while my friends get dry-humped next to me.

To: Bandit 12:10 am

All good, just the usual monthly count. Why are you awake? Even raccoon bandits need their beauty sleep ;)

I walk through the door of my club and through the small remainder of the casino to the hotel lobby. I feel like I'm floating instead of walking, who knew one person could take away a hurt that lasted a lifetime? She makes my insides feel so fuzzy and warm.

"Harry, what are you doing here?" Maggie's wide eyes are looking at me from behind her tall desk.

"I've heard you've been a busy girl, Magnolia." I tease her, walking toward the elevators.

"She can't treat you better than me, Harry! I know you, baby. I know all of you better than anyone else! I know you miss me!" She whines.

From: Bandit 12:12 am

Maybe I was thinking about you and couldn't sleep..

I stare at her text for longer than need be, studying the nine words that I never knew I needed to hear.If my heart had legs it would be leaping out of my chest and running down the highway to you, Brin. I think you might actually be trying to murder me.

"Did you ever think that maybe I just don't want you? Don't worry Mags. Some day someone will want to listen to your mouth instead of just f*ck it. Not me, though, ever again." The elevator doors open in front of me.

From: Bandit 12:13 am

Is it too late to convince you to take your spot back?

I am dead. I have died. My heart is out of my chest. My baby wants me, I can see the lights, I'm transcending and this is it for me. I can die a happy man.

The doors close without me in them and my entire body whips around like there's a leash pulling me toward my owner. My feet scuff across the marble floor with how determined they are to get out of this building. Maggie perks up from her seat, probably because it looks like I'm coming back to her, but I walk straight past her desk and out of the glass exits.

My body has a mind of its own and before I know it, I'm in my vehicle and speeding down the highway toward Brinna's apartment. There's nothing on my mind except for the angel waiting for me, the one who asked me to come see her after she had already spent some of her day with me.

She's thinking of me.

Before I know it, my car is parked on the street in front of her building and I'm launching myself from the vehicle. My hand pounds on her door eagerly, probably sounding like I'm trying to break it down for something cynical instead of tangling up in her sheets with her.

The door slowly creaks open with a wide-eyed Brinna on the other side, standing in a large shirt and ankle socks. I mentally curse myself for not bringing her flowers, especially because it's been so long since I brought her the first ones.My dad used to always say keep a woman's vase full of fresh flowers.

"Hi.." She whispers, crossing her leg over the other and opening her door wider. "I didn't think you would come, you didn't answer my text." She smiles shyly.

I walk into her home and shut the door behind me, cupping her face in my hands and pressing our foreheads together. "It's never too late for you, my pretty girl," I whisper with my eyes closed, our noses brushing together. "Anytime you need me I'll be here in a heartbeat, I promise." I pull away from her and study her relaxed smile.

"You really did get here fast. I texted you what, ten minutes ago?" She giggles and moves her hand into mine, leading me back to her bedroom.

I kick off my shoes on the way there. We walk into her dimly lit bedroom, the covers being messily thrown back like she had jumped out of them to answer the door. I like her room, it's cozy and inviting. She's got dim fairy lights hung around the ceiling, pictures of the moon and constellations all over her walls, green vine plants on shelves, and crystals anywhere she can fit them.

"Do you wanna get in bed with me?" She asks, lying on her side with a fuzzy blanket tucked under her chin. Her eyes are twinkling under the lights and she looks like she's been waiting to relax until I stood in front of her again.

I peel my shirt off my body and undo my belt, sliding my pants down my legs and discarding the articles of clothing off to the side. My lips tug up affectionately and I nod at her, lifting the comforter up and crawling in beside her. I scoot over until I'm in the middle of the bed, leaving little room between the two of us.

I wrap my arm around her hip and pull her toward me, my leg sliding between the two of hers. She gets herself comfy beside me, resting her head on my chest with her hand running soothing lines over my bicep. I let out a deep breath and kiss the top of her head.

"Will you play with my hair again?" She speaks so quietly that it's barely audible.

My heart leaps to my chest at her request. "Such a spoiled little Bandit, hmm?" I tease but my hand immediately moves to her head as the words fall from my mouth. I move between rubbing her back and playing with the hair at the nape of her neck while I hum her songs and whisper sweet things to her sleeping mind. Her body relaxes under mine and her soft snores fill the quietness.

I wish I could lay here with you forever, Brinna.

Chapter 16: The Monster

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

It took an extra thirty minutes to leave my house today. I actually woke up earlier than usual, but the curly-headed mythological sex mermaid managed tohave his breakfastbefore we even removed the blanket. I had to take a cold shower before I climbed back into bed and stayed naked with him all day.

Which of course he joined me for, and not even cold water stops a siren's song, apparently. His hands kept roaming all over my body, not entirely sexual but like he couldn't get enough of the feeling of my skin under the pads of his fingers. We finally made it out of the bathroom after brushing our teeth to get dressed in my bedroom. He tried to pick out my undergarments but I refused to wear a red lace bustier and matching thong.

He said that wearing nothing was better than the set he picked out, which was not at all what I meant. That didn't stop him from being completely mesmerized by the plain white underwear I chose, though. He was being extra affectionate with small pecks all over my body except for my lips.

He told me he wouldn't kiss me until I believed he wasn't going to leave me and he was keeping true to his word. It's pretty clear that his infatuation with me is only growing and I can't say mine isn't too. Waking up with him was a new kind of calm. He's so warm and his arms fit around me like they were meant to be there.

He practically begged me to let him drive me to work, but if Jillian really does bite my head off for leaving with Harry yesterday, I don't want to have to wait for him. Plus, I think he needs a second to cool down. He's so worked up from being with me that I'm afraid he's going to burst.

Of course, he hugged me for at least five minutes before letting me get in my car and drive away. He stood and watched the whole time until I turned the corner off my street. I can't lie, even though I was later than I'd liked to be today, I really liked Harry being with me this morning. He certainly woke me up and started my day in a way that I couldn't even think about what was waiting for me when I got to my job.

I called Grace to take care of Jill's usual coffee for me and told her I had a lot of juicy stories for her when I got there. Of course, she knew it was about Harry because she was the one who messaged him yesterday to get him to talk to me.

I was mad when he showed up, and I was even more mad at her for texting him behind my back, but I guess I needed a little push. I missed Harry's presence when he was gone, and even though I really hate the sound of that because we didn't spend that much time together, I'm glad he's back in my life for now. My own stubbornness wouldn't have let me talk to him without Grace doing what she did.

But of course, that stupid nagging voice in the back of my head loves to remind me that we've been seeing each other for less than 24 hours at this point, and while it feels good, it could be temporary. I need to take more than a day to think about what I want with him. I have to pace myself so my feelings don't get crushed again. My insides are screaming at me to launch myself full force at him, but my brain knows better than that.

Which is incredibly hard to do when the man seems to be everywhere, all the time. I walked into the office this morning to a gushing Grace and on my desk, a giant bouquet of blue hydrangeas with a coffee from the cafe on this street. The card on the flowers readThursday Petals For My Everyday Woman. I rolled my eyes and laughed when I read it, shaking my head at the corniness.

I don't even know when he had the time to do that, I was with him the entire morning and he was suctioned to me the whole time. Maybe he should have been a magician after all because Grace swore she had nothing to do with it besides showing the delivery man where to set them.

I still haven't seen Jillian today but Grace said she was already here when she dropped off her coffee. I would have expected her to be angry that it wasn't me handling her business, but she didn't say a word about it to either one of us. It's not like her to hold back her opinions.

So naturally, I've prepared myself for hell. Jillian being loud is normal, but a quiet day in the office is bad. Especially because Harry's face is going to be on shelves tomorrow and the flowers on my desk were sent by him. Her blinds are down so I can't see her in there but because she hasn't tasked me with anything, I have nothing to do but sit here with Grace while she smells the pretty flowers and I dish all about the night I had with Harry.

"You should have seen Jill's face when he walked out of here with you in his arms. I thought her head was going to fall off." She whispers, her face half buried in petals.

"Don't remind me, I can't believe he stole me from work. I also can't believe she hasn't said a single thing about it. That's weird, right? She thought he was here for her and then he took me out to lunch." I recount, trying to imagine what I would have done if I was Jillian.

I would probably fire me out of embarrassment. Or make a public ad about how much of a slag Harry is. Maybe I would even write a review of his club for next month and slander the hell out of his name.

"Where did he take you?" She asks, stroking the soft blue buds in front of her.

"Sugar Factory. Right on Harmon Corner." I clear my throat, trying to figure out how to word my thoughts without sounding crazy out loud, "You know how uh, how he was on the floor begging for me yesterday?"

"How could I forget? I got a picture of it!" She laughs and then widens her eyes when she realizes what she admitted. "I mean, I did not see a single second of a man on his knees for you."

"Christ," I mutter with a head shake. "Well at lunch he told me he's not going to kiss me until I believe him.." I explain vaguely, trying to ease into the conversation that's making my heart do backflips.

"Believe him? About what?" She pulls away from the flowers to look at me.

"That he's not going to leave me again. He said I need to forgive him and know that he isn't going to ghost me again. And then he asked me on a date." I sit back in my chair with my arms folded, gauging her reaction since she's the one with more social awareness.

"And then.. you kissed on the date?"

My cheeks instantly blaze at her question, given what actually happened. I shake my head with a cringe. I squeak out a pathetic "no" and bite my lip.

Her eyes widen and her jaw drops with delight. "Sowhat happenedthen, Brin?" She scoffs playfully, eyes sparkling with the gossip she's about to get.

"He took me to a carnival and we rode the swings." I blow a raspberry from my lips, "and he said he'shmm-mm-mm-mm-mm." I push in my chair, swaying side to side.

"He'swhat?"She squints.

"He said that he's mine if I want him, and that he isn't leaving unless I tell him." I look up at her shocked face. "Grace you should have seen the way he was looking at me, I swear it was the way you look at someone when you're- you're in- luh- I can't even say it. It waswild." I shake my head at her.

"Love?!" She bursts, shaking in her seat with excitement.

"But that's not all that happened!" I whisper-shout.

"Did he propose on the swings? Are you getting married? Bitch if I'm not your maid of honor! Are you two a thing now?!" She starts getting loud, attracting the attention of a few people around us.

I lean forward and grab her arms to make her stop moving and look at me. "Shut up because you're about to actually freak out when I tell you this." I look her dead in the eyes with a serious expression.

She calms down and nods, waiting for me to continue before she can't sit still any longer. "He took me into a mirror maze and," I look around my shoulders to make sure no one's eavesdropping, leaning in closer to her ear. "He fingered me in the middle of this funhouse tocompletion. There were cameras everywhere, Grace."

She backs away from my whispering with her jaw on the floor. "You whor*," She says stunned. "I bet you f*cking liked being watched too, you nasty girl! I knew you were freaky! How was it? I need details, you can't tell me that a gorgeous man made you cum in public and not give me details!"

I chuckle and put my hands over my face. Am I really about to tell her all of this? I feel the words in my throat begging to come out like Ineedto say them to make sure it actually happened.

"He took me into the maze and he tried to scare me, but the adrenaline of it just kind of.. turned me on." I gush, not being able to contain the smile on my face. "He told me he would always protect me and he would always take care of me.. and then he asked me if I wanted him to take care of meright there."

Grace was leaning forward, now holding on to my arms with a shocked expression on her face, listening as intently as she ever has. "I don't even know what possessed me to say yes but I did. Grace, he held my jaw and made me watch it." I nearly squeal at the thought of his eyes observing me unravel from his hand.

"He was whispering dirty things in my ear and I just.. came, so f*cking hard. And then we walked out of the maze together and there was a teenager watching it on the screen!" I laugh, Grace gasping at the admission and then leaning back with her own loud laugh.

"I can't believe you did that! You might have given that kid his first live show!" She giggles. "Did he drop you off at home after?"

I nod my head, "He did. He had to go take care of something at Treasure Chest." I grin knowingly at her.

"And then he sent you flowers after slu*tting you out at a carnival?Pleasetell me you're keeping him. I'm being so serious Brin, I will strangle you if you don't make this man your bitch."

I shake my head, "I texted him at midnight asking him to come back over."

"Oh mygodwas he that good?! Who even are you Brinna Noelle!"

"But it wasn't even for sex! We just cuddled. He played with my hair and nuzzled into me the entire night, Gracie. Hesang me songs.I swear to you it was the strangest feeling, like my chest hurt but in a good way. He felt so right in my bed, the whole thing felt so natural."

"Was he there when you woke up? Don't tell me he dipped before you could say goodbye again." Her face drops slightly.

"Oh, he wasthere." I nod, gesturing down between my legs. "He was on me the entire morning. I swear he would have crawled into me if he could have. He didn't even want me to drive myself to work."

"He issowhipped." She gapes, drool threatening to pour out of her mouth the longer she keeps it open. "You lucky girl, a rich man that knows how to make you org*sm and sends you presents all day long. Sounds to me like you found yourself a sugar daddy with magic fingers."

"I don't want his money, Grace! That's not why I went out with him."

"He obviously wants to spend it! Let the man! Make his pockets hurt, Brin!" She pretends to make it rain between the two of us.

I laugh and shake my head at her before silence falls between the two of us. I clear my throat and push my lips to the side, "Is it crazy that I really,reallylike him?" I pick at my nails to avoid looking at her.

"Any other person in this city would have used the Elvis chapel by now," She jokes, earning a short blow from me. "But I think for you, it's a little crazy. I'll be honest with you babe, this seems like another one of those things that's going to make you spiral." She admits.

"I feel like that, too." I agree. "He makes me feel good and I already want more. I'm breaking every single rule I have for him but I can't stop myself."

"You're allowed tolikethings, Brinna. You don't have to go your whole life without enjoyment just because you think it's going to lead to you being addicted to something crazy. A boyfriend doesn't make you a junkie." She shakes her head, knowing exactly why I'm feeling the way I am.

In my case, lovedidmake two junkies. I've seen it happen, I lived it. A boyfriend turned into a husband turned into a deadbeat who sat around shooting up and beating his wife and child while the wife let it happen because she was too high to even blink.

It's hard to undo trauma when you haven't had the time to process it, and between living with my parents and then rushing to build my own life, I haven't ever sat back and acknowledged it the way I need to. I've kept my anxieties about them pushed away, but it seems like every day I spend with Harry is another repressed memory that makes its way to the front of my brain.

I've seen the way Harry looks at me, I've seen that look before and it didn't quite hit me until I saw the picture of my parents on my desk this morning.That's the way Mikey looked at Coco.The burning hunger he has in his eyes for her is the same look Harry gave me in the restaurant and on the swings.

The two of them were inseparable and Harry won't let me go. He clings to me like he needs me to survive, like our flame burns together. Do I really want to go through what my parents did? They ended up together in the end, but they lost everything in the process. My example of love is so contorted from the two of them that it's not something I've ever wanted to indulge in, and I think Harry is a gateway for that feeling.

Harry is a shiny object being dangled in front of my face and it's getting hard to not reach. I wish I could let myself fully submerge in him, but I have to think about my future and whether or not that includes the man who reminds me so much of my own father at a young age.

I want him, I do, but wants aren't enough when needs have to come first. I don't get the privilege of slowing down in order to have a good time with friends or partners. We've already spent so much time together between yesterday morning and this morning that it's completely consumed me.

I was late, I didn't get Jill's coffee, and I hadn't even started my work because I was too eager to talk Grace's ear off about him. I can't even admit out loud that the only reason I called him is because I was up thinking about this same issue, and all I wanted was him.

Ineededhim. He makes my thoughts shut off like they were never even there to begin with. He eases the tension in my body with the slightest touch, and he makes me feel better than I ever have in my entire life.I used him to get my fix.

Some people have a really easy time with not becoming obsessed. I'm the exact opposite, I like something and it consumes me until my every thought is about my new fixation. Harry is slowly taking over my every thought like poison running through my veins. I don't think about how bad Ishouldbe feeling when he starts telling me sweet things and touching me.

I want Harry and I don't know how to do that without ruining my life. My only two options are to continue on with my plan for the future and succeed or spend my time with Harry and ruin everything I've worked hard to build for myself. What Ishoulddo and what Iwantto do are two extremely different things.

"Are you two going to sit around and blab all day or should I be expecting you to do your job at some point, Briana?" Jillian slapping a stack of papers onto my desk startles the two of us. Grace moves her face away from the flowers and straightens up in her seat.

"I sent you an email and you haven't even opened it. I have a very busy day and you're already late, you're on thin ice and your indolence is getting on my nerves." She seethes at me with her arms crossed.

"Sorry, I had no idea you sent one." I unlock my desktop and open my emails, seeing that she sent it at 8:37 a.m. I check the time on my clock and raise a brow at her. "You sent this one minute ago? It's 8:38."

"You need this job a whole lot more than I need you, so don't start acting like you can speak to me any way you feel like. And if you ever leave this office without begging for my permission again, you're going to be sleeping under the highway quicker than you can pack a goddamn bag." She speaks low.

She's calm still, angry butcalm.I look at the stack of papers on my desk and recognize them from yesterday. "What're these for?" I question, not entirely sure why I have them again since she demanded they be printed for her to look over.

"I'm starting to think Grace is the smart one between the two of you, you've been wasting my time and I'm sick of it. You know I don't like this font. You've been working here for how long and you're still messing up the most uncomplicated tasks."

"Excuse me?"Grace asks next to me.

"You're both lucky to be in my office, butyou,"She points at me, "might want to start looking for a new job if you can't keep it in your pants. I should report you to HR for misconduct in front of all of these innocent people. Shame on you for getting off in my building." She looks my body over with a disgusted scowl before stepping away.

There it is. You're not mad at me, you're mad at Harry for wanting me.

"Did she just call me stupid?" Grace whispers beside me. I turn in my chair to look at her with a frown.

"You're not stupid. She's just being a bitch." I lean my head on her shoulder.

Jillian sticks her head out of her office door, andvery loudlygets my attention again. "And Briana, I want you gone for my meeting today. If I wanted them staring at something so hideous I would put a pig in the room, you're practically the same species anyways." She yells across the room before turning back around and slamming her door shut.

My eyes widen and my jaw drops. I lift my head from Grace's shoulder and look at her, the two of us sharing the same shocked expression. We keep our eyes on each other for another ten seconds before toppling over in laughter behind my desk, wheezing and slapping each other over the awful things that just came out of our boss's mouth.

We catch our breath and sit back up straight, wiping away tears and sharing straggling giggles every so often. I turn to face my computer to read the email she sent me about my tasks today, fully prepared for the senseless list.

Call in lunch for meeting, Fill out Charlotte's family tree project, Make a waxing appointment...

"Well Grace, I've got a long day of bullsh*t to get done, but if you feel like staring at this ugly pig any longer, I'm sure I'll see you around." I roll my eyes and start looking up numbers for caterers.

After spending hours booking appointments and filling out a very extensive family tree based on information I dug up on some websites I found online, my stomach was growling and my list was done. She tried to keep me busy, but I'm good at my job and she knows it.

Besides, her editors are starting to make their way to the meeting room and their lunch has been delivered. Usually, I'm in these meetings with them, but Jilly is not very happy with me and shedidsay to be out of here during the discussion.

I open my desk drawer and pull my phone out, debating on whether or not I should text Harry after my earlier conundrum. I flip the device around in my hands and stare at it, weighing the pros and cons.

"Doooo iiiiiit."Grace whispers off to my right, badly hiding behind her computer. She giggles and sends me a wink, typing away on her keyboard. I sigh with a smile and unlock my phone.

To: Harry 1:42 pm

Are you busy right now?

I don't even have to wait a full minute before my phone buzzes again, making my heart flutter at the noise against my desk.

From: Harry 1:43 pm

Never too busy for my pretty girl. Need me to come save you from the monster?

To: Harry 1:44 pm

Meet me at the cafe across the street from my office.

From: Harry 1:45 pm

I'll be there in ten baby. xo

I toss my phone on the desk and slump back in my chair, covering my face with my hands to muffle the horrible sounds coming from my lips. He literally has me squealing like a middle school girl over a text. I close my eyes and smile to myself, twisting in my chair. I blow out a breath through my lips and shoot up from my desk, suddenly very eager to go see him.

I grab my purse from under my desk and shove my phone into it, bracing myself to tell Jillian I'm leaving so she can have her meeting in peace. I knock on her door and crack it open. "I'll be back in a little while," I state, not wanting to give her any more detail.

"I don't need a play-by-play of your day, Briana." She says mockingly, not looking up from her screen.

"You just said to tell you next time I leave so I-"

"So leave then." She shrugs.

I close her door and roll my eyes, shaking away the ugly feelings she sends through me. I walk out of the office and down the elevator like I do every day, but instead of getting in my car, I walk across the street and down a little way.

Everything is better when I see him.

He's standing against the patio railing, hands in the front pockets of his jeans. His hair is back in a bun and black sunglasses are perched on his nose. He's already smiling at me when I see him, making my heart skip a beat and my feet pick up their pace. I surprise him by walking straight up to him and wrapping my arms around his neck for a hug.

He stumbles only briefly before his arms wrap around my waist to pull me into him. I smile with my cheek pressed into his shoulder and take in his scent. One of his hands comes up to the top of my back, fingers rubbing over the area. "Well, hello to you too," He laughs.

I pull away from him and rest my hands on his chest, the two of us sharing delicate smiles in front of the quiet cafe. "Did you miss me?" I ask him, knowing he's going to say something sweet but wanting to hear it for my own selfish satisfaction.

He drops his forehead to mine and cups my chin in one hand. "Always miss you," He mumbles, sending the electricity I crave through my entire body. My eyes shut involuntarily as I soak in the feeling of his fingers on my skin. "Come on, let's go pick a table." He connects our hands and leads us into the small restaurant.

You're really going to ruin me, aren't you Harry?

***

Chapter 17: Feel Real

Chapter Text

H A R R Y

I haven't seen Brinna in two days and I think my heart is about to explode if I have to be away from her any longer than I already have been. She asked me to meet her for lunch on Thursday, and obviously, I wasn't going to tell her no.

I might have lied and made it seem like I truly wasn't busy, but there was no way I could tell her I was cleaning blood out of the room in my basem*nt that was currently holding the body of the man who tried to rob Zayn during a deposit.

I know he's starting to get pissed at me for flaking out on our responsibilities but Brin comes first, always, no matter what I'm doing. I couldn't tell her no even if I wanted to, but I didn't want to at all.

Which is getting me into trouble. I'm supposed to double our intake by the end of the month, and while it seems easy enough to just throw some extra fake cash into the bag before I take it to the bank, I can't just double it without it looking suspicious. I keep our income pretty indistinguishable so any big outlier is going to get looked into. I have to figure out a way to draw more people into the club so it looks legit.

I've been so caught up in Brinna that I fell behind again which means I've been at Treasure Chest for the last two days, working on dividing up the washed cash to pay people and the unwashed cash so everyone can clean it. We've been slowing down a lot lately, and I need to fix it before I let it get too far gone. Zayn's been reminding me that while I do run this operation, I'm not the one in charge of the entire thing, and the woman who is will not hesitate to end me.

I wasso closeto asking Brinna if she would stay in my penthouse so I could crawl into bed with her both nights after I finished working. I would have loved nothing more than for her to be waiting for me, dressed in my clothes and lying in my sheets. She's never even been in my home before but it felt emptier every time I walked back into it without her.

I let her know that I would be extra busy with the club so she didn't think I was leaving her and I texted her every chance I got. Maybe it was overkill, but my triple texts were surely proof to her that I'm not going anywhere, right? I just needed her to know that even when I'm not with her she's the only thing on my mind. I made sure to tell her good morning and good night, I sent her dinner, and I even had one of my hoodies delivered to her house for her to sleep with while I couldn't be next to her.

She asked me to do none of that. She was perfectly fine with me having to work since I've been with her pretty much every waking moment I can be, but that doesn't mean I don't feel the unabating need to make sure she's taken care of and comfortable if I can't be with her.

I don't know when she'll forgive me for leaving her the first time but I'm doing what I can to prove to her I'll be better while also trying to make sure I don't get brutally murdered by an elderly woman for skipping my day job.

Luckily though, I can stop obsessing over her from a distance because I've finished with distributions and I'm taking her out tonight. I haven't told her that yet, but I've been texting her all day and I know she isn't doing anything tonight, so I'm going to surprise her and take her to one of the more relaxed spots, it'll be just the two of us and a good view.

To: Bandit 8:46 pm

I hope you're awake, pretty girl..

The car is parked in its usual spot in front of her building and I'm leaning against the door with my arms crossed. I haven't brought her flowers because she said she isn't ready to get rid of the ones I sent to her work days ago. I'll be honest, I don't know what they were, I've never heard of hydrangeas but the florist said they were beautiful and bright, perfect for my Brinna.

From: Bandit 8:48 pm

And if I'm already tucked into bed with my new cuddle buddy?

To: Bandit 8:48 pm

Ditch him and come outside for me baby

My stomach twists in anticipation at the thought of her being next to me again. If this were a normal situation, I wouldn't let myself fall so hard and fast. Actually, if this were normal, I wouldn't be standing here. I would be f*cking another random girl from my club, snorting lines, and I wouldn't ever know Brin. But my time on this earth is limited and I want to fill it with her.

I feel like I breathe better when she's near me. Like her presence literally calms my entire soul to the point where I don't have to worry about the inevitable because at least in the meantime I'm spending it with someone who lets me love them the wayI,myself, needto be loved.

I'm trying to push away the guilt that comes with falling for her though, because even though I try to not think about it, she's going to be without me. My goal isn't to hurt her, my goal is to show her how worthy she is of everything this life has to offer. If she happens to fall in love with me like I'm starting to with her, I think that's just an added bonus and an added wound when this whole thing burns to the ground.

Maybe that's incredibly selfish of me. It's a big ask to stay with someone who's dying and I can't expect her to want to continue on after she finds out. She'll have to find out eventually, there's no way I'll be able to pretend for much longer that stairs don't take my breath away and my dizzy spells are just from standing too fast.

I'm going to tell her soon. I just hope when I finally do, she doesn't leave me for it. I wouldn't blame her, but if she left I would probably go back to my old habits just to speed up the process so I didn't have to think about being without her.

She's the only thing that's ever made me want to get better and if she left me, I would have nothing left to keep me around. I've experienced everything I wanted to except for the way she makes me feel and I don't think I can survive without it.

Her door opens and I push myself off of the car, standing up straighter beside it. She walks down the hallway and through the grass, her arms crossed over her midsection in the breeze. She smiles as she gets closer to me, probably noticing what Ididbring her tonight. She looks over the vehicle and my outfit before meeting my eyes again.

"What is.. what are you.." She points between me and the pink 1957 Thunderbird behind me. I smile and gesture for her to come closer, pulling her into my chest to peck the tip of her nose.

I pull a matching pair of sunflower sunglasses out of my pocket and put them over her eyes, smiling when she scrunches her nose. "It's dark outside," She laughs with a slight pink tint to her cheeks.

"Never let them know your next move, right? This wouldn't be a proper raccoon bandit adventure without sunglasses." I say, moving to the back seat of the vehicle and bending over to grab something. "I got you a shirt, too."

She takes the black piece of clothing from my hands and opens it to reveal what I had printed onto it. She looks between the shirt and my eyes, amusem*nt and confusion working around her expressions. "Harry.. this has your face on it."

I start to unbutton my flannel, moving slowly between each plastic piece. "Indeed it does, pretty girl." I continue down the line, "I was thinking about how I used to call you a tourist and then how shocked I was to find out youaren'tone. And it got me wondering, wouldn't you like to pretend we're tourists for a night?" I raise a brow, undoing the last button and pulling open the top to reveal the same black shirt but with her picture on it.

"Oh my god you're wearing my face on your body," She laughs and smacks her hand on her forehead. "You want us to wear these out somewhere?"

"Mhm," I smile at her. "Matching couples shirts are the epitome of cheesy tourist sh*t. I've even got a great place to take you in these." I open her car door, nodding at her to get in. She looks at the car one more time before sitting down in her seat and making herself comfortable.

I walk around the other side and get in myself, adjusting the rear-view mirror with fuzzy dice hanging off of it. I glance over at her admiring the white interior, looking like she's almost afraid to touch it. "Do you like it?" I raise a brow at her gentleness.

"It's really nice. I've never seen such an old car in this condition. Where did you find it?" Her hands run over the leather by the door.

"I know a guy. If you want it I can buy it off of him." I shrug, secretly hoping she wants it.

The guy I know may or may not work at one of the autobody shops that supply drugs across borders. He may or may not also have a garage full of other classic cars that were bought with unwashed cash and are being used to smuggle copious amounts of narcotics until the vehicle's value doubles and then will be sold for legit cash.

Not this one though, princesses don't ride in drug chariots.

"Harry!" She swats at my thigh. "You're not buying me a car just because I said its nice." She laughs, shaking her head and buckling her seat belt.

I laugh with her, more so at the fact that she probably doesn't realize the extent of how much I would do for her at the snap of her fingers. A car is nothing, I'll buy her fifty pink cars if she wants. She's got me completely wrapped around her fingers and she has no idea the power she holds.

"You're really going to wear my face the entire night?" She asks me as we pull away from her apartment.

I raise a brow at her and move my hand to rest on her thigh. "I'll wear this shirt every day for the rest of my life, sweet girl. You don't wanna wear mine?" I tease her, not expecting her to actually wear the shirt. She doesn't even know that I gotBandit's CurlyandCurly's Banditembroidered on the back of them.

"Let me guess, Grace helped you find thatbeautifulpicture you decided to plaster all over that poor piece of fabric?" She stares at the tongue-out selfie of her on my chest before putting her own shirt over her head.

"She may have had something to do with it." I nod, feeling the petals of the sunglasses frames poking my cheeks with how wide I'm smiling. My palm is flush on her inner thigh and my fingers curl in on her skin. I can feel the goosebumps forming under my fingers, but it's probably from the breeze flowing through the topless car.

My hand comes up to my bun to pull out the elastic holding it together. I shake out my hair and let the wind take it, my curls flying back and flowing crazily behind me. I rest my head back on my seat and glance over at Brinna. Her eyes are closed under the shades and her hand is hanging out of her window, fingers splayed out.

"Take your hair out, baby. Let it be free," I suggest, glancing between her and the road in front of me. She opens her eyes to look at me. Her hand moves from the top of mine to pull out the braid she has in, waves of brown hair getting tangled by the wind.

My cheeks hurt from smiling at her so hard, I wish I could take a picture of her like this and keep it with me wherever I go."Beautiful girl.."I mumble, giving her thigh a squeeze. Both of her hands hold my own on her leg now, her fingers grazing over mine.

She's rested back in her seat, gazing out of the window at the lights as we drive down the strip, nearing our destination. She looks so perfect sitting next to me, not having to lift a finger or worry about a single thing inourworld. I wish that were true forherworld, and I wish she would let me make it happen.

I can't even explain it, but my chest aches in the best way possible at the thought of her being entirely taken care of by me. She deserves a life of luxury and relaxation. If I had all of the time on earth with her, I would build her a fortress with all of her favorite things and I would demand she be pampered all day. I would even feed her grapes off the vine and fan her with palm leaves if that's what she wanted.

"You're going to crash this car if you stare at me any longer, curly." She squeezes my hand and laughs, breaking me out of my mental tangent. I blink my eyes and turn back to the road, my cheeks blushing at her catching me.

I clear my throat and start rubbing her leg again. "So when I was thinking about something people do here that doesn't include getting wasted, all I had to do was look up and I found it," I say vaguely, hoping she'll do the same and see what I mean.

Her eyes glance around the darkened skyline, stopping when she sees the giant ferris wheel standing over five hundred feet in the air. She points at it and squints her eyes. "Is it that? I see it from my office all the time."

"It is." I nod, "You can see the entire city from it, all of the exclusive rooftop pools, all of the different themed stores, all of the statues and people. Have you been in it before?"

She shakes her head no as I expected. "I always thought it looked kind of sketchy." She admits, turning slightly to face me. Her arms are crossed over now and her skin is pebbled in goosebumps. "It would be my luck to get into one of the cabins and it falls off at the top or something crazy." She laughs.

"Well, I've been a few times for some work things. The only part I don't like is getting on and back off." I shake my head. "The thing never stops moving so you have to jump on it while it's leaving the platform. I mean, it's slow enough that it's not like an action movie but it still makes my stomach turn."

"Oh god, you can probably see the ground through the cracks in the platform too, can't you?" She blows out a raspberry like the thought makes her squeamish. "What would you be doing there for work?"

Okay, it wasn't for work. We got drunk and found this place walking the streets and took some girls into it. By we, I mean Niall, Louis, Zayn, and I ordered a bar cart and made the 1/9th of a mile-high club.

"We uh- it was to celebrate the opening. I took some of my employees here and we ordered the party package. You know they allow up to 25 people in those cabins? That's crazy, right?" I give her a useless fact, trying to get the topic off of why I've been here before.

"That's too many people, I would probably die of claustrophobia." She says as I pull the car into a parking lot a street away from the ride. We have to walk down one of the streets with fun shops to get there. I'll have to take her back through here so we can go to the bath shop, she won't let me but I'm going to start herpamperingwith that if I can't hire her a masseuse.

I park and shut off the car, the two of us unbuckling and getting out. I walk around to her side of the car, trying to catch her door before she closes it. "You know, my dad would kill me for not opening your door and helping you out of the car, Bandit." I joke, not entirely sure where that came from or why it fell from my lips so naturally.

I've been thinking about my parents a lot lately. I grew up believing that my dad was a whipped prick with no backbone, but the right woman makes you want to drop everything and get on your knees and I understand that now. I thought his constant obsession with my mom was strange for a man. We didn't have much but he never stopped doing everything he could for her. He loved that woman until his very last breath, and he never for a second let her think otherwise.

We weren't very close with each other because I was horrible to both of them, but emotionally I used to really hurt Mom. He always stood up for her and instead of telling me to not speak tomy motherlike that, he would say don't speak tohis wifethat way, like she was his to protect more than mine to mistreat.

I'm turning into the same whipped prick with no backbone and Brinna is the reason for it.

I'm glad my dad constantly showed me how to treat a woman despite me believing it was all bullsh*t. I didn't listen to him, but he never stopped treating her like a princess so the information just seeped into my brain, I guess. It's proving to be useful now and even though I seemyprincess try to hide her smile, I know she wants to be loved.I hope Dad would be proud of me.

I'll have to tell him all about you when I see him again, baby.

My heart hurts at the memory of my parents and the way I drained them together. I purposely made sure to make their lives hell and I succeeded. I haven't seen my mom since he died, and even that was just her being courteous enough to tell me. She didn't think I would show up to his funeral and when I did, she wanted nothing to do with me.

I stop our walking, the two of us connected by our hands. She stops a step ahead of me and turns slightly to look back. The world around us keeps moving but mine is in front of me with blue eyes and a shy smile.

I don't know what's happening to me, my nose is burning like tears are running through my ducts and the lights strung up in the trees are only adding to the out-of-this-world ache I feel, tugging me closer to her so we can be together.

Like a magnet, I pull her body into mine and wrap her arms around my neck so she holds me like I need right now. I loop my arms around her waist and hug her small frame to me, the beat of her heart drowning out the sounds of laughter and banter moving through the street.

I nuzzle my face into her neck and breathe in her scent of vanilla and flowers. My eyes close and I bite my lip to stop it's shaking. Her arms tighten around my neck, her fragile hand finding its way to a few strands of loose hair, twirling it around to match the feeling in my stomach.

"Harry?" She whispers next to my ear. "Are you okay?"

I'm perfect, Brinna. I'm just having revelations and my soul needs yours closer. You mean the world to me and I can't tell you that because I know it's going to freak you out. I'll wait for you to feel the same way baby, but please don't take too much longer. I need to hear you say it before I go.

"You're cold, pretty girl." I breathe out and blink away my emotions. I ease the crease between my brows before pulling away to look at her. She looks puzzled at my sudden affection. I remove my hold from her and shrug off my flannel. "Arms in, Bandit," my voice is still hushed as I try to collect my thoughts.

She turns around, putting her arms into my still-warm shirt. I adjust it on her shoulders and kiss her cheek from behind her. "That's better, yeah?" I plant another kiss on her hairline by her ear. "Let's get going now," I say, rubbing her shoulders before holding her hand in mine again to walk us into the building we need to be in.

We go up an elevator and through a hallway that leads out to the platform of the ferris wheel. The attendant nods at us and explains what I already told her, to just walk into the next open cabin that comes down.

She looks at me nervously and then back to the circular chamber steadily approaching, I wiggle my eyebrows and gesture for her to step in it first. She squeaks a little as she steps over the slight crack between the platform and the car and I step in after her with a chuckle. The attendant locks the door as we drift away from him.

She stands in the middle of the small room as we're now in the air. This ride doesn't start at ground level, so it's a little intimidating when you get fully out of the platform. The cabin we're in is a full 360 view of the city, the entirety of the walls being glass windows. There are two red benches on opposing sides and screens near the roof to tell us how high we are.

The entire ferris wheel is lit up with pinks and blues, painting our skin with their rays as we inch around the ride. "It's not as scary as it looks," she mumbles out, still firmly planted in the middle of the cabin with her arms crossed in front of her.

"It goes so slowly that you can't even tell you're going up," I add. "Do you want to come to the window with me and look?" I offer, seeing how tense she is but knowing she probably doesn't want to look over the edge alone.

She peeps out anokayand shuffles forward only a couple of inches, causing a deep chuckle to erupt from my chest. I walk over to the window and hold onto the railing with one hand, stretching the other out to coax her to me. "C'mere, I won't let anything happen to you," I promise, even though I know nothing is going to happen because we're locked in here and there's no way to fall.

She nods and relaxes her arms, shuffling forward until she reaches my hand, allowing me to guide her to the railing with me. I pull her next to me and wrap my arm around her waist. Her hands hold onto the railing so tightly that her knuckles are nearly white. I rub circles into her hip as we glance around each hotel, all of the buildings having a different color show on them.

She goes silent as we keep going higher, now halfway to the top of the ride. I focus on her face while she glances around. Her expression is soft but serious like she's deep in thought about more than just the view.

"This doesn't feel real," She mumbles, not blinking as she shakes her head slightly.

"I know, it's crazy to think that we were just one of the people down there, they look like ants wandering around."

She breathes out a short but audible breath. "No, I mean.. I meanthisdoesn't feel real.Youdon't feel real." Her head drops slightly.

I turn my body to face her more, suddenly concerned about where this is coming from and how it's going to end. "What do you mean?" I question, not even having the ability to form my own conclusions.

"I shouldn't be here," She shakes her head with a sad laugh. "Ishouldbe in that office building working every second away before I ruin my life," She points to her work. "Ishouldbe staying as far away from Treasure Chest as possible," She glances down to the hotel where my casino and club are currently housed. "Ishouldbe locking myself in my house instead of enjoying every single second with you like I do," She turns to face me, eyes sad and lost.

I share her same expression now, the two of us letting her admission float around the cabin like poison in the air. I pull my lips to the side and loosen my grip on her hip without fully letting go.

"Why are you so worried about what youshouldbe doing when you just said you're enjoying what wearedoing? You can't live onshoulds,Brin." I shake my head slightly at her, "Maybe what youshouldbe doing is not beating yourself up for the small things that make you happy. Maybe youshouldbe enjoying every moment with the people who are trying to show you how good life is when you stop punishing yourself for whatever scenarios you're making up in your own head."

Ishouldhave been a better son. Ishouldhave stayed away from Lillith. Ishouldhave listened to Peter. Ishouldhave started treatments when I had the chance to. Ishouldhave stopped drinking myself to death. Ishouldhave done a lot of things.I have no more room for shoulds, I only have time to do.

She turns fully out of my grip now, looking almost offended at my response. Her arms cross back over her chest like she feels too exposed from what she told me. "I know you don't understand it because of the life you have, Harry, but I don't get to have good times without there being consequences."

"I really don't understand why, though. We've had plenty of good times and you're fine, aren't you?" I question her, hoping to get more of an explanation as to why she thinks being with me is going to ruin her. I won't lie, the implication kind of hurts because she doesn't even know me without being near her, which I think is the best version of myself. If she thinks this version of me is bad for her, there's no way she'll stay when she figures out the rest.

"People like me don't getrealhappiness. I get attached until it consumes me and.. and I don't want to be like my parents," She looks away from me. "I saw what happened when they got too consumed. They ended up strung out on god knows what and theyleft me. This isn'treal, the high never is. It's only temporary until everything is ruined."

So her parents are addicts and they made her think that enjoying anything in life too much automatically leads to consequences? She can't have fun because she thinks she'll turn out like they did? Even if her fun has nothing to do with intoxication?

We're 3/4ths of the way to the top now. I'm not entirely sure of the extent of her internal conflict and how much of an issue her parents must have had. They're probably the reason why she ended up having a breakdown every time she left my club.

"You're not going to end up strung out on something from being with me." I furrow my brows slightly.

"It's the feeling of you. I'm going to get addicted to you, and then you're going to leave like everything else does and I'm going to be left in the ashes to start over again. Nothing that feels this good is real, I don't understand you and how you make me feel like this." Her cheeks are heated and it sounds like she's working through a lot of things that have both everything and nothing to do with me.

"But.. but it isreal.." I step closer to her, forcing her hands out of their defensive stance on her chest. I press them hard into my neck under my jaw. "I'm real, this is real, Brinna!" I plead, moving my fingers over her own and pressing them into my thumping heart. "That'sreal, and that's foryou.."

We reach the top of the ferris wheel, the two of us now completely silent and alone above Sin City. Her eyes are full of so many emotions that are spilling out with a sad twinkle. The air around us is thick with tension. I don't want this to be the end of us and it sounds like she doesn't want that either, but she's too in her head to allow herself to be with me. In our dark cabin, with her hands on my rapidly beating heart and only the sounds of our ragged breathing, she pulls my forehead into hers.

Her eyes flutter shut with the delicacy of a butterfly and she takes a deep inhale, whispering like she's trying to hide away from the rest of the world."Are you going to leave me, Harry?"

My lungs constrict and a chill runs through my spine. I press my now damp forehead farther into hers, shaking it slowly like I'm afraid any sudden movement will pop our bubble and throw us back into reality."Never."I breathe into her slightly parted lips.

Not by choice, my beautiful girl. Never by choice.

Her hands slip from my jawline to the back of my neck. I want to keep my eyes open to study her face but I can't stop them from closing under the warmth of her skin on mine. I wish I could read her mind and fix every problem she's dealing with alone.

One final deep breath moves through her lips like it's the last piece of control she has left. She inches our faces closer together until our noses are brushing and all of the muscles in my body relax. Nothing else matters outside of this small room right now.

Under blue and pink lights, on top of the city that keeps moving even when we stand still, she presses her soft lips into mine with enough passion to cure a thousand men,believing me when I say that I won't disappear on her again.

Chapter 18: Just Friends

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

I kissed Harry.

It's not the first time we've kissed, but this one was different. There was a purpose to it, a deeper meaning that I couldn't voice out loud. He kissed me back so urgently like he was using his lips as a last-resort plea to keep me with him. He held my face to him as if he needed me closer than we already were and he evenwhimperedinto my mouth like I was giving him the air he needed to survive.

We stayed connected for so long that by the time we finally stopped kissing, we were both a mess of rising chests and swollen lips. Our bodies stayed pressed together as we stood on top of the world, giving ourselves completely up to one another. The soft pecks he left on my lips every so often kept me grounded in midair, reminding me thatmy feelings are real and so is he.

Nothing in the heated moment of our conversation felt more right than letting him know that I believe him when he promises he isn't going anywhere. Call me stupid, but I really want to believe him. There aren't many people in this life that I can rely on, or even want to rely on, but Harry is quickly becoming one of them. He's so eager to please me that I have no doubt he'd drop everything if I needed him.

I've been testing him a bit with that theory too, like the night I asked him to come back over. I was too deep in my head about every way we could end again and I needed him to prove me wrong. He did, and he stayed with me the entire night and well into the morning.

And then when he had to be away from me for a few days, I tried to play it off as casually as I could but his constant efforts to be with me without physically being there really helped ease my insecurities. I kept his hoodie on me the entire time and I had to hurry to change out of it when he asked me to come outside for him.

Don't think about tomorrow, right? Maybe the tomorrow that he leaves me will come, but for now, I'm choosing to believe he won't. I'm aware that I'm being intentionally delusional and honestly, I don't mind it.

I don't know what exactly this makes us, the farthest we've gotten with that is at the carnival when we agreed to justbetogether. I'm fine with no label still, I don't want Harry to be contractual and I like the way we are now without having to put ourselves in a box.

I'm trying to not freak myself out over this. I took the initiative to kiss him so he would know how I felt about him and where I stood with his proposition. I couldn't wait any longer for him to make the move, yet I don't even really know why I did it. I deserve to be like any other person my age and live a little and he makes me feel like that's possible but I don't know if I'll ever quit hearing the voice in the back of my head screaming at me to stop.

I'm at the point where I'm unsure if this voice is even mine, or if it really is something I've made up just like Harry suggested. Do I really overthink so much that I'm drawing conclusions about scenarios that won't happen? Is every moral and rule I've made for myself built on a foundation of insecurity and lies? I don't know if I'll end up an addict like my parents but he makes me want to take that chance.

The foundation is breaking and while I'm curious about what lies in the cracks, I can't help but worry about the extent I'll let myself run. Me wordlessly telling Harry that I believe him when he says that he's mine has probably made my self-control ten times worse, if at all possible. The first measure of this was when Harry told me about a party he's throwing at the club and when he asked me to come with him, I didn't even let him finish his speech before I told him yes.

He was trying to be nice and tell me that he would have understood if I wanted to stay away for a night because of all the previous times I'd been there, but I insisted that I come and meet his friends who I figured were also invited. He seemed to forget about them though, because he almost canceled the entire thing when I mentioned them. After I had convinced him that it would be fine, he told me to bring Grace along too.

The floodgates have opened and Gracie is currently making me try on every single theme-appropriate dress she has in her giant closet. We've been through every style, every color, every length and she isn't satisfied with any of them. I told her that I don't understand why it's such a big deal but she insisted that meeting his friends is important enough for her to dress me perfectly.

I swear sometimes she thinks I'm her personal doll. She's already straightened my hair and put it into a high ponytail and glammed me out with her dainty silver chains. I refused to let her put enough makeup on me to turn me into another person, though. I'm already struggling with having to meet new people while dressing like someone else and I don't want to feel entirely different while I do it, too.

"So tell me again how Harry convinced you to go to his club?" She says quietly, eyes scanning over a dress before flicking it away.

"He took me on that giant ferris wheel and we kissed, and then he held me for the entire rest of the ride while he pecked the side of my neck and told me how beautiful he thinks I am, and then he asked me if I would come and hang out with him so he doesn't get lonely since he has to be there tonight." I retell the story for the tenth time, knowing she just wants to hear it again so she can fantasize about the situation.

"Right.." She smiles, pursing her lips to the side and continuing on her search. "I can't believe your boyfriend owns one of my favorite clubs."

"He isn't my boyfriend," I laugh. I'm sitting on the velvet sofa in the middle of her dressing room, watching as she throws color after color into a pile on her floor.

"Yeah, and the sun isn't f*cking yellow," She claps back. Her tossing stops suddenly and a giant smile creeps up on her face. She holds a dress in her hand, the article of clothing still hanging on the rack so I can't see it. "Before you tell me no.. let me explain the vision," She glares at me, already knowing what's going to happen.

I sit up in my seat a little, watching as she delicately pulls the article out of its hiding place. My eyes immediately widen and I scoff at the hideous thing she picked. "Absolutely not," I shake my head with a laugh. It's a magenta minidress with a purple mesh overlay, making the dress look reflective.

"Brinna! I said wait on your judgment!" She huffs and takes it off of the hanger while walking over to her shoes. She picks up a pair of short, white go-go boots and raises her brows, "See? Are you seeing it? Good right?"

"You've got to be f*cking kidding me, that's horrible," My jaw drops, genuinely shocked that she spent all that time and came up with the worst thing I've ever seen between her fingers.

"This is fashion, Brin! It fits the theme!" She whines, offended at my teasing.

"I would rather go naked than wear that." I laugh, eyes focused solely on the dress bunched up in her hands.

"Put it on and then decide if you hate it," She pouts, pushing her bottom lip out. "Please, Harry is going to love it!"

"There is no way in hell I'm putting that on my body," I cross my arms and furrow my brows. I doubt he would ever say anything about it if he hated it, but the thought of showing up dressed inthat, is making my cheeks heat with embarrassment.

--

She got me to wear the f*cking dress. It took a lot of pleading and near tears from her perfectly beat face, but she succeeded in her mission and now I look like a nightmare walking through the casino I've become far too familiar with. I glare at the siren hanging up in the middle of the game room, mentally telling her that I know what she's doing and that it's working.

"I look like a f*cking highlighter," I grumble, walking next to Grace, whos adjusting her bra to make her boobs stand out farther than they already are.

"You match the party and you look hot. Shut up." She squeezes the sides of her chest, smiling at her work.

I roll my eyes, "Remind me to never let you dress me again."

She glances over at me with a smirk. "If Harry doesn't cum in his jeans by just looking at you, I promise I'll never put you in an outfit again."

We make our way to the entry of the club, a huge line of people going all the way into the adjoining hotel lobby. "Christ.." I mutter, fully expecting to be waiting here for an hour. His ads must have gotten the attention he wanted because I've never seen so many people waiting to go in before.

"Oh no, babe. You're the girlfriend of the man that owns this entire building. You don't wait in lines anymore. You're royalty." Grace grabs my arm and walks to the front of the line, confidence shining brightly on her face like this is nothing new for her. I keep my head down as we pass the sea of annoyed looks, scoffs coming from a few of them.

The man waiting at the rope glances at us, never once looking at a list or changing the expression behind his sunglasses. "Welcome, Miss Harper," He nods, standing to the side so we can walk past him and through the curtain leading to the door.

My mouth drops as we walk straight by him, avoiding the entire line of people behind us. I look over my shoulder to see him back in his original spot, not letting anyone else through. "How does he, why do you..-"

"Same thing works in my daddy's hotel," She shrugs. "I figured he would have made it known that you're not some random girl anymore. Harry probably told them he'd cut their dicks off if they gave you any trouble."

We push through the giant double doors together, the music immediately filling my ears and thumping through my chest. The two of us stand arm in arm, taking in the array of people dressed way differently than what I've seen here before.

The theme is Under the Sea and Harry must love a good party because the entire room is going crazy. There are LEDs strung across the ceiling like glowing algae, jellyfish lights that are twirling around with flowy tentacles, and his usual strobe lights dance in blues like water moving through the waves of people. It's still dark in here, more like a shipwreck and not a whimsical Disney movie.

Clear beach balls bounce around like bubbles and people are holding cups in the shape of washed-up bottles, complete with crazy straws or tiny umbrellas. Large ice statues of seahorses and stingrays are spread around some of the tables and the dance floor is occupied by people jumping in shiny bikinis and seashell crowns.

Speaking of shells, the dancers are right on theme with the tiny ones barely covering their nipples. Some of them are wearing scaled bottoms while others are wearing nothing but nautical ropes woven perfectly around their bodies. They look as if sailors held a BDSM party before this one.

He moved some of the poles apart to make room for a giant open oyster shell. The woman sitting in it is wearing a very shiny mermaid tail and gold bangles are wrapped all the way up her arms. Her face is highlighted with iridescent dust like a pearl and I'm not sure how she's being so seductive with no legs but she's makingmedrool.

"Holy sh*t," Grace says loudly over the music. "Why doesn't he do this all the time?!"

I nod, unable to form words because my brain is too busy with every new sight. Some men have tridents and others are walking around like scuba divers. One of them is even wearing a shark fin on his back and swim trunks. There's everything from lifeguards to shrimp men walking around and I almost can't take my eyes off of the novelty.

"Harry said to meet him upstairs!" I shout, pulling her arm along with mine as we make our way to the staircase. We start climbing up, pointing out all of the decorations and people, until a loud voice stops us halfway to the top.

"Hello, ladies." Harry stands a couple steps up from us wearing a white button-up that only has a few pieces actually closed. His tattoos are on full display and they're all dusted in glitter that's bouncing perfectly off of the lights above him. His neck is covered in pearl necklaces and small braids run through sections of his curls with little gold charms hanging on the woven strands.

My smile grows with his, his dimples showing entirely. We continue up the few steps until he reaches his hand out for me and I take it. "Grace, I have a fish bowl with your name on it at the bar," He nods at her, "Just tell Luke I sent you and you'll be taken care of."

"Ah! I could kiss you right now you beautiful man!" She shouts, turning back down the stairs to find the bar. He just laughs and shakes his head. The two of us keep going up the rest of the stairs, his grip moving from my hand to my waist as we reach the top and turn to the left toward his usual spot.

He leans down to my ear and slows our walking, "Don't worry about anyone sitting over here. They might look intimidating but I promise they're all a bunch of soft assholes," He assures me, making my stomach twist in nerves. I lean into him as we make it closer, a few huge men scattered around the chairs and other couches.

"Are these your friends?" I ask shyly, not really wanting to talk to them as they don't seem to be the sociable type.

They really do look intimidating and if it wasn't for the glitter and fruity drinks in most of their hands, I would probably be more nervous. I remember the same type of people being around the last time I was up here, but my drunkenness stopped most of my worries. He shakes his head at my question, not acknowledging any of them as we pass.

He leads us to the couch and sits down, pulling me onto his lap with my back against the armrest. "And don't think you need to be nice to anyone here, either. I know you're going to try and be polite baby, but you don't have to talk to anyone that makes you uncomfortable," He speaks into my ear before I can even realize what he's doing.

A small gasp leaves my lips as he shifts me on his lap, holding his hand over the back of my thigh so my already short dress doesn't ride up any higher than it already is. I wrap an arm around his neck while the other lands on his exposed chest, looking at him like he's crazy for wanting me on top of him in front of all of these people.

"Comfortable, baby?" He smirks, rubbing circles into my leg. "I like your outfit," He lets his eyes roam down my body, "but I think it would be better if you took some of my pearls, so we can match." He wiggles his eyebrows and moves his hands to the back of his neck, unhooking some of the necklaces. He brings them to my own neck, securing them and tugging on the beads to pull me forward. "So pretty.." He mumbles against my lips.

I smile at his words despite our eyes being shut from our closeness. I shake my head slightly, giggling at his previous compliment. "Don't remind me about this dress, I swear this isn't what I wanted to wear. Grace practically tackled me into it."

"You look like a beautiful, sparkly gem. Perfect for my Treasure Chest," He coos into my ear, sending a chill down my spine and ecstasy through my veins. A small sigh leaves my lips at his alluring tone.

"That reminds me," I say, trying to stop myself from getting too drunk on him this soon into the night, "Why did you choose that name?" I've been meaning to ask him for a while, I noticed some of the sailor-themed tattoos he has but I never got around to figuring out the story or if they're even related.

He looks at me for a moment before licking his lips. "It's kind of lame, so don't make fun of me," He starts, only making me more curious. "I guess they're kind of my thing. My mom uh.. she gave me one when I was a kid," He clears his throat. "It's the last piece of my family that I have, so I kept it all this time. I keep important things in it, nothing crazy. Just some of my favorite treasures."

"That's really sweet. You'll have to let me see some of them one day." I wink at him, running my hand up his chest to soothe away the nerves that seem to have given him. I don't know much about his family but it appears to be a sore spot. I don't want to celebrate the fact that we have that in common, but it is nice to be on the same playing field in one aspect.

He closes the small gap between us and kisses me, probably to steer us away from the conversation. I'm glad he's comfortable enough to share that small piece of himself with me even if he's not willing to tell the full story. My hand around his shoulder moves to the back of his head and I lace my fingers into his hair, tugging slightly.

He groans into me and grabs a handful of my thigh, making me break our kiss with a smile. He pulls away only slightly, still planting small pecks on my bottom lip through my grin. "It's going to be a long night with you on my lap, isn't it Bandit?" I nod at him and press our lips together fully again.

"Well, well, well!" An Irish voice shouts across the coffee table. "Tell me this is the woman you've gone mad for or you're about to be in trouble, Styles."

I pull away from him, our lips smacking at the disconnection. I furrow my brows at Harry's expression, turning to see who he's staring at behind us. "f*ck off, Niall." He shouts back, holding me closer to him.Niallwalks around the coffee table, sitting down on it in front of us. He holds his hand out for me, to which I hesitantly place mine in his.

"I've heard a lot about you, you must be.."

"Brinna," I answer politely, making his eyes light up at Harry.

"So it's Brinna, is it?" He says to Harry before turning back to me and kissing my knuckles. "Pleasure to meet you, this asshole wouldn't tell us your name." He laughs, dropping my hand and reaching over to grab a liquor bottle off the table.

I look at Harry, who seems embarrassed. "You told them about me but not my name?" I laugh slightly. I'm not entirely sure how to take that, if I told Grace about a person but didn't have a name for them, it would be because I slept with them once and didn't bother to find it out.

"I was going to, I just-"

"Yooo! This is her?" A darker-haired boy comes up to the couch next, plopping down on the other side near the armrest. I smile shyly at him and lean forward in Harry's lap, holding my own hand out this time.

"Brinna," I tell him before he can ask.

"Zayn." He squeezes my hand with a nod. "You must be a special one, you've got this broody bitch all f*cked up. He won't stop talking about you and how much he's-"

"Alright, enough." Harry's voice rumbles through my side. He adjusts his grip on me, pulling me back into him. His lips are next to my ear as he tries to be quiet enough for only me to hear, "I just didn't want them doing exactly what they're doing."

"I get it, don't worry," I assure him, entirely lying because I don't actually understand it. He and Grace are practically best friends with the amount of times he's asked for her help with many of his schemes, yet his friends couldn't even know my name before I told them.

Grace struggles up the stairs with the arm of a scrawnier boy wrapped around her waist. She's a giggling mess while he's smiling and trying to get them up the stairs in one piece.

"You said fish bowl, this is a f*cking aquarium!" She stumbles toward us on the couch, gripping the large alcoholic drink in both of her hands. She steps over Harry's feet on the ground and jumps into the seat between us and Zayn, giggling as she gets herself comfortable and tries to get the straw back in her mouth.

"Who is that, Grace?" I laugh with her, amused at her ability to make friends with people so quickly.

"That's Louis," Harry answers for her.

"And you're Brinna," Louis smiles proudly. "I found your friend trying to come up here with her drink, saying she knows Harry and I thought how perfect because I'm also here for the prick."

"He thought I was the girlfriend!" She slurs.

"You're late, Lou. We already know her name, and you're last which means you owe us a fiver each." Niall puts his hand out and wiggles his fingers.

The five of us joke around for a while more. Louis and Niall ended up kicking two of the men out of the chairs to take their places and Grace has been eyef*cking the hell out of Niall from across her seat. Zayn seems to be the nicer one of the three of Harry's friends, he hasn't made any weird comments about us and he keeps giving us sweet glances every time Harry whispers something in my ear that makes me laugh.

None of them are mean, but it's clear that the other two like to poke at him and make jokes. He hasn't said much to them, he's just been running his hand up my thigh and kissing my ear after telling me about how much he'd rather be in my bed with me, or how good I look sitting on his lap.

It makes me wonder how he is when I'm not here, or how he was beforehand. I can't imagine him doing this with someone he isn't pursuing, especially after the first couple of times I met him and saw how he acted toward women he was f*cking.

Zayn lights up a blunt, making Grace set her empty fish bowl down and clap her hands. "You've got good friends, Harry. I might have to borrow them," She says, taking the blunt from Zayn after his hit. She blows her smoke out and gestures at me to take it but I shake my head, not wanting to be high for the entire night.

"You can smoke even if I don't, just so you know," I say to Harry. I don't want to be the reason he's sober while all of his friends are having fun. I'd rather not look like I'm controlling him the first time I meet his people.

He nods but doesn't take the weed. "Maybe later," He shrugs and grabs my jaw, bringing me in for a kiss. Our lips move together in sync, the sex-filled music only making it easier to find a rhythm that makes him melt under me. I bite his lower lip and tug it between my teeth. He shifts his hips slightly and hums into my mouth the second I connect our lips again. "Much better than any drug anyway," He mumbles lazily, not wanting to move any farther away from me.

"Looks like it." A voice from across the coffee table rasps out with a disgusting laugh. My eyes shoot open and I whip my head around to see who's watching us.

Ben.

Sitting in the armchair directly across the coffee table with maybe three feet of distance between us, sipping on a glass of dark liquor with a horrible grin on his face. I shift, suddenly uncomfortable with how exposed my legs are under his gaze. My head turns back to Harry, who's glaring daggers into Ben's eyes.

I clear my throat, hoping that Harry will explain to me why he's sitting in the VIP lounge or make him leave. He doesn't face me, instead, his face pinches up further the longer he keeps looking. My hand holds on to Harry's shirt without me realizing and I turn back slightly to look at Ben.

"You look socutewith all that glitter Harry. Did your little girlfriend do that for you?" He tilts his head, eyes shooting to me as he says girlfriend. It's obvious that he remembers me, and I really wish I didn't remember him because his evil smirk is making me sick.

"Mind your f*cking business." Harry snaps.

"Oh come on now, this one is different, no?" Ben teases, snickering like he's in on a joke. "You know you're supposed to tell us when you bring someone new-"

"She's not my girlfriend, we're just friends,"He grinds out, body completely tense under mine. "Remember what your f*cking mother gave me permission to do,Bennett."

I would probably have whipped around at Harry's words if I weren't frozen under many sets of eyes watching this interaction. It's a good thing Grace is completely blinded by the weed because she probably would have smacked Harry for denying that, even if it's not true. He basically just told the creep that tried to drag me out of this club that I'm free game.

"I'm sure she would love to know you're keeping me in line. I'll let her know next time I see her." He stands up with a laugh, knocking back the rest of his drink with a head shake. He walks away from the seating area and back down the stairs that I assume he came from.

I feel Harry relax a bit under me the farther away Ben gets. My eyes are still focused on the stairs. Did he really just say out loud, in front of all of his friends, that I'm not his after that creep watched us make out? Especially after I found out he didn't think it was necessary to tell his friends my name?

His hand starts to rub my thigh, bringing me out of my head. I turn to face him, a puzzled look on my face. He looks regretful and I don't understand why. That seems like a pretty easy thing to not say, and it's obvious he knows he probably shouldn't have.

"I'm sorry, I would have told him if I could." He says vaguely, making my eyebrows raise in question.

"Don't worry about it," I smile, leaning forward in his lap to be closer to Grace. "It's not like you lied, we are just friends." I look at him one last time before taking the blunt out of Grace's hand and taking a massive inhale. I stand up from his lap and hold my hand out for Grace. "I love dancing with my friends," I smile down at her intoxicated state, hoping that I'll be on the same level by the time we get down the stairs.

She smiles back at me and takes my hand, jumping up and fixing her own dress before I turn away and lead her down the stairs. I pull her toward the bar first, wanting a few shots before we start dancing.

The two of us weave through people, giggling and getting in the mood with the music. I order the shots and we both happily take them like they're nothing. The burn in my throat is only more reminder of the petty spite I want to get out.

We keep moving through the crowd until we stop on the elevated platform and I pull her closer to me so I can speak into her ear. "Harry just told that creep we'refriends.Do you want to show him whatfriendsdo, Gracie?" I smirk, feeling the weed from earlier take over my mind as her hands find their way to my hips. She nods and starts swaying us to the beat.

I put my hands on her shoulders and start lowering myself down, skimming the front of her body with my face only inches from her stomach.

My hands roam around her skin-tight dress as I make my way back up and lean into her face, making her giggle and cup my cheeks. The heat in my chest is mixing with the weed in my lungs and the two of them are making my hands take over. I grip her hips and turn her around so her ass is to my front, pressing us together and letting my mind run free.

My hands hold hers and our arms raise, waving along as our bodies bump with the bass. "Do you remember the dollar bills?" She turns her head slightly so I can hear her. I nod against the side of her face. "How much do you think they'd rain for a strip show?"

I throw my head back with a laugh, "they'd probably throw gold bars at us!"

"Do you wanna test that theory?" She blurts back with a smirk.

"What are you talking about? We can't get naked right here," I blow out a breathy laugh. She turns around in my hold and keeps her eyes on mine.

"Do exactly what you did earlier, just take my panties down with you," She smiles. "You want him jealous, right? Wave my white flag! Well, they might actually be black, I don't f*cking remember."

I look at her for a moment, debating whether or not we should actually do it. I mean, we can't get in trouble because I know the owner, right? This is a bad idea. Why am I seriously considering this?

f*ck it.

"Let's do it," I nod, making her cheer and hike up her dress just a little. A new song starts and I move my hands to her hips, pecking her neck before I start working a trail down her body. She's laughing while her hand rests on the top of my head.

My fingers move down her hips to the top of her thighs as I crouch in front of her. I push up into her dress, finding my way to the hem of her thong resting on her hipbone. I trail it down below her dress, moving the fabric along the path my hands run.

I giggle as I help her lift each foot, the panties now being completely off of her and in my fingers. Maybe I should have ordered single shots. I made sure they were doubles, so we really had four instead of two. I meant to get makeout buzzed, not clothes off drunk.

