Twisted Love (Twisted 1) - Page 70

“Sorry, Sunshine.” I forced myself to inject a mocking lilt into her nickname. “The cat’s out of the bag, so I might as well tell you the whole story. The man I told you about, the one who murdered my parents? That was your father—well, fake father. Michael Chen.”

Ava’s eyes popped, and Bridget finally stirred, her sharp intake of breath audible even through her gag.

“I always knew.” I pushed off the wall and walked toward her. Camo tensed and stepped in my direction, but Ivan waved him off with a delighted smile. He was enjoying this, that bastard. “You think it was a coincidence that Josh and I were assigned to the same room our freshman year? A hefty bribe with the right person goes far, and there’s no better way to destroy your enemy than from the inside. I played the ‘dead parents’ card to gain his sympathy until he invited me over for the holidays, and while everyone was asleep, I snooped. I bugged your house, went through your father’s files…found lots of interesting information. Why do you think his business took so many hits over the years?”

A tear rolled down Ava’s cheek, but I kept going. I’m sorry, Sunshine.

“I dismantled his empire, piece by piece, and you and Josh had no clue.” I uttered a soft laugh even as my chest burned. “This year was going to be the grand finale. The year in which my plan to take down his company publicly and humiliatingly came together. But I needed one more piece of information, one more excuse to search through his office. Then Josh—my ticket into your house every Thanksgiving—announced he was volunteering in Central America. Most inconvenient. I needed another in.” I cupped her face with one hand, knowing this might be the last time I touched her. “That’s where you enter the picture. Josh did most of the heavy lifting himself when he asked me to look after you, but I planted the idea of moving into his house. After all.” I smiled, my heart slowly shredding itself apart. “It’s much easier to make you fall in love with me when you have to see me every day. And you did. It was so easy it was almost embarrassing. Sweet, trusting Ava, so eager to fix broken things. So desperate for love she’d take it anywhere she could find it.”

She shook her head, her chest heaving. She’d stopped crying, but her eyes burned with anger and betrayal. That’s my girl. Hate me. Don’t cry over me. Never cry over me. I’m not worth it.

“That night after Thanksgiving dinner? I found the information I was looking for,” I said. “Your father got desperate over the years as his business crumbled, and he made a few bad deals with bad people. I had it all lined up…the FBI bust, the media circus.” I left out the part where I’d planned to have Michael killed in prison. The jury was still out on whether I’d pull that plug. “But imagine my surprise when you regained your memories. It was like an early Christmas surprise. If I couldn’t nail him on the corporate stuff, I could nail him on attempted murder. And it worked. Except…” I turned back to my uncle, whose eyes gleamed with malice. “I was wrong. It was never Michael. Was it, uncle?”

Ivan’s lips stretched into a thin grin. He bore no resemblance to the man who’d brought me into his house and treated me like his son—or so I thought. It took years to build a relationship and a second to destroy one, and ours had been ruined beyond repair.

Don’t trust anyone, Alex. It’s always the people you least expect who’ll stab you in the back.

“That’s the beauty of it,” he said, even as he winced. I reveled in the pleasure of that small movement—it’d been two weeks; he must be in serious pain by now—even as my heart tore itself apart at the way Ava looked like at me. Like she didn’t know me at all.

In some ways, she didn’t.

“Michael was one of your father’s business rivals when Anton started expanding into Maryland. They’d never gotten along—Anton hated the way Michael conducted business, and Michael hated that anyone dared encroach on ‘his’ territory. They eventually reached a truce, but Michael made an easy scapegoat. It didn’t take much to plant ‘evidence’ that an impressionable teen like yourself would believe.” Ivan coughed. “You’re a smart kid, but your desire for vengeance blinded you. I always hated the man, anyway. He humiliated me once at a party your father invited him to as a ‘gesture of goodwill’—even though I told Anton not to—and I wasn’t surprised to learn Michael’s a psychopath as well.”

“You’re one to talk,” I said coldly. My uncle would be deranged enough to hold on to a grudge over some slight at a party that happened decades ago.

