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Adam sat and watched Kat pace. He’d debated telling her the same lie he’d told his mother but had decided against it. Kat knew him far too well to be fooled by a hasty lie like that. And she of all people deserved to know the truth.
Kat had been the first friend Adam had made after his mother spontaneously decided to uproot them and marry Ali all those years ago. She’d been with Ali since she was tiny and Adam had heard the whispers that she was his daughter, that she’d conceived with a prostitute and left on her father’s doorstep because her mother hadn’t been willing to raise her.
Kat had been the only one who hadn’t tried to suck up to him to get into Ali’s good books. And later, when Adam had begun to join in on training sessions, she’d been the only one who hadn’t resented the personal attention he’d gotten from his stepfather.
They’d promised one another long ago that there would be no lies between them – a rarity in the profession they were in. Adam wasn’t going to break that promise.
He waited for Kat to run out of steam but ten minutes later, she was still going strong, the heels her knee-high leather boots clicking rhythmically as she walked. Her hands were on her hips and her lips moved quickly as she muttered to herself.
Finally, Adam couldn’t take the clicking any longer. He took himself off to the kitchen and made the coffee he’d been craving all night. As he’d expected, the scent eventually lured Kat into the kitchen and he handed her the small mug he’d fixed for her before picking up his own and taking a long drink.
They sipped in silence for a while before Kat finally spoke. “This really sucks.”
Adam snorted. “Way to state the obvious.” He drained his mug and immediately poured a second.
“There’s nothing else to say. I can’t think of a single way to get you out of this that doesn’t involve faking your death and running far and fast. And we both know you’ll never leave your mother.”
“And she’ll never leave my stepfather,” Adam added bitterly.
“It might not be so bad.”
Adam snorted and Kat bit her lip. “Really,” she insisted, despite the disbelieving look in her own eyes. “I’ve heard about Iman Khan. She’s supposed to be gorgeous.”
“She is,” Adam admitted, thinking back to fair skin and delicate features. “She’s also supposed to be a spoilt little brat.” He’d heard rumours of her antics himself and the laundry list of orders her grandfather had unloaded on him had only cemented his belief that he was marrying a spoilt brat.
“This really sucks,” Kat repeated. “I wish there was a way we could fix it.”
“Are you coming tomorrow?”
“To the wedding?” Kat frowned. “Do you want me to?”
“It would be nice to know someone other than the Khans.”
“Your parents aren’t coming?” Kat winced. “I mean-”
“I know what you mean,” Adam cut her off. Much like his mother, Kat was in the habit of referring to Ali as Adam’s father. Unlike his mother though, she listened when he asked her to stop. For the most part, at least.
Adam knew that the constant corrections sounded petulant. People had even called him ungrateful for refusing to call his mother’s husband ‘Father’. But it was the truth. Ali wasn’t his father, for all that the man had tried to parent him. Adam’s father was dead and no amount of pretending otherwise would change that truth.
Kat recognized the sour look on his face and made a production of checking the time on her phone. “Well, it’s getting late. I should go.”
Adam reached out and grabbed her arm. “No, it’s okay. You don’t have to go just because I’m grumpy.”
“Maybe I don’t want to deal with you when you’re grumpy.” Kat leaned up and kissed his cheek. “I’ll be there tomorrow. And I’ll bring your mother with me.”
“Don’t. It’s never good when both of us are in his bad books at the same time.”
Kat smiled secretively. “I wasn’t planning on telling Ali where we were going.”
“He’ll find out,” Adam warned. “He always does.”
“By that time, he’ll have gotten over it. You know he’s just being obstinate right now because he’s feeling possessive.”
Adam felt a need to defend his stepfather. “I told him I could deal with it on my own,” he explained.
Kat fixed him with an unimpressed look. “You’ve been doing that since the day you met him. It’s never driven him up the wall like this before. Trust me, he’s just sore because this happened without his approval, that’s all.”
Controlling and petulant. That did sound like his stepfather. “Do you think he’ll ever let us go?”
“No,” Kat said softly. “I don’t.”
Neither did Adam.
The people who worked for Ali didn’t leave unless it was in body bags. Those who tried were quickly shown the error of their ways.
Adam sighed. The day he’d come to fully understand just what working under his stepfather meant, he’d sworn that he’d never be ensnared like that again.
But he had been. And it had taken a little over a year to realize it. Adam’s only comfort was that it had taken over two the last time. He was getting faster at noticing the traps even if he still hadn’t learned how to avoid them.
He looked down at his left hand. From tomorrow, it would be different. There would be a band of platinum there, reminding him every time he looked down at his hand that he belonged to someone.
His stomach churned and bile rose in his throat. There was nothing in his stomach but he still rushed to the kitchen sink and braced himself over it, deliberately breathing through his nose and swallowing hard.
‘I wish there was a way we could fix it,’ Kat’s voice whispered in his head.
Adam wished there was a way to fix it too.