I stand up from the ground, panties in my fist as it shoots into the air. Our cheering over the small piece of fabric catches the attention of a few people around us, and when enough eyes are watching, we smash our lips into each other and give them the show they want. I keep my hand in the air, twirling around the underwear on my finger while our tongues dance sloppily around each other's through a fit of laughter and breathlessness.

More people start cheering, now noticing that at least one of us is bare under our clothing and that both of us are living out all of their lesbian fantasies. The noise eggs us on, the two of us now grinding together. I move my arms around her neck, her underwear dangling between my fingers. Her hands are on my hips and our legs are interlocked, one between the other.

We keep our foreheads pressed together and tipsy giggles and slurred words leave our lips. I can't deny that I thrive off of attention, and while that was an extreme way to do it, it f*cking worked and now my body is filled with that electricity I've only found with one other person.

Suddenly bodies circle around us and I feel the panties being snatched from my drunken fingers, making the both of us shoot open our eyes and look around.

Niall, Louis, and Harry are standing around the two of us, Niall having the balled-up fabric in his hand and shoving it to Grace with a smile. "That was quite the show, ladies," He laughs, finding the entire thing amusing but my haze is only growing.

"Your boyfriend said that was enough though. We tried to convince him to let you two keep going. My bet was pink," Louis shrugs beside us. I furrow my brows at him, feeling the body heat coming closer to my back. It hits me that he's talking aboutmyunderwear color, which I'm sure is only fuelling the fire behind me.

"He'snotmy boyfriend," A smile tugs up on my lips as I glance over my shoulder at a pissed Harry. The audacity to be mad at dancing with myfriendis astonishing, did he not just tell Ben that we're friends? I see no harm if he thinks that's all we are. Am I being crazy? We didn't label anything but we definitely aren't f*ckingfriends.

"You know that's not what I meant," Harry leans over my shoulder and growls into my ear, sending a heartbeat right between my legs. "I know what you're doing, but you can't get naked on my dance floor because you're mad at me, Brin."

I turn around to face him, putting my arms around his broad shoulders with a smile, "I'm not mad, I'm having fun," I widen my eyes and tilt my head. "Are you this possessive over all of your friends, Harry?" I purr, tugging on his open shirt collar.

He grips my hips and pulls me into him. His head dips down to my ear, speaking low enough that only I hear him. "Do I need to make it clear to you what you are to me, pretty girl?"

"I think you've already-" I start backtalking him, but he cuts me off with a harsh suck below my ear. One of his hands stays on my hip while the other moves to my ass, pushing me further into his crotch. I gasp at the feeling, a small smile tugging up on my lips.

"Do you want to hear that you'remine,Brinna? That you're driving mecrazywith your games down here and that I had to stop myself from coming down here the second you started kissing someone other thanme?" He kisses the mark he left on my neck.

"We're going to um.. go back up.." Louis clears his throat, walking away from us with a giggling Grace clung to Niall's arm. Her panties are hanging out of his front pocket, and they'll probably stay there for the rest of the night too.

Harry doesn't say anything, instead, he pulls away from my face and stares at me. I see how red his eyes are like he had just smoked a sh*t ton while I was down here dancing. The sparkling dust on his chest is shimmering under the blue lights and his hair is hanging around us in a curtain of poofy curls.

"I'm yours?" I tease him, face full of defiance and mischief. "Prove it," I murmur, looking between his dark green eyes.

He furrows his brows even more if at all possible and his tongue darts out to wet his lips. "Show me that I'm yours," I bite my lip and tug at the hair on the nape of his neck, hoping he understands what the alcohol is pushing out of me. "Show me how bad you want me, Harry."

Chapter 19: Use Your Words

Summary:

smut

Chapter Text

H A R R Y

I'm a firm believer that the notion ofsharing is caringis the first of many bullsh*t rules instilled in kids from a young age. Why should you have to give up your favorite truck just because someone else wants it? Why does another person deserve what's rightfully yours more than you do?

I've never been good at sharing. I'm a generous man, but there are some toys I'm not willing to pass around. My toxic possessiveness has gotten me far in this life and I don't intend to stop now.

My plaything has been taunting me all night, whether she means to or not, and the ache in my bones is growing every second a new set of eyes wander over her figure. She's in my lion's den yet I feel like her captive. She's the shiniest jewel in my chest and I don't like others touchingmy treasure.

Call me a hypocrite, she could walk me like a f*cking dog but I've kept her as my secret. I have good reasons to, and even though I can't explain to her why, that doesn't mean she isn't allowed to be pissed at me. My pretty girl is completely worked up and I know better than to make excuses. I'm trying to tread lightly here, and I'm not even really sure what the right answer is. All I do know is that I f*cked up. We both know we're not just friends.

I didn't tell my friends her name because I want her all to myself. Her name belongs on my tongue and only mine. She's like a sweet wine dancing around my tastebuds and only I get to relish in her flavor. Giving them her name makes her a thought in their tiny brains and the jealousy in me can't stand that. And maybe I'm worried that she'll see one of them as a better option than me, with the whole I'm-dying-and-they're-not thing.

I'm not trying to pocket her on purpose. I love her on my arm, I would scream her name from the rooftops if she'd let me. I would have put a diamond on her finger already if that wasn't crazy, but the goal is tonothurt her, remember? How pretty would that sound,Brinna Sty-

Stay focused.

More importantly, Ben cannot, under any circ*mstances, know how important she is to me. The second she has a title, she becomes another pawn for Lillith. We're supposed to inform her of every relationship we enter, not only because you're more likely to rat out the cartel to someone you're serious with, but also because your partner becomes leverage for her to use against you however she sees fit.

My pretty girl is not her game piece. I had no choice but to say what I did, and it didn't feel good but it was necessary. I guesstechnicallyshe isn't my girlfriend buttechnicallyyou don't have to be dating to be completely and entirely obsessed with someone. Brinna would be the perfect treat to dangle in front of me, which is why in front of people like Ben, she has to be seen the same way the last fifty girls have been.

She's untouchable by every other person here because of her rightful place on my lap, and although she's unaware of the power she has, I let her put on a show. There aren't many things here she isn't allowed to do and I'm not sure I'll ever tell her that. I would rather her push the limits and act like my brat.

I know she's angry at me. I would be too, but I'm doing this to protect her. She can take her anger out on me later. I knew what she was doing the second she left with Grace and I kept my eyes on her the whole time she was testing me.

The way she's prancing around with her friend like she owns the place is making my co*ck twitch, and while I love the thought of her running me dry, I can't have her showing herself to everyone like she isn't mine. I've seen what they're like together, and if my little siren wants to feel the adrenaline of everyone watching her, I won't stop her until I need to. That doesn't mean I'm enjoying her being anywhere besides on top of me, but Iguessshe's allowed to be her own person or whatever.

Who am I kidding, it's me thatneedsher close by, not her that should be on me at all times.

The four of us are passing around a blunt, watching as the two of them make the crowd boom below us. The boys are making jokes and praising the girl-on-girl action, but my focus is entirely on Brinna and her confidence.

Her hands roam down Grace's short dress, dragging over every inch of clothed skin until she reaches the end of the fabric. She looks up at her friend, probably the same way I imagine her when I dream about her sucking me off. Those pretty blue eyes must be sparkling while she's on her knees. I would request another special song for them but I don't feel like dragging men off of them tonight.

Her fingers slip beneath the dress and I can see the outline moving up to Grace's hips. The two of them laugh and sway, not a single care in the world. She shimmies her hands back out, peeling away Grace'sf*cking underwear with them.

What the f*ck? As I said, not much she can't do, however getting naked in front of these people is on the top of my list. I hire women to dance here less exposed than Grace is now. Brinna willnotbe following her lead no matter how pissed she is at me. I'm the only one that gets her show.

I shoot up from the couch, startling Zayn next to me. My brows are furrowed and my fists clench at my sides. My eyes are like lasers on the two of them, watching like a hawk to make sure no creepy twats make a move.

"Easy there, killer." He laughs, on the verge of greening out from the amount he's smoked. I glare at him and quickly turn back to the girls.

"I'm going down there." I grit out, walking to the railing to peer over it with Niall and Louis. They're whistling and clapping as if their applause can be heard over the music.

"No!" Niall pleads, whipping his head around between me and his new favorite show. "Don't be like that! They're just having fun! Quit being selfish!"

"They're getting to the good part!" Louis laughs, "We're taking bets on what color Brinna-"

"The next f*cking word out of your mouth better be about the color Brinna's going to pick out for our wedding because so help me god if you say what I think you're going to, I'll cut your tongue out and frame it."

Hold it together, what the f*ck is up with you and weddings lately? Aren't we currently having a fight over a non-existent title?

Niall punches Louis' shoulder. "You're missing it! They're practically.."

I snap my head to look at the commotion. They're practically..tongue f*cking each other's mouths. Too far. Those pretty f*cking lips only do naughty things for me.

She's sexy when she's angry, and f*cking determined. She wanted me jealous and I am. I would have never thought her to be the strip tease kind but to be fair, she did let me give her an org*sm in public with no intoxication and now her fire is fueled by two of them. I'll have to tell Luke her cut-off number if we keep coming back here, I don't want to watch this more than I already have.

A growl leaves my throat as I pull the two idiots away from the railing by the back of their shirts. "Let's go." I grit out, "The beauties are done dancing before they attract too many more beasts."

It doesn't seem like they're actually getting pounced on by the wild animals around them, but my heart is thumping so fast over the sight of her tangled up with someone else that my blind rage is taking over.I've never been good at sharing.

The three of us make our way down the stairs and over to them. Niall is behind Grace, Louis is next to both of them, and I'm behind my Bandit with my arms crossed so I don't throw her over my shoulder and take her to my penthouse right now.

Niall rips the underwear out of Brin's loose hold, dangling it in the air like a trophy before he crumples it up and shoves it to a startled Grace. Brin looks at Niall and Louis, but I know she can feel me behind her. There's practically no room between us.

Niall and Louis start talking but my eyes are focused only on the brown hair in front of me. I'm trying to cool myself down before I take it too far, but she's pissed that I didn't call her mine and I'm pissed that she's acting like it's true.

"My bet was pink.."Louis shrugs with a co*cky grin, making my eyes whip to him. I could f*cking strangle him right now for thinking about the color of her underwear. His eyes have no business being anywhere but her face and even that I would make off limits if I could. I step closer behind Brinna, hoping that her presence will ease my tension.

She turns slightly to me with a satisfied grin."He's not my boyfriend."

God help me, she's about to get tied to my bed and shown exactly what I am to her. She'll call me Daddy by the end of the night if that pretty mouth keeps going.

"You know that's not what I meant," I fume. "I know what you're doing, but you can't get naked on my dance floor because you're mad at me, Brin."

She turns around in my hold, her arms wrapping around my shoulders just like I've been wanting all night. I relax my muscles and let my hands roam her sides. She looks eerily unbothered with a sweet smile on her soft lips. "Are you this possessive over all of your friends, Harry?" She purrs seductively, her hands wandering down to my open shirt.

It's taking everything in me to not scoop her up. "Do I need to make it clear what you are to me, pretty girl?" My lips dip to her neck. She tries to use that smart mouth like I expected her to, so I shut her up by sucking a deep red mark into her neck, claiming her with my teeth and lips. "Do you want to hear that you'remine,Brinna? That you're driving mecrazywith your games down here and that I had to stop myself from coming down here the second you started dancing with someone other thanme?" I lap up the sting on her skin.

The rest of our friends walk around us, f*ck if I know what they were talking about but I don't care right now. The girl in front of me, with big doe eyes pretending she's innocent, is the only thought pulsing through my entire body.

"I'm yours?" She breathes out, her attitude slowly slipping away the closer I hold her to me. She needs me just as badly as I need her and there's no denying the sparkle of mischief in her eye. "Prove it." Her voice plays in slow motion, whispering through every hair follicle on my body like those two simple words would be able to pick me up and take me to heaven alone.

"Show me how bad you want me, Harry."

Brinna, you're unlocking dangerous doors with that mouth of yours. You don't understand how far I would go for you and how deep the ache in my gut is to show you everything you've ever dreamed of. Don't tempt me, baby. I might not be able to handle it if you're only teasing me.

I sigh deeply through my nose, feeling all of my resolve withering away. My hand moves to her jawline, squeezing the sharp bone between my thumb and forefinger to make her look at me. "Be good and keep your hands to yourself, Brin. Turn around and start walking."

Her eyes soften and her brows slightly furrow as I release her. Hesitantly, she turns around to face away from me but she doesn't move. "Where am I even--" A gasp leaves her lips as I swat her ass with my ringed hand.

"I'll tell you where to go. Walk." I demand, rubbing the spot I hit to take the sting away. I keep my hand near her lower back as she sheepishly moves, her arms down low and her hands crossed over each other so she doesn't touch anyone else. A smirk pulls into my lips as she willingly listens to my commands.

You like order, don't you baby? Maybe it's not just me that would bow down. I bet it makes you feel safe to have someone telling you what to do. Only because you want me to, anyway. You're too stubborn to do this for anyone else. That's why you take the lead every time you're not with me. But that confidence melts under my command and you love it just as much as I do.

"To the left." I squeeze her hip to grab her attention. We're at the back of my club by the DJ booth, and if we had taken a right we would be heading toward the basem*nt. She weaves through bodies with me directly behind her, glaring holes into anyone who doesn't move out of her way quick enough for my liking.

We make it to the dark, unoccupied corner with two glowing signs on adjacent walls. A redexitsign and a greenemployee-onlysign. Her steps slow as we near the two options, but before she can turn back to me I lean down to her ear. "Green."

She walks up to the door and hesitantly puts her hands up to it, pushing it open painfully slow. "Go on, pretty girl. Don't be shy now." I hiss over her shoulder, chuckling at her apprehension despite being so certain of herself earlier.

We're met with a bright white hallway. At the end of the walkway is another exit, which leads to the private parking lot for my employees. On the right side of the hall are two black doors, the first one being a bathroom and the second one being the dressing room my dancers use to get ready. "Second door, baby," I pat her behind, moving her forward.

She walks through it with me right behind her. She stands in the middle of the entry and I can't help but smile at her rigid state. She probably feels like she walked in on something she wasn't supposed to, seeing as how Lola is fixing her mermaid makeup while she's on break from the shell.

"Hi! Are you new here?" Lola chirps, glancing sideways in the mirror at Brin's red cheeks. She's only wearing two small seashells and underwear that are flossing her ass. I never understood why people wear those thongs, they look so painful. I let the girls wear whatever they're comfortable in as long as they aren't completely naked. Lola likes to be as close to freeing the nipple as she possibly can be.

"No.. I like your hair." Brin shakes her head slightly, trying to keep her eyes up.

"Aww, thank you!" The usually dumb blonde giggles, shells bouncing as she laughs. I see Brinna's eyes widen in the mirror which makes me chuckle.

"Why don't you go take the rest of your break in my lounge, Lola? Maybe you can help sober up Zayn." I suggest, needing the room empty and fast. As amusing as this is, my boner is hidden behind Brin and the longer I have to keep it in these pants, the quicker I'm going to explode.

She walks past the two of us, putting a thin silk robe over her body and purposely leaving the front of it open. I turn after she walks out, locking the door shut and letting a heavy breath fall out of my nose, hoping to intimidate Brinna as she stands frozen in her spot.

I turn off the overhead lights so only the mirror bulbs are on, dimming the room enough to be sensual. I take slow steps toward her, stopping as my toes reach the back of her shoes. My head tilts down to her hair, inhaling the sweet mixture of her perfume and sweat. "You smell good, pretty girl." I hum into the back of her head. Her shoulders relax a little as she looks around the now-empty room.

The whole left side of the room is vanity desks with mirrors to do hair and makeup. I keep a supply of whatever they need to get ready, so each station has products scattered over the workspace. They definitely get paid enough to buy their own makeup and hairspray but they're willing to dance around for gross men, the least I can do is keep their room stocked.

The back wall across from the door is where their lockers are, along with a few racks and hangers for anything they need to put up instead of folding into cubbies. The right side of the room is where the body-length mirrors are. A few wide chairs are in the middle of the room, facing the full mirrors.

My hands move to her hips, guiding her to turn and stand in front of an empty vanity counter. Her face is soft and glowy, her nerves seemingly fading away now that it's just the two of us here. Little does she know that she'll be crying my name while my initials brand her throat since she needs me toprove that she's mine.

I walk us a step closer, her hips being pressed into the cold tabletop. Her hands shoot out of their connected state to steady herself on the table. My hands slide off her hips and glide across the white counter, engulfing her small hands in my larger palms. My splayed fingers rest between each of hers, pinning her down to the table. I push my hips into her backside and kiss the side of her head, our eyes solely watching each other in the mirror. "You want me to claim you, baby?"

Her lips part as a small breath leaves them. She nods her head, eyes sparkling and face aglow from the bulbs in front of us. She tries to shift on her feet, but mine are beside either one of hers and she has no room to move from me.

"I'll give you everything you want," I kiss behind her ear. "But I need you to be a good girl and use your words." My dark eyes shoot open, landing on hers. "Tell me if it's too much, tell me that you love it, I don't care what you tell me, but I know that mouth f*cking works so don't go quiet on me." I drag my fingers in to close around her hands. "Can you be good for me, baby?"

"I'll be good," She answers immediately, throat moving as she swallows deeply.

"I know you will be," I agree, giving her one final kiss on the side of her head. My hands move off of hers to push her dress up past her hips, looking into her eyes through the mirror. With one hand still on her hip, I push the top of her down so she's leaning against the cold surface. A devilish smirk creeps up my lips as my hands roam over her ass, squeezing and shaking the plumpness beneath my fingertips.

I hook my index finger into the back of her thong, pulling the lace strap and snapping it back on her skin. A gasp leaves her lips, her face tinting the same color as her stinging ass. "White.."I smirk, leaning over her body. I grab her ponytail in my fist, pulling her head back to me. "I win."

I kick her foot out slightly to part her legs more so she can feel what she does to me in the next couple of minutes. My palms rub her bare ass, my eyes flicking down to the smooth skin. A hum leaves my lips at the sight of her bent over in front of me like this. "You're mad at me," I state.

"I'm not mad." She lies, becoming unsettled under my touch.

I raise my hand, the sound of my palm smacking against her backside ringing through the empty room. She sucks her teeth at the impact, this time I don't ease her pain. I watch as my handprint forms over her pale skin and I tutt at her. "Don't lie to me. You had some pretty words for me earlier."

The room goes silent for a moment as I study her face. Her eyes drop and when she brings them back up to meet mine, they're full of doubt. "You're embarrassed of me."

My hands stop completely on her body, my expression changing from stern to concerned. I pull her up by her waist and turn her so the backs of her thighs are to the counter. I put the back of her dress down so she doesn't feel so exposed. My eyes shoot between her two, unable to focus on just one because of the look she's giving me. "I would never, why would you think that?" I question, my heart pounding through my chest.

Her brows crease as she looks down, toying with some of the open buttons on my shirt. "None of your friends knew my name yet you call Gracie every time you need something."

I let a deep sigh out of my nose, pressing my forehead into hers. "I would never be embarrassed of you. It's actually kind of pitiful how badly I'm in-- obsessed with you." I clear my throat, my forehead breaking out in a sweat. "I didn't tell them your name because.. f*ck. Honestly, I was hoping to have you to myself. Selfishly, I didn't want you knowing them or them knowing you, because you might have decided one of them would be better than me."

"Then why would you tell Ben we're friends like you're anything but..obsessedwith me?" She crosses her arms, not entirely believing me yet.

I lift her chin in my two fingers to make her look at me instead of the plastic pieces. I wet my lips and hold a serious look in my eyes once more. "I'm sorry," I start. "I work with Ben. He isn't a good person. He isn't allowed to know about my personal life and he can't know you're a big part of it. I can't explain more than that. If the day ever comes that you know the full extent of it.." I let go of the air filling my chest cavity, "If you ever know why, Brin, that means I've failed you."

And failing you means you'll have to witness who I really am.

Her eyes soften and flicker between mine. I let go of her jaw and instead grab her hand, bringing it to my lips. My chest fills with angst and adoration for the woman in front of me and anxiety over the conversation we're having right now. How can one person break me down when I've spent my entire life building up my walls?

"Marry me,"I murmur against the soft skin of her fingers, eyes closed while my mind is off to a completely different world of just the two of us.

"What?" She sputters.

My eyes open, lips still caressing her hand in mine. "You heard me, you want me to prove it to you, marry me," I say again, more persistent in my tone.

It wouldn't be the worst thing I've ever done and I might actually pass out if she lets me call her my wife.

"Harry--" She laughs with a small scoff. "I'm not marrying you so you can prove that I'm yours. I would have liked a reintroduction to your friends, or maybe punching Ben in the face, not legally binding myself to you." Her eyes are wide and she knows I'm being serious.

"One day.." I say into the crook of her neck, bending slightly to move my hands to her thighs. She gasps as I lift her up, her hands shooting to my shoulders as her legs wrap around my hips. "One day you're going to take my last name."

She leans slightly away from my face, "Is that a wish, dreamer boy?" She teases.

"That's a promise," I say, walking towards the white leather chair behind us. "But until then, I'll have to settle for getting on my knees in another way." I smile, tossing her onto the cushion. Her body bounces slightly, a surprised giggle leaving her lips and swirling around every fiber of my body.

She tries to sit up but I hook my hands behind her knees, yanking her to the edge of the chair and spreading her legs apart. I put each ankle on its respective chair arm as her chest rises in anticipation.

I drop to my knees in front of her, staring into her eyes while I take my time kissing up each bare leg toward my prize, my unruly hair tickling her skin. My mouth is watering at the sight of her.She didn't say she wouldn't marry me.. one day.The thought is making me grow uncomfortably tight in my pants after already being trapped in them for so long.

I lean forward as I nip and lick up the delicate skin of her inner thighs, passing right over her heat. My arms loop around her back, pulling her impossibly closer to me. I lazily kiss up her abdomen, over the valley of her breasts, and up her neck until I reach her lips. We kiss deep and slow, savoring the taste lingering between us.

Without disconnecting our lips fully, I mumble against her, "Don't ever for a second think I'm not obsessed with you." I shake my head slightly. "My pretty girl.." I kiss her fully. "My Bandit.." I peck the side of her mouth. "MyTreasure.." I kiss her jawline. She whimpers at the new name, lacing her hands through my hair to keep me on her neck. She's restless under me, a mess of writhing hips and needy pants.

"Please, Harry.."She whines into the air as her legs try to close around me, searching for any possible friction she can get.

I hum a satisfied grin into her neck, leaving one last love bite before pulling away. "I'll take care of you, always take such good care of you.." I mumble as my hand moves from behind her back, down to her rocking center. My index finger slips into the leg of her underwear, knuckle running against her nakedness. She gasps at the sudden touch, dropping her chin to her chest to watch.

I'm trying to be good, I really am. I'm trying to go slow and be patient, but my mouth is watering and I'm about to rip these underwear off like I hate them.

I lower my whole body back down so my face is level with her heat. My fingers hook onto the band of them, tugging them off and up her legs. They get tossed to the side, eyes never leaving her wetness as the lace flutters to the floor. She waits patiently for my next move, fingers gripping into the sides of the chair.

I dip my head down and flatten my tongue, lapping up the arousal spilling from her already. A groan erupts from my chest, eyes involuntarily shutting at my hunger currently being satisfied. One of her hands finds the back of my head, gently holding me to her as my tongue moves up her slit. I flick her sensitive bundle of nerves, teasing her with a leisurely pace. She lets out a sharp breath and tries to shift her hips but my hands press into her thighs to keep her still.

I swirl my tongue around her cl*t before flicking it with the end of my tongue. She moans and arches off the leather slightly, fingers tightening in my hair. My head shakes against her, burying my tongue deeper into her with a growl as she tugs at my roots.

I cup my mouth around her slit, pushing my tongue up until I meet her cl*t again. My tongue flicks side to side before sucking her into my mouth, nibbling around her sensitivity and making her pant out needy whines for more. I smile against her and move my finger to just above her slit, pulling the skin back to expose more of the bundle of nerves.

I blow out a puff of cold air on the wetness, making her writhe under me. Leaning back down, my tongue teases her entrance while I nudge my nose against her cl*t. The tip of my muscle barely enters her, pulling back out to swirl around before diving straight into her and massaging her walls.

Her noises become more feral as she rocks into my face. I remove my hands from her body while my tongue f*cks into her to undo my belt buckle and unzip my jeans, the confinement quickly becoming too much to handle. I force my jeans lower to my hips, length now sitting in my exposed boxers.

My lips pull away from her, tongue being replaced by two of my fingers running up and down her slit. I bring them up to her cl*t, rubbing slow torturous circles. "Give me your hand, baby," I instruct, watching as she hesitantly moves her hand to hover over mine between her legs.

I put my middle and ring finger into my mouth, sucking off the cold metal bands before plucking them from my lips with a pop and bringing them to herring finger."Hold these for me, yeah?" I give her a cheeky smile. Before she can even reply, my now bare fingers dive into her, curling and pumping against her walls.

Her mouth falls open as her hand moves to grip the chair again. My fingers keep working her cl*t while the ones inside of her draw back in a "come here" motion. Her legs start to tremble while her juices begin to coat my fingers. The wet sounds are only turning me on further, my own hips starting to uncontrollably move from watching her unravel.

"Ah-- god! Harry I--"Her voice is high pitched and strangled. She can't stop the moans coming out and her eyes roll back when I focus my attention on the spot spongy deep in her that's driving her crazy.

"Such pretty noises," I coo, watching in awe as her entire body starts to heat and blanket in a thin coating of sweat.

"N-no.."She gasps, pushing my hand away from her slightly."I want to cum on..f*ck--on you."

My fingers slow in her so my brain can catch up to what she just said. Are the bells in heaven really just my Treasure's moans? Before I can even blink, her heeled boot is against my shoulder, pushing me so I fall onto my ass with my back against the mirror.

I look up at her towering over me, a hungry glimmer in her eyes. I can't help the astonished smile that forms on my lips as she stands above me, soaking wet and panting. I grab her calves and urge her forward to sit on my lap. She kneels above my clothed length, looking into my eyes like she's asking permission to touch me.

I run a hand up and down her leg as I use the other to shove off my boxers, my co*ck springing out between the two of us. My tip grazes her sensitive heat, making the both of us suck in sharp breaths. "Go on, pretty girl. Touch me."

She bites her lip and moves her small hand between us, grabbing my length and positioning it at her entrance. She whines out in pleasure as she slowly sinks onto me, a deep groan leaving my mouth at the sight of me disappearing into her.

I keep my hands on her thighs, wanting her to use me like her personal toy. The cold glass behind me sends a chill through my hot body. Her hands stay bolted to my chest as she rocks her hips back and forth for a few minutes, getting used to my length and the angle.

She lifts her hips, sliding up and down on my co*ck with ease from how wet she is. "f*ck, Harry.." She pants, bringing her forehead into mine. One of her hands holds the side of my neck while the other tangles in my hair. I feel the ache in my lower stomach start to build. I moan close to her lips, stealing a sloppy kiss before nudging her head to the side.

"That's right, baby. Just like that, use me like you own me. Use my co*ck to get yourself off.. pretty girl, making such a mess all over me." I whisper in her ear, egging on her already frantic state. I can feel her tightening around me and I'm trying to not unravel myself. She continues rocking on me and I can't help but whine at the feeling of my swollen tip knocking into her.

"Who do you belong to?" She pants, squeezing my neck tighter and staring through me with icy blue eyes crazed with lust.

I groan at the euphoric rush running to my head, "f*ck, Brinna. You, only you."

Her moans and whimpers get louder, hips slowing their rhythm. She sucks in a sharp breath, stomach muscles contracting as her legs start to shake. She moans out my name and her nails claw into my neck while her other hand smacks against the cold mirror, my rings clattering against it.

Her movements stop as she clenches around me, head falling forward to my shoulder and hot breath panting cries of mercy at the painful pleasure shooting through her core. My hands grab her hips to keep her moving. I want her to feel all of me while she c*ms, I need to be what she feels when she reaches her peak.

Her tightness brings on my own org*sm without me even knowing, spurts of hot cum filling her as my hips buck up uncontrollably. "sh*t, f*ck..ah--"We're both a mess against each other, squirming and panting profanities into the air while we ride our highs out on each other.

Her moans fill my ears as her shuddering slows down, her own hands finding mine to pry my fingers off of her clammy skin. I cup her jaw instead, swallowing down the last of her whimpers while I move my lips against hers. She slowly pushes herself off of me, collapsing back in the chair as she catches her breath. "I think these are yours," She pulls my rings off of her slender finger.

I stare at her for a moment, savoring the sight of her as mywife, before taking them back and pulling my underwear and jeans back up my hips and standing to buckle them again. I walk over to one of the cabinets, pulling out a pack of wipes and walking back over to her. Her eyes are shut as her legs tremble slightly. I put my hand on her knee, squatting in front of her.

"I'm gonna clean you, baby," I say, waiting for her response before I actually do. She immediately sits up with wide eyes.

"Oh god, no. You don't have to.." Her cheeks tint as she reaches for the wipe in my hand.

"You have nothing to be embarrassed about, I made the mess." I look into her eyes, both of our hands on the cold cloth.

She groans and relaxes back, too tired to fight me anymore. I rub her thigh soothingly as I clean my mess. I find her underwear and slide them back up her legs, urging her hips up to pull them all the way on. "Good girl.." I coo, standing and pulling her up with me. I pull the back of her dress down and pat her butt as she wraps her arms around my shoulders. "Sleepy, treasure?"

She nods against me with a satisfied hum, nuzzling deeper into my shoulder.

"Hello?! Can I come in now?!"

Brinna's head launches off of me, eyes wide with shock. "Is that..?"

I grimace with a small laugh, pulling away from her to the dressing room door. "I forgot we were in here." I shoot her a sympathetic look. I pull the door open to reveal Lola standing on the opposite wall, twirling strands of her blue wig around her finger.

"Sorry, Lola." I scratch the back of my neck. "Lost track of time," I say as she walks past me, bubbly and unphased as usual.

"No big deal," She shrugs, walking over to her fish tail on the chair next to the one Brin was just in. "Zaynie wants to pet my pretty scales." She giggles, wiggling it up her legs. She puts it on her hips and starts walking back to the door, struggling slightly at the tightness. Her head turns back to face Brinna, biting her lip and hanging on to the door. "You sound really hot by the way," She winks, closing the door back behind her.

Brinna's jaw drops to the floor. "Oh my god, she heard me cum." Her hands cover her face as she shakes her head.

I laugh and walk up to her, wrapping my arms around her small frame. "I promise you she's the last person to care. You feel like sticking around here?" She shakes her head against me. "Should I take you home?"

Her hand moves up my chest, rubbing against the exposed skin. "Do you wanna.. spend the night with me? Please." She looks up at me with doe eyes. I smile and lean down to peck her lips.

"Of course, baby." I chuckle, leading her out of the room and toward the private exit. "Do you need to tell Grace you're leaving?" I feel like I already know the answer to that because the first time I met Brinna, she was absolutely plastered and alone after Grace left her, and not that I condone it, but I'm sure she'll be fine if we just go.

"She's probably tongue-deep in Niall's mouth," She shakes her head with a nose scrunch.

I laugh and pull her into my side, opening the door to reveal the lit-up Vegas sky, twinkling like the fireworks I feel in my chest over the woman clinging to me with jelly legs.

Chapter 20: Front Page

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

"I think I'm going to need a wheelchair to walk around the office today,"Grace grumbles in my ear through the phone speaker.

"You donotneed a wheelchair," I laugh, "I can't believe you let him use his whole han--"

"Don't remind me!" She whines, making me pull the phone away to laugh. "Do you think he'll want to see me again?"

"I think he'llhaveto see you again, he might've left something important up there." I joke, trying to keep my snickering to a minimum.

"You're not helping me, I'm embarrassed!"

I cover my mouth to hold in my thoughts, quickly learning that I can't contain myself. "Like a kangaroo..." I mumble, hoping she won't catch what I said.

"I am not a kangaroo!" The office doors open, revealing a very hungover Grace. She keeps the phone to her ear and I keep mine there too. She stumbles over to my desk, walking cautiously across the polished floor. She's as stiff as a Barbie but looks the exact opposite.

"I've gotta go, there's a very sick woman in front of me." I smile at her and hang up the phone, tossing it to my desk. "Sunglasses inside and you're wearing pants. This is a new low for you, Gracie."

"Yeah, well I'm afraid if I wear a skirt my f*cking uterus is going to fall out, you asshole." She pulls the sunglasses off, not looking at me as they exit her face.

My mouth drops open with a loud gasp. "Holy f*cking sh*t, Grace! Did he give you a black eye?!" I stand from my chair, the wheels rolling back and hitting the window wall. I grab my phone, ready to call Harry to explain to him why his friend is about to be murdered by me.

"Keep your voice down, Brinna!" She winces. "No he.. okayyes, but not on purpose!" She grabs a nearby chair and brings it around my desk, sitting next to me with her hands shielding her face from other people in the office.

"What does that even mean?" I say, unlocking my phone and pulling up Harry's contact information.

She sighs, rubbing her temples with closed eyes. "When we wereyou know,he had me in midair, facing away from him, and he was going at it, right? Okay well, I had some lotion on and it made his hands slick from our sweat mixing with it, and I f*cking felloff of himand smacked into the floor." She rolls her eyes, glaring at me like she's daring me to say something.

"Oh my.." A laugh bursts from my throat as I scramble to shut up. "I'm so sorry, oh god," I say, physically pinching my lips shut. "Are you, did you, I have so many questions," I mumble around my fingers.

"Yes,I'm fine, andyesI finished." She smirks now, having a hard time holding back her own amusem*nt. She's trying to be mad but the longer we sit here, the more tension is building like a volcano waiting to erupt.

The two of us look at each other in silence for a few seconds more before we both burst out into a full fit of laughter, snorting and tearing up. I'm sure everyone is watching us now, we probably look like dying hyenas, cackling so loud we could wake up the other half of the world.

"Brin--! Brinna he's so tall my whole life flashed before my eyes!" She laughs, holding her chest and falling back into her chair. "And we were so sh*tfaced we just kept going on the floor, I feel like I got into a car accident!" She swipes under her eyes to rid of the moisture.

I try to catch my breath but the image of the two of them flopping around has me laughing even harder. "You're f*cking crazy," I shake my head. "His place or yours?" I ask, curious to know if her father knows about Niall. I'm sure he's aware of his daughter'sadventuresbut they're usually all rich kids like her, not frat boys she dragged home from sketchy clubs.

"His. Daddy would have killed me if he heard the two of us." She blows a raspberry, "We got a noise complaint from his neighbor. he lives in a single house, B. They heard us across the street!"

"Did he see you when you came home?" I lean back in my own chair, arms crossed and biting my lip.

She nods with wide eyes. "Oh yeah, he sure did. He was leaving for work as I came home. God, you should have heard how mad he was when I came in drunk and limping!Diamond Grace I raised you better, Diamond Grace this is bad for business!"She mocks him, pointing her finger out and deepening her voice.

"You're right, this is very bad for business," Jillian's angry voice makes the two of us jolt, straightening up to turn to her.

She's standing in front of my desk, hair slicked back into a bun and tight black dress visually expressing her pent-up hatred toward me lately. Her glasses hang low on her nose while a hand rests on her hip. In the other is a magazine, held out toward me.

I reach my hand out to take it, but she smacks it on my desk before I can. My eyes widen at the front page. Grace leans in to get a better look at it too, making a barely audible,'oooh'noise. My fingers ghost over the paper, subconsciously hoping I can wipe away the visuals.

Three photos from last night, blown up on the front page of our competitors magazine. The largest one is a picture taken from a strange angle of the lounge, Lola is stretched along the couch while Zayn hugs her tail and pets it. Grace is leaning over a table, snorting what seems to be cocaine while Niall holds her hips on his lap. Louis is making out with a girl whose face is away from the camera, luckily.

A smaller picture in the middle of the right side is Harry sucking on my neck after Grace and I danced,my face full of drug-induced pleasure.

The last picture, in the bottom left corner, is of me and Grace on the dance floor,Grace's underwear in my fist as the two of us make out.

My heart sinks at the sight in front of me, like it's physically being ripped out of my body. My worst nightmare, printed on the front page of a snark editorial. It's clear in every photo that we're all on something, and now I get to live with the visual that I let my addiction take over and the rest of Vegas gets to see it, too. Tears brim my eyes as I look at Grace, who seems shocked only because she's usually told before she ends up in articles.

"Does anyone want to explain why pieces are being written about me?" Jill asks, making my eyes furrow on her. She flicks hers back down to the page.

Chief Editor Jillian Wood Recommends Best Place To Get A Fix, according to her employees.

My mouth drops even more, the realization setting in fully that I truly am no better than my parents and now there's proof of it. I let myself get too comfortable, and now my worth is tainted and set in stone from images none of us knew were being captured. A moment in time that shouldn't have happened, forever plastered right on the front cover.

"At least we look hot.." Grace whispers next to me.

"The two of you represent me! This is absolutely unacceptable! You've completely discredited my reputation and I expect you to apologize and fix this! I've worked so hard to build this company and two little whor*s won't be ruining this for me!" She yells, her voice booming through the entire room. My eyes are down at the magazine, images slowly blurring from hot tears spilling from my eyes.

"And you!" She directs her anger at me. "I should have known you would open your legs to any man that walked in this building! How dare you throw yourself on someone that clearly doesn't want you!" She barks, tears only wetting my face even more.

The office door slams against the wall. "Don't f*cking talk to my girlfriend like that, you nasty bitch." Harry angrily strides toward the three of us. His height topples over Jill's by a landslide, his angry features making her cower. "I suggest you get the f*ck away from them while I still give you the chance to." He mutters through clenched teeth.

Grace's mouth drops open with a smile but my lips stay trembling. I sniffle, trying to wipe away the tears before he can see them. His heavy shoes walk around my desk and Jill's heels patter back to her private office. My head is down, hair curtained around my face. A pair of black boots stop in front of my feet before strong, ringed hands gently hold my knees.

Harry bends down in front of me, tucking my hair behind my ear."Baby.. hey.. don't cry."He says softly, a stark difference from how he spoke to my boss only moments earlier. He grabs my chin and pulls my face to look at him. "Don't let her get to you, she isn't saying anything truthful.. she's only trying to hurt you." His sympathetic expression only grows as more tears threaten to spill out of my puffy eyes.

"It's the.." Grace winces, "the magazine.." She whispers, gesturing at the article on my desk. The mention makes me sniffle, the hand on my leg tightening as my breakdown threatens to become too much.

His head turns, a deep sigh leaving his plump lips as he glances over it. He stands, ripping the entire magazine in two and throwing it in my trash can. I look up at him confused. Is he mad at me for it? I didn't mean to do anything that could hurt him.

Now his business looks like it's for addicts and whor*s, all because I couldn't control myself. He probably hates me right now and I can't stop crying like the selfish bitch I am. He shouldn't have to take care of me when he's really here to end whatever we have going on, I'm sure.

"Brinna, look at me." He says, leaning back down slightly in front of my chair. I slump back into it, moving only my eyes to meet his. "I took care of it. It's not in any store, no one can purchase it." He starts, pushing the hair back out of my wet face. "I was hoping you wouldn't have to see it, but.." He sighs, pressing his forehead into mine. "I told you I'll always take care of you, Treasure. I promise. No more tears, please."

"Y-you, you what?" I look up at him fully now, brows raised in confusion.

"As soon as I saw it this morning, I took care of it. Everyone knows what happens in Sin City nightclubs, but that wasn't fair to you. You shouldn't have been blasted like that." He shakes his head. "I even found the guy that took the pictures and I made sure he suff--said he was sorry. He won't be doing that again."

"You're not mad at me?"

"Why would I be mad at you?" He questions, standing up and pulling my wrists to come with him. He wraps my arms around his neck, looping his own around my hips. "You didn't do anything wrong." He pecks my lips but his sweetness is only making my lip tremble again.

He doesn't even know that Ididdo something wrong, I've told him the vaguest information I could about my parents, but he doesn't know the extent of it. I'm sure he would think I'm being ridiculous if he knew the entire story. He doesn't have to worry about things like I do, and I envy him for it.

I sniffle again, trying to suck the tears back up into my ducts. I have an entire day of work to do and I can't act like this the whole time. "Thank you," I mumble, swiping under my eyes with my hands.

"Come on, I'm taking you home." He pulls away from our hug to grab my hand.

I take it but stand still in my spot, not following him like he intended. "I can't just leave, Harry." I shake my head.

"You're upset and I'm not leaving you here for the lizard to treat you like sh*t the second I leave." He says sternly.

"I have to work, I have bills to pay. I can't just leave over hurt feelings."

"Okay so consider them paid, Grace do you want to come with us?" He brushes off my conflict, moving away from it before I can interject.

"Nah, Daddy is already mad. Plus, if I stay here, I can use Jill's attitude to make him feel bad for me." She shrugs, filing her nails with an emery board I didn't see her pull out.

"Alright, call us if you need anything," He goes to turn away but I stop him.

"I'm not leaving."

He sighs, a small smile forming on his lips. "My stubborn little bandit," He coos, pressing his lips into mine. I reciprocate the action, feeling my sadness drift away until he pulls back. "What if I'm having a bad day and I need you, hmm? Will you come with me if I tell you I'm here because you make me feel better?"

My expression drops, not believing him. He knows I'm a people pleaser and he's using it against me. He wants to flip the narrative so I feel the need to take care of him, and f*ck it's working.

"Fine," I grumble with an eye roll.

"Mm, so sweet of you," He laughs, pulling me toward the door.

__

Harry drove us to my apartment mostly in silence, the soft hum of music filling the quiet. His hand stayed on my leg while his thumb drew soothing patterns. My eyes were heavy from post-cry sleepiness. The sunshine and his touch weren't helping me stay awake, and by the time we made it to my place he had to wake me up from my nap.

I don't think he minded though, he seemed to enjoy kissing me until I finally opened my eyes. "You know what they say about waking up princesses like that?" He grins, lashes fluttering in the morning beams. "It can only be done with a true love kiss.." He murmurs, shaking his curls in the crook of my neck while I hold the back of his head. "Is there something you need to confess to me, Brinna?" He pulls away, wiggling his eyebrows.

My cheeks heat as I push him back over the center console. "You're such a dork," I laugh, unbuckling my seatbelt as he does the same. We get out together and find each other's hand before walking up the grass to my door. I stop a few feet away, my home being blocked by things on my welcome mat.

"Tadaaa," He sings out, clearly enjoying my reaction to the giant bouquet of red roses with a teddy bear sitting in the middle of the flowers. some of the roses have gems in the center and the entire arrangement is wrapped in silky white ribbon. He steps in front of me, picking up the bouquet leaning against my door and hands them to me properly.

As I look closer, the sparkling embellishments are definitely not plastic like I had thought and I hope to god they're just glass, but the way they're reflecting off the sunlight is telling me otherwise. Upon further inspection, the fuzzy teddy bear has a mini version of Harry's silver cross necklace around its neck. I smile at the little critter, in complete shock at the exquisite gift in my hands.

"They're beautiful," I gush. "But you don't have to keep buying me flowers, Harry. I don't need all of these expensive gifts." I don't want him to think that I'm using him for money, or for presents. I appreciate everything he does and I wouldn't want him to go away if the gifting did. It makes me a little uncomfortable to think about how much he spends on all of these flowers though, I know something like this one is custom-made and not cheap.

"I figured you were tired of looking at those boring blue ones by now," He shrugs, clearly holding back his excitement. "Now come on, open up your kingdom, princess."

I shuffle the flowers to the crook of my arm and use my free hand to dig my keys out of my purse. I unlock the door, letting him walk in first as I follow after him. He looks around the living room like he's still not convinced it's right. I'm sure it's a bit overwhelming to anyone who isn't used to it, but I like having so many things to look at around the walls.

We take off our shoes and he follows me to my kitchen so I can replace my wilting flowers, a pout forming on my lips as I put the hydrangeas in my trashcan. He chuckles at my reaction before turning to look at my menu wall. He pulls his lip between his fingers, grazing over a few of the food options.

A knock lands on my door which makes my brows furrow, but before I can step away from my roses, Harry strides over to it. He's quick to grab something with minimal words, turning back to face me with the item behind his back. I give him a questioning look, to which he grins and pulls out a white bag.

"Tadaaa!" He says again, revealing to me that he either ordered food or he really is magic.

"Harry!" I scold, shaking my head as he walks toward me.

"What? You can't expect me to be sad and not eat. Let me have my moment, Bandit!" He winks, pulling out the two containers and plastic forks. "It's pasta, everyone loves pasta." He nudges a bowl toward me and I take it, walking around him to my living room.

It's a little strange having someone here when I should be having a breakdown over my f*ck up like I usually do. I feel kind of tired, but other than that, I've mostly forgotten about how awful I felt in the office. Harry being here might be a good thing, at least I don't have to be alone if I do end up curled into bed, drowning myself in tears.

I plop onto the couch, patting the seat next to mine. "Come on then, come be sad with me." We eat our food, watching my comfort movie as we do so. I keep the lights off so the room is dark besides the TV screen.

"Jenny didn't deserve him," He shakes his head, twirling noodles around his fork.

"No?" I challenge, "You think she hurt him on purpose?"

"She used him for temporary happiness but left him the second anything better came along. She strung him along while he waited for her his entire life. She got to do whatever she wanted, while he had to stay in line until she was ready for him. He's too good for her."

I ponder over his words, trying to see it the way he does. I guess he's kind of right, Forrest did wait for Jenny, and despite all of her running away and around, he was always there when she needed him. "And then she just dies in the end. Left him before all of his efforts could be rewarded." I think out loud, tilting my head at the two of them making love on the screen.

He shifts in his seat uncomfortably, the two of us completely focused on the movie. Our forks stopped moving, only the sounds of our shallow breathing being heard along with the dialogue.

"Will you marry me? I'd make a good husband, Jenny," Forrest mumbles, shifting uncomfortably on his feet.

"You would, Forrest," She agrees.

"But you won't marry me."

"You don't want to marry me," She shakes her head.

"Why don't you love me, Jenny? I'm not a smart man, but I know what love is," He turns, leaving their home.

"Forrest, I do love you."

I clear my throat, standing up and reaching my hand out for Harry's bowl. He blinks away his expression, handing me the empty container with a shythank you.His face is something nearly unreadable, a slew of emotion I haven't seen on him before. He looks like he's seen a ghost but at the same time, like this cheesy movie is hitting him close to home.

I stand at my kitchen counter, watching him as he stares intently forward. The scene where Forrest is standing over Jenny's grave is playing, one that always tugs at my heart even if she did do wrong to Forrest. Her stone readsJenny Gumpbecause, despite everything, he married her like he wanted to. He's crying and telling her everything he did for her after she passed, and then he sets a handwritten note on the ground, right next to a bouquet of wildflowers.

Harry sits with his arms crossed tightly over his chest. His brows are creased, not angrily, but like he's trying to stop tears from falling out of his eyes. His head is tilted, nose slightly pink through the light flashing on his face.

"I can't believe you watched that entire two-hour movie with me," I say quietly, trying to ease him out of his spell.

He takes a deep inhale, watching as the credits roll. "I want to be cremated," He mumbles, clearing his throat.

My eyes dance around his guarded state. "What?" I question, not truly sure if I heard him right.

His head snaps to me, eyes now widened. "I just mean that-- like, I wouldn't want to be left in the earth. I would want to be wherever my family goes." He stretches his arms and stands. "Although, I've got no family, so maybe I should just plant myself with a tree." He smiles, fighting away the hurt left on his face. He walks over to me and cups my cheeks in his hands, kissing me deeper than he has in days.

When he pulls away from me, his eyes are still shut and his hands don't drop from my face. He leans into me, nuzzling his nose into mine."Would you take care of me if I was dying, like Forrest did for Jenny?"His voice is low and sad.

I bring my hands up to cup over his, pecking his lips softly. "Well, I certainly wouldn't let you go out without a bang, curly." I kiss his nose which makes him open his eyes. "Now stop talking like that, you're going to be stuck with me for the rest of your life.One day, right?"I smile at him, trying to lighten the mood.

"One day, Treasure," He gives me a weak smile with a head nod. "You know, I don't like that movie." He chuckles.

"No?" I laugh back. "For someone that doesn't like it, you're awfully worked up." I tease him.

"I was just admiring the.. chocolates.. and stuff. Be quiet." He says, picking me up and tossing me over his shoulder, making me shriek and laugh. He walks us back to my bedroom and throws me onto the bed, wasting no time to climb over me and tickle my exposed skin.

"Harry!" I laugh, "Stop-- stop it!" I can't catch my breath as he attacks my sides, smiling wider than I had ever seen before. He moves his hands off my stomach to above my head as he lowers himself down on me, my legs wrapping around his hips.

Our kiss is slow, the two of us savoring each other under my fairy lights. "You make me so happy, Brinna," He whispers only centimeters from my face.

"You called me your girlfriend earlier," I recall, the name being heavy on my chest.

"I did," He agrees. "She was messing with my woman. Couldn't let that happen, could I?" He rolls off of me so we're both on our sides facing each other. I brush his long hair out of his face, twirling a curl in my finger.

"Thank you for sticking up for me.. I don't want you to think I was crying because of her, or whatever she said.." I say, trying not to think about her accusing me ofopening my legs for someone who doesn't want me.

He leans his head forward and closes his eyes. "Do you regret coming to the party?" He whispers.

I close my eyes with him, probably for the same reason of not wanting to see each other's reactions. A deep sigh leaves my lips. "Not being with you, just everything before. The drinking, and the weed."

"I.. I don't know how to say this without it sounding weird." He starts and immediately I know where it's going. "Why do you get like this every time you drink? Why do you always regret it?"

I roll slightly so I'm more on my back than facing him. My lip moves into my mouth as my brain ponders over his words, deciding whether or not to answer him truthfully or even at all. My eyes open to my bare ceiling, distant memories being thrown across it like an old-timey film.

"My parents were addicts." I start off with information he already knows, easing both of us into a conversation I've only had once before. "They weren't always like that, though. They were actually really good people, good parents. They loved each other a lot."

"If this is too much, Brin, you don't have to--"

"No, I want to. You should probably know anyway. Um, they worked really hard to get ahead in life and we really had it all, you know. I had a brother, or.. have a brother? I never met him. They lost him before he could come home.."

My chest tightens from bringing up the memories of Dallie. I don't think I can say his name out loud yet. He doesn't feel like mine to grieve. I never met the baby that changed my life but he's still a deep wound almost a decade later. I would have an annoying nine-year-old brother right now, probably begging me to hang out with Harry.

I've always wondered who Dallie looked more like. Secretly, I was hoping he looked like me because at least when they screamed, they couldn't hate me while looking at his face. No one ever outright told me that Dallie died, but I understood as soon as I saw my mother come home. It was solidified when she tried to hurt herself so she could be with him.

"My parents really missed him." I sigh again, feeling Harry crawl closer to me until his head is resting on my chest and his arm around my waist. My hands find his hair, running it back and tugging on it like a child with a comfort item. "They started fighting a lot, to the point it turned physical," I flinch at the memory of my mother screaming at my dad, being there the first time he put his hands on her. I nearly choke out when I feel the ghost of his hands onmeagain.

"My mom got hooked on painkillers, and then my dad started drinking. They both got addicted to their own drug of choice and eventually, they fell in love again over a needle." My heart feels like it's hammering out of my chest at the words spewing from my lips. "They ruined our lives when they got addicted to whatever they did. We lost everything, I lost my loving parents."

Maybe they didn't lose everything, they had each other in the end. But I lost everything and I'm still trying to pick up the pieces and navigate this life with no guidance.

He nods against me, arm tightening around my hip. "You think you're going to turn out like them?" He asks, slightly muffled against my clothes.

A chill runs down my body, cold sweat prickling my forehead. "I think I already have," I admit, slightly defeated.

His head lifts from my chest, brows furrowed in confusion. I keep my hands in his hair, not wanting to let go of the only thing keeping me grounded. "Are you craving it right now, Brinna?" He retorts.

"What?" I open my eyes to look at him.

"Are you itching for something? Is your body shaking and sweating because you need more booze?'

"No, but I--"

"Have you been missing work because you're too high?"

"No." I glare at him, not understanding where his questioning is going.

"How many times have you gone out?" He challenges, still stern.

"Well.. plenty but every time I--"

"But you never crave a drug? Or alcohol? You don't run from your obligations to get a fix, right?" He softens his brows only slightly.

"That doesn't mean I'm not addicted to it, I keep going back."

He sighs, flicking between my eyes. "I hate to break it to you, but that's called being in your twenties, Brinna."

I pout slightly at his roundabout way of calling my worries ridiculous. "That's how addiction starts, I like it so much that I keep coming back for more until eventually I get hooked."

"Not everyone gets addicted. Your parents went through something horrible and found comfort in something they shouldn't have. You smoke a little weed and make out with your friend. There's a big difference," he says bluntly.

We sit in silence for a few beats, my hands grazing over his scalp while he keeps his eyes on my blank face.

"It's not your fault."

I push up on my elbows, face pinched up to the point it's almost uncomfortable. "I-- what?"

"It's not your fault," He repeats, lips pressed into a line. "You weren't responsible for them becoming addicts."

"I know that.." I blink quickly, suddenly feeling overwhelmingly suffocated.I tried to stop them.

"You didn't do that to them."

"Harry.. I know." My throat tightens.I wasn't enough to make them quit.

"It's not your fault they did that and it's not your fault that you feel the need to punish yourself for being a normal person.You're not an addict, Brinna."

I stare at him like he's got three heads, but with the tears blurring my vision he might. "I don't know how to be a normal person without it being a problem." I fall back on my comforter, hands unintentionally tugging his hair harshly.

"You didn't have anyone to show you, that's not your fault either." He drops his head back down to my chest, planting kisses on my collarbone. "I'll show you. We don't have to do anything crazy. Wewon'tdo anything crazy, but I can be your safety net. You won't have to regret anything. I won't let you get addicted to anything, and if you start to slip, I'll catch you."

"You'll catch me?"

"I won't ever let you fall," He promises. The room falls silent and I wish my head would do the same. He seems too good to be true and I'm waiting for the catch, but he just keeps getting better. How can someone be so perfect? Why to me?

"Brin?"

"Yes?"

"I've been clean from co*ke and pills for two months now. We.. we won't let each other fall, alright?"

My hands move to push his head up, "That's huge, why didn't you tell me?" I smile at him, pulling him up to kiss me.

"I started when um.. when we took a break. I stopped all of that for you actually, and I know you didn't know about it, but I didn't want you to see me drugged up like that."

"I'm proud of you, baby" The nickname slips from my lips before I can stop it, my cheeks heating with it. He lifts himself to a push-up position above me, grinning so wide his dimples pop.

"What did I do to get so lucky?" He fake swoons, rolling his eyes back with a laugh. "You're going to be the death of me, Treasure." He shakes his long hair out so it's in my face, tickling my skin as I try to squirm away."I'll die a happy man if you have anything to do with it."

Chapter 21: Caveman

Chapter Text

H A R R Y

I slept over at Brin's last night. We spent the entire day floating around from her couch to her bed, watching her favorite movies and cuddling. I really tried my hardest to be good, but my fingers managed to find their way into her pants too, and after so many org*sms we just kind of fell asleep nestled into each other.

I woke up to multiple phone calls from my friends, as well as my lawyer, about the magazine pictures. It's pretty normal for things like that to happen, and if anything they probably helped my business while the article was out for a few hours. I mean, tourists see drugs and sex and they flock toward it, it certainly didn't harm me in any way.

In any way except for the fact that Brinna was in the pictures. No one else cared about being in them, not even Grace apparently, but the guys all knew that I would be pissed the second I found out about it, so they made sure to tell me before I saw for myself. It's a good thing too, because my reaction would have been a lot worse had they not said anything.

They really talked me down from the ledge, I was about thirty seconds away from burning down the entire publishing building with everyone inside of it. Luckily, I settled for paying them off and pulling every single copy from the shelves. It was super early in the morning, like four in the morning early so very few copies had been purchased.

Unluckily for the rat responsible, I have so many cameras in my club that I can follow a person the entire night from every single angle you can possibly imagine. That made it very,veryeasy to find the dumb mother f*cker that thought it was a good idea to take pictures of my angel.

Was he there to target her, or even any of us? Not necessarily. Was he only doing his job, that being tarnishing Jillian's reputation? Sure, but he made a deadly mistake in using my treasure to do so, and now he gets to pay for it. Taking care of her means eliminating any threats I see, so he's got to go and I'm going to enjoy every second of it.

Well, maybe co*ked up, whiskey-for-blood Harry would enjoy every second of it. It's not easy to brutally murder people when you're sober, which is why I needed to see her before I went back to the club. I was sort of hoping she would give me the motivation I needed to get the job done. Don't get me wrong, I'll be ending him whether I'm high or not, but it certainly makes it easier to not remember it afterward.

Much to my displeasure, Brinna's going back to work today. I tried to gently convince her to let me handle whatever it is that she needs to be handled, but she's a stubborn one and evidently doesn't like the thought of accepting help.

I have a feeling that's from many years of being alone while she took care of her parents. She probably feels like it's easier to rely on only herself since she managed to do it for so long already. But I wish she would take a break and let me be her keeper, I would give anything to have her fill my home with all of the things she spent the day shopping around for. My empty flat could use her touch, the place doesn't feel warm like hers does.

She had to drag me out of her bed so she could shower but she wouldn't even let me join her. That's probably for the better, we both know exactly how that would have ended up. The water is running and I can hear it sloshing around like she's washing out her hair. The warm scent of her vanilla soap travels down the hall and fills my lungs, sending waves of her entity through my veins.

I'm sitting on the end of her bed, lacing my boots back up so I can leave. I need to be quick, I'm trying to be out of here before she's done in her shower. Not because I'm not coming back, but I really need to take care of the problem tied up in my basem*nt before the guys get any more mad. They're troopers for finding him as quickly as they did, and they've been waiting for me since yesterday morning.

I stand up from her bed, steadying myself from the slight dizziness. My fingers push my hair back from my face as I walk out of her bedroom, past the sweet-smelling steam room. It takes everything in me to not knock on the door and invite myself in, but I'm a strong man, so I continue on to her kitchen.

Her roses look pretty sitting on the counter. These ones I did personally pick out, for a very special reason. She might already have Harry Jr. from the carnival, but what's better than a bear with my chain? I can think of a few things, one of which isactuallywhy I chose this arrangement.

I open a few drawers, looking for something to write with. I finally find a notepad and pen, slapping them onto the counter to begin my note. I'm leaving her a message this time, I've learned my lesson. We're not mind readers, alright? She won't think I'm ditching her if I say something. I won't f*ck up again.

My tongue pokes out of the side of my mouth as I scribble down the words, leaving a few badly drawn hearts all around the paper.

borrowing your shiny treasures, you'll get them back soon. xo

ps, picking you up after work, no ifs, ands, or buts. ;)

I pluck thediamond pinsout of her roses, shoving them into my pocket before grabbing my keys and wallet off of the counter. Maybe it was a bad idea to leave that bouquet outside of her door, I didn't know if she would actually come with me so I wasn't sure when she would get it.

They're real diamonds, and they look better in person than I expected. I had to get them set in pins to stick in the roses, and now they need to be dropped off with the jeweler to be put into their new setting. I'm not even sure if she realizes those aren't fake, but I hope she recognizes them the next time she sees them. And that she doesn't kill me for doing it.

I look around the room, mentally checking my list before I can leave. The shower turns off, Brinna's curtain scraping along the metal rod signaling that she's done and drying off. I hurriedly spin on my heel, making it out of her door after locking the handle.

I walk quickly down the cement hallway and through the grass to my car, hopping into the driver's seat and turning it on before I can second guess it and wait on her doorstep like a lost dog. I pop open the glove compartment, searching around for the velvet bag that the gems will live in before they get returned to their rightful owner.

I tuck them away and pull off of the curb, making a U-turn to exit her street. Pulling up the call log on the car's screen, I scroll through it until I find the contact I'm looking for. The line rings as I wait for Zayn to answer.

"Hello? Where the f*ck are you, we've been trying to call you for the last twenty-four hours man."He answers quickly.

"I was taking care of something important, Zayn. I'm coming right now though. Is he still alive?"

"He's alive like you wanted him. We haven't touched him, but Niall has been taking steaks down there. That's f*cking evil, isn't it? He doesn't even eat them, he just cooks them and makes the guy watch."

I shake my head, making a mental note to ban Niall from using fire around the vault. "He has the strangest ways of torturing people. Is everything ready?"

"It is, we're just waiting on you."

"Be there in ten. Hope you're all wearing clothes that you hate." I state calmly, hanging up the phone and stepping harder on the gas.

__

The club doesn't open for a few hours, which is plenty of time to get this over with and clean up before picking up Brinna. I walk through the doors and straight back to the right where the basem*nt is.

Hopping down the stairs, I make a left down the short hallway, hammering my fist on the metal door. I could just open it, but I want to make them jump a little. Better to have my victim scared than be able to sense that I'm not drunk enough to fully commit.

Louis pulls open the door, the metal creaking together as it moves. I step into the dim room, the musty scent of wet concrete filling my nostrils. I would much rather it be that fruity vanilla stuff Brin wears. Maybe not down here though, that would mean she has to be here.

My boots scrape across the floor in my path to the man tied up in the middle of the room. I stop in front of his shaking frame. His hands are tied behind his back, ankles to the chair legs, and his eyes are blindfolded.

My hands are behind me as I observe him. He's short and skinny, the perfect type to fly under the radar as a rat. It's a shame he had to do it here, I'm sure he was really good at his job. He will be missed, not by me though.

"Ahellowould have been nice, you dick," Niall grumbles from behind me, making me sigh and drop my head as I turn to face them.

"I'm trying to be f*ckin' mysterious right now and you're ruining it." I put my hands out, gesturing to the man in the chair. "Christ, what the f*ck happened to you?" My eyes widen at the claw marks on his neck, leading into his shirt. He's covered in hickeys, including ones on his face and his lips look like they've been sucked on to the point he's got filler.

"You should see his back, it looks like a bear attacked him," Louis laughs, slapping Niall as hard as he can on the raw skin beneath his shirt.

"Ah! f*ck!" Niall cries, arching forward and trying to reach the sting shooting through his body. He steadies himself, puffing out an annoyed breath, "While you were playing house with your not-girlfriend, I was getting f*cked into another dimension." He says proudly.

"Don't tell me you're the one that gave Grace a black eye," I balk. "You don't hit the face during sex, you f*cking animal." I had seen her bruise yesterday and made a mental note to get on that too, but I was too consumed by Brin to ask her about it. I might actually have to kill Niall now, that's just how chivalry works.

"It wasn't on purpose, you idiot. She mounted me like a tree and we both learned she's a sh*t climber," He laughs.

"I don't need the details."

"We've been listening to this sh*t all morning already," Louis rolls his eyes.

Zayn groans in the corner, rubbing his temples. "Will you three shut the f*ck up? You're making my head hurt."

"What's your problem?" I grumble.

"He's still recovering from hurricane Lola," Louis laughs, humping the air in front of Niall while Niall fake moans.

"It's been two days, get it together," I shake my head.

Zayn scoffs, peering up at me with furrowed brows. "That's rich coming from you, what have you been doing? Care to tell us what was more important than being here to deal with this?"

"He doesn't have to, we already know," Niall wiggles his brows. "Harry is inlooove."He purrs out.

I smile against my better judgement telling me to stay mad. "You'll all get it eventually. When yourone-daywife calls, you answer." I shrug, biting the inside of my cheek to keep myself from talking about her anymore.

"From just friends to one day wife. How romantic," Louis teases, tossing me a pair of scissors.

I catch them by the blade, flipping them around to point the sharp end at him. "Watch it, I'm already here to kill for her and I'm not afraid to add another chair." The man behind me starts whimpering and shaking around in his seat as if the ropes will loosen.

"Shut up," I draw out, turning around to face him. I step toward him and cut off his blindfold, his sunken in brown eyes blinking to focus on me. A smile spreads across my face as I hold the scissors in my fist like a knife.

"What's your name, buddy?" I drag the blade up his jugular.

"G-George.." He chokes out.

"Do you know why you're here, George?" I push the scissors under his chin to force his head back.

He winces and cries out a small whimper, pinching his eyes shut. "N-no.. I was just-- just sleeping.."

"Next to someone?" I ask scanning over his face for a lie.

"M-my wife.."

"It's nice waking up next to her, right?" My tone softens and his eyes peek open.

"Please.. please whatever you want I'll give it to you if you let me go.. I just want to go home.. she's got to be so worried about me by now.."

I hum and stand up straight, removing the blade from his chin. "It doesn't feel good to worry, does it? It didn't feel very good to worry aboutmy wifewhen I saw those pictures you took of her."

"One day wife."Niall snickers.

I blow out an annoyed sigh. "You're not leaving here alive, George. I'm going to show you what it felt like to see her cry over those pictures," I taunt, slamming the scissors down into his thigh. He screams out in pain, blood soaking into his pant leg.

