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Damaged Like Us: Chapter 7

FARROW KEENE

“ALPHA TO FARROW.” A strict male voice blares in my eardrum. I scrape late-night scrambled eggs out of my pan and into a ceramic bowl. In the kitchen of my townhouse, I toss the frying pan into the sink, lagging on replying to Price. The forty-something stern Alpha lead keeps acting like I’m still a part of SFA.

I’m on SFO.

And I don’t take orders from anyone. What I will do: listen to Akara’s orders and decide whether I want to follow them or not.

Alpha to Farrow,” Price snaps.

I lean on the counter and eat my eggs at a leisurely but naturally quick speed. The oven clock blinks 11:23 p.m.—I’ve been home for less than twenty minutes. Enough time to piss, shower, and crack a few eggs. Three weeks into my new role and I’m already used to Maximoff’s fast-paced lifestyle.

He jam-packs his days, and his plans constantly change depending on paparazzi, family in need, and the hundred employees he manages at H.M.C. Philanthropies. Most security on his detail would be whiplashed, but his high-stress, hectic schedule reminds me of doing rounds at the ER.

I eat and breathe every second like it’s candy.

What surprises me the most: he hasn’t gone to a single nightclub or bar yet. He was the one who said it’d be happening “soon” but he’s been stalling. I don’t ask why because I’d rather not pressure him to fuck someone. When he’s ready, he’ll be ready—and I’ll have to keep him safe.

It’s what I focus on.

“Alpha to Farrow, Alpha to Farrow,” Price repeats harshly a few more times.

I should only be hearing Omega to Farrow. I touch my mic. “Farrow.” Let’s hear what he has to say. I eat a scoop of eggs, alone in the kitchen since my only roommate is sleeping. Jane’s bodyguard, Quinn, hasn’t grown accustomed to the strange hours yet. As soon as Jane headed in for the night, he practically passed out upstairs—despite my best effort to suggest grabbing a quick meal first.

Bodyguard 101: eat when you have a free second ‘cause you never know when you’ll find another chance.

Through my earpiece, Price says, “You need to ask Moffy about the annual Charity Camp-Away. We’ve heard rumors that he plans to open the event to the public this year, and the security team needs confirmation. Don’t take long.” The radio quiets.

Opening a controlled, private event to the public creates major security risks. Ones that I’d never ignore. But Maximoff has the power to do whatever he wants with the Charity Camp-Away. Not only as the CEO, but he built the highly praised and promoted December event years ago.

Wealthy donors will buy expensive tickets to the three-day camp retreat with him and several family members. They basically pay to huddle around a campfire with celebrities. And only extremely affable people can afford the tickets.

I’ve overheard many of his phone calls in the car, and he’s never mentioned a change in the Camp-Away’s format.

I click my mic. “Farrow to Alpha, where’d you hear these rumors?” Carrying my bowl, I pass through the archway into my living room. The wooden door beside the brick fireplace connects my townhouse to Maximoff’s.

“SFA traced the word public from his assistant’s email,” Price tells me. “We need more intel from Moffy. Respond with an affirmative.” When security hacks emails, it’s in favor of the families. Yet, I see the irony. We protect them, but in doing so, we strip away their privacy.

I can’t change that fact.

Alpha, Omega, and Epsilon have a motto: stay ahead of the media. It’s impossible to stop tabloids, but we have to be aware of everything that could potentially hit the press and cause harm.

Before I grab the doorknob, I click my mic again. “I’ll get back to you.” The second I open the door to Maximoff’s living room, a calico kitten darts past my ankles.

I swiftly turn and catch Jane’s pet. Walrus claws the hardwood, but I lift the little thing and raise the kitten’s face to my face. “Naughty, naughty.”

The kitten paws my nose. I smile and tell the cat, “You’re not allowed to escape, you little bastard.”

Walrus meows.

Jane stressed, “Do not let the little kittens in security’s townhouse. It’s not kitten-proof. They’ll wedge themselves in nooks and crannies.” I’m not about to lose a kitten.

Once I enter the adjoining living room, I release Walrus and he darts beneath the rocking chair. No one’s on the first floor. I kick the door shut, and voices echo down the narrow staircase.

I lean on the brick wall, eat my eggs, and scan the cramped area. The decorated version of my bare place: a pale pink Victorian loveseat, frilled pillows, a rocking chair, pastel blankets, glass teacart, two-person café table by the kitchen archway, and at least twenty family photos on the mantel.

The ugly granny style screams Jane Cobalt.

Their house also has a distinct smell of brewed coffee, tea, floral candles, and cat.

Stairs creak, and Jane emerges first, dressed in pale-blue silk pajama shorts and tank top. She carries a bottle of oil and only notices me when she steps off the last stair.

“Farrow.” She smiles and gives me a curious once-over. As though she’s the one who caught me with a bottle of oil.

“Jane,” I greet, eating another scoop of eggs. If she had a “guy friend” in the house, I’d already know about him. She has no time to respond. Maximoff skips two stairs at a time, coming in hot.

