I madea concerted effort to ignore Ava for the rest of the night, though she hovered in my peripheral vision like a golden spark that wouldn’t go away. Luckily for every man in the room, she didn’t dance with anyone else; she spent most of her time chatting and laughing with alumni.
I spent mine gathering intel—information about congressmen I’d need if I wanted to expand Archer into a conglomerate, tidbits about competitors, interesting nuggets about friends and foes.
I’d just wrapped up an…enlightening conversation with the head of a major consulting company when I lost sight of Ava. One minute she was there; the next, she was gone. She was still gone twenty minutes later—far too long for a bathroom break.
It was getting late; perhaps she’d left. We hadn’t parted on the best note, but I’d check on her to make sure she got home safely. Just in case.
I was already on my way out when I heard a thump from the small room by the ballroom, which served as an overflow space for guests’ bags and jackets.
“Get off me!”
I froze, my blood icing over. I opened the door, and the ice erupted into scalding flames.
Ava’s soon-to-be-dead ex Liam had her pinned against the wall with her wrists above her head. They were so focused on each other they didn’t notice me enter.
“You told me you didn’t have a new man,” Liam slurred. “But I saw you dancing and watching him. You lied, Ava. Why did you lie?”
“You’re crazy.” Even from here, I saw her eyes flashing fire. “Let go of me. I mean it. Or do you want a repeat of last week?”
Last week? What the hell happened last week?
“But I love you.” His voice turned plaintive. “Why won’t you love me back? It was one mistake, babe.” He pressed his body against hers, preventing her legs from moving. Fire scorched my veins as I stalked over, my approach muffled by the plush carpet beneath my feet. “You do still love me. I know it.”
“I’m giving you three seconds to move, or I can’t be held accountable for my actions.” A burst of pride shot through me at Ava’s flinty tone. Atta girl. “One…two…three.”
I’d just reached them when she head-butted him. A howl ripped out of his throat; he stumbled back, clutching his nose, which now gushed blood.
“You broke my nose!” he spat. “You asked for it, you slut.” He lunged for her, but he only made it halfway before I closed my fist around the back of his shirt and yanked him back.
It was only then that Ava noticed me. “Alex. What—”
“Mind if I join the fun?” I hauled Liam up by his collar, my lip curling at the sight of his watering eyes and bleeding nose, and socked him in the gut. “That’s for calling her a slut.” Another blow to the jaw. “That’s for holding her against her will.” A third hit to his already-suffering nose. “That’s for cheating on her.”
I continued my blows, letting the fire wash over me until Liam was unconscious and Ava had to drag me off him.
“Alex, stop. You’ll kill him!”
I adjusted my shirtsleeves, breathing hard. “Is that supposed to deter me?”
I could go all night and not stop until the bastard was nothing more than a pile of bloodied flesh and broken bones. A film of red tinted my vision, and my knuckles were bruised from the force of my blows.
The image of him pinning Ava against the wall flashed through my mind, and my anger erupted anew.
“Let’s just go. He learned his lesson, and if someone sees you, you’ll get in trouble.” Ava’s face was the color of porcelain. “Please.”
“He wouldn’t dare say anything.” Nevertheless, I relented because of how bad she was trembling. Despite her toughness earlier, Ava was shaken up over the incident. Plus, she was right; we were lucky no one had stumbled in on us yet. I didn’t give a shit if they did, but there was no need to drag out an already unpleasant evening.
“We should call an ambulance.” She eyed Liam’s prone form with unease. “What if he’s seriously hurt?”
Of course she still cared about his well-being after he tried to fucking assault her. I didn’t know whether to laugh in disbelief or shake her.
“He won’t die.” I’d controlled my hits so they were punishing but not fatal. “He’ll wake up with a helluva banged-up face and a couple of broken ribs, but he’ll survive.” Unfortunately.
The worry remained on Ava’s face. “We should call 911 anyway.”
For fuck’s sake. “I’ll place an anonymous call from the car.” I had a burner phone in the glove compartment.
I placed a steadying hand on the small of her back as we exited the hotel. Thankfully, we didn’t pass anyone except the doorman along the way. “Now.” I pinned Ava with a glare. “Tell me what the hell happened between you two last week.”