"Get it all out now, you've got a long f*cking way to go," I sneer, walking toward the table full of weapons and torture devices. My eyes scan around before grabbing the gardening nippers. I close the handles in my hand a few times, checking that the blade is still sharp despite some rust on the metal.

I walk back over to him, stopping behind the chair where his hands are tied. The back of his hand gets nicked as I snip the zip ties, freeing him from the waist up. He pulls them forward, doubling over in his chair while he cradles his limbs. They probably lost all blood flow being tied up like that, so I'll give him a few moments to make sure he really feels what's coming.

"Who's got the cuffs?" I look up at the three bored men in front of me.

Louis pushes off of the wall, walking to the chair and kneeling in front of it. He pulls out two small belt-like leather cuffs before ripping one of George's arms away from his chest. He quickly secures his wrist to the arm of the chair before moving on to the second one. He stands when he's done, pushing George's forehead back with a chuckle. "You're f*cked, buddy."

"I wasn't trying to hurt anybody!" He cries, tears flowing down his cheeks.

My steps are slow and calculated as I make my way around the chair, holding his shoulder as I do. I flash the new tool in front of him, waving it around like a treat. "But you did, and unfortunately for you, the person you hurt is the most important thing in my life. Which hand did you use to hold the camera, George?"

"I-- wha-what?"

"Whichf*cking handdid you use to hold the camera?"

He glances down between the two. "I.. I hold it in my left.. but I click the button with-"

"This one?" I bend his right pointer finger back so far it almost breaks. "Do you know what it felt like when she was clinging to me after she found out she had been violated by you?" I bring the nippers to his bent finger, snipping it off with a loud crunch. His screams echo around the room, blood sputtering from the newly exposed blood vessel. "It f*cking hurt, George!" I yell, grabbing his face with my free hand.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" He cries, shaking uncontrollably. "Please! I didn't know! I swear I didn't!"

I walk back to the table, throwing down the tool and grabbing a sharp melon baller. My boots thud across the floor. "You made a lot of tears fall from her beautiful eyes," I state with a head shake, flipping the handle around in my palm. "Someone come hold his head still," My brows furrow as I watch his eyes widen.

"Absolutelynotit." Zayn winces.

"f*ck it," Niall shrugs, pushing off the wall and walking behind him. He grabs his forehead and jaw, tilting George's head back until he's looking straight up at me.

"You watched her the entire night and captured her in a vulnerable state. Now the last thing you get to see is the face of the man that's going to murder you. I hope the pictures were worth it, George." The cool metal tool runs down the side of his terrified face.

He shakes in Niall's hold, sweating and pale like he's on the verge of passing out. I bring the baller up and flash him an evil smile before pressing the sharpness into his eyesocket at an agonizingly slow pace. He screams and thrashes asI scoop out his eyeballs.

His cries are so loud that they vibrate through my ears until his body falls limp in Niall's hands. "Is he f*cking dead?" I grumble annoyed.

Niall checks his pulse, shaking his head no. "Just a f*ckin' puss*."

"Wake the f*ck up!" I shout, smacking his bloody cheek so hard his head snaps to the side. He doesn't budge which only spurs on my anger. I stomp to the table again, whipping off clamps connected to an electrical charge. They get hooked onto his ears before we step away. "Zayn, flip the switch."

He stands from his seat and pulls down a small silver lever. A jolt of electricity gets zapped into George's body, making him jump and holler. His brain is probably fried from my choice of placement, but I need him alive for only a few more minutes so he can feel what I felt.

"Wakey, wakey, buddy. We're not done yet. You haven't even gotten to the worst part. My heart, George, you don't understand what it felt like for my heart to shatter when she told me she thought I was mad at her for the sh*tyoudid." I grab him by the cheeks and shake his head, to which he groans and winces.

"She thought she did something wrong. My pretty girl, my princess, thought I was mad at her for playing in her own territory." I tutt at him, "You stepped foot intoour den,and now you get to play withme."

I pick up the largest butcher knife on the table and look at my reflection through the shiny silver blade. "Do you believe in evolution, Georgy?" I ask, tapping the pointy end on the table. "We've evolved overbillionsof years, but can you guess the one trait that's stayed? The one thing that is seen across every single culture?"

I bring the knife up to the wall, dragging it across as I start my walk around the room. "Do you know what men are wired to do? From the days we lived in caves, we've had the same deep-rooted biological urge.." An evil smile spreads across my face. George groans and twitches, fear filling him from my footsteps closing in around him.

"We protect our den," I answer for him. "Andeverythingin it. Men are disposable, but our women.. we need them to keep going. We're hardwired to keep them safe." I press the blade harder into the wall, making it screech across the dark concrete.

"We balance each other. She keeps my den how I like it, and I protect her while she does it. She dances and laughs, and I cut the eyeballs out of any threat that comes too close to her." I circle behind him, rounding the corner with sinister steps.

"I'm feeling pretty primal right now, George. Like my animalistic urges are begging me to tear you to shreds for daring to hurt what's mine." His head follows the sound of my knife dragging on the wall beside him.

"Instinct is a powerful thing, you know. It's a shame yours didn't tell you that you were walking into a trap." I stop in front of him with the knife at my side. "Now is the time to pray to your God, George." I bring the knife above my head in both of my hands and drive it as hard as I can straight through his heart. He sucks in a deep breath, crashing at the peak of his lungs filling with blood.

I watch as he sits dead in the old chair, blood stained on his face from his empty eye sockets, a finger missing from his right hand, scissors stabbed into his thigh, and a butcher knife being the physical embodiment of the ache in my chest over Brinna's tears. The man that caused them can't hurt her anymore, and that's enough for me to snap back to reality and away from this hellhole.

"Let his blood drain," I murmur.

"That was a bit f*cking theatrical, don't you think?" Louis snorts with his arms crossed.

"Whatever, I saw that sh*t about cavemen on the Discovery channel and it f*ckin' sounded good," I flip him off, peeling my bloody shirt off my body.

"Nah that was badass, you were allprotect what's mine, you're in my den, her territory this, caveman that.I got the point," Niall bobs his head, staring at the dead body with no emotion.

"I'm leaving, you guys have fun cleaning this up," Zayn grumbles, looking like he's about to throw up.

I shake my head amusedly, knowing that he's probably been completely eaten alive by Lola in the last few days. He looks like he needs a vacation and I'm not going to stop him, especially because if he's gone he can't bug me when I spend all of my time with Brinna.

"I'm leaving too, I've got a raccoon problem that needs fixing," I smile, pulling my phone out of my jeans before leaving the room.

A raccoon Bandit problem, that is.

Usually, I wouldn't walk through the club covered in blood, but I don't feel like hosing myself off in the same room as a dead guy and no one's here right now anyway. I walk up the stairs, pushing open the heavy door and shutting it tight behind me. The bathroom by the dressing room has a full shower, so that's where I'm headed. I unlock my phone as I walk forward, opening my texts with a giant smile on my face.

To: Bandit 3:37 pm

I miss you, pretty girl

I walk into the employee-only hallway and into the bathroom, never looking away from my phone screen.

From: Bandit 3:40 pm

I miss you too, curly. Where did you run off to this morning?

My lips purse to the side as butterflies swirl in my stomach.

To: Bandit 3:41 pm

just work. has the dragon been civil today or do I need to rescue my princess early?

I place the phone on the counter, unzipping my jeans and tugging them down my legs. I twist the shower knob to hot and let the bathroom fill with steam, looking in the mirror at some of the splattered red around my face and hair.

From: Bandit 3:45 pm

haven't seen her all day, but it is tempting to let you steal me away. are you going to tell me what we're doing today?

To: Bandit 3:46 pm

Nope. you'll have to wait and see. I hope you're not scared of sharks ;))

I set my phone down and step into the shower, watching as the red washes down the drain. My eyes shut under the warmth relaxing my muscles. I don't really want to clean myself in girly soap and then go see Brin, so I pull an unopened bar of soap off of the shelf.

I begin to wash, scrubbing my hands and face extra until the small stains become unnoticeable. I step under the water, rinsing away the suds on my skin. A deep sigh leaves my nose and my mind starts to wander to my plans for tonight. I can't wait for her to see what we're doing, it's nothing crazy but I've been wanting to go for a while. It'll be something we both haven't experienced here, so we can make a completely new memory together.Our first one entirely of us.

The bathroom door opening makes my train of thought stop abruptly, my eyes snapping open toward the exit. None of my workers are set to be here for another few hours at least. "Harry?" An annoying voice that I wish would jump off the nearest cliff echoes into the room.

"I saw you come in here.." Magnolia closes the door behind her.

"What the f*ck, Maggie?" I shout, trying to cover my dick. The room is pretty well foggy but the shower door is glass so I'm sure if she tried hard enough she would be able to see the outline of my entire body.

"You looked lonely," She walks closer to the shower. "Figured I could join you. I knew that little girlfriend wouldn't work out." I see her shadow pull her shirt over her head before stepping to the glass.

"Get the f*ck out of here, Magnolia. I'm not playing with you, if you step into this shower you're going to regret it." I look around for anything other than my hand to cover my body with out of respect for Brin. I couldn't live with the guilt of another woman seeing me naked even if I didn't want it. I would feel like I was betraying her trust.

"I told you that whor* didn't know you like I do.." Her hand grasps the silver handle and she slowly pulls back the glass shield.

"Don't talk about her like that, for f*cks sakestop,I don't want you." I breathe faster out of anger, her eyes meeting mine as she stands in just her bra and shorts. "Out, now." I grit through clenched teeth.

She steps forward and I step back, pressing myself to the ceramic wall while my hands cover my front. I try to move around her to the slightly open shower door so I can get a towel and leave, but she steps in front of me, pushing me into the wall andslams her lips into mine.

I try to lean my back as far away from her as possible because I don't want her touching me. One of my hands comes up to push her away, but right before I can, a phone camera in her hand flashes and Maggie pulls away with a huge smile. "Thanks, Harry. Got what I wanted." She winks, walking out of the shower.

I stand there with my jaw dropped open, watching her shadow behind the glass door as she puts her top back on and exits the room. I turn into the water and scrub my lips off, my stomach turning with guilt over what just happened.

I can't believe she came in here and forced herself on me, knowing I have a girlfriend.f*ck, I can't believe I did that to Brinna. She's going to be so devastated, I can't lie to her and pretend it didn't happen.

I shut the water off and step out, grabbing a towel from the stack and wrapping it around my hips. My hands find the bathroom counter, leaning over into the sink as I take deep breaths to calm my nerves.

My phone buzzes, but I can't bring myself to look at it. I think if I have to act like that didn't just happen in a reply to my angel, I'll actually vomit. It buzzes again, and then again. "What the f*ck?" I grumble, noticing that my phone is in a different spot than I left it.

I tap the screen to check my notifications.

Instagram: GraceInSinCity Sent A Message

what the f*ck harry?!

Instagram: GraceInSincity Sent A Message

how could you do that to her?????!!! I should cut your f*cking balls off fo rthat sh*t

Instagram: GraceInSinCity Sent A Message

f*cking dog i knew you would do this sh*t you're all the same

What the--? I unlock my phone, the screen opening to the text conversation between Brinna and I, the last message being..f*ck. f*ck, f*ck, f*ck! She took that picture onmy phone and sent it to Brin.

It's blurry, but you can clearly tell I'm shirtless and wet, as well as Magnolia being in a bra and kissing me. You can't tell that I'm pushing her off, either. It really does look like the two of us are consensually kissing in the f*cking shower.

"No, no, nobaby.."I plead, shaky fingers pressing the call button and bringing the phone to my ear. "Please, baby, please.." The line rings a few times before I get sent to voice mail. I call her again, but this time it immediately gets declined.

To: Bandit 4:50 pm

baby please answer me I can explain

I call her again and again until my chest is so tight that it feels like I'm having a heart attack. I rush out of the bathroom and into the dressing room to the locker I keep extra clothes in, pulling on a pair of shorts and a crewneck. I slip my boots back on, probably looking crazy as I slam through the doors and through the lobby where I parked my car.

"Get you in trouble,baby?"Magnolia snickers behind her desk.

I say nothing as I push open the lobby doors and jump into my car, speeding to Brinna's apartment faster than I ever have. I don't think I blinked the entire drive here, and I don't even remember parking before I was throwing myself out of the car and onto her doormat.

My hand pounds on the wood, chest heaving like I forgot how to breathe. "Brinna!" I shout on my knees. "Please let me explain, I promise you I didn't kiss her!" I continue pounding on her door, becoming desperate to see her and make this right.

"Are you f*cking kidding me you didn't kiss her!"Grace's voice shouts through the door.

"Stop, Grace! Just let him leave!"Brinna's sad voice says back

"He's a liar! I'll kick his ass right now, I'ma f*cking ankle-biter! Let me at him!"

"Brin baby please, please let me see you. I know it looks bad--" My voice breaks at the sound of her so upset.

The door whips open in front of me, making my eyes shoot up to a very pissed-off Grace. "You have five seconds to run before I drag you away by your ballsack." She seethes with her hands on her hips. I hear Brin sniffling on her couch, my eyes immediately drawn to the sound.

I stand to my feet, peering around Grace who's trying to stop me from looking. "She doesn't want to see you, you prick. You have some f*cking nerve showing up here you know! To tell her you're going to pick her up, only for her to get a picture of you and some other girl when you said you were at work!" She gets louder again, making my brows crease with sadness.

"Brinna.." I look at the side of her the best I can from my position. "Please I.. Iwasat work. Just let me explain, I swear it's not what it looks like."

"Let him in, Grace.." She mumbles. Grace growls at me, hesitantly stepping out of the way to let me through. I walk cautiously to the green couch Brin is sitting on. She's on the middle cushion with her legs crossed on the seat, her arms are folded over her chest and her hair is down and around her face. Tissues are crumpled up on her coffee table and there's an open wine bottle next to the box, but only one glass is being used. I assume it's Grace's.

I kneel down in front of her and wrap my arms around her back while my head rests in her lap. "I'm sorry, baby. I'm sorry you had to see that, I promise I didn't kiss her. I wouldn't do that to you."

"How can you even.." She sniffles, "You sent me a picture of it for god's sake, Harry."

I shake my head on her, my arms tightening around her. "That wasn't me, Brinna. I was showering after I finished work and she came in the bathroom," I look up at her, pleading with my eyes for her to trust me. "Look at me, please baby. Look at me so you know I'm not lying."

She looks up, lashes wet and eyes puffy. Her face is full of hurt and anger, rightfully so. I sigh and tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear. "I promise you with every fiber in my body, Brinna, I did not kiss her. I had to shower after I finished working, she came into the bathroom even after I told her to go away. She kissed me and sent you that picture, I didn't want her anywhere near me. I was devastated when it happened because I didn't want you to think I did it on purpose, I would never do that to you."

"Why would you even be showering at work?" She questions.

sh*t.

"We had some new equipment delivered, I was helping to move around some furniture so I got sweaty but I wanted to be clean for our date.." I say quickly.

She looks between my eyes, doubt filling her own. "Do you know her?"

"I recognize that bitch from the front desk, I bet she's your f*ckin' side piece you skan*!" Grace hisses from the kitchen.

"She- yes, she works at the front desk. We used to have casual.. relations.. but I haven't done anything with her since that first night I met you. I even blocked her number after you went out with me. She's jealous of you, Brin. She just wanted to hurt us."

"But she works in the building your job is in, which is also where you live," She states, clearly uncomfortable with the notion.

"she doesn't have to..I can make her leave. If that's what you want, consider it done. You won't ever see her again."

She furrows her brows and shakes her head. "That really hurt, Harry. I- I thought you were texting me to tell me you were outside. And then I open my phone up to you naked and kissing another woman."

"Brinna.." I lift myself to be almost at eye level with her. My fingers gently unclasp her arms and bring them to my hair, silently asking her to scratch it how I like. I'm not sure if she's trying to comfort herself or if she's used to playing in my locks, but her fingers move delicately like they always do.

I sigh deeply, a pit of emotion festering and bubbling up my throat like a geyser bound to erupt. "Just listen to me for a second. You don't need to say anything back, just.. just let me." I look between her reddened eyes.

My time on this Earth is limited and you're not going to think, even for a second, that I'm not completely obsessed with you, Treasure. I know this is scary, this is new for both of us. Maybe we don't know the right answers, but we can make them as we go. We don't have to do things in any order, so please believe me when I tell you that..

"I love you, Brin,"my voice is shaky, the hot steam of my devotion settling around us. "I love you and I would never do anything to intentionally hurt you. You mean the world to me and I'm sorry you had to see that. You don't deserve the hurt you keep getting, and I'm sorry that I'm the root cause of it all." I shut my eyes, head dropping at the realization I had only from saying those words out loud.

"I tried to make her go away. I didn't know what to do, I was trying to cover myself out of respect for you and then she pushed me into the wall and I didn't know how to stop it without doing something wrong. I'm so sorry it happened," I drop my forehead into her stomach again, soaking in the last bits of her before she inevitably makes me leave.

She's always so warm, but more than just to touch. She radiates an energy deep into my person that heals parts of me I didn't know were so broken. Her scent coats my nostrils all the way down to my lungs like I'm asthmatic and she's my medicine. She makes me want to be a person I didn't know was possible. Iloveher.

She shifts above me, curling over me while her arms wrap around my head. She plants a deep kiss on my hair, holding me to her body as she rubs the side of her cheek on me. I feel her head pop up only momentarily to which Grace grumbles out a barely audibleseriously?!

She moves again slightly and the door to her apartment shuts, meaning Grace has left us alone. I relax only momentarily, knowing that she either wants me to herself or she's going to say something that would hurt my ego if it were in front of someone else. She shuffles under me, Sliding off the couch and onto the floor with me.

She's perched on my bent knees with her back to the couch, holding me to her by wrapping her arms around my neck. I bury my face into the soft skin of her neck, squeezing her to me like I'm afraid if I let go she'll disappear, too. She kisses the side of my head and lets out a hum.

"You love me, Harry?" She asks just above a whisper.

I nod against her, "Forever, Treasure..I love you, forever."

Chapter 22: Pepper

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

Needless to say, Harry's love language is acts of service. He spent the entire night kissing all over my body and reminding me of how sorry he is about what happened.

I didn't have to lift a finger the entire time he cooked me dinner, or when he drew me a bath and insisted on washing my hair, and then when he tucked me into bed and wandered off to the living room to sleep on the couch.

I made him come back to bed of course, but it was clear that he wasn't being nice to get something from me. I think he was just afraid that I would decide to make him leave, so he was soaking in every ounce of me that he could.

I'm not sure how I feel about the events of yesterday. I was really f*cking upset after seeing that picture at work, so much so that Grace had to take my phone and drag me outside so she could drive me home.

And apparently, the woman in the picture is someone Harry used to frequently have sex with, but not since we met. Let's be honest, that wasn'tthatlong ago. He's fresh on her mind and she works where he lives. That's screaming for disaster.

He said he would make her leave, but what does that even mean? Am I angry enough to make someone lose their job over something that Harry didn't want to happen? Should I even believe him when he says he didn't kiss her back? I don't know if I'm wrong about this, but Idobelieve him... I don't think he's the type to grovel on doorsteps after a kiss.

He obviously doesn't have to worry about women throwing themselves at him, so if he really doesn't care about me he wouldn't have begged for me.

And then he said the L word.

What do I even do with that information? Is a few months enough to know you love someone? Is there even a time limit on how long it takes to know? Moments like these are the kind that a good set of parents would be useful for. I have no one to ask all of these questions and I don't even understand my own feelings.

So I'm choosing to ignore that he said it. He obviously knows how he feels, and I was upset when I got the text, but does that mean I'm in love? I have no idea what that even feels like. I don't even know what we are, yet he thinks he's in love. That's a deeper devotion than I expected from him and it scares the absolute sh*t out of me.

How do you know if someone is being truthful when you can't even decipher your own feelings? He makes me feel good, better than I ever have with another person, but does that mean I love him? How do I know if I'm feeling something real and not just from the heat of the moment?

More importantly, what if he only said that because he thought I wanted to hear it? Then if I say it back and mean it, he'll realize he doesn't and leave me. How long do you have to spend with someone before realizing your proclamation of love was fabricated? let's say we move in together, get married, start a family, but our love was entirely one-sided because he said it in the heat of the moment instead of meaning it. This is starting to feel complicated and I hate that feeling.

f*ck all of that, I don't have the mental capacity to even attempt to understand the layers of my issues surrounding the L word. I'm glad he doesn't expect it back. For now, I can't say it. I can't say something I don't one hundred percent know that we both mean. For all I know, he just forgot the rest of his sentence. He could have tried sayingI love you...r willingness to let me smash.I'm not a mind reader, there's no telling what he was actually thinking.

The smell of bacon cooking takes my eyes away from the Heart Nebula poster on the other side of my room. Thank god, because I don't want to spend any more time thinking about it. I sit up in my bed, my fuzzy blanket wrapped around my head like a cloak. I definitely don't have bacon in my kitchen, I can't cook it without burning it so I never eat it here.

I scoot myself to the edge of my bed with the blanket still tightly wrapped around me until my feet thunk to the cold floor. I nudge my door open with my toe, quietly peering down the hallway toward the kitchen. Nothing seems to be sizzling, the only noises being dishes clattering and humming to quiet music.

I tiptoe down the small hallway, stopping at the entrance between it and the open-concept living room and kitchen. I lean my head on the wall, peaking to the right as I watch Harry scrub out a pan with a towel over his shoulder.

"Little darlin', I feel that ice is slowly melting.. hmm mm mmm mm,

Here comes the sun, doo doo doo doo.."

He sings softly, placing the clean pan on the drying rack. His eyes never meet mine as I stand cocooned in the fuzzy barrier, watching him dance around my kitchen so domestically. My heart is thumping wildly, my mind betraying my mission of trying to forget about his confession.

"Good morning, pretty girl," He smiles at me from his place at the sink with soft eyes and dimples showing. His hair is up in a bun and he's wearing new clothes from what he had on yesterday. I creep around the raised counter, furrowing my brows at his outfit and an assortment of foods I definitely didn't have in my fridge.

"Morning," I answer, peering up at him. "Did you leave?"

He pulls me into his chest, inhaling deeply as he kisses the top of my head. "Only for a little, just to grab a few things and some new clothes." He peels the blanket off of me and suddenly I feel very underdressed. My arms cross in front of me, trying to hide the fact I'm only wearing his shirt and a pair of underwear that he picked for me last night.

"Take a seat, I've already made your plate. I was going to wake you soon but you beat me to it," He murmurs, walking to the opposite counter with his back to me. I sit down at my small round table, tucking my knees up to my chest. An unfamiliar machine starts whirring as he turns around with two plates in his hands. He steps to the table, giving me the perfect view of what the noise is.

"Harry.." I gape. "What is that?"

"Hmm?" He turns slightly, then back to me with a knowing smile. "A coffee machine," He shrugs.

"That's an automatic expresso machine, please don't tell me you bought that just to have coffee this morning. Those are like, thousands of dollars," My mouth drops slightly.

"I didn't." He walks back to the machine, grabbing two clear glass cups that also aren't mine. "I bought it to have coffee every morning. Well, every morning I'm here, anyway."

I scoff a small laugh. "No, you're taking that home. You can't leave that here, it's way too expensive."

"Well it would be silly of me to have two of them, Bandit," He slides the coffee cup to me. "Try that and tell me you still want me to take it away." He wiggles his eyebrows, sipping his own while he sits across the table from me.

I bring the steaming cup to my mouth and take a slow sip. It's creamy and rich, unlike any other coffee I've ever tasted. There's a perfect amount of pillowy foam on the top, gliding through my lips like actual gold. What the f*ck is with rich people and food that could cause an org*sm?

"Holy sh*t," I lick my lips, holding the coffee cup near my face so I can smell the expensive roast. "Take it home."

"Nope. It's yours," He puts the egg-filled fork into his mouth, chewing a few times before swallowing.

I stare at his happy expression as I cut off a piece of waffle. "Did you cook all of this?" I'm pretty decent at making meals, but this looks like it was done in a professional kitchen.

He shakes his head with a chuckle. "I was hoping you wouldn't ask so I could take the credit, but no. I can't cook very well, I picked it up from my favorite brunch spot and reheated it." His nose scrunches like he's embarrassed to admit it.

"I see why it's your favorite."

We continue eating with small talk until I can't shove any more waffles down my throat. Between the thick coffee and the spread of food, I think he's trying to fatten me up before he kills me like an evil witch. Do sirens do that, too?

I stand up to clear away our dishes but Harry stops me, grabbing up all of the plates in his large hands. I sit and watch him as he scrapes them off and loads them into the dishwasher. "So our plans that we had yesterday.." He says, leaning his hip on the counter. His eyes look tired under the light directly hitting them. "Do you want to go today?"

He's tense like he's trying to keep his hopes down as he doesn't know where we stand still. I stand from my seat and walk towards him. He perks up as I wrap my arms around his waist, breathing in the scent of his natural musk and soap. His arms wrap around my head and he lets out a subtle groan of relaxation.

"I can be ready in an hour.." I mumble against him.

__

An hour turned into two thanks to the big puppy following me around and clinging to me while I did everything from brushing my teeth to putting my shoes on. I'm surprised he didn't do each step for me, seeing as how if he wasn't holding me in some way he was handing me whatever I needed next.

I'm not complaining though, as strange as it is to have someone around in more than a friendly way, it's a feeling that keeps me warm and fuzzy inside. Despite looking more tired than usual, his efforts to swoon me never ceased. "Did you get any good sleep last night?" I ask, locking my front door and then turning back to face him.

"A little bit, baby," He loops our fingers together. "Do I look bad or somethin'?"

"Little pale like you're out of it, is all. You never look bad." I peck his bicep.

It didn't take much of a nudge for Harry to tell me where we were going, especially because he was just as excited to come here. He pulled into an underground parking garage at Mandalay Bay before we got out and headed for the elevator.

Once out, we went up a short escalator and into a hallway that was decorated with gray bricks, greenery, and stone statues of crocodiles. I took a minute to look around the captivating stone before Harry urged me into the door.

On either side of us are large enclosures with small pools, housing all different kinds of reptiles and fish. The entire area looks like ifTemple Runcame to life. There's even a giant snake swimming in one of the deeper tanks.

"That's f*cking terrible," Harry shakes his head, crouched down to peer below the water level. He's watching as the snake wriggles around, speeding like a torpedo through it's enclosure. "Nature is cruel for making things like that."

"What, with no legs?"

"Not because it doesn't have any, but because they can still eat you alive without them." He cringes, standing up from the serpent and tucking his hands in his jean pockets as we keep going.

"Are you scared of snakes?" I laugh.

He peers down at me, pushing the hair out of his face to get a better view. "Not when they're locked up like that. You're telling me if that 12-foot nope rope was out in the open, you'd be perfectly fine?"

"Nope-rope?" I repeat the foreign phrase.

"That's a whole rope of f*ckingnope,Brin." He shudders, pushing open the door to the inside part of the aquarium.

This room is much darker and ethereal. The first part of the experience is a deep sea archway, a short hall encased entirely in water and fish. Sharks swim across the top of us, making my eyes follow across the glass to the opposite side. A few stingrays float closer to the top while small schools of fish stay at the bottom with the crustaceans.

I walk up to the glass, my fingers pressing over it as a manta glides over top of me. I laugh at its silly little face, waving as it swims over Harry. My eyes fall from the tank down to him leaning over on the opposite side smiling at me. "What?" I ask shyly, trying to keep my attention on him and not the vast life floating behind him.

"You look pretty," He smiles, walking a few steps forward to meet me. "The light keeps hitting your eyes and they sparkle, just like the ocean." Lips press into my forehead, my eyes fluttering like the butterflies in my stomach.

We walk side by side through the rest of the tunnel until we reach the black-out room, smaller tanks being displayed around the walls, and in the middle of the room, a large feeding tank. I start walking around the room, completely entranced by the different types of jellyfish floating around. My favorite kind are the pink ones with long, bubbly tentacles. They never seem to get tangled around each other and I've never known if that's intentional or by luck.

A warm hand wraps around my waist, tugging me closer as we watch the creatures dance around each other in the dark water. "They've got a special thing here.." He whispers, walking us to the next tank. "I may or may not have rented it out so we can be the only ones in there."

I stop walking, tilting my head with a blank expression. "Harry."

"What? What if I'm planning on asking you to marry me again? I figured the dressing room wasn't romantic so why not--"

"Stop joking like that," I shake my head. "You can't keep blowing money on me left and right. You're getting out of control." It does make me uncomfortable with how easy it is for him to spend money. Deep down it makes me feel guilty, like I won't ever be able to monetarily give him what he gives me with no hesitation.

He stands next to me, smiling at my pouty face. "You're cute when you're mad," He boops the end of my nose, making me roll my eyes and turn away with a huff. His deep chuckle follows me to the glass wall but I can't focus on the fish with his heat on my back.

He steps closer until his toes are touching my heels, his hands resting on either side of my head as he leans down slightly to my ear. "Brinna.." He starts, nudging my head to the side to kiss my neck. "Stop worrying about how I spend money. You could point at any animal in here and I'd have it delivered to you in a diamond tank. There isn't a single thing you can say to stop me, you deserve the world and I'm giving it to you."

I shake my head, still facing the aquarium. "But you can't just.."

"Uh-uh." He rumbles, sending a chill down my body. "I swear to God I'm going to buy one of the dolphins if anything other thanokaycomes out of your mouth." Wet kisses are sloppily planted on the crook of my neck.

I whip around to face him, staring at him in shock with my mouth dropped open as he pulls away from me with a smile. "That's my good girl." He pecks me on the lips and takes my hand, pulling me along the rest of the exhibit so we can go to his surprise.

"I would have also accepted a 'yes daddy'or an 'I want the baby dolphin', for future reference," he states nonchalantly, swinging my hand in his. If at all possible, my eyes widen even more, making him laugh.

"You're crazy," I shake my head and lean into his arm while our fingers stay intertwined.

"Crazy in love, sweet girl." He mumbles.

We walk around the large room until we reach a door that readsfeed room.Harry pushes it open and walks straight in.

"You're not giving me to the sharks, right?" I ask, hiding my fear behind a joke. My hand holds his tighter as we walk into the room that has two huge tanks on either side with steps up to each of them. I start to get more nervous as I notice one of themreallydoes have small sharks circling around it.

"Well.. he draws out, walking between the two. "I was going to have us feed the sharks. Until I saw what else they have.." He turns to the left, leading us away from the scary tank and toward one that looks empty. "You can get in this one, they won't hurt you."

"What won't--" My question gets cut off by two large sea turtles soaring from the back of the tank, rounding the wall with their fins touching the glass. A smaller one follows behind them like they're a little family. I gasp slightly, dropping his hand and walking closer to them.

"Hey there!" An Australian woman speaks. "Are you here for the turtles, under Styles?

"Yes," Harry answers, the two of us walking toward her.

"Righto, come back with me so you can change and then we can feed the hungry babes," She smiles, nodding toward a door I didn't see earlier. The two of us follow her and then separate into different dressing rooms to change.

I set my phone and purse in a locker, along with my clothes. We have to wear full-body wetsuits and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited to see Harry in his. I zip mine up and braid my hair back quickly so I can get back to him.

I leave my dressing room and wait in the hallway with our guide, Ava. She's been working here for a long time, she said she used to do turtle rescues and egg hatches on the beach back home but when her family moved here, she couldn't find anything close to the rush that gave her.

I got chills listening to her talk about the adrenaline she would get from helping hatchlings cross the sand to their new lives in the sea. It seems like everyone in this city is searching for a rush, even the woman taking care of turtles in a hotel. I feel bad for assuming everyone here came for the same things, or had the same lifestyle because of their residency. She seems like a woman just trying to make a difference, which is the exact life I wanted for myself too.

Harry finally shows himself after about ten minutes, looking slightly flustered. "Are you alright?" I ask him with a questioning smile as only his head is poking through the door. He widens his eyes like I'm supposed to know what he's gesturing at.

His face reddens as he lets out a whine, his forehead falling into the door. "Baby.. please come here." He grumbles, looking down at the floor. I give an apologetic look to Ava and walk the few steps toward him. He pulls me into the door and both of our eyes are immediately drawn down to theveryprominent bulge displayed through the skin-tight suit.

"How am I supposed to feed a f*ckin' turtle when they're going to be distracted by my package?!" He whines.

I burst out a laugh that quickly gets contained when his cheeks redden even deeper. "You're fine! The water is cold.. it'll fix itself.. right?"

"That's just me, Brin! It can't be fixed, I'm a monster!"

I cup my hand over my mouth to stop my laughter, but the pouty look on his face is only making me giggle more. "The turtles won't care, the water will distort it so no one will be staring at you."

He gives me a frown, pushing his lip out slightly. "Stop laughing at me, this is a very serious issue."

I lean up on my toes to peck his lips. "I'll walk in front of you the whole way to the tank, I'll even cling to you like a turtle chastity belt so they don't get a peek if you want." I suggest, knowing he's uncomfortable with how much he's on display.

I take his hand and lead him back out the door, staying right in front of him the entire time we walk out to the room and up the stairs to the turtle tank. He must be feeling fine because he keeps trying to steal pinches of my ass as we walk up the flight.

"Alright, so we'll be putting on these life jackets, and then you'll walk down this little ramp here," Ava nods toward the railing leading into the water. "Sit on the platform, you can dangle your legs off the edge or stay completely on, they'll come to you either way. Just no jumping in, remember this is their home and we're the guests."

She hands us the jackets and we quickly put them on, waiting for her instruction. "Right then, in ya go!" She chirps, grabbing two small buckets of shrimp before following us in.

The both of us decide to sit on the edge with our feet floating in the water. Harry's hands are tightly covering his bulge as the two of us look down, the water going at least thirty feet. We're only in the feeding part too, the rest of the tank out front is much deeper. Small fish swim far below our feet, the eerie feeling that somethings going to jump out and bite me quickly tingling through my bones.

She hands me a small pale full of shrimp and turns to Harry to do the same. "Shrimp, mate?"

"I'm already trying to handle one, thanks," He playfully mumbles with a chuckle before grabbing the tin.

"Here they come!" Ava hushes as the creatures begin to circle us. They're making their way to the top, a current moving our legs as they near.

She sticks her hand in the water with a shrimp between two fingers. The largest turtle swooped by her hand before rolling back and taking the shrimp. I gasp slightly at the sight, the turtle being much larger than I thought. "His name is Pepper.." She states with a smile. "He was brought here in the early 2000s because of a nasty infection, he's been here ever since."

"He's massive," Harry mumbles.

"The biggest we've got! Believe it or not, they can get up to five hundred pounds in the wild. They live for about eighty years, too. Pepper's about 300 pounds and the old guy is in his 60s."

"Why did they keep him?" I ask, watching the other two turtles swim around each other.

"He ate a piece of trash on the surface of the ocean, it cut his insides up real bad. He lost part of his lung from the infection and when they rehabilitated him, it was deemed unsafe to release him. He wouldn't be able to make it in the wild." She says, scratching the turtle's head.

I put a piece of shrimp between my fingers and put my hand into the water, almost trembling from the fear of my hand being eaten along with it. The medium sized turtle swoops up quickly, making me flinch and drop the treat. The turtle was quick to chase it and eat it before it got halfway down.

"That's Salt," Ava laughs. "She's a gentle giant, won't hurt you any but they're all quite intimidating, aren't they?

"Give me your hand, love. We'll do it together." Harry holds his hand out for me and puts a treat between our fingers. He lowers our hand to the water, whispering sweet praises as we watch the smallest turtle swim around the glass towards us. "I've got you, Treasure. You're alright," He coos.

The turtle breaks the surface, splashing the two of us with a fin as it whizzes by us to snatch the shrimp. I let out a startled shriek and then a laugh, Harry holding my arm so I don't accidentally fall into the water. He laughs with me, the two of us fizzling out as we stare intently into each others eyes.

I flash him a small smile, the two of us leaning in to kiss when Pepper glides up to Harry's lap, ending our PDA with another surprised laugh.

"Hey, hey! Stop trying to have a peek you naughty mustard, I'm with my woman," He playfully scolds while petting the turtle on the top of his head before giving him a shrimp.

The three of us chatter and feed the animals for another 45 minutes before running out of treats and conversation. We stand and dry off a bit to go change. Harry protectively holds me the entire way down the stairs, afraid I'll slip and fall on the way down. He didn't even seem to remember his skin tight problem while he was guiding me safely to the changing rooms.

We each showered off and got dressed, meeting in the hallway to be walked out by Ava after our goodbyes. "Thank you for everything!" I gush. "Kiss Pepper for me!" I shout as Harry leads me out, knowing I would stay here with the turtles all day if he'd let me.

We walk out of the doors hand in hand, looking over the fish one last time. I stop him in front of the jellyfish, pulling him so he's in front of me. "Thank you for bringing me here, curly." I brush my nose against his with our eyes closed. "They're beautiful, I loved it. I couldn't think of a more perfect way to spend the day together."

"I'm glad you enjoyed it. This is the first thing we've done together that's new for both of us." He steals a kiss before a cheeky smile rolls across his lips. "Do you want one of them?"

"Harry!" I laugh, swatting at his arm.

"What?!" He chuckles, the two of us now making our way out of the aquarium. "Did you see how the big one was looking at me? He wanted to come home with us!" His arm slings around me, guiding us back to the bustling streets.

Chapter 23: Law of the Jungle

Chapter Text

H A R R Y

My phone buzzes the entire time we walk to the car, and I hope Brinna doesn't feel it. This is the last thing I need her worrying about right now, especially after such a good afternoon. I've been trying to keep it together all day, and this is about to drive me over the edge. I feel like I've been hiding how exhausted my body is but the issue in the back of my mind is only making it harder.

I'm not ready to do this again. I'm not ready to have another episode. I wanted more time before I had to tell her, I needed to sort some things out first before she finds out about my condition and I definitely didn't want her to find out like this.

I open her car door, pecking her lips quickly as she gets into the seat. I casually pick my phone up as I'm shutting the door, signalling to her that I'm just going to take a phonecall. I don't want it to seem like a big deal, everything needs to be perfectly normal right now. "I'll be there in one second, love. Turn the A/C on before you melt. Don't steal my car, Bandit!" I give her the keys with a wink and shut her door.

I walk a few steps away from the car and look at my phone screen, the same annoying f*cking contact coming up that has been all day. I accept the call with an eye roll and bring it to my ear.

"What do you f*cking want, Zayn?!" I whisper shout. He's been calling me all morning and I've been ignoring him. My phones been on airplane mode pretty much the entire time I've been with Brin so she wouldn't hear his incessant ringing.

"HARRY!"He screams into the phone, making me wince and pull it away from my ear."What the goddamn f*ck are you thinking?! I've been trying to call you all day long!"

"f*ck you, I'm busy." I say, getting ready to hang up the phone. I donotneed to be yelled at right now, he can piss off until I'm done playing in my fantasy land.

"Don't you f*cking dare hang up! Why the f*ck is Maggie chained to the cellar wall?!"He seethes, sounding a million times angrier than I've ever heard him.

So maybe I snuck out of bed early as sh*t this morning while Brinna was asleep, broke into Maggie's house, kidnapped her from her room, drove her back to Treasure Chest, and locked her in my basem*nt. None of that matters though, because after that I cleaned myself up, bought an expresso machine, ordered breakfast, and snuggled back into bed with the love of my life for a few hours. Karma cancels that sh*t out.

"I don't have time for this Zayn." I sigh.

"Have you lost your goddamn mind?! Harry, what did you do?! You need to come fix this before it gets out of control."

Magnolia is a stupid, stupid girl. She was a threat and she tried to hurt Brinna. I protect my den and everything in it. She has to go, that's just the law of the jungle.

"f*cking kill her, I don't care. Listen, I'll be in later to deal with her if you don't. Now f*ck off, my angel is waiting in the car for me." I smile, my focus being entirely on the pretty thing in my passenger seat. My hand drops from my face, Zayn's voice still being heard as the phone gets farther away.

"Harry! Harry, f*cking stop! You can't just kill Mag--"

Click.

My phone continues buzzing while I walk to the car so I put it on silent mode before I hop in. "Are you ready to go, baby?" I smile sweetly at Brin, noticing that she turned on some music and has made herself comfortable. She keeps some of her girly things in my glovebox and I have to will myself to not explode over the excitement they bring me.

I love that she does that now, she doesn't even know it but all of this is pretty much hers. I am hers, she owns me and all of the things that come with it. I would do anything for her, I love her so much it hurts. The pain Magnolia caused only fuels my fiery passion, igniting a whole new spark that's dangerously close to being derangement.

This is fine, so what if I've had two people held prisoner in my torture room in under 24 hours? It's for a good cause. Iwilldo anything for her.

I shouldn't be giving myself the added stress right now though. I've been extra out of it today and although it could be from my extracurriculars, this doesn't feel like I need a nap. My entire body feels achy and zoned out. I know this is the start of an episode but I'm praying it's not as bad as the last one. I'm hoping if I lay low for a few days and take care of myself it'll just go away.

We make it back to her house in record time, which is a good thing because my head is starting to feel airy. I'm hoping my dizziness will cool it until I leave, but honestly I don't want to, so I don't know what I'm going to do to hide it when I get out of this car.

I hold her hand in mine the entire way up the sidewalk, hoping she won't feel the sweat prickling my skin. "I'm tired, Bandit. You wanna go snuggle?" I ask, feeling worn out from being up for so long.That's it, I'm just in need of a nap. I'm completely fine.

She nods, kicking off her shoes as we go to her bedroom. Mine come off once we're in her room and I waste no time jumping on the bed next to her, pulling her into me to use as a pillow. I nuzzle my face into her as I slowly slide down to her tummy.

My finger plays with the small section of exposed skin her shirt has revealed. She always smells so good and feels so soft.Why am I moving?Did I close my eyes or is it dark?

"Harry?" Brin pokes at me, my eyes shooting open to her smiling face.

My phone buzzes in my jeans but I ignore it as I've muted Zayn already today. "My beautiful girl," I murmur against her skin, pushing her shirt farther up to expose more of her velvety midsection.

I crawl up to kiss her lips, a deep groan escaping my throat when her small hands cup my jaw. My phone starts buzzing again, making her disconnect our lips with a small laugh. "Are you gonna answer that?" She asks.

My head drops to her shoulder. "No, don't wanna." I start peppering small kisses down the crook of her neck, making her head roll back.

For a third time, the buzzing continues in my pocket. She pushes me back from her with a wide smile. "Answer it," She raises her brow. "It could be something important."

I sigh and sit back on my shins and grab the phone to answer it. I rest it between my ear and shoulder, my hands roaming up her legs and spreading them open as I wait for the f*cker to speak.

"Harry--" Niall says, sounding completely over the ongoing situation.

"I'm busy," I murmur, inching higher up to the inside of her thighs.

He lets out a deep sigh,"Don't start that sh*t, put your dick away and get here before Zayn gives himself a f*cking aneurism."

My hands move to the crook of her thighs, thumbs trailing up and down the crease. My lips part slightly at her burning cheeks. She fidgets under me, watching intently as I tease her while talking to another person. "How did you even-- f*ck all of you. I'll be there when I get there."

"No, you're going to come fix this mess beforeLillithhas to know you brought someone innocent into this basem*nt, you f*cking idiot."

I scoff, "I wouldn't say inno- okay whatever." I stop myself before I get too carried away talking about things Brin can't know. "f*ck, alright. I'm coming." My hand trails down to her clothed heat, running from her pubic bone all the way down and back up. "I'll be there in twenty." I sigh, hanging up and tossing the phone to the side.

My smile widens as she bites her lip, waiting for me to say something. Instead, I dive my head down between her legs and hum as I plant kisses over her shorts.

"Harry.." She laughs, squirming under me. "You have to go!"

"Let me feast," I whine, holding her thighs around my head. Her fingers undo my bun, raking back my hair and tugging it just how I like it. I swear she's a little siren, telling me no while she pulls on my hair and makes sweet noises.

"I don't want to leave you.." I kiss and bite the soft skin next to my head. "Don't make me go, they can wait."

"It sounds like they've been waiting all day," She breathes out as my fingers slip into the leg of her shorts while her hips involuntarily move.

"Mhm.." I move back her underwear, kissing her slit slowly. My tongue laps up the wetness glistening in my face, a small gasp leaving her lips.

I could listen to you forever, sweet girl. I've never wanted to spend all of my time with someone the way I want to with you. You make me into a different person, a gentle, more loving man. I would be so good to you if you'd let me.

"Raincheck," She pants. I pull back from her with a grin and move up her body once again.

I kiss her lips over and over again. "I'll be back as soon as I can. I love you, Brin." I leave one last, longer kiss before pulling back with a pop. Those three words seem to roll off my tongue so easily, and while I wish she would say it back, I only want to hear it when she means it. I know she will one day, but I hope I get to hear it before its too late. I hop off of her bed and grab my shoes before heading for her front door.

I slip them on and reach for the handle, "Lock this door please, baby!" I shout to her, closing it behind me. I walk a few steps down her hallway and stop, waiting to hear the click of the latch. Call me crazy but I need to know she's safe.

I wait a few more seconds without hearing it, so I turn back on my heel and pull out my keyring. I may or may not have also made a copy of her house key during my morning errands. I don't know which category that falls into, so I'm not acknowledging it and karma won't either.

What?I wasn't going to leave her while she was asleep and not lock her door, and then it occurred to me that I should probably just make my own copy to avoid this predicament altogether.

The lock clicks as I put my key to the door, making my shoulders relax knowing she listened to me. "Good girl," I mumble, strolling toward my car. My hand stays on the building so I don't fall over while I walk. The world is spinning backward today I think. That happens, right?

Alright body, enough.Do this sh*t after you finish your business. Keep it together. I can't be dizzy and tired today, I've got sh*t to do and sh*t to plan. I don't have long to get this right, and there's so much more I need to get done. Please,pleasedon't start this. I'm not ready.

I steady myself and hop into the large vehicle, buckling the belt and locking it just in case anything bad happens while I drive to the club. I don't feel entirely up for being in control of a vehicle right now but I just want to get this done so I can relax.

"You're not gonna die right now, right?"

I whip my head to the seat next to me, blinking a few times at the figure sitting in my car.

"What the f*ck?" I turn my head between the road and the hallucination ofmyself.

"You look like you've seen a ghost, mate." He smiles wickedly.

He looks perfectly healthy and a tad bit younger. It's f*ckin' freaky.

"You're not real and I'm perfectly fine. Healthy, wealthy, and thriving." I blink away the image and tighten my grip on the steering wheel. A pit of nausea grows in my stomach, I'm sure from the passing buildings. Just a little motion sickness is all.

I drove as steadily as I could for another twenty-five minutes before pulling up to the building. I park my car horribly on the curb and unbuckle my seatbelt. My body slumps forward slightly until I make myself snap out of it, pushing up from the steering wheel and forcing myself out of the car.

I pop open my door and groan as I step outside. The sun is beating down on me and it isn't helping my composure. I keep my hand on the side of the car as I walk around it toward the hotel but quickly turn to lean over the hood as my body needs a little break before I can keep going.

I pinch the bridge of my nose and inhale before I f*cking pass out in this heat. Why is it so goddamn hot today? Horrible choice to always wear black. Who decided that was the best color to do criminal sh*t in?

"Harry?" Zayn's voice echoes in my ears.

"What, sh*t? I'm here, give me a f*cking second." I start walking to the building, leaving Zayn to follow me. I'm trying to keep my feet walking straight but for some reason, there are two sets trying to move me forward.

"You don't look so good, H. You drove here like this?" His concern is apparent in his tone.

This is fine. I just need to eat. And sleep. And get out of these clothes. f*ck, I'm so hot. My body is sweating from every single pore. Why can I feel all of them individually?

"I'm fine. Let's get this over with." I huff out, stumbling forward to the door.

"Yes, keep pushing it. That'll do you good." Hallucination Harry leans against the building.

I reach out for the door handle and miss it, stumbling into the cool glass. Feels f*cking good against my forehead right now. Mm. Forehead. Brinna. Butterfly kisses. I wonder what she's doing right now. I hope she ate, I meant to order her food but I can't think straight. She's so sweet. So pretty. I love her so much.

"Are you coming?" Zayn is holding the handle now.

I lift my forehead from the door and push myself to stand up straight. "Was just waiting on you." My speech comes out slow.

He opens the door and the cool breeze feels like heaven. Or is it all these fluorescent lights? I need to sit down.No. No sitting. Feet, don't f*cking stop now. Finish this and go back to Brin. She's waiting for you.

"Come on, before I have to drag you down the f*cking stairs myself. I knew I should have just let her go. You're a mess." Zayn grabs my arm and pulls me through the curtains and into the door of my dark club.

We continue walking to the back of the room, my feet stumbling every few steps. Is it always this dark in here? I could have sworn I kept some lights on so I can see where I'm walking. I can't even tell which direction I'm going, why does it feel like up?

We get to the staircase and I let out a disapproving groan. One hand stays clamped onto the railing while the other drags along the wall. I can almost feel the texture vibrating through my body.

Wait. Is it? My hands are tingling. My knees are for sure about to give out.Hold it together. You're almost done, you stupid f*cking legs.

Zayn pushes the heavy metal door open, exposing the room full of familiar faces waiting for my arrival.

"You're like royalty, think they'll all show up to your funeral?"

I whip around, the sudden movement making my head spin. My ghostly counterpart is leaning against the doorway with his arms crossed and a co*cky smile reaching ear to ear. Is that what I look like? I should punch myself in the face.

"I thought I told you to stay in the car.." I mumble, waggling my pointer finger to myself at the door.

"Let's go you f*cking psycho," Zayn grabs the back of my shirt and flips me around to face Niall and Magnolia. She looks like she's going to piss herself. Maybe she already has, I didn't let her go tinkle before we left... hmm, I want to leave. Maybe I'll just live with Brinna from now on.

"Christ, you look like a corpse," Niall scoffs. "Is that what you meant by you're busy?"

I smile and laugh a choppy snort. "No, no," I say, unable to elaborate anymore.

"You need to get it together and explain to us what she's doing in this basem*nt before you f*cking pass out, Harry. I'm not kidding, wake the f*ck up!" Zayn barks, smacking me across the face when my eyes wander to the floor.

I hiss and grab my cheek. "Ow, you dick. I told you I'mfine."

"As fine as Brin's going to be when you don't make it home, huh?" Hallucination Harry leans back in his seat.

"You're getting really f*cking annoying, you know," I scold the empty chair in the middle of the room.

"Why is she here?" Niall asks, nodding toward the bitch hanging from the wall like a bad painting.

My eyes dart to Magnolia, an evil smirk crawling up my lips. "You.." I point to her, making her wince as I take a few steps to her. "You hurt my Treasure." She shakes her head, cheeks puffing around the duct tape.

Zayn scoffs, "This is over Brinna? Are you f*cking kidding me? Let her go!"

"Sorry, boys. No can do. That's how the jungle works, kill or be killed. I strike first.." I mumble, scuffing my feet across the floor. She made Brinna cry, she assaulted me in the shower, and she tried to ruin the one good thing I have. My hand shoots out to her throat, squeezing tightly straight into her windpipe until she's wheezing.

"Alright, enough," Niall says, pushing away from the wall. "You're not going to kill her for hurt feelings. Give us something better."

"f*ck, Harry. Now she knows about this!" Zayn runs his hand over his face.

"Ohno,she does, doesn't she?" I let go of her throat. Tears stream down her face as her arms tug at the chains holding them up and to the sides. "I guess youaregoing to die. What a shame. You know, I told you that you would regret stepping into that shower, Mags, but you didn't listen."

"You're being ridiculous. Send her away, pay her off. Everyone has a price. You don't do sh*t like this, Harry. You don't kill innocent people," Zayn shakes his head.

"Niall, am I being ridiculous?" I challenge.

He just shrugs, looking between me and Zayn. "I don't care what you do, I'm only here because he was about to call Lillith and I figured you didn't want that happening."

"What would Brinna want you to do, huh? Would she want you killing someone over a kiss, Harry?"

I furrow my brows and tilt my head. "Well.."

"No!" He yells. "No, she wouldn't. She wouldleave youif she found out you killed her over that."

I roll my eyes and take out my gun from the back of my pants, suddenly feeling entirely over the talk of my pretty girl. "I'll tell you what, Magnolia. We're going to ask her." I smile and flash her the weapon.

My other hand plucks the phone from my pocket, unlocking it and pulling up Brin's contact. I step toward Magnolia and press the gun into her forehead, scared cries coming from the blubbering mess. "Your fate is going to be in my one day wife's hands, Mags. Unfortunately for you, you really stirred the pot. I wouldn't get your hopes up."

The line starts ringing but the problem next to me won't be quiet. I roll my eyes and shove the phone between my ear and shoulder so I can co*ck the gun before pushing it back to her skull. "Shut the f*ck up," I bark. "Make one more noise and I'm going to bring your entire family down here to watch you be executed."

Zayn watches me with shock in his eyes, or maybe even a hint of disgust. A few more rings sound out before she answers the phone."Hello? Everything okay?"

"Hi baby," I smile with the weapon forcefully pressed into Magnolia. "Everything is fine, I just need to ask you something. I'm sorry to bring it up, but I'm in a meeting right now about the receptionist."

"Are you getting rid of her?"

I smile at Magnolia, whose tears haven't stopped despite her quieting down. "Well funnily enough sweet girl, that's why I'm calling. I need you to tell me what you want me to do. Her boss is giving us two options, she can continue working with a ban on Treasure Chest, or she can be terminated." I say, tightening my grip on the gun.

"I don't want to make anyone lose their job but.."

"I know baby, it's a difficult situation. But it's entirely up to you, your comfort is more important thananyone."

"I would be more comfortable if she wasn't there.. can't she be moved to a different branch?"

"Of course she can. She'll be gone by the end of the day, we won't ever have to worry about her again." My smile grows as I watch the panic coursing through the bitch in front of me. Niall looks unamused and Zayn looks pissed.

"I love you, Brinna. I'll be done soon," I hang up the call and tuck my phone back into my pocket with a crazy laugh. Her shaking becomes uncontrollable, chains rattling with the force of her scared state. The front of her pajama pants become wet as she whimpers with her eyes screwed shut.

I guess she didnottinkle yet.

"So now you're going to murder someone because Brinna indirectly told you to? How is that any better? She's going to think she killed Maggie when she finds out!"

"You're getting on my nerves, Zayn.." I grumble but the ringing in my ears is making it hard to tell if I even said it out loud.

I turn to see Niall's lips moving, but no sound comes out. The gun starts to become heavier in my hand. Did I add a weight to this thing? Zayn comes into view, lowering the weapon down from Magnolia.

Are you talking to me?

"Harry?"

A hand on my shoulder.

"Har-"

Can't hold on.

"See you in hell, Harry." Hallucination me smiles.

Legs feel like jelly.

Going down.

sh*t.

Black.

Chapter 24: Dramatic Nap

Chapter Text

H A R R Y

I've spent a lot of time thinking about death.

How is it that the one universal experience that's guaranteed for every living organism in this world, is one of the things we have no answers to? Our birth is completely random. We have a 1 in 400 trillion chance of being here, but death is inevitable and certain for each of us.

We have stories from people who escape death by the hair on their neck, and their encounters are pretty even across the board. The bright lights, the out-of-body experience, the seeing a relative right before they cross that inescapable line. But I think that's just from the lack of oxygen or blood or some sh*t.

Where do we go when we die? I hope it's somewhere warm, but not like a beach. Maybe I can wrap myself in my favorite blanket forever. I wouldn't mind if Heaven was in the clouds, although I read somewhere that those are actually disgusting and filled with bugs.

I wonder if we get to pick the scent. I bet a lot of people would choose the smell of freshly passed rain or maybe their favorite childhood meal being cooked by their mother. I would choose the vanilla perfume that's soaked into every cell of my lungs.

Maybe you get no sense when you die. So much joy comes from sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. I guess a lot of bad comes with that too. Maybe some people died from eating poison berries and they don't want to taste anything again, so the rest of us can't either.

That would make sense as to why I didn't feel it. I thought dying would be painful. I'm kind of mad that it wasn't. I don't deserve a cutesy little painless death. I should have been shot, or stabbed in the heart by that photographer motherf*cker. I wonder if I'll see him soon. We probably won't end up in the same place.

Some people think we become our surroundings. Like your brain goes into overdrive and you can't tell the difference between your body and the world, so you just float around until eventually, you shut off.

Perhaps we're just stardust like the hippies think, soon to return to the nebulas. I hope we don't float around the planets, the vastness of space freaks me out.

Others think that with every death is a rebirth. You're matter, after all, which cannot be created or destroyed. I guess they think the same goes for your conscious. Your soul, some may call it. That just gets thrown around from one body to another, or something like that.

Maybe you just close your eyes and when you open them again, you're a baby coming out of your mother. Or a general sitting atop a warhorse. That would be f*ckin scary, right?

I've seen some people say that your soul can even jump from timeline to timeline, but I don't understand that. I could have been a cyborg but I chose to die from a boo-boo liver? Make that make sense.

But.. maybe others are right about your soul being connected to someone else's. In that case, I know why I chose this life. She was in it, after all. It wasn't a long life, but it was all worth it for her. I would do it for the rest of eternity for five more minutes with my pretty girl.

Is that an option? Who do I need to speak to about that? I get to choose that sh*t, right? Maybe I can come back as a cat or something and sit in her lap until we both die of old age like we were supposed to.

The Romans believed that concept to be untrue. If I were supposed to grow old, I would have. They call that predestination. You know, like every single event in your life is set in stone and no matter what you do, it was already bound to happen and there's nothing you could do to change it.

That's kind of a horrible way to look at things, but it also makes sense to me. There was nothing I could do to stop my sickness. I was always going to get sick, my cells were designed to kill themselves one day.

Forrest's mom called dying a vacation, which is when you go somewhere and you never come back. I wonder if she meant as yourself or at all. Maybe she thinks you only get one shot at life, for all of eternity. That's a little sad for people that didn't get a good one. People have died younger than me. Like.. like her brother. I wonder if I'll meet him. He could probably show me the ropes of this place.

I don't have a favorite theory, but the one that keeps my internal peace is the soulmate one. The one where all of your soulmates are currently with you and will be in the next life, too. I know she's mine, and I know I'll see her again someday. I hope, anyway. This isn't anything like I imagined.

Maybe if I try hard enough, I can get some god-like powers and look at her from above. My own personal TV show. That would be a nice way to spend eternity. Besides like, the inevitable kissing and sheet tussling she'll have to do later in life. I mean, she didn't even say I love you to me, she'll move on someday. Ouch.

Speaking of God, is he supposed to come talk to me or something? I know I won't be chilling in his kingdom, but I'd like to get to where I'm going before much longer. Heaven is probably nice. I don't believe in that pearly gates stuff. It's probably full of things you love. Like your favorite pair of striped socks or that one song you remember even when you're piss drunk.

All of that seems nice, but I didn't get the bright lights and the life flashing before my eyes. All I see is.. black. Just an empty void. Who had their bet on death being complete nothingness?

Perhaps purgatory is real and I'm just waiting for the actual show to start. Humans couldn't possibly imagine the beauty that happens after death, right? Our minds are so complex but we have no certainty about what happens next, it must be something entirely unfathomable.

I guess the sucky part is that I thought the party would be over when in reality the party is still going on and I just had to leave it. Some people are probably lucky enough to be talked about even when they leave the party, but I never did try to make an impact like that.

My name will be whispered for the last time soon. The world keeps turning without me in it, and that's a humbling feeling. Do you have feelings after you die? I don't think so. I think that was just a fact.

The afterlife smells like coffee.

... and sounds like my espresso machine?

"How the f*ck does he even use this? Where is the regular coffee option?"

God? Are you trying to use my appliances?

This cloud is really uncomfortable, and kind of sticky. Am I stuck to it like a rat in a glue trap? sh*t, did I reincarnate? Now that I think about it, I'm kind of hot. Is this Hell?

"What kind of man needs this fancy sh*t? Drink it black like the rest of us, ya f*ckin' fruit!"

How strange. Satan sounds a lot like...

"Niall?" I croak, my eyes just barely opening to see a figure standing in my kitchen.

"Well good morning to you, princess! Did you enjoy your little dramatic nap?" He chirps, pressing all of the buttons on the coffee maker.

"How long have I been out?" My throat feels so dry like I've slept with my mouth open for days.

"Two months."

My eyes nearly pop out of my head as I cough on the spit I tried to swallow. "W-what? I've been asleep for two months?" I shoot up from my lying position, my sweaty skin ripping off of the leather couch and stinging the entirety of my back.

I think my heart is about to come out of my throat. How have I lived for two more months and not been with Brinna?! f*ck, she's never going to forgive me for this. That's time I won't ever get back, a whole 60 days I wasted being gone.

"Where is Brin?" My voice cracks.

"She left, man." Niall shrugs, turning to open my fridge. "Couldn't handle you ghosting her a second time. She's with some dude now-- woah holy sh*t, I'm just joking. Why do you look like you're dying again? Please don't pass out, f*ck." He puts his hands up in surrender.

"Why would you even say that?!" I shout, my vision beginning to get spotty the harder my heart pounds. "What happened? What time is it?"

"Take a deep breath, H. It's only 11:40 at night, you've been out for like 10 hours. You passed out holding a gun to Mag's head, you were going crazy. All evil laughing and sh*t." He chuckles and bites into an apple. "It was honestly scary, I'm glad your body took you out before we had to tackle you."

I haven't talked to her in ten hours? She's going to think I left her again for real. "Where is my phone?" I stand briefly before my legs collapse under me from how weak my body is. "I-I need to call her, where is it?"

"Relax, we have it handled." He says cooly.

"What did you do?"

His eyes flick to mine briefly. "We told her you were busy with Maggie."

"What the f*ck Niall?!" I launch myself from the couch and barrel toward him in my kitchen.

"I'm kidding!" He laughs. "Chill! God, you're so worked up. Maybe you need to HUEEHH--"

I slam him against the cabinet with both of my hands around his throat, strangling that Irish accent right off his tongue. Maybe I should have killed him with Magnolia.

"Woah, woah, f*cking hell Styles! Let go of him!" Zayn bellows out, running toward us from the bathroom hallway to unlatch my hands from the idiot's neck. He's turning different shades of almost dead under my fingers, yet he stays smiling like it's f*cking funny.

I shove Zayn off of me as I release my catch, my head pounding from the rush of anger and anxiety. "Why the f*ck are all of you in my house but my wife isn't?!" I explode with my hands resting on the cold countertop.

"One day wife,"Niall wheezes, hunched over while he cradles his throat.

"Lou's in your bed," Zayn shrugs, my eyes narrowing on him in annoyance. "What? You were taking up the couch."

"Get out, right now. I'm going to get Brinna and when I get back none of you will be here." I pace around, grabbing my shoes while trying to scope out my keys and wallet.

Zayn faces me with an annoyed expression, waiting for me to quit my rambling before he speaks. I stop near my door, chest heaving from my scurrying. "We need to talk about the basem*nt before you disappear on us again. You know that was really f*cking uncool of you, Harry."

"She's dead, it's over now. I don't give a f*ck what any of you think, I did what I had to do."

Niall jumps up to sit on the counter, whistling sh*ttily while he looks anywhere but at me.

"What?" I ask, eyes teetering between the two of them.

"We let her go. She isn't dead, you knocked out before you pulled the trigger." Zayn says calmly as if he's trying to tame me. "It's a good thing too, you had no f*cking business bringing someone down there without telling us, especially someone that didn't do anything wrong."

My face drops. "You let her go? She isn't innocent! She needs to pay! She hurt Brinna, she has to be taken out. Where is she?!"

"I'm absolutely not telling you that." He shakes his head.

Niall laughs, "We paid her from your bank account. As anI'm-sorry-the-deranged-cupid-kidnapped-you-and-then-attempted-to-murder-yougoing away present."

I take a deep breath to steady myself, my focus being entirely on my angel that has to be missing me by now. "I'm going to say this one time," I swipe my hand over my face. "If I ever see her again, I will murder her far more brutally than a bullet to the head would have ever been, and then I will hunt the rest of you down afterward, too."

"Noted." Niall nods.

"Get out of my house."

"Peter dropped off more meds. They're in your bathroom." Zayn sighs as the two of them walk to my door.

I drop my head, the sudden crash of my anger hitting its peak. "Thank you," I mumble as he opens the door.

"I added a f*cking antipsychotic to your list. Peter wouldn't let me sign you up for a lobotomy." He grumbles, walking out of my home with Niall. That leaves Louis, but I'm not worried about him and as long as he shuts the f*ck up and stays out of my way for now, he can sleep.

I don't plan on staying here tonight anyway, I need to make it better with Brinna. My body betrayed me and forced me to ignore her, I didn't do it on purpose. I can't have her thinking I did this on purpose.

I grab a bottle of water from the fridge and trudge to my balcony, sliding the glass door open and walking out to my lounge chair. I know I need to give myself a second to breathe and recover before I start running around again, but the only thing I want right now is to be next to her.

The full moon shines bright as I lay back in the chair sipping my water. It's breezy up here at night, probably because of the height of the building. My deck is a good size, nothing crazy but I have a few chairs and a table out here. I don't use it much but it's nice to have when I need fresh air like tonight.