He pulls his white shirt off his head, his hair disheveled, body ripped, and his gray drawstring pants hang low on his waist.

My lips rise and rise. He hasn’t seen me yet, and he’s going to flip the fuck out the moment he does. I eat my eggs like popcorn.

Jane watches me really keenly, but I have nothing to hide. I’m unapologetically me. Every day, all day.

“Ready, Janie?” he asks, combing his hair back with a quick hand. Then he looks up. And sees me. He solidifies, his jaw tensing and eyes widening.

“I missed you too,” I quip and finish off my eggs. My smile growing as his irritation scrunches his features and daggers his eyes.

Maximoff drops onto the first floor. “It’s been two minutes since I last saw you.”

“Thirty-three,” I correct and watch Jane plop down on the loveseat and unscrew the bottle of sweet almond oil. I have a feeling I know its use. I focus on Moffy. “Security wants more information about the Camp-Away.”

Realization hits him, and he nods. “You’ll have to wait. I promised Janie a massage, and she comes first.”

“Giving or receiving?” ask.

His brows jump, and he licks his lips, turning his head slightly. He rubs his sharp jaw.

I smile, my body tightening, but I ignore the feeling. “The massage, wolf scout. Are you giving or receiving it?”

“Receiving,” he says more easily. “Jane’s trying out massage therapy.”

She ties her wavy hair into a low pony. “If you two need to talk about the Camp-Away, I can wait

“No.” Maximoff shakes his head repeatedly. “I’m focusing on you right now. Your ambition, your goal, remember?”

Jane nods and reads the ingredients on the back of the oil. Her blue eyes lift to me. “I can give you one after Moffy.”

“Let’s see how this one goes, first.” I set my empty bowl on the nearby café table.

Maximoff gestures to the rocking chair. “Take a seat.” He orders me mostly because he has to sit down, and he hates when I tower above him.

“I’ll stand.” I pass between him and the rocking chair to reach the fireplace mantle.

“And you think I’m the stubborn one?” He sits next to Jane, and she kneels on the cushion behind him.

I skim his family photos. “I never said you had a monopoly on stubbornness.” I pick up a framed picture of Maximoff doing a backflip off the Hale’s yacht, Jane in the corner pointing at him with a pretend-surprised face. I flash the photo at him. “Whatever you can do, I can do better.”

“Such fighting words,” Jane says, squirting oil on her palms. “As the third, unbiased participant in the room, I volunteer myself to be judge of any competitions.”

“I think you mean biased participant.” I set the photo back. The two of them are together in nearly every picture on the mantle.

“I can be unbiased,” Jane says, and she begins to knead Maximoff’s tight deltoids. He grips the back of the uncomfortable Victorian couch for support.

I watch him while I ask Jane, “Who’s better at boxing?”

Jane pauses and opens her mouth, but no sound comes out.

I help her, “F-A-R

“M-O-F-F-Y,” she spells rapidly and exhales a breath like she escaped death by betrayal. “Aunt Lily says the truth will set you free, and I couldn’t agree more. I feel so much better.” She focuses on the massage again, using her knuckles on his back.

Maximoff smiles at me. Like he one-upped me.

“I don’t know why you’re so happy. She just proved she’s partial to you.”

Maximoff gives me a look. “You can’t, even for a second, admit that maybe, just maybe, I’m better than you at your own sport.”

It’d take great effort to tear my gaze off his. “Your humility is waning.”

“Your superiority is worsening.”

I break into a huge smile, but my lips lower as Maximoff bears on his teeth, almost wincing. He glances briefly at Jane and tries to peer at her knuckles that edge towards his spine. His shoulders stay in their usual rigid, locked position.

“Try to relax,” I suggest, nearing the loveseat. “Or do you need how to instructions?”

He glowers. “The only instructions I need are how to make you shut the fuck up…” he trails off and stifles another wince. Jane can’t see his expression.

“You’re too close to his spine,” I tell Jane, and I reach out to her wrist. “Can I?”

Please.”

I shift her hands to his traps, muscles lateral to his shoulder blades. I close her fingers, oiling my hands, and as soon as she starts kneading his muscles again, she asks, “Better, Moffy?”

“Yep.” His collar is tight, and when he glances at me, then intakes a sharp breath, I realize that my closeness is the cause.

I sweep his stringent posture: Maximoff Hale, shirtless, muscles oiled, and being massaged beneath novice hands.

He’d feel better beneath mine.

He winces, “Fuck. Jane.” She pinched his nerve.

She raises her oiled hands. “Sorry.” Jane searches for something. “Merde,” she says shit in French. “Hold on, Moffy. I’m going to pop up the video again.” She nods to me, then the coffee table where her phone lies. “Farrow, would you mind?”

I wipe my oiled hands on my black pants and then I grab the phone, cased in a blue zebra-print hard-shell. “How serious are you about being a masseuse?”

