“Where is she?”I grasped Madeline by the throat, resisting the urge to squeeze until I wiped the smug look off her face.
I’d never raised a hand to a woman outside the bedroom—and then only if they consented—but I was this close to losing my shit.
After I saw the video of Madeline pushing Ava into the pool, which I recognized from my previous visits to the Hauss mansion, I broke every speed limit to get here. By the time I arrived, the party had ended and only a few stragglers remained. I found Madeline laughing with her cronies in the kitchen, but it had only taken a glare from me for her to excuse herself and follow me into the hall.
“Why don’t you tighten your hold a little?” she purred. “You know you want to.”
“I’m not here to play games.” I was holding onto my patience by a thread. “Answer my question, or Hauss Industries is over.”
“You don’t have that kind of power.”
“Don’t underestimate me, sweetheart.” It wasn’t an endearment. “Just because we’ve fucked a few times doesn’t mean you know what—or who—I have in my back pocket. So unless you want to explain to dear old Dad why regulators are breathing down his neck and his precious company stock is tanking, I suggest you answer me. Now.”
Madeline’s lips compressed into a thin line. “Her friend pulled her out of the pool, and they left,” she said, sullen. “How was I supposed to know she can’t swim?”
My grip tightened, and my lips curled into a sneer when I saw the resulting flare of desire in her eyes. “Pray she’s all right, or the downfall of Hauss Industries will be the least of your worries,” I said softly. “Do not contact or come near her or me again. Understand?”
Madeline lifted her chin in defiance.
“Do. You. Understand.” I pressed my thumb into the soft flesh of her neck—not enough to injure, but enough to make her flinch.
“Yes,” she choked out, resentment coating her voice.
“Good.” I released her and walked away, keeping my steps calm when all I wanted was to race to Ava’s house and check if she was okay. She hadn’t answered any of my calls and texts, and while I understood why, it still made me nervous.
“Is she really worth it?” Madeline called after me.
I didn’t bother answering her.
When I reached my car, I floored the gas and nearly mowed over a group of drunk frat boys. My grip strangled the steering wheel as I imagined how Ava must have felt when she fell into the pool—or how she must feel right now.
A mixture of worry and anger coiled in my stomach. Fuck what I told Madeline earlier. She’d put a huge target on her family’s back, and I wouldn’t rest until Hauss Industries was no more than a footnote in corporate history.
I pulled up to Ava’s house in time to see Stella exiting. I cut the engine and made it to the front door in half a dozen long strides.
“How is she?” I demanded.
Worry etched itself on Stella’s face. “She could be worse, given the circumstances. I was getting us drinks when she went into the pool room…” She gnawed on her bottom lip. “Anyway, I found her when that woman pushed her into the pool. I got her out before she passed out or anything like that, but she’s pretty shaken. Jules isn’t home yet, and I wanted to stay with her, but she said she’s going to sleep and insisted I leave.” Stella’s brows knit together. “You should check on her. Just in case.”
That was a big ask coming from Stella, who liked me the least out of Ava’s friends, and it said a lot about Ava’s current state.
“I’ll take it from here.” I brushed past her into the living room.
“How did you find out what happened so fast?” Stella called after me.
“Online,” was all I said. I made a mental note to call my tech guy and have him scrub every trace of the video off the internet. He was the same person I relied on to hack into my competitors’ computers and dig up offshore accounts. Five years of working together, and there hadn’t been a single leak or job he couldn’t complete. In return, I’d paid him enough money over the years that he could buy a private island off the coast of Fiji if he wanted.
I took the stairs two at a time until I reached Ava’s room. The light spilling through the crack in the door told me she was still awake, despite what she’d told Stella.
I rapped my knuckle twice against the wood. “It’s Alex.”
There was a short pause. “Come in.”
Ava sat in bed, her hair damp and her gaze wary as she took me in. Worry edged out my anger when I saw how pale her cheeks were and the way she shivered, even though the heat was on and she’d tucked herself beneath a thick comforter.
“I saw what happened. Some fucker filmed it live on social.” I sat on the edge of the bed and resisted the insane urge to tuck her into my chest. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault. Don’t blame yourself for fucked-up things other people do.”
A smile ghosted my mouth as she threw my words back at me.
“You have terrible taste in women though.” Ava sniffled. “Do better.”
“Madeline and I are over. We never even started.”
“That’s not what she told me.”
I cocked my head at her stiff tone. “Are you…jealous?” The thought pleased me more than it should’ve.
“No.” With her scowl and fluffy gray top, she looked like an angry kitten. “As if. So what if she’s tall and blonde and looks like a Victoria’s Secret model? She’s a horrible person. Next time I see her, I’m going Krav Maga on her ass.”
I bit back a full smile. Ava had attended all of one lesson. It’d be a while before she went anything on anyone’s ass, but her indignation was adorable.
“She won’t be bothering you again.” I grew serious. “The pool—”