I grab my phone out of my sweatpants pocket and open it, squinting at the bright light compared to the night sky.

From: Bandit 4:50 pm

Don't mean to bug you while you're working, I miss you <3

From: Bandit 9:37 pm

Goodnight curly. Don't overwork yourself. Text me in the morning please

I squeeze my eyes shut at her simple words. The phone is pressed to my chest like it's her, a deep sigh escaping my nose as I hug it tighter to me.

You're too good for me, Treasure. I don't know what I did to deserve you. I love you so much that it breaks my heart.

I watch the moon and flickering stars for a while, pondering over the earlier conversations I had with Niall. The gut-wrenching feeling that brewed in my stomach when he said I was out for months nearly killed me. I can't imagine something happening and I really do end up in a coma before I tell her about my liver.

She deserves to know, and I need to tell her quickly. I got lucky this time to only be out for a few hours. It would devastate her to no end if it was any worse. I'd hate myself for hurting her again. I feel so sh*tty for lying to her. I don't know if withholding information is lying, but it doesn't feel good.

To: Bandit 12:00 am

Hey pretty girl, I miss you more. I hope you're sleeping well. How about I do you one better and take you to work?

I lay the phone on my stretched-out leg. With my arms crossed and brows furrowed, I let the quiet night hear my pleads. "How did you do it, Dad?"I whisper to the moon."How do I make her love me like mom loved you?"

My nose burns with impending tears, the salty liquid threatening to pool in my eyes and blur my vision."I love her. You probably already know that. I think they're right about being able to see everything when you die."A single tear slips down my cheek."I know I was a tough kid.. but I hope I'm making you proud now. I'm really trying. I learned it all from you."

I let a sad blow out of my lips."I don't have much time with her but I'm going to make sure she feels my love for a lifetime. I think you'd really like her. Did you pick her for me?"I chuckle weakly, another hot tear rolling down my cheek.

My phone screen lights up, the soft buzz making my head turn.

From: Bandit 12:12 am

I always sleep better when you're here. You make me feel safe.. come lay with me?

My eyes blur over completely as a cheesy smile pulls into my face. A small sob escapes my lips, sharp breaths being drawn in through my nose. I kiss my fingers and blow it to the moon. It takes a good 45 seconds for me to catch my breath from the small rush of sobs. I don't know if that was a coincidence or if angels are real, but I'd like to belive he heard me.

"Thank you, dad. I won't let you down."I stand from my chair clutching my phone.

To: Bandit 12:15 am

I'll be there soon treasure

I speed to the balcony door still tightly holding my phone. Stopping midway through it, I turn around with one foot inside. I look up to the moon once more and my cheeks start to heat. My hand comes up to my neck, rubbing away the tension."Hey Dad, um.. one more thing. If you really can see everything.. I'm sorry about all the snogging and please don't watch, that's kind of weird. Um.. okay.. bye.."I turn abruptly, closing the door forcefully before locking it.

My clothes quickly get changed and my teeth get brushed before I rush out of my door and down the elevator to the parking garage. I take my time on the drive, for some reason being extra nervous about the state Brinna will be in when I get there. I'll beg on her doorstep forever if that's what she wants.

To: Bandit 12:32 am

I'm here baby, come unlock the door

I stand on her doorstep, shivering slightly from the cold air and my weakened limbs. The latch clicks and a soft golden glow crowns my treasure. She's wearing the hoodie I sent her a while ago with a pair of long socks. She looks breathtaking, the sight of her could bring me to my knees.

My legs carry me forward as my eyes can't move from her beautiful face to focus on anything else. She steps back as I walk forward, a shy smile creeping up her lips. "Don't run, Treasure," I mumble, reaching out for her hands to pull her into me. My foot shuts her door as my lips crash into her, the boom of the wood sharing the same intensity as her touch.

The kiss is slow and tender. A warm inhale brings her fresh raspberry-vanilla scent to my lungs, reviving the piece of her I missed. I wasn't away from her for that long, but it felt like a lifetime when I didn't know if I'd ever get to hold her again. Every fiber of my body misses her like it had been years instead of hours.

"You're awfully cuddly.." She mumbles while our noses rub together.

"Mhm.." I steal a sweet peck. "I missed you, sweet girl. Jump up, let me take you to bed."

She giggles and wraps her arms around my neck. "It's only been a few hours. Was work that bad?"

"The worst," I smile, bending to lift her. Her legs wrap around my hips with a sweet laugh. "Maybe you should just stay on me like this forever. Could take you everywhere I go, hmm?"

Her lips kiss my jawline down to my neck, "You would like that, wouldn't you?" Her thumb rubs the opposite side of my jaw as we walk back to her bedroom.

"I would never wear another necklace again if my prettiest treasure was wrapped around me," I toss her back on the bed, the two of us a mess of toothy grins and laughs. She bounces on the mattress as her hair fans around her. The hoodie rides up a bit to expose her lace underwear, but her slender legs cross to give her some coverage.

I step out of my sweatpants and pull my t-shirt over my head, shaking out my curls after it's off. She crawls up to the pillows and slips under the covers, pulling them open and patting beside her like I did the first time we ever slept in the same bed.

That night changed me. She completely and entirely captivated me. I hate to think that it was the sex that made me need more of her, but it's like our souls were touching and when we disconnected, I couldn't just leave her. I needed more. I need her next to me. Whatever happens after I die, I think I'm going to have to break the rules and stay by her as a ghost or something. I don't think I'll ever be able to move on to the next life without her.

I get into bed with her and pull the covers up to our necks as I inch impossibly closer. "C'mere.. you're my blanket." I pull her into me and nuzzle into her neck. She makes no effort to pull away or put distance between the two of us, as if she needs my body heat as much as I need hers. "You look good in my hoodie."

"Maybe I'll wear it at our one-day wedding," She humors me, kissing my jawline softly.

I know you probably think I'm crazy baby. You are going to be my wife one day, and you can wear whatever you want at the ceremony too. As much as I'd love to see you in a sparkly white dress, I won't be paying attention to your clothes anyway. I'll make the perfect husband, Brin. You'll see, we're going to be madly in love and on top of the world.

"You don't have to say it back, but I love you Brinna," I mumble into the dark room, my arms wrapped around her waist as her lips caress my sensitive skin. "I love you forever, and you have no idea how much you mean to me." My voice is so quiet that I wouldn't have known the words came out if she didn't acknowledge me moments later.

"How do you know?" She whispers timidly against my skin.

One of my hands moves from the small of her back to the nape of her neck. My fingers stroke her hair as I contemplate her question. "Well.. I think about you all the time."You seem to think of me a lot when you can't sleep.

"I changed my coping strategies so you wouldn't see me co*ked up.."You trust me enough to keep you from falling over a few drinks.

"You're always my priority.. even when I should probably be doing something else."You keep letting me steal you away from work.

"I want to share my life with you."You trusted me enough to tell me about your brother.

"My friends notice how different I am around you."And maybe your best friend has told me you're different too.

I shuffle so I'm looking at her even while her eyes are glued to my tattooed chest. "I want a future with you, Brinna. I want you to be my wife... I want to take care of you in every sense of the word.Forever."

I love you, forever.

She sighs deeply and bites her cheek like she's deep in thought. "It doesn't need to be complicated, Bandit." I roll us so I'm lying on top of her. "You could just marry me and take every single cent I have to my name," My hands find her sides, tickling her in the spot I know gets her worked up. She tries to hide her laugh but it's bubbling up. "You could run away and buy yourself everything in the world, leave me high and dry. I'd let you."

"That-- that sounds a little," Her laughter stops her from being able to finish her sentence. "A little complicated!" She blurts out between her fit, trying to push me away. I laugh with her, kissing the red on her cheeks.

My hands stop their torture on her sides. "Let's keep it simple then, yeah? We'll justbeand when you inevitably fall in love with me, I'll be waiting with my listening ears on." I plant a sloppy kiss on her lips that makes her chuckle again.

"Okay.. we can justbe."

"Good girl." I roll back over and stretch out. "Let's get some sleep. You've been quite the night owl lately, love."

Chapter 25: Buy Love

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

"Just one more,please. How am I supposed to be away from you all day without a kiss?"

"Harry! I've kissed you ten times already!" I laugh, the both of us leaning over the center console of the car to meet halfway in the middle. "I'm going to be late, I need to go."

"No," He pouts, kissing me one more time. "Should I wait out here all day, just in case you need me?"

I give him a small smile while rubbing the side of his cheek with my thumb. "You probably have work to do too, baby. If I need you I promise I'll call, just like we talked about."

"And if she says anything mean?" He frowns at me.

"You'll kick her ass," I roll my eyes with a laugh. "I've got to go. Thank you for driving me. And for getting the coffee, I hate her but I'm still her coffee bitch." I blow out an annoyed breath before giving him one last kiss and grabbing my bag. I open the car door and step out, but Harry immediately rolls the window down to get my attention again.

"Wait! Here, I packed you a lunch too." He gestures the small cooler bag toward me from the window.

I take it and put it in my purse. "Thank you.. I told you I would be fine! You're acting like a mother dropping off her preschooler."

"I know, I know.." He blushes. "I just want you to be taken care of all day. I worry about you here, it's not good for your mental health, all that yelling she does." He says nervously. "I love you, Brin. Have a good day. I'll be here before you're done okay?"

"Okay," I nod, biting my lip. "I'll see you after work. Have a good day." I lean into the window and give him another peck before stepping away from the car and going to the building.

"You're gonna crush it, Bandit! Kick some lizard ass today!" Harry bellows out, waiting for me to get inside before he can drive off. I turn around and walk backward so I can blow him a dramatic kiss, which he catches and puts over his heart. I giggle and open the door, making my way up to the office as he pulls away.

__

"You're late and this coffee tastes like sh*t, Briana." Jillian walks toward my desk, a skittish red-haired girl following after her.

I check the time, seeing that it's only 9:38 and I've been working for at least 15 minutes, so there's no way I could have been that late. "Did your order change?" I ask politely, trying to remember if she mentioned it. "It's the same one from the cafe you like. I can make a note if you--"

"Enoughwith the constant blabbering. Do you speak just so you can hear yourself? Conceited girl you are." She purses her lips with a head shake. "You're going to be training Millie," She points behind her. "And do it well, you've been here long enough that you should know me unless you really are that deep in your ass over some scummy lowlife club owner." She turns abruptly before walking at a quick pace to her office.

Wait, what?

I look at the timid girl in front of me who can't be any older than I am. In fact, she looks a few years younger. "Hi," I give her a smile, knowing she probably hasn't gotten an ounce of positive attitude all day. "I take it your name isn't Millie. What is it?"

"Tillie," She blushes with her eyes glued to her feet. "But if you want to call me Millie, I don't mind."

"My name is Brinna. She's got a habit of being a bitch like that." I laugh, watching as the new hire's eyes nearly fall out of her head. She looks over her shoulder at Jillian typing away on her computer. "Tillie, what position did you apply for?" I ask, finding Jill's departing statement a bit odd.

"Oh um, a personal assistant job?" She fidgets with the sleeve of her sweater. "Miss Wood said you'd be gone soon so she needs me to be trained quickly."

My eyes widen in confusion. "She said I'd be gone?"

"Yes, she um, she said you'd be moving on."

Interesting. Am I really training my f*cking replacement?! She didn't even tell me that, is she about to fire me the second I get this girl up to speed? What could I have possibly done to her to deserve getting the can when I've been the only assistant she's kept for more than a month? Three years of working for her and doing the most ridiculous sh*t, and she's going to fire me over a man and a magazine?

"Hmm. Alright then." I nod before standing up. "Well, Tillie. Welcome to hell."

__

"Should I be taking notes?" She asks, scampering behind me as I grab papers from the copier before rounding the room toward my desk again. She's been having a hard time keeping up with my pace on top of the random tasks Jillian keeps throwing at us.

Call the vet, order dance costume for Charlie, pick the cherry tomatoes out of her salad but only the ones that aren't symmetrical.

"Only if you can't remember what we're doing." I drop off a few papers on Grace's desk. "Harry packed an extra pudding cup in my lunch for you, Gracie!" I smile, thinking about the two treats labeledone day wifeandone day best-friend-in-law.

"Ooh!"She squeals, jumping up from her desk and shuffling over to my bag to retrieve her snack.

"That's Grace," I look back to Tillie. "While she technically works here, she doesn't do anything."

"Hey!" Grace exclaims around the spoon in her mouth. "I've been reviewing pieces by other competitors!"

"Making collages from clipouts of hot men isn't reviewing articles, Grace." I laugh, sorting the papers on my desk before handing small stacks to Tillie. "Staple these, please."

"Just because you didn't want the Treasure Chest one I made, doesn't mean it's not important work. I bet your boyfriend would frame that sh*t." She smiles, popping the spoon from her lips.

He probably would, actually.

The desk phone rings, making me drop my papers and answer it quickly. "Strip Magazine speaking for Jillian Wood, how can I help you?" I speak sweetly. "She isn't in right now, but I'll let her know you sent it as soon as I see her. Thank you, have a nice day." The phone hangs up.

"But she's sitting right there," Tillie points to Jill sipping on a drink and flipping through magazine pages.

"Every single call gets paged to me before Jillian. There's a small list of people that have direct access to her. She doesn't take any phone calls. Not even from--. Actually, come with me." I nod, the two of us walking to the glass office before knocking twice. "You know what, maybe you should be taking notes. Never knock three times." Tillie nods frantically as we walk in.

"Are you too incompetent to show the poor girl how to use a printer, Briana?" Jillian mumbles, not looking up from the papers. I grin knowing that she's showing her true colors to hernew assistant.No amount of training is going to make her stay, Jilly.

Apparently, only I'm stupid enough for that.

"No ma'am, just letting you know Charlotte called to tell you she sent you the video of her middle school graduation since you missed the livestream."

Her eyes shoot to mine, annoyance and hatred flashing briefly. "Send her a card." She waves us off and continues on with her reviewing.

I nod and we exit her office. The door shuts and once we're a few feet away, Tillie looks more confused than before.

"Charlotte is her.."

I sit in my desk chair and continue on with sorting. "Her tween daughter, yeah. No one gets Jillian's attention. Not even Charlie."

"Oh," she says sadly, sitting in the chair next to mine.

"Get out a pen, this is important," I look at her intensely. "If you're going to be my replacement, you need to take care of Charlie like you're her big sister. That kid is alone in this world and the only person that thinks of her as more than a chore isme."

This was fun at first, the thought of training my replacement who would be out of here in a month. I didn't think about Charlie. Who's going to send her chocolate cake? She doesn't like modern pop culture. Her shoe size changes every month because she's having a growth spurt. Her orthodontist appointments are on Wednesdays and she needs ice packs and apple sauce after they get tightened.

"You.. you just need to treat her like a person, alright?" I clear my throat. "I'm serious, write this down. Whatever Jillian tells you to do, you send ten more things like a loving mother would." I unlock my computer and pull up a gift basket website. "She asked us to send her a card after she missed her graduation. Thatsucks."

She scribbles down every word I say, apart from the last two.

"Shesucks. Write that down." I nod at her notepad. "You need to make Charlie feel like she isn't a burden because sheisn't. Just because two people decided to bring her into this world and then tossed her to the side like she was disposable doesn't mean-- f*ck, sorry. Um, she doesn't like flowers or girly things. And.. she doesn't like to go by Charlotte, so only call her that to Jill."

We scroll through the website in silence after she finishes writing.

"What about that one?" She says, the tip of her pen pointing to a relaxation gift basket full of snacks and black loungewear.

"Good," I smile sadly. "Fast learner.."

The rest of our day involved more about who can and can't call Jill directly, important days of the month, and more favorites of the woman firing me. I swear, I know more about her than I do about myself, you would think we've been married for two decades.

I'm really f*cking upset.

I didn't think losing this job would hurt as much as it does, but I've spent so much time bowing down to her in order to better my portfolio and it's all about to get thrown away because I like the man she was sleeping with. Probably more so becauseheloves me.

What am I even going to do? I have nothing to fall back on, I was supposed to climb the ladder here from Jillian's recommendation. There's no way in hell she'll ever help me move to the next step. How am I going to do anything meaningful if I can't even move on from being a coffee bitch?

Tillie left an hour ago, it's now late in the afternoon and I'm gearing up to talk to Jillian about what the issue is, and much to my displeasure, I might actually beg for my job. I can't train the new girl horribly despite Grace's suggestion, but I really f*cking need this job to work out. I have so much left to prove.

I gather my belongings and double-check my phone to make sure Harry is waiting outside like he said. I'd like to be able to leave quickly if she tries to kill me or something. My bag stays over my shoulder as I knock on her door.

"Do I have to give you instructions on how to leave my office, Briana?" She sneers as I walk into the room. She's getting her things ready to leave herself, so I know this will have to be quick.

"Jillian.. I-"

"Millie is going to be a good fit for me, you know." She chirps, stopping her movement to look at me with a smug grin. "She's shy, a little ugly, she's got horrible taste in clothing, and she's too pathetic to ever be as much of a pain in my goddamn ass as you have been."

"Excuse me?" I murmur, taken aback by her sudden appointed aggression.

"You've gotten quite bold since you decided to be a little harlot. I don't know what he sees in you. You can't even get the right f*cking coffee, yet somehow you've managed to trap a man to take care of you. I'm sure you love that."

"Trap? How would I even..? I don't need anyone to take care of me. I've been doing it myself perfectly fine." I furrow my brows.

"You're nothing compared to the success he is. He'll see it one day, but by the time that happens, I'm sure you'll already be fat and frumpy from pushing out his soccer team."

Why am I not saying anything back? She's giving me so much to work with and I'm just.. taking it.

Why do I believe her?

"I've spent so much time working for you Jill, I would think you might be a little nicer to me after everything I've done," I mumble, feeling wholeheartedly insecure.

"After everything you've done? You've managed to screw up the most minuscule tasks more times than I can count in the last three years. I think we'll all be more productive without someone as lazy and irresponsible as you around here. What do you think will come first, his bastard child or you shooting up in his club bathroom?" She queries without a single ounce of hesitation. "Have afantasticday, Briana. See you at 9:00 a.m. sharp."

I'm left stunned in her dark office, tears rolling down my cheeks. My mouth is open slightly from the shock of it all. Am I turning into someone I don't recognize? I thought I was doing a good job despite her horrendous attitude toward me. How have I failed this so badly?

I quickly wipe my tears and take a few deep breaths before leaving the office and heading to the elevator. My reflection is a mess, but I do my best to wipe away my hurt before it opens to the lobby. Harry's car is parked on the curb like he said and I'm dreading having to see his happy face.

Am I subconsciously using him?

I clear my throat and walk out of the lobby. He jumps out of his car as soon as he sees me, rushing to the passenger side to help me in. I flash him a small smile as I near the vehicle.

"There's my Treasure," He smiles, pulling me into him for a tight hug.

Deep breaths, don't break down just because he's giving you affection. Keep yourself together, you emotional sh*t.

We kiss each other deeply before I climb into the seat and he shuts my door. I watch him as he strolls around the front. He said he wouldn't let me fall, right? Surely I won't end up like she said.. those pictures were just a one-time thing.

They're always just one-time things.

"Baby?" Harry squeezes my thigh. I didn't even notice we were moving already. "You zoned out there for a minute."

"Sorry," I murmur. "Did you say something?"

His fingers draw soothing patterns into my pant leg. "Just asked how your day was, beautiful. Are you okay? I don't need to beat anyone up, right?" He jokes, flashing me a cheeky smile.

f*ck. Here it comes. I'm a weak bitch and all of my emotions come out like a dam breaking. Why'd you have to ask if I'm okay?

A tear rolls down my cheek and before I can stop it, a sniffle escapes me. "Hey, oh sh*t, Brin what's wrong?" His eyes flick from the road to my face, which I'm sure looks horribly pinched up from trying to stop myself from crying.

"I.. She.." I let out a small breath. "I'm training myreplacement. She's getting rid of me, Harry. I've spent three years of my life working for her and she.. she's so angry at me that she found someone else to take my job." Tears roll down my cheeks as I remember her harsh words.

"Why would she replace you? You're a kick-ass employee! Do you want me to go talk to her? I can fix this, baby. You don't deserve this-- she doesn't deserve someone as good as you." He speaks frantically as if her words cut him as deep as they did me.

"I think you being anywhere near her would make it ten times worse," I wipe my wet cheek. "I don't understand why she's so mad.. it's not like she fell in love with you, right?"

He goes pale, face dropping to a deep hurt. "This is because of me? You're losing your job because of me?"

I stare blankly out of my window, watching as the buildings become fewer the farther we get away from the city. "Do you think I'm using you?" I whisper. "Did I trap you into being with me?"

"What?"

"You don't think that I'm using you or something, I'm not trying to force you to be with me.. or.. or take anything from you. If you um, if you feel like that, I just want you to know that I'm sorry and it was never my intention. You ca-can leave any time you want." I try to keep my composure while speaking but my f*cking lip won't stop trembling.

"Brinna," He scoffs, his face looking more amused than annoyed. "Look at me, right now." He pulls the car off the road and parks it before unbuckling his seatbelt to face me. Reluctantly, I turn so we're staring at each other in this stuffy vehicle.

"That is the most ridiculous thing I haveeverheard in my entire life. That's not an exaggeration," He says sternly.

"I just don't want you to think I'm trying to steal from you or--"

He bursts out f*cking laughing.

A genuine belly laugh spills from his lips, one that takes a good minute for him to contain himself before he can answer me. His face is red and damp from the hysterical tears running out of his eyes. When he finally catches his breath, he fluffs his hair out of his face and unbuckles my seatbelt. "Come here," He giggles, the last remaining laughs coming out strained.

"What? how would I even-" I'm entirely f*cking confused right now. Are they in on some joke together? Am I being pranked? Where are the cameras?

"Come here, baby. Come sit on my lap." He leans over and grabs my hips, helping to lift me over the center console. He adjusts his seat to give me more room before his hands land on my thighs, running up and down the material clad to them.

I stare at him in confusion, waiting for him to start speaking but he just stares back with goo-goo eyes like he's never seen anything better than the mess in front of him. "Now tell me again what you just said, I don't think I heard you right. You'retrapping me? And stealing from me?"

I pick at my fingers, not having the courage to look at him. "It's just.. we're different, you know? I don't want you to feel like I'm using you or something. Jillian just.." I blow out a breath, my eyes watering with it. "She said that one day you'll realize how much better you are, but it'll be too late by then. And that I've trapped you into taking care of me."

He goes quiet, observing my nervous tick. "Did you tell her that I asked you to marry me, which youvery abruptlytold me no? How about the fact that I sleep in your bed almost every night, curled up like a puppy next to you?"

"But I ask you to do that."

"And I nearly concuss myself running out of my house to be with you, Treasure. What about the pink car you wouldn't let me buy or the dolphin I was going to put in your living room because you were being a brat and worrying about money? It's still available, you know."

I just stare at him as he continues to speak.

"Did you tell her that you keep asking me to stop with the flowers, but your vase never wilts too long before you have fresh petals again? Or about how I had to wear you down in order for you to come on a date with me? Do you know what I call you to all of my friends?"

"Brin..?" I say sheepishly.

"Mywife." He smiles with his dimples showing. "I do everything that I do because Iwantto do it. I consider everything I own to be yours too, sweet girl. I'm in love with you, and that means you get to be spoiled by me." He leans up to kiss me softly.

"I'm worried that you'll think I'm just using you for money. I don't need the gifts Harry, really."

"I've told you time and time again, you don't need to worry about anything. I'm obsessed with you, Brinna. How could you have possibly trapped me into anything?" He pokes at my arms, making my jaw drop slightly at the joke he's making. "I mean, don't get me wrong, as scary as you are when you're angry I don't think you're holding me against my will."

I roll my eyes and lean away from him slightly. "I don't know why you want someone that can't give you what you give so easily."

"Money can't buy love," He murmurs, hand moving to rub the small of my back.

"But I can't even say that yet."

Yet? Heart, what are you doing?

He seems to notice my choice of words, a smile creeping up his lips. "When you're ready, you'll admit it," He says co*ckily. "And in the meantime, I'm going to keep being completely obsessed with you and there's nothing you can do to stop me."

I lean forward and wrap my arms around him. He cradles me tighter, the two of us melting into each other's heat. Eventually, our hearts start beating together and I wonder if he feels it too. Does my body need his so badly that they sync up?

"Are you going to be in my bed tonight?" I ask into his shoulder. A deep sigh escapes his lips and his arms wrap tighter around me.

"I don't think so, baby. I have a few errands to run and then I need to go meet Zayn at the club for inventory. If you're awake I'm sure I'll see you, but no staying up and waiting for me. You need to get more sleep. You're going to burn yourself out."

"Okay.." I sigh, moving myself back over the center console to my seat.

"Don't be mad at me baby, I would spend all of my time with you if I could. Hey, speaking of that, we have dinner reservations tomorrow night," His hand finds mine to give it a squeeze. "Wear whatever you want, but... I got something for you and I want you to see it tomorrow night, okay? I'll bring you to my house."

I give him a look ofwe just talked about thisbut he only gives me a small smile. "I know, I know. It's nothing crazy. Just want to take you somewhere different." He starts the car and pulls away from the curb, toward my house.

"I worked so hard to get that job, you know? I put myself through school and everything." I sigh, leaning back in my seat.

"I'm sorry she's doing this, Brin. If I could fix it I would, even if you'd just let me try."

"I can't ask you to do that," I shake my head. "I'm going to have to start from the bottom again. I spent so long doing the most bullsh*t things for her, and none of it mattered. I was going to be something, someday. I just had to get through the sucky part first."

"You don't need a woman like Jillian Wood to make you into something. You've done it for yourself already."

"I'm just so tired. I thought I was at the finish line."

"Maybe this is a good time to take a step back and relax then, Brin."

"What do you mean? I can't justrelax. I've got a whole life to take care of. I won't be able to relax until I get to where I need to be."

"It shouldn't have to be like that. Life isn't about working yourself to death. Please don't get mad at me, baby, but.."

"Don't Harry. I don't need someone to take care of me."

"It wouldn't be just someone, Brinna. It would be the man who loves you and is tired of seeing you drain every ounce of happiness you have over someone who replaced you as easily as changing socks."

We exchange a sad look before I turn back to stare out of the window.

"I'm- I'm sorry. Let me take care of you for a little while. You need a break, when is the last time you were able to sit without worrying about the next day?"

An amused scoff leaves my lips. "When did Colette and Michael stop loving each other?" I mumble, rolling my eyes.

"I want to take care of you. All of it, your bills, your expenses, anything you've ever wanted, you deserve to go spend the day getting a mud bath, or whatever those snobby women do in their free time. Please Treasure, I would do anything to see you wholeheartedly happy."

We pull up to my apartment, the beaten-up building being a sour reminder of the different lives we currently live. "I don't need someone to take care of me, Harry. This is my real life! I can't play pretend for god knows how long so you can fulfill whatever fantasy you're trying to! I don't need anyone's help." I storm out of the car, leaving him speechless in the driver's seat.

"Baby I wasn't trying to make you upset! I just-"

"No! You can't keep doing this! I'm not a toy you get to play with. Some of us have real things to worry about." I rush the rest of the way to my door before he can say anything else. Once inside, I drop to my knees and let the floodgates open.

My phone buzzes in my pocket as I cry, jolting my thoughts away from the breakdown barreling toward me like a freight train.

From: Harry 5:05 pm

I know you need time but you're not leaving me like that. I'm picking you up tomorrow like I told you if you don't want to see me tonight. My offer will always stand. I love you, Brinna. Let yourself be a priority for once. I promise you it'll be worth it. Lock your door.

I groan and let out another strangled cry before shutting my phone off and crawling into bed.

What the f*ck am I going to do?

Chapter 26: Dance With Me

Chapter Text

H A R R Y

Lying in the cool dirt, I look up into the late afternoon sky. I'm hidden away by the growth all around me and if my car on the side of the road wasn't a blatant sign of human life, I would be completely shut out from the rest of the world.

I twirl around a flower that I found next to me, peeling away the green outer layer of the stem like some f*cked up she-loves-me-not game. The back of my clothing is filthy from laying here for so long, but I need this right now. I have no one else to turn to for advice and this is kind of my last resort before doing something stupid.

I've been coming here more often recently. I never expected this to be one of the spots I frequent, after all, I've kind of given up on the place but I need it now more than ever. I've got a lot of burning questions regarding the love of my life and what the f*ck I'm supposed to do to keep her.

"I know, I know. That's what I said. I told her she wouldn't have to worry," I say to the empty sky above me. The stem in my hands is becoming less and less recognizable, perhaps my picking is from the nerves making my hands sweat as I tear the poor thing to a pulp.

A sigh leaves my lips as the wind courses through my hideout, rustling the greenery above my head. "Well, I never said she wasn't allowed to be an independent woman. I just think that maybe she should take a step back, and let someone else care for her. She's never gotten that."

The small flower in my hand becomes just a wilted bud and dirty leaves. "I don't mean likethat.I'm smart enough to know I can't just kill everything in my path to her. Have you no faith in me?" I pluck a few scraggly petals off the bulb.

The clouds move above me as the wind picks up. "I won't lie and say I didn't think about grabbing Jill the second I left her apartment. Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, and three times is a pattern. Even though I've planned out her death in my head, I'm not going to leave a trail."

"Sometimes I wish we could have traded childhoods, Brinna and I. She deserved parents like you and Dad..." I sit up in the dirt, a small cloud of dust poofing around my sudden movement. "You guys deserved a better kid. She would have been the perfect fit for you, I deserved her childhood. You guys were too good to me for how horrible I was."

A flock of birds flies overhead, my eyes squinting as I'm more exposed to the bright beams bouncing through swaying plants from my seated position. "I deserved everything you guys did to try and change me, though." A hard thunk lands on my shoulder, startling me slightly. I toss the dead flower from my fingers as my eyes wander to my left.

A bird sh*t on my shoulder.

"f*cking really?!"I whisper-yell. My mouth drops open as my arms come out to my sides in frustration. "I know that was you, Dad!" I shout into the sky, the volume making crows scatter out of the field. "Nice one, listening in on my private conversation. I thought we talked about boundaries!" I gripe, wiping off the white fecal matter with a nearby leaf.

"You know what, this was a lovely chat. Thanks for the help, guys, real nice of you," I huff, standing up and rushing out of the empty field with the bouquet I picked when I first got here. The yellow sunflowers stay on my passenger seat the entire time I drive through the quiet dirt roads back home to the hectic city.

__

I took a much-needed shower as I waited for Brinna to arrive at my home. She insisted she drive herself here despite my begging, but I decided to let her do whatever she needed to do. Tonight is going to be heavy for both of us, I don't want her to be forced around me longer than she wants to be.

I'm going to tell her that I'm sick tonight.

The conversation I've been dreading for months now, I've decided to go ahead and get out of the way. The looming cloud that follows me is going to become real and I'm f*cking terrified.

She didn't text me at all last night except for one smallgoodnightbut my reply didn't go through until this morning. Or any of my other fifty messages, for that matter. I didn't mean to make her as upset as I did. I was only trying to help.

She must have turned her phone off so she wouldn't have to talk to me. It really stung, but I had to stop myself from rushing to her house and scooping her up. I wish she would have let me coddle her. I know I could have made her happy, and probably convinced her to let me take care of her after enough of my pestering.

Maybe this is bad timing, but she's already upset with me. I figure if I explain why I am the way I am, she'll either be more inclined to indulge in relaxation provided by my bank account.. or she'll leave me permanently.

Maybe my intentions when I first started pursuing Brinna weren't the best. I was frantically searching for something to ease my panic at the thought of dying alone, and Brinna fell into my arms like it was fate. But this isn't just fun for me anymore, this isn't some fix. I want her for as long as she'll have me, and unfortunately, that might be ending after I tell her my baggage.

I can't force her to stay with me. I can't expect her to even want to, knowing I'll be gone soon enough. I still haven't asked Peter to give me an estimate which I think only adds to the anxiety of it. I can't promise her any amount of time with me. I'm a huge risk to take, and evidently, she likes the simplicities in life. I am nothing close to simple, and this is just a piece of me.

We're going to a place that's been on my mind for a long time now, but I wasn't the type to go to fancy restaurants with dress codes unless it was hosted by a criminal. Tonight is a night of many firsts. My heart might get shattered for the first time. Maybe tonight will be the night karma gets me back for leaving her.

For the first and only time, we'll sit in a classy establishment and share wine over the details of my diminishing health and what that means for us if there is even an us after the looming cloud becomes too heavy.

I stand in front of my mirror, buttoning the white dress shirt that will soon be covered by my suit jacket. I've opted for a classic suit, but I've picked something very special for Brinna. I told her to wear whatever she wanted, and I won't make her put on what I had made, but I hope when she sees it she won't want to wear whatever she arrives in.

I look ridiculous right now, my hair is scrunched up in some towel thing she recommended for my curls. She really loves my hair, she's spent plenty of time brushing it out and detangling each curl before she helps it take shape. I told her about the products I bought and she told me how to use them correctly, but every time I'm with her she wants to play with it instead of letting me.

I love it. She's got the touch of an angel and I could fall asleep when she starts pulling on it and braiding it back. She usually makes me sit between her legs like a child while we watch TV together, but sometimes I get lucky and can crawl my way on top of her while she combs through it.

I finish getting dressed rather quickly, my anxiety slowly creeping up my body the longer I stand here and think about everything I'm bound to ruin. It's not fair to her to keep dragging her along like this. I can't believe she would ever think she's the one trapping me, I'm about to try to convince a healthy woman that staying with a dying man is a good idea.

I walk to my closet and double-check the zipped-up bag with her dress, making sure that not a single thread is out of place. It has to be absolutely perfect. I've paired it with her second gift too, and maybe I went overboard with the sunflowers on top of the first two, but if this is it for us, she needs to know I love her more than anything.

I walk out of my dark bedroom and down the stairs toward the kitchen. Grabbing a glass from the cabinet, I get water from the dispenser on the fridge and chug it down to wet my dry mouth. My phone screen lights up, signaling that Brin texted to let me know she's on her way.

To: Bandit 9:05 pm

Let the receptionist know you're here for me, I told them to be expecting you. They'll buzz you up to the right floor

Only the people I pre-allow up here are the ones that have access. You've got to tell them I sent you as well as having a record of me allowing it, or they won't allow the elevator to come up to the penthouse. That way no randoms can wander up here.

I pace my empty house, the velvet box in my pocket becoming unbearably heavy the more I mess with it. My hands are becoming clammy as I wait for her to be here. My reflection in my balcony door catches my eyes, making me whip the towel turban off my head and shake out the mess of freshly oiled curls. I run my fingers through them as I walk toward the door and slide it open to step outside.

I hang on to the railing as I look down at the streets below. My nose and lungs work together to draw in deep breaths the best they can, but it's not working like I need it to. My leather shoe scuffs on the pavement as I shut my eyes and let the night breeze calm me. I make a note to ignore the moon tonight as my dear old Dad has done quite enough.

My doorbell buzzes, causing my head to whip around from the open balcony. A heat rises over my skin, fresh sweat coating my body in a thin layer. I rush into the house and across the large room to the entry hallway before opening the door.

Brinna stands nervously in a black silk dress and a pair of heels. Her hair is done up and she has a little more makeup on than usual, but it only accentuates her beautiful features. She's holding a small clutch and has on very minimal jewelry, which selfishly I was hoping would be the case.

She looks over my attire before shifting on her feet. "Hi.." She says softly. "You look really handsome."

"Thank you," I smile. "You look beautiful, baby. Come in, I'll show you around." I'm not sure why I'm nervous about showing her where I live. I think it's because the place is so cold and empty, and it doesn't feel anything like hers does. Her place feels like more of my home than my own ever has.

I move to the side to let her in, her slow steps and wandering eyes taking in the two-story building that's mostly window walls and dark wood accents. She sets her clutch on the entry table and waits for me to be by her before she keeps going. I take her hand in mine, treading lightly as I don't know if she wants me to touch her right now.

I guide her into the open kitchen and living room. We move around each area of the first floor while I awkwardly tell her the name of each space as if she couldn't figure that out herself. She notices the huge window wall as we come out of the bathroom hallway and her eyes light up. Her hand slips from mine as she steps closer, taking in the view.

"Woah.." She smiles at the sky and not at the city lights like I expected her to. "You can see so many constellations from here." Her eyes dart around and I try to keep up but I honestly have no clue what she's talking about.

"The last person that lived here said the same thing. He used to planet watch, or something," I mumble, remembering that when I toured the place before opening Treasure Chest, he was super keen on telling me which ones you could see clearly from the balcony.

Her mouth drops slightly. "You've never looked?"

"Haven't got a clue about any of it, love. Maybe you can show me sometime." I smile, wrapping my arm around her hip to draw her to the stairs. "So I told you that I have something for you.." We walk side by side up the staircase, her hand gliding up the railing as her heels click softly.

"Two somethings actually. Okay, maybe three." We reach the top of the stairs.

"Harry!" She winces.

"I'm sorry I just.. tonight is important. I just wanted you to feel special, okay? You don't have to wear it, the option is there if you want to. Don't feel like you have to." We walk into my bedroom and I stop her in front of the full-body mirror.

I walk to my closet and pick up the white bag from the bar. Stepping out of the small room, I slowly unzip the seal. "I had this made for you to match me tonight, I don't know if that's lame but.." I peel away the protective layer, the velvet beginning to peek out. It reminds me of a late afternoon walk through a springtime forest, but the color was swatched from something more personal.

Her eyes stay locked on the dress momentarily before scanning around my outfit, looking for the same color. "Harry.." She furrows her brows, the realization that I'm not wearing it setting in.

"If it's too much, please don't be afraid to tell me no. I won't be hurt."A slight lie, but I'll get over it.

Her eyes brim with tears slightly, but not the kind that makes my heart hurt. My heart is racing and if it wasn't for the heavy breaths escaping my lungs, she might be able to hear it beating. She's looking at the dark sea foam green like it just hit her.

"That's the color of your eyes," She murmurs.

I hold the dress in my hands as she takes it in, an unreadable expression on her face. I wish I could jump in her head and read her thoughts. "I thought you would look nice in the color," I bite my cheek, trying to hide how badly I want her to wear it. "Do you want to try it on?"

She nods her head, a single tear slipping from her cheek. She steps forward and wraps her arms around my neck before letting out a choppy breath. "I'm sorry," She hushes as my arms wrap around her waist.

"You didn't do anything wrong, love. Let me help you out of your dress, okay?" I coo, running my empty hand up and down her zippered back. She nods against me and pulls away, turning to face the mirror.

I step behind her and hand her the new material, my eyes watching her facial expression as she looks at it through the mirror. Her nimble fingers brush over the fabric and her lips part slightly. I pull the zipper down her back slowly, not wanting to startle her as if she's a spooked baby deer.

"When I was a kid, my dad used to buy my mom pretty dresses for church." My hands move to the thin straps on her shoulders, sliding them off to her elbows. Her brows furrow with the kind of endearing sadness you get from watching something of innocence.

My hands move down her arms and to the curve of her hips, pushing the fabric down her body until it's pooled at her feet. "He used to say that a pretty woman on his arm made him look better. He never thought he was a handsome man."

I take the dress from her fingers and hold it in front of her so she can step into it. "He spoiled her in any way he could." I pull the fabric up over her body. "I want to do the same thing for you."

Her arms slip into the dress one after the other, the dark glow of my bedroom adding to the thunderous tension between the two of us. So many emotions are whirling around and I don't know how I'll survive this night if it feels like this the whole time.

"You're a beautiful woman, Brinna. I love having you next to me," I adjust the shoulders of the dress before slipping my hands down her back to the zipper. "But I think you're doing more for me than making me look good." My own eyes blur as my shaky fingers find the small piece of metal.

She's been quietly listening to me the entire time I've spoken. I'm not sure if it's from shock or adoration but she's been calmer since my hands started touching her. "I think you're making me into a better person. You're making me into a man I can admire, Treasure." The zipper reaches the top of her back and the two of us stare at the perfectly fitted dress on her body.

I try to blink away the moisture in my eyes but a tear slips before I can stop it. "I have one more thing for you," I clear my throat, hastily wiping my cheek before reaching into my pocket. Her eyes furrow as she turns slightly to see what I'm doing. I pull out the velvet box and a worried frown turns on her lips. "Don't worry," I shake my head lightly. "Not tonight.. if you still want me after tonight, I promise it'll be more magical than in my bedroom, okay?"

"What is that?" She looks into my eyes as I open the box toward me. I use one hand to pick up the piece of jewelry before shutting the box and putting it back in my pocket. I grab her wrist and place the colddiamond braceleton her skin.

My fingers work together to clasp it, her own trembling slightly. "I told you that I was just borrowing your treasures, love. Now you get to keep them." I bring her hand up to my mouth and kiss it tenderly.

I turn her by the shoulders to face the mirror again, her fingers coming up to touch the new accessory on her arm. She's silent again, and I can't help but think it's a bad thing the longer she says nothing. Until she meets my eyes in the mirror and gives me a small knowing smile.

"You look like an angel," I whisper, my nose finding the side of her perfectly done hair as my hands run up and down her warm arms.

I think my favorite color you wear is green. Your undeniable beauty fills me with dread, Treasure. The fleeting nature of existence is barreling toward us at a pace we won't know until it gets here, and watching you spin around in the color of my irises is taking the sharp pain in my chest to an existential level. How am I going to survive the afterlife without you? I had your bracelet engraved to say the four words I wish could put life back into my soul so any time you need them, they'll be with you.

"They're beautiful, Harry," Her hands move down the expensive fabric covering her torso. "Thank you, for everything." I hum and kiss the side of her head, soaking up the visual of her adorned in shiny things as she should always be.

__

The restaurant is the kind that you have to be on an exclusive list in order to get in. The type with high ceilings showcasing hand-painted murals above the crystal chandeliers and sparkling lights. They're pretty high up though, so they're really as much of a decoration as the small tealights floating in water-filled vases on our table.

I can tell she's uncomfortable being in a place like this, but little does she know, I am too. Satin tablecloths and eating next to a live orchestra aren't exactly my thing, but the conversation bound to happen didn't seem like it could over a slice of pizza.

I took the liberty of ordering ahead again, mostly because I didn't want to overwhelm her with the bullsh*t names and froufrou words when really they're selling two lettuce leaves with a spritz of lemon juice for $50, so I just picked a bunch of things that sounded good.

We ate and listened to the live band for a while before I got the courage to start the downward spiral of why we're here in the first place. I guess it's a good thing the portions are tiny because I feel like I'm going to be sick.

"Would you like to dance with me?" I ask, already standing with my hand out for her to take. I don't really want to give her the option right now, I just want her to be close to me.

To my surprise she takes my hand with no hesitation and we walk to the open center of the room. She's had a few glasses of wine and her cheeks are a little rosy as we sway around the dark floor.

"I don't know how to dance," I admit, the two of us just barely moving as we hold on to each other.

"I don't either, but it feels right." Her face rests on my chest and my hand is on her hip. Despite our lack of experience, we seem to fall into step with each other naturally.

I hold her close to me, almost too close. We stay in our bubble for a while, the soft music lulling the both of us into a hypnotically calm trance. I can feel my heart racing the longer I draw this out. It's now or never, I have to before I back out.

"So I told you that tonight was important," I hesitate.

"Mhmm." She hums softly, the vibrations moving through me.

"I need to talk to you about something kind of serious." My eyes pinch shut. This is it, the final moments before we change. She'll know and it'll never be the same as it was.

Her head lifts from my chest and her brows furrow. "Is everything okay?" Her blue eyes flick between mine. My face only drops, making hers too.

"Maybe we should sit down for this," I nod toward our table.

She shakes her head. "No, you can tell me here.." She says sternly. Our swaying has stopped only slightly.

"I don't.. I don't think.."

"Tell me," She nearly begs.

"I'm sick," I whisper, waiting for any reaction.

"Like.. like you have a cold?" She mumbles but her question comes out more like a plead than something to be answered.

I shake my head. "It's my liver, Treasure," I smile sadly at her, trying to hold back the water in my eyes.

I wish I could erase the memory of your face when I told you I was dying, Brin. On the grand dance floor with a song that could have been the one you walked down the aisle to, we stopped moving as the world around us kept going. It was unlike any time before, when the two of us were happily in a bubble. This felt like our walls were crumbling.

I told you all about my condition and how I don't know how much time I would have with you. You couldn't say anything back through your tears. You asked me a lot of questions and I answered them the best that I could. I told you about my medications and how I've been more tired than usual lately.

I even told you about passing out at work. I thought you would have been mad at me. You didn't have a reaction to it, though. I think you were just in shock. There's not much you could have done or said, anyway. That night was about telling you, not getting comfort from you. You couldn't give it, and that's okay. You needed time.

I don't blame you for that. I wish we would have sat down. Maybe the weight of my words wouldn't have held us down like they did. I held on to you for a long time after telling you that the condition was incurable. I didn't have the heart to tell you that had this been a year ago, I would have been able to stay with you.

Your sobs were almost unbearable when I told you that I tried to get better for you. It all clicked when I told you about the month long break and why I got clean. Maybe I should have kept that information to myself, at least until you got these letters. I don't know if that would have made it better or worse.

There's nothing any of us could do to make me better, not even your presence next to me in bed could fix me despite how much I yearned for it. I don't blame you for needing time to think. You're tired, baby. You've been taking care of everyone else for so long. I'm not your burden and I've prepared myself for this outcome.

I wish I could have prepared myself for how badly it hurt to watch you walk out of my home. For the first and last time, you left.

I had to beg you to take your sunflowers, and I know you don't know how important that is to me, but maybe one day you'll get to see why.

You might not ever read this, but if you do, your black dress is filled with my tears and I don't know how to make your scent last longer. It'll probably smell like me if you ever come back for it because I don't know how to wash it and I've been sleeping with it every night.

I'm not mad at you for walking away and I hope you know that. I'll wait for you as long as I have. If you decide to come back at all, we could just pretend like I never said anything.

I wish you would tell me what you're thinking. It's been a week since we talked. You let me call you to say goodnight after you left, but you've been quiet since. Grace hasn't said anything to me and I don't know if that's because you've told her not to, or if it's because she doesn't know anything is wrong.

I can't stand to think you're alone right now.

One day is starting to feel like a sentencing rather than a hopeful dream.

The one day is going to come when I'm not here permanently, and I think that's going to be before the one day you forgive me for everything I've done. I didn't mean to hurt you like this. My offer will always stand if you ever decide that being with me is worth it.

I love you, forever.

Chapter 27: Always

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

My alarm rings, and rings, and f*ckingrings.

The same as every morning in the last nine days. I think I've cried so much since the dance that my body is actually just dehydrated meat. That's as metaphorically true as it is physically, too. I have no more sad thoughts. I have no more tears.

I feel empty. Broken.

The universe works in cruel ways. Just as I was becoming comfortable with the idea of straying away from the plan I set for myself, the entire world came crashing down. I've had a lot of time to think and I've come to the conclusion that it's me. I'm the common denominator in every problem.

Do I really want to watch him die? Can I commit to being with him knowing what's going to happen?

Nobodywantsto watch their partner wilt away. No one wakes up and thinks,'I'd love to take care of you when you're on the brink of death, nothing would make me happier than to clean up your vomit and wash you like you're not a grown man who should be able to do it yourself.'

It's f*cking cruel. He's going to suffer, f*ck he probably already has been suffering. He has to live with the knowledge that at any moment, he'll be gone. But not like we naturally would be, he's going to be gone well before he ever should have been.

I don't believe in God anymore. I was never really 100% certain about him, but I don't want to trust an entity that kills off innocent people. I think I'm cursed. I must have been a villain in a past life. Maybe I did something wrong, like killed an entire species of animal or burned down villages, because I'm a plague that keeps hurting everyone around me.

Everything I touch dies.

Dallie died and I lost my parents because I couldn't save them. I let myself get carried away with distractions and sins and as a punishment,the man I love is going to die. I can't save him. There's nothing I can do to fix him. I allowed myself to get caught up in him and now we're both suffering.

I tried to start treatments to fix it, but it's too late. I tried to fix it for you.

I made him fall in love with me and now he's going to die. I think I'm the siren. I lured him in and gave him a false hope. I can't imagine the pain of knowing you're going to leave the person you can't fathom being with and not even getting the option to stay. I feel so incredibly guilty for making him want me. I trapped him in the cruelest way imaginable.

My feelings for you won't ever change, but sometimes I might not be able to keep up like I do now. I've been getting weaker lately, and more tired.

I've made him go back and forth whenever I felt it convenient. He's had to drive me around and take me to all of these places and I never even noticed that it was hurting him.

I didn't want to worry you about it, but I passed out at work yesterday. I overdid it, I think.

I made him feel like hiding his sickness was a better option than getting the rest he clearly needed. I even made him come over again after he had just woken up from his unconsciousness.

I know it makes you uncomfortable, but I have everything that I could ever dream of. Besides you, Brinna. I want you. I want to take care of you until my last breath.

I've spent a lot of my life taking care of everyone else. He wants to take care of me. I'm his dying wish and that makes my stomach burn with nausea. I can't even bear the thought of a pet because everything leaves eventually, and with him, I'm guaranteeing a loss.

The universe likes to punish me, and with that, it's going to kill him. I'm sorry I dragged you into my mess, Harry.

I can't stand to be around him right now. I feel heartbroken for us both together and separately. We aren't going to have a one-day.

I'm angry, I'm sad, I feel a level of guilt that's so deep it's making my bones rattle. My sleep is so f*cked up and I'm on edge all the time. I can't eat, I can't focus. Between coming to the conclusion that I am in fact in love with him, I'm now wallowing in the information that he's dying. Everything is a mess, I am a mess. I'm slowly f*cking it all up, and I just don't care anymore.

Which is the cherry on the f*cking cake at work. My replacement is slowly but surely getting caught up and it's not going to be long before I'm out of a job.

__

"Hey, I already did everything Jill asked. And her coffee is already on the way, so don't worry about that," Tillie chirps, comfortably sitting obnoxiously close tomycomputer, typing away as if she owns the f*cking place.

"Perfect," I congratulate her insincerely with a nasty smile on my face. She quickly wipes the gleaming expression off her own and continues working on God knows what. Probably more stupid sh*t she'll spend hours on and then be fired for three years later.

My bag gets lazily thrown under the desk before I walk to the mini fridge by the copy machine. I rummage around and my eyes land on someone's bottle of lemonade before shrugging and taking it. My foot kicks the door closed while my free hand digs into the pocket of my oversized hoodie, pulling out a flask of vodka from the hidey-hole.

I peek around to make sure no one's looking before unscrewing the cap and pouring some of it into the juice bottle. Half of the lemonade is quickly chugged down and chased with a swig from the flask before I put away my little friend. My drink nearly falls out of my hand when I turn around face to face with a very unamused Grace.

"Well good morning, if you wanted a drink all you had to do was ask," I mumble, brushing her shoulder as I walk past her. She follows me quickly and snatches the juice container from my hand. "Hey!" I whine, trying to get it back but she pushes me away.

"What the f*ck are you doing, Brinna?" She walks it over to the sink and pours it out. My mouth drops in disbelief before I remember the flask in my pocket.

I quickly unscrew it while her back is turned to me, only to find out it's already empty when it reaches my lips. Have I really finished it already? f*ck. That was supposed to last me all day.

"I'm working, what areyoudoing, besides being nosy? Since when have you cared about day drinking?"

She leans her hip on the counter and looks at me with her arms crossed. "You're being an idiot. You don't drink."

"People change, Gracie," I blink slowly. "sh*t happens."

"No, sh*t happens and you go off the rails." She bites.

I frown at her. "I'm clearly still on the rails." The alcohol is for sure hitting me as I start to sway slightly. "Choooo-chooo," My arm pumps like a train whistle.

She scoffs and pulls me by the arm to her desk. I grumble and try to keep up with her, but luckily she pushes me into her chair before my feet give out. "You're a mess," She digs through her purse.

"My life is a mess," I groan dramatically.

"Enough of this woah-is-me bullsh*t, Brinna!" She barks, slamming down a hairbrush and a pack of mints on her desk. "I know you're sad. It's perfectly normal for you to be upset, you're right, it's a f*cking mess right now! But guess what? You're not the one that's dying!" She yells, clenching her fists while her eyes gloss over in anger.

My eyes widen and I gulp. "But I can't-- I can't help him. I can't fix this," I whisper, suddenly feeling more sober than when I walked into the office today.

She huffs and yanks the messy bun out of my hair roughly, making me wince but I know she's trying to not beat me to a pulp right now.

Grace has beenvery, very angry at me.She doesn't agree with anything I've been doing and she's made it very clear how much of an idiot she thinks I am. She's on Harry's side. Unbelievable, right? I thought best friends were supposed to choose you no matter what.

Her brushing pulls my head back every time she yanks it through my hair. "You can'tcure him,Brinna. But you canhelphim. Heneedsyou right now and you're sitting here getting f*cking plastered before noon instead of spending every moment with him. I'm tired of watching it. You need to get your sh*t together."

"I think I've done quite enough for him, he wouldn't be suffering if I didn't make him fall in love with me. It's better for both of us if I just stay away." I grab the mint tin and pop one into my mouth.

"Do you even hear yourself?" She stops her brushing to pull my head back so I'm staring at her upside down. "Do you hear how f*cking ridiculous that is? Brinna Harper, that man spends every f*cking moment of the day worshipping you and telling you he'll take care of you and the moment he needed you, you left!"

She only gets angrier at my silence. "From the very first day he met you, he kept you safe. He shows up every time you cry, he holds you all night long, he protects the f*ck out of you just because he doesn't like seeing you upset. He would do anything for you. He knows your favorite things, he puts you first before himself,always."

"Oh sh*t," I whisper, the realization hitting me.

"Just likewhat?What does that sound like? The same thing you cry to me about. You needed them, and they left you! You're doing it to him and you don't even realize it. You're notthem, so get it the f*ck together!" She braids my hair so it's out of my face.

"f*ck, he needs me."

"How would it have even been your fault that he's sick?" She sniffles. "Don't.. don't leave him like that. Don't make him be alone right now." She ties the end of my hair. "I swear to god I'll never forgive you if you do that to him."

I don't need to turn around to know she's crying. She's cried with me all week. She's just as upset about Harry as I am, and she'sreallyf*cking upset with me for being away from him. She hasn't stopped reminding me of how selfish I am. I was just trying to fix it in the only way I knew how. By not hurting him anymore.

"I don't know if he'll want me anymore after I just.. abandoned him," I pick at my fingers. Her arms wrap around me from behind.

"No one wants to be alone," She shakes her head. "God you're such a bitch," She sobs.

"Grace!" I puff out a short laugh between my cries.

"What?! You're lucky you came around today. I swear I was about to punch you in the f*cking face." She sniffles into my shoulder.

"Have you two had enough of that sobbing yet?" Jillian slams her office door shut. She hasn't been directly told about Harry, but I think she's asked Tillie to keep her in the loop about everything we talk about out here. f*cking snitch.

I stare at her, still half drunk from my lemonade. "You don't need to be so rude," I murmur.

"Your little problems have no place in my office. You're messing with the energy, Briana. Maybe I was wrong, he's leaving you before you can trap him after all." She laughs, stopping in front of Grace's desk with a stack of paperwork.

Grace lets out an audible gasp and my mouth drops. "What did you just f*cking say?" I grit, sitting up straighter in the chair.

"You heard me. He's doing anything he can to get away from you. Dying is better than being with someone as pathetic as you are," She scowls, eyes roaming down my body. "You're a disgusting excuse for a woman and I can't wait to finally get rid of you." She slaps the termination papers down in front of me, the only blank spot being for my signature.

My eyes shut. "I have had quite e-f*cking-nough of you, Jill," I laugh, my eyes shooting back open to her bitchy face. "I have spent the last three years of my life doing everything you could possibly imagine. Do you know how hard it is to find someone to wax you after the bush incident?!" I shout, the years of anger rising up inside me.

"Don't you dare speak to me that way," She growls.

"Oh that's f*cking rich! You don't want me to speak to you like what? Like I'm better than you? Doesn't feel very f*cking good does it?" I stand from the chair, leaning over the desk so we're almost at eye level. "It doesn't feel very good to be pushed around by some ancient c*nt of a woman whose face changes faster than the f*cking seasons, Jillian!"

She and Grace gasp at the same time as eyes start to flick over to us. "You know what else doesn't feel very f*cking good? Having to parent a kid that isn't mine because her mother cares more about a cheap f*cking magazine than learning that her own child likes to go by Charlie! You don't even know her name!"

"My magazine is not cheap!"

"Of course that's the only thing you're worried about!" I laugh, not entirely shocked. "You're right, it's not cheap, it's f*cking tacky just like you are! You're a tacky hag that takes out every insecurity on people you wish you could even remotely be!"

"You're the last person I would ever want to be," Her eyes gloss over as if I've struck a nerve.

"Oh really? So it doesn't bother you that your only child is more comfortable with me than she has ever been with you, or that I'm the one keeping you afloat while you cry about your ex-husband all day? What about the fact that the one person who's ever shown you some kind of happiness thinks you're a horrible person just like everyone else in this room and only used you to get closer to me?"

She sniffles and straightens up. "You're no better than that lowlife addict, the both of you are getting what you deserve."

"Yeah we f*cking are, I have someone that loves me unconditionally and he's going to spend the rest of his life with hiswife." I pick up the stack of termination papers and rip them in half before throwing them at her. "f*ck you and f*ck this sh*tty ass job! I quit, Jillian."

I storm over to my desk and grab my bag. Tillie stays as far away from me as she can like I'm going to bite her head off.

"You don't get to quit, Briana! I'm firing you!" Jill's voice is shrill with frustration.

"My name isBrinna, you f*cking idiot! Do I need to spell it out or are you too old to understand what I'm saying? It's BRINNA." I yell at the top of my lungs, barrelling toward her on my way to the office door. She moves out of the way as I walk past her with my middle fingers up.

I knock over a vase full of fake flowers and water sitting on the table near the exit, the glass shattering when it smacks into the floor. "Your diamonds are fake and f*cking ugly, you bitch! Ask me how I know!" I screech, slamming the office door closed.

Okay, that part was entirely unnecessary.That was petty and uncalled for, but she got on my nerves, alright? I'm not one to care about the authenticity of rocks, I just wanted to add a little insult to injury.

I think I'm starting to black out from my sudden burst of rage. Did that really just happen? My entire body is shaking with the familiar rush of adrenaline but this isn't fun like the carnival or the strippers.

I need to see Harry. I need to make this right.

I am such a goddamn idiot.

__

I don't know how I got here. I don't know what I'm doing but if I don't get the rest of my screaming out I think I'm going to explode. My whole body is broken out in a sweat like I ran here but I honestly don't remember getting in my car, so I might have. Did I scale the building?

My shaking hand pounds on the black door hard enough that I wince. I probably should have reeled that back, but I f*cking can't right now. My entire brain is screaming and vibrating so loudly that I might pass out if it doesn't stop.

I become restless waiting for Harry to answer his door, my foot starting to fidget while my knee bounces. My fingers are tapping on my arms and the longer I wait for him, the more I'm starting to think this isn't a good idea.

Finally, after the longest thirty seconds of my entire life, I hear shuffling before the locks click and the door slowly creeks open. Harry stands perplexed in a pair of joggers and a t-shirt. His eyes are wide and desperate, scanning over every inch of me.

"Hi," I breathe out.

That's what you came up with, brain? Fantastic job.

"Brinna, uh- hi? Are you okay, you look like-"

"I need to say something," I cut him off before I can even stop the words from leaving my mouth.

"Maybe you should come inside," He furrows his eyebrows concerned, stepping to the side to allow me in.

"Do you have a welcome mat?" My voice is frantic and shrill. "You begged on mine, right? How am I supposed to do that if you don't have a f*cking welcome mat?"

He steps out of the door to touch me but I flinch away slightly, knowing that I have to say what's on my mind before I melt into him. He needs to know I'm sorry for hurting him. "What did you need to say?" He speaks quietly.

"I love you," I blurt out. "Always.I love you, always."

His eyes widen and his hand drops from the door frame. "Brin, I-"

"Shut up," I beg. "f*ck, I'm sorry." My hand smacks to my face. "You're going to die. Holy sh*t this is going so wrong." A groan tries to leave my mouth as I clamp it shut.

He laughs but quickly stiffens up when my eyes fill with dread over his enjoyment. "I'm sorry," He sputters.

"No, no please don't apologize." I sigh. "I'm here becauseIneed to apologize toyou. Harry, you love me and you do everything you possibly can to make me know that. You're sick and you need me.. and I was so worried about not being able to give you what you want that I didn't realize what you want isme.I left you when you needed me," My eyes fill with tears.

"I can't tell you how sorry I am for being so selfish and stupid and if you don't want me around anymore I understand. I just needed you to know that I feel the same way about you and I should have told you sooner. I was afraid but I know that's no reason to hold back because we never really know how much time we'll have together regardless and.."

"Breathe, sweet girl. You're okay," My jumbling words make him tense like he can't keep up.

He stays silent to let me finish. "I called Jillian a tacky hag," my lip trembles from my anger starting to turn into the sadness I had been holding back. "And a bitch. I- I said her diamonds are fake but I only know that because of-of you!" I cry, noticing the grin he's trying to hold back through my watery eyes. "Why are you smiling?!" I sob.

He steps forward and wraps his arms around me, cradling my head into his chest as I wet his t-shirt. He's trying to shush and coo me but laughs keep slipping out of his mouth. "I take it she fired you?"

I pull back, sniffling as I look at the ground. "N-no, I quit. I told herf*ck you and f*ck this joband then I smashed a vase," I look into his eyes and his smile makes me giggle. "Stop it!" I smack his chest as my bottom lip pokes out.

"You kicked some lizard ass, Bandit." He kisses my forehead and pulls me back into him. "That's my girl."

"She was talking about my man, I couldn't let her get away with it," I nuzzle into him.

"So how uh.. how does this work?"

"You're staying?" He perks up.

"I told you I wouldn't let you go out without a bang, right? I'm not going anywhere as long as you want me. I promise." I refer to his question duringForrest Gumpwhich at the time made no sense.

"Does this mean you're going to let me take care of you?" He murmurs into my hair.

I nod, "We'll take care of each other, okay?"

__

It took some coaxing but he managed to get me inside and stop my crying. I was sobbing through my constant apologies and then because he had to take care of me while I cried which only made me feel more guilty.

He never stopped smiling and telling me that I didn't need to be sorry for anything. I don't understand how he's so fine, I would have been so angry if I were him. What I did is unforgivable, yet he's holding me like nothing even happened.

We're currently in his large shower, the waterfall streaming down on the two of us. I've never been in a fancy shower like this but it's the kind that has an overhead stream and one coming from the side. It's really soothing if I'm being honest. I could probably fall asleep on his chest if he let me.

"Can I wash your hair, pretty girl?" He tugs on the black band holding my wet braid together before he releases it and runs his fingers through my hair.

I nod against him and he briefly pulls away to grab the bottle of soap. "You should probably talk to Grace," I mumble. "She almost killed me over you." I turn around so he can lather up my hair.

"Did she? Maybe I should get her a bracelet too. Just to thank her for the loyalty." He jokes, my hair becoming fizzy from the suds. The scent fills my nose as it mixes with the steam.

"Is that my shampoo?" I ask, knowing for a fact that it smells the exact same.

His hands stop and I can tell he's cringing by his voice. "I missed the way you smell, sue me." He continues washing me before rinsing the vanilla soap down the drain.

I turn around with a bright smile as he gets the conditioner, watching his focused face as he lathers it onto the ends of my hair. "You're cute."

"I'm notcute.I am the night,fear me."He kisses the end of my nose.

We wash each other's bodies and get out of the shower while stealing lingering kisses in the hot bathroom. I feel like I could climb him right now, my emotional rollercoaster is going all over the place and now that I'm in front of him again I feel like I'm only at the peak.

He wraps me in a warm towel before doing the same to his waist and guiding me out to his room. I stand shivering in his dimly lit bedroom, the dark furniture and lighting being a good match to the rest of his home.

He comes back from his closet with one shirt and one pair of boxers, handing me the top as he cheekily puts on the undergarment.

"You want me to just wear your shirt?" I ask, dropping my towel to put it over my head.

"You're more than welcome to stay naked, but I thought I'd give you the option to cover a little bit."

I roll my eyes with a laugh as the shirt falls to my thighs, just barely covering anything of importance. I play along with his game, crawling into bed before falling onto my side facing him.

His dimples are deep as he smiles while he walks to the bed before getting in on the opposite side to face me. "Hi," he breathes calmly.

I scoot closer to him until our noses are brushing. "Hi," I giggle, combing back his hair with my fingers. His leg moves between my two, my top one wrapping over his hip. His hand slides down my curved body until his fingers trace slow patterns over my bare leg. A shiver runs down my spine and he smiles when I shudder.

"We're going to be alright, baby." He whispers like it's a promise. I sigh, mostly from the lingering sadness of uncertainty that both of us are dreading.

"I'm sorry I freaked out the way I did."

