Twisted Love (Twisted 1) - Page 12



“…Thensaid, never ask Ava to do something like this again, or I will murder you and your entire family,” Jules finished dramatically before taking a sip of her caramel mocha.

“Shut up.” Stella leaned forward, her eyes wide. “He did not say that.”

“No, he didn’t.” I shot Jules a disapproving look. “Stop exaggerating.”

“How would you know? You were in the bathroom,” she countered. When my frown deepened, she sighed. “Fine. He didn’t say those exact words—at least, not the last part—but the general idea was the same. He did warn Owen away from you though.” Jules ripped off a piece of her cranberry scone and popped it in her mouth.

“Poor Owen.” Guilt niggled at me as I traced absentminded patterns on the table. Jules, Stella, Bridget, and I were at The Morning Roast for our weekly Tuesday coffee catch-up, and Jules had been regaling the other girls with a hyperbolized account of what happened at Owen’s house on Saturday. “I wish he hadn’t gotten dragged into this. All those hours of shooting, gone.”

I worked with Owen at the McCann Gallery, where I’d served as a gallery assistant for the past year and a half. My father had never said outright he disapproved of me pursuing a photography career, but he’d made it clear that he wouldn’t fund any of my equipment. He paid for my tuition and other school-related expenses, but if I wanted a new lens, camera, or even a tripod? That was all me.

I tried not to let his unspoken disapproval bother me. I was beyond lucky I’d graduate with no student loan debt, and I wasn’t afraid of hard work. The fact I’d shelled out my own money for every piece of equipment made me cherish them a little more, and I enjoyed my job at McCann. It was one of the most prestigious photography galleries in the Northeast, and I loved my coworkers, though I wasn’t sure whether Owen would want anything more to do with me after what Alex had done.

Even now, my skin heated with anger at the memory of his overbearing attitude.

I couldn’t believe he’d had the gall to show up and boss me around like that. To threaten my friend. To act like I was a…a servant or his employee. Even Josh had never gone that far.

I stabbed at my yogurt with my fork, furious.

“Sounds like I missed an interesting time.” Bridget sighed. “All the fun stuff happens while I’m away.”

Bridget had been attending an event at Eldorra’s New York consulate, as was required of the Princess of Eldorra.

That’s right. She was an honest-to-God, real-life princess, second in line to the throne of a small but wealthy European country. She looked the part, too. With her golden hair, deep blue eyes, and elegant bone structure, she could’ve passed for a young Grace Kelly.

I hadn’t known who Bridget was when she, Jules, Stella, and I found ourselves assigned to the same suite freshman year. Besides, I would’ve expected a freakin’ princess to have a private room.

But that was the great thing about Bridget. Despite her insane upbringing, she was one of the most down-to-earth people I’d ever met. She never pulled rank, and she insisted on living life as a normal college student whenever she could. In that sense, Thayer was the best fit for her. Thanks to its proximity to D.C. and its world-class international politics program, the campus swarmed with political offspring and international royalty. Just the other day, I’d overheard the son of the Speaker of the House and the crown prince of a controversial oil kingdom arguing over video games.

You can’t make that stuff up.

“Trust me, it was not fun,” I grumbled. “It was humiliating. And I owe Owen a dinner, at least.”

My phone flashed with a new text. Liam. Again.

I swiped away the notification before any of my friends saw it. I wasn’t in the mood to deal with him or his excuses right now.

“Au contraire, I thought it was hilarious.” Jules finished the rest of her scone. “You should’ve seen Alex’s face. He was pissed.”

“How is that hilarious?” Stella snapped a photo of her latte art before joining the conversation.

She was a big fashion and lifestyle blogger with over 400,000 Instagram followers, and we were used to her capturing everything for the ‘Gram. Ironically, for someone with such a big social presence, she was the shyest in the group, but she said the “anonymity” of the Internet made it easier to be herself online.

“Did you hear me? He was pissed.” Jules placed extra emphasis on the last word like it was supposed to mean something.

Bridget, Stella, and I stared at her blankly.

She sighed, obviously exasperated by our lack of comprehension. “When was the last time any of us saw Alex Volkov pissed? Or happy? Or sad? The man doesn’t show emotion. It’s like God gave him extra helpings of gorgeousness and zero doses of human feeling.”

“I think he’s a psychopath,” Stella said. She blushed. “No normal person is that controlled all the time.”

I was still upset with Alex, but a strange part of me felt compelled to defend him. “You’ve only met him a few times. He’s not so bad when he’s not…”

“Being bad?” Bridget finished.

“All I’m saying is, he’s Josh’s best friend, and I trust my brother’s judgment.”

Jules snorted. “This the same brother who wore that hideous rat costume to last year’s Halloween party?”

I wrinkled my nose while Bridget and Stella burst into laughter. “I said judgment, not taste.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.” Stella tilted her head until her glossy dark curls cascaded over her shoulder. We always joked that she was the United Nations of humans because of her multicultural background—German and Japanese on her mother’s side; Black and Puerto Rican on her father’s side. The result was five foot eleven inches of leggy limbs, deep olive skin, and catlike green eyes. Supermodel material, if she had any interest in being a supermodel, which she didn’t. “It was just an observation, but you’re right. I don’t know him well enough to judge. Statement retracted.”

“I’m not upset. I’m…” I faltered. What the hell was I doing? Alex didn’t need me defending him. It wasn’t like he was here, listening to us. Even if he were, he wouldn’t care.

If there was one person in the world who didn’t give a shit what others thought of him, it was Alex Volkov.

“Guys, you’re missing the point.” Jules waved a hand in the air. “The point is, Alex did show emotion. Over Ava. We could have fun with this.”

Oh, no. Jules’s idea of “fun” usually involved a heap of trouble and a potential dose of embarrassment on my part.

“What kind of fun?” Bridget looked intrigued.

“Bridge!” I kicked her under the table. “Don’t encourage her.”

“Sorry.” The blonde made a face. “But all I have going on lately are…” She glanced around to make sure no one was listening. They weren’t, except for her bodyguard Booth, who sat at the table behind us and pretended to read the paper while actually keeping a sharp eye on the surroundings. “Diplomatic events and ceremonial duties. It’s terribly boring. Meanwhile, my grandfather’s sick, my brother’s acting weird, and I need something to take my mind off it all.”

Her grandfather and brother, AKA King Edvard and Crown Prince Nikolai of Eldorra. I had to remind myself they were human beings like everyone else, but even after years of friendship with Bridget, I wasn’t used to her speaking so casually about her family. Like they weren’t literal royalty.

“I have a theory.” Jules leaned forward, and the rest of us, even me, leaned in, eager to hear what she had to say. Call it morbid curiosity, because I was sure I wouldn’t like what was about to come out of her mouth.

I was right.

“Ava somehow gets under Alex’s skin,” Jules said. “We should see how far it goes. How much can she make him feel?”

I rolled my eyes. “All those long hours you put in at your internship must’ve scrambled your brain, because you’re not making any sense.”

She ignored me. “I call it…” Dramatic pause. “Operation Emotion.” She looked up and drew an arc with her hand like the words would magically appear in the air.

“Creative,” Stella teased.

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