Authors: Michelle St. James
London Mob Book Two
Michelle St. James
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2016 by Michelle St. James aka Michelle Zink
All rights reserved.
Cover design by Isabel Robalo
Formatting by Caitlin Greer
enna Carver looked
down at the book in her hands, trying to focus on the words as the tube zipped through London’s underground. It was the time of day she hated most. One of the few times when her mind was idle, never a good thing because it always led her back to Farrell.
Even his name conjured dangerous memories, and she closed her eyes against the image of his head between her legs, his chiseled body moving over hers, taking her to a place where there was nothing but him — his body and his mouth and the heart that had seemed to beat in time with hers since the moment she laid eyes on him.
He was the stuff of every fantasy, every daydream, every regret since the shootout in Cornwall three months ago. It had almost cost her Lily, the daughter she and Farrell created before she fled to New York, scared and alone, desperate to shield their child from the criminality of Farrell’s lifestyle.
She’d been okay in New York. If not happy, then at least content. She had Lily, their little apartment, some money in savings. It was true that she’d been between jobs when her father was murdered, but she could have stuck to the original plan. Could have returned to London for the funeral and then gone back to the States. Could have kept her distance from Farrell, the only way to be sure she wouldn’t end up back in his arms — and his bed — all over again.
Instead she’d asked for his help, falling quickly into a tumultuous few days that only served to remind her of the singular passion he stirred in her. She could hardly think his name without remembering his strong arms, the feel of his lips on her skin, feverish with desire, the completion she felt when he filled her, the only time her mind wasn’t spinning with a thousand things. A thousand responsibilities and worries.
Still, the revival of her affair with Farrell wasn’t something she was proud of. Kate was the reckless, carefree sister. Jenna was solid. Practical. Reasonable.
Except when it came to Farrell Black.
She felt oxygen deprived when he was near, like she’d been standing too long atop a very high mountain, everything else small and diminished in the face of his presence. Nothing seemed to change it. Not the fact that he was head of the London mob. Not the five years she’d been in New York or the three months they’d been apart since Cornwall. Maybe it was her destiny to love Farrell Black. To love him and never be able to stand beside him.
She shook her head and closed her book as the tube came to a stop, then queued up to exit the train with all the other post-work commuters. She still didn’t love the fact that she was back in the old neighborhood. Back in the one place she’d promised never to return. But it made the most sense. Her mother had been attending AA meetings, and as far as Jenna knew, had been sober since the incident after her father’s funeral when she’d gotten drunk in front of Lily. Kate was nearby, too, still tending bar at the Dog and Bull, still shagging random blokes. It wasn’t perfect, but they were there. They were there for Saturday afternoon trips to the park with Lily. There for brunch on Sundays when Jenna couldn’t bear a whole day alone after Farrell came to pick up their daughter for their weekly visits.
And there were other advantages. Mrs. Hodges was able to keep Lily while Jenna was at work. It saved her money, but it also made her feel more secure. No one could love and care for Lily more than Jenna’s own family, and that included Mrs. Hodges, even if Jenna’s mother would object to the classification.
She exited the train amid the throng, avoiding elbows and bags as she made her way up the stairs and onto the street. They were in the heart of summer now, mid-July, and Jenna took a deep breath as she emerged into the daylight. It would be different in the winter, dark and cold and dreary, but for now there was still enough sunlight at the end of the workday to allow for a detour to the park with Lily. She felt a pang of fear at the idea of still being here six months from now, although she didn’t know if it was London she feared or being in the same place, doing the same thing, waiting with bated breath to see if Farrell would come to the door when he came to pick up Lily.
He’d been as reliable as clockwork, pulling up outside the apartment promptly at ten am every Sunday. But it was always Leo who came to the door to get Lily. He was wonderful with her, funny and warm, but he wasn’t Farrell, and she longed to catch a glimpse of the man who haunted her dreams.
She didn’t blame him for being angry that she’d left him in Cornwall, but eventually they would have to come face to face. She would have to brace herself against the assault of his presence, the gaze that pierced her carefully constructed armor like the sharpened point of a spear, the commanding voice that sent a shiver of anticipation up her spine.
She pushed the thought away. Mrs. Hodges had once quoted Emily Dickenson when Jenna talked about her feelings for Farrell; the heart wants what it wants. The older woman might even have been right. But thinking about Farrell — wanting things to be different — wouldn’t change anything. She knew that better than anyone.