He shakes his head and moves his hand closer to my ass. "You don't need to be sorry. I wasn't expecting you to stick around.. that's why I didn't tell you until then. I don't want you to feel obligated to be here."

"I'm here because I want to be," I kiss him. "I'm not leaving your side."

He hums and grabs a handful of my ass, making me gasp slightly and tilt into him. "My pretty Treasure, such a sweet girl. You don't know how long I've been waiting for you to tell me yes.. m'gonna spoil you rotten," He kisses my neck and his voice sounds like sex angels whispering in my ears.

My core tingles as his hand continues to inch down between my thighs with a strong grip. "You mean everything to me, you know that? I'm a happy man because of you."

"I called myself your wife today," I mumble as his fingers brush the crease between my hip and thigh, inching closer and closer to my aching heat.

"Mmm, is that so?" He bites my neck and moves my leg higher up his hip to expose more of me. His fingers move slowly up and down my slit as he moves his face to watch me instead of kissing my neck. A smile tugs up on his lips as my hips rock into his teasing. "You like the thought of being my spoiled little wife, huh? You try to hide it but I know baby."

His fingers circle my cl*t as whimpers leave my mouth. "But I don't--"

"Shh, I don't want to hear it pretty girl. You can keep pretending that you hate it, but your secret is safe with me." His deep voice rumbles through his chest into mine pressed against him. He takes his hand away and moves my leg off of his, making a needy whine leave my lips. He chuckles softly with a kiss. "Don't worry baby, I'm gonna give you what you want."

His hands push up the long shirt as he glides down my body and in between my legs. He wastes no time before diving his tongue between my slit and lapping up all of the wetness he spread with his fingers.

I've missed his touch. I don't understand how he does it, but he knows me better than anyone else. Dare I say, even myself. I completely understand why women become obsessed with him and Iloveknowing he only wants to be with me. It's a huge turn on.

My hands find his hair and tangle between his still-damp curls as he sucks on my cl*t. My back arches off of the mattress and my head rolls back, the pit of my stomach already swirling with lust. "f*ck," I pant out, a heat spreading through my body.

It's like he goes into over-drive at my writhing because he works his tongue faster against me like an animalfeastingon their catch. "Harry I'm going to come already." My breathing is sharp as I try to draw in breaths.

"Let me hear you say it, Brin. I want you to say it while you cum on my tongue," He buries his face between my legs again, making my back arch as a gasp leaves my lips.

My stomach quickly unravels from his mouth, strings of heavy breaths and moans escaping me. His tongue flicks against my cl*t until my legs are shaking uncontrollably and my eyes pinch shut from the intense painful pleasure about to explode deep between my hips.

"f*ck Harry! I-ah, I love you,"I cry out as my org*sm rips through me, my legs clamping around his head. He groans against me and holds them there, making no effort to remove them as if he'd be okay suffocating between them.

He rides me through my peak until my body relaxes aside from the few twitches he gives me from lingering touches. He comes up panting, chin glistening with my arousal. He wipes his face and crawls up my body until his face is over mine.

"You love me?" He asks, focusing on my lips.

I nod, my chest heaving as I try to draw in breaths. "Always. I love you,always."

He kisses me gently before resting his head on mine. "I love you,forever."

Chapter 28

Chapter Text

H A R R Y

I think I'm out of sperm. The amount of sex we've had in the last 6 days is actually insane, I don't know how my dick hasn't shriveled up and fallen off from the amount of work he's putting in.

We've been flip-flopping from her place to mine every couple of nights and it's safe to say no surface has gone untouched by ass cheeks or ball sweat.

It's physically impossible for our hands to keep to themselves. She looked delicious in my t-shirt while she padded around the kitchen cooking breakfast the other morning.

"f*ck, Harry!" She yells, our skin slapping together as the pancakes burn behind us. My hand around her throat tightens as I feel her clench around me, the fire alarm muffling her moaning as I pound harder into her bent over the counter.

And she couldn't help herself from getting on top of me when she was showing me another one of her favorite movies at her place.

Her hand has been in my pants the entire time Les Miserables has been playing. "Pay attention, this is the good part." She says for the fifth time. How am I supposed to focus on the dying prostitute when she's stroking my co*ck? Her eyes stay deadlocked on my hardness as she pulls it out and clambers on top of me. "Watch the movie!" She hisses, pushing her underwear to the side before sinking down on my length. "Y-you're missing the good part.." she moans, rocking herself on top of me.

I should probably make a note to clean the stairs more often if we aren't going to make it up them again.

"That's right, f*cking take it," I groan, holding her thigh as her leg is over my shoulder. Her tit* bounce every time I thrust into her, knocking her back into the wooden stairs. My hand tangles into her hair as I pull her head back to look at me. She's almost got tears in her eyes from the way I'm f*cking her.

We have done absolutely nothing but eat, sleep, and sex. My energy levels are great right now and it's a good thing because I'm not sure who's keeping up with who anymore. She seems to be just as crazy as I am.

The nothingness has included not going to work while my pretty thing prances around carefree. I think I could watch her all day long. In fact, I have been and it's showing by the amount of texts I've been getting from the boys. She's a very welcome distraction and I'm not complaining.

I'm also not complaining about all of the girly things scattered around my bathroom, bedroom, and closet. My dad used to say as a man you provide her a foundation and she'll make you a home.

I quite like watching her run around and work her magic. Brinna is like a little packrat in the cutest way possible, scurrying about and making her nest. She's leaving her artwork in the form of clothing and pink bathroom products and I am ahappy, happy man.

I'm currently showering away my naughty thoughts in cold water while my Bandit is getting dressed after hers. The amount of things women use to get clean is crazy, I used to use one soap for my entire body and a loofah to scrub between my ass. She's got me using multiple steps on my hair to get it clean and then she fills it with product beforediffusingit or some sh*t.

I turn off the water and step out of the shower while wrapping my towel around my hips. Brin is sitting on the floor in front of the body length mirror in my bedroom doing her makeup despite me telling her it's perfectly fine if she has to spread all of her things over the counter. She insists the floor is better and she even denied the light-up vanity desk I tried to get her. Women are strange. I'd definitely take a cushioned chair over the floor to do my makeup.. if I was going to do it or whatever.

She's painted my nails in the time she's been here so it wouldn't surprise me if she convinced me to play dress up too.

I'd do it.

I pull on a pair of underwear and joggers before heading out of the bedroom to find where the shiny Treasure went after getting ready. I hop down the stairs and spot her laid out on the couch, turning the pages of some teen magazine. She's laying on her back with her knees bent while one leg crosses the other and sways.

She's wearing one of my hoodies and a tiny pair of sleep shorts, and thecutest f*cking pair of fuzzy pink bunny slippers.

I don't know how she's never shown me the monstrosities on her feet but I can't stop looking at them. They're absolutely ridiculous and huge with their floppy ears and I swear I'm going to find them in every color so she never stops wearing them. She wears them if she isn't wearing socks because she said she doesn't like the feeling of naked floor, but she was very clear when she said'Harry don't you dare get rid of this beautiful hardwood!'

Anything you want, my love. Even if it confuses the sh*t out of me.

As much as I love her being here or me being at her place, I'm kind of lost on how this works. I won't lie, I did not expect her to come back. I was fully prepared to be alone and locked away in my flat like some kind of sh*tty Rapunzel until I inevitably died.

It surprised the f*ck out of me when she showed up. I had gotten a call from the desk saying someone was demanding to come up and that they had been here before. I couldn't tell who it was from the muffled yelling in the background but I knew it was a woman.

Honestly, I thought it was Maggie and I was going to bring her up here to finish the job.

But when I opened the door to Brinna looking like she had been binge drinking and crying for days straight I knew that she needed me as badly as I needed her. It didn't feel good to hear her so upset. I really didn't need her to apologize, I knew full and well she might have decided that being with me for a long-term short-run was a bad idea.

It's crazy to commit to someone in the state that I'm in, but here we are. Sitting on my couch together while I pet her hair and glance over the deprecating articles she's so fond of. Just as life should be, me and my Treasure justbeing.

I'm too engulfed in Brad Pitt's latest gossip to notice anything else, but Brinna jumping up from the couch and waddling to the kitchen catches my brain up to reality. "What're you doing, baby?"

"Coffee," she smiles, bunny ears flopping with every step she takes. I nod and pick up her magazine to keep reading about the scandals. I think I need glasses or something, I feel like I'm squinting trying to learn the name of the secret girlfriend Bieber just got caught with.

"What the f*ck is this?"

My head snaps up to Niall standing next to my kitchen while Brin is holding the door open for Zayn and Louis. I smile, taking in just how different the place must look with candles and soft cream-colored blankets on the couch. She even brought over her sunflowers which are sitting on the breakfast bar.

"Nice rodents, Brinna." Louis smirks but she's too focused on the coffee to register the snark in his tone. Maybe I'll buy all of them a pair for Christmas. That would make a fantastic holiday card, from my sh*tty family to.. well, no one else. This is as good as it gets.

"What are those, f*ckin' gerbils?" He asks, looking genuinely confused as he stares at her feet.

"Have you never seen a rabbit, Louis?" She giggles and walks toward me with a steaming cup, handing it to me before leaning over the back of the couch to kiss my cheek.

I smirk at the three of them with a magazine in one hand, fresh coffee in the other, and my one-day wife wearing my clothing clung to the back of me. "Good morning, boys."

"Well this is cute," Zayn smiles, poking at the vase of yellow flowers shining brightly.

"This is creepy. What're you doing?" Niall furrows his brows. "Did you kidnap her? I thought you said she left."

"Shut the f*ck up," I say through a closed teeth smile, not wanting her to know that I may or may not have been crying to them about her.

"I'm going to go get dressed," she says softly. "I love you." Her exit is quick as she moves toward the staircase.

"Forever, Bandit," I blush, turning my head to watch her walk up the stairs.

"Always, Curly," She answers with a wink before disappearing.

Niall scoffs as she leaves, "I can save you, Brinna! If you need help, blink twice!"

"You can't see her, moron," Louis laughs.

"To what do I owe the intrusion?" I smile lazily, turning back to face them scattered around my couch and kitchen island.

"Thought you were dead, honestly." Niall pops a grape in his mouth as he sits on the counter. "You haven't answered any of our messages."

Zayn shifts uncomfortably on the couch. "I cansmellwhy you've been ignoring us. That is the scent of averyalive body."

I grimace, "Now don't be nasty."

"Says you!" Louis laughs.

"This is my house! I'm allowed to be nasty in here!"

Zayn blows a raspberry and I know what he's getting at. "So are you gonna be at Chest soon?" He drums his fingers on his knees.

"I understand, not while she's here, alright?" I hush, nodding upstairs to where Brin is.

He's talking about Lillith. She's due back soon and I have been avoiding anything outside of this house like the plague.

"Are we good this month?" I ask cautiously.

"Luckily just made it. You've got to come back, mate. These young kids don't listen to anyone but you when they run. They're getting lazy."

"Alright, alright. I'll figure it out. I'll be back soon."

"How soon is soon?" Louis asks, walking to Niall to grab grapes from the open bag.

Brinna walks down the stairs, now dressed in jeans and a band tee. She must have been doing her hair as it's now braided back into a ponytail. She walks over to the two in the kitchen and steals a grape before tossing it back into her mouth.

She makes herself comfortable next to me with her legs on my lap. The four of us stare at her unintentionally and it doesn't take long for her to notice. She quickly swallows the grape as she glances around.

"What?" She looks at me. "Did I intrude? I can go back upstairs," She moves her legs to stand but I grab her ankles and keep her on me.

"No, Bandit. They were just here to ask about Treasure Chest, nothing important," I smile as I rub her legs.

"He's been too wrapped up in your sheets to remember his day job," Niall snickers.

"Oh.." She blushes. "Do you need help with anything there? I can clean up or--"

"Dance, perhaps?" Louis chimes in.

"Leave the girl alone, she was just having a bit of fun," Zayn smiles at her.

He's been awfully f*cking nice about the two of us and I can't help but think it's because the sappy sh*thead is hiding something.

"You don't need to lift a finger, love. I'll be gone for a bit tomorrow but I'm all yours after that, alright?" I speak to her like no one else is in the room. "We've got things to do today, anyway," I say to the rest of them this time.

"Are you kicking us out?" Niall closes the half-empty grape bag.

I nod and stand up, gently placing Brin's legs on the couch where I sat. "Yes I am, I'll see you three tomorrow. Don't expect a call and don't f*ckin' call me."

"Fine, but please show up, H." Zayn jumps up from the couch and pushes Louis to the door as Niall follows.

"Remember Brin! If he's holding you hostage you can call me!" Niall shouts as they walk out of the door and shut it behind them.

"Why does he keep saying that like it's a normal thing for you to take hostages?" She laughs.

Well, sweetheart, it kind of is. But you don't need to worry about that.

I walk around the sofa and crawl on top of her, her hands immediately finding my hair and tangling into it.

"What are we doing today?" She asks with the same look on her face that's been prominent for the last week.

"Well," My throat hitches as her hands move down my shoulders and over my chest. "We're going to go to your place and grab the clothes you wanted, and maybe some of the menus because I want you to start that wall here."

Her hands stop. "You want it here?"

"Mhm," I peck her. "I like it. I don't know how to decorate and I like your place. Bring over whatever you want, if you're gonna be around anyway." I wink as I shoot up from the couch.

Add farmer to my resume. I'm planting seeds, patting them into her brain, and slowly convincing her to bring over every single thing she needs until... oops! She's moved in.

I know what I'm doing. I'm a genius.

__

We spent all day out between getting food and moseying around her place. It's late now, and hopefully, we've been gone long enough that my surprise has been delivered. I hope she loves it, I don't know anything about stars but she seems to really like them. Her bedroom is filled with pictures of them and it made me wonder if she's ever seen them with her own eyes.

"How did we manage to be gone all day and get almost nothing done?" Brinna says as she opens the front door to my penthouse, throwing her keys and wallet onto the entry table.

I walk in behind her carrying a large box and a bag full of her clothing. "I haven't a clue, love."

She patters up the stairs quickly, surely to change into pajamas. That's something I've learned quickly. The girl does not like wearing pants and she'd probably be a nudist if she could. One of my favorite things about her is her comfort around me and her lack of clothing.

I set the items down and lay out some of the menus on the counter, pretending to actually look at them but my excitement is soon to bubble over.

Brinna hops back down the stairs, and once she's at the bottom I just can't help myself. "It's pretty clear tonight, yeah?"

"It is," She agrees, glancing out of the window. I can already feel the blood rushing to my dick thinking about her face when she sees it. She has no idea what she started.

"Wanna go out and have a look with me?" I suggest.

"I'd love to." My hand stays on her lower back until we near the deck and I let her go ahead of me. The glass door gets unlocked and opened, her quiet steps making it out for only a short distance before I catch up.

Her steps stop, which means she must have seen her new toy.

In the corner of the balcony sits a Celestron CGX-L Equatorial 1400 complete with a big red bow.

I haven't a f*cking clue what that means, but the nerd I bought it from said it was the best.

"Taaa-daaa," I sing, walking behind her and holding her shoulders. I think I've broken her, she's stunned.

"What isthat?"She murmurs with wide eyes.

"Thought you'd like to see the stars a little better tonight," I shrug nonchalantly.

"Not with a telescope that costs more than I make in three months." She scoffs.

"Do I need to pull theI'm dyingcard?" I joke.

"I'm not touching that."

What are you doing to me, Treasure? Is it possible to fall even more in love?

"Yes, you are." I kiss her temple with a smile.

"No,I'm not. Return it."

"Okay, I'll return it." I walk her forward until we meet the railing overlooking the city. Her hands hold onto the cool metal while my own roam down her body till I get to the hem of her sleep shirt. Her stomach muscles clench as I explore her naked torso.

"Good." She says breathlessly, falling perfectly into my little trap.

"For a better one." I push my hips into her and her head falls back to my shoulder.

She makes no effort to stop my advances, which is good. If she's focused on me she won't have time to think about the expensive magnifying glass next to us. And then she'll have no choice but to accept it. She's a stubborn one, but so am I, so the telescope stays.

"You can see nebulas, planets, star clusters..." I kiss her shoulder while I rock into her.

She shakes her head. "It's too much."

"It has true color rendition.. no distortion.."Whatever the f*ck that means.

She's melting under me. "You can't just throw that kind of money around."

"Have you ever been f*cked under the stars, Brin?" My hands slide into the hips of her underwear. "Maybe you can ask the aliens how they liked the show when you find them on your telescope."

"It's not mine," She arches slightly so she's grinding against my own rhythm.

I chuckle in her ear and tug down her panties. "All of this is yours. All for my Treasure." My fingers find the pool of wetness quickly, running through the slickness with ease. "That's right, just like I thought. Such a f*cking brat." I rasp next to her ear, making her shiver.

I undo my belt buckle and pull myself out of my boxers, replacing my fingers with my erection to slide it between her legs and coat myself in her arousal. "You like to tell me no, don't you?"

"Harry.."

A whiny gasp leaves her parted lips when I press my co*ck all the way inside of her, making her stand on her tippy toes to accommodate the height difference between us. I give her a second to take it all in as she clenches around me.

I rock my hips slowly at first. Her head drops as she whimpers. She's trying so hard to stay strong, and the effort is cute, really.

"I-I'm mad at you," She pants as her ass smacks back into my hips.

"I'm sure you are, pretty girl." I give her a harder thrust knowing the angle is driving her crazy. She moans louder than she probably means to. "Admit that you like it." My hand digs into her hip.

"Take. It. Back.." She puffs between my hard thrusts.

"Watch the stars," I coo into her ear and pull her hair back so she's looking at them, but she probably can't focus on much else with me in her guts. "They'd look so pretty with your new toy, yeah?

Her legs are starting to tremble as more noises leave her lips. I'm so deep inside of her, massaging every nerve with each thrust.

I can feel the knot wrapping tighter in myself at the sight of her getting f*cked over a city. It's like she's so engulfed in trying to be mad that she's forgotten we're outside. Sure, no one can see us up here but they might be able to hear her moans as my hips rock harder into her.

My stomach muscles clench as her hands wrap tighter on the railing. She's completely restless under me, tightening around me as I hold both of her hips to give myself extra leverage for my pounding.

She moans out my name and a string of profanities and her sweet voice is what drives me over the edge. My pace quickens as she leans farther into the rail.

And then, as if the universe is congratulating us,we come together as a shooting star races across the dark sky.

A whimper escapes me as my org*sm washes over my entire body, my co*ck twitching inside of her pulsating heat. We writhe against each other until we're both so sensitive that we have to disconnect. I pull out and lean over her to press a trail of kisses into her back.

Thanks, universe. I know I'm going to get extra points for that. I owe you one.

We take a few seconds to catch our breath. "I'm going to go get something to clean us up, okay love?"

"Okay," She mumbles, turning to watch me go back inside. I'm quick to grab a wet cloth before heading back out. She's sitting on the lounge chair staring into the night sky, completely lost as she doesn't notice me.

I drop to my knees in front of her and clean her gently. She stays quiet as I stand and clean myself up. My eyes stay on her as she bites her lips and tucks her legs up until her chin is rested on her knees.

"Go play with it." I fold the rag and toss it to the side.

She sighs, shaking her head.

"Brinna, go take a look. I promise you're gonna love it," I bend down to kiss her.

She wraps her arms around my neck and holds me to her in a hug. "Thank you," She whispers.

See? Dick-straction wins again. A quick org*sm fixes everything.

She jumps up from the seat and over to the telescope, messing with the buttons and looking through the lens as she gets the settings right.

You don't ever need to be shy with me. The world is yours, my love. I knew you wanted to try it, and I'm so glad you finally did. You look so beautiful standing in my shirt, quietly studying the heavens.

I take her place in the chair and sit all the way back in it with my arms folded above my head. With a smile, I just observe her. It's a win-win for both of us really. She watches the shiny things in the sky and I watch my shiny thing in front of me. I couldn't ask for a better way to spend my time.

She moves the lens around until she lands on a spot and a gasp leaves her lips. She stands completely still for a few seconds before backing away. A tear rolls down her cheek as she stares at the telescope.

"Baby?" My hands drop. "Are you alright?"

"I've never seen something so... Harry come look at this." She looks at me with watery eyes.

I stand up from the chair and walk over to her. She urges me to trade places with her until I'm bent over, looking into the lens. It takes a second for my eyes to adjust to what I'm seeing.

"Holy sh*t," I whisper. "What is that?"

A swirl of purple, red, and blue tie-dyes the black sky. It's freckled by all different sizes of stars with a large light source in the middle.

"That's a different galaxy. I didn't know you could see them so clearly, I thought only the pictures were that good. That'sreal."

Maybe I could be okay with floating around in space if it all looks like that. And then you could even say hi to me, huh? I'll make sure to stay put on your favorite star, so every time you need me all you'll have to do is look up.

We trade places once more so she's looking at the swirl again. I sit on the end of the long seat with my hands clasped between my open knees. f*ck, I can't wait any longer. I'm a bad farmer.

"I want you to live with me, Brin." I say before I can overthink my execution.

She pulls away slightly to look at me. "You want me to what?"

"Stay here. We're going back and forth every day, let's just make it easy. Live with me. I can have everything delivered here and I'll take care of all the paperwork at your place. Just say yes," I plead.

"Are you sure you want me here that much?" She drops her arms from the telescope to come sit on my lap.

"There's nothing I want more," I smile, my eyes shutting from her fingers running through my hair. "And you don't need to worry about um..after, alright? This place is yours." I hush.

"I'll stay with you," She nods. We kind of have a silent agreement to not get into the harsh details of my health and theafterright now. It's just easier that way.

"Good," I smile as my arms wrap around her waist.

You're going to be the rest of my forever, baby.

Chapter 29: New Debt

Chapter Text

H A R R Y

My corduroys ride up well over my ankles as I sit in the wooden chair in the middle of the dean's hallway for the third time this week. I've asked Mum for a new pair but she said she'll have to hem them again.

She's already done that twice and the other kids are starting to notice.

It's cold in here usually but my ugly school blazer is making me far too hot. I wish I could take it off. I get so itchy when I'm hot. That would just give them something else to write me up for. I'm sure they'd like one more reason to get me in trouble.

"What has he done now?" Mum asks in the same weary voice she's had for a long time.

She's sad. I think it's because of me. I don't try to make her upset but I can't help it.

"Mrs. Styles-"

"Anne, please. Please call me Anne."

"Anne.. Harry's had a bit of a streak lately. He's got a violent tendency and this time he's gone too far." Headmaster Williams tries to be gentle but we all know Mum is going to cry. She always cries at these things.

"How bad?"

"He broke a boy's arm. Completely unprovoked. He had to be taken to the hospital for the damage. I can't have Harry around the other children. He's dangerous."

He threw a rock at a bunny.

I saw the blood.

He deserved every crushed bone.

"He's not dangerous! He's- he's just different!"

"He's been expelled, Anne. He'll have to go somewhere else. He can't come back after today."

"This is the third school he's been in this year! Where am I going to put him? This was our last option."

I hate to hear her cry. Dad never makes her cry. He's going to be angry with me for making her upset.

"Harry!" Mum shouts as she storms out of the office.

I don't say anything.

"Look at me!" She grabs the collar of my shirt. "What have you done? Do you have any idea how difficult you've made this? Why can't you be normal?" She cries.

I can't control it.

I try to stop the bad thoughts but they're so loud.

He hurt the bunny. I saw the blood. He deserved it. I needed to protect it.

"You're going to ruin your life if you keep acting like this! What am I going to do with you?" She yells.

I hurt him. I saw the blood. He deserved it. I protected the bunny.

My dirty sneakers become hazy as my brain gets too loud again.

"Harry! Listen to me!" She shouts.

"Harry!.."

"Harry?"

My eyes snap to Zayn sitting next to me on the sofa.

"You good there, H?" He squints, passing me the blunt.

"Fine, yeah." I clear my throat and take it.

We're closed again tonight for the meeting with Lillith. She's late.

She'sneverlate.

"You think she finally croaked?" Louis asks, flipping a blade between his fingers.

"My bet was after Christmas." Niall jokes.

"She'll come. She's probably trying to not break a hip." Zayn shakes his head and takes the blunt back.

I stay leaned back in my seat, letting the smoke fill the space around me. It's oddly comforting, like a piece of life I've lived for so long wafting back into my lungs. It's been.. quiet.. lately.Easy. Too easy.

"I moved Brinna in."

Their heads turn to me.

"Congratulations, mate!" Zayn taps my shoulder with a huge smile.

"I thought she was already living there, plenty of her girly sh*t there already." Louis pokes the tip of the blade into the arm of his chair.

"What's your problem with her?" I blurt out.

His eyes widen a bit. "I don't have a problem. What's your problem?"

"You've always got some sh*t to say." Niall kicks his feet up on the coffee table like he's getting ready to enjoy the squabble.

"I just think that you're getting in over your head is all." He shrugs.

Zayn passes me the blunt again but I wave him off. "Don't start this sh*t right now, Lou." He mumbles. "Let him be, they're in love."

"He's dying."

"We're all dying." Niall plays devil's advocate.

"Iamdying." I agree. "But I'll take you down with me if you start some sh*t over business that isn't yours."

"I just think you're setting her up for heartbreak, Harry." The blade rests flat under his palm against the chair.

"Not now, Louis. He doesn't need to hear your sh*t." Zayn says a bit louder in my defense.

He's definitely hiding something.

"We've had to hear it for f*ckin' weeks, let the man rant!" Niall smiles, sitting in the middle of the U-shaped seating arrangement.

Weeks? He's had an issue with me and Brinna for weeks? They've been talking about it?

"Yeah, go ahead. I'd love to hear the bullsh*t that comes out of your mouth. Give me a reason to cut your tongue out." I cross my arms.

"You don't think it's strange that you magically fell in love with a girl to the point that she left her job and moved in with you, within months?"

"No," I shake my head.

"Little weird," Niall shrugs.

"You can't control how fast your feelings work, Louis." Zayn glares.

"Well isn't it weird that she's perfectly okay with all of it? Doesn't she kind of sound like a-"

"Tread very f*cking lightly," I warn.

I really don't want him to be the next body I scrape off the concrete floor but for Brinna...

Niall laughs, "We've already disproven your theory, Louis. It's this f*cker with the money kink."

"Can you blame him? sh*ts f*ckin' fun, we've got plenty of it." Zayn says.

I look at him sideways and he gives me awhat?expression.

"What's your plan, H? What are you even doing with her?"

I frown, taken aback by his question. "Well, I.. uh. What does that even mean?"

Louis raises his brows in annoyance. "Why would you string her along when you don't even know how long the string is?"

"It's not stringing her along if she knows what's happening," Zayn challenges. "She's a grown woman, you're not giving her enough credit."

"Butdoesshe know what's happening?" Niall questions, completely for the reaction and not because he actually cares.

"I told her everything." I nod.

"About Lillith?" He quickly straightens up.

"Well, no, but--"

Louis scoffs. "And how much time exactly do you have left?"

"Enough, Louis," Zayn warns him this time.

"No, he needs to hear it. What happens when you're gone, Harry?" Louis asks lowly.

I have that covered, actually. Perhaps not in a good way, but I have been thinking up some ideas. She'll be taken care of, away from the cartel, and she'll live without me. It's not ideal, but she'll be fine. It'll have to be fine.

He takes my silence as an invitation to keep going. "You're going to die and leave us here to pick up the pieces." He answers his own question.

"She doesn't need us, Lou. She doesn't even know us," Niall grumbles. I guess his sh*t-jokey attitude has been crushed.

Maybe theyhavebeen talking about this.

"No, she's going to be around us until he's dead and he's our best friend. We won't be able to just leave her, because he loves her. She's part of us now, too."

"Why are you acting like that's such a bag thing?" Zayn asks angrily.

"Yeah, what are you, f*ckin' in love with him or something?" Niall laughs but his joke is met with silence.

"It's unfair. Toallof us." Louis finishes his rant.

"She's not a burden," I finally say. "And if you think she is, you're the absolute last person she'll need. So f*ck you, and f*ck these little cry sessions you've been having over me like some jealous prick."

"You're going to f*ck her up." Louis mumbles with a head shake.

"She'll be fine," I clear my throat. "I'll always take care of her."

"From six feet under while she finds someone else to lay next to because you broke her f*cking heart."

I jump across the coffee table, lunging for the drawn weapon in Louis' hand, but I get pulled back by Zayn and blocked by Niall.

"Woah, woah! Easy, he's just being a dick." Zayn tugs me back down.

"No need to go all serial killer," Niall huffs.

He sits smugly in his seat as if he's won some made-up contest. Is he the only one that thinks that, or do they all but they're too afraid to tell me? We stare at each other for a moment before a large suited man walks up the stairs and into the private area.

I shrug off the hands on me to stand up straighter, not knowing who he is specifically, but knowing enough that he's one of Lillith's guards.

sh*t.

He might have heard our talk about Brin.

"You four have job to do. Get up." He says cooly, sunglasses perched high on his nose. His Russian accent is thick.

"Who are you?" Niall asks stupidly.

"We're supposed to be meeting with Lillith today. We don't do jobs together," I state.

"Consider your monthly debt paid."

Okay, that's not f*cking good.

"New debt starts now." He pulls a gun out of the back of his pants and co*cks it, aiming it directly at my forehead. "You have job to do. Do it well, or consequence will be big." An envelope gets flicked onto the coffee table.

He turns, leaving down the stairs with his gun still at his side. "Stash car is parked out front."

The door to the club latches shut. Zayn is the first to grab the crisp white envelope, opening it carefully like there's poison on the paper.

"Well?" Louis asks.

My stomach is turning, anxiety and bile clawing up my throat. I whip my phone out of my pocket and hurry to call Brinna. The line rings and rings before going to her voicemail.

"f*ck," I murmur. My hands start to shake as I call her again.

I could leave now and go find her. But there's a guard waiting for us to get in the car. If I leave here and don't get in, they'll shoot me dead on the spot. If she's okay and I die trying to find her, I won't be able to take care of her like I need to.

"Everything alright, Harry?" Niall asks.

Voicemailagain.

I ignore him and turn to the staircase.

I can take out an armed guard, right? Surely for her, it'll be easy enough. She's fine, everything has to be fine. They didn't find out about her, I'll finish my plan, she'll be safe and I'll die how I'm supposed to. This is fine.

I start down the stairs, the guy's yelling being drowned out by my pounding heart.

"We have a job to do, H!" Zayn shouts.

My phone rings.

"Brin?" I answer frantically, halfway down the stairs.

"Hey sorry, I was making popcorn."

"Are you okay baby?"

"I'm fine.. why? You sound like you're out of breath. Are you okay?"

I drop, sitting with my legs spread open. My chest is rising and falling quickly and the rush of anxiety is making my limbs feel numb. I don't know what I would have done if I made it up there and something had happened.

"Everything is okay, love. I just.. I just missed you is all. Hey, do me a favor and invite Grace over, okay? Have a girl's night. I'm going to be gone for a little longer than expected."

If they're trying to get her alone, they won't do anything while Grace is there. I knew she looked familiar when I met her, and that's because her file is sitting locked away in my vault. They can't kill people not on file to do so, and if they looked into her, they'd realize they can't kill the daughter of one of our top investors.

Daddy didn't get that rich without selling his soul.

"Are you sure? I'm okay here, I was probably just going to go to bed."

"Of course baby, I'm sure she'd love to see the place. Order dinner, there's good wine in the cellar, have a sleep over. I'll be home as soon as I can. I love you Brinna. I have to go." I try to keep my tone cool but I know I sound desperate. The boys are slowly making their way down the steps, Louis stopping next to me.

"Already starting to f*ck her over, huh?" He mumbles, continuing down.

I should just push him, honestly.

__

N I A L L H O R A N

The drive to our meet site has been awkward, to say the least. Louis is driving and Zayn is in the passenger seat playing DJ with the stereo. Harry keeps his gaze out of the window and his mind is obviously preoccupied with other things. Other, pink bunny-slippered, things.

I sigh and stare at the back of his head as if I'm trying to will him to look my way. He's been distracted lately, and while I can understand why, he also needs to remember what happens when you f*ck over Lillith. Anything she could do to Brinna is far worse than him being away from her for a couple of hours of work.

I guess I've been staring long enough because Harry slowly turns around with a glare. "Can I f*ckin' help you? I can feel your eyes on me."

Good, you sh*t. That was the point.

I shake my head. "Just want you to know that I don't agree with him," I whisper, hoping the other two won't hear us.

His brows furrow as he sits back in his seat a little. "None of you know her enough to be talking about her like she's a problem."

"She's not a problem," I shrug. "But you're going to make one for her if you don't focus. You're not stupid, H, but you're being an idiot by abandoning your post the way you are. I know you're trying to protect her but you're going to get her hurt."

Killed. He's going to get her killed.

He scoffs a laugh and returns to the window.

"I won't let anything happen to her.. you know, when you're gone. Zayn too."

Which is true, if I can help it, she'll be protected. He's a different person for her, and while we don't really know her that well, I wouldn't be able to live with myself knowing my dead best friends one-day wife was alone without any of us.

She's a piece of him like we are, and one day we'll want all of the pieces we can get.

"We're here." The car jolts into park and Louis glares back at us through the mirror.

Zayn is already out of the car, jumping around like a juiced-up rabbit. His excitement always gets me going. He doesn't get to go out for a lot of things like Louis and I do with the guns, but when he does he gets into it. I think he likes pretending he's some kind of spy, as if that's any better than his real job.

The four of us walk to the trunk and grab our guns and bags full of weapons. It's a short walk to the abandoned building where we're supposed to meet our client. None of us are talking and its starting to get on my nerves. We usually work so well as a team and right now it feels like we're going to bed mad as a married couple.

The sun is setting and if we weren't here for activities that would land us in federal prison with life sentences, it would probably be pretty. We're pretty far out in the country, nothing but trees and old wheat fields surround us for miles.

Harry tosses me his duffel bag as we approach the large doors so he can open them. My adrenaline is kicking in now and I have to contain myself before I get trigger-happy. This is just a drop-off, same as I normally do, no big deal. But I can't lie that they all make me get a big head.

Zayn stomps out his cigarette as the door slowly creaks open towards us.

"Where the f*ck are they?" Harry murmurs, slinging his duffel bag back over his shoulder.

The barn is dark and unoccupied, very much the opposite of what it should be.

"Don't know. Maybe they're just late." Louis grumbles back, walking into the dusty building. My gut doesn't feel right about this.

I glance over at Zayn who seems to be paying no mind to the situation. I look at the watch on my wrist while walking through the door. "But they're never late. We're late, why would they be later than the assholes that are already late?" I keep walking until I hit Harry's back and stumble a bit.

My body jolts in startle, but I soon realize it's from a loud bang and not from colliding with a person. The barn door slammed shut behind me and the four of us are now in complete darkness. It's eerily quiet, the kind that you can almost hear the earth humming from the nothingness.

"Why'd you shut the door, Ni? Can't see sh*t in here." Zayn speaks to my left. My heart is beating steady as I try to take in my surroundings.

"I didn't touch the door, Zayn..."

A gust of cold air rushes behind my back, light footsteps being the cause of the stir. I turn around blindly, not being able to see who's running around. "Alright, who the f*ck is behind me? Quit f*cking around." I'm getting annoyed now. "And someone open the f*cking door, it's dark as sh*t in here."

A punch lands somewhere in the room, followed by the sounds of someone being wrestled to the ground. I stay still in my spot, trying to figure out who and what is being taken down. It sounds like we're alone in here, but I don't think we are.

"Mother f*cker!" The flare from Harry's gun illuminates the barn for a split second to show him shooting someone dressed head to toe in black.

Faster than I can process the brain splattering on the dirt, my head is being pulled back and a knife is pressed against my throat."Shhh..."disgustingly hot breath blows into my ear in a sh*t attempt to keep me silent.

I now understand what's happening: we're being f*cking ambushed.

I grab his wrist and throw him over my shoulder as hard as I can. He lands on the ground with a pained grunt and my ears catch on to the room suddenly being filled with noise but still no light. He tries to scramble away from me in an army crawl, but I twist his arm backward until I hear a loud pop and the clatter of his knife. With my knee on his back, I feel around the dirt for his weapon.

"sh*t!" I hiss, my hand being sliced through the palm from grabbing the blade. I find the man's head and yank him back by the hair. "Your goddamn knife just cut me in my wank hand, you prick," I mutter into his ear and rip the blade across his neck so harshly that the warm rush of his blood coats my hand in seconds. "Throat for f*cking hand, I guess," I grumble, squeezing my hurt hand a few times with a wince.

"Louis?!" I yell into the darkness, trying to find my friends and help them if they need it. We might have walked in here on weird terms, but none of us are leaving here dead and I'll make f*cking sure of it.

"I'm here! Gah-!" A kick lands on his body, his breathy grunts meaning it was probably to the ribs.

"I've got him!" Harry barks closer to where Louis is. "Go find Zayn!"

sh*t. "Z?" my voice echoes through the vast space. "Zayn, baby? Where are you at?"

The lights flicker on in the huge room, my eyes blinking involuntarily until I can see clearly. Harry and Louis have a very large man on his knees with his hands behind his back. Harry is raising them as far up behind him as they can go as Louis snaps his neck, ending his pained whimpering. His body falls between them before they frantically look around the room for Zayn.

They're both looking straight through me and when I realize it isn't because I had been injured, I turn around to follow their eyes.

All four of our duffel bags are in a pile near the barn doors and our lovely clients are aiming three guns at the back of Zayn's head. His hands are behind his back and he's knelt on the ground. He keeps his eyes on mine.

"Thank you for the distraction, boys. You really made it easy for us to get our product. I hope you don't mind that you won't be getting paid, though. I don't do business with whiny bitches. You understand." A greasy black-haired man with a cigar speaks.

Harry clenches his fists and takes a step forward but is quickly stopped when each gun presses into Zayn's skull. "Take one more step and your little boy scout troop goes from four to three." A taller and skinnier man pulls his gun away to open the door and starts loading our product into their van.

Zayn still has his eyes on me. He furrows his brows and winks one time, signaling that he's ready when we are. Despite being kick ass at what we do, we have actually made numerous plans in case sh*t goes south. Mostly from drunken roleplaying, but I guess that's better than nothing. Hopefully, it doesn't f*cking backfire now.

I shift on my right heel toward Harry, who sniffles his nose alerting Louis.

Now that we're all tracking with eyes on the opponent closest to us, Zayn winks twice.

In a flash, he reaches up and grabs the barrel of the gun, smashing it back into its owner. The weapon gets ripped away from the man and cracked over the second one's face, his gun falling to the ground.

Harry is quick to run out of the barn to stop the driver, throwing Louis the unoccupied gun on his way out. Probably not smart of him to go alone in his condition, but we're kind of out of hands.

Louis wastes no time in shooting the man between the eyes. I jump onto the one holding Zayn and put him in a headlock while he gets to his feet.

"This one is all you, buddy." I pant out, now having my arms being pulled on while the asshole sits on his knees. "We can't take all the kills, especially since your bitch ass got captured." I chuckle, still out of breath but trying to lighten up the mood.

"Move your hands." He seethes.

I back away and he falls forward, choking on the breath he's trying to suck in. Zayn kicks him as hard as he can right in the throat, further debilitating him. He falls to his back and wheezes for air, but Zayn doesn't stop his attack. He stands over the man and stomps on his head until his face is unrecognizable. The man's jaw is snapped off of its hinge and his body goes limp. Blood is splattered all over Zayn's pants and boots when he finally stops.

It's f*cking gross, and that's saying something for me. His mangled eye is laying in the dirt next to him, pupil pointed directly at me. I frown and walk around the body, kicking the eyeball somewhere into a far corner. "It's not polite to stare, you know." I give him one final kick to the balls. I know it didn't do anything to him, but it does boost my ego to know I was the last one to emasculate him.

The three of us pant and walk through the barn doors. Harry is leaning against their car, blood down the side of his face and shirt. His hair is tied in a bun and he has a cigarette in his mouth. Beside him are our duffel bags, one of which has a f*cking hand and forearm stuck to the handle.

"What the f*ck happened?" I gesture toward the bag that's already occupied.

"He wouldn't let go after I snapped his neck so I just chopped off his f*ckin' arm. Stupid prick was stubborn after he died, too." He shrugs and blows out a mouth full of smoke.

I think Harry blacks out when he does things like this. That or he's actually crazy. Either way, he gets the job done.

He tosses the bag at me and I catch it unintentionally by the arm. Shrugging, I toss it over my back like a bindle and once everyone else had gathered their things to go, we walk back down the dirt road to our car.

"Are we going to talk about it?" Zayn asks as the final car door shuts.

"I'd rather get sh*t faced. Let's take a vote!" I lean toward the middle of the car. "How many of us think we should talk this out andnotgo get completely obliterated?"

Harry and Zayn raise their hands. Of course they do, soft pricks.

"And how many votes for sh*t faced karaoke?" I pause for a second.

"We win! That's three votes for sh*tfaced!"

"Three? Two of us voted for talk, that makes us tied." Zayn says, slowly turning around from the passenger seat to look at me."Oh, what the f*ck Niall?!"He groans. "Get that thing out of here, f*cking disgusting!"

I laugh and shake the dead hand around in his face. "Ooooooo, but mister hand wants to play toooooo-"

Harry snatches it from me and throws it out of the window. My mouth drops open with a scoff.

"We all need to go clean up. We're not going out. We do need to talk about this sh*t later but we need to go back and figure out what the f*ck that was." Harry murmurs, closing his eyes as he rests his head on the seat behind him.

__

H A R R Y

We all went back to Treasure Chest and used the private bathroom to clean up before heading our own ways back home. We really didn't do much talking, though. I don't think any of us have much else to say. I'm f*cking tired, more than from the job. Thank god I live in this building.

Zayn stayed back after all of us, saying he had some things to take care of. He usually locks up now anyway.

I walk into my home--ourhome, quietly. Brinna texted me a few hours ago saying they were thoroughly wine drunk and falling asleep to romcoms. Rain patterns on the glass wall, small flashes of lightning adding seconds of luminance to the almost black room.

I wash my hands and take a look around the kitchen, it's a mess of open bottles and dinner trash. Used, like I've always wanted it to be. This place is usually too sterile. She makes it a home.

The TV is on, humming lowly. The volume doesn't match the angry yelling on the screen, but they probably weren't watching it anyway. I tiptoe around the couch, searching through the dark for the remote.

The two of them are sprawled out on adjacent sides of the large couch, clinging to throw pillows and deep in sleep after their little party. They're both in sweatpants and messy buns, blissfully unaware of the secrets the men in their lives have kept from them.

I find the remote on the floor next to Grace and quietly click the TV off. I take another look at them before walking to the closet by my front door, rummaging quietly for what I need. The storm illuminates my path back to them.

I set one blanket down on the littered coffee table and sprawl the other out on Grace. She snores and snuggles into it, too drunk to fully wake up.

I take the other, my favorite blanket for stormy nights on the couch, and tuck it around Brinna. Her cheek is smooshed by her hand under it and she looks completely relaxed. I squat in front of her and stare at my Treasure. Tears swell my eyes and my head drops.

She looks so peaceful. That naive nature isn't going to last much longer and it breaks my heart.

I think Louis was right.

I am going to break her heart, but I think it's going to be well before my passing and herspiritis going to be crushed with it. It was certainly a choice to bring her into my life, and I was wrong to think she could stay out of the bad parts.

I thought they were going to come for her tonight. I thought I had been careful, but the universe doesn't let me have good things and it's been too easy lately. She's safe if she's with me, but it's easy to get her alone and they made that very clear tonight. I don't know what Lillith is doing, or if I'm just being paranoid, but I'm afraid my shiny Treasure is going to dull under the pressure.

My hand lifts from the edge of the couch until it's almost touching her soft cheek-- but I don't. My hands are still tainted by the sins I partook in earlier. I let her warmth vibrate between us until I pull away.

"You're going to be mad at me, sweetheart. But I love you and I promise you'll understand one day why I have to do it." I whisper, barely audible as I don't want to wake up the two women that I feel entirely obligated to.

I love Brinna, and Brinna loves Grace. I understand Lou's issue, but I wouldn't phrase it like that. I see no problem in caring for the both of them. Grace doesn't need it financially by any means, but she won't be left out when it comes to protection or a coffee in the morning. She's important to Brin, so she's important to me.

I sigh and make sure they're both covered before heading upstairs to shower.

She'll understand.

And if she doesn't, I'll already be gone.

Chapter 30: Walking Secret

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

The whirring of an all-too-expensive coffee machine rings in my ears, pulling me from the unconscious state of my dream to the reality of my new life. It's a good thing too, because it was starting to sound like an alarm clock that you can't figure out how to shut off when you don't know if you're awake or still sleeping.

My eyes flutter open to the balcony window, early morning light seeping in rays of orange from the sunrise. I look around, the coffee table has been picked up and blankets are draped over Grace and me. More clatter and quiet profanity catches my attention behind me, my body slowly rising to see what the fuss is about.

Harry is rushing around the kitchen in asuit,making coffee and trying to gather.. something? He jumps around from cabinet to cabinet, searching every inch with no luck.

"f*ck!" He whisper-shouts as he lifts the fresh cup of coffee too quickly, a hot brown mark trickling down the front of his white button-up.

I stand fully from the couch, quietly padding over to the flustered Harry. "Hey.." I hush, grabbing a nearby cloth to wipe up the spilled coffee on the counter. He's got a briefcase next to a travel mug, and it looks like what he was searching for was the lid.

"Hi, sweetheart. I'm sorry for waking you," He stresses, trying to rub out the stains. I steady his hands and look over his face. I've seen him nervous plenty of times, but only over me. This must be bad for him to be in such a rush.

"Go change," I nod to the stairs. "I've got this."

I'm assumingthisis just coffee but he looks like he's about to break down, so I throw a few pieces of bread into the toaster after he bounces up the stairs. He rushes into the bedroom, his shirt being unbuttoned and half off by the time he's at the top of the stairs. His muscles are perfectly spotlighted by the sun seeping in and if I don't focus, I won't be of much help to him.

I shake my head and rub away the sleepiness, looking around before picking the cabinet that would make the most sense for something like a travel mug to be in.

And what do you know? The lid is prominently displayed with a few more of its kind.

Man vision, right?

The toast pops as I screw on the top, closing the drinking tab so the coffee stays nice and hot for him. I butter the two pieces and wrap them in a napkin, placing both food items next to his case.

A brown leather briefcase that'slockedwith a numeric code.

Odd, butalsosix AM and no brain power to fully investigate.

He rushes back down the stairs, buttoning his blazer as he makes a beeline for me. "I'm so sorry," He kisses me with my cheeks cupped in his hands. "I have a meeting with my lawyer, I- I'm already late." He kisses me again, shorter, and grabs up his belongings. "Thank you, Brinna. I love you. Go get breakfast with Grace sweetheart!"

And with that, he's out the door and I'm thoroughly confused.

The door closing unintentionally hard jolts Grace awake, the ball of drool and matted hair shooting up from the couch with a snore. She takes a few seconds to look around. We finished two bottles of wine, she probably doesn't remember falling asleep here yet.

"You hungry?" I ask, a little out of it still.

She blows a raspberry and throws herself back onto the couch. "I wouldliterallysuck you off for some pancakes right now," She mumbles.

__

"How does your head feel?" She asks, pouring blueberry syrup onto her entire plate.

"Fine, I think." I nod. I mean hangover-wise, I'm surprisingly well. But as for Harry running out of the house before the sun came all the way up, there's a million possibilities racking my brain and none of them are good. Why would he not tell me about needing to see his lawyer? Why does he even have one?

He could be in a lot of trouble and I'd have no idea. I mean, if I didn't wake up or he left on time, I wouldn't have even known he was going there. He was comfortable enough to tell me where he was going, but not why. Maybe he was just in too much of a rush, but that doesn't change the fact that he didn't tell me before.

"Gracie your dad has a lawyer, right?" I tear off a piece of toast, dipping it in my runny egg.

She furrows her brows, swallowing her mouth full of pancakes. "Yeah, why? Did you rob a bank?"

I shake my head with a small laugh, "No.."

But maybe Harry did?Did he get arrested or something?

"What does he use it for?"

She thinks for a second. "Well.. everything, really. Like if someone finds a needle or something in their suite, or if they get injured in the hotel. His lawyer got him out of that one fraud charge with just house arrest," She nods.

Maybe someone just got hurt or something at Treasure Chest. That's reasonable, I'm sure he deals with things like this a lot.

"Oh!" She widens her eyes. "He got his attorney to write up some horrible contract for this girl he was seeing," She laughs. "The poor thing had to move away and change her name! I think I've got a sibling or something." She shakes her head, stuffing her face with more sugary confections.

"Hmm.." I nod, trying to hide my reaction at the realization that that sounds a whole lot like the receptionist I wantedtransferred.

Surely he wouldn't have..

He said he was having a meeting with her boss. He left the option up to me.. why would he have called me if he was planning to do something that extreme? Don't be illogical, Brin.

"What uh.. what did the contract say?"

"A lot of really sh*tty things, like he would sue her down to the polish on her fingers if she ever let out that he had an affair. She isn't allowed in any of his hotels, or even on the perimeter. He paid her like, acrazyamount to change her name, too. Bought her a house in her new name and everything. It was a crappy little shack, but yanno. Money can do crazy things."

"That's f*cked up," I nod with her.

"What happens in Vegas, right?" She laughs. "well,shedoesn't stay in Vegas. He probably got her banned from the entire city."

We continue to eat in silence. It's more like Grace eats, and I try not to throw up from the nerves swirling in my stomach. He wouldn't be that horrible to do something like that, right? Iknowhim, he's so sweet to me. He wouldn't be able to hurt a fly, much less force someone to change their entire lives with the threat of being ruined completely.

I clear my throat and wipe my mouth. "Do you remember the name of that girl who worked at the reception desk?"

"The one that kissed your boyfriend?" She scoffs. "Of course I do, how could I forget? It was umm.. Margo? Megan? Micah?"

Maggie.

"I forgot to tell you!" She says excitedly. "Jillian hasn't been in the office all week long."

"Really?" I glance at her. "sh*t, did I take it too far?"

"Absolutely not, you could have done twenty percent more and still not scratched the surface of how horrible Jillian is." She shakes her head. "She's on vacation,with Charlie."

"Did she say that she was leaving?" I feel myself break out in a heat, even under the shaded umbrella.

"Nope, just didn't show up the next day, and then again and again. Left a note on her desk that she would be gone for a while. It was super vague."

"That's.. that's great." I smile nervously.

The metal patio chair scrapes across the concrete as I push up from the table.

Grace's eyes widen mid-bite, "You good, babe?"

"I uh, I just need to.. bathroom. I need to use the bathroom." I furrow my brows and walk inside the building. I work my way through tables of snobby women sipping mimosas before I find the lobby of the restaurant. Standing in the corner away from everyone, my thumbs work furiously to find the phone number I need.

The line rings for only seconds before someone answers.

"Treasure Island, front desk how may I help you?"

f*ck, I should have thought this through.

"H-hi, I've been trying to call my sister all day but she isn't answering. Is Maggie in today?" I pinch the bridge of my nose.

"Maggie isn't here, sorry."

"Shoot! Silly me. I remember, she said she was getting transferred. Do you happen to know which branch she moved to?"

"Uh.." She begins typing on a keyboard. "I have no record of her moving.. in fact, she hasn't shown up to work in over a week now.. no phone calls or anything. You said you're her sister?"

"Something like that," I cringe, hanging up the phone before our conversation gets any more suspicious.

"f*ck." I whisper, looking around like someone will have answers to my millions of jumbled thoughts. "f*ck, f*ck, f*ck.."

"Brinna?" Grace moves through the small crowd of people waiting to be seated. "There you are, I was getting worried you passed out on the toilet like Elvis or something."

"Hey," I breathe, shoving my phone into my back pocket.

She's holding our packed-up food and rubbing her stomach, oblivious to my frantic state which I'm very thankful for. "You ready to go?"

"Yeah," I mumble, wiping my palms on my pant legs.

He wouldn't. He wouldn't get rid of people over me. That's just a coincidence, two people gone out of thin air. He had nothing to do with it.

__

Grace and I drove back to the penthouse, me in silence and her reciting every single annoying thing Tillie had done at work since I'd been gone. I was too anxious to answer her, my eggs benedict threatening to answer for me if I opened my mouth for more than a passiveoh wow.

She left an hour ago, and I've been sitting quietly on the couch for the majority of the time. I tried to do normal things, but I'm a little freaked out by the thoughts running around. I tried to change my clothes, but stepping foot into the bedroom felt wrong. Grace would have told me to snoop if I filled her in, but if he really is capable of doing something like that, I don't want to find things I shouldn't or get her involved.

So instead, my eyes have stayed trained on the gray brick chimney. I can't tell if the thing has been filled in or if it never was a fireplace; it would be silly to have one here. Time seems to pass slowly in the unmoving apartment but quickly stories below.

So many people, blissfully unaware of what could be lurking on the streets.I'munaware, too. How many of them will return home? Are the two people in my life who have fallen off the radar that much of a coincidence, or is it common to go missing after a night in Vegas?

The thought is going to make me sick.

I jump up from the couch and snatch a small remote from the coffee table, pointing it to the balcony and watching as all of the black-out shades draw closed, leaving me in complete darkness.

My pacing becomes unbearable, the pitch-black quiet being a void of unanswered accusations rather than something of comfort.

The door handle jiggles from keys being shoved into the lock. Moments like these really show me my true nature: a f*cking possum playing dead at the slightest inconvenience. My fight or flight response is freeze, and right now I'm as solid as an ice rink.

The door creaks open, only a small amount of the front portion of our home being illuminated by the light in the hallway. A tall silhouette stands in the doorway and although I know it's Harry, the creepiness isn't helping my nerves.

"Brin?" He calls, closing the door and blindly tossing his keys to the entry table. His heavy boots take a few steps into the kitchen, nearest the light switch.

sh*t.

Do I pose? Should I tell him I'm here before he sees me? I've never been in this situation. Would it be weird to turn around and look out of the window?

In a f*cking panic, I do.

The light turns on.

Showing me the closed blinds. The entire reason it's so dark in the first place.

"Brinna? What are you doing?"

I would be eaten in the wild. I have no survival skills.

I turn slowly, my eyes screwed tightly shut.

"Baby? Are you okay?" His heavy boots thunk across the floor toward me. It occurs to me that although I'm seeing darkness, he's seeing me in the bright light, which makes me feel even more stupid than before.

With that, my eyes open one at a time. "I'm- I'm good," I smile, more like a cringe.

"What are you doing in the dark?" He comes closer, placing one hand on my cheek and the other on my forehead. I must look as sick as I feel. "You're warm, love. Do you feel okay?"

Why does he have to be so calm? Surely he's not the same man that potentially made two women go missing. Those loving hands can't be responsible for something like that.

"Just a headache," I lie. "The wild party must be catching up with me."

"Why don't you go lay down on the sofa and I'll make you a cup of tea, yeah?" He kisses my forehead gently, ushering me to the couch. "I'm going to turn a lamp on for just a bit of light, but if it's too much, tell me."

The place switches from sternly bright to soft and dim. I sit in the same spot I had previously occupied. He hums and puts together two cups, swirling in milk and sugar for only mine.

"Harry?" I ask, voice quiet but far too loud in my head.

"Yes, pretty girl?" He carries the cups around the couch, handing me mine as he sits opposite from me.

He brings the cup up to his lips with a small smile but I know I must look like I've seen a ghost.

"What were you doing with your attorney?"

His smile drops, the hot liquid being audibly swallowed. "I just had to sort out some paperwork is all. He was supposed to leave for vacation today but I managed to get him before he left." He says calmly with a straight face.

I nod and stare into the steaming cup, my reflection waving around the liquid being a taunting reminder of my naivety. "What kind of paperwork?" I don't look up at him.

He shifts slightly, the cup lowering to rest on his leg. "What's this about?"

"I-I'm sorry," I sputter, feeling as though I've been caught in the cookie jar. "I was just curious, you seemed to be in a rush and I didn't even know you had a lawyer-"

"I was updating my will."

Oh f*ck.

My eyes snap to his; they're filled with a hazy sadness. "He isn't going to be back for a couple of weeks, I needed to get it finalized before he left."

I'm sorryis all I can manage to peep out.

"Come here," he sets his cup down and pats his lap gently, but the look in his eyes is screamingI own you.

I stand shyly under his stare but with little hesitation to obey him. It's like he's drawing me into him, the siren he is. I move around the coffee table, his intense gaze meeting mine. Frozen once again between his opened legs, his eyes flicker in amusem*nt.

He sits up slightly and his hands pull me to him by the back of my thighs until I'm straddling his lap. "You're worried, hmm pretty thing?" He coos, getting himself comfortable with me on top of him, my hands resting on his warm chest.

I think he just swirled my brains up, what is English when he speaks like that?

His hands slide up my back, pulling me down until our bodies are flush and my head is on his shoulder. I nod in response to his question, being moments behind due to all of my blood flowing elsewhere.

"You know I'll always take care of you, right?" Those magic hands of his move slowly, caressing every inch of my body so tenderly. "Everything I do is to make sure you're happy. You mean everything to me. MyTreasure,"He hums lowly, thoroughly f*cking the last brain cell I have.

"Your treasure.." I mumble into the crook of his neck, his warm scent invading every inch of my lungs.

"You don't need to worry about anything," His poison dart frog touches linger for moments longer, the heat of his palms making me shiver. "If it'll make you feel better to know what's happening, I'll tell you okay? I love you, Brin."

"Okay," I agree. "I love you."

"Good," his palms press harder into me, keeping me to him. "Because if you didn't, I'd have to buy back your affection with every single penny to my name. I'd sell all ten of my houses."

I shoot up, eyes wide in surprise. "Ten?!" I balk. "Why do you need ten houses?"

"I'm kidding," he laughs. "I hope you like this one because it's all I've got, love."

"I mean, it has a nice view or whatever." I joke with a playful eye roll.

We share a tender kiss and for a moment, my worries wash away. Until I remember that he doesn't have to tell me the truth and could very well be lying. There are still two women who have made me upset, who then coincidentally went missing.

"You're tense, Brinna." He murmurs, our lips less than an inch apart. "What're you thinking about?"

"N-nothing," I shudder, cowering back down into his chest so I don't have to face him.

He hums, a knowing sound of disapproval at my hesitance.

How am I supposed to say'nothing, besides the fact that I've been thinking too hard about things that don't concern me, and now you feel like a walking secret'?

He shifts himself and I take it as my cue to move off of him. He doesn't stop me. I watch as he walks back around the couch, to the kitchen. He stays silent and doesn't look up even though my eyes are burning into him.

How did he manage to leave so early yesterday and get back after I fell asleep? What could he have possibly done to fill so many hours? Surely he has plenty of people to do tasks around Treasure Chest for him. I always thought the big bosses of places like that collected money at the end of the night without the nitty-gritty sh*t.

His hands rest on the counter as he faces me, head dropped between his shoulders. A deep sigh leaves his lips. "You're overthinking it."

"What?" I mumble, caught off guard by his ability to read my mind, apparently.

"Go ahead, ask me anything. I canfeelyou working yourself up. What do you want to know?" He finally looks at me, his eyes dark and glassed over.Scaryalmost.

"I'm not thinking about any--" I try to avoid the conversation, but he's quick to cut me off.

"Brinna, I know you."

My eyes widen, like he's reading my problems directly from a teleprompter connected to my head.

"Go on. Ask me."

"Why did it take you so long to finish work?" I caution, trying to not sound like I'm accusing him of anything.

"We have a monthly inventory and I have to oversee the entire thing. Our numbers didn't match up. A dancer stole from us, I had to review footage and rework the system's counts." He says without an ounce of hesitation.

I nod, unable to find any holes in his answer. His eyes are now burning into me, and I feel like the words are being pulled out from his intensity. "Why were you so out of breath when you called me?"

Another sigh leaves his lips. But this one is full of ache instead of annoyance. "It's the stairs. I had been going up and down them and they've been making me tired lately. I couldn't finish them because I was so out of breath.. so I called you to hear your voice." He says almost like he's ashamed to admit it.

I'm officially the world's biggest asshole. I suck, I'm a sh*tty girlfriend. I've sat around thinking he had a hand in basically abducting and hiding actual people when he's been trying to hide his sickness from me again. I'm selfish, so f*cking selfish.

I walk quickly to the counter, wedging myself between him and the cold granite top he's leaned against. "Harry.." My hands slide up his chest to his neck. "You have to tell me when you're getting bad.. I'm here to take care of you. I can take care of you if you tell me how."

He shakes his head, long hair draping around his face. "I don't want to be your burden, Brin. You've had to take care of everyone else already. It's not fair to you." My heart breaks even more at his confession, if at all possible.

"I didn't have a choice with them. I'm here because I want to be." My hands move to the counter behind me as I jump up to sit, being almost eye level with him now. I move his hair out of his face and cup his cheeks. "I'm here because I love you. All of you, always. You don't have to do this alone."

He leans forward and wraps his arms around my waist. His heated breath fans into the crook of my neck as he leans his weight on me like he really needs to be held instead of doing the holding. I don't mind it, this is what I want for him. To give him comfort like he gives me.

"What if I help out at the club? I know all about systems and numbers already." I suggest. It's been odd not working, and I'm unsure how to feel about it. I don't know what to do with my time and I hate to feel so unuseful if he's breaking down from doing his work.

"My pretty, pretty Treasure," He coos, meeting our foreheads with closed eyes. "I'll climb those stupid stairs a thousand times before you lift a finger."

"But I don't have anything else to do," I almost plead. "Let me take some stress away for you."

"Take care of me here, and I'll keep taking care of you by being there, okay?" He mumbles, planting lazy kisses all over my face. "I'm sure you have a million more movies to show me, huh baby? Come snuggle with me. Make me feel better. Be my blanket."

So we do just that, the two of us close the blinds once more, shutting us out from the harsh reality outside of our home and become a puddle of soft blankets and cheesy movies for the rest of the day, well into the night. He laid on top of me almost the entire time and nearly purred like a kitten when I played with his hair. His arms stayed wrapped around me and his face stayed buried in my chest.Because he's so tall,he said, but I know he just wanted to play withboobies.

He made sure to keep my legs wrapped around him as if I could have left even if I wanted to, but I think he just needed to feel me closer. I don't know how to fix him, or if there's even a chance, but I'll be by his side througheverything.

That's the only thing I'm sure of right now; I won't leave him.

Chapter 31: Diamonds, Pink Limo

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

Harry woke up in averygood mood today. It must have been from getting a good amount of sleep, as the last few days have been quite hectic for him. It's Saturday, which technically means he'd be front and center on the sofa at Chest, but he's decided to take the weekend off after our talk.

The two of us mumbled our thoughts and hesitantly, our insecurities over the course of a few long movies. It felt good to get off my chest, and I'm happy that he's comfortable enough to be so open and honest about his struggles with his sickness. I knew what I was getting into when I agreed to stay with him, but I didn't realize he would have such a hard time showing me that part of him.

I think it makes him feel weak.

He's used to being the boss, making big decisions for his club and casino and it makes him feel like he's on the bottom of the pole again when his body is too tired to keep up with everyone else. It makes my heart ache for him, but I promised him I'd do anything to help.

I guess we have another thing in common: an undeniable need to be in control coupled with the inability to rely on anyone else or accept help for things that matter. It's a learning curve for sure, but we'll get there. I know we will.

"What about this one?" He asks, stepping out of his closet in black skinny jeans and a red and black flannel, buttoned only halfway with the sleeves rolled up.

I'm lying on my stomach, a pillow under my chest. I'm in only a towel and wet hair, as he asked for my opinion right as I was going to get dressed.

"I think you're going to overheat the second you step outside," I grimace, secretly loving watching him peel shirt after shirt off of his toned body. There's a pile in the middle of the floor now, full of Gucci and Versace tops, as well as tattered band tees that I'm probably,definitely,going to steal from him.

He whips it off with no hesitation as if my opinion is the only one that matters, and the next shirt gets audibly pulled off it's hangar. I stretch out, my hands falling off the edge of the bed as I wait.

This bed issocomfy. It's a billion times better than my bed at my apartment. I swear I could fall asleep any time I lay down even I just woke up.

"Brin,thisis the one. Right?" He says, snapping me out of my cloud. My head shoots up from the pillow, eyes focusing on his smiling face.

His arms are out wide as he does a little spin, showing me his black shirt with pink flamingos. I think his entire closet is black, but he looks damn good in it. It's buttoned the same way his shirts always are, his entire chest being left open with his cross necklace dangling. My eyes widen and nearly f*cking gloss over when he smiles wider. His incisors are sharp on his lip, dimples deep on either cheek.

I push up to my knees on the edge of the bed, towel wrapped loosely under my arms. "Come here," I gawk at his already statuesque figure. He steps forward and leans down to kiss me but I have to keep it at a peck before Imaulhim.

My fingers tangle in his freshly washed and creamed hair, curls springing when I twirl them around my finger. His cold pendent dangles between us.

"I take it you like the shirt?" He whispers, his minty toothpaste invading my senses.

I think I'm going feral.

