Stay Close(5)

By: Alexa Riley



I arrived in Italy a week after with nothing but the clothes on my back and a USB drive in my pocket. My contact at Osbourne Corporation had been true to their word and gotten me across the borders.

Jordan Chen was waiting for me at a café by the sea in Genoa. I gave him all the information I had and then some. He gave me a new name and passport, but then he gave me something else.

“What’s this?”

“An opportunity,” Jordan says, packing up his stuff.

“So I go from one master to another?” I ask angrily.

“No. You don’t owe us anything. After I walk away we’re done here.” There is honesty in his eyes, which is a contrast to the scar on his face. “If you’re interested, we could use someone like you on this side of the world. It doesn’t have to be you, but you’re our first choice. Plus, the pay is enough for you to retire in a year or two.”

I hadn’t given much thought to what I was going to do next. My biggest hurdle was getting out of the country undetected.

“Think it over. When you’ve made your decision, call the number.”

I look down at the card that’s on top of the stack of papers. The name Paige Justice is embossed in gold, and her number is below. I’m not prepared to become someone else’s watchdog, but I don’t know if I can say no.

So that’s what I’ve done the past five years. I’ve worked for Osbourne Corp International, vetting companies they’re either interested in taking over or want to do business with. I’ve spent my time following businessmen and digging into their lives. It’s easy work and a lot more legal than I ever was with the mafia. But just like before, it’s a lonely world, and I’m tired of the isolation. Something was missing and I wasn’t sure I knew what it was. How can someone feel lonely or understand what it really is if it’s all they really ever had? But I felt it. I craved something else. Deep down to my bones I knew I was looking for something or someone.

Last month I sent Paige a message telling her I wanted out. She said her husband Ryan had a replacement whenever I was ready to go. I was both relieved and disappointed she didn’t ask me to stay on. Although I knew I wanted a life of my own, I liked being needed. Even if it was a business on the other side of the world.

To my surprise, I got a message the next day from Paige saying that I owed her one last favor and asking me to come to the States.

I’d met both Ryan and Paige several times over the years. They’d come to Europe on vacation and we’d end up talking business for hours. I respected the two of them and thought that they worked well together as a team. There were also times I’d become jealous, seeing the love they shared, and had to excuse myself. It was difficult to be around two people who adored one another so much, knowing that I’d never find that kind of love myself. A woman who wanted me, who was soft and sweet. All I ever seemed to draw in were women who wanted darkness. Who thought I would be rough. It would make my stomach roll at the thought of something like that. I wanted the sweetness I saw between them. The love and devotion. Not the pain and darkness.

I decided that I’d repay the debt and go to America. And when I arrived, they told me that they’d like me to protect one of their daughters. Something that sounded simple enough.

I finish getting dressed and make my way through the garden that separates the guest quarters from the main house. I agreed to stay here for a trial period until we figure out something more permanent. Penelope is still deciding on colleges, they said, and they don’t want to make any decision yet.

When I get to the back of the house, I catch a glimpse of her at the table from my position at the glass doors outside the kitchen.

As if I’ve spoken her name aloud, she turns to face me, and our eyes lock. Her green eyes are like nothing I’ve seen before. A sweet, pure innocence pours off her in waves, touching me deep in my soul in a place I didn’t even know was there.

My chest fills with warmth as a chill runs from the back of my neck down my spine. It’s exactly like last night all over again.

I’ve never felt more powerless with one look.





Chapter Three

Penelope

“Penny!” The loud whisper from my sister has me opening one eye to look at her.

“What?” I moan, pulling the pillow over my head.

I debate whether to use the same trick my parents did with us when they went from a king-size bed to a full so we couldn’t sleep with them anymore. Though I would have to get a twin to get Pandora out of mine.

“I’m hungry.” Her words come out in a pout. I don’t even have to see her face to know the expression she’s making right now.

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