Plausible Deniability

discoveries best left alone

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Aila finds herself being guided back out onto the street before she knows it. She leans against Niall as they wait for the car, lets her thoughts travel back to the conversation they’d had inside. What puzzle piece is she missing? The gaping hole refuses to tell her what she needs to know.

Back at his, Niall guides her to the room on the right of the foyer. The child from earlier sits on the couch clutching a plastic cup in his hands; his eyes widen when Niall steps inside. Aila bites back a gasp at how the boy looks so much like Niall.

“What are you doing awake, little one?”

“I’m not sleepy.”

Niall crouches in front of the sofa, frowning as he runs a hand over the boy’s hair. “You still should be in bed. It’s late, so run along.”

The child pouts but passes over the cup. Niall helps him to his feet, and Aila watches him slink out of the room. When she turns back to Niall, a sharp wave of affection crashes over her. Adoration paints his features, an expression of love and protectiveness.

“Yours?” she whispers, and he jerks out of his thoughts before shaking his head.

“Theo’s my nephew. He’s here for the week.”

“He’s adorable.”

“He is.” He gestures toward the couch and makes his way to a bar in the corner. “He felt I was neglecting him, I guess, and demanded I let him visit.”

“And you caved.”

“Like a paper house.”

He joins her on the couch, passing over a glass, and Aila toes off her heels before curling her legs beneath her. A slow burn trickles down her throat and spreads through her belly with the first sip of whisky. Clearing her throat, she meets his eye.

“So you never told me exactly what you do.”

He stares at her over the rim of his own glass for a long minute. Aila resists the urge to squirm under the scrutiny, but then he’s swallowing down a mouthful of liquor.

“I... I guess you could say I inherited my father’s businesses. His investments. He was very scrupulous in what he chose to put money into. If they did well, he kept them on. If they failed, he dropped them.”

“They’ve presumably done well, since you’re wealthy.” She pauses, running her finger along the edge of her glass. “How many businesses did your father invest in?”

Niall huffs out a laugh and shakes his head. “More than you think.”

“Can I, um, can I ask you something?”

“Of course, darling. You can ask me anything.”

His voice is soft, sweet, and Aila almost believes he means it. Unfortunately, history has taught her he won’t answer. She’ll only leave here with more questions. She sighs and pushes on.

“Why won’t you tell me? You said in the beginning that you couldn’t tell me anything about your career, but then you got shot. You never gave me an explanation for that, and I can’t find a reason someone would shoot a businessman.”

“Would you leave if I told you I still couldn’t tell you?”

“I don’t want to,” she says slowly after a pregnant pause. “I like being with you. When you’re not being a prick, I mean.”

“But you’d leave.”

Aila stares down at her whisky. Golden light gleams on the surface, turning the amber liquid translucent. She sets her glass on the coffee-table. “I... Niall, I don’t want a relationship built on lies. Lies of omission are just as bad as unspoken truths. I don’t want that.”

“I don’t want you to leave, either. I wish I could, but I really can’t tell you. Not yet.”

She expected this response—after all, one measly date doesn’t mean he will suddenly change his ways. He won’t give up the shroud of secrecy, she knows it. Still it hurts to be reminded that he doesn’t trust her.

“Then when?” she whispers. “When will I earn the right to your honesty?”

“I will never lie to you, Aila.”

“No, you’ll just keep things from me.”

Niall’s face twists up, remorse tinting his eyes a darker blue, and he sets his glass aside. She hesitates then lets him take her hands in his. Warm, large, sturdy. Scars litter the skin, small silvery streaks she never noticed before.

“Trust me, darling, I will tell you. I can’t give an answer as to when, but I swear I will tell you as soon as I can.”

“I’ll give you a month,” she announces. Her voice shakes, but she hopes he can hear the determination. “That’s all I can handle. But if you get shot again, you tell me then.”

“You’re giving me an ultimatum?” he growls. His blue eyes turn icy, no more apology on his face.

“Yes. You’re cute but not cute enough for me to accept being in the dark permanently. Colton kept his affair from me for almost a year. I can’t do secrets and lies again.”

Niall drags his gaze to their interlaced fingers. Aila swallows harshly, her heart racing painfully in her ribs. Tension bleeds throughout her body—fear. If he won’t accept her terms, what will she do? She can’t let him continue with this lack of information, and she can’t allow herself to be treated with such disrespect.

“A month, then.”

A breath of relief. “Unless you get shot,” she reminds him, and he laughs softly, leaning over to press his lips to hers.

“Unless I get shot.” Niall squeezes her fingers, another kiss, then he murmurs, “Do you want to stay the night?”

“Try and stop me.”

His chuckle is less amused, darker than she’s heard before. He helps her to her feet and pulls her against him. He settles a hand on her hip, the other hand tugging her hair from the bun. Aila gasps at the force of his kiss, the way her knees buckle when the kiss turns filthy. Demanding.