She elbows a piece of hair off her freckled cheek. “If I really enjoy it, then I’ll research how to become a professional masseuse and go from there.” She nods to the phone. “The video should be in my ‘recently watched’ list on YouTube.”

I wait to unlock her cell. “And what happens when you have a customer who wants a ‘happy ending’ from the famous Jane Cobalt?”

Maximoff glances at Jane, exchanging a look like they’ve both discussed the safety risks before.

Whenever I scroll through social media for security threats, the ones surrounding Jane Cobalt range from disgusting, plain creepy to violent. They’re both also aware of how some people perceive them. All it takes is a Twitter account:

I’d spank the fuck out of Jane Cobalt. I wanna see her cry.

Tie that bitch up and choke her good #JaneCobalt

Jane Cobalt likes it just like her mom. Ridden rough & hard, put away wetttttttt!!!

I’m gonna bang Connor Cobalt’s daughter until she can’t walk straight.

Omega is very protective of Jane without her realizing. In the past three weeks, we’ve intercepted her mail since a sick little shit keeps sending her ball gags. I’ll never broadcast this to Jane either. Security wants all of them to live without constant fear.

agree.

We read and deal with all the fucked-up, demented shit so they don’t have to.

Jane shrugs and squirts more oil on her hands. “I’d have to screen my customers. It comes with the territory.”

“Of being famous,” say.

“Of being the daughter to Rose and Connor Cobalt,” she clarifies. “Everyone watches me through the lens of my parents.”

Maximoff cracks a crick in his neck and mutters, “For better and for worse.”

understand.

Their fame derives from their parents. Not from themselves. Rose and Connor Cobalt just happen to be notorious for having sex tapes leaked to the media. Specifically BDSM. Therefore, the public assumes their oldest daughter is just like her mother.

The security team has an intimate, inside perspective. Really, the truth. And I know Jane isn’t into BDSM.

Jane places her palms on Maximoff’s back but waits for the video. “YouTube,” she reminds me, and as our eyes meet, she adds, “I’m already lucky that I have the opportunity to take this time to find a passion. And I’m lucky that I can even consider the idea of being a masseuse. If I find what I truly love, I can’t let my fame stand in the way.”

I glance at Maximoff.

His jaw is a razorblade. He’s concerned about security risks, too. He’s seen those tweets. And I have a feeling that he’s just indulging her ambition for the moment and is banking on Jane landing on something safe.

I swipe into her phone too easily. Jane. “Where’s your passcode?” I ask, my tone very kind considering two-thirds of the security team would scold her like she’s a kid right now.

“I don’t have one,” she says. “They’re infuriating, and if I lose my phone, I’ll wipe the data clean immediately. Plus, I have nothing incriminating. I delete all my texts, and I upload most of my photos and videos to Instagram already. There’s nothing anyone can steal.”

Maximoff smiles, proud of his friend.

Her preparation reminds me of something the security team says about Jane. That she acts carefree, but her whole life is outlined and planned to her liking, and she juggles just as much, if not more, than Maximoff Hale.

While I find the video, I tell Jane, “Lightly rub his shoulder blades, and you won’t hurt him.”

Maximoff grips the back of the loveseat harder, and he licks his lips again. I find myself watching him, and as I near the armrest, closest to his chest, he’s more eye-level with my belt.

Maximoff stares off into space. Where’d you go, Moffy? I wave my hand at him, but he’s lost in his head.

“Farrow.” Jane’s blue eyes twinkle. “How many massages have you given before? And why?”

Alpha also calls her Jane “Curiosity Killed the Cat” Cobalt.

I scroll through her YouTube “recently watched” feed. “Too many, and look up the main purpose of a massage and you have your answer.” I discover the video and whistle. “How To Give An Amazing, Super, Fantastic Massage.” I press play and find a blurry image of two high school girls. “No.” I shut if off. “Let me show you.”

Maximoff wakes up, glaring at me. “No.”

“Welcome back, space cadet.”

He flips me off and repeats harshly, “No.”

Jane shakes out her arms, tired already.

“You have to use your whole body,” I tell her, and to him, I say, “Let me demonstrate so she can copy me.” I’d love to give him a massage for more reasons than just to help Jane.

Maximoff gestures to my chest. “You don’t know how to give a massage.”

“And you really missed the part where I just said I’ve given massages before.” I place Jane’s phone on the coffee table. “I know how to do a lot of things better than average. I’m good with my hands.”

“Great.” He’s being more headstrong over something I thought he’d forfeit for Jane. I hone in on his stiff posture and the way his Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows.

“Maybe Farrow is right,” Jane says, “maybe I could use a real live demonstration.”

“Maybe Farrow is full of shit,” Moffy replies.

“Maybe Maximoff is scared of getting a massage from me,” I refute.

“You’re wrong.” He stands, facing me with as much self-confidence as Atlas bracing the world. He crosses his arms over his bare chest. “So what now?” He’s agreeing to a massage.

I use my boot and push the coffee table away from the couch. Then I throw a pillow onto the ground. “Lie down, wolf scout. Let me change your world.”


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