She turned her attention to Lily and Mrs. Hodges. She enjoyed their end of day visits, and she looked forward to the time with anticipation. She would hear about Lily’s day, one that doubtless included high tea, extra biscuits, and dress up in Mrs. Hodges’ old clothes. She smiled, imagining Lily’s tiny frame drowning in the bohemian dresses and floppy hats that populated Mrs. Hodges’ closet. They would stop by the park on the way home, and she would let Lily climb the slide upside down and practice jumping out of the swing as it got ever higher. Then they would go home to the flat and eat dinner. She would give Lily a bath and snuggle next to her as she read one of Lily’s favorite books. She might even stay, listening to her daughter’s even breathing, standing in awe of the beauty that had been created out of her love for Farrell.
Everything would be okay. It would. She just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Take it one day at a time.
She opened the door to Mrs. Hodges’ building and made her way up the stairs to the second floor, a smile touching her lips as Lily’s laughter drifted down the hall. She knocked on Mrs. Hodges’ door, and the older woman appeared a moment later with a tea towel askew on her head.
Jenna laughed. “Forced to play the maid again?”
Mrs. Hodges grinned and stood back to open the door wider. “Her majesty will have it no other way, I’m afraid. She’s taken quite well to the life of a monarch.”
“I’m sure,” Jenna said, stepping into the flat and shutting the door behind her. She raised her voice. “Although a proper princess would certainly be here to greet her mum, wouldn’t she?”
Less than five seconds later, Lily came tearing into the entry trailing a diaphanous dress in a chaotic mix of color and pattern.
“I’m here, I’m here!” she said, launching herself at Jenna.
“I see!” Jenna laughed. “And how was your day, your majesty? Are you being kind to the help?”
“Of course, Mummy,” Lily said, leaning back to bestow a benevolent glance on Mrs. Hodges, only now removing the dishtowel from her head. “She’s a very good maid.”
Jenna looked at Mrs. Hodges. “You’re creating a monster.”
“She’s a gem and you know it,” Mrs. Hodges said, moving toward the kitchen. “Have time for tea?”
“Not today,” Jenna said. “I’m hoping to stop at the park before it gets dark, let Lily burn off some energy before we settle in for the night.”
“She certainly has plenty of that,” Mrs. Hodges said. “Let me get her bag.”
“Lily can get her own bag,” Jenna said.
Mrs. Hodges nodded. “Of course, she can. She’s a very big girl.”
Jenna looked at Lily. “Go on now, my love.”
Lily skipped down the hall toward the cozy living room. Jenna waited until she was out of earshot to turn back to Mrs. Hodges. “How was she today?”
“Just fine,” Mrs. Hodges said, seeming to hesitate.
“What is it?” Jenna asked.
“She was asking about her father,” Mrs. Hodges said, keeping her voice low.
“What about him? She sees him every Sunday.”
“She wanted to know why you’re mad at Farrell, why you can’t all live in the same house like Madeline’s family.”
“Madeline’s family,” Jenna repeated, bringing to mind the little redhead they sometimes saw at the park. “What did you say?”
“I told her that her father loved her very much, as did you, and that she should ask you if she has any questions.”
“Thank you,” Jenna said, trying not to be stung by the fact that Lily hadn’t asked her about Farrell, that she’d asked Mrs. Hodges instead. Was she picking up on Jenna’s complicated feelings for him? Did it make Lily think the subject was off limits?
“It’s natural for children to ask someone other than their parents about these things,” Mrs. Hodges said, as if reading Jenna’s mind. “You’re doing a wonderful job. Lily is safe and happy and well-adjusted, isn’t she?”
Jenna nodded. “I suppose so.”
Mrs. Hodges reached out to embrace her. “Don’t beat yourself up now, love. I only mentioned it in case you wanted to say something to her.”
“Of course,” Jenna said. “Thank you again. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“Oh, you’d manage,” Mrs. Hodges said.
“I’m not so sure,” Jenna said as Lily returned with her bag and the lavender-colored sweater Farrell had bought for her last Sunday. It had surprised Jenna, seeing Lily with the sweater, imagining Farrell taking her to a children’s clothing store, helping her choose the delicate knit. How could a man so vicious, so unapologetically violent, be so tender? How could the man who killed in the name of keeping them safe be the same man who took Lily for ice cream, who lifted her tenderly into his arms when she ran for the car, who thought nothing of buying the soft purple sweater when Lily got cold?
