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“You’re a male. This has got nothing to do with where you come from.”

“Ohhhh, okay, right. So males can’t have any self-control. None at all.”

“They can’t! Don’t be a little bitch—”

“So you’re fucking Paradise, then. Behind Craeg’s back. Got it. Good to know.”

The guy frowned. “What the hell are you talking about?”

Axe smiled coldly and leaned in. “You want that female. You want her so fucking bad you can taste it. I see you looking at her, pretending like you’re smooth and shit. But you ain’t. So, yeah, if males can’t exercise self-control, then clearly you’ve got your dick in her mouth—”

The right hook came flying in at a perfect angle, and you want to talk about a light show? As contact was made, Axe’s head snapped up and over, his brain going loose-cannon in his skull, his vision briefly browning out.

“You’re fucking deluded, man,” Peyton spat. “You’re totally—”

Twice. In less than twenty-four hours. The douche bag punches him twice.

Axe pulled the gun he kept tucked in his waistband out and put it to the guy’s temple so quick, Peyton didn’t have time to step back. “The safety’s off. And I have nothing to lose. So how ’bout we start with you never fucking hitting me again. You got two shots on me. The third will put you in a grave.”

Peyton blinked. A couple of times. And Axe met him right in the eyes just so the male knew how dead serious he was.

“Get out,” Axe said in a low voice.

“You’re wrong about me and Paradise. She’s with her male. She picked him. I’ve never been with her and I never will be. So you just drop that bullshit—and if you don’t call Elise’s father right now, I’ll go over there myself and tell him you’re out. You are not getting into that house—”

Axe moved the gun to the side a thin inch and pulled the trigger. The pop was loud; the impact of the bullet in the wall was louder.

Peyton shouted and covered his head, dropping to his knees. But Axe was done. Reaching down with his free hand, he grabbed the fuck-twit’s expensive jacket and spun the male up and around, punching him back into the wall by the fireplace so hard the plaster cracked.

“You want to know why it’s so cold in here?” Axe gritted out. “It’s because I can’t afford heat. And that’s the reason there are no lights on, too. You may have the luxury of not worrying where your next meal or your next Mercedes is coming from, but I’m pinching pennies and eating at the training center as often as I can. You have no right to tell me to do shit—and my not taking a job just so you don’t have to face the fact that your other cousin was recently murdered is not my fucking problem. Oh, and P.S., fuck you—don’t stand there in your fancy loafers while you’re not with the female you want, and maintain for one second that just because I’m poor, it doesn’t mean I can’t do the same. We can’t help who we’re attracted to, but thoughts are not actions. Even for commoners.”

Axe punctuated his little speech with another bam into the wall. Then he released his hold and walked off, prowling around the tiny living room with its haphazard furniture and the drapes that were all wilted and the threadbare rugs. As the silence stretched out, he hated the fact that he was ashamed of his father’s house.

It was yet another betrayal of the male. And more than that, Peyton and his platinum-plated double standards were hardly anything worth living up to.

“I’ll pay you,” the male said grimly. “Whatever you’re making, I’ll double it. Triple it.”

Axe twisted around and stared at the guy.

Peyton put his palms up. “I’ll give you a year’s worth up front. Right now.”

Axe opened his mouth. Shut it.

In the end, he just grabbed his leather jacket and walked out of the room for the front door.

“Where are you going?” Peyton demanded.

“Shut the door behind you. Or don’t. I don’t give a fuck. But if I don’t leave now, I’m going to have to explain to Elise why I killed you, and I’d rather talk about her class schedule.”

Elise’s heart was pounding as she paced back and forth over the gray and white marble squares of the foyer’s floor. Her father had left for a meeting across town with her uncle. The butler and staff were working quietly in the rear of the house—which, considering her family’s mansion was over twenty-five thousand square feet in size, meant they were nowhere to be found. And her aunt was upstairs in bed.

Looking across at the French ormolu clock on the bombé chest by the grand door, she double-checked her watch. Then she turned to the antique mirror next to her and stared at her wavy reflection. The distortion seemed apt. She wasn’t sure what she was doing, what she was going to say.

Fiddling with the collar of her cashmere sweater, she made sure her wide-legged Donna Karan slacks were smooth over her hips. Her shoes were nothing special, just Tory Burch flats.

She wished she were in jeans, but her father didn’t approve of them.

As if the house were a country club with a dress code—

A rattling sound made her frown. Her phone, which was on vibrate, was going off over by the clock and she rushed to the thing.

It was Troy—

Great thunder rolled through the open space, the front door knocker being used by a strong hand.

As she put the phone back down without answering, she thought, Well, wasn’t that a revealing choice.

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