I nod only slightly, biting my lip and moving to one of his muscular arms to roll up his sleeve until it's hugging his bicep. I do the same to the other and give him one longer kiss. "There. Perfect." I sit back on my ankles, looking over him.

He blushes under my intense gaze. "Your turn Bandit. We've got a night on the town ahead of us," He winks, his pointer finger grazing over the top of my towel.

He knows what he's f*cking doing.

"Harry I'm about two seconds away from jumping your bones," I state.

He laughs and backs away to the closet, rummaging through drawers before turning back with a lace thong and matching bra. I raise a brow at him, to which he keeps a cheeky smile on as he gestures for me to move around so my legs are dangling off the bed.

I clutch the towel around my chest, giggling as he lifts one of my feet into the air. He chucks the bra to the side of me and puts the underwear over my foot, kissing up my ankle and calf dramatically as he slides my other foot in. I lift my hips to help him pull them up.

He crawls on top of me and tugs my towel off, my nipples peaking at the exposure to the cold bedroom air. He kisses up my stomach and through the valley of my breasts, his hair tickling my soft skin. The heat from his hands burns into the flesh of my hips and my mind fogs over, eyes closing as a deep breath leaves my lips the closer to my nipple his mouth gets.

He pulls away suddenly, his body heat leaving my skin with goosebumps. "Dressed, Bandit." He says casually, leaving me a mess on top of our sheets as he walks out of the door with a smirk.

Asshole.

I huff and sit up, scrambling to throw on my bra. What do I even wear?! He said nothing besides we're going out and no outfit is going to match his chiseled features. He could make a f*cking barrel look couture.

Grumbling from the ache between my legs, I shuffle through clothes hung up on racks and settle for a long black bodycon dress and sandals, casual enough that it doesn't seem like I'm pulling anything, but the way my ass looks in this dress says otherwise. He wants to play games, we can both play.

My white pedicure shines brightly as I walk out of the bedroom, now with light waves in my hair and sunglasses pushing back some of my hair. My boobs are sitting perfectly and I'm mentally applauding myself for keeping this in my wardrobe even though I've worn it maybe twice before.

I walk down the stairs casually, noticing the way he stares at me as he leans his hip on the counter but I don't pay him any attention. I walk straight past him with a smirk on my lips, grabbing my small purse and necessities from the entry table.

He's quick to follow me like an animal stalking its prey. My small frame gets trapped between the table and his larger one, his heat prickling my skin once more. His hands hold tightly to my hips as his nose nudges the side of my face, exposing more of my neck to him.

"You're wearing the perfume I bought you," He rasps. "Such a sweet girl."

I found it sitting in a shiny bottle on the vanity I asked him tonotbuy, and when I looked up the name of it I nearly had a heart attack. He was very adamant about testing all of the smell-good things when he came along with me to replace my mascara to the point he looked like he had just gotten a makeover on both of his arms and he smelled like a walking headache.

But nevertheless, he must have gone back for the perfume that smells like the one I already use, with a little more vanilla. And about three more zeros on the end of the price tag. He's crazy, actually.

The bottle isbeautiful, how could I not use it?

I have to admit.. it makes me feel fancy. Expensive. Like a faker, honestly. But then as I sat in front of the brightly lit vanity mirror, something occurred to me that I've said for a long time: you can be anything you want in Vegas, and today, I'm going to be Harry'sluxurious wife. He's taunting me, but I know what gets him going and he will be a puddle in my hand by the end of the day.

"Mhmm," I hum, taking my glasses out of my hair and putting them over my eyes to hide the hesitance in my newfound character. Tucking my hair behind my ear, I peek at the small silver hoops with an exaggerated frown. "Too bad the only diamonds I own are sitting in my jewelry box."

This might backfire, he might actually go buy an entire diamond mine just from me saying that. I can almost hear the blood rushing to his dick, I don't know why it turns him on so badly, but I know it does and that's enough for me to conceal my shyness for the sake of getting him back.

I slink out from his hold, walking to the door before opening it and turning slightly to face him. "Are you coming?" I ask with a smile painted across my glossed lips. His eyes are nearly popping out of his head from being so wide and his mouth must have gone dry, because he has nothing to say now.

He clears his throat and his face goes stone with admiration. "Of course I am, Treasure." He smirks, locking the door behind us.

He had a sh*t eating grin on the entire way down to the lobby, the two of us looking like rightful assholes with our sunglasses on inside the hotel.

His hand stayed looped around my hip, both protectively and teasingly. He let his fingers graze over my butt and when I walked out of the elevator, he squeezed it hard enough to make me jump, which of course made him smile even harder.

And then we get outside.

This motherf*cker one upped me.

Waiting for the two of us is af*cking Hummer limo with red under glow lights.

The driver, an older gentleman by the name of Jeeves, opens the back door with white satin gloves. He says nothing, even to Harry, which makes me wonder if it's his or just a rental for the night.

I duck into the dark vehicle, a small pathway on the floor glowing red illuminating the space only slightly. The right wall is a glass bar complete with champagne on ice and crystal flutes, while the left side is pleated leather seating that curves into an L behind the drivers seat. A small window divides the driver and the cabin for privacy. There's a sunroof, too.

I've never been in one, but I've always wondered how they look so spacious on TV shows. I guess for two people, there's plenty of room foractivities.

I make my way to the front, sitting in the corner seat. Harry comes in after me and Jeeves shuts the door, leaving the two of us alone in the cynically lit car. His face glows red, shadows perfectly casted to look intimidating. I almost sink back into my seat but I remember my mission. His expression tells me he's caught his prey, and that he knows what I'm doing already. He likes it.

He sits next to me, legs spread and hands clasped on his lap. The vehicle starts moving, to where I haven't a clue. His deep gaze stays fixed on me. "Not up to your standard, love?" He asks, voice thick and deep.

"Is it yours?" I quip.

"It could be," He smiles.

I pretend to be bored with his answer, kicking my smooth leg up to rest on his. "I want mine in pink," I say, finally taking off my sunglasses to look him in the eye. Honestly, I couldn't see a f*cking thing in here.

He lets out a deep breath, his amusem*nt growing as the air leaves him. His rough palm slides up and down my leg. "And what else, my Treasure? Diamonds, pink limo.. what else does my pretty thing need?" He grabs my thigh, squeezing my leg as he inches it impossibly close to my panties.

I have to stop myself from rocking my hips into his touch. What the f*ck is wrong with my ovaries today?

I know he's only egging me on for my own sake, I'm a sh*t actor and we both know I'm not going to ask him for shiny f*cking rocks and cars. But he's enjoying it more than he's letting on, and the bulge in his pants is proof of that.

"Champagne, please." I smile and pull my leg off of his, crossing it over my other one. Iwillbe winning tonight.

With no hesitation, two flutes of golden bubbles are poured and sipped, lights and crowds passing out of the windows of our limousine. I still haven't a clue where we're going, but I'm up for anything at this point.

"Jeeves," Harry taps on the window behind his head. The window rolls slowly, our driver turning his head to listen. "The Boulevard," Harry orders, his eyes on me the entire time he speaks. A short nod is exchanged, and the window goes back up.

He sips his drink slowly and I'm starting to feel like I really am his prey.

"You're playing a dangerous game with me, Brinna." He smiles.

Igulp.

Where has my strength gone?

The car stops and Jeeves is quick to jump out and open the door, Harry stepping out first so he can grab my hand as I come out next. I send the driver a small thank you, not sure if he'll be here when we get back from.. whatever we're doing.

A strong arm is snaked around my waist as we walk into a grand hotel, my eyes unable to focus on just one thing. The entire ceiling is painted in murals and there's stone statues everywhere. I'm quickly guided to an entry way, which seems like it's a shopping avenue inside the hotel. It looks like a posh street, even the ceiling is painted like a sky.

I don't even notice when he pulls me to a store, another suited guard like man opening the door and talking into an ear piece.

Cartier.

"Harry?" I whisper, feeling my imposter syndrome coming on strong as we walk through cases of gold and silver jewelry.

"Pick anything you want." His arm leaves me, my last shield before having to face the intimidation of being in a place like this.

"Absolutely not," I scoff quietly.

He tisks me, eyeing pairs of earrings with his hands behind his back. "Don't be shy now. My pretty girl wanted diamonds. Now go on, tell me which ones." He pats my butt, ushering me forward to cases of shining gems.

He leaves me to wander around while he talks with the sales associate behind a few sets of glass counters. He's not flirting by any means, but he's oddly comfortable with people here.

I know him and he's not leaving until there's something shiny on my ears. My strategy would usually be to pick the least expensive ones, but this place is so expensive that nothing has a price tag so I'm left guessing and I hate it.

"Any questions miss?"

"How much is this set?" I whisper.

"Seven thousand"

"Good lord," I mumble.

"Having fun yet?" Harry walks over with his hands behind his back. "I know I am. Let me see your right hand," he wiggles his fingers.

I hesitate but give it to him, to which he pulls out a ring sizer from behind him and stars to measure my middle finger. "What're you doing?" I try to pull my hand away but he keeps it in place until he gets the right ring size.

"Shiny ring for my shiny Treasure," he shrugs and walks away, completely unphased.

I walk around the store wide-eyed for a few more minutes before he comes to find me again, this time with a small red box. He stands silently with a knowing grin on his lips as I pretend to know anything about the jewelry in front of me.

"Have you picked yet?" He steps closer so we're side by side.

I look up at him with furrowed brows. "Not happening."

"That mouth is going to get you in trouble, Brinna." He snaps his fingers in the air with a whistle, to which someone promptly comes to the case we're standing over. "Do you like the hoops or the studs better?" He asks, looking at the small ones I already have on.

I'd probably get kicked out of the store if these people knew they came off of a multipack of earrings from the mall.

I don't answer him as the clerk unlocks the case. Instead, I glare daggers at him. He onlysmiles.

"Both," He nods at the woman, a serious expression pinched in his brows. My mouth drops open as they're both quickly picked up and put into boxes. "Thank you, Felicity." He says, opening the box with the diamond studs and gesturing it toward me. She scurries away to the next customer, leaving the two of us alone.

"Harry I--" My eyes are wide and I feel hot.

"Ah, ah." He shakes his head. "Put them on, unless you're going to make me do it."

For some reason, I do as I'm told. Turning to the small mirror on the countertop, I take my silver hoops out and watch his face as I put each large diamond in my ear, securing them like a symbol of the hold this bewitching man has on me.

Why do I like this so much?

His front is to my back, large palms on my shoulders as he rubs them soothingly. "Good girl," He coos, tucking my hair behind my ear so the bright lights cast perfectly on the stone until it's sparkling. "I bet.." He kisses my neck. "That if I bent you over right now, Brinna, you'd be a mess all over me."

I furrow my brows at him through the mirror. "As if you're not getting off on this.." I breathe, holding my composure the best I can.

He takes the small red ring box out of his pocket and turns me to face him. "I know what I am, pretty girl. But you," He opens the box so I can't see it. "You think you like the control." He slips a diamondf*ckingring on my right hand's middle finger. "But really, you like to be abrat."He smiles deviously and a second pulse picks up between my legs.

"All talk earlier, but you're not so bold now, huh?" He grabs my jaw with one hand, thumb pulling down my bottom lip. "I can play this game all night. Keep going," He leans into my face. "Please."It comes out as more of a taunt than an ask, but it was probably a little of both.

My hand comes up between the two of us, my palm flat on his chest as I look at the silver band with six small diamonds embedded into the metal. "It's beautiful," I whisper, entranced by the sparkle. He smiles and leans down to kiss me.

"Come on, I wanted to show you something else." He mumbles against me, scooping up the red boxes before putting them in his pocket.

We walk quickly out of the building, our fingers intertwined as I stay close to his side. We decided to walk, as he said it's not too far and it's a nice night. The cool metal on my finger feels foreign between our hold and I can't help but almost purr at the thought of his ring on my finger.

Someone needs to lock me up before I take him in front of this entire square.

We head toward a crowd of people gathered around a large fountain, hushed murmuring growing louder as we walk through the crowd.Luck Be A Ladyby Frank Sinatra starts playing, my eyes glimmering at the fountains bursting into the air and changing color with every hit of the music.

We managed to squeeze our way to the wall of the body of water just as the music picks up, Harry wrapping his arms around my waist, swaying us slightly and whispering lyrics in my ear. I gasp as the water shoots up stories into the air, splashing back down and coating us in a thin layer of cold. I giggle, Harry's warm lips smiling against my neck as he uses me as a shield from the spray.

"Never get out of my sight.."He spins me sweetly, holding me to his chest as we slow dance."Stick with me, baby.."

My heart flutters from his soft touches and honey-thick voice. The last time we danced, our world together changed andshattered.This feels like the pieces are being mended, sewn together to the bone.

My ringed hand slides up his chest. His eyes close, the music fading out around us. "You're the closest to heaven that I'll ever be, Brin." He murmurs. "My angel girl, how do I show you how much you mean to me?"

He sounds like he's only thinking out loud, like his diary of thoughts just so happens to be whispered in my ear. I can't take it anymore.

"Let me show you," I pull his shirt so he's leaning closer to me until my lips are on his neck. "Let me make you feel good." He groans and nods against me, pulling me away from the fountain as the final note hits, exploding water into the air like the feelings bubbling up deep in my core and radiating through our connected hands.

We're basically speed-walking through people, giggling together as I try to slow him down before he tires himself out. Jeeves scrambles out of the car as we approach, Harry beating him to it before basically throwing me in the back seat.

"Where to, Mr. Styles?" He questions urgently.

"Around!" Harry yells with a laugh, slamming the door closed and crawling after me like a prize to catch. He pins me to the corner seat at the front of the car. His lips are on mine, the two of us already panting. He's kneeling in front of me, hands roaming up my legs while he pushes my dress up.

"You've been trying to get my attention all day, huh?" He coos, one hand wrapping around my throat while the other traces my slit over my lace panties. "I was right. You're making a mess, baby."

I whimper, rocking my hips desperately on his hand. My entire body is begging me not to, but I quickly pull away before letting him go farther. "No.." I pant, pushing him away so I can force him into the seat.

I climb on top of him and settle his hands on my thighs, pushing his hair back so I can attack his neck. "My turn to do something for you," I mumble between a trail of wet kisses.

"Such a demanding little thing you are," he groans. "Do you know what you've done to me, prancing around in that tight dress with my ring on your finger?" He pushes his hips up until our cores meet.

"Be good," I snide.

Is it a smart idea to taunt the beast that keeps looking at me like I'm a meal? Probably not, but his dominance is doing something to me and I can't help the words coming from my lips any more. Ineedto see how far he'll go.

His hand shoots up to my jaw, holding me firmly so I'm looking into his dark eyes. "That f*ckingmouth,Brinna. That mouth is going to get put to use if you keep it up."

"I don't think you'd last long enough to use it," I smile, his hold tightening.

"On your knees." He orders, releasing me and moving to his belt buckle. He undoes his pants, pushing them down his hips but leaves his boxers on. I'm knelt between his open legs, watching his fiery eyes.

Biting my lip, my fingers move to his boxers, tugging them down until he lifts his hips. I've seen him plenty of times, but being face to face with him isverydifferent. My mouth goes dry at the size of his length springing out of its confinements.

"Nothing to say anymore?" He sits back in the leather seat, arms stretched across the back of it.

I wet my lips the best I can, deciding to take him in my hand first before attempting to use my mouth. He sighs at I wrap my fingers around his length and pump slowly.

"So pretty wrapped around my co*ck." The new piece of jewelry glitters under the colored lights.

Before I could overthink it, I lean forward and wrap my lips around him, swirling my tongue around his swollen tip. A strangled grunt leaves his lips, his fingers digging into the leather seat.

"f*ck, Brin. Just like that." His hand moves to my hair, pushing it out of my face as I look into his eyes through my lashes. My hand strokes him as I suction my lips, taking him as deep as I can into my mouth.

His head rolls back as I bob faster, taking breaks from sucking to swirl around his slit. Precum coats my tongue as I open my mouth and stroke him, tongue flat on the base of his co*ck.

He becomes fidgety, rocking his hips as I take him deeper, gagging until my eyes water. I can tell he's holding back like he doesn't want to hurt me so I move my hand away from him and take him deeper again, my eyes screwing shut.

"Easy, baby," He pants, a fistful of my hair securely wrapped in his hand. "Gonna make me cum doing that."

I smile with him in my mouth before my hand takes over. "I told you that you wouldn't last."

Bad move.

Fury flashes in his eyes as he pulls my hair so my mouth is on him again, his hips bucking as I take him the best I can. A moan leaves my lips as I feel him twitch in my mouth, his legs starting to become restless when I focus on his tip.

"Jesus,"He moans as I swallow around his tip.

The window above him starts rolling down, making me flinch away slightly but he keeps my lips on him. "You called, Sir?" Jeeves asks calmly, unaware of the activities going on in the back of his car.

Harry's fist lands on the window with a grunt, "Not f*cking now,Jeeves." The window promptly rolls back up.

Both of his hands come to my head, holding me in place as a groan leaves his lips. He hits the back of my throat as I try my hardest to contain my throat convulsing around him. He pulls back only slightly, spurts of cum coating my tongue as he holds the back of my neck. A tear slips from my cheek, his hips rocking as he rides out his org*sm.

"Swallow it," He seethes, pulling back when he becomes too sensitive. He leaves my mouth with a pop, watching intently as i swallow his cum. "Good girl," He groans. "Good f*cking girl." I'm lifted off the floor and to his lap.

The car comes to a stop, the hotel we live in being apparent out of the tinted windows. I lift my hips and help him tuck himself back in his pants, giggling as he seems like he's in a trance.

We hurry out of the car as the door is opened, the two of us making our way to the elevator, kissing the entire ride up. It's a good thing he has a private floor, I would feel so bad for the neighbors if they had to listen to us all the time.

He gets to the door first, unlocking it and opening it for me to step in first. I go straight to the light switch as he closes the door, locking it.

The lights turn on and my phone clatters out of my hand as I jump, metal clinking together from agun being racked and pointed straight at my head.

"Harry?"

***

Chapter 32: Senile Old Woman

Chapter Text

H A R R Y

"Harry.."

My head whips around at the sound of a gun co*cking, and when I see it's aimed directly at myshaking treasure,my animalistic urge to protect her goes crazy. Before I know it, she's shoved behind me, shielded by my body as my own gun is drawn and aimed at the guard standing next to f*ckingLillith.

The back of my shirt is balled into her small hands, her face buried in my back as I stand completely stone-cold. She's so tense that I can't even feel her breathing like she's actually holding it in.

I hate to feel you so scared. You don't understand, Brinna. I would take down this entire city for you. No one is going to touch a single hair on your beautiful head, and it's taking everything in me to control myself because if I make the first move, I might have to actually end Vegas.

"Put that goddamn gun down if you know what's good for you." Lillith huffs, clearly already pissed off.

This is my karma. I lied to Brin, and now the universe has put the truth in my face. I'd love to say well played, but I'm about to go crazy and murder a senile old woman if she steps any closer to my Treasure. God, if you're listening, I'd really like to not do that so maybe strike her down for me. Satan? Any one? Does anyone want to take their shot at her?

"Not until he does," I grip mine tighter, jaw clenching as me and the Russian motherf*cker keep our eyes on each other. "Aim it at her one more f*cking time and your brain is going to be on my window."

Lillith looks up at him from herwheelchair, smacking the guard with the cane she's holding. "What's the matter with you? Aiming a goddamn weapon at a woman!" He clears his throat and flicks his eyes between the two of us before lowering it back to his side.

That's right, you bald mother f*cker.

"Why are you in my house?" I lower mine, tucking it into the back of my pants. Brinna flinches as it passes between us, making my heart ache at the fact she has to see me like this with no warning. She didn't even know that was hidden in the entry table.

"Iownyou, boy. You don't get to question me." She stands, hobbling with the cane. "You know I don't like people snooping around in my business." Her eyes lower to my arm holding Brinna's hand behind my back. "This doe-eyed little thing is the reason my money has been f*cking low and you're going to take care of that problem or I will."

"She doesn't have anything to do with Chest." I seethe, my teeth almost breaking from the tension between them. "She wouldn't have ever known if you didn't show up here."

"Get out from behind him," She barks.

The last thing I want to do is let her see my shiny Treasure. But I know better than to push too many buttons.

My hand drops from hers as I turn slightly. She's shaking still, probably from having a f*cking weapon drawn on her in her own home. "You're okay, sweet girl," I whisper, pulling her arm to stand next to me instead of behind me. "They're not going to hurt you, I promise," I kiss her head as she stares between Lillith and the guard.

"Don't make promises you can't f*cking keep. Get off of her. What are you, a goddamn leashed dog? Pathetic, all you f*cking men are." Lillith grumbles a rant as she taps her cane on the floor. Brin takes small steps forward until she's in front of Lillith. The old bat hobbles around her, scanning over her body as if she's some kind of bomb.

"Bennett told me about this one," She stops in front of Brinna. "You're going to have a field day with him, eh?" She laughs with a cough, unfortunately not enough to choke and die on her phlegm.

Heat boils over my skin at the thought of Ben being the one to talk aboutmywoman. The woman he tried tohurt. I should have wrang his neck out the second he put his hands on her.

"You're a pretty little thing," Lillith leans into Brinna's face, her cane pushing up under Brin's chin to make her look up. "They would eat that innocent little face up." She looks at me with a disgusting smile. "She'd be a good runner, Harry."

"Don't f*cking touch her," I growl, stepping forward to push the cane away and pull her into my side again. "She's not doing anything for you." My chest rises as I take deep breaths, trying to contain my anger before I explode.

"What's your name, girl?" She ignores me completely.

I hold her closer to me. "You don't need to know her name."

"You're lucky I didn't shoot the both of you in the goddamn forehead the second I found out you've been away from that f*cking club for weeks, forthis.You're stupid enough to bring her around, and now you get to pay for it, with her." She turns slightly, looking at the bald bitch standing near the window. "Muzhchiny khorosho zaplatyat za yeye telo."(Russian: Men will pay well for her body.)

Her goon laughs in agreement.He's definitely going to be in my f*cking basem*nt.

"That's not f*cking happening," My jaw ticks impossibly tighter at her insinuation. "I'll take out every single person in this city before she ever works for you."

"I'd like to see you try," She scoffs. "You're going to get her up to speed. Cut her in. She works for you now." She states matter of factly, sitting back down in her chair. "That pretty face is going to do me good, seeing as how she's gotten you in the palm of her hand." Her eyes stare at the ring on her middle finger as the guard wheels her past us.

"I hope you're in love, girl. You're not going to like what you see from this one." The guard stops in the doorway, Lillith turning to look at us with a malicious smile. "Welcome to the family,Brinna."

The door slams shut but my ears ring from her words.

She already knows her name. She probably knows everything about her and was just testing my loyalties. She already knows how important Brinna is to me and she's going to use that against us.

I pace to the door, clicking all of the locks as I watch them leave through the peephole. My heart sinks further as I turn around to a trembling, wide-eyed Brinna who looks like for the umpteenth time, I have crushed a piece of her.

"f*ck," I groan, hastily walking back to her before engulfing her in my arms. "f*ck, Brinna I- I'm so sorry."

"Who was that?" She pulls back, "Where did you get a gun?!" The shock of it hits her in seconds, tears filling her eyes.

"I'm sorry," I murmur over and over, unable to give her any answers because none of them are any more unnerving than what just happened. I pull her to the couch, sitting back so she's straddling my lap with her face in the crook of my neck. "You're safe, I promise. They won't hurt you. I won't ever let them."

"Why do they even want to?! You need to tell me what that was," She sits up, still clinging to my shirt like her nerves have been completely shot.

"That's my boss. She wasn't supposed to find out about you, I'm so sorry I dragged you into this." My head drops, my heart racing at the thought that even if she wants to leave after this conversation, shecan't. Because of me.

"I thought you owned the club.. that doesn't make sense. Why would they have guns?!" She's close to having a panic attack, I can tell.

"Hey," I sit up more so our faces are aligned better. "I need you to breathe. Take a deep breath for me." I inhale deeply, waiting for her to follow. She does after a few seconds, shakily inhaling and exhaling with her eyes pinched closed. "Good girl, keep breathing. I'll tell you everything but I need you to calm down first. Not right now." I shake my head, wrapping my arms around her.

"N-no. You need to tell me now."

I sigh, rubbing circles into her back. I don't know who I'm trying to comfort with the gesture, but it's obviously not working for her. It's like my fingers mindlessly hunt down any opportunity to feel her on me.

I'm going to crush her spirit. She's going to find out the monster I am.

"I do own Treasure Chest. It's a real business, but it's only a coverup for what Lillith operates. I use it to cover our tracks."

"What do you do?" She asks hesitantly.

"We outsource exotic goods with duplicated funds and then distribute them to clients all around the U.S." I stare at her for a second. "And across borders," I say with a straight face, knowing she's about to tear me to shreds. She isscary.

"Harry."She pushes off of me, sitting on her own seat with her arms crossed. "Don't f*cking do that."

I sigh, rubbing my palms on my pants. "I don't want you to be scared of me Brinna."

"Do I need to be?" She furrows her brows.

I shake my head. "You're going to be. When I have toshow you. I felt how bad you were shaking on me already. That's not even a hair of the stuff I have to do, baby."

I couldn't look at you the entire time we had this conversation, Brin. I was afraid you'd see my mask come off. That you'd realize I'm not who you want me to be. That you'd realize it's too late to go back, and that I had trapped you into a world you don't belong in.

"You wouldn't ever hurt me." She whispers, her hand slowly sliding on the top of mine. "I'm not scared of you."

"Lillith.. her name is Lillith. She runs the Vegas cartel. There are different branches of it, like gun running, drug dealing, money laundering.. the basic stuff."

I have no idea how to casually explain the crimes I commit daily to the woman in front of me. What reaction am I supposed to have? This is my normal.

"What does that have to do with Treasure Chest?" She asks like she's crunching the numbers herself.

"I'm in charge of the money laundering. It's a front. I use it to move cash quickly and I'm in charge of payroll for everyone, including Lillith."

Her head falls into her hands as she rubs her delicate skin like it'll give her more clarity. "It's fake? It's been fake this whole time? How is that even possible? Everyone that works there is in the f*cking cartel?"

"No, baby. Above ground is where our income comes from on paper. Chest makes it look legit. All of the laundering happens in the basem*nt. No one that works in Chest works with Lillith, so it's more legit if we ever had feds snooping."

"How are you being so calm?" She asks, picking at her nails. "You're admitting to life sentences worth of crimes and you're perfectly fine. I- I don't.."

"This is just the reality of my life, Brin. I didn't want you to see this part of it. I just wanted you to get the benefits of it, I didn't think you would ever have to know."

And then, as if a lightbulb goes off, horror flashes across her face as her eyes dart to the ring.

"Did you buy this with fake f*cking money? Did I just help you do that?" She rips it off, looking at it with shaking fingers.

"Brin,stop."I grab her hands, pushing the ring back up her finger before kissing it. "Treasure Chest is real. I get an income from both the club and casino. Everything you see isreal.I don't use fake money." I almost laugh from the weight of the conversation. "We wash all the cash first, anyway, so technically even if I did use it, it would be legit. It's not like monopoly money, it all looks real." I ramble, trying to make sense of it in my head.

"That's not any better!"

"I don't use it! I just.. distribute it," I wince.

"Do your friends know?" She pauses briefly. "Of course they do because they're always the ones calling you to come back to work. Because you're all working together. In a f*cking cartel." She laughs.

She actuallylaughs.

Which is quickly followed by a scarily fast trip to the wine cellar, and then she returns to the couch with an opened bottle of wine and no glass.

I'm breaking her. This is her crumbling. I'm supposed to catch her before she falls.

"Maybe you should put that down, baby." I reach for the bottle as she's chugging the alcohol, her hand swatting mine away.

"You can't expect me to listen to you sober," she sucks in air before taking another large drink. "So you launder money? And sell guns? And f*cking drugs?"

"Niall and Louis handle the guns. Zayn and I do the money. We've got a guy that owns an auto body shop, Liam, he's in charge of getting vehicles ready for crossing borders whether that be with drugs or guns."

"You guys probably indirectly supplied my parents," she laughs again like she's on the brink of a nervous breakdown. "What thef*ck?"She mumbles her last words like she's trying to grasp onto them.

I cringe at her statement because for all I know she's right. There's a reason I don't handle drugs, it's f*cked up to supply the hard sh*t like meth and heroin but Lillith knows no limit to money making. I refuse to.

"This doesn't change anything, sweet girl," I say, slowly unclasping her hand from the bottle so I can be closer to her. "You aren't doing anything for her. I'm not letting that happen. Nothing's going to happen to you and if anything, you're going to be protected from your status."

"My status?" Her eyes dart between mine.

"If.. if you marry me, they can't touch you. You'd be mine and then you're off limits. We have rules." I swallow nervously.

The incredibly selfish part of me is hoping that she'll say yes. That she'll jump into my arms, let me put another ring on her finger, and then take my last name and be my little spoiled bratty wife. On the other hand, the rational part of me, knows that it's horribly wrong to be giddy over the slim chance that this works. However, the selfish part of me tends togrowlarger than my brain does, especially when it comes to Brin.

She shifts away from my touch and the action scorches me. "You're trying to get me to marry you right now?"

"For your protection, so that nothing happens to you." I cringe, knowing that doesn't sound any better but I can't exactly tell her how much I want her to do it.

We could always do it right one day, you know. I promise I'll throw you the biggest ceremony if you let me marry you on paper now. I'm not trying to trap you even more, and I know it feels like that baby, but I just want to keep you safe. I'll always keep you safe. I want this to be your idea. I need you to tell me yes so I don't feel so guilty.

"This is crazy. How is this even possible? Is this some kind of joke?"

I shake my head with a frown. "No. Brinna, I need you to look at me." With watery eyes, she does. "You can't tellanyoneabout this. Not even Grace. You can't talk about anything I just told you or anything you learn." I say sternly, hoping that I don't sound like a dick.

Her face drops. "I wasn't going to tell anyone."

"I just have to be sure of that, Treasure. Thatwillget us in a lot of trouble."

"Dead, you mean? If I say anything, you're going to kill me?"

My face morphs into anger, "Brinna what thef*ck?Don'teversay that again. I would never hurt you."

You said you knew that. But your thoughts are speaking for themselves and if they're already that bad, I can't imagine what you're going to say when you see the basem*nt. I will never hurt you. You're my shiny Treasure, and I always keep my treasure safe.

"I-I'm sorry," She sniffles, curling her knees up even tighter into her chest to be as far away from me as she can be. "I don't have a choice, do I?"

And there it is, her last bit of hope, shredded. "No," I shake my head. "But she let you stay with me, so you'll be working under my jurisdiction and all I need you to do is sit and be pretty. Nothing else." I scoot closer to her, kissing her knee because I know she doesn't want me any closer. She nods, her body prickling in goosebumps from her nerves.

"Show me the basem*nt."

__

Brinna stayed close to me on the ride downstairs and it hurt to know it was just because she was scared. Of me, too, but more so of someone else waiting for us.

She hesitates to walk in the door of the club after we walk past the line of people waiting to go in. It's like she doesn't believe in the magic anymore. "Welcome back Mr. Styles, Ms. Harper." My bouncer nods at us, opening the red rope. I give him a pinched smile but she doesn't make eye contact.

She's making me into a sappy asshole because usually, I'd be giving him the finger while she's the one smiling and apologizing for my rudeness.

She holds my hand, fidgeting with her shirt in her other as we walk to the back of the club. "So no one knows?" She asks, watching as people dance blissfully unaware of why we're here. It's an odd feeling, one I've never spent the time to revel in.

I guess I've become so accustomed to walking around here with a secret, that it's become something of second nature. I never stopped to think about how I have the power to traumatize every single person in here.

Not that I care. The only person I want to protect is being thrown into the lion's den, and that's undoubtedly worse than the possibility of all of these brainless f*cks being ruined combined.

"Luke knows of it, but he doesn't know anything more than that. Just the guys, and you." I lean down and answer her, taking in the scent of her perfume. She always smells so sweet. I never want her to change.I'm going to ruin her.

"Harry?" She tugs on my shirt to get my attention again. "Bennett is Ben, right?" Her eyes are full of sadness.

I nod. "Lillith's son."

"I'm sorry," She mumbles.

I shake my head at her and stop our walking to face her. "You have nothing to be sorry for."

"I was angry at you.. when you told him we were just friends. I understand that you had to do it now. To protect me. I'm sorry that I was so upset."

My shoulders slump, hands cupping her warm cheeks. I kiss the tip of her nose, not wanting to push any kind of physical affection so she doesn't push me away again. "I love you more than you'll ever know. It was killing me to not be able to tell you why. I'm sorry I hurt you. And I'm sorry you're finding out now. I've failed you. I tried to keep you away." My thoughts seem to ramble out before I can even register them.

I pull away before I have to read her reaction, walking us the rest of the way to the corner where the door is. She looks up at the large man, his gun visible on his hip. "This is mywife. She isn't to be down here alone, or with any one else but me." I say to him. He nods, opening the door to the dimly lit stairs.

I go first, holding her hand as she takes each step cautiously, trying to not touch anything. My feet move quickly down the last few stairs, my body turning to block the short hallway leading to the death chamber. "That way, love." I nod, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible with my shielding.

She sends me a weary nod, rounding the corner to the right that leads into our meeting room.

"It.. it looks normal." She says, looking at the empty table and chairs. "I expected a gang or a sweatshop," She laughs only a breath before clearing her throat. "Where do you make it?"

"Not here. We have a print shop out in the middle of nowhere. A couple of them, actually. I just keep the final product here, in the vault." I nod to the huge metal door with multiple security measures.

I shouldn't be doing this.

But it might make her happier.

This is a bad idea.

But it's really f*cking cool.

No one goes in the vault.

"Do you want to see it? It's kind of crazy.. all of that money in one place." I smile at her.

She bites her lip, looking between me and the door. "I want to see," She grins back.

My little Bandit. She loves a thrill.

I put my eye up to the scanner, the red laser splaying over my retina. I blink away the light when it's done, watching as the gears start unlocking. "No one's ever been in here but me," I clear my throat as it opens, the bright room glowing both of us in white light. "Your fingerprints can't be on any of this, sweetheart." I look at her, trying to softly tell her to not touch any of it. If the day ever comes that we get caught, she has to be undetectable.

She nods at me, folding her arms so her hands are tucked away. "I won't touch, I promise."

We walk in only a few steps before her mouth drops open at the stacks upon stacks of money as high as halfway up the wall. The entire room is blocks of bills, mostly in hundreds.

"Holysh*t. How much is there?"

"We're up to a few billion, I think. But we can't just whip it out and use it, so we push about two million every few weeks between all of the businesses. Sometimes more, depending on what gets sold, or how good of a month Chest has."

She turns to me with wide eyes. "Holy sh*t."

I laugh at her lack of words. "I have guys that run the money, bottom of the totem pole type kids. I used to run until Lillith gave me the choice of opening up my own front. I do a big chunk of it still with the funds from the club."

"How?"

"How do I use the club to run?"

She nods her head. "Well, we mainly use cash upstairs. So I just add some of the fake stuff to our monthly take before depositing it into the company account. They can't discredit the funds because there's no way to track the cash."

"How much is some?"

"A few zeros," I shift on my toes, scanning around the ungodly amount of green.

"But one zero takes you from a hundred thousand to a million." She murmurs.

"Right," I nod. "Easy money."

"I'm in."

I turn to her shining face, the green practically smothering her eyes. "Excuse me?"

"I'll help you."

"Absolutely not."

"I have nothing else to do!" She whines.

Mybrat.

"That's the point! You're not coming anywhere near this."

She scoffs, throwing her arms out to her sides. "I'll stay upstairs," She pouts.

"No." My unamused tone comes out quick. "Not happening. Let's go before you get a power trip." I say, ushering her out of the room and back to the stairs.

"You heard her! I could be good!" She turns around to talk to me as we walk.

"Okay,Bonnie.Not happening. What she wants from you is far worse than what you're imagining."

"See! We could be like them!" She turns back around and halts with a quickness. "Hey, what is that?" Her head tilts at the rusted-out steel door.

"Nothing." I lie, trying to move her forward.

"Harry," She pushes. "What do you use that room for?"

Maybe souls stay where they die. I've always thought that hallway was f*cking eerie, and I think she's feeling it too.

As if she knows what it's for without me saying it, the color drains from her face. "Leave it, Brin."

She stiffens, eyes glued to the door. "Do you..?"

"Brinna. Stop." I grab her arm to turn her but she wiggles out of my hold.

"Is that where you are when you're working?" Tears brim her eyes but she won't take them off the room.

"I do what I have to do. Stop asking questions you don't want the answer to." I pull her harder but the stubborn thing still doesn't budge. This time she looks at me, hurt and confusion dripping out of her eyes.

"You need to tell me the truth.." Her brows furrow. "Did you do something to Maggie?"

Her voice radiates in my chest like a knife. I flick between her watery eyes, debating on whether or not I should tell her the truth. That being about how I was milliseconds away from painting that room a shade of Magnolia, with her on the phone. Probably shouldn't.Definitely, shouldn't.

"I sent her away, like I told you."

"You said you got her transferred." She steps away from me. "Not sent away. That's different."

I sigh, rubbing my forehead. "Brinna, everything I do, I do for you. She hurt you, she needed to go. She's fine. She just isn't here anymore."

"I didn't want you to ruin her life!"

"Trustme, it's not ruined." I roll my eyes. Despite how hard I tried, she f*cking got away. She would have been dead if it was up to me. If I knew where the f*cking bitch was, she'd be murdered far worse than what my gun would have done.

"What about that photographer you saidapologized,Harry?"

I stare at her blankly.

"Did you hurt him?"

"Let it go. We're not doing this. This is exactly why you don't need to have any part in this sh*t, now drop it." I grab her hand, pulling her to the stairs so she walks up first. She stays silent, walking quickly up them before bursting through the door and walking away.

"Brinna!" I yell after her, weaving through people to get to her. She's so frantic that she doesn't notice when she's about to crash into someone else.

"Woah there, bunny slippers," Zayn laughs, holding her shoulders. His face drops when he looks closer at her, and then around before his eyes land on mine. I catch up to her quickly, pulling her out of his hold and into me.

She looks around the two of us like a caged animal. She's hesitant to say anything back to him as if her anger is being replaced with fear.

"Harry?" He questions, to which I only nod. "sh*t, hey." He says to her, putting his hand on her arm, trying to calm her. She flinches at his touch. "You don't need to be afraid, Brinna. No one here is going to hurt you," He looks up at me. "You told her that, right?"

"He's not telling me f*cking anything," She shrugs out from between us, continuing on to the exit.

"Zaynie baby! What are you doing?" Lola's drunk self wanders over to him, clinging on to him like..

"I missed you!" She kisses him, almost purring when he kisses her back.

I f*ckingknewhe was hiding something.

I don't have time for this.

"Keep it in your f*cking pants in my club," I shake my head, walking away from them as I try to find Brin. Her dark hair is illuminated briefly by the club door closing behind her. I jog to it, going straight to the elevator after her but it closes, being moments too late.

When I finally get back upstairs, she's sitting on the small couch, sniffling with her head in her hands. My heart drops as I step out of the elevator. I crouch down in front of her, my hands splayed on her knees. Her tears drop on my hands as she scrambles to wipe them away.

"Baby.." I hush. "Please don't cry. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to get angry. I'm just trying to keep you safe. Come on, let me take care of you." I try to get her to stand but she shakes her head, sniffling away the last of her tears. Her key is sitting next to her on the couch.

"You're afraid to go in?" I whisper, the realization hitting me. They came into the one space that's supposed to be completely safe and off-limits. She's afraid they'll come back. I sigh and kiss her forehead. "No one is ever going to hurt you." Anger fills my chest as I take her key and open the door, checking the entire bottom half of our home before coming back out.

"Come on. Let's go to bed baby."

__

Silence. For two entire f*cking days, she's been silent. She's barely eaten, barely slept without tossing and turning all night, and barely said a single word to me.

Usually, I wouldn't mind the way she's so restless if it wasn't accompanied by her whimpering and searching for me in her sleep like something's trying to get her. I can'thelp herwhen she's sleeping. I just sit back and coax her out of whatever nightmare she's having in hopes she'll finally get some rest after she snuggles further into me.

She hasn't been crying much, just thinking too hard about everything I've told her. She's had a lot of questions. I've answered her to the best of my ability, but she's given me nothing. I would have preferred her to be angry over having no emotion. It worries me.

"Let's go," I say, pressing the button to open all of the shades in the living room.

Brinna's been curled into a little ball, covered with a mountain of blankets. I can't take her minimal replies anymore. I need to see her smile again. It's driving me f*cking crazy.

"Ow," She hisses as the light hits her eyes, retreating into her cave like a vampire. "I'm not going anywhere." Her voice is grumpy and muffled by the blankets.

"No. We're leaving."

"No,I'm staying here." She grumbles, peeking her eye out to look at me.

I stride to her and pull the blanket off. "I have somewhere you can think all you want, but you're not doing it here. I can see you draining yourself. Let's go."

This isn't how I wanted to show you, sweetheart. I was hoping we could have a wedding there maybe. But it helps to clear my head and right now I don't know how to help you more than this. I know you need somewhere fresh right now. You probably need to scream or punch me in the face. Or ask a billion more questions. I do the same thing there.

***

Chapter 33: Ocean Of Yellow

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

I've gone through the motions of disappointment, confusion, grief, nervousness, and fear more times than I can count in my life. I've always done it alone, and in the end, I've figured it out and gotten over it.

I'm starting to feel like all of my other problems have been a hairline fracture compared to the things Harry and I have had to go through. I almost feel silly for turning out how I did because of my parents when the man I'm in love with is being forced to do unspeakable things with the threat of losing his life, while that bar is already currently depleting.

He hid it so well. Another thing he had to hide from me, for my own good. He chose my happiness over his own again. He does horrible things, life-changing things, and although he won't say it, I know what happens inthatroom.

And then he crawls into bed, calls me his pretty girl, gives me the best org*sms I've ever had and puts diamonds on any inch of my body that he can.

As if those hands hadn't committed life sentences hours earlier.

As if giving me attention is of the same importance, or even more so, because he never wanted to split his time between me and his job.

Hisjob,is to be ruthless. A con artist. A scammer. A murderer.

And I don't blame him for it.

I'm not angry, or upset. Or even confused anymore. I'm hurt. I'm hurt for Harry, who doesn't get a choice to be in this life. Maybe I don't either now, but I do have a choice in how to navigate the plethora of contradicting emotions that have sprung up in a matter of 48 hours.

How can I be angry at someone for wanting an ounce of normalcy when their day consists of guns held to his head, smuggling god knowswhatin god knowswhere,and having to make sacrifices based on corrupt morals that may or may not be his own?I don't know the types of things he's seen, so I can't be angry at him for wanting me, while also wanting me away from it.

I understand right from wrong, but the line is so thin and it's becoming blurred the longer I think about where my loyalty lies and my morals are being rehammered by it.

I know Harry, and even if that piece is one I hadn't met before a few days ago, that doesn't change the fact that I know hissoul. His gentle hands. His loving words. The man that wants me to be with him for his final days, and will do anything to make sure I stay taken care of and happy while he sacrifices his entirelife.

I love him. And with that, I love every part of him.

He's not doing it because he enjoys it. He does it because it's his only option. He had to find something to keep himself alive and he happened to land in the palm of Lillith.

I know he won't ever hurt me and I trust him completely. He's giving me the rest of his life, so I'm giving him mine. I don't know that I'll ever beokaywith what he does. I understand hiswhy,but that doesn't mean I can feel completely settled knowing what he's doing. Especially now that I know he's been in danger because I keep distracting him.

I have no doubt that I'm safe with him. Out of everything he's had to do to survive, he's never been anything but loving and devoted to me. It's atavistic almost, the way my brain is telling me that Harry is my protector, the one to keep us safe, and that whatever I want in life, he's going to provide it without me having to worry.

Like an animal in the wild, he'll do whatever it takes to protect our den.

That doesn't mean it's been easy to imagine what he does or think about all the times he's been 'working' without me having a single idea about what's really happening.

The fresh air is doing me good. He was right that I needed to get out of the house. Being with him in a different setting is reminding me of how good he is to me. He loves me so much, that he's handled every single problem I could possibly have in his own way. He doesn't know how to deal with them any other way, so he does what he has to. I can't hold that over his head.

We've been driving for well over an hour now and the roads around us turned to dirt and wheat a little while ago. It's late in the afternoon and I really have no idea where he could possibly be taking us that's important to him, but far away from everything else.

I've been messing with the buttons in his car for a little while but decided to keep the radio on an oldies station when I got bored. It's beautiful out here, the sun glimmers between trees, and the bright flash catches my eye as it reflects off of Harry's hands.

Turning toward Harry, I observe his features as the orangeish glow illuminates his face and hair. The curls lying low on his shoulders are almost auburn under the sun and his usual emerald eyes flash into shades of sea glass.

My eyes carry on to his tattooed-covered arms and the sight makes me think of the butterfly on his abdomen. I nearly pant out at the thought of being able to see it again or trace my finger over every inked line of the creature. He's got so many beautiful parts to him, how could he possibly think he's a monster?

I stop gawking at his arms and move on to his hands wrapped around the steering wheel. His fingers are slightly splayed over the black leather and his many rings sparkle when we pass by trees that aren't blocking us from the sun.

He has a ring covering almost every finger. Everylong, worked throughfinger. His hands are one of my favorite parts of him. They hold so many stories of pain and heartache, but also of careful love and adoration. And not to mention, the way those rings feel around my throat when he--

Good lord. Get a hold of yourself Brinna. He might actually be taking you out into the middle of nowhere because he's really just going to end you for finding out his secrets. This could be your last day alive and you're dreaming about how his fingers would feel doingverysinful things.

Get a f*cking chastity belt.

I clear my throat and shift in my seat, crossing my legs over. "Why do you have so many rings?" My eyes can't draw away from his hands.

He glances over at me and then at his jewelry, lifting his fingers from the wheel with his palms still flush against it as they wiggle. "Some of them were from my mom when she gave me my treasure chest. The pearl was my grandmother's. She's probably pissed that I have it now." He chuckles. "Lillith gifted me theH and Srings when I started working independently. Sometimes I just see ones I like and I buy them." His eyes stay on the road while he talks.

He lets out a small sigh, trying to hide his grin, as he moves his hand to hover over my lap. "Do you wanna get a close-up or are you just going to keep drooling over my hands, Bandit?" He gestures for me to grab his hand and I do, bringing it closer to my face to look at each unique piece.

I rub over each knuckle delicately, wanting to place a kiss on each scarred inch of skin.

"What is this one from?" I trace over a gold lion with a ruby in its mouth.

"Took it off a dead guy."

I drop his hand, my jaw falling to the floor. "You f*ckingwhat?"

"Yep. He owed me a lot of money and didn't have it, so I took his ring. It's nice, right?" His eyes stay on the road as if we're chatting about the weather.

"Oh my god, get itoffof me!" I squirm away from his hand on my thigh, turning my knees towards the door of the car.

Did he really just let me play with a dead person's stolen jewelry?

I take it back, he's a f*cking psycho. He might actually enjoy every second of it.

He bursts out a deep laugh and finally looks at me, grinning ear to f*cking ear. My brows furrow in confusion as his hand drops to my thigh and he pulls me back towards him. His fingers curl up and down my thigh as if he's trying to soothe away the tension lingering on my body.

"I'm just kidding, baby. I saw it when I was out running errands and I liked it." He shrugs. "I didn't take it off of anyone. That's kind of f*cked up that you believed me, though." He laughs and looks back at the road.

Baby.

Butterflies erupt in my belly, the warmth of his hand making me forget why I was even upset in the first place.

The car slows down and he pats my leg to get my attention. "Close your eyes for me. It's just around this turn. I'll tell you when to open them, okay?" He says nervously, chewing on his lip.

"Okay." I nod and close my eyes.

The car turns and pulls forward for about 30 more seconds before he puts it into park. "Keep them closed." His door opens and promptly shuts, and then a gush of cold air hits me as mine opens next. His arm reaches around my waist to unbuckle me and he grabs my hands. "Step down, I've got you."

The calmness in his voice strikes me as hesitation more than anything, which makes me want to peek but I keep my word and don't.

I climb down as steadily as I can until my feet touch the dirt. He walks us around the car and then spins me by my shoulders. "Harry I'm going to get dizzy," I laugh. "You're making me nervous."

"Just gotta grab one more thing before you can look." The trunk of the SUV opens, shuffling and rummaging being heard along with a few"come-ons."

"Is it rope and a saw? Did you bring me all the way out here to kidnap me, curly?" I giggle and teeter on my feet. The trunk shuts as he clears his throat.

"Okay so don't turn around yet. Just open your eyes and look at me for now." He says, his voice quiet and unsure.

I flutter my eyes open and slowly bring them up, the sunlight behind him making it hard to adjust.

In each of his hands is a basket. One basket has a latched lid and a thin plaid blanket folded under the handles and the other is a woven, oval-shaped basket with a bottle of wine sitting in the curve.

I look up at his face, his expression as worried as mine is confused. "Turn around, Treasure."

I take my time pivoting on my feet to look at what's waiting over my shoulder. My hands relax by my sides and my mouth drops with a subtle gasp when I meet my surprise.

An entire ocean of yellow is swaying before me, seeming as though it goes all the way up to the heavens. The sun has turned the sky into a swirl of oranges and pinks, casting out rays of gold on each flower.

A sunflower field.

My senses are so overwhelmed with the beauty that my nose starts to burn. I can't pick just one place to look at and before I know it my eyes gloss over and I'm blinking away my tears to make sure this isn't a dream.

Harry walks right up behind my shoulder and the warmth of his body is comforting in the breeze. "Do you like it?" He murmurs, looking down at me.

His eyes widen and he drops the baskets to the ground by our feet. "You don't like it? Don't cry. Was this lame? sh*t. I'm sorry. I know it took forever to get here."

"Harry," I can't take my eyes away from the flowers. He looks at my watery eyes and damn near explodes waiting for me to keep going. "You- this is what you wanted to show me? You wanted to bring me here?" I breathe out and face him. "It's beautiful. It's perfect... I haven't ever seen something so-"

"You like it? Are you sure?" He blurts out.

"I love it."

His shoulders relax as he smiles at me, swiping his thumbs over my damp cheeks. "Come on then. Let's go inside it. I brought us something to eat and you can pick out as many of them as you want to take home." He picks the baskets up again and makes his way toward a little trail that I hadn't noticed before. It weaves through rows and rows of gorgeous golds and yellows until we stop at a more open circle surrounded by the flower's tall stems.

He sets the baskets down again and fluffs the blanket into the air to lay it over the dirt. I'm too busy smelling flowers and touching soft petals to notice Harry had set out plates and wine glasses. He's spread around a variety of different meats and cheeses, crackers and jams, fruits, nuts, and even honey.

"Do you wanna look at the flowers for a little while longer or would you like to come eat with me?" He pours some wine into a glass and hands it to me.

I smile and take it from it, sitting across from him on the blanket. "This is perfect, Harry. I couldn't imagine anything better. Seriously. I wouldn't have ever expected something so beautiful was in the same world as me." I look above at the sky and then back down to him. "How did you find this place?"

He puts food together on the little glass dish and sets it in front of me. "I made it," He replies quietly.

"You what? What do you mean youmadeit?"

"It's.. cliché." He scrunches his nose. "My mom used to really like sunflowers. She always had them planted along our house. They made her really happy and one night after she caught me sneaking back in wasted, I cut down all of her flowers." He sighs, now looking embarrassed. "She was really upset about them. They made her so happy and I ruined them knowing that."

He sits up straighter as he chews a grape. "I miss my mom a lot. When I started getting older I started feeling really guilty about what I had done to her garden. It was so f*cked up of me to take away the little things she had that made her days better. When I started getting more money I decided I wanted to fix it. But she doesn't want anything to do with me, and I get it."

My heart startsphysicallyhurting for him. "I bought this field and I tilled the entire thing by myself. I got the equipment to water the flowers and I planted the seeds. I couldn't bring back her flowers so I gave her an endless supply of them. I don't know if she's ever been here, I'm sure she hasn't. I made sure if she ever did though, she would know they're for her." He nods his head towards a plaque leading back to the trail.

Anne's Sunflower Field.

Love you 'till the last petal falls,

H.

"Oh, Harry." My eyes well with tears once more. My plate drops as I shuffle forward to crawl to him. Sitting on my knees, I run his hair back softly in my fingers. "Sweet boy. I'm so sorry. Have you tried to reach out to her?" I sniffle.

He nods his head. "She doesn't want me. I hurt her too much. I'm too much for her. I always have been. That was just the final straw." His eyes fall to the ground.

I pull him into me for a hug, my arms wrapping around his head. He sighs deeply as he relaxes into my touch, hugging me back. "Thank you, Brin. Thank you for being here with me. You don't know how much it means to me. I haven't ever told anyone about this, not even the guys. I brought you here because I come here when I need to talk to her. When I need advice."

I look between an eager Jillian, a fidgeting Grace, and a regretful Harry who I just noticed is carrying a sunflower in his hand, roots and dirt still hanging off of it and making a mess on the floor by his feet.

"I got you a new flower.. for your vase. The other ones are probably dead by now." He puts the yellow bud down gently but the dirt on the stem makes a mess on the tabletop.

My eyes flick between his and the flower on my desk. "There's nothing to say. You did what you did, I felt what I felt, and now I'm over it. You can go get your dick wet with my boss now." I smile insincerely and turn back to my computer, swiping away the fallen dirt particles nearby.

"I'm not here for her. I'm here for you. Only you." His now empty hands fidget with each other like the flower was helping him stay calm.

I put my forehead on his, my throat going dry from the realization. "It's beautiful. Thank you for letting me see it. I won't pick any of her flowers. They should stay here for her."

He shakes his head at my suggestion and pulls away a fraction. "No. I want you to have some. You tell me which ones you want and I'll cut them down for you. Besides, you won't be picking them. Not a finger, remember?"

"Please, baby, please take your flowers." He pleads, holding onto my hand as I walk away from him.

"Harry, I can't. I can't take them."

"Brinna, you have to. I need you to!" He pushes them into my hands as I'm halfway out of his door. The both of us look at the vase of jaggedly cut sunflowers. I hug them to my chest, a tear slipping down my cheek.

"I'm sorry, Harry."

I nod, swallowing hard as the guilt eats at me. "Is that why you show up with sunflowers when bad things happen?"

"It is." He sighs with a sad expression. "This is where I come to think. I was hoping she would be here, you know? I needed some of her wisdom. She would have pinched my ear for being so crazy to get you back," He laughs, picking at his fingernails. It pains me to know that without saying it, we're both on the same page.

"I believe you," I glance at him. "I know you won't ever hurt me. And I know you're just doing what you need to do... I'm just a little.."

"Scared?" He answers, to which I nod shyly. "You don't ever need to be scared. You're safe with me."

"I trust you with my life, Harry."

His smile is undeniable as we pick at the charcuterie for a little while longer until the sun starts setting in deep purples. Harry stands up from his spot, picking up the glass dishes around us before holding his hand out for mine.

"Don't be shy now. Any one you want, I'm cutting off. You deserve the best ones. What're you thinking?" He holds the flower basket in one hand and a knife in the other.

We wander down rows of different types of sunflowers, some of them being feet taller than me. Others are shorter and have much thinner stems. We walk passed copper petals and speckled orange ones, dainty yellows, and full-blown reds. I had no clue a flower could come in so many different patterns.

By the time the basket was full, the sky became nearly black. I glance over at Harry and giggle about how suspicious a 6-foot man dressed in black walking around a field with a knife looks.

"Something funny?" He asks, walking right behind me towards our picnic spot.

"Just, this is getting creepy. A giant field with two people doing cutesy things. That's screaming for an axe murderer to pop out. It looks like a horror movie." My words make me cringe. The longer I soak in my words, the more my stomach swirls with nerves. "We're close to the car, right?"

"It's a sunflower field, not a corn field. I think couples only get murdered in those ones."

"Murderers don't discriminate, Harry. There could be one watching us right now." I hug my arms around my body.

He laughs for a moment before quieting down, his steps slowing behind me. "Brinna... I think you're right. I think I feel eyes on me, too." His tone is hushed and serious.

"Please don't do that. I'm actually freaking out right now, how much farther?" I whine at him, picking up my pace.

"Brinna, I see him! I see the murderer," He stops dead in his tracks. "Oh god, there's someone with him!"

"Harry!" I cry out, shuffling closer to him.

"Wait they just moved.. they're closer now, are- are they hugging? What's in the guy's hand? Is that a basket of flowers?"

My brows furrow as I stare up at him.

"Oh, wait. No, it's fine, it's just us.I'mthe murderer in a sunflower field." He starts laughing hysterically and petting the back of my head.

"That's not funny!" I smack his chest. "You can't keep making jokes like that!"

"What? It was funny! What are the odds oftwobeing here? My friends would have loved that, Brin!"

I scoff with a playful eyeroll and turn away from him but he's quick to catch my wrist, spinning me back around to meet him. The basket drops, our chests pressing together. He lets go of my wrist to cup my cheeks in his palms. Our noses brush together, eyes flickering to each other. "I was scared, asshole," I hum.

"You don't ever have to be scared. You're mine to protect, pretty girl." His chest rumbles as my breathing becomes unsteady.

My eyes flutter shut, the two of us breathing each other in. He's like a drug to me, numbing out every ounce of hesitance I've ever carried with me. "Yours to protect?"

"Always." His lips come forward to meet mine and I swear the sky lights back up with the sparks flying behind my head. He deepens the kiss as my arms snake around his neck, tugging on his loose curls. A groan leaves his throat and if my jeans had hands they'd beflyingoff of me right now.

He moves his lips against mine so slowly like he's memorizing every detail about them. My whole body goes weak, oxygen escaping my lungs from the intensity of him. I can't tell if our hearts are beating in sync or if mine is just about to thump out of my chest, but if feelings could give you a high, I'd be in the clouds.

He pulls away with a slight smacking sound between us. His lips are swollen and damp in the moonlight, eyes flicking between my own like he's trying to read them.

"Are you still scared, Bandit?" His voice is deep and filled with lust. His hands slink around my waist, drawing me impossibly closer to his body.

All I manage to squeak out is a pathetic"no"with a frantic head shake.

He laughs, pecking me one more time. "I love you, forever baby."

"I love you always," I smile, my cheek smooshing between his hands.

He hums in approval. "When you decide to marry me, I want to watch you walk down an aisle of sunflowers."

My heart is officially, entirely, blown up and exploded into a million pieces. That siren f*cking tongue, I could drop down on my own knee right now.

"Would you like that, Brinna? To be my pretty bride, sparkling in the sunset on your way to me?" His lips connect with my neck, sucking softly on the spot behind my ear that he knows drives me crazy. "You can have anything you want, as long as I get you in these flowers again."

"Harry.." I whimper, feeling the last bit of my resolve fizzling out.

"Shh, baby. I know.Onedayyou'll be my wife." He kisses up my jaw and to the side of my mouth. "I hope you don't mind that in the meantime, I'll be telling everyone you already are."

"For the status?" I pant, moving closer to his lips until we connect.

"Mm-mm" He shakes his head. "Because I like the way it sounds on my tongue."

That f*cking mouth Harry, is what's going to get us in trouble.

***

Chapter 34: Birthday Girl

Chapter Text

H A R R Y

I've never cared much for birthdays. I don't like surprises, I don't like having to entertain crowds of people, and the reminder of being one step closer to my death brings me an undeniable, headache-inducing dread. I would rather scrape my balls across hot cement for all of eternity than have to sit through one singular birthday party.

That is, unless the birthday party is for my most favorite person in the whole wide world.

My Bandit.

"Haaaappy biiiirthday to youuu--"

My singing quickly gets cut off by her small snores. I've been waiting for hours already, too jittery to sleep any longer because of the busy day ahead of me. She won't be doing anything but being pampered, while the boys and I will be setting up her surprise party in the club.

"Brinna," I whine, sitting on the bed harder than necessary while still being careful with the lit cupcake in my hand. "Wake up and let me give youattention,"I draw out. She doesn't move.

"Fine," I sigh with a dramatic eye roll. A mischievous smile creeps up my lips as I set the treat down on her nightstand-- a piece of furniture I had specially ordered after only having one. It completes the set, and the things on it bring a smile to my face when I think about who's using it.

"I guess I'll have to wake my sleeping beauty with a kiss..." I crawl on top of her, careful to not put my full weight down. I pucker my lips dramatically as I lean down, my hair falling and tickling her nose. Kissy noises leave my lips as I try to keep my laughing in. I place a long kiss on her lips, to which she scrunches her eyebrows and tries to roll over to continue her peaceful sleep.

"What a shame, guess I'll have to keep kissing you," I shrug and let a little of my weight sit on her as I lean down and peck her face softly, starting on her cheeks and moving around the entirety of her soft complexion. She hums out, wiggling under me but her tired state is no match for my determined one.

"Wakey wakey.." I kiss the side of her exposed neck. "I bet an org*sm would wake you up," I nip at her lobe, tugging slightly. "My face between your legs, kissing up your slit."

She stirs more, a deep breath filling her lungs and pushing her chest closer to mine. I grin, hoping that I'm ruining whatever dreams she's having with my filthy words. "How about my fingers, baby?" I kiss her neck again as I suck lightly on the skin. I know this is going to backfire as I'm already growing hard just thinking about devouring her.

"My tongue, flicking up and down until you're shaking." I flatten my tongue out on her neck, licking a bold stripe up her jaw and to her cheek.

"Harry?"A delicate little squeak stops me dead in my tracks. "What are you doing?"

My eyes open to find her tired ones as my tongue is still laid out on her skin.Maybe I got too carried away.I clear my throat and close my mouth before a huge smile stretches across my lips.

"Happy birthday," I kiss her lips again, which makes her gasp before clamping her mouth shut with a hand over it. I furrow my brows, pouting slightly at her stubbornness two seconds into waking up.

"I haven't brushed my teeth yet," She murmurs under her hand.

My face drops with a playful eye roll. "I don't care."

"I do," She grumbles, trying to get out of bed.

"I'm not getting up until you make a wish," I smile, reaching over for the cupcake on the nightstand. She tenses momentarily, looking at the treat like it's some kind of weapon rather than a celebration.

She drops her hand and smiles shyly, but I can tell that the notion is making her uncomfortable. "Come on," I say. "Let's make a wish together." I close my eyes at her, the flickering flame being a lasting image behind my eyes.

She sighs and shifts, but when I peek my eyes open, she's sitting across from me with her eyes closed. I smile and shut mine again.

If wishes came true, I'd spend eternity with you Brinna.

"Okay.." She mumbles. My eyes flutter open to meet her timid blue ones. She leans forward, blowing out her candle. The small flicker dies out, smoke withering between the two of us in silence.

"What did you wish for?"

She offers me a small smile, no words, as she leans forward to wrap her arms around my neck, careful to leave space for the cupcake.

I understand.

"You and Grace are going out today," I mumble into her neck, her scent drifting into my already hazy mind.

She pulls away. "No, I want to spend the day with you."

"As much as I'd love to spend every single waking moment with you, you and Grace are going to get mani-pedis." I jump off the bed, turning to walk out before she can ask any more questions. "That's what they're called, right?"

"What?" She pushes the blankets off of herself.

"What, what?" I stop at the door and face her. "Take my card, go relax, and don't come home until I tell you to."

"Harry I'm not going to--"

I turn before she can finish her sentence. "Okay, then Grace will take the card," I smile over my shoulder as I leave the room. "God knows that girl has no issue swiping it.Get dressed, birthday girl!"

It doesn't take more than fifteen minutes for her to quickly shower and get dressed, however, every second felt like it lasted an eternity. While I hadn't started setting up the club for her yet, I have been making myself useful with decorating the inside of our home.

And god is it an absolute f*cking atrocity.

Balloons cover the entire lower level like the place is being flooded in multicolored rubber, I've got streamers and banners hanging from the roof, a batch of cupcakes that I stress-baked at five a.m., confetti cannons lined up for when she comes down, and far too many presents on the counter in horribly wrapped paper.

Her shoes lightly tap down the hallway making me perk up. She's focused on fixing her sundress as she starts walking down the stairs, but her eyes slowly travel up to meet mine, widening when she notices the clown throw-up all over the room.

"Ta-daaa!" I yell before blowing into the party horn that matches my feathery party hat. "Happy birthday!"

A smile breaks out on her face as she walks the rest of the way down the steps, taking in every inch before walking over to me. I put a matching party hat on her head and kiss her quickly. "I'm starting to think that every time you say that, you're up to no good," She laughs.

"You might be right," I turn to the kitchen where an array of breakfast foods are spread out. "But I can't help it, you make me want to do bad things. Now come on, eat something before I send you out."

"Did you do all of this?" She asks, popping a berry into her mouth. I nod, loading a plate up with food for her. "How long have you been up?"

I check my phone, eyes widening when I realize. "Five hours," I shrug, handing her the now full plate.

"It's only nine in the morning," She comes closer, looking concerned about my lack of sleep. "Thank you, curly." Her soft lips land on mine and the whole world quiets down.