I’d gone to painstaking lengths to ensure Michael wouldn’t know of Ivan’s nor my connection with my father, because he wouldn’t exactly welcome the son of the man he’d murdered (or so I thought) into his home. I’d changed our last names and erased any evidence that would tie us to Anton Dudik. My uncle and I had been born Ivan and Alex Dudik; we were now Ivan and Alex Volkov. I was lucky my uncle was so paranoid—there were few public photos or traces of him before we started Archer Group, which made my job easier.

Apparently, that had all been for naught, since Michael had already met Ivan and knew of his connection to my father. He hadn’t liked me, but he also hadn’t cared about having me in his house, because he wasn’t the murderer.

I couldn’t believe my uncle pulled the wool over my eyes for so long. I was supposed to be a genius. A master strategist. But I’d fallen prey to the same failing as all other humans—believing the best of someone simply because they were there for you at your worst. He was my only living relative left, and I’d let that color my perception of him.

Now, because of my fuckup, Ava was hurt.

My stomach clenched. I kept my gaze averted from her—if I looked at her, I would lose it, and I couldn’t afford to lose it. Not with Camo pointing a gun at her and my uncle’s sharp eyes watching everything. He may be dying, but I wouldn’t underestimate him until he was six feet in the ground.

“I can say the same for you.” Ivan winced again, though he tried to hide it. I hoped the bastard suffered until his last breath on earth. “You, me, Michael. We’re all cut from the same dark cloth. We’re willing to do whatever it takes to achieve what we want. I knew it was smart taking you in,” he said. “You were so grateful, and I couldn’t let that intellect of yours go to waste. We’ve done well for ourselves, haven’t we?” He swept an arm around his grand office.

“I did well. You leeched off me like the parasite you are.”

Ivan clucked in disappointment. “Is that any way to speak to the man who kept you from being put into the horrid foster system? Really, you should be more grateful.”

He really was deranged. “No wonder my mom wanted nothing to do with you,” I said. “She must’ve smelled the crazy from a mile away.”

Ivan’s fake smile melted, and his face twitched with anger. “Your mother was a stupid whore,” he spat. “I loved her, but she turned me down—me, the one who’d been there for her long before she met your father—for naïve, soft-hearted Anton. I waited and waited for her to come to her senses, but she never did.” He snorted. “When she told Anton about my letters, he stopped speaking to me. Wasn’t man enough to confront me face to face, but he ran his mouth to our mutual friends, all of whom cut me off too.” His eyes shone with hatred. “No one crosses me like that. He took what I loved from me, so I took what he loved from him.”

“Not what. Who,” I said through gritted teeth. “My mother was not an object.”

Ivan cackled. “Oh, Alex, love did make you soft after all.”

I clenched my jaw. “I’m not in love.”

“That’s not what a little birdie told me.” A cough rattled in his lungs. “I had some interesting conversations with a pretty little blonde by the name of Madeline. She had a lot to say about how you reacted when she pushed poor Ava into a pool.”

Fury sliced through me. Madeline. I didn’t know how she and my uncle met, but Ivan must’ve been tracking me longer than I thought.

Once again, I cursed myself for letting my guard slip.

By this time next month, Hauss Industries would be toast. I’d make sure of it. I’d already gathered the kindling after the pool incident; I just needed to set it on fire.

“All you have to do is give me the money and position, sign a contract saying you’ll never come after me or hold corporate office again, and I’ll let Ava and her little friend go,” Ivan said. “It’s a simple trade.”

I wondered if he knew Bridget was the Princess of Eldorra. If he did, he was an idiot for dragging her into this. If he didn’t, he was an idiot for not doing his research.

And if he thought I’d believe he would let any of us go after he all but admitted to murder in front of us, he must think I was an idiot.

I weighed my options. Ivan wouldn’t do anything to me, Ava, or Bridget until I’d wired the money and given him back his position, but that wouldn’t take long. He knew I had the board under my thumb. I could make him CEO again with one call.

“To be clear, that wasn’t a request,” Ivan said.

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