The Lies That Shatter by A.V. Asher
Fire ripped through Alec McKinley’s body, his muscles quivering with the effort. He inhaled deeply. Sweat and metal hung in the air. On the exhale, he pushed the weights up, willing his pecs to fucking cooperate. Rock music thrummed along with the clank of weights hitting the floor.
“Go, man. Go,” Mason’s voice rang out.
“Aye, one more. You got this,” Declan said, above him, one hand on the bar. Alec pressed up, his biceps trembling. He brought the bar back to his chest.
Fighting the tearing pain racing up his side, he forced the bar up for the last rep. Declan took the bar and hooked it on the frame. Relief washed through Alec’s arms, but the ache of his injury persisted.
“Fuck.” He sat up, wiping his brow in annoyance. “It’s not even that damn heavy.”
Mason handed him his water. “It’s only your second workout since the doctor cleared you, man. Give yourself some time.”
He was right, but that didn’t keep Alec’s frustration at bay. Almost three months had passed since the bullet pierced through his body, damaging his liver and nearly catching his spine. Alec was damned lucky to be alive.
It took months of painful physical therapy before the doctor finally cleared him for the gym and here he sat, sweating like a pig at less than half the weight he was used to working with.
Alec had time. The trial wouldn’t begin for another eleven months. He had nearly a year to get himself back in working condition. He needed to be in top form before Mercedes came home to him.
Letting her leave hurt more than the bullet he’d taken to save her life. They had spent far too much of their lives separated, as it was. But knowing that she loved him was enough to keep him moving forward until they could be together.
Christ, eleven more months without her will be hell.
Declan seemed to read his thoughts. “What time are you supposed to talk to her?”
Alec checked his watch. “At eight o’clock, at least that’s what they said. They’ll be on their lunch break. I need to get home and clean up.”
In a few hours he’d get to talk to Mercedes again. She was coming out of hiding to give testimony during an evidentiary hearing in San Francisco. Alec had barely slept since finding out the prosecutors had allowed them a fifteen-minute video call during her break. It would never be enough, but he’d take what he could get.
“Are you going to tell her?” Declan’s blue eyes sparked with amusement.
“Nah, it’s not ready yet,” Alec said, throwing his towel into his bag.
Mason scoffed. “She might want some time to plan.”
“Aye, but it’s too soon. I don’t want to get her hopes up if it doesn’t play out.”
“I don’t think you could disappoint her with this,” Declan said with a chuckle. “You’re giving her a literal world of options.”
“Aye. Only if I make it work.”
Mason and Declan shared a look, and Mason rolled his eyes. “You’ll make it work, man.”
Alec’s phone buzzed and his pulse kicked up a notch. He hoped to hell they weren’t messaging him to cancel the call. It was from his friend and computer tech, Cressida Bennett.
Check this out.
Alec opened the link to the video. Declan and Mason peered over his shoulder to watch as an American reporter stood in the courtyard of the federal building, a microphone in his hand.
Thanks, Mary. Depositions are set to begin today in the case of billionaire and CEO Marcus Cooper. Cooper was arrested two months ago on bribery and conspiracy to commit fraud charges, in a case that has shaken the pharmaceutical industry. Brenden Whitley, recently appointed US Attorney for the Northern District of California, alleges Cooper falsified data to conceal how addictive and deadly the popular prescription pain medication Sutanyl was and then bribed several FDA officials to obtain approval to sell the drug on the open market.
The camera panned wide to show a group of professionals climbing the stairs into the building. While the reporter spoke, the camera zoomed in, and Alec stopped breathing.
There she was.
How could someone blend in and stand out at the same time? Her clothes were the same as the others in the group. Business sophisticate with a black blazer, skirt, and heels that accentuated her curves. The wide sunglasses covered a good portion of her face. But Alec would know her anywhere.
We expect several witnesses to give testimony in this case. One source within the prosecutor’s office told us at least one witness has a significant security detail. Our source would not disclose to us why the government felt this level of security was necessary. We do believe that what he or she has to say is incredibly damning to Cooper Pharma, and possibly, to Cooper himself.
Alec scoffed. Damning was a serious understatement. Mercedes had handed the FBI a blueprint of Cooper’s criminal enterprise. Not to mention she’d been held captive in Marcus Cooper’s home, her blood was all over the penthouse, and she’d heard him giving orders to his thugs.
A man came into the camera view and Alec’s stomach clenched.
What the ever-loving hell was Jason Hollis doing there?
Mercedes’s abusive ex shouldn’t be anywhere near her. And yet, he’d walked through the same doors she had.
A ball of ice worked through Alec’s gut. Jason was a pro at manipulation and head games. Who knew what kind of shit he was pulling with her.
This fucking injury.
Without it, Alec would be there, keeping her safe and making sure that fucker didn’t even look at her.
Mason put his hand on Alec’s shoulder. “She has an armed escort, and it’s broad daylight. He isn’t getting to her.”
Thousands of things could go wrong and there’d be nothing he could do. Anxious energy pulsed through him, pooling in his fingertips. Helplessness was not an emotion Alec had much experience with. These last few months had given him his fill.
The reporter on scene ended his feed. The two anchors in the studio droned on and on, making wilder guesses into the potential outcomes of the trial. These people had already admitted they’d been told next to nothing. That wouldn’t stop them from trying this case with theories and conjectures for the next few months.