Blood thunders in her ears as she follows him up the curved staircase, and he tightens his grip on her hand. When they come to a stop in the hallway, he pins her against the door, a solid line of warmth along her body. His hands slip under her dress, nails biting into her skin when he pulls her hips forward.

“Fuck,” she breathes when he nips at her throat, sharp and possessive.

“I’d love to.”

The door disappears from behind her back. It’s only because of Niall’s tight hold on her that Aila remains on her feet. He steps forward, crowding against her until she steps back, then he shuts the door behind them. She could cry with the cold washing over her without his hands branding her as his. Turning away from him, she tells herself to get better control.

The room beyond is—in one word—incredible. An enormous bed rests against the centre of one wall, intricate carvings in the headboard. Thick navy tapestries drape on either side, and the dim lighting casts a subtle sheen to the comforter. A grand piano sits in the corner of the room next to a set of double-doors leading to a terrace. The marble floor is broken by a plush golden rug.

“Oh, holy—You’re filthy fucking rich.”

Niall laughs as he wraps his arms around her waist. His lips find her neck. “Wanna keep examining the decor, or would you rather do something else?”

“I vote something else,” she mumbles, voice breathless, and heat settles between her thighs when he starts guiding her toward the bed.

He won’t stop biting at her skin, won’t stop his hands from wandering along her body. She bounces on the mattress when he pushes gently on her shoulders—would Niall be angry if she told him how perfect the mattress is? All thoughts fly through the window when he shoves her dress up to puddle around her hips.

Tugging her closer to the edge of the bed, he drops to his knees and slides her underwear down her legs. Aila exhales shakily when his mouth finds her, her thighs resting on his shoulders and one hand buried in his perfect hair. A hollow scraping sound meets her ear, but she ignores it in favour of pushing herself into the rough licks. He groans, his shoulder dipping beneath her leg as he strokes himself.

It doesn’t take long, not with his tongue working against her and two fingers pumping in and out. Her back arches as she cries out. Niall gives her no chance for recovery. Immediately, he’s on his feet and sliding into her. Aila gasps aloud, whimpering pitifully, when his hands push her knees to her chest.

“You feel amazing,” he groans, “fuck, darling.”

“S-so do you, god, don’t stop.”

His hands grip more tightly to her thighs—too painful but not enough—and his thrusts take a forceful turn. Sweat slips along her skin, the comforter bunches beneath her back. Aila presses her knees together as her fingers scrabble for purchase against the soft satin. Niall groans and yanks her closer, into each piston of his hips, until his name falls from her lips like a prayer.

His curses fill the room within seconds, and Aila whines when he slows his movements. She is so close, so close. But then he stares down at her with a roguish grin and pushes her knees apart. His thumb presses firmly against her; sparks flutter up her spine as he accompanies the pressure with harsh thrusts. He swears under his breath as she pitches off the ledge, into the dizzying waves far below.

He follows a heartbeat later.

Collapsing to lie beside her, Niall pants as he stares at the canopy of the bed. “That was...”

“Amazing,” Aila finishes for him. Her breathing is just as unsteady, just as rapid. Her legs shake as she settles her feet on the floor. “I almost don’t mind that we didn’t even get undressed.”

“We have all night, darling.”

His hand cups her cheek and turns her face toward his. This kiss is less frenzied than before. Aila melts into it, the gentleness of the moment. After a moment, he pulls back to press his forehead to hers.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “For everything. I just...”

“I get it. I don’t like it, but I understand.”

“I swear I’ll tell you.”

“I’m trusting you.”

His eyes flutter closed, breath hitching in his throat. “You’re something else.”

Niall helps her change into pyjamas then tucks her into bed. She watches through half-closed eyes as he taps at the screen of his phone, as he pulls on a pair of sweats, as he climbs into bed to lie next to her. A thick haze settles in her mind when she scoots closer. He’s warm, so warm, and her sigh shudders out of her.

For once, the voice in her head isn’t asking when this will end. She knows it will, that this—whatever it is that she has with him will come to a close. She can’t care about that now.

She drapes her arm over his waist and closes her eyes.

A piece of paper tents on the pillow beside her head when she wakes in the morning. Aila shoves it away and rolls over, stretching her arms as far as they will go. The curtains over the windows are drawn back; morning sun streams through the glass.

Pushing herself upright, she yawns and reaches for the note.

I promise to be back before you can miss me too much. Get some breakfast before you go, darling. x

Her smile is too soft, dopey, but she doesn’t fight it. She grabs her phone off the nightstand and composes a text calling him a filthy liar: I already miss you more than I should. Once the message is sent, she clambers off the bed and crosses the room to the double-doors. Brilliant green stretches in every direction, dotted with dark silhouettes tending to the garden.

She can barely see the towering barbed fence that barricades the property.

Aila exhales sharply—all of this is Niall’s. Handed down to him by his father, now his to control. Her fingers tremble as she touches the tender spots where his nails dug into her skin. He’d controlled her last night, even with her permission. Her consent. Her enthusiastic participation. He had been in charge, and she knew it then as well as she knows it now.

