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Even if it didn’t seem like it, Beth was actually naïve as to the ways of the world because she’d grown up protected from a lot of stuff and she’d certainly never come into contact with characters like Alex. If she had even an inkling of the line of work he was in, she’d run away and never look back. I’d tried to do that myself, but it seemed I could never escape, no matter how hard I tried.
I wondered sometimes what it would be like to be part of a normal family, the way Bethany was. It wasn’t because I felt my life was awful or anything. I was just… curious. How would it feel to spend your childhood with other kids, playing in the park, going on vacations? All those things had been denied to me. Ever since they’d first tried to kidnap me, just after I turned five, I’d been under constant surveillance wherever I went. Nikolai even tried to home school me instead of letting me go to an ordinary school, and probably would have had it his way if it hadn’t been for my mother.
To an outsider, my life might have looked perfect. Anything I asked for, I got. Anyone looking a little closer, though, would have seen that a life lived in constant fear wasn’t so great. I’d been locked up in my own gilded cage. It might have been a beautiful cage, but that’s what it was – a cage. However, I didn’t know any different. Without anything to compare it to, I couldn’t judge.
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“How… just how do you think I’ll explain this to Bethany? Or my friends? I can’t tell them I have a bodyguard, but I’ll have to give some reason for his being here.”
“Tell them he’s your new roommate. “, my father said, “You can even add that he’s a relative, whatever you think is best.”
“Are you even listening to yourself? A relative? Of mine?” I waved my hand in disbelief, “Just… Look at him! He’s the very image of a jailbird! I bet he eats little kids for breakfast. ”
The more I thought about it though, the more likely it seemed that his bad side was reserved exclusively for me.
I drained another shot glass and leaned in towards him, the scent of his cologne seeming to act like a drug on my already altered state of mind. Closing my eyes, I did my best to imagine him as the male lead in some romantic comedy, but even soaked in alcohol, my brain couldn’t make the leap. With his sharp features, slightly crooked nose and ever present dark scowl, he could only play an arch villain.
Alex couldn’t be described as a classically handsome guy, not according to the guidelines most people measure by. He had something else, a quality that’s often mentioned but never defined well… some mysterious energy, a magnetism to set the better judgment of women off balance. The truth was – he was stunning. In the same way a huge feline predator was stunning.
“Are you trying to make me lose it, or am I just imagining it?”, I looked him fully in the face
“No. I’m waiting for you to ask me nicely.”
“It wouldn’t cross my mind to ask you for anything.”
“You don’t need ask me, exactly, just a few polite words: Alex, would you change the bulb? It’s not hard, trust me.”
I couldn’t believe that Alex, of all people, felt entitled to instruct me about manners. God, he was infuriating. I narrowed my eyes and regarded him carefully, a wicked smile building at the corners of my mouth.
“Alex, honey, would you be so kind as to change the bulb in the chandelier, it would mean such a lot to me?” I asked in the most sugary voice possible.
I watched as a barely noticeable look of satisfaction appeared on his face, and smiled even more. Some men actually lived in the conviction that their word must always be the last.
“And please, while you do that…” I blinked at him like some kind of cartoon, “…be sure and get electrocuted, would you?”
I didn’t even notice when Alex walked in some time later, absorbed as I was in solving the crossword, so I almost fell off my chair when his low growl brought me back to reality.
“What sort of strange experiment is this?” he was standing next to the cooker, pointing an accusatory finger at my simmering creation, his eyebrows creased severely in the middle.
“Lunch,” I tossed back flatly.
“I was afraid you’d say that. Why didn’t you tell me you really can’t cook?”
“Well I tried, you didn’t seem to be listening,” I shrugged .
“But I counted on you knowing the basics, at least. I didn’t expect you to be totally incapable. How’s that even possible, anyway? You’re a girl, for cryin’ out loud!”
“Don’t act like such a drama queen. It’s not my fault you got the wrong end of the stick. Besides, take a look at it, how bad do you think it could be?”
Unfortunately, the term ‘bad’ took on a whole new dimension a little later when I found myself sitting at the kitchen table, examining the food on my plate. The withered, lifeless ghosts of vegetables floated up to the surface, then disappeared again into the depths of the steaming red gloop, which gave off an odor something like grampa’s old socks. Not to mention the huge, shriveled pink beast that lurked somewhere deep beneath the surface.
I stole a glance at Alex, who was holding his spoon in front of his face, a look of disbelief in his eyes as he stared down at the burnt offering before him. Finally, he spooned up some of the liquid and looked both disgusted and determined as he thrust it into his mouth.
”And?” I asked.
“Mmmm… I’ve never tasted anything more unusual. You have to try it.”
Arching my eyebrows in surprise, I followed his example and dipped my spoon into the bowl, and then brought it up to my lips. The taste was something like the bottom of a hen coop.