Only momentarily.

Before a loud knock, one of which I know is from an even louder blonde, pounds onto the door and snaps us away from each other. I squeeze Brin's side, stealing another quick peck before going to our front door.

"Good morning, Grace." I nod, stepping to the side to let her in.

With a huff, she stomps in. "It took you long enough!"

"What if I was giving her a birthday present and you interrupted it?" I joke, closing the door and watching her go straight for breakfast.

"Then I suggest you get a chastity belt and quit acting like a rabid animal," She jests, making herself a plate. "Happyfreakingbirthday!" She squeals, sliding her plate across the counter as she rounds the breakfast bar to squeeze Brinna in an anaconda-like hug.

"Thank you, Gracie," she blushes, hugging her back with just as much force. I know she's missed Grace, and even if she won't admit it, she's excited to spend time with her today.

The two of them quickly get wrapped up in their own conversation. I can't help but admire them, it's crazy to me how comfortable women can be with each other. I'm glad she has someone to lean on when the time comes.

Which is another reason why I don't mind extending my pleasantries to Grace. Anything to keep her on my good side, on the side that wants the best for the girl we both love.

I grab two glasses from the cupboard and fill them with juice before sliding them over. "Eat up, ladies. We've got a full day of activities to get to." I wink at Brin.

"Is that why you're carboloading me?" She laughs, reaching for the glass but nearly drops it when Grace shrieks like a dying cat.

"f*ck, Grace. Inside voice," I hold my newly deaf ear with a wince.

"f*ck your inside voice, what is that?!" She gapes, eyes glued to the ring shining proudly on Brinna's middle finger.

"A ring," Brinna scoffs. "Not a bomb. Calm down."

Grace looks at me, and then to the ring, and then back to me. I furrow my brows at her as if I'm supposed to understand her odd womanly mind-reading tactics.

"A ring or aring?"

"A.. ring?" I answer confused. "It was pretty and my fingers are full," I shrug.

And I was sizing out her ring finger, but that's not entirely relevant right now.

...She wore the ring again. She wore my ring.

"It's real, right?" She asks, chewing on a piece of fruit. Something I've learned about Grace is that she's incredibly spoiled, which means she's incredibly invasive and doesn't give a single f*ck what she says.

"No, it's sugar and tin." I roll my eyes with a laugh. "Of course it's real, do I look like the type of man to put a fake diamond ring on her finger?"

Brinna groans with a head shake. "Are you two trying to kill me?"

I laugh, popping a few more strawberries on her plate. "Never, baby. Just taking care of my one-day wife."

"Gag," Grace scoffs. "I say just marry him, Brinnie. He's loaded." She smiles, hopping off her stool as she finishes her food.

I can't lie, it's nice to have Grace on my side. Maybe it'll make tonight easier. Or, the after. They'll both understand that it's for the best.

Brinna hops down next, trying to clear away their dishes but I stop her. "You're not lifting a finger today. Go have fun," I nod to an impatient Grace waiting at the door. "I love you, sweetheart." My lips find hers with no hesitation, and with that, the two of them are off so I can prepare for the rest of her party.

__

Even after giving the OK to Grace to spend as much as she needs to on Brinna's party and seeing the copious amounts of pink fringe, disco balls, and shiny hats, I couldn't tell you what the f*ck acowboy discois. All I know is that I have pink glitter in places where pink glitter should never be.

The best part is that my angel doesn't even know it's happening. I'd be lying if I said I was one hundred percent confident in this plan, but Grace seems to be certain enough through girl talks that if Brin were to want a party, it would be this one. Which is why I said nothing as truck after truck arrived at Chest, filled to the brim with balloons, decals, and the biggest f*cking disco balls I have ever seen.

And to top it all off, Grace found matching outfits for Brinna and I. Now, am I necessarily happy to be in a pink strawberry cowboy outfit? Not really. Am I going to put it on, glitter my chest, and let my cowgirl ride me all night long? Absolutely.

Save a horse, and tonight, I'm the cowboy.

"Are you going to get off your ass and help?" Niall pants, moving one of the boxes further into the room.

"Yeah, set that over there," I mumble, not looking up from my phone screen.

"Harry."

"Put that one over there."

"Harry."

"Is it that hard to figure out where a balloon should g-- Jesus Christ." My eyes widen as I look up at a bleeding moron. "What the f*ck happened to him?" I ask as the kid in front of me is holding his bloody stomach.

"This dumbass used a machete to open a box and cut toward himself." Niall shakes his head, shifting his box to the other side. "Theseare your runners? Seriously?"

I shrug. "If opening a birthday box takes him out, then I guess he was never meant to be."

"C-can I go, boss?" The teenager pipes up, looking a little woozy.

"Did you finish your task?" I ask, back to scrolling through Pinterest pictures Grace sent me so I can make sure everything is perfect.

"Go home, or to a f*cking hospital," Niall shakes his head and drops a box labeledcostumesin front of me. This catches my interest, my phone being promptly tucked back into my pocket. Sitting up straighter on the couch, I glance around the room to make sure everyone is putting their items where I said before reaching into my pocket for a knife to open the box.

I rip the folds open, too excited to be gentle with the flimsy cardboard. Pink floods my senses, but to my surprise, it only makes me more excited.

"Everyone listen up!" I yell at the top level of the club, gathering everyone's attention. "If you're working at Chest tonight, you will be in a costume. If you're in my VIP area tonight, you will be dressed up. If I hear a single complaint, especially in front of Brinna, I will cut out your tongue and frame it. Got it?"

"Yes Boss," The young men and guards say in unison.

"I don't like repeating myself and this is the only time I will. I've offered a few of you a generous reward for staying as security tonight. If you see anyone that looks remotely threatening, you drag them out. If you see Bennett, you drag him out and punch him in the dick. If a single hair on Brinna's head gets touched, I will go out of my way to hunt down every single person you love. Am I clear?" I bark, my voice booming around the still room.

"Yes, Boss." They say again, louder this time.

"Good," I give them a vicious smile. "Now everyone come get your goddamn feathers."

__

The club opened to a select number of people, only ones that my bouncers deemed to match the energy and weren't a threat, an hour ago. The place is decorated to the f*cking nines. I've never seen so many balloons but the entire place is covered in arches of pinks and silvers and cow prints. Grace even found cowgirl boot and disco ball balloons.

Fringe and twinkle have replaced every inch of the dark space, even my DJ changed the lights from their usual oceanic blue to a vibrant hot pink. It looks like Barbie threw up in here. My men might have gone into the wrong calling, who knew a bunch of smuggling idiots could set up such a good party?

The guys are waiting upstairs in the lounge, begrudgingly dressed head to toe in sparkly accessories. It didn't take much to convince Niall to put on a pair of fringed daisy dukes and a hat, though. He seemedwaytoo excited.

I'm getting fidgety. Grace said they're up in the penthouse getting ready so I've been waiting downstairs by the entry for half an hour so I don't miss my girl walking in. I'd be mad at Grace's choice of costumes if I didn't look so f*cking good.

I'm wearing a pink and silver western set, with crystal strawberries and a matching buckled belt. My hat matches the pink, and the brim is lined with more silver crystals. Of course she would get an outfit with no shirt, so all of my chest and stomach are on full display and emphasized by the sparkly sh*t Lola called highlighter.

If I look this good, I can't even imagine how perfect Brinna is going to look. And we get to match, so everyone who doesn't already know she's mine, definitely will now.

Speaking of Lola, I let her have the night off, seeing as how she andZayniehave had something going on and I had no idea about it. He's been complaining a lot less about being at the club in place of me, and I guess he's been here for the same reason I'm not: his balls are in the back pocket of a small, fiery woman.

I sigh, rubbing the back of my neck as my stomach turns with nerves. I'm not nervous about tonight, I know she'll have a good time, and I know she'll wake up happy in the morning. I'm nervous about whatI have to do.

Plucking my phone out of its pocket, I walk toward the emptier side of the club entrance in hopes I'll be able to hear. The number gets typed and called quickly, and hopefully he'll pick up sooner rather than later. I can't have any part of this going wrong, and the first step is for him to be here to give me what I need.

In two short rings, my lawyer answers."Hello, Harry? Is something wrong with the contract?"

"Hey, James. I haven't seen it since last week, but as long as there are no loopholes and you left the papers with Luke, there shouldn't be a problem." I say, glancing toward the bar.

"Dropped them off about half an hour ago with the cash for his safekeeping, too. There's no way out of the contract, H. Don't worry about it. Just get that signature and get the papers back to me, and it'll be finalized."

"Alright, thank you." My shoulders slump in relief. "And there's no way to find out about it, right?"

"Not until you decide to tell her. She won't ever know."

"Perfect. Your bonus will be sent over." And with that, the call ends, and only an ounce of my anxiety goes away. I resume my spot and wait for my pretty girl to arrive.

And no more than twenty minutes later, the bouncer is sending me a heads-up text, and the birthday girl herself is striding into the doors of our club.

And holy f*ck does she look good.

She's wearing a fringe two-piece set, her top is just a bandeau but the strings of pink sparkle cover some of her midriff, as well as adding some length to her short skirt. The pink matches mine and her diamond cowgirl boots go to her mid-calf and shimmer under the neon lights. She's wearing a hat similar to mine, but hers matches her boots.

The two of them take a second to look around the room before spotting me, and I have to pick my jaw up off the floor before walking to them.

My smile grows wider as I reach her, taking her hand in mine to twirl her around. "You look beautiful baby," I say into her ear, pecking her neck as she tugs on my vest. I can tell from her flushed cheeks that she's already had a few shots, which is great.

Do I feel a little guilty that Grace is unknowingly aiding in my plan?

No.

It'll be fine, neither of them will know, and by the end of the night, my problems will be solved. Easy as that. So... simple.

The guilt is creeping in.

"I can't believe you actually put this on," She smiles into my ear, wrapping her arms around my neck. "Thank you for this Harry. I can't believe you did this for me."

"I'd do anything for you, angel. Come on," I nod to the stairs, taking her hand in mine. We weave through drunk people dancing and I can tell by the way her hand squeezes mine that she's itching to dance, too.

We make it up the stairs with ease thanks to my extra security at the top and bottom, warding people away from the lounge. The upstairs is just for our friends tonight, so no randoms can ruin the moment with their bullsh*t.

"There she is!" A plastered Niall shoots up from his seat, pulling her into his arms for a hug. "Happy birthday to my favorite woman in this entire club!"

She reciprocates the hug with a laugh, although her confusion is apparent. "Your favorite?" She wheezes, probably being crushed by the dumbass.

"You got Mr. Stick-in-ass to calm his tit* for the night so we all get to party," He pulls away and smiles. "I've taken twenty-four shots just for you, sweetheart!" He plops back into his seat and Brin comes back to my side as we make our way to the couch.

"He's going to get alcohol poisoning," She whispers as I sit and pull her on top of me, sideways.

"He's Irish," I smile. "He's practically made of alcohol."

"You look hot," She bites her lip, skimming her hands down my body.

Keep it together, dick. We have very important business to take care of. No time for distractions.

Her head dips down to my neck and before I know it, she's nipping and kissing the skin in a way that I know if she keeps going, I'll have her tied to our bed for her birthday finale before the night even starts. "f*ck, Brin.." I shift my hips so my legs are spread more. "You're killing me in that tight f*cking dress."

She hums, inching her lips up to my jawline. "Lucky for you..." She murmurs, planting wet kisses along the sharp bone. "You get to unwrap me.. your own present." Her hand grazes over my abs and the muscles contract under her touch involuntarily.

I clear my throat, willing my mind away from how badly I'd love to see her ride me with that hat on. Instead, I take her hand in mine and bring it up so I can see. "Pretty nails, baby." I smile, pretending to focus on her freshly manicured hands.They're long, so long and I bet they'd feel so good scratching down my back.

She giggles as I place a kiss on her hand, running my finger over her ring. "The lady at the nail salon asked me if my boyfriend gave me that ring. Do you know what I told her?" She whispers, like a f*cking siren.

"What did you tell her?" I shift my hips, trying to hide my hardening dick.

She nibbles on my ear lobe before licking a stripe up my neck. "Myhusbandgave me this diamond," She murmurs, almost like the universe is sending me a pre-punishment for my ulterior motives.

I hold my breath and pinch my eyes shut, too afraid that if I watch her greedy hands roaming up and down my naked chest I'll bend her over this couch right now.

"Drinks are here, bitches!" Grace's voice snaps our attention away from our bubble, which I'm very grateful for. "Everyone take a shot!" With no hesitation, Brinna leans forward to grab one, offering it to me.

"Drink it, baby. I'm here to make sure you have fun tonight. Ready to catch my Bandit," I wink, making her giggle and knock the shot back.

It doesn't take long for the two of them to catch up to Niall's plastered state, making my nerves both spike and even out knowing that what I'm about to do is wrong, but she'll be too out of it to realize.

What is this f*cking feeling? Pre-remorse? How could I be remorseful for something that hasn't happened yet? Or something that I'mexcitedto do? Whatever it is, is lodging itself deep in my chest.

"I wanna go dance!" Brinna clings to me, twirling around my hair in her fingers. She gets so lovey when she's drunk, so sweet and so touchy. Her hands have been on me all night, and her sweet whispers have filled my chest with so much swell that it might burst.

Do I have a praise kink?

Probably.

"Yes! Let's dance!" Grace jumps up from Niall's lap, somehow hearing up through the two of them eating face.

Brinna pouts her lip, holding my face in both of her hands. "But I don't want to leave you," She whines through her drunkenness.

I smile and peck her nose. "I'll be right here watching you, pretty girl. Why don't you go explore the stage I had set up for you? The girls are waiting if you want to dance with them or there's a mechanical bull you can ride," I raise my brows.

"You got me abuuuuuull?"She giggles, moving around so she's straddling my lap. Her eyes are glossed over and hooded, cheeks tinted pink and her lips find mine with the accuracy of a newborn deer. Her peck lands on the side of my mouth but I greedily accept it as my hands hold her dress down so she doesn't flash everyone else. If I know Grace, there's next to nothing covering Brinna under this dress.

"I did, baby. Wanna go play on it?"

She nods eagerly before trying to hop up, but I stop her and stand with her wrapped around my hips before she drops her legs down to stand. "Can you walk?" I ask, holding her hips with a stern face. Her lazy smile forces me to have my own and before I know it, the birthday girl has flung her arm around my shoulder and let me lead her down the stairs and to the middle of the club.

You remind me of the first night we met, baby. You're awfully touchy when you're drunk and I can't help but hope you lean into me even more as we walk. Your beautiful face makes everyone in this club look like blurred silhouettes, and my heart thumps in anticipation knowing I'll be taking you back to our home tonight instead of to a random hotel room. Happy Birthday, my Treasure.

"It's so pretty in here," She shouts, reaching up to touch the balloons despite being feet too short. "You're so nice to me," She rolls her head to look up at me as her words start to slur.

I do nothing but nod with a tight smile as I keep my focus on making sure no one touches her. I nod at my security to empty the bull pit, which they promptly follow through with. I sit her on the edge of the blown-up pool. "Hold on to my shoulders, baby," I say, gripping onto her so she doesn't fall back. She isreallydrunk right now, which makes this easier but my guilt worsen.

She nods and grips my vest, swaying slightly with the music while I tug down the zippers of her boots until they're off. I pick them up, along with her hand to stand her, before giving them to the guard closest to us. "Hold these until she's done. No one comes in this pool except for Grace and if they get hurt, I'm cutting your balls off," I warn, knowing that it's an empty threat because the probability of them face-planting off this mechanical ride is high. He nods and I can't help but smirk at the huge man in a pink feather boa holding my one-day wife's sparkling boots.

I jump into the pen before helping her on the bullas Grace jumps in after with a squeal. Once the two of them are on, I squeeze Brin's hand and pat the beast so the operator starts it slow. "No bucking them off," I point to the man with my brows furrowed.

I exit quickly, hoping to get this done before the two of them are either concussed or sick. Pushing past bodies with no remorse, curses and scowls are thrown my way until I get to the bar.

"Luke!" I pound on the bar to get his attention. He stops his flirting to eye me before turning to me.

"Papers?" I nod at him, turning over my shoulder slightly to keep an eye on Brinna at the bull. He sends me a short one back, bending down to retrieve the yellow folder. I hastily take it, wiping up some of the salt on the bar before setting the folder down with a deep breath.

"Congrats, man." He chuckles with a sarcastic tone, though not enough that he's being anything more than annoying.

"Not a f*cking word," I warn him.

With shaking hands, I zero in on the words as soon as I open it, the pages suffocating me with guilt the longer I stare at them. My eyes flick over the paper, the bold words flashing like a promising wish. Three words that send me the ounce of confidence I need to get the job done:

OFFICIAL MARRIAGE LICENSE

__

I hadn't spent more than twenty minutes reading over the papers and in that time the idiot men I had watching over Brinna had managed to piss me off more than I have been in the last few months.

"Boss, they're screaming at the operator to turn up the speed."

"Boss, they're trying to take their clothes off."

"Boss, they're crying for cake."

And by the fourth call from the men that are scared sh*tless of two small drunk girls, I was swiping up the papers and handing them back to Luke so I could go get Brinna and get out of here. She's probably too sh*t-faced to keep doing whatever it is she's doing anyway.

After making my way through the crowd, I stop to glare at the men around the inflatable pen. I jump in and walk around the bull, glancing at the two of them on the floor focused on the very large ballsack hanging off the back of this machine. They're passing a fork between the two of them, mindlessly eating pink frosted cake.

I can't believe it took three men to figure out how to acquire a piece of f*cking cake.

I step over her, a foot on either side as her drunken gaze slowly drifts to me. "Hey, Bandit." I smile, squatting down to put her boots back on as the fork slides between her lips. A smile stretches across her lips and it warms my heart knowing that even in this state, she's happy to see me.

I zip up her shoes before standing, pulling her arms up with me. "Hellooooo," She giggles, wrapping her arms around me as I hold her hips to keep her still. "I missed you," Her warmth fans over my neck as she nuzzles further into me.

"Did you now?" I peck her temple, bending slightly to lift her thighs. "Up, baby."

She complies, jumping up and wrapping her legs tightly around my hips so I can take her out of the pit. I can tell she's getting sleepy by her calm voice and the way she's holding on to me like she's cuddling a teddy bear.

"Stay with me for a little while longer. We've got a couple more things for you." I murmur into her ear as my hands rub soothing patterns over her ass, keeping the material down at the same time.

"Wait!" She whines. "I forgot to save the bull!"

"Save the bull?" I ask, walking us through the crowd toward the bar.

"Angus! I need him! He's alive!"

"The machine is?" I laugh.

"Can we take him home?" She asks, a sad tone laced into her slurred words.

"Of course we can, pretty girl." She doesn't really want the bull, she's just too drunk to realize that the bull is in fact, not real. She snuggles deeper into me just as we reach the stools, a whine coming from her lips as I set her down and turn her to face forward. My hand stays on her back as I sit next to her because she's definitely too far gone to be trusted with keeping herself upright.

"Can I ditch my own party?" She blows, her forehead resting on the cool bar.

"After you eat something," I say, nodding for Luke to bring out themenus. He slides them forward, making her brows furrow.

"Well if it isn't the lady of the night," He winks, raking over her outfit. "Let me know what you want, birthday girl."

Even though he's totally harmless and very much married, I still send him a glare.

"When did you start serving food?" She asks, scanning over the laminated menu that consists only of her favorite foods.

I lean into the countertop, resting my cheek on my fist. "When I wanted to see you steal that menu and hang it up in our kitchen." She's focused on the siren swimming on the side of the paper, her brown hair and blue eyes being perfect matches to the girl sitting next to me.

"So, how do we do this?" I ask, nodding at the menu. Honestly, I'm just trying to get her out of here and into bed so I can get this over with. Half-asleep drunken mistakes are no better than dreams, right? She won't remember. "Should I show him my tit*? I've got four of them."

"We run on three," She says with a determined glint in her eyes, swaying slightly.

This is going to end badly.

"One.." She swipes the menu before glancing at Luke who's staring at us amused.

I should probably stop her.

"Two.." She turns, scooting forward to jump.

I really want to see how this ends.

"Three!" She launches forward, completely miscalculating the distance between the floor and her feet as she lands directly on the ground with a groan.

Luke's loud laughter bellows out behind me as my own laugh threatens to escape. I step off of my chair and bend down to her, lifting her up to face me as I check her for injuries. "Good job, Bandit. You did it." I chuckle, patting her butt as I hold her to me. Her small giggles fill my ear as I lift her over my shoulder, making her gasp with a shriek.

"Take me to home please," She mumbles, her arms swaying behind my back as I carry her out and to the elevator.

__

I spent the better part of an hour carefully getting her ready for bed by removing her clothes and makeup, feeding her until she was very much full, and even so much as spraying the bed down in some calming lavender sh*t to make sure she would knock out.

"Are you gonna lay with me?" She asks, snuggling deeper into the blankets as I tuck them around her body.

"Yeah, baby. Just want to make sure you're taken care of first." I hope she can't see the mask slipping away. It doesn't feel good to trick her like this, but it's necessary and I hope she'll forgive me.

"You're so good to me, Harry. Thank you for everything," Her tired eyes start to close as she hums out more praises.

I sigh as I drop to my knees before her, clutching the folder in my hand where she can't see it. "Brinna?" I whisper, trying to keep her perfectly between sleep and lucid.

"Mm?" She hums, eyes opening momentarily.

"I need you to sign this before you fall asleep. I took care of your lease, but they need your signature to break it." My heart pounds, hoping she's too drunk to realize that I put a fake lease agreement over the marriage license so that only the signature line is visible at the bottom of the page.

She nods opening her eyes a little more as I hold a pen out, gently placing the papers on the bed next to her. "You take such good care of me. You're a good man. I don't know where I would be without you.." She mumbles as I move my hand over hers to guide her to the line.

"Anything for you, my love." The words leave a bitter taste in my mouth.

She lazily signs her name, eyes shutting in a deep drunken sleep just as she finishes the last letter of her signature. I take the pen out of her hand, guilt eating me as I don't dare to look at the papers. I tried to wait as long as I could. I tried to get her to agree to it, but she wouldn't.

I had to make the decision to keep her safe and this was the only way to ensure it. She'll be perfectly fine now, and hopefully, when she finds out, I won't have to be here to see her trust break at my lies.

Standing with a tired sigh, I turn the lamp off and lean over to kiss her.

"Sweet dreams, Mrs. Styles."

***

Chapter 35: Killers Don't Knock

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

Despite not remembering a single thing that happened on my 24th birthday, I woke up today feeling like a whole new person.

Maybe it's from the giant curly-headed cartel man cuddling into me after feeding me a painkiller and water.

Or maybe, just maybe, it's because I finally feel like I'm at a place in my life where I feel secure because the people around me are nothing but good to me. Especially the man I love, who's finally opened up to me enough that I don't feel the need to worry over what he could be hiding. He trusts me enough with his secrets, and I trust him enough to relax knowing he's not going to screw me over in the end.

It's midday already and we've made no move to get out of bed, instead we've just been drifting in and out of sleep holding on to each other. He seems like he needs to sleep as badly as I do, and I get the feeling it's not from a hangover like mine.

So that's just what we'll do, cling to each other and sleep off our symptoms until we feel well enough to embark on our next adventure together. I love that he always has something up his sleeve and is always so eager to show me things that are important to him.

I roll over, checking my phone that's charging on my nightstand. I definitely didn't do that, and it makes me wonder how much else I did that I won't be able to recall. Hopefully I didn't do anything with Gracie.. we both know how I get around fruity alcohol and that siren club.

I scroll through my notifications, ignoring the sting in my chest at not having any family to wish me a happy birthday.

The feeling is usually worse, but this year it was different. I feel like I have afamilythis year. Maybe it's a little unconventional and sewn together by a string of misfits, but I can genuinely say that Harry, his friends, and Grace are my family. They made my day something I enjoyed instead of dreaded, and I'll never be able to thank them enough for doing that.

I used to really like my birthday until they stopped being something to celebrate and became a day of grief-filled hate from my parents. I haven't been celebrated like that in.. a f*cking decade.

Dallie was due the same week I was born, and that overshadowed me the day he never came home. I haven't spent a single birthday being loved since before Dallie.

Until Harry showed me how deserving I am of being celebrated.

I'd do anything for him. He's healing more for me than I could ever imagine and I hope he knows just how much I love him for it.

"What time is it?" Harry's honey-filled morning voice groans out next to me, no doubt because the sun woke him up.

"Noon," I reply, tossing my phone to the covers and rolling over on my side to face him.

He groans out a disapproving sound, his tired eyes not being able to open just yet. I take the opportunity to scoot closer to him until his head is level with my chest and my fingers are raking through his untamed curls.

His strong arm wraps around my hip, drawing me into his warm body. He nuzzles deeper into my chest, making me giggle at his lack of hiding the way he smiles between my boobs.

"How are you feeling today?" I ask gently, not wanting him to shut me out of his health. It's still a touchy subject understandably.

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" His voice is mumbled by my chest.

"I'm good, baby. Just wondering if you're feeling alright. You're tired today." I lean down to peck his forehead. His skin is a little paler than usual and he isn't one to burn this much daylight in bed.

"Mhmm," He groans, tightening his arms around my waist. "I just need to get up and eat. I'm alright."

"Have you been taking your medication?"

He nods, not offering any further explanation. He'd be mad to know I've been counting his pills to make sure he's on track with them. He already didn't like that I tried to get him a pill sorter, saying that he's not an old man and is perfectly capable of taking care of himself. I just worry that he's so busy with other things that he'll forget.

I decide to not press anymore, knowing that he's not in the mood to discuss it any longer. That and I have Dr. Peter's number if I need him. He'd be even more mad to know I got it from his phone while he was asleep one night, but after finding out about his month-long recovery, I needed to have the number for my own peace of mind.

With a sigh, I shuffle around our pillows to make him a comfier nest to lay in. My hand glides under my own pillow until I startle slightly at the intrusion. I quickly realize what I'm feeling as I unclasp my hand and pat around the object.

"Harry?" I mutter, trying to figure out what exactly it is that I'm touching. "What is this?" My hand slowly drags under the pillow, pulling the soft object toward the light of day.

"Leave it." He says eerily fast, putting his hand on my wrist to stop my movement.

"What?" I giggle, tugging out of his hold to pull the rest of the way out of the pillow. The small object sits between us, my eyes widening with happiness while his widen in embarrassment.

"Is this yours?" I burst with amusem*nt. I pick up the little thing, dangling it between us. His color suddenly returns, though about four shades more red than normal.

Held in my fingers is a little yellow octopus with orange circles. It looks like it had been resewn down the middle and it's obviously been well-loved through many years. It has black buttons for eyes and a little smile between the two of them. The little critter is verycute.

"Who is this, Harry?" I smile and wave his little friend's tentacle toward him. His hand shoots up, trying to snatch it out of my hand, but I'm quick to pull it toward my chest.

"Brinna, I'm serious." He reaches his palm out, gesturing for me to place it in his hand. "It's nothing, it's stupid. I forgot it was there, Niall left it there as a joke," He tries to rattle off every excuse he can think of. It's quite sweet to see him so flustered over the small stuffed animal.

"Not important?" I frown and turn the octopus so it's looking at me. "He said you're not important. Is that true? Would he be mad if I.." My fingers start to pull on a button like I'm going to rip it off the poor little thing's crooked face.

"Brinna! Okay, okay,please. Please don't. Please let me put him away." He looks like he's going to explode from embarrassment and I almost start to feel bad.

But I don't.

My mouth opens with a dramatic gasp as my eyes widen. I look at the octopus again, "So you're ahe?" My eyebrow raises. "Doeshehave a name?"

Harry rolls his eyes and huffs, completely annoyed at my teasing. "No.Itdoesn't have a name. I.. can't sleep without the stupid little thing. I always hold it. Are you done yet? Can I put it away now?"

I bring the octopus to my ear and pretend that the stuffed toy is talking to me. "Uh huh, okay. I see. I'll let him know, it's not a problem." I clear my throat and look at Harry again. "He said it's cold and dark under the pillow, and he wants to sleep out here with us," I state matter-of-factly, now making the toy nod at Harry.

"Brin.." Harry's face drops.

I shrug and fix the pillows between us, placing the little guy on top of one. "Plenty of room for one more."

"I'm not doing this, Brinna."

"You're the only one not enjoying it. Isn't that right, Mister?" I boink his sewn-on lips and lay my head next to the octopus, getting comfy under the blankets. "You can hold him like you normally do. Just pretend I'm not here." I close my eyes momentarily, soon opening one to peek at Harry's unamused face.

He sighs and lays back down next to us with arms crossed over his chest while he completely refuses to acknowledge his friend. He stays still, staring at me while I look at him through a single-slitted eye. His hand draws up to my cheek until his thumb is rubbing along my temple.

"He used to be my childhood lovey. Just a small piece of comfort I have from my parents. I never stopped sleeping with him, as pathetic as that is." He continues, looking into my eyes. "I didn't want you to know that I had him. It's embarrassing."

I put my hand over his and guide it down until they're both over the octopus on the pillow.

I squeeze his hand to make him hold his comfort item, not letting up until he's holding it just as much as I'm making him. He looks shocked at my lack of jokes. "You don't have anything to be ashamed of. He doesn't have to stay hidden around me. Hold him." I lean my head up to kiss the exposed yellow beside Harry's hand. "He's a part of you, and I want to know every single piece."

He sighs, body relaxing with the deep breath. "Okay," is all he managed to get out. His cheeks still hold a tint of rose, but his eyes are starting to drift shut once more.

"I love you, Harry. Let me know what you need and I'll do it." I rub my face on his hand, not wanting to disturb him but needing to feel him.

"I love you, Brin. There's nothing more to do, just a bad day," He sighs. "All I need is you, okay?"

"Okay," I agree halfheartedly, knowing I won't be able to just sit while he's in such a state.

And so I didn't.

I didn't stay in bed with him for more than another half an hour, because I could hear both of our stomachs growling and my bladder was aching like it was going to explode if he shifted any closer on top of me.

I did, however, tuck him back in and set up our phones to FaceTime while he slept.

Call me crazy, but if I didn't think he'd throw a huge fit, I'd have some kind of baby monitor installed so I could keep an eye on him while he laid in bed on his bad days. It gives me peace of mind to be able to watch his chest rise and fall rather than running up the stairs every few minutes to check on him.

My day has been relatively calm, between deep cleaning the house, ordering groceries, and bringing up food and water to my sickly bedridden princess, I've even gotten some writing done. It's not been anything serious, but it's been enough to keep me busy in the quiet penthouse. It's nice to have a day to just relax.

I even started a pot of soup on the stove, homemade chicken noodle that my mom used to make for me when I was a little girl on cold winter nights. It's definitely not cold here, but it always makes me feel better and I think it'll help the both of us right now to have some comfort food.

The sky is growing darker, swirling in deep purples and molten pinks. I asked Harry if we could get a dining table to fill the empty space to the left of the living room, and to my surprise, he was more than happy to have the one I showed him delivered the next day.

He even agreed to eat meals at it with me and let me pick out a cute runner and centerpieces to make it more homey. it's been a long time since I've sat down at a dinner table with someone in a setting other than a restaurant, but he never complains on the few occasions we've used it.

For now though, I'm using it as a makeshift desk. My chair gives me a perfect unobstructed view of the city and on nights like these when the sun is setting beautifully, I just sit here and watch it until the moon is shining.

The sound of shuffling and the shower shutting off snaps my eyes away from the falling sun, only to be met with Harry ruffling his hair as he starts down the stairs. His normal color has more or less returned, and I guess he's feeling better as this is the first time he's been downstairs all day.

I stand from my chair before he makes it down the stairs, quickly going to the kitchen to make him food. He follows close behind me, engulfing me in a hug as I ladle the soup into his bowl. "Smells good, baby." He mumbles, nuzzling into the crook of my neck.

"It's homemade soup," I state. "Made it so you'd feel better. Go have a seat and I'll bring it to you."

"Mmm, I could get used to you like this," His lips find my neck. "Such a perfect little wife--"

"Sit, curly." I cut him off before he can get too carried away, but to my surprise, he doesn't protest at all, instead he silently makes his way to his seat at the head of the table. He's probably still a little out of it.

Placing down a bowl of steaming soup, buttered bread, and a cup of warm tea, I kiss the side of his head as he brings the spoon to his mouth. My fingers intertwine with his hair as I comb it back and put it in a bun so it doesn't get in his face while he eats.

"f*ck, Brin. I didn't know you could cook. Where did you even get the ingredients?" He beams, sipping on his tea.

"I ordered them," I grimace slightly. "I hope you don't mind. I may or may not have ordered a few things to pamper you and a movie, too."

He smiles widely. "I don't mind at all, baby. But you don't need to keep taking care of me. I feel better already."

"What if I like to take care of you?" I walk to the center of the table, lighting the tiered candles as it's dark outside now. His glimmering eyes find mine in the candle light and the pure love seeping from him makes my heart skip a beat.

He wipes his mouth with a napkin before pushing his chair out and spreading his legs. "Come here, Treasure," He pats his thighs. I bite my lip and pad back to him, squealing as he pulls me into his lap sideways. "How did I get so lucky, huh?" He whispers against my lips.

Thud.

My eyes snap open, squinting at the dark upstairs. "What was that?"

"Dunno, window cleaners probably." He lazily replies, nipping at my neck and lapping up the sting. I nod, falling back into his hold. The peacefulness takes over, my heartbeat falling in line with his as we sit in the quiet amidst the flickering light. My head turns to meet his, our lips instantly connecting and moving in sync.

Crash.

A loud bang echoes through the penthouse, the room suddenly becomes ten times darker.

My body jolts out of his hold, yet his hands tighten on my hips. "What the f*ck?" He says more to himself as the two of us look around.

The remote-controlled window covers have dropped.

The security camera in the corner isn't blinking red.. it's shut off.

"Did the power go out?" I whisper, clutching onto his shoulder as my heart rate picks up.

"No." He stands, my legs drop to the floor but my hands stay gripped onto him. He leans forward, wetting his thumb and index finger on his tongue to pinch out each flame, enclosing us in complete darkness. "There's a backup generator for a reason. Someone had to disable my entire system."

"Harry, what are you doing?" I breathe as a sudden fear of the dark crawls up my spine. "What's happening?"

"Don't panic."

Right,because that's exactly what you say to calm people down. Now I'm going to have a breakdown.Thanks.

"Someone's in the house. I need you to be quiet and stay close to me. I know the layout of this house better than anyone, just let me get you somewhere safe. Deep breaths, sweetheart."

And unlike any normal person whose reaction would be to immediately cry, whimper, or shut up in the presence of danger, I was given theamazinggift of being a nervous f*cking laugher. Which is exactly why I won't be taking deep breaths as he leads us in the dark out of the dining room and around the couch, toward the hallway by the staircase.

If any air infiltrates my lungs, I'll start laughing and then our death will be because of my sh*tty survival skills and I know he won't ever let me live that down in the afterlife.

He's quick on his feet, and a whole lot quieter than I would have ever expected for a huge man like him. The cold metal of a gun grazes my arm and when I realize it's because he grabbed it from a hidden spot as we pass the kitchen, my mind both relaxes and jumbles at the possibility of them being stashed everywhere.

I can barely make out the outline of the staircase, but my already-darkened vision is blacked out completely when he shoves me into a closet at the end of the hallway. My back is pressed against the wall, Harry's large frame shielding me from the closed door.

I can't hold it anymore.

Need oxygen.

My chest cavity fills, pressing further into his as he co*cks his head to listen to what's happening outside of the small room. His ability to immediately go into serious mode has me feeling slightly, only fractionally, better about this situation.

And then it happens.

The first laugh escapes me.

And before I can release all of the much-needed air from my lungs, the giggles keep coming.

His face snaps down to mine, no light needed to know exactly what the intense turn was."Brinna,"He snaps. "You need to shut up right now."

"I- heheheh- oh my god. I'm sorry" I giggle a little breathlessly, "I'm so sorry"

His intense stare melts into my face, which is now contorted horribly to hold in my fit. "Are you seriously f*cking laughing right now?"

"I'm a nervous laugher!" I whisper-shout, trying to compose myself.

Thud.

Heavy boots, more than one set, clunk down the stairs, booming through the penthouse.

Another laugh bubbles from my throat with a helpless whine as my eyes screw shut, tears filling them and spilling out before I can stop it. My heart is beating a thousand miles per minute, the anticipation of what's bound to happen sending me on the brink of a panic attack.

"Jesus Christ," He mutters, cupping his hand over my mouth. "I swear to god I will make you pass out right now if you don't shut the f*ck up." He presses into my mouth with his palm before realizing what he's doing. "Lovingly.. just be quiet before Ilovinglyknock you out."

The venom in his tone doesn't strike me as anything bad because of my own cloudy mind being too focused on the situation at hand. They probably would have stung more if I was actually listening instead of trying to suffocate myself to save the both of us.

A few deep breaths fill my nose as I try to focus on the warmth of his hand. My eyes stay screwed shut, not daring to open them as the empty darkness would send me into a spiral. My entire body tenses up at the sound of aknifescraping along a far wall and my nerves are thoroughly f*cking shot.

His hand slowly drops from my mouth before my shaking body is pulled into his chest, his fingers rubbing soothingly through my hair. "No one's going to hurt you. I promise," He whispers impossibly quiet. "I just need you to stay quiet for me." I sink further into him. "Good girl, keep taking deep breaths. You're doing good."

The heavy footsteps seem to be getting farther away. They're still in the room searching for us, and I know it won't be much longer before they find us. He pulls away from me slightly, as if he's about to act on impulse but my tight grip on his shirt stops him. "Harry.." I whine with a trembling voice.

"Shh," He coos. "You're okay. Stay quiet baby. Eyes closed." All I can offer is a small nod before he starts talking in my ear again. "Do you have your knife on you?" His hands snake down my spine like he's searching for it before I can answer.

"No," I whisper breathlessly. I know I should wear it at all times, but this is the last place I would have expected to need it, especially after he upgraded the security around here after Lillith got in.

My heart sinks as he sighs. "Okay.. okay, that's fine. You're fine. Just be quiet. I'll come to get you. I promise." He kisses the top of my head. Slowly, he peels off of me and turns to face the door of the closet.

I know that he's making a mental list right now because the house is so quiet that if he co*cks that gun they're going to hear. In one swift movement, he co*cks it, opens the door, and slams it shut behind him. My fingers move quickly to lock it.Not that it would do anything if someone wanted to get me.

It's quiet for only a moment until all hell breaks loose.

Gunshots.

A lot of f*cking gunshots. Accompanied by glass shattering, bodies thudding, and my heart beating straight out of my asshole.

I cover my own mouth this time while my other hand grips my shirt over my stomach. My trembling legs are threatening to give out any second and I don't think I could open my eyes even if I tried.

I don't know how long I stayed pressed up into the wall listening to drop after drop, until the shots slowed down and I heard a final thud and then nothing. My hand falls from my mouth with a small sniffle as I hold my breath once more to listen.

Silence. I can't hear Harry.

I straighten up off the wall and reach my trembling fingers toward the door handle, barely grazing it when footsteps stop right in front of the door, two dark shadows being barely illuminated at the bottom of the door. The handle jiggles and my heart skips a beat.

I bite my lip hard enough to draw blood, trying to silence my cries. Shallow knocks land on the wood.

Killers don't knock, right?

"Come on, baby. It's safe." Harry mumbles tiredly and I instantly unlock the door for him to open. Ring-covered fingers reach out for me and I take them with no hesitation as I try to get a look at his face but the dim light surrounding him does nothing to help. "Eyes closed love. Please... please close your eyes. I'll guide you out. The boys will be here in just a minute."

"Okay.." I whisper, too afraid to use my full voice. I drag my shirt up over my eyes, knowing that if I trust my eyelids to stay closed, I will for sure scar myself.

He pulls me out of the small closet with one hand, his other slowly drifting down to my back. He doesn't feel as warm as he usually does. "Harry..?" I speak under my breath, my voice feeling small.

"I'm right here. You're safe. I took care of it." He stops walking, "Lift your foot baby. Just a little...speed bump." The grimace in his voice is apparent as he urges my lower back.

I lift my leg, stumbling slightly but his grip tightens after I make it around the obstacle.

That was not a speed bump.

My throat burns, threatening to close up as the image of a dead body fills my mind despite my eyes being covered. Speed bump. Speed bump.Totally just a speed bump.They have those inside, right? Totally fine. This is normal. I breathe out slowly, trying to will my stomach to be calm but the smell of gunfire and blood slowly seeps through my shirt.

We reach the front door and step into the hallway but I'm too focused on Harry's touch to realize any better. The door shuts just as the elevator opens, making me whip the shirt off my face and lean back into Harry.

"Brinna?" Zayn's worried voice comes first as the boys step out of the elevator.

I blink, adjusting to the light in the hall as Harry removes his hands from me and takes a step away. I stare blankly at the group in front of me, having no words for them as I don't know what the f*ck just happened.

"What the f*ck just happened?" Zayn asks, chewing a piece of gum with his hands on either hip.

That's what I'm saying.

Niall keeps flicking his eyes between Harry and I, waiting for a response.

Louis isn't looking at me, but rather over my shoulder at Harry. When I felt it had been a beat too long of silence I slowly turned around to follow their eyes.

My eyes widen immediately at Harry, who once again has lost all of the pinkness in his skin. Leaning back against the wall, hands on his upper thighs, his long hair is now damp with sweat and hanging over his face.Oh god. Did he get hurt?Is that why he wouldn't show me himself when he came to get me?

I turn back to the guys with panic as Louis shares a look with the other two before mumbling. "Alright, let's go Styles. Where did they get you? Anywhere important? You gonna f*ckin' die on us right now?"

"f*ck off." He hisses almost immediately. "Got me in..f*ck. Got me in the balls, that bald Russian f*cker did. Right before I shot him. Give me a f*cking second"

I let out a breath that I didn't know I was holding. "Oh, Jesus Christ." I sigh in relief. "I thought you were hurt.. like.. like actually hurt" I chuckle nervously, the pit in my stomach growing with nausea as the adrenaline dies down. I crash into him, apologizing quietly because he still has the wind knocked out of him but he doesn't hesitate to wrap his arms around me and hold me to him.

"Are you alright?" He asks, pulling away to scan my face. I nod, scanning over his as well.

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" I laugh. "I think I'm going to be sick," My face instantly drops as the panic sets in because the closest bathroom is all the way downstairs and our house is full ofbodies.

"Where are you going?" Louis asks annoyed as Harry ushers me into the elevator.

"Well unless you want me to throw up all over your-" I look him up and down, swallowing hard, "Lovely outfit, Loulou, I suggest you back up and let the doors shut."

He grimaces at my words at the same time Harry gives me a sympathetic frown. "Have at it, princess," he says, backing away. "And don't f*cking call me that."

The doors start to shut as I lean into Harry with my eyes shut, but not before Niall's laugh booms. "Atta f*cking girl! Weak stomach and bad attitude! Just how I like 'em!"

"What the actualf*ckwas that?"

"Lillith," Harry shakes his head, watching the floor numbers go down. "I'm going to take her to the f*cking grave with me."

***

Chapter 36: Guilt, Money, and Temptation

Chapter Text

H A R R Y

"Again." My voice is calm but firm, a vast difference from the panting, whining mess below me.

She doesn't dare to meet my eyes, knowing I won't give in to her pouty brat antics right now. "I've already done it five times Harry, I'm tired!" I roll my eyes and stand her back up straight.

"Make me stop then." I spin her around and trap her back against my chest in one swift movement. "Show me that you can defend yourself."

"Let go of me." She seethes, wiggling in my firm hold.

One that I barely have to close my fingers around her nimble wrists to maintain.

"Ow!" She winces and my hands immediately drop from her wrists and move to her shoulders to spin her so she's facing me. She keeps her focus down, cradling her limp hand in the other with a pout.

"sh*t baby I'm sorry I didn't realize I was holding you that--"

Her knee makes contact with my balls and I topple over, the entirety of my lung capacity leaving in a pained groan as I hit the training mat.

And then the shadow of my weak-limbed heathen-- I meanTreasure, stands over me, with the same fed-up scowl she's had on her face for the last five days that I've been forcing her to come train with me.

"The only thing morehelplessthan a woman with no muscle," She crouches, holding my jaw in her tiny hand. "Is a man that only thinks with his dick." And as if the f*cker truly has a mind of its own, blood rushes straight to my groin.

My head is forcefully pushed back to the ground before Brinna stomps off to the bar for water and ice. This last week has been.. achallengeto say the very least.

Trying to teach a woman with the attitude of a bull in a China shop how to properly defend herself is like, well, taming a bull in a China shop. Doesn't f*cking work.

However, when said bull finally snaps, so does every intricate piece of antique, gold-rimmed pottery.

Which is exactly why I've been less than nice, less than coddling, and less than kiss-ass to my sweet little fiery Bandit. She needs a push. She needs to release that anger and tension, and if I have to bruise her ego a little for her to stab me with a knife properly, that's just what I'll do.

Except the girl is pure rage. All bark, no bite. Just a wee little chihuahua. And that wouldn't be a problem if I could scoop her up and carry her in a little purse like one of those f*cking ankle biters, but alas, she told me no when I offered.

Which left me no choice but to drag her ass into my club, clear out the dance poles in exchange for training mats, and poke the bear with a stick until she tries to fight me. She doesn't get physical, which to a normal person is the right reaction. But as the wife of the leader of a cartel, she needs to do more than stomp her foot and pout those pretty f*cking lips.

So nowshe'sangry because I'm being a dick, but I'm being a dick becauseI'mangry.

I think my anger trumps her anger. Hers is built on my unwillingness to let her wither up and die, and mine is built on the fact that she's now actually at risk of dying. My fault? Yes. My fix? God willing, also yes. I'm a patient man but it's becoming more and more of a task to make her focus.

"Where are you going?" I bark as the hot-headed bull makes her way to the club entrance.

She says nothing.

"Brinna. Don't ignore me." I warn, creeping up to her as her body goes still at my words. Slowly, she turns to face me.

"I'm going to go take a hot bath, order a fat f*cking cheeseburger, and move my blankets to the guest bedroom," She smiles as she turns on her heel to continue.

Hot bath,sexy.Cheeseburger, good protein.Guest room--

"Over my dead body will you sleep in a different bed than me." Perhaps not my best choice of words given my recent downgrade in the health department but I mean it, even if I have to die out of spite. She can sleep anywhere she wants, but trust I will be on top of her while she does it.

"Watch me."

The bull is pissed and the China shop is intact.

Which leads me to believe that if my physical China shop is unscathed, my emotional one is about to be torn to shreds. Perhaps I do think with my dick, and if that makes me helpless, call me a damsel because we're chasing after Brinna before I have even two more seconds to think about it.

I catch up to her and hold the elevator door open for myself as it almost closes with her in it alone, just like she wanted. She's fast, but like an incessant sewer rat fiending for a snack, I am faster.

"You're mad," I state, intentions unclear to both occupants of this very small, very tense metal box.

She's giving me the silent treatment-- the perfect cue to inch my way toward her until my shoulder is brushing hers and she has no choice but to confront me.

But like the stubborn little siren she is, she doesn't. She just steps out of the elevator, into the small lobby, and walks up to our door, waiting for me to unlock the only barrier stopping her from carrying out her utterly diabolical plan to sleep in aseparatebed.

So I don't.

I don't unlock the door, I don't give in to her petty foot taps, and I especially don't take note of the way my dick is twitching at the sight of her bratty ass winding herself up even more. If I wasn't such a nice self-defense teacher, I would have had her bent over my lap and spanked for the amount of attitude I've dealt with over the course of 4 days, 23 hours, and 47 minutes.

The precise amount of time she's withheld herself from me.

I would be more worked up than I currently am if she was being genuine when she acts like she doesn't need me. It's all a front, purely from the spite I'm instilling in her until she snaps.

She's got a perfectly working house key. One that matches the locks I had upgraded, along with better security systems, break-in-proof windows, and men standing guard on both the roof and ground level of this building. No one is getting in.

Yet the raging bull is too stubborn to drop the act, even when she waits for me to open the door to make sure it's safe. Or when she curls so tightly into me at night like she's using me as a meat shield. She doesn't want to give me the satisfaction ofaskingme to be her knight in shining armor, but that doesn't mean I'm going to pass up the opportunity to worship the ground she walks on.

Noodle limbed or not, she's still my Treasure.

"Unlock the f*cking door before I rip it off its hinges."

A small smile perks up my lips. "Sayplease."

And then the bull snaps.

The only thing faster than a hungry sewer rodent is the shoe of a provoked woman, aimed directly at the side of my head with the pinpoint accuracy I wish she would use with a knife. It's a good thing she's only got two feet because with the way she launched her second shoe in the exact same spot, I'm afraid I'd get a concussion if she kept going. As impressed as I am,ow.

"Feel better?" I straighten out, picking up her shoes as she crosses her arms like she's trying to contain her own hands before they do something rash.

"I don't know, does your f*cking head feel better?" She mutters, more incoherent insults being whispered too quietly for me to hear.

"I think you should kiss it better," I pout, moving around her and pulling out my keys.

She scoffs, pushing past me only to stop at the entry table. She takes her time removing everything she can possibly think of, but I take even longer to slink into the door. She wants me to check the house and I want her to check that attitude. Fair trade.

I have half a mind to let her in on my little secret involving the title she currently holds, just because I know that would push her over the edge enough to actually try to murder me. Perhaps I'll keep it in my back pocket and use her like a secret weapon if I ever need to.

In all honesty, I'd probably be a lot more laid back about her learning proper defense strategies had I been stable enough toknowthat no matter what, I would have enough energy to protect the both of us.

However, that fantasy is short-lived as another bout of exhaustion ripples through me, threatening to take my ability to breathe with it. Never fear, that won't stop me from dragging her into our bed even if I use every ounce of energy I have left.

The ill-tempered dark-haired siren huffs her way through the house and up the stairs, where I know she's going to get the most obvious task out of the way first: pushing my buttons by taking her things out of our bedroom.

So naturally, I take the time while she runs up and down the stairs carrying armfuls like a true pack rat to order her a double cheeseburger, loaded fries, and a milkshake. She asks for a pebble, I give her a boulder. I piss her off, I offer peace.

My screws may be loose in important places, but my undying devotion to BrinnaStyleswill always overpower everything else. She can be mad at me all she wants to but that won't stop me from doing everything I can for her.

Especially because right now it's going to piss her off even more.

And luckily for me, that exhaustion is setting in so while I mosey my way into the guest room to fix her pillows and blankets how she likes them, I'm really plotting about how I'm going to use theI'm dyingcard to make her forgive me.

And while I'm at it, I turn on the wall-mounted TV to one of her comfort movies and then move on to the bathroom to start her bath. My pissy angel is in only her silk robe and bunny slippers by the time the tub is full of bubbles and salts and her container of pure gold face mask is waiting for her on the ledge of the steamy bath.

She waits in the doorway with a scowl as I stand from the floor after checking the temperature only for her to go completely rigid as I walk behind her and slowly peel away her robe. She lets me, with faux hesitation, but her body betrays her when my lips find her neck in slow pecks.

"You did so good today, baby. I'm proud of you," I hang her robe up on the hook and bend to take her feet out of their rodent cages, all while she glares at the ceiling and keeps her guarded state.

And her silence continues as I hold her hand so she doesn't slip while entering the deep tub. It's only when she's sunken into the water and I'm halfway out of the bathroom door with a lazy smile that her words stop me in my tracks.

"I'm not weak."

Her voice is small, unlike the sentiment of her statement. She sounds like she's trying to convince herself as well as me, but I'm not the one that needs to hear it.

"You're not." I agree, leaning back in the door frame with my arms crossed, not defensively, but so I don't reach into the tub and pull her into me. She needs this moment and I'm not selfish enough to take it from her.

Her hands tread the foamy water around her and her eyes are trained solely on the ripples. "I'm not helpless."

"I know."

Her eyes do meet mine this time, but her anger has dissipated into something more dangerous: doubt. She doesn't need to say anything more for me to understand what she's communicating.

That I am an asshole and took it too far. That I planted a seed of doubt in her mind that rooted itself far deeper than anger. I like Brinna's ability to express emotions and feel them properly but that vulnerability is something that is going to get her killed and I know she doesn't understand the extent of the situation she's in.

I have two choices: leave her blind to the dangers and protected entirely until she's left to figure it out alone or teach her tobelieveshe isn't weak before I'm too dead to fix her fighting stance. I choose the latter because I will not be watching her do it alone while I'm chilling in hell.

"You're stubborn," I uncross my legs. "Incredibly smart," I push off the door frame toward the tub. "Quick on your feet," I take a few steps forward. "Resilient," I sit on the edge and tuck a piece of hair behind her ear. "You're not weak or helpless," I sigh. "Your ability to outsmart your opponent is what's going to keep you safe when I can't."

"Then why do you keep reminding me of how I won't even be able to do that?" She moves away from my touch. "You don't have to be such a dick to get your point across."

I kill men for sharing her same sentiment. They weed themselves out through the same words, and then the weakest links are eliminated until my men are nothing but ruthless and cold-blooded robots.

And yet, I would burn down the entire continent if anyone tried to harm a single hair on her head because of her vulnerability.

"I just need you to realize how important you are to me, and that I won't be able to keep an eye on you at all times. I need to know you're able to stand your ground until I'm next to you again. I'm sorry if I took it too far." The steam from the tub is making my dizzy spell worsen, but the universe likes to send me gentle little love pecks in the form of a knock on my front door. An out, away from her eyes that will soon catch on to my depleting energy levels.

Her body stiffens momentarily until I send her a knowing look, one that says she's safe. With a deep breath, she settles back into the water and I stand from my seat to grab her food. I make sure to also take one of my emergency steroid prescriptions, just in case anything happens I'll have a boost of energy.

She's stepping out of the tub by the time I'm bringing her food into the bedroom on a platter. I set it on the nest of a bed and meet her in the bathroom to help her dry off. She doesn't protest, even as I slip one of my shirts over her head and peck her gently on the lips.

She's quiet until she looks me in the eyes, and then her own widen. "You don't feel good?" She straightens up, stopping my hands from roaming around her any longer.

I sigh shallowly and shrug. "I'm okay. Just going to lay on the couch so if you need me, I won't have to try those stairs."

Am I a horrible person?

Don't care.

"You're not sleeping on the couch." She scoffs. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I didn't want to stress you out more. I was just so focused on training you that I forgot to slow down." I let out an exaggerated sigh as my shoulders drop.

I am a horrible person.

Don't care.

It's notnecessarilya lie, but I'm more than capable of taking care of myself. I'm also more than capable of persuading her to let me in the bed like a little sick puppy. A six-foot sick puppy that will lay on top of my wife while she plays with my hair until this silly little spell is over.

"Get in bed," She demands, nodding towardournest of pillows and blankets.

Bark, bark. Yes ma'am.

I waste no time crawling in on the side nearest the door like the gentleman I am, sick or not. "I got you your favorite burger," I murmur, shimmying down into the soft covers. I quite like this room, it was just a bed before she moved in but I insisted she put all of the stuff from her old bedroom in here. I like the peacefulness the space brings me. It's entirelyher.

I only know the burger is her favorite from the menu wall in the kitchen. Some of them have little notes scribbled next to items, and the burger was a top contender. I am averyattentive husband.

"I see that," she pushes the tray into the middle of the bed before crawling in on her side. "You're going to help me eat it."

"No."

"I'm not above shoving it down your throat with my fist," She glares at me, tearing the burger in half and feeding me a bite. I lift my head pitifully slow to really drill in the onset deterioration of poor little me.

I hum out a contented sigh before wrapping my arms around her legs and snuggling farther into her. My head is in her lap as she sits against the headboard, feeding me a bite after every one she takes as well as forcing me to drink some water. Her focus is on the TV in front of us but she never stops feeding me and wiping my mouth with a napkin when the water spills.

Soon after I refuse more from the nausea bubbling up, she's shifting under me to expose more of my hair before she starts braiding it back, something I've learned she does to help me manage it in times when I'm too out of it to deal with the mess of curls. Her fingers tugging rhythmically have my eyelids feeling heavy and it's not long until they shut.

Only my peace doesn't last long, because she's trying to pry herself from under me but like the clingy sack of bricks I am, she is going nowhere until I allow it.

"I'll be right back, baby." She whispers, feeling my forehead with the back of her hand. "I need you to stay awake for just a few more minutes so I can make you feel better."

I grumble but shift slightly so she can wiggle out from under me. I almost decide to make a run for it, because much like an actual dog, I will not be taking the copious amounts of pills and vitamins she's about to shove into my mouth unless they're accompanied by a piece of cheese.

The siren always has a way of making me take them, though.Harry I'm trying to make sure you wake up in the morning. Harry I'm trying to make sure you don't die next to me. Harry if you take these pills I'll reward you later.

All I know is that she always gets her way, which feels more like a win for me because not only have her voodoo supplements been making me feel better during the day, but sometimes they're even chased with a trip down south. Into my pants. By her hands.

Her footsteps coming back into the fairy-lit room make my eyes open to only slits, as I actually can't move more than I am right now. Poor little me, bedbound next to the smoke show that's taking care of me. Whatever will I do but lay here and let it happen?

"Sit up just a little please," She sinks into the mattress next to me, holding the back of my head as I use most of her strength to hoist myself up a fraction. "Open."

I do, but only because I physically can't deny the medications even if I wanted to. She finishes the pills with water, only this time she puts a straw up to my lips so I don't have to practically waterboard myself.

"Good boy." She lays me back down and kisses my temple as she sets the cup of water on the nightstand.

As I said before, bark bark.

"Are you in pain?" She asks, digging through clanky metalsomethingswhile I try to stay awake enough to answer her. I manage a small head shake which leads her to her next question. "Are you hot?" Another headshake has her peeling back my blanket to shove her small hand under my back, effectively checking to make sure I'm not too hot. And then she tucks me back in and continues her shuffling.

"Take a deep breath," She says, crawling closer to me but my inhale jolts as the cold metal of the stethoscope hits my chest. I continue breathing, my tired mind slowly drifting off as she continues checking my vitals.

"I love you."Is the last thing I hear before completely succumbing to sleep.

__

B R I N N A


"I love you," Is the last thing I say as I double check the heart rate monitor on his wrist that's connected to an app on my phone, as well as muting my sound and turning my camera off so our Facetime call is onesided.

My pillows are pushed against his side so he has something to cling to and I even put Mister next to him, because I know how much the little octopus eases his sleep anxiety. Usually, I stay with him. But I can't sleep.

I have plans to attend to.

So after I triple-check everything needed to make sure he stays asleep and alive, I close the door and slip on my sneakers before grabbing my house key and knife off of the entry table. Luckily my plans aren't that far, just one elevator and a dingy lobby away plus the continuous notifications sent to my phone about his pulse and O2 levels.

He would not like knowing I stick that monitor on him while he sleeps.

I, however, can't sleep unless I know that he's breathing, and with the way the stubborn curly-headed sh*t waves off his undiagnosed sleep apnea, I've been getting no shut-eye, hence the continuous monitoring provided by Dr. Peter.

The constant monitoring only makes this slightly easier.

There are arguably three things in this world that hold power over any person: guilt, money, and temptation. I've lived enough of my life wallowing in my own self-pity to know that the guilt of one person can trickle down to every other person around them if done right. If you have the power to manipulate someone's deepest, most gut-wrenching feelings, they'll be in the palm of your hands.

Guiltisn't a part of this plan. If sh*t goes south,guiltis what will get us out of the mess.

Nowmoney.Everyone has a price, no matter how much they deny it. Rich assholes love to say that money can't buy happiness, but we all know that happiness is the least concerning thing those pricks are buying. That's where guilt comes in, to keep the millionaires on a suicide watch list after they commit unfathomable crimes with their too much money.

Luckily, I have access to unlimited money and the assholes I need to deal with aren't rich enough to deny the influence of a few decimal places.

Temptationis my Achilles heel. Always has been and always will be. From the second old Michael's sperm hit Collette's egg, I was destined to be the cat that curiosity killed. Why is it that when the right thing is meticulously laid out with direct answers and rewards, the wrong thing is sitting in your ear begging to be explored?

Well, it won. I'm exploring. I'm leaving the safety net that is the penthouse to venture into the unknown territory that is Treasure Chest. Money, temptation, and guilt willing, I'll end up where I need to be.

The ride down the elevator is anything but calming. I've been waiting for an opportunity to do this since I found out about it but I feel guilty knowing I'm using Harry's weak state to get it done. A part of me feels like I'm betraying his trust, while another piece of me feels like I have every right to seek out the information he's withholding from me.

I stole his laptop.

It was just the first piece of the puzzle I needed, but that was soon returned when I realized that in a business where a paper trail doesn't exist, neither does a digital footprint. Surely the man doesn't keep track of everything in his head, which means that thereisa paper trail somewhere that no one can snoop around.

The basem*nt.

I'm starting to think I should have just let him marry me the second he suggested it because that would make it a whole lot easier to bypass the plethora of bulky men in black suits waiting for this exact situation to happen.

"No can do, Miss Harper. Boss said you can't be down there alone." The stone wall of a man says cooly, his dark sunglasses in the already dark club surely hindering his ability to see anything.

"Well,Bossis busy, which is why I was sent down here to get the records he needs. Do you really want to be responsible for him losing a multi-million dollar deal because you're too stubborn to take an order from his second in command?"

I have no idea what I'm talking about. In fact, I'm pretty sure Zayn is second in command. Or maybe it's Harry since Lillith is the one who started this entire thing? I have no f*cking clue, but I do know I'm actually the very last person allowed around any of this. He doesn't need to know that though.

I may have no strength physically, but what I do have is tit* and an attitude, one that exudes enough confidence to hopefully trick this goldfish-brained man into letting me down there.

"I'm going to need some clearance before I let you through. I can call him right--"

"Absolutely not," I command, straightening up so that my eyes are merely an inch higher compared to his toppling frame. "If you disturb him, I have full authority to handle you any way I see fit. If you wake--botherhim in his meeting, I'll have no choice."

The six-foot-four, three-hundred-pound mountain stares blankly at me and I don't need to see his eyes to know what they're saying.I'd like to see you try.

With an eyeroll, I'm nearly ready to give up until one last thing comes to mind. "I'll cut you a bonus if you let me through without disturbing him." And that seems to do the trick through a single, momentary eyebrow raise. Just a twitch but enough to know that I'm breaking him.

"Five figures."

"I don't think you're in any position to be making demands," I cross my arms. He says nothing, instead, he turns back into a stone wall. He's calling my bluff without saying a single word.

"f*ck." I mutter. "Fine, if five figures will get you out of my business then consider it done." With a triumphant nose blow, he steps aside from the hidden door and allows me to enter. My confidence slowly dissipates as I walk down the eerily lit stone steps, the crunch of the loose sandy gravel being the only sound besides my heavy breathing.

I choose to ignore the door to my left screaming to be opened.For now, I can ignore it. I'm on a different mission that doesn't include scarring myself even more. So instead I go to my right, into the meeting room that leads into the vault. I'm smart enough to know that the most top-secret information is kept in the vault that's only accessible to Harry, but there are a few filing cabinets around the room full of things like runner profiles and other encounters deemed less important than top-secret.

I pull open every drawer I can, inwardly groaning at the way none of them are close to being organized. My brain is begging for me to put every paper in alphabetical order, that is until I start skimming the words on every few.

Adrian Costa : 23

Status: Active

Jace Harmon : 19

Status: Terminated

Cause of death: mauled by enemy canines

I quickly shut the drawer, not ready to dive into the specifics of the people working for Harry. The next drawer isn't any better, but I can't help my eyes when they read over every single word on the very detailed paper.

JOB 08921: GEORGE AMOS

DESCRIPTION: photographer responsible for leaking pictures of treasure

FAMILY: Lisa Amos, 34, pregnant with first child. 1112 North Chestnut Ave. Works 7 am - 7 pm as a nurse at nearby hospice center, alone from 4 am to 7 am every weekday.

STATUS: complete

CAUSE OF DEATH: mutilation, trauma to heart

PAYOUT: Boss ordered payouts to Lisa Amos, in the amount of $8,000 per month consecutively for 18 years, or until the unborn child is deceased.

SIGNATURE OF HANDLER: Styles

My hands freeze and the humming of basem*nt lights is quickly drowned out by the ringing in my ears.

Harry killed the photographer.

I knew this.. my gut knew. But seeing it on paper is something entirely different. Seeing his signature, the finality of his choices, those same fingers that killed a man in my honor signing away the dead man's life before my eyes.

Something about the physical proof of him being so cruel despite his efforts to cover his tracks is making my subconscious scream.

Look at the room.

Find out what's inside.

A man died because of you.

I can't make the thoughts stop. Not until my sweaty hands are shoving papers back into drawers and slamming them shut with a force I must have drug up from hell, not until my feet are carrying me to the rusted-out steel door, and not until my heartbeat is so loud in my ears that it almost drowns out the sounds of guilt overriding every rational thought I could have.

Someone died in this room because of me. Over pictures that don't even matter anymore.I killed someone.

