Steely fingers wrapped around my wrist, hauling me out of the restaurant. I stumbled, but Michael didn’t look back and it was Vin who steadied me, taking three long steps to make sure I didn’t faceplant on the sidewalk. Then my husband leveled an icy gaze on my bodyguard, pointedly staring at the hand beneath my elbow. Vin let go. The tension made it hard to breathe and I expected a rebuke, but Michael only began walking again in furious silence, towing me so fast that my shoes scraped my heels raw over the few blocks we had to cover. Vin had my bags but I couldn’t take them; Michael gave me no chance.
Averting his eyes, Vin didn’t speak in the elevator. Silently he took up his post in the hallway. As soon as the penthouse door closed behind us, Michael slung my arm away with such force that I tumbled over the nearby ottoman and hit the floor with a vicious bang. If Vin was really my bodyguard, not my jailer, he should break the door down when I cried out. He didn’t.
“What the hell did you think you were doing?”
I drew my elbows up and in, reflexively protecting my face. It had been a while since anyone had hit me, but a few of my mama’s exes had been fast with their fists. I got good at dodging and running long before I left home, but here there was nowhere for me to go, no place for me to hide.
“Well?” he shouted.
“T-trying to make a good impression.”
“Don’t lie to me, Marlena. I know what flirting looks like. Does it make you feel good when other men look at you, when they want to have you?”
Since I’d been talking to Helen Stone when her husband responded to me, I couldn’t begin to understand this mood swing. We’d had a good day, and then I was trying my best to please him, but I could only get out, “I’m sorry you’re upset, but it wasn’t like that.”
“Are you calling me a liar? I know what I saw, and it wasn’t only with that bastard Will Stone. You tried it on Vin too, with your big eyes and that helpless smile.”
“No. It’s just… a misunderstanding. Vin just helped me when I tripped. You were walking really fast.”
“It’s my fault then?” In a motion so calm that the violence scared me more, Michael picked up a glass statue from the end table and lobbed it as hard as he could. The delicate figurine smashed into the floor dangerously near my arm and fragments peppered me, covering my hair in glass dust. “Understand this, Marlena. If you work Vin, if you try to undermine his loyalty and make him your person instead of mine? It won’t end well for him. You grasp that?”
I was shivering so hard that I couldn’t even answer for a few seconds. “Got it.”
He stormed out, then, and I heard him shouting at Vin, audible even through the door. “You’re supposed to be impervious. You got eyes for my wife?”
“No, sir.” That was all. No excuses, no explanations.
For at least five minutes, I just sat on the floor amid the broken glass until a quiet knock sounded. I eyed the door like this was a trap, but I got up and opened it anyway. Since security in the building was tight, it had to be Vin or someone Michael had sent to punish me.
“I’m sorry,” Vin said, handing me the purse and necklace I no longer wanted. Had never wanted.
“Getting you in trouble. I’d heard that your husband is …” He stopped talking, probably unable to find a word that fit this situation. “Anyway, I should have been more careful. I will be, in the future.”
I closed the door in his face because there was nothing else to say, and if Michael checked surveillance footage, I didn’t want to give him more reasons to flare up. To him, this ten second conversation might seem like an orchestrated seduction. It took all my energy to get a broom and clean up the mess. I couldn’t leave it for the maid in the morning; there would be talk, and that would hurt Michael’s reputation, and I had to make him happy.
Have to. Make him happy.
Even if it killed me.