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Rosier laughed so hard that his huge bulk almost fell back off the stool, and he had to grab hold of the bar to steady himself

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Rosier laughed so hard that his huge bulk almost fell back off the stool, and he had to grab hold of the bar to steady himself. A button popped off his shirt in the process, but he didn't seem to notice or just didn't care as it hit the floor and rolled away, the gap in his shirt widening to reveal even more of his pudgy belly.

Oscar wasn't laughing though.

He stood, with his hands braced on the bar, sinewy muscles flexing in his forearms as his dark gaze remained firmly fixed on Ethan.

'No,' he said, his lips thin, his cheek muscles twitching.

It was such a simple word and yet when Oscar said it, I felt a force behind it, something dark and menacing, like watching the winding twister of a tornado heading straight towards you, ready to sweep you up into its violent chaos.

Beside me, Ethan was like granite, unmoved by the tumultuous waves of Oscar's anger. If anything, he seemed almost amused by it, the glint of a challenge in his eyes.

'Come on, Berith, what's the problem here?' he said. 'You've got enough to worry about having to kick-start your little empire again. You need Casey to go off radar and I can do that.'

'Rosier can do it.'

'Not better than I can.' Ethan shrugged. 'Besides, he doesn't even want to take her.'

Rosier, whose laughter had turned into a hacking cough befitting a forty-a-day smoker, and whose face had turned an alarming shade of violet, held up his hand in protest. 'Now, wait a bloody minute, boy,' he wheezed, between coughs. 'I never said I didn't want to take her on. I merely stated that it would be a risk.'

'And one you don't have to take, because I'll be doing it for you.'

'No, you bloody won't.' Oscar slammed his fist down on the bar counter. The sound made me flinch, but the way in which the air about him darkened, with black smoke-like tendrils thickening the shadows, had me taking an instinctual step back.

I knew Oscar wasn't the Oscar I had always thought him to be. Any notion I'd held that he was just your average East-End gangster had been wiped away, as if that Oscar really had been nothing but an over-exaggerated caricature from a movie I'd once seen. But seeing what he was – and whatever the fuck that was, I still didn't really know – seeing the evidence right there in front of my eyes was a jolt to the system that I definitely hadn't expected. How many times had I sat in his office? Chatted business with him? Went through the motions of the same old conversations about Maggie and Rita May and Davey and you're looking cracking today, sweetheart, absolutely knock-out. I'd never seen the real creature behind the mask. Not once.

I saw it now. And I saw the way Ethan cocked his head to one side, because he saw it too. Of course, he did. Maybe he'd even expected Oscar to crack, because there was no fear there, no move to defend himself. Instead, he just raised a brow and stared right back.

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