My fingers shake uncontrollably as my hand rises to the handle. I feel the sweat gathering at the nape of my neck and my unsteady breaths tell me that had it not been for the voices, I wouldn't be doing this voluntarily. I don'twantto know what's behind this door. Ineed to know.

The smell of old water and bleach soon invades my nostrils and constricts my heavy lungs even further. The ringing in my ears doesn't stop until my fingers skim the cold handle, and apiercingalarm sounds from somewhere near me.

My phone.

Harry's heart monitor.

No longer frozen, I take a shaky step away from the door and pull out my cell phone at the same time I see the call has been ended. A notification comes across the screen:Heart Rate Lost: O2 Lost: Dial 911 Immediately.

He can't be the second person I kill. What if something happened while I was gone? My legs are sprinting up the old stairs until my body slams into the door, but someone else is faster to open it.

Harry.

My heart hammers with relief and regret. He's pissed, beyond pissed and he's on so many medications I don't know how he made it out of bed let alone down here.

"Brinna."He seethes. I open my mouth to speak but he's quicker."Not another word."It's an order, not an option. He steps to the side, allowing me to come out of the basem*nt and when I do, I'm met with the eyes of the guard who's being forced up against the wall by another and Zayn, who still looks angry, despite his eyes softening when he catches my own watery ones.

"Please don't hurt him," I plead, cautiously stepping closer to Harry's chest. "It was my fault."

He sighs and pulls me into his chest with a head shake. "You didn't do anything wrong, my sweet girl. He knows better than to disobey my orders." His voice is anything but reassuring.

"But I-I.."

"Shh," He coos. "He knows what happens when you mess with my Treasure. He allowed you to be in danger."

"Please," I cry, my chin tilting up to look into his eyes. They're emotionless, dark.Scary.

"I made him. I lied to him." I try again.

It's Zayn who answers next, with much more sympathy than the man cradling my cheeks. "Maybe you should take her upstairs, H." He says, slowly moving his hand to Harry's shoulder.

"You're right. Let's go, angel. You don't have to worry about men like that anymore."

"Zayn," I plead, trying to anchor myself down as Harry pushes me forward toward the exit of the club. He only offers a sympathetic smile and the next thing I know, the man against the wall is being thrown down the basem*nt stairs, Zayn following them down as the door shuts and a new guard stands watch.

***

Chapter 37: Branding

Chapter Text

H A R R Y

The first time I drifted off to sleep last night was by the angelic hands of my wife, who spent her time taking care of me until I was finally drugged up enough to suppress the nausea, pain, and dizziness to fall into a peaceful state of unconscious bliss.

It was perfect really, her delicate touches lulled me to sleep by playing with my hair, feeding me, and kissing every inch of skin she deemed to warm to be normal.

However, said wife seems to think that I won't rise from the dead to track her down. Like a spidey sense, I quite literally shot out of bed for seemingly no reason. Until the realization hit that she wasn't in bed with me, her shoes were gone by the door, along with her keys and knife.

And then all hell broke loose. I called every single man I possibly could to tear apart every inch of this city. I sent an army out looking for her. I prepared to rage war on anyone stupid enough to touch her.

My thumb was on the call button, ready to demand Niall and Louis send their men too. Until I got a call from Zayn who reviewed club footage. Less than five minutes after I fell asleep, my dark-haired siren was wandering into her club and straight to the door of the basem*nt. Exactly where she isn't supposed to be.

So you would imagine my surprise that only 20 minutes after I fell asleep, I was barreling downstairs and to the basem*nt, only to find that the sh*thead guarding the door let the most important Treasure slip through his fat fingers.

He was dead by minute 22.

The second time I drifted off to sleep was after an hour of consoling a frantic siren, except I don't think her pleading to spare the already dead man was anything close to trickery. It wasgenuine. Her concern for a man that let her go into a basem*nt, that's currently housing a traitorous rat in the torture chamber, is greater than her concern for her own well-being.

The man agreed to let her in the same proximity as someone who wouldn't think twice about snapping her neck, because of the promise of a check. A check that Brinna has no authority to write and he has no authority to cash.

I have one rule: protect the girl at all costs. A very simple f*cking rule. It holds the most weight of anything I've ever said in my lifetime. It's the utmost important rule. It's the rule to die by.

Every single person has explicitly agreed to do no less than die for her if need be. He practically fed her to the wolves.

Over money.

Something that I quite literally print and pay him plenty of, to protect said girl.

He broke the most important rule. There are no second chances when it comes to protecting my Treasure. He became the threat, therefore he had to be eliminated.

That is precisely why Brinna had a breakdown and despite my effort to console her over a dead nobody who tried to get her killed, she ended up falling asleep sniffling and shaking and insisting that she had killed a man, which is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard come out of her mouth.

So you can imagine my surprise when I woke up for the second time, this time well into the morning, with my pretty thing curled into me. Her arms wrap around me like I'm the only man in the entire world, the only one she feels safe with despite her confessing to reading my documents about killing men with my bare hands.

You can imagine my surprise, even more, when she woke up pretending that last night never happened. She made me a full breakfast, showered with me like I was some kind of frail old man, and then with those f*ckable pouty lips, shebeggedme to take her somewhere.

Full-on batting eyelashes, hands running up my chest, begged me to take her to the Strip. I don't know what she's playing at, but she's making me question if last night was a fever dream or not.

But the surprises just kept coming because the siren led us to a tattoo parlor of all places. She won't tell me anything about what she's doing or why we're here. Just that I can't look until it's done and that it's been on her bucket list for a long time.

She won't even let me go back into the room with her. It's a complete secret, which doesn't really make sense when the overly talkative Treasure spilled to me that her tattoo was going to be some type of butterfly flowerthing.

Who wakes up after reading about murder and decides to get a butterfly tattoo?

f*ck if I know, but alas, here I am. Sitting in the lobby of this rundown tattoo parlor, the one shebeggedme to come to, despite telling her I'd payherif she let me take her to a cleaner establishment. She refused, with those pouty lips, until I was sighing so hard I thought it might actually launch me into space.

A large man took her back an hour ago and besides the faint sound of her sweet voice, nothing else is easing my boredom and I'm itching for her to let me in the room with her. I don't trust a single f*cking person near her, but she seems to think it's fine.

That's why my gun has been loaded and sitting on my leg the entire time I've been here.

Maybe it's the gun scaring her or the large tattooed man under it, but the receptionist hasn't looked away from me or it the entire time. She seems to think I can't feel her beady eyes on me, but they burn like salt on a snail.

Disgusting.

My thumbs dart across my screen as I play the endless levels of Temple Run until I can't take it anymore and switch to a different game. One I know will leave me satisfied:Brinna.

To: Bandit 2:06 pm

Can I come see you yet

From: Bandit 2:07 pm

Not done yet

To: Bandit 2:07 pm

I'm bored. And this bitch won't stop staring at me.

Wanna test out your fighting skills?

I smirk to myself at that one, and when I glance up at the musty bitch ahead of me, she seems to think my smile is for her.

I growl at her.

From Bandit: 2:09 pm

Don't be mean

The sound of plastic crinkling obnoxiously loud catches my peeved attention. I look up once more, to the horse-faced bitch slobbering all over a sucker as if it's supposed to turn me on.

To: Bandit 2:10 pm

Don't worry my gun scared her off

From: Bandit 2:10 pm

Harry!!!! Fine, come back here

Finally, the love of my life calls for me. I stand and head straight to the curtain leading to the back room without another glance at the f*ckface sitting behind the desk. "You can't go back there." She mumbles.

"Try me." I roll my eyes.

She hesitates for a moment like she's actually considering the offer, but she's wise to sit back down and shut the f*ck up. My patience is wearing thin and unless you're the woman I'm buried in every night, the chances of keeping your tongue is slim.

It's a short walk back to the room, and the closer I get the more prominent the smell of cheap weed is. It's even more apparent that the old f*cker tattooing her is high out of his mind when I draw back the curtain and a cloud of faint smoke leaves the room.

He touched her with a needle while he was stoned.

He's a dead man.

My eyes are on her first and it's not until I register her lip-biting and nervous face that I look farther down her body. She's lying on her stomach with her arm wrapped in plastic covering a tattoo I have yet to see.

My eyes stop as I see the red.

The red lace of her thong covering the least concerning part of her bare f*cking ass in this man's face.

"Heeey man," the ancient stoner drawls out lazily, finishing up the last stroke of the tattoo on her right asscheek.

I'm going to burn this entire building to the ground.

"I take it you're Harry?" He chuckles, moving at the pace of a thousand-year-old turtle. "This'll be reeeeal awkward if you're not."

My eyes snap to Brinna who seems to be flushing as red as her thong, soon to be her ass under my hand. I take a single step forward toward the man without looking down at my wife'sass in his f*cking face.

"You have two seconds to remove yourself from her before I show you who I am."

"Hey man, I just do the art." He backs away slowly with his hands raised and it's a f*cking miracle he's cognizant enough to even be upright.

"Harry.." That sweet little siren voice breaks my gaze from the old f*ck and just as I'm about to look into her eyes, the large branding on her skin stops me.

My branding.

My signature on her asscheek.

"Brinna." I stare at the cursive, a perfect match for myexactsignature.

"Ta-daaa..."

"Leave this f*cking room right now." I grit to the old f*ck in the corner. He does so, surprisingly quickly at the sight of my gun.

"Thank you Lenny.." Brinna says shyly before trying to stand up and fix her pants, but I stop her.

"Don't move." She freezes like a rigid little deer caught in the headlights of a freight train.

Choo-f*cking-choo.

"What is this?" I ask, hovering my hands over the mounds of her ass. My fingers graze the backs of her thighs where her pants are settled.

"... a tattoo.." She answers timidly.

A deep sigh leaves my nose as I inch forward until my knuckles are on the cushioned tattoo table. My head drops between my shoulders and the last ounce of sanity I have left has officially dissipated.

My name is on my wife's ass. Like some twisted cattle branding, permanently inked into her fair skin screaming that she's mine. That Iown her. It's sick.

And I love it.

"Try that again," I hum, bending in a way to conceal the blood rushing straight to my co*ck to the point my legs are going weak the longer I stare at her ass.

I'm a strong man, so I back away. I back away, step to the head of the bed, and crouch down until our faces are almost level. And when she sits up on her elbows to peer up at me with those big blue f*cking eyes, I can't stop my hand from launching to her throat and pulling her toward me until she's mere millimeters away from my face.

"I'm waiting, Brin."

"I-I'm sorry.. I thought you'd-"

"That's not what I asked," I squeeze her neck once in warning."What is that."

"Your name." She breathes and even though I can see the hesitation in her eyes, she doesn't look away. Like she's feeding off of whatever tension is lingering between us as badly as I am.

"You've been testing me a lot lately. I've beenverypatient with you," I sigh, walking back to the end of the table to examine the precise lines winding over her skin in the form of my ownership. "But this?" I pull the band of her thong back and let it snap on her skin. "This is my final straw."

She starts squirming when I tug the rest of her pants down her legs until she's left in nothing but a black tank top and red lace thong. My hands knead up her soft legs until I'm inching them apart. And then I see the goldmine, her soaked puss* nearly making a mess in this sterile f*cking room. "Tell me, baby. Are you wet from letting that old cuck put his hands on you?" My fingers clamp down on her thighs, hard enough that it makes her gasp.

"No." She answers steadily, albeit a little breathless.

"Good girl," I rub the tender skin that was beneath my fingertips. "Was it the pain? Or the thought of my name on your skin forever?"

"I'm not-"

My hand comes down in a harsh smack on her left ass cheek. "Don't f*cking lie to me. What is it that has you so worked up?"

She whimpers and shifts toward me like she's begging me to do it again. "I was thinking about.. about youf*cking me with your name on my body."She whispers the last part, probably due to the fact that the only thing separating us from anyone else is a thin curtain that has no way of being secured shut.

"You like being branded?" I ask, my palm rubbing over her reddened cheek before I bring it down in another harsh smack. "Answer me."

"Yes," she breathes, her forehead falling to the table.

"How did you get this signature, Brinna?" I stare at it, realizing that ittrulyis identical to my actual writing.

"I.. took it from one of the filing cabinets. It didn't have anything important on it I swear.. I just wanted your signature."

"You're being a little f*cking thief, hmm?" I spread her legs even wider as I palm myself through my pants. Her hands splay out on either side of her head before she grips the end of the table in anticipation. "Do you know what I do to thieves?"

"What?" She whispers. "Let them have a time out to think about what they did wrong?" She laughs nervously, only stopping when I lean down into her ear.

"Ipunishthem."

She stills completely as the warmth from my lips skims the side of her face. "I'm going tof*ckyou right here and you're going to be good and take it."

"But we're in public.."

"I guess you're going to have to be quiet then, yeah?" I climb up the table and between her legs, spreading them more before pulling her hips back so she's up on her knees, displayed in front of me. "Filthy f*cking girl, already making a mess." I tsk her, moving the side of her underwear over to expose her. She shivers as I blow cold air over her wetness.

I run a knuckle up her slit, brushing her arousal all around as I use my free hand to undo my belt. "You're going to answer every question truthfully and if I think you're holding back, your ass is going to get bruised. Understood?"

"Yes," She breathes, shifting slightly like the idea is turning her on more than making her nervous.

I move my fingers away from her core, dragging a trail of her wetness along the plump area of her ass. "Yes,what?"I give her ass one last warning smack before shuffling back and closing her legs so that her puss* is still on display, but her ankles are closed. I slip my belt off and wrap it around her ankles, once, twice, three times, until it's tight enough that she's unable to move.

"Yes..Sir," She mumbles, burying her face further into the plastic mattress.

I don't know what I was expecting from her, but it certainly wasn'tthat. Not complaining, in fact, if that's something that's going to get her off while simultaneously embarrassing her, I plan on using it to the fullest extent.

"Good girl." I hum, dragging the pads of my fingers up the sides of her thighs. She whines breathily but the only thing I'm focused on is her right asscheek that's slowly catching up to the reddening of her fresh tattoo on the left. "Do you like pissing me off, Brin?" My hand inches higher up her thigh, my own skin tingling over hers.

"I wasn't trying--ah!"She quickly shuts up with a jolt as my palm smacks against her skin.

I smooth away the sting with a tsk. "That's not what I asked. Try again." She's silent for a moment before mumbling something inaudibly. "Louder," I grit, palming her reddened skin.

"Yes."

I exhale the breath I didn't know I was holding, relishing in her admission. She isn't lying. She likes to get under my skin.Brat.

"Why did you go to the basem*nt?" My fingers dig into the skin of her ass.

"I.. needed answers."

Answers?To f*cking what?

"Did you find youranswers?"My eyes burn into the back of her head and I know she feels it from the way her cheeks redden in the mirror in front of her.

She only shakes her head weakly. I huff out a short scoff. "And why is that?"

"I.. don't know," She admits defeatedly.

"Because," I hiss, leaning over her body until my dick is on her ass and my lips are to her ear. "Anything that concerns you won't need to be a puzzle." My hands drag down her arched back, pressing her farther into the mattress. "Anything that I deem necessary for you to know, you already do."

"I-I'm sorry--"

I smack her ass. "Uh-uh. Stand by it." I push off of her, back to my position behind her. "What did I tell you about winning against your opponent?"

She lifts her head slightly, eyes widening when they see my amused look in the mirror. "Outsmart them?" She whispers.

"You did that, yeah? To get in the basem*nt?"

She nods.

"Do you think you'll be able to outsmart a man three times your size who wants to kill anything meaningful to me?"

"What?" She murmurs.

"In that basem*nt," I smile, only to mask the hate rising in my chest. "Is a man that would have killed you in five different ways before I even woke up. Do you think you're ready to handle that?"

She gulps. "No."

"That's what I thought." My smile drops as my thumb moves to her slit, spreading the arousal around her outer lips. She draws in a sharp breath as I apply more pressure, anywhere but where she wants me. "Why is my name on your ass?" I zero in on the signature once more.

She says nothing but the red in her cheeks speaks volumes. "Go on," I taunt. "Unless you want to be even more red."

"Fidelity."

And that, that makes me go silent.

"Keep going," I whisper, eyes trained only on her.

"My devotion to you.. permanently. I'm yours."

Permanence. The one thing we won't have the privilege of experiencing.

She's the rest of my forever and I'm inked into her skin for the rest of hers.

Suddenly, my dick is out.

"Say it again." My demand is low and guttural as my fingers work quickly to undo the belt around her ankles.

"I'm yours." She says with no hesitation as I line myself up with her.

"Again," I wet my lips as we hold each other stare.

"Youown me, Harry."

Her breath hitches in her throat as I thrust all the way inside of her. "You're f*cking right I do," I grunt, pulling back out of her before slamming her hips back down onto me. I reach forward to grab her throat. "Such a f*cking brat," I hiss, watching the way her ass claps back into me. "Pushing my buttons just to turn around and pull some sh*t like this."

Her eyes snap open with a knowing look and my hand tightens around her throat. The siren bites her lip and clenches around me. "f*ck, Brinna," I pound harder into her, watching as that little facade fades out until she's on the brink of crying out.

"One f*cking sound," I pant, driving into her harder as I watch her face scrunch up in the mirror. "And I stop before that pretty little puss* gets to cum." Her frantic eyes find mine in the mirror, wordlessly pleading with me to let her finish. I blink back at her through serious, hooded eyes before trailing back down her body where I'm thrusting in and out of her.

The bed squeaks and rocks under us and it's truly a miracle that no one's walked in yet. It's a good thing she's been working herself up long enough to nearly be at her climax within minutes of me f*cking her.

Only just when I feel her start to clench around me and her face contorts into a beautiful painting of pure pleasure, I pull out of her and land one last harsh smack on her ass. Her mouth drops open with a confused gasp, tears nearly spilling out of her eyes from her org*sm being taken away.

I smile at her through the mirror and flip her over to her back and before she can even register what's happening, I thrust back into her until my full length is buried deep inside of her. A strangled moan leaves her lips but I quickly swallow it down into my own mouth. "Have you been good enough to cum?"

"Please," She cries, rocking her hips against my deep thrusts. A tear slips down her flushed cheek as she squirms under me, trying to get any friction she can. "Please let me." Her legs start to shake as I feel her building up around me once more.

"Are you going to f*cking listen to me next time I tell you to stay away from my work?"

"Yes,Sir."She pants.

"Good girl," I slip a hand between us to circle her cl*t as I pick up my speed, rocking into her hard enough that her tit* bounce with every thrust. She's restless under me, squirming and whining until her eyes roll back into her head and her back arches off the table. I pin her hands above her head with one of mine, pressing harder into her cl*t as my lips brush over hers. "That's right, pretty girl. Give it to me," I murmur, catching her strangled moans against my lips as she clenches around my co*ck.

"f*ck," She cries, body jolting as she hits the peak of her org*sm. She tugs her arms, trying to loosen my hold but I only tighten around her wrists as I keep circling her cl*t harshly.

"f*cking take it," I groan, my thrusts becoming sloppier the more she gasps into my ear. It's only when she clenches around me a second time that I bury myself deep inside her as my own org*sm ripples through me. "sh*t," I mutter through clenched teeth as my entire body tenses.

I stay still on top of her, catching my breath while she does the same. A small giggle escapes her plump lips and I dip my head down to soak it up in a kiss. "What's funny?" I murmur, pecking along her jawline.

"I can't imagine your reaction if I put it on my forehead or something," She hums.

I smile at her before slowly pulling out. "I would have had to lock you away forever," I bite her enough to elicit a hiss. "Too big of a target on your back."

"Good thing it's on my ass. Where only you can see," She winks, sitting up on the table while I tuck myself back in my pants and grab a paper towel to clean her with.

"You're crazy." I shake my head.

"Crazy about you." She smiles, using my words against me.

"Let's go before we get arrested for public indecency," I tug her pants up and pat her butt before pulling her out of the room.

She walks quickly through the hallway and into the lobby, not stopping as I do before I throw a wad of cash onto the desk. "You might want to bleach that table."

"You can't just--" The woman at the desk gapes, eyeing the money and my sex-haired wife.

"Already did."

***

Chapter 38: Sugar and Salt

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

My day started the way it usually does.

Birds chirping obnoxiously loud, the blazing f*cking sun shining directly in my face, and Harry holding me so close to him as though he was actually trying to use my skin as a sweatshirt.

On any other day, I would have enjoyed the natural movement of the awakening city. I would have enjoyed waking up with the man who loves me, in our beautiful home, with our beautiful view of the sunrise.

But not today. Today it was horrible.Allof it.

It didn'tstarthorrible. In fact, I woke up in a great mood. I had a good breakfast, I kissed Harry goodbye as he went off to work for the first time in days, I cleaned up the house, and I left to run some errands.

Everything was fine. I had not a single care in the world and I was well on my way to completing my tasks and being able to wind down by midday to catch up on some writing. Some writing that, after today, might end up being the tale of a murder.

The perfect day: calm, relaxing, easy.

So how could such a tame morning turn into something that I had come to realize was really just a front? A fraud. Agame. A f*cking lie.

The mail came.

The mail usually comes at the same time, by the same mailman. I've spoken to him a handful of times. We've chatted about the weather, and weekend plans, but nothing of importance until today.

Today, however, I was congratulated by said mailman, and his joyous face was accompanied by a big, fat, white and gold envelope. Now, when I first saw this envelope, I thought nothing of it. .I figured it was just some fluke that someone had sent now that Harry and I are together and living in the same house.

So when I took this envelope with a confused look plastered on my face, the absolute last thing on my mind was the fact that maybe it wasn't a fluke. I was so unbothered by this letter that, until I opened it hours later, I forgot about the stupid thing.

You know what's really hard to forget?

Bold lettering, inrealf*cking gold that readsCongratulations,Mr. and Mrs. Styles!

At first glance, it seemed to be one of those scammy preapproval letters, the ones that try to make you max out credit cards and buy bullsh*t home improvements. Just as I was about to toss the paper, a set of black cards fell out.

To my surprise, they were new bank cards. One for Mr. Harry Styles, and one for hiswife. Mrs. Brinna. f*cking. Styles.

Naturally, I called the bank immediately to get this fixed, seeing as how that's not my name and I shouldn't be on his bank account. After an hour-long back-and-forth conversation about how I was in fact supposed to be on there, with authorization from the man himself, I decided that the motherf*cker was hiding something from me

Something big.

Something like a marriage certificate, signed by one Brinna Harper, at two AM, following my birthday party.

One phone call later to his lawyer, sorry,our lawyer,and suddenly I have the official license sent over to me in a f*cking shiny frame. I guess the one thing he didn't account for is the fact that with his last name, I can get whatever I want immediately. Sure, maybe he thought I wouldn't ever be smart enough to figure it out, but why would I need to be when his plan was stupid enough to land directly in my hands?

Outsmart your opponent,he said.Use your brains,he said.

I might actually kill him with my bare hands as I use the edge of this official paper to cut a million little gashes into every inch of his lying ass skin. If it's not enough to do something so extreme without my knowledge, he did it with the intention of me never knowing and that's worse.

I'm a reasonable person. I've been through enough sh*t to know that when people do something wrong, they usually think they're doing the right thing. They think they're being noble or helpful, when in reality their tunnel vision is only thinking about their own selfish gain.

But using my drunken vulnerability to trick me into signing a marriage license on my f*cking birthday? Unexcusable.

I made it very clear to him that I didn't want to do that,yet.Had he given me any good reason or actually talked to me about it, I might have reconsidered. If he had taken even minutes to truly ask me, or explain to me why it was so important to him, I would have considered it.

But he tricked me. He waited until I needed his care and he used that against me to get what he wanted. He threw me a party, one I thought was out of love for me, knowing that at the end of the night, he needed me drunk enough to use me.

He knew the whole f*cking night. The whole night I was thanking him, kissing him, telling him over and over again how much hiskind actionsmeant to me.

So I'll give him exactly what he f*cking wants. I'll play along. I'll be his perfect little tricked, trapped housewife who has access to all of his money and important sh*t and if he doesn't divorce me by the end of the day, maybe it was truly meant to be.

It's been a long,longday. A long day of swiping my new, shiny black card with unlimited funds. A long day of ordering grocery deliveries, trying on expensive dresses, and even calling Grace's Klonopin and vodka sedated mother to discuss where exactly all of the rich housewives shop for their expensive homes.

I, however, am not tired. That's the benefit of having the Styles name, I now have jurisdiction over all of his stupid little peanut-brained men who have been carrying my bags and boxes up to the penthouse as well as doing anything else I ask of them. No--order.

He wants a spoiled little wife that is so well beneath him she didn't even get the choice to sign away her life? Sure. I can do that.

I made sure to dress like the perfect little housewife, too. A tight, silky black dress, paired with my favorite Louboutins, and red lipstick to match the heels. My hair is done, my freshly manicured hands are soft and dainty, and Harry is out a couple of grand just for the entire outfit already.

I glance around, making sure that ournewfine China is set perfectly under the dimly lit crystal chandelier that I had installed while I was preparing dinner. I can't be my best homemaker in the same boring house that I'm always in, right? Might as well spice it up.

On tonights menu is a whole f*cking roasted chicken dinner, complete with every butter-filled side you can imagine. I even made him homemade f*cking rolls. And justwaittill he gets a bite of dessert.

I hope he's hungry because I might shove this entire bird down his throat the second he walks through that door.

My heels click across the freshly polished floor, echoing through the cold penthouse. It's all perfect, the meal is garnished with some green sh*t I've seen chefs use in fancy restaurants, my apron is freshly pressed and wrinkle-free, and I even prepared a fresh glass of his favorite dark liquor. He'll need it.

Now all that's left to do is wait. Maybe I'll even look for some new appliances while I'm at it, after all, if I'm going to be stuck here with this new title, I might as well fully dive into it, right? My nails tap on the side of my crystal glass as I take slow sips and watch the clock, knowing he'll be back any second.

As if right on cue, keys jingle in the lock, sending a burst of anger-fueled adrenaline through my veins. I knock back the rest of my scotch and put the glass in the sink before picking up his glass and opening the door before he has the chance to. My eyelashes bat at him while I muster up my best pleasant good-wife smile.

"Hi, sweetheart," he smiles with confusion.

"Hello,dear. Long day at work?" I ask, pushing the glass into his hand and taking his jacket.

"Yeah.." he mumbles, his face dropping even further with suspicion as he takes a look around our home. "It smells good in here. Did you change something?" His eyes flick around, knowing that something's different but that f*cking man vision wouldn't be able to spot a missing limb.

"I was window shopping today and found this gorgeous chandelier." I tilt my head, walking to the table to set down dishes of food. "Isn't it pretty? Really livens up the place. I figured you wouldn't mind, seeing as how it's a woman's job to make a pretty house."

"It looks great, baby." He nods, smiling only a fraction but it's obviously forced. His confusion only angers me more, especially the way he grows more unaware of the tension as he takes his spot at the head of the dinner table.

"Oh, and the China. We can't have a gorgeous meal on our old plates now, can we? I spent all day making this for you," I purr, leaning over his shoulder to kiss his cheek.

"Thank you. It looks great," his smile becomes more genuine as his eyes dart around from bowl to bowl of steaming food.

I wave him off with a shy smile, but my insides are on fire. Luckily, carving the chicken is giving me an ounce of relief.

"Uh, Brinna?" He mutters, leaning forward slightly in his large chair.

"Yes, Harry?" The blade slams onto the table with more force than I meant, but my smile masks the anger. Right?

"It's already dead, sweetheart. Do you want me to cut it?" He eyes the destroyed half of the bird.

I roughly scoop sides onto the plate, not letting my smile drop. "Don't be silly, if there's one thing I'm good at, it's my ability to adapt to even the most difficult, confusing situations."I giggle and serve him a loaded plate, sliding it forward before making mine much smaller.

He eyes me, dropping his hands back down to the table as he rethinks my words. perhaps its obvious that I'm not talking about the chicken, or perhaps he really doesn't understand what I'm talking about yet.

Sitting back in my seat, I unfold my napkin and place it over my lap, watching as he picks up his fork and knife. I do the same, twirling around the sharp utensil in my hand as I stare at him.

He brings the fork up to his mouth, completely oblivious to my intense gaze. "Mmm, wow Brinna. This is delicious. Is this what I get after I marry you? We might have to go to the courthouse tomorrow."

My jaw clenches unbelievably tighter. "I'm so glad you like it," I grit out. "It's an old family recipe."

"You just keep getting better and better baby. Who knew I could fall even harder for you? How many more delicious secrets have you been keeping from me?"

I laugh humorlessly, downing half of my glass of wine as he continues to eat his food. I haven't had a single bite, in fear that if I use this knife to cut a piece of chicken, it'll slip out of my hand and across the table.

"Are you okay?" His brow raises.

"Why?" I answer quickly. "Do I not look okay? I dressed up just for you." I pout, pushing my cherry-red lip out. His gaze flickers down to my mouth only momentarily.

"You look beautiful, Treasure. Perfect," he smiles, continuing to eat his food until the plate is empty.

My knee bounces uncontrollably until I can't take sitting still any longer. Jumping up from the table, I snatch his plate away and take our dishes to the sink. "That was amazing Brin. You've made me forget about work already." He rubs his stomach, leaning back in his chair.

"Oh if you thought that was good, you're going to love dessert!" I say, coming out of the kitchen with a freshly baked peach cobbler. "Your favorite, my love." I serve him a hefty piece before strolling back to my chair to watch him.

"No pie for you?" He asks, picking up his dessert fork between eyeing the pie and me.

"No, made it especially for you," I smile, tilting my head as his lips wrap around the fork. And there it is, the lip puckering wide-eyed, flash of revelation he tries to hide but I know him too f*cking well; the look of a man who's beentricked.

"Is it good, dear?" I ask, the tip of the knife digging into the dining table.

Like a true champ, he begrudgingly chews and swallows the bite. "It's.. a little salty," he admits, washing the taste down with his drink. "Did you maybe mix up the salt and sugar, sweetheart?" He laughs nervously, just now clueing into my anger.

Probably from the deathly scowl on my face, or maybe the way my chest is rising and falling rapidly, or perhaps from the knife being white-knuckled into the table.

His eyes flick down to my hand.

It was the knife.

"I'm sorry," I frown dramatically. "Were you expecting the dessert to be as good as the dinner? Did I string you along?"

"What are you-"

"It doesn't feel very f*cking good to be lied to, does it Harry?" I slam the knife down flat onto the surface, my other hand holding the edge of the table.

His face goes from confused to guarded in seconds. "Tell me what the problem is, Brin."

"The f*cking problem? The problem is that you got us secretly f*cking married, Harry!" I push up from the table, throwing the congratulations card at him.

He eyes it, opening the fold to read the words, "Congratulations to the newlywed couple, Mr. & Mrs. Styles."

He shuts it abruptly, shaking his head with a chuckle. "This? Sweetheart, I put you on my bank account. This means nothing," he smiles. f*cking liar.

"Tell that to the goddamn lawyer that sent me a copy of the certificate with my signature."

His mask drops. "sh*t," he mumbles, sitting up straighter in his chair. "Brinna let me explain-"

A frustrated laugh leaves my chest as I shake my head and walk to the kitchen. "If I have to hear your explanation as to why you let me sign a marriage license while I was drunk, I might actually go crazy."

I angrily scrub the glasses in the sink, huffing out curses under my breath. His footsteps trail behind me until his body heat engulfs me. "Don't be mad at me, baby."

"I'm way past mad. I'm pissed at you."

"Well, if you decide to leave me, everything is in your name now anyway.. the house, the cars, the money..." he kisses my neck and the pot of anger boils over.

I slam the glass into the sink, shards flying around the basin as I turn in his hold. "I don't want your goddamn money and you know that!"

"What if I want to give it to you?" He dives back down into my neck. "What if I like to spoil you, to make you into my little brat. You can take everything, baby." His warm lips drag up my neck to my ear before he lets out a throaty groan. "Brinna Styles, doesn't that sound so pretty?"

"You took my name without even telling me," I push his chest so he backs up. "Why would you f*cking do that?"

"Do I need to beg for your forgiveness, baby?" His eyes twinkle like this is a f*cking joke to him.

"I'm two seconds away from snapping and you're acting like this is a joke. Tell me why the f*ck you did that before I walk out of that door."

His shoulders slump, forehead falling to meet mine. "You took too long. I tried to get you to agree to it, for your safety, but you took too long. I had to do it so you were protected."

"You gave me no choice," I scoff.

"You didn't give me a choice, Brinna. I didn't want to do it like that."

"But you f*cking did! Without telling me!"

"It's just a legality, baby." He shakes his head. "I'll give you everything you want, if you wanted a big wedding consider it done. We can do it right."

"Unbelievable," I move out of his hold. "Un f*cking believable."

"Where are you going?" He asks frantically.

"To sleep in the guest room." My heels click on the hard floor, echoing in sync with my pounding heart.

"f*ck, Brinna I'm sorry! Please, if you're mad take the bed. I deserve to sleep somewhere else, I f*cked up!" He tries following me but I slam the door in his face and lock it.

But he doesn't stop there, the lost dog of a lying ass man sits outside of the door for nearly an hour, tapping on the wood and sticking his fingers under the door. Along with the constant spewing of apologies, he actually whines.

And despite my anger slowly dissipating into sadness, hurt over the manipulation that could have been avoided had he just talked to me, I don't give in. He stayed at that door for what seemed to be all night, and by the time I had showered and gotten into bed, his shadow was still darkened at the bottom of the door.

But when I woke up in the morning to the sound of the low hum coming from the TV, my eyes followed along the walls until I met with the wooden door once more, and at the bottom, one straight line of light, signaling that Harry had left.

My heart pangs in sadness, over either the guilt consuming me or the fact that he left without coming in last night, knowing that he could if he really wanted to. I take my time getting out of bed to wash my face and brush my teeth, and when I finally leave the sad comfort of the guest bedroom, I'm met with a sight that hurts more than the first time I saw it.

A whole sea of yellow sunflowers covering nearly every inch of open floor, counter, table, and stair, all facing the hallway I stepped out of.

An apology, a truce.

My eyes widen as I look closer at the flowers, seeing the raw stems in each vase. He picked every flower and brought it home to set up for me. But that's not what catches my attention. I squint a little, trying to focus on the center of the breakfast bar through the morning sunlight.

Sitting larger than every other flower is a large steel sunflower, with the wordstill the last petal fallsengraved into a leaf. My eyes fall in sadness as tears brim them, only falling once I see the stack of papers sitting under the base of the flower.

Divorce papers, and with them, a shakily written note.

We can do it right. I love you, forever.

Without even thinking, I tear the papers in two and throw them in the garbage can before sinking to the floor. My fingers rake back my messy curls as I glance to each flower. When did he have the time to do this? Where is he?

I quickly spring to my feet once more, walking around the flowers until I make my way to the stairs and maneuver up them to get to our bedroom. I whip the door open, not worried about waking him as much as I'm worried about him being completely exhausted and without medication.

Only, when I'm met with an empty room, my pulse skyrockets until I'm sprinting out of the house in nothing but my pajamas and pink bunny slippers while my phone is pressed to my ear in an attempt to call Harry. he doesn't answer, not after the first call or the three after.

It doesn't take long to get into Treasure Chest and despite my new title and crazy look, no one spills a word about where he is. Not even Zayn, who only encourages me to go back home. Or the guards, who practically dragged me out of the club and to the elevators despite my empty threats for putting their hands on me.

Nothing comforts me until I step one foot into the elevator, only to be stopped by the sweet voice I've come to need in times like these.

"Brinnie?" Grace calls, heels clicking across the lobby floor as she pushes her sunglasses up, taking some of her blonde hair back with them.

I turn to face her and my eyes widen when I realize my current state. "What's wrong, babe?" She asks, eyeing my whole figure as she walks closer. "Harry texted me this morning saying you wanted to go out to lunch."

No words leave my lips, but they don't need to. Grace knows me better than anyone else. "Oh, Brin. Come on. Lets go get ready and then you can tell me all about it, okay?"

***

Chapter 39: Tongue Fiasco

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

To say that multitasking is a strong suit of mine would be a lie. Well, mundane office work on repeat doesn't count. But listening to my best friend ramble on and on about various casual sex encounters with my husband's best friend while also trying to think of ways to retaliate against said husband has proven to be, well, difficult.

"-- and then when we got back to my place, Daddy saw us walking upstairs but he didn't even say anything! He just looked like he saw a ghost. Isn't that weird?" Grace chews her mouthful of food and pouts, thinking over the situation herself.

Despite half listening to Grace fill the quiet the entire time we've been having lunch, my eyes flick up to hers with interest. "Really?" I raise my brows. "He said.. nothing? While you were dragging Niall up to your bedroom?"

"Not. A. Word." She nods, popping a fry into her mouth. "He just blinked and walked away. And get this, when I looked at Niall-- who was looking at Daddy-- he was smiling. Just smiling at my father knowing we were going to have sex!"

I tilt my head.That can't be good.

"Did Niall say anything?"

"Nope." She pops thepsound as she takes a sip of her drink. "Just kept that smirk on his face as he f*cked me into the next morning." She shrugs.

I grimace at her words, laughing slightly at her lack of boundaries.

"So," She eyes me up and down, now that she's gotten me to start talking. "What's got you so into a mood that your one-day-husband is texting me to pick you up?"

I blow out a heavy sigh and rub the heels of my hands over my eyes. "I'm having Harry problems," I state vaguely.

"Okay.." She purses her lips before biting into her burger.

"He did something that he shouldn't have and I made him dinner."Not a lie.

Her chewing stops only for a second before a smile breaks out on her face. "And that makes you upset?"

"What he did and how I handled it, is making me upset."

"Be a little more vague, why don't you." She laughs, never once looking up to meet my unamused gaze.

I take a long sip of my co*cktail and close my eyes. "One day came a lot sooner than I expected," I mumble, hoping she won't catch on to what I said.

But judging by the cough coming from her chest as she chokes on a fry, she heard me. "Okay, now is not the time to be vague. What the f*ck does that mean?" She says skeptically, looking all around my body-- no, myhand.

"My birthday," I start, leaning back in the booth. "When I was super plastered?"

"Don't remember it, keep going." She nods, shoving more fries in her mouth like popcorn.

"He took me upstairs so I could go to bed, and after he took care of me until I was on the brink of falling asleep, he somehow tricked me into signing a marriage license," I mumble, tearing away at my breadstick.

"... is there more?" She swallows, eyeing me briefly.

My eyes furrow on her. "More?Grace he forced me into a marriage without my knowledge and waited until I was too drunk to tell him no."

She draws in a deep breath as she wipes her mouth with a napkin. "Right," she nods. "And?"

I scoff as my jaw drops slightly. "You see no issue with that?"

"Honestly?" She cringes slightly and I nod at her to continue. "You're not thinking long term."

"But there is no--"

"Exactly." She cuts me off. "So what? He wants to marry you and he has god knows how long to live. Let the man marry you." She shrugs, focusing back on her food like I didn't just tell her I'd been tricked into a marriage.

"But he didn't even ask me."

"Clearly," She snorts, eyeing my hand again. "Where the f*ck is your ring? You're telling me he didn't even get you a ring?!"

I cross my arms so my hand is hidden. "I don't want a ring, Grace. I wanted honesty."

"Fine, I'll be honest then. You're dating a man who's dying, one with far too much money, and the worst thing he's done to you is,ah! Oh no!Got you married after you moved in and vowed to take care of him until he dies. And now you're sitting here, moping around over what? The fact that he didn't tell you? Or the fact that you now have access to everything that's his, because it's now yours, because he loves you."

"If he would have just asked me--"

She cuts me off again with a scoff. "You would have said no like you already did," She smirks at me. "Nothing's changed. He isn't making you do anything crazy. He probably did it so you would be taken care of no matter what."

"I don't want his money," I bite. "He's not my sugar daddy which is exactly why buying me more things isn't going to fix this."

"Tuh! He's your sugarhusbandbabe! Men as rich as him have money kinks. Run him dry if you want to punish him!" She gushes as if my problem is as much of a joke to her as it is to him.

"You know I can't do that," I sigh. "I feel bad when he does things like this." I gesture at the empty, booked-out restaurant.

"No I'm telling you, this is exactly what he wants! I bet it'll turn him on so much if you get on top of him and tell him to buy you a ring. Demand it, Brinnie! Watch how hard he gets!"

"You're so gross!" I cringe. "He doesn't get off by spending money on me," I say quietly, the memories hitting me as the words spill out. Hedoesseem to like buying me pretty things.

And they're always followed by sex...

Her brow raises in triumph. "You have a golden opportunity here," She pops a fry in her mouth. "If you're not going to take it, I'll get a ring for myself. I'm sure sugar husband would love nothing more than to gain your forgiveness through me."

"f*ck," I groan. "I don't even know how to be dominant."

She drops her burger and shuffles forward. "Listen to me. Wear a sexy set, climb on top of him, tie his hands above his head, and tell him to buy the fattest diamond in this entire city. If you don't come back with a rock the size of your head, divorce him. He'll probably cum in his pants if you leave him for not spending money."

My mouth is nearly on the floor. "Jesus Christ."

__

Needless to say, my wing-woman has already started the seduction process by shuffling me from lingerie store to adult toy store, making sure that the card I swipe is the new, shiny black card with the Styles name.

It was late by the time we finally pulled up to the hotel, so luckily the concierge took my bags upstairs to deliver them instead of me having to carry all of them.

I hop out of the car and adjust my shirt, turning to wave goodbye to my devious best friend. But when I turn, she's already leaning all the way over and holding something in her hand with a smile. "One more thing," She wiggles her brows. "Open up."

I do as I'm told, albeit hesitantly, but when I open my mouth a small white pill is placed on my tongue. I whine in confusion, not closing my mouth as the thing starts to melt.

"Swallow it!" She closes my jaw. "And then go straight upstairs for your husband. It'll help give you the confidence you need." She winks before kissing my cheek and closing the door. I watch the red tailgate lights leave as I gulp down the odd pill.

Did she just give me a horny pill?

Whatever.

I don't go straight upstairs, though. The breeze is too nice and now that I'm alone, I have time to really think about everything that Grace said today. Am I just being dramatic? I feel like I have every right to be mad.. but when you think of the long run.. who am I to deny him life's simplicities? She's right, nothing has changed.

My feet start to move me away from the hotel before I even notice it. For all I know, he just did it to take care of me in the long run. And if we end up being married for years, who cares? That's probably something I want.Yeah, I would want that.

sh*t, I feel good. Like I could walk forever, this breeze feels sogood.Why is my mouth tingly? I need to ask Grace what she gave me. Can my skin feel this fuzzy forever?

"Hey!.."

I stop dead in my tracks, not knowing if I just hallucinated that twig on the ground speaking or if someone really is talking. I don'tseeanyone.. f*ckin' twigs.

"Brinna! He's dangerous!"The twig says again, despite my stomps right on it's twig brain.

That'll shut the damn thing up.

"f*ck!" I hiss, stumbling toward an even darker alley. It takes only seconds before I realize my hallucinated twig is a real person, one who knows my name and is dragging me half-assedly into the alley between the hotel and another building. I quickly regain my stance until I focus on the person that grabbed me.

Her chest is rising and she's backed herself up into a corner.Idiot.

"Magnolia?" I brush off my arm where her sweaty hand grabbed me. She looks like sh*t. She looks like she hasn't slept in weeks, or even done so much as brushed her hair.

"You're a hard woman to track down, you know." She grumbles, fidgeting uncomfortably. I could probably snap her like a twiggy if I tried right now. Do horny pills make you feel like a hero?

I furrow my brows, waiting for her to continue. "I need to talk to you... about Harry."

I scoff and start to walk away but she doesn't stop. "He tried to kill me, Brinna! He's dangerous!"

I stop in my tracks and with a groan, spin back around to face her. My vision spins slightly, but evens out when I focus on her beady eyes. "What did you just say?" I grit my teeth, unknowingly a lot harder than I meant to. Scratch hero, I am a villain. Twiggy is on thin ice.

"That call," She gulps. "The one where he asked you what you wanted to do with me.. he had a gun to my head." She spits. "He was going to kill me because of your answer. He told you he loved you with his finger on the trigger! He's going to kill you one day if you don't leave him--"

My knife is against her throat before she can even finish her sentence. She hits the brick wall with a startled gasp, trying to push me off of her but I feel..invincible."Walking away with a million dollars wasn't enough for you?" I smile, co*cking my head to the side as I press her further into the wall.

"You're both c-crazy!" She sputters, shaking harder as I press the blade into her throat enough to knick her delicate skin.

Skin that Harry has once touched.

Oh f*ck.

Say goodbye to your neck skin, Twiggy.

I sweep both of her legs with one of mine, forcing her to drop onto the filthy cement. "Crazy in love," I sigh, fisting her hair around my hand before I start dragging her along the alleyway. Her cries fill my ears but the sound is muffled by my racing heartbeat. What did I f*cking take?

I manage to drag her half-walking body into the hotel lobby, luckily it's empty. I probably would have had a lot of attention on us if there was anyone here, seeing as how the stupid bitch behind me let the door smack her head and now she's crying about a bloody nose.

"f*ck you're so goddamn heavy," I growl, turning to yank her with both hands instead of just one. "Do you have goddamn bricks in your pockets?" And where can I get some if the answer is no?

"We're the same size!" She cries, kicking her feet as if it'll make it any less painful on her end.

"Right now is not the time to be opening that annoying f*cking mouth, Magnolia. I should have dropped you in a lake, that would have been so much easier." I drag her past the security man at the club entrance, flipping him off as I walk past.

Did he deserve that? No. Will he probably tattle on me for my twiggy catch? Yeah, so he did deserve that in the long run.

I keep going through the lively club, bumping into everyone with a growl as I slide the flopping fish across the nasty club floor, all the way to the basem*nt door.

"Please no, please don't! I can't go back down there!"

"You should have run when you had the chance," I yank her hair harder. "You two!" I yell at the guards standing watch. "Take this bitch to the basem*nt." I drop her before them and the dumb ass doesn't even make a move to run.

"Boss said you're not allowed down there, Miss Styles." Bald sh*t one answers with no emotion.

"Styles?!" Magnolia whines.

I kick her ribs. "My husband gave me that name, you like it?" I sneer before turning back to the men. "You can let me down there or I'll have all three of you locked in the cellar when he gets here." I can feel my eyes opening crazily wide, and the look on their faces is telling me what I figured out not long ago.

That was not a horny pill.

"Get.. Get Zayn! He'll help!" Maggie cries, lying on her side at my feet. I step on her free hand with my heel, digging in as she cries out with each bone crunch.

"If you think I'm going to be as nice as he was, you'redeadf*cking wrong," I say before turning my attention back to the men. "You want more of a f*cking scene out here or are you going to do your goddamn job?" I grit, watching as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb give each other a look before a long sigh leaves the one closest to the door.

The door opens begrudgingly slow, but as soon as it does, I kick at the c*nt below me to make her crawl. "Move."

"You're not like them," She sniffles. "You won't hurt me.. I see it in your eyes! You're not a killer."

I roll my blown-out pupils and cross my arms. "You're right. I'm not going to kill you," I smile and shove her down the stairs, watching as she tumbles to the bottom. I stand at the top with a smirk as she tries to regain her composure. "I'm going to tie you up and let you scream until your throat is bleeding and just when you're about to suffocate on your own blood, I'll tell Harry that you touched his treasure."

Just as I take a step down, one of the tweedlef*cks stops me. "Miss.. we're going to have to call Boss."

I turn toward him, seeing his phone already in his hand so before he can make any bad choices, I snatch it and throw it as hard as I can down the stairs, straight into Magnolia's thick skull. "f*cking try it. Idare you."

And with that, they're silent and I'm on my way down to tie up my shaking catch.

__

I don't know what exactly Grace put on my tongue, but I do know that I feel infinitely more powerful and not a single ounce of guilt as I wash my hands to rid of Magnolia's blood.

Magnolia no longer has a tongue.

Unfortunately, I miscalculated how much blood a human can ingest before it's a problem, so I'd probably call her lack of a heartbeat more problematic than the whole tongue fiasco.

How much stress, coupled with a mysterious pill, does it take for someone to snap to the point of snapping a twig that won't shut up?

Dying husband, forced marriage, and what I believe to becocainewill do that to you, I guess.

I make my way up the stairs with a hum, ready to tell the tweedlef*cks to clean up the mess thatwasMagnolia, but to my surprise, they've been replaced. By none other than Zayn, who I guess is in charge of these men while he's working at Chest.

"Brinna?" He asks shocked, eyeing my stained clothing. "Brinna what the f*ck-- how are you-- what happened?!" He takes a step closer to me but the ringing in my ears makes it hard to focus on his frantic ramble.

"There's a mess downstairs," I declare, walking straight past him. I've got premium-grade co*ked-up adrenaline and a husband to attend to. I have no time for pleasantries right now. "If you know what's good for you, you won't get Harry involved." I throw over my shoulder, knowing he's trailing close behind me.

That will work for sure, he knows not to mess with Harry and I'm his wife, therefore I have power. Right? Right. Why the f*ck do they keep letting me in that basem*nt?

All I need is an hour.

One hour to do exactly what Grace said.

Everything else is just a minor inconvenience.

***

Chapter 40: Cornered

Chapter Text

H A R R Y

I f*cked up.

Brinna found out what I had done, and after I had gotten a taste of what it could have been like to truly have her as a wife, I realized that's not what I wanted.

I mean, I want her as my wife. I want her at home, waiting for me when I get off of work, excited to show me all of the things she'd hung up or made throughout her day. What Idon't want,is a wife that makes me poisoned pies after finding out that I had made her my wife by means of manipulation.

I should have hid it better.

I don't regret a single thing. I did it for her protection and now she's mywife.Why would I ever regret that? I only feel bad that she had to find out like that, which is why I served her divorce papers.

Fake divorce papers. She's not leaving me.

Accompanied by sunflowers and a day out with her best friend to sh*t-talk her new husband, what more could a woman want? I'm sure she's had a wonderful day, seeing as how it's dark and she still isn't home. I made sure to have the entire house cleaned and ready for her arrival because she made it clear that she isn't the type to be a housewife like she thought I would have expected of her.

An alert chimes on my phone and from the ringtone I know it means someone's coming up the elevator. With one glance at the security app, my stomach swirls with butterflies knowing that Brin is the one coming up. I take a final look around before lighting her favorite candle.

I take a seat on the couch, hoping to play it off as casually as possible because I know she's probably still mad. She's a fiery little siren, I'll give her that. The fireplace crackles as I watch the large balcony window, waiting for the door to open and my Treasure to walk in.

She does so quietly, not even looking up to find me before she starts ripping her clothes off and heading straight toward the guest room with a chaotic quickness that I hadn't seen her use since the morning after the first time we met.

But that's not what made my curiosity turn to slight alarm. It was the reason why she was ripping her clothes off and rushing off to the shower. It was so quick that I don't know if I really saw it or not, but I swear I saw a streak of blood on her shirt.

I stand from my seat, taking slow steps toward the bathroom so I don't make any noise and alert her that I'm near. She seems spooked and I don't want to do anything that could make it worse until I know what happened.

My hand finds the door knob and I twist it slowly, pushing open the door to the pitch-black guest room. I can see the light coming from under the bathroom door and I can smell her soap, but her clothes don't seem to be anywhere around here.

I definitely don't want to risk sneaking into the bathroom while she's showering, so I just turn on my heel and make a move to leave the room but stop dead in my tracks as my phone starts ringing in my pocket, this time a phonecall and by the sound of the ringtone, an urgent one.

I freeze at the same time the water shuts off. Shuffling sounds come from the bathroom while I try to silence my phone and ignore the call, but by the time I'm ready to keep moving out of the room to give Brinna her privacy, the door is opening and my Treasure is standing in it with a halo of steam pouring around her.

"Harry?" She says softly. The light behind her is making it too hard to see her face, but as far as I can tell there's no blood on her. "What're you doing?"

"I was just coming to check on you," I say in the same soft tone. Silence lingers between us before my phone starts ringing again, Zayn being the one to call me twice in a row. This seems to catch her attention as she takes a hesitant step toward me, but her face is down at the phone by my side.

"Who is it?" She quietly demands.

"Its... Zayn?" I question. She's definitely on edge.

Her head snaps up to mine. "Put it away."

The stillness in her tone is slightly unnerving but nothing that raises any major red flags. She's still mad, I can work with that. I do as she says and put my phone on silent before tucking it into my pocket.

"Good boy," She mumbles, walking straight past me before pulling out a t-shirt from one of the dresser drawers.

I furrow my brows at her but stay silent as I watch her take her time slipping the thin material over her head. I only stop focusing on how her legs look when she turns and speaks again.

"We need to talk."

I nod. "Of course, sweetheart."

"Not here," She says quickly as she pulls out what seems to be a belt before walking by me to leave the room.

She's being odd, but I'm sure it's just because of her talk with Grace. I follow her before she can get too far, waiting for her next move as she stands next to the open part of the couch. "You want to talk there?" I ask, walking over to her with my hands in my pockets.

"Sit." She demands again, yet I don't find myself annoyed at her tone. It's actually kind of a turn-on, and if I didn't think something could be wrong I'd probably be on my knees already.

I disregard my phone on the coffee table before sitting in front of her so she's standing between my legs. Her eyes stay down while her hand tightly grips the belt at her hip.

I lean back on the couch, splaying my arms out on the back as I wait for her next move. She still has yet to meet my gaze but her hand keeps twitching like she's gearing up to do something. "Talk to me baby," I murmur, hooking my legs around hers so she's forced to take a step closer to me.

"You got us married."

I bite my cheek to contain my smile. "I did."

"I'm not mad."

"No?" I grin. "What're you doing with the belt then, sweetheart?"

Her eyes snap up to meet mine. She takes one large step toward me before tossing the belt next to me and smoothing her hands over my shoulders. "Want to know what Iammad about...?" She drops herself on my lap so her bare puss* is resting over my jeans. I let out a low groan as I try to stop myself from flipping us over already.

"Hmm, baby?" I hum distractedly, watching intently at the barely there fabric covering her torso.

"You did it wrong," She shifts on my lap, bending to reach the belt.

I swallow hard. "Did I?"

Her lips find my neck as she hums a yes in response and my eyes roll back as I relax under her touch.See?I knew she needed a girl's day. It fixed everything, and now my wife's naked on top of me, just as she should be.

"Tell me how to fix it, pretty girl. I'll do whatever you want." My hands move absentmindedly as she guides my wrists above my head. Only when I feel the belt being yanked tight so my wrists are bound together, my eyes snap open.

her face is above me so I can't see her full expression, but I would imagine it's one of determination. "Why don't I have a wedding ring?" Her bottom lip juts out momentarily before she's back to my neck while her hands skim down my chest.

"A ring?" I sigh, feeling the tent in my pants grow as she brushes her puss* over my erection while she sucks on my neck. "I'll get you a ring, baby."

"Not just a ring." She stops all of her movements. "I want an expensive ring, Harry."

"Nothing but the best for you," I shift my hips up to get more friction but one of her small hands grabs my jaw in a warning to be still. "My pretty girl wants pretty things, yeah?" I muse, opening my eyes to watch her face.

She's nearly emotionless, except for the glint of lust. "I want the biggest diamond in this entire city. Nothing less." She brings her face in closer to mine until our lips are brushing.

"What's gotten into you?" I breathe, trying to steal a kiss but she pulls away slightly.

"My husband decided I'm not worth a ring, so until I get one," She tightens her hold on my neck. "You don't get to cum." I have no time to reply, much less process her words before she's using her other hand to move her sleep shirt up, exposing her dripping heat to me.

"Brin.." I shift, tugging on the restraint as she moves her fingers over her slit with a short gasp.

"And you don't get to touch, either." She pants.

I open my mouth to reply but instead, I'm cut off by a harsh knocking on the front door. I undo the belt with ease, not even wasting the time to see if she realizes that I could with no effort. She jumps off of my lap and backs away a few feet as I glance at her overly guarded state.

Not trembling in fear, not scared,guarded. Like an animal ready to attack.

I shake away the thoughts and walk to the door, whipping it open only to be met with a worried-looking Zayn. I furrow my brows at him, trying to come up with any idea as to why he's out of breath, exploding with rage, and pounding on my door at night when he's supposed to be at Chest.

"Where the f*ck is Brinna?" He asks, trying to glance behind me.

I step closer to him as I don't like the way he's trying to get my Treasure. "Why the f*ck do you care?" I sneer, instantly matching his energy.

"Are you serious right now? You need to tell me if she's here because if she's not, we've got a lot bigger problems than what she's already done, H." His face drops to that of nerves, which makes the hair on my neck stand up in alarm.

"She's.. she's in the living room. What did she do?" I step to the side, glancing back at the room that she should be in, only when we both look, the room is completely empty. My eyes widen as he steps past me but I don't let him get far before I'm ahead of him again to look for her.

It's only when the glint of something silver catches my eyes that I notice her tucked away in the dark corner of the kitchen, holding onto a butcher's knife with nothing but the expression of a terrified, cornered animal covering her beautiful features.

"Brinna?" I whisper, taking slow steps toward her with my hands out to hold her. Her eyes snap up to mine and that's when I finally notice it, the reason she's been avoiding eye contact all night long. The blown-out pupils, the paleness, the sweat despite her shivering. "Baby tell me what you're on right now." I try to control my tone despite my heart rate skyrocketing.

Her eyes widen and round out as she clutches the weapon tighter. "No one's going to hurt you, Treasure. I just need to know so I can help you."

"He.. he's.." Her eyes flick between mine and behind me, and when I turn to see what she's looking at, it's Zayn with his weapon drawn.

I whip around and twist his wrist until he drops the gun, only kicking it away once it drops to the floor. "What the f*ck is wrong with you?!" I yell, forcing him further away from her. "You need to tell me what the f*ck is happening right now before I do something you're not going to like."

"She f*cking killed Magnolia!" He yells, pushing me back and if it weren't for my shock, I wouldn't have budged. I stumble slightly as I look at him. His eyes are trained only on her as if she's some threat, but there's no way.

There's no f*cking way.

She couldn't do that, not by herself and not sober. She'snotsober.

"Brinna what did you take?" I whip around to face her, scaring her enough that she drops the knife with a gasp. I know it's not ideal, but maybe that's what I need to do right now, scare her so she sobers the f*ck up.

"You're worried about what she's getting high on and not the fact that there's a dead body in the basem*nt right now? One that she put there?"

"She doesn't get high, Zayn. She wouldn't have done that by herself! How do you even know it was her?" I ask frantically, trapping Brinna against the counter with my body. Her trembling becomes worse as she clings onto my shirt like she's coming down from a bad high.

"I watched the footage of her dragging Maggie downstairs byherself, and then everything she didafter. Harry, whatever she's on is making her trip bad. You need to f*cking contain her before she does something else."

"Why was she in the basem*nt?" I mutter, knowing that I made it very clear to all of my men that she's not allowed anywhere near the basem*nt again.

He scoffs like I should be following. "As yourwife,"he grits, "She has access to more things than she should."

"sh*t."

"Harry.." Brinna winces, still clinging to my shirt as her shaking becomes worse. "I- I don't.. I need..."

I lift her up to the counter as she slouches over, her entire body vibrating while her eyes are screwed shut. "You're okay, angel. I'm right here. Tell me what happened."

"You're coddling her for getting high and murdering?!" Zayn throws an accusing hand our way but I ignore him. "For all you know, she's been doing this for weeks and hiding it until she finally snapped!"

Soft whines fall from her muffled lips. "No, no, no," She shakes her head, tears falling down her cheeks and soaking into my shirt.

How could this night have taken such a turn? I was well on my way to being guts deep inside of my wife, and now I'm listening to the guts she spilled in my basem*nt.

Not the time. Get serious, Harry.

Can you blame me, though? f*ck Magnolia.

"No what, Brin?" I hold her to me. "What's wrong?"

"I haven't been take.. taking anything."

"I know," I glare at Zayn. "I know you wouldn't do this on purpose but I need you to tell me what you took."

Logically, now is the wrong time to play soft dom, but it seems like the perfect time to me. Whatever keeps her from crying at Zayn's tone before I have to kill him for hurting my Treasure.

"Grace.. she gave me a pill."

"What color was the pill?" Zayn asks in more of a knowing tone than I'd like.

"White," She whispers.

"A capsule with white powder?" His shoulders slump. "Please tell me it wasn't."

She nods against me, tensing at his anger. I rub my hands down her back, trying to ease the tension in her body but he isn't helping. My baby wouldn't do something like this without something being wrong, and the way he's trying to accuse her of being..us..is pissing me off.

"Cocaine and f*cking LSD." He scoffs. "Grace gave you that? The one that's f*cking Niall?"

I shoot him a look, telling him to knock it down a few notches before turning back to Brinna. "Did she tell you what it is?" I ask into her ear and she answers with a short head shake. It takes a few more deep breaths before she speaks again.

"She said it would help me be sexy!" She cries, burying herself further into me as I try to keep her upright on the counter. "Everything is spinning," She mumbles, falling into me more with a groan.

"I'm going to kill him." Zayn growls. "I told him not to give that sh*t out after Liam's customers kept having bad reactions. I f*cking told him to flush it."

"What do you remember, Brin?" I hold up her chin to look at me. Her tired eyes meet mine before she lets out a whine.

"Maggie pulled me into an alley.."

"So you defended yourself?" I ask, hoping that that's all there is to it.

Zayn lets out an impatient sigh. "No, that wasn't self-defense. She cut her f*cking tongue out and sewed her lips shut."

My eyes widen as I look at Brinna's half-asleep face.f*ck that's a lot worse than I thought."Stay awake, Brin. You can't fall asleep right now. I need you to sober up." I shake her shoulders until her eyes snap open on mine again.

"She was talking about you.. I didn't know--"

"Bullsh*t."

"Enough Zayn," I grit. "Get the f*ck out if you aren't going to help. She's never been high on sh*t like that before, no wonder she freaked out. Back off before you make it worse."

"What am I supposed to do with the body in the basem*nt?" He glares.

"Dispose of it like every other one and clean up the loose ends. You already made her a ghost by sending her away, just get rid of her body now."

"I can't believe this." He shakes his head. "What have we done to this girl? I mean seriously, you meet a random girl and within months she's quit her job, moved in with you, married you, and then committed f*cking murder?"

It could have been worse.

Someone could have hurt her. She didn't do anything wrong. I told him what would happen if I ever saw Magnolia again and it just so happened that she ended up in the wrong Styles' hands.

"I was going to tell you," She croaks as her head rolls back to the cabinet. "I didn't mean to.. to.."

I sigh, dropping my head to her shoulder. "It was an accident. You're not in trouble, pretty girl. I just need to make sure you're okay and that whatever is in your system isn't going to hurt you."

"Can we go to bed?" She whispers.

I eye Zayn, nodding him to the door with a worried expression. "Find out how many more they have and if they don't destroy all of them, so help me god I'll-" I cut myself off, trying to not startle the drugged-up girl clinging on to me like she needs me to fix all of her problems.

Iwillfix them all, starting by getting rid of Zayn and taking her to bed just like she wants.

"I got it," He nods, seemingly calming down some of his anger. "Let me know how she is in the morning."

__

"Relax, baby," I murmur, kissing the side of her head as slip a pair of my boxers up her legs. "I just need to put you in something warmer so you don't get too cold when you come down from the high, okay?"

I know she isn't really paying attention, but it helps my own anxiety about seeing her like this when I explain everything I'm doing. She was surprisingly fine with letting me carry her upstairs to the bathroom so she could pee before bed. I put her hair up in a bun and carried her back to our room for pajamas, too.

I slide the sweatpants up her legs before turning her so she's lying the right way on the bed. I quickly get in on my side and pull the covers up, as well as pulling her in close to me so she can use my body heat. I'm hoping she'll sleep it off and be fine in the morning, but just in case I made sure to have a plethora of snacks, water, medications, and a sick bucket next to her side if she needs it.

Her head is on my chest as she clutches my shirt in her small fist. "You did good, sweetheart. So good." I hum into her hair. "But I don't ever want you doing anything like that again. I can't protect you if you don't tell me, baby. You have to tell me."

She only whines out a short breath in response as the crease in between her eyebrows furrows deeper. My pleas continue well into her falling asleep, but I can't help the guilt bubbling up at the thought of her doing something so horrible under the influence.

All I can hope for now is that she won't remember it in the morning.

***

Chapter 41: Munchies

Chapter Text

B R I N N A

If you had told me three days ago that my wife would kill my ex-booty-call while she was high on some lab-created disassociative drug, I would have probably answered with ahuh.

Now if you followed that up by telling me the mad woman wouldn't remember any of it the next morning, I would have saidgreat.

Itwasgreat, until my phone rang for the tenth time, the same person calling over and over again to update me on a situation that, quite frankly, I couldn't give less of a sh*t about. Brinna killed Magnolia. Brinna doesn't remember doing it, or even the entire ten-hour span that she was drugged the f*ck up. Sounds like nothing but a win to me.

Itwasa win until the incessant nagging of one dark-haired, nervous f*ck almost made me cave. I know the stipulations of what had happened. I knew what they were when I dragged Magnolia down there myself the first time.

We have rules. No one innocent dies.Innocentseems to have a very loose definition lately when it comes to the decisi