“I’m ready, Mummy,” Lily said, struggling to put on the sweater.
“Let me help,” Jenna said, taking the backpack and holding the arms out so Lily could slip into it. “There now. All set. What do you say to Mrs. Hodges?”
Lily turned to the other woman. “Thank you, Mrs. Hodges.”
“You’re quite welcome, my dear. I have a new puzzle for us to start tomorrow, and if it’s nice we’ll take our lunch to the park.”
“A picnic?” Lily asked, nearly breathless with excitement.
“A picnic,” Mrs. Hodges confirmed.
Lily beamed and Jenna turned to Mrs. Hodges. “I do wish you’d let me pay you for keeping her.”
“Psh!” she said. “Not a chance. She’s the highlight of my day. I should be paying you.”
“If you say so,” Jenna said, moving toward the door. “Can I bring you anything when I drop her tomorrow?”
“Not necessary,” Mrs. Hodges’ said. “You go home and get some rest. You work too hard.”
Jenna leaned in to kiss her cheek. “Nonsense. Nothing is harder than being home with a child all day. You’re the one who should be resting.”
Even as she said it she felt a tug of wistfulness. How she would love to spend every day with Lily, doing puzzles and going to the park with a picnic lunch, reading her stories until she fell headlong into nap time. She hadn’t been lying; it was tiring being home with a child. But Jenna would gladly have traded that brand of tiredness for the constant echo of guilt that resounded through her each and every day. Guilt that she didn’t spend enough time with her daughter, that she was often too tired to cook more than a simple meal, that all of the things she wanted to do with Lily must be crammed into a few hours on Saturday or Sunday.
“I can rest when I’m dead,” Mrs. Hodges said as Jenna and Lily stepped into the hall. “Now be safe getting home. And don’t linger at the park too long. It will be dark before you know it.”
“We’ll make it quick,” Jenna said. “See you tomorrow.”
She led Lily down the stairs and out into the late afternoon light. She’d only been in Mrs. Hodges flat a short time, but the sun had already sunk below a row of houses. The missing warmth caused the light to look gray, and goosebumps rose on Jenna’s arms as she hurried Lily along the sidewalk.
“It’s a little cold, my love,” Jenna said. “Shall we skip the park and go home for a bowl of spaghetti and game of Scabby Queen instead?”
“You said we were going to the park,” Lily said, her voice forlorn.
Jenna sighed. “All right, but we can’t stay long.”
They approached the chain link fence that stood like a barricade around the stretch of asphalt housing a jungle gym and sand box. The park was strangely devoid of other children for a summer evening, and a gust of wind rustled the desolate patch of grass next to the fence. The swings clanked together in the breeze, a melancholy call across the deserted playground.
Lily dropped her backpack on one of the old benches covered in peeling red paint and ran for the swings. “Push me, Mummy! Push me!”
Jenna looked around, trying to shake the feeling that they should leave. That it wasn’t safe for them to be alone in the park as daylight sunk into dusk. She was being paranoid, a by-product of everything that happened in Cornwall and before it. The research papers hidden by her father were now kept in the lining of her old suitcase, and while her conscience sometimes nagged at her to tell someone, to do something, she could think of nothing but keeping her daughter safe. She’d made the mistake of getting involved before, and it had almost cost her Lily. It wasn’t Jenna’s business. Whatever was going on at the lab where her father had been employed as a janitor, someone else would have to stop it. Someone who didn’t have as much to lose.
She bent to pick up Lily’s backpack and slung it over her shoulder, adding it to the weight of her own bag, then headed for the swings where Lily was already kicking her feet in anticipation.
Jenna pushed her gently at first, letting her climb slowly as she shrieked into the twilight. “Higher, Mummy, higher!”
“Higher?” Jenna said, feigning horror. “Why you must be the bravest girl alive!”
She pushed hard, and Lily flew over the sand, laughing. Jenna couldn’t stop the smile that sprang to her lips. She didn’t have all the answers — about Farrell, about the mess her father had been mixed up in, about life. But her love for Lily — her determination to keep her daughter safe and give her a good life — was an unassailable truth.