She turns from the expanse of emerald and, against her better judgement, decides to explore the room. Nothing is out of place, everything neat and tidy. It makes sense, his need for strict organisation in his life to manifest in how he keeps his living arrangements.

A pale blue robe is spread on the foot of the bed. She hopes it’s for her as she slides her arms through the sleeves. Tying up the sash, she continues her exploration. She wants to find out more about Niall, to know who he is that he hasn’t said already.

The nightstand.

Every man hides his secrets in his nightstand. Colton hid so much in his nightstand. She just never had the courage to look.

Aila drops to her knees beside the bed and checks over her shoulder that no one has come in on silent footsteps. Her hand pulls open the drawer, and she freezes instantly. Nestled next to a box of condoms sits a handgun. Black and gleaming in the morning light, it stares back at her.

Beside it is a dagger.

“What the fuck.”

Why would Niall have such dangerous weapons in reach? He was just shot not too long ago, her brain whispers. Even in her shocked state, Aila has to concede her inner voice has a valid point. She would probably do the same if she’d been in his position. Nevertheless, she slams the drawer shut and vows to pretend she never saw inside.

She’s done exploring already.

She stops by the bathroom she’d used that first night, when he had saved her. Her hair is a lost cause—a tangled mass of nut-brown, it refuses to lie down. So Aila sighs and pulls it into a sloppy bun until she can get home. A bin of unopened toothbrushes sit in the cupboard. She grabs one and the toothpaste, turning back to the sink to scrub her teeth clean. Once she’s used the toilet and washed her hands, she stares at her reflection.

Aila thought she would look... different. Her world changed last night and again this morning with her discovery. Yet she looks the same: Same light eyes, same rosy cheeks, same plain smile. All the changes are internal. All the changes are because of him.

Colton, as well, but mostly Niall.

Tania looks up from her mug of coffee when Aila finds her way to the room. She’d only gotten lost once, ending up in a study full of books and a dozen computers. Aila hesitates for a second then sits at the table. Niall had told her to eat breakfast before she left, so that’s what she plans on doing.

“Hey, Sleeping Beauty.”

“Morning.”

“How’d it feel, waking up by yourself?”

Aila frowns at Tania. “I’ve done it before.”

“Leave her alone, Tania.” The man who’d removed the bullets—Harry, she thinks—drops into the chair next to Tania. He grins at Aila then pushes a mug toward her. “Hope you slept well last night.”

Before she can reply, the front door slams open, and someone shouts from the foyer. A sharp call of Niall’s name. She frowns as she takes a sip of her coffee. It’s far too early for people to just barge into a house, especially when shouting at the top of their lungs. Harry must feel the same way: He rolls his eyes, leaning back in his seat.

“What do you want, Viper?”

Viper? Who would name their kid ‘Viper’? The question has barely floated across her mind when she dismisses it. Obviously, it’s a nickname. No parent would be daft enough to name their child after a snake.

Except when the man comes to a stop in the doorway, Aila turns her head and is surprised to see the wide, flat ridge of his nose and the thin lips. Tall and slender. His body tightens. A snake coiling to strike. His pale eyes narrow as he demands to see Niall.

“He’s busy.”

“Who’s she?” he spits when he catches sight of Aila.

Tania glares, finger running lightly over the knife beside her plate. “She’s fine. Say what you came to say then leave.”

The man—‘Viper’—opens his mouth as if to argue but then visibly gains control of himself. He faces Harry and demands action against something about 34.

“They’re getting out of line,” he announces. His voice is cold, venomous, and he speaks even as Harry tries to interject. “Someone needs to do something before we lose control.”

He continues ranting, oblivious to Harry’s attempts to talk. Aila scowls and slaps her hand against the tabletop. Dishes clatter, coffee spills over the edge of her mug, but the man falls silent. Gesturing toward Harry, she swallows another mouthful of coffee.

“Thank you, love. As I said, Viper, I will let Niall know as soon as he’s free, but you need to keep a cool head. He will make the decisions when he has the chance.”

Aila cocks her head, a small voice in the back of her mind asking why Harry hasn’t just told ‘Viper’ that Niall isn’t in the city anymore. She glances at Tania, who shakes her head minutely with a warning in her eyes. Aila understands: Niall doesn’t want anyone knowing he’s gone.

But why?

“Why doesn’t Niall want anyone knowing he’s not here?” she asks Tania once the front door closes.

“If they knew, things would go ass over teakettle.”

Harry shoves a plate full of food closer to her. Aila stares down at the toast and eggs before looking back at him. He shrugs.

“We were told to take care of you.”

“I’m quite capable of making my own breakfast, thanks.”

“Fine. I’ll just tell Niall you’re refusing to eat.”

Aila can’t help it. She laughs as she picks up a fork. “That’s not even at all what I’m doing. How dare you threaten to spread lies about me?”

Even though she knows it’s a victory in Harry’s favour, she digs in.