He dropped his phone into his gym bag and flung it over his shoulder. Then he followed Declan and Mason out of the gym and onto the buzzing London sidewalk. His mind was lost in planning for the future, when this hell was over.
* * *
Alec paced his flat,the silence bringing the walls in on him. He’d tried turning on the telly, but the adverts grated on his nerves, so he switched it off. Being alone in his own home never used to be so lonely.
Alec checked his watch for the third time in as many minutes. She was late.
What if the prosecutor changed his mind and wouldn’t let her call? Or maybe the internet went down? He checked and then rechecked that his Wi-Fi still had a signal.
It was too damn quiet.
His eye caught the glossy wood of her violin, propped against the wall, and the ache in his chest took another stab at him. The day he’d come home from the hospital and found it lying against his pillow was when it hit him. She was really gone.
The chimes of an incoming video call rang out through the room, making him jump. Alec clicked the answer button and waited impatiently for the screen to change.
When Mercedes came on the screen, his heart leaped into his throat. She’d always been able to take his breath away.
“Oh Christ, you’re beautiful,” he blurted out.
A grin broke out on her face, and she bit her lip.
“Sorry. Not a proper greeting. Hello, darling.”
“Hi. I thought it was perfect.” Mercedes’s voice trembled when she spoke. “God, you look amazing. Are you feeling okay? I’ve worried about you every day.”
“Aye, I’m doing well. Physical therapy has helped and I’m working on getting my strength back. It’s coming along.”
“You promise? You’re not just saying that so I won’t worry?”
“I promise, I’m getting better. I swear.” Seeing the distress in her eyes was killing him. “How are you? Are they keeping you safe?”
Her shoulder came up in a shrug. “It’s fine. I can’t tell you much about it, but it’s comfortable and it feels pretty secure.” Her brow furrowed. “I did have to move once.”
Alarm rang through him. “What? When?”
“About a month ago. They didn’t go into the details, but they heard we were compromised. So, I had to start over.”
“Jesus, Sadie . . .”
“I’m fine, everything’s fine.” She cleared her throat. “How is everyone?”
She was changing the subject for the same reason he hadn’t told her how hard his recovery was going. “Aye, all is well. I talked to your sister yesterday. She wanted me to share some news with you.” He gave an expectant pause. Mercedes’s brows lifted and she tilted her head. “She and Luke are going to start trying for a baby.”
“Oh, my god! Really?” Mercedes’s hazel eyes welled with tears. She brought her fingers to the bridge of her nose.
“Hey, don’t cry, darling. Charlotte will be okay.”
“I know. It’s the best news. I couldn’t be more excited for them,” Mercedes said tearfully. “It’s just . . . I probably won’t be there for her. I always thought I’d host her baby shower and pamper her with spa days.” She dabbed at her lashes with her finger. “Now, I don’t think they’ll even let her tell me when she’s pregnant. Sometimes I have to remind myself why I’m doing this.”
“They didn’t give you a choice. But they pulled that shit drug from the market because of you. You’re already helping save thousands of lives.”
“I know. That’s one reason I keep going.”
“I just wish you didn’t need to be around Jason.”
Her eyes widened. “How did you know he’s here?”
“I know everything.” Alec shot her a smug look.
Mercedes let out a laugh and arched her brow.
“I’m kidding, I caught sight of you on a news report a few hours ago.”
Mercedes laughed. “Oh, yeah, that makes sense. He’s out on bail but I have a protective order against him. I don’t think he’ll risk anything right here in the open. Plus, I have my security detail who will keep him from me. I can avoid him for the most part.”
Jealousy curled in Alec’s gut. That piece of shit didn’t deserve to breathe the same air as Mercedes. “I’d feel a hell of a lot better if I could be there.”
Her expression softened. “Well, there was only one way that was going to happen, and the cards didn’t line up.”
“Aye, we can still make it happen.” Alec held her gaze.
Mercedes pressed her lips together and looked down, a smile playing on her lips. “Someday.”
Marriage was the only way he could have joined Mercedes in the program, but he’d been too injured to be anything but a liability for her. But goddamn, he wanted it. He wondered what she might say if he were to ask. It wasn’t the way he wanted to marry her, but if it meant they could be together, he’d do it in a heartbeat. They belonged together. The taste of the future they’d had in Scotland had been far too brief.
This woman was his world. She deserved better than a hurried proposal over a video chat.
Alec swallowed the lump in his throat. “Are you still in love with me?”
Mercedes eyes flashed with a longing that cut into him. “More than ever. You?”
An ache hit him so hard in the chest. “Aye, so much it hurts.” He wanted to touch her, to feel her body under his. Loving him the way only she could.
He heard a knock on her end, and she spoke to someone in the room with her. She looked back to Alec, her expression crestfallen. “They’re telling me my time is up.”
Alec’s heart fell, but he pulled up his mouth in a smile. “Okay. You be careful and come home to me.”
“You too. I worry about you so much.”
Alec smiled. “I’ll be fine. I love you, Sadie.”
“I love you too, Alec. I always will.”
The video blinked away, leaving the screen washed in a powder blue. She was gone. Alec inhaled deeply, letting the fissure erupt in him. It was one more goodbye, but it wasn’t forever.