Plausible Deniability

dirty little secrets

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Niall is waiting in the garage by the time Aila arrives. Tania punches her in the shoulder—gently enough but still rougher than Aila is accustomed to—then climbs into the driver’s seat of her sports car. Liam slides in behind the wheel of the sedan Aila is used to seeing, but Niall hesitates. He stares between the car and Aila then crosses the distance. His hands cup her cheeks as footsteps near.

“Stay safe, darling.”

“I’m not the one who has to worry about that.” She smiles then steps impossibly closer. “Take care of yourself out there. And don’t let Tania do anything stupid.”

He raises a brow. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you like the woman.”

“What can I say, she’s grown on me. Like fungus in a forest, obviously, but still.”

“I’m telling her you called her a fungus,” he whispers before his lips crash to hers.

Her protests die in her throat. She knows his parents are watching, that they’re mere feet away, but still she lets Niall kiss her as if their lives depend on it. She gasps when he catches her lower lip between his teeth, nipping sharply, before pulling away.

One last wink, like he knows she can barely stand. Like he is well-aware of how desperate she is to have him in bed with her again, the music of his groans and pleas filling the air between them.

Like he knows she knows she is too far gone for this man.

She watches him disappear into the backseat of the sedan, her fingers shaking as they press to her bottom lip. The cars peel out of the garage with an ear-shattering squeal of tires, then they’re gone. An arm settles over her shoulders.

“Come, pet. I think you may need some tea to calm yourself.”

Aila glances at Maura, nodding tremulously. “I hate him so much for that.”

All Maura does is laugh and guide Aila back into the house.

Thirty minutes later—and significantly less likely to explode from her skin with need—Aila follows Louis out of the house. Bobby trails behind, but he stays in the doorway. He doesn’t say a word, even though the scowl on his face says he could speak volumes, and Louis sighs next to her as he holds the car door open.

“She’ll be fine, Bob-o, I promise. Both at home and work.”

Aila waits until the car has reached the road before clambering over the seats. Louis snorts and shakes his head, but he doesn’t admonish her for the reckless action. She loathes being alone in the backseat. It feels too much like a distinct separation—family versus outsider. Buckling up, she blows out a breath then turns to Louis.

“Is someone stationed at the Northend?”

“Yeah, uh, Chris. His brother owes, so Chris is helping to pay off that debt. Front-of-house was. Niall found out Nathaniel didn’t take his role seriously enough, too distracted with flirting and pressuring your coworkers to sleep with him in order to keep their jobs. So... Niall took care of it.”

“I was wondering where Nathaniel went. Wait, by ‘took care of it’, you don’t mean...?”

Louis’s lack of answer tells her enough. Her stomach churns, bile creeping up her throat, and an aborted gasp breaks free. She hadn’t realised Nathaniel’s creepy behaviour extended so far as to coerce the other servers into bed. She wonders if Manisha was one of them. And to have not-quite-confirmation that Niall has killed again on her behalf...

It’s almost too much.

“Okay. Uh, okay. That’s, um, that’s fine.”

“Love, take a deep breath. It’s only me. You don’t have to pretend you’re comfortable with the fact Niall’s murdered three people for you.”

Confirmation. “Like you and Harry said, Niall does what he needs to.”

Louis glances at her before looking back at the road, sighing. “Doesn’t mean you have to force yourself to be okay with this immediately. Not one of us expects you to wake up one day and think ‘hmm, I think I’ll take a life this afternoon’.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever reach that point.”

“Understand me, Aila.” He stops the car outside of a bakery but doesn’t reach for the handle. The engine purrs as he turns to her. “There will come a time where you have to decide between someone’s life or their death. If you stay with Niall, you’ll have no choice but to be judge and jury. Maybe even executioner. He wants you to be safe, out of this as much as possible. But it’s a dark, dirty business. You can’t dip your toes in and expect them to stay clean.”

“I could never take someone’s life!” she protests. Acid sits on her tongue, and she swallows it down. “I can’t do that.”

“You may not have the choice when the time comes. Don’t worry, love. No matter what, you’ll have all of us at your side, okay? Even if you decide to leave Niall, I can guarantee that at least Tania and Harry will still want to know you.”

“Tania hates me.”

“No, she doesn’t. She just... She’s harder than the rest of us because of what she’s gone through. She doesn’t trust easily. It comes out as hatred. But she doesn’t hate you. She also doesn’t want this life for you.”

Aila stares out the window, at the people scurrying past and the sunlight gleaming off of buildings. The baker who’s refilling his display, the child skipping along the pavement at her mother’s side. The couple walking hand-in-hand with their leather jackets and spiky hair. Do these people know who they owe loyalty to?

“You trust me, though.”

Louis huffs out a quiet laugh. “I do.”

“Can I ask you something?” When he nods, she turns back to him. “What’s the necklace?”

“It’s, uh...” He frowns, thin lips pinching together, then tugs the chain from under his shirt. A small pendant hangs on the end—Saint Valentine, if Aila’s memory serves correctly. “Means Tania’s mine, and I’m hers. Forever.”

“I can’t see Tania ever wearing a necklace.”

“She doesn’t,” he replies as he tucks it away again. He pats almost absentmindedly at the silver emblem and meets her eye. “It could be used as a weapon against her. Someone would know she has a weakness, something to be used to hurt her. I’m lucky enough I don’t really go out ‘into the field’, as it were. I stay behind the curtains mostly.”

“A real-life Wizard of Oz. But you were there. That night Niall came for me.”

He shrugs, putting the car in gear once more. Aila watches the people blur past. “Had to be. I’m the tech geek. Anyway. Tania, she gets into the thick of things. She risks health and body. So I wear the necklace, and she has the pendant embedded into the grip of her favourite knife. Never comes home without it.”

“As odd as that sentence is, I’m really happy for you two. She terrifies me, but she deserves someone to love her like you obviously do. How long has it been?”

“Six years next month. We’ll be going for a second honeymoon, so you won’t see us for a week or two.”

“Thanks for the heads-up. And Louis? Thank you for trusting me.”

His shoulders rise and fall, a jerky motion, and Aila is startled to see he’s stopped in front of her house. She places her hand on the door but doesn’t move to get out of the car. His blue eyes stare through her, scrutinise her. She gives him a soft smile.

“I mean it. I know it’s hard to trust people in your, uh, line of work.”

“I already know everything about you, so it’s easier for me to trust you than it is for the others.”

She laughs quietly, shaking her head. “Surely not everything.”

“Down to your underwear sizes.”

No.”

“Thirty-eight C, size six panties.”

“That’s so creepy!” But she’s giggling, and Louis smirks with his victory.

“Shouldn’t be buying clothes online then.” He pauses, face growing serious, and reaches out to touch the back of her hand. “Thanks for making him so happy.”

“If he pulls the shit from before, I’ll make him the unhappiest he’s ever been.”

Louis snorts then dissolves into laughter, loud and from deep in his chest. Aila leans over to kiss his cheek, thanking him for the lift home. And for being so honest. He drives away still chuckling, and she hurries into the house.

No one else is home when she steps inside. Aila stands in the hall, slumping against the door. She’d hoped for one of her friends to be here. She has so much she needs to say, even if she can’t tell the others about who Niall really is. Sighing, she shuffles toward her room to get dressed.

As she pulls on her button-down, she stares at her reflection in the full-length mirror on the door. Is Bobby going to expect her to move into the manor immediately? He was so angry when she said she wanted to see her friends, claimed it was his responsibility as much as it was Niall’s to keep her safe. She can’t live with Niall.

Not right now. It’s far too early.

Knowing Nathaniel is dead—at the hands of Niall, no less—makes walking into the Northend harder. No one else seems to care he’s not here anymore. No one else knows. Everyone thinks he’s moved on to greener pastures, and they are all happier for it.

Aila has to know.

Manisha stares at her with wide dark eyes before she nods. “It was... It was awful, but he didn’t fire me.”

“Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

“What could you have done?” Manisha ties her dark hair back, shrugging. “What’s done is done. He’s gone, anyway, so we don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

“He coerced—”

“I was between a rock and a hard place. Three minutes of my life or my job.” She sighs as she turns to Aila. “I still feel dirty for doing it, but you have to understand. There’s creeps everywhere. This particular monster happened to be my boss. Ask any one of the others. They’ll tell you the same thing. We did what we had to. I just can’t understand why you were spared.”

“I’m sorry,” Aila whispers, but Manisha is already back to work.

Ivy corners Aila later that night, ordering her to let it go. Her amber eyes flash dangerously, and she pokes Aila’s shoulder with a fingernail. “This isn’t something you should ever talk about again.”

“I won’t.”

Tossing her blonde hair over her shoulder, Ivy storms away. Aila stands at the service window, watching her coworkers move around. Smiling as if the secret is their own. Pretending they hadn’t been forced to choose between employment or fucking the manager.

Aila understands why every one of them made the decision they did.

She wants to kill Nathaniel herself.

She also knows the reason he never approached her. His death would have come about sooner.

The new manager is hardly any better: Her eyes follow Aila around the dining room, and she finds an excuse for every little touch. A hand on a shoulder here, fingers brushing lower backs there. She even follows Ivy to the bathroom, coming out ten minutes later with flushed cheeks and adjusting her skirt. Ivy tucks a few bills into her pocket, and Aila is certain it isn’t a tip from a customer.

What the Hell is wrong with the world, she thinks as she sets plates on a table.

Courtney catches the expression on Aila’s face and gives a grim smile. “We don’t get paid enough here,” she says before exiting through the back door.

A man sits in the driver’s seat of the car in the alley, head dropped back, mouth slack. The seat is reclined enough Aila can’t see the face of the woman who has her head in his lap, but she recognises the purple-streaked hair clenched in his hands, the hair he yanks on as the woman’s head bobs.

His eyes meet Aila’s, gaze skimming across what he can see of her body, before his hips shove his cock further into Courtney’s mouth. He winks then closes his eyes, thrusting faster until he stills with his hand holding her head against him.

How had she never noticed her coworkers disappearing during shifts?

She shudders and rushes away to the corner where Mully waits in the car for her.