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Copyright © 2023 Meagan Brandy

 

All rights reserved. This book, or any portion thereof, may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

No copyright infringement intended. No claims have been made over songs and/or lyrics written. All credit goes to the original owner.

Prologue – Four Years Ago 

 

     The deepest, darkest shade of red runs in a steady stream, filling in the cracks of the concrete, not stopping until it meets the burnt grass, soaking into the roots and panning out like a flame with no fire. 

     So why the fuck is there a man in yellow trench pants standing ten feet from me, eyes wide and hands raised in the air? His mouth is moving, but if he’s speaking, I don’t hear shit. 

     No, that’s not right. 

     I hear something, deep in the back of my mind. 

     Screams. 

     Cries of pain. 

     Cries for help. 

     Cries for mercy. 

     My vision blurs, and it’s as if time rewinds, my fucked-up head forcing me to relive what led me right here, right now…

     “Please, no. Please, don’t. I’ll be good. I’ll be quiet.

     “You’re worthless.” 

     Smack. 

     “Useless.”

     Smack. 

     “Trash.”

     Crash

     More cries.

     The scream that tears from me is damn near unrecognizable as I wrench my hands free of the zip ties, a few layers of skin tearing as I do. The electrical cable he used to tie me to this chair holds strong around my middle, but the brutal sounds coming from downstairs tells me there’s no time to find something to cut the thick covered copper digging into my ribs, so I lurch awkwardly to my feet, and spin so my front is facing the bed. 

Pulling in as much air as the position allows, I run backward with all the speed I can manage, slamming the cheap wood into the wall. A guttural shout rips from my throat as my shoulder crunches against the wall, but I do it again. 

     “Fuck,” I hiss. “Come on, come on, come on…” 

     Wood splinters my bare back, digging into the fresh welts there and tearing open half healed ones. I do it again. And again, my back teeth at risk of cracking from clenching them so hard. 

     I gasp, my entire body shaking with rage, as the screams from the first floor grow even louder. 

     Warm liquid trickles down the entire right side of my body now, and my chest heaves, but I don’t stop. I draw on as much adrenaline as I can, and with one last crash, the back bars of the chair split, snapping from the base and left arm enough for me to wiggle my body and crawl out of the restraints. 

     “You want to cry?!” he screams. “I’ll shut you up!” 

     “No!” She weeps. 

     My heart pounds wildly as I run toward the voices, the cuts on the bottom of my feet tearing open more and more with every step, but I don’t care. I can hardly feel the pain anymore. 

     I can hardly feel anything. A new, darker form of rage bleeding into my bones, numbing me from the inside out. 

     “Get back here, you little bitch!” he demands, the front door slamming against the hinge.

     “Fuck!” I hurry down the stairs. 

     She ran outside. 

     We never run outside when he’s like this – or after – but then again, it’s never lasted this long before.

     My stomach leaps into my throat as the living room comes into view. 

     The broken glass littering the floor mocks me, the blood stains on the shitty shag carpet a constant reminder, as if I fucking need one, of what he’s capable of doing to her, to me. 

     My mother hugs the now broken frame of the door, cowering against it, and the moment she hears me coming, she attempts to keep me from stepping through, but I shove her away, breaking free when her hand darts out, attempting to latch onto my wrist. 

     Horror slams into me and I jerk to a stop on the porch.

     My sister’s face is even more swollen now, blood seeping from the side of her head where he pistol-whipped her before tying me up, the bullet meant for her still buried in my flesh. She struggles to keep her eyes open, her body growing limp at our father’s side as he drags her back toward the house by the hair. 

     I have to get to her. 

     I have to free her.

     I will save her.

     He spots me and comes to a halt, eyes flicking over my shoulder. 

     And then my mother’s body is crashing into me from behind, knocking me unsteady. She’s hysterical, afraid for the man she loves more than her children, and stumbles. With a slight nudge of my elbow, she tumbles into the dirt, scrambling back and hiding behind a flower pot when my father pulls the trigger of the gun gripped in his left hand. The harsh ‘pap’ rattles in the trees, the bullet burying itself into the dirt near his feet. 

     “Son, stop this right now! You’re bleeding everywhere! Get back inside before someone sees!” she cries, begging, yet again, for us, the victims, to ‘be good’ and take the fucking beating we ‘deserve.’

     Of course I’m fucking bleeding. I came home to chaos, saw a gun pointed at my sister’s head, and with the look of acceptance in her eyes, I jumped in front of her just before he pulled the trigger. 

     My mistake was turning to see if my sister was okay and trying to check the wound on the side of her head from his beating. He capitalized on my rookie mistake, tackling me from behind when I wasn’t looking. 

     I won’t make that slip-up now. 

     But my mother is as dumb as she is pathetic. My dad just shot that same gun in the front fucking yard, while my sister is bleeding and trembling in his hold, her body practically fucking hanging at his feet as if she’s a peasant and he’s a king. 

     There’s no more ‘hiding in the house.’ 

     No more ‘swallowing our screams.’

     No more ‘covering the bruises under our clothes.’ 

     This right here…this is it. 

     This is the day we dreaded but waited for.

     The moment we feared but wished for. 

     This is the end. His…or ours. 

     The fist in my sister’s hair tightens, and I bite on the inside of my cheek, trying to think of a way to turn this around. To take her place. 

     She thrashes in his hold, crying, begging, but he keeps dragging her forward, toward me. 

     I step out, curving a bit, so I’m no longer in the path of the door, but off to its right, my feet now nearly in the center of the yard. 

     My mom begs me to go inside as she does exactly that, waving all of us in with urgency, but I don’t even look at her. I keep my eyes on the bloodshot ones staring right at me. 

     “You think you’re tough, kid?” He waves the gun at his side. “Get in the goddamn house. Now.”

     “Let her go.” 

     You’d think snakes grew from my ears the way the man’s eyes bulge at my defiance, shock rooting him in his place. 

     “Don’t!” My sister pleads, her strangled words stealing her last ounce of energy. “Just stop. It’s o-okay.” 

     She trembles, fear for what he’ll do to me wracking through her body, just like it is mine for what he might do to her. 

     I reposition myself, making sure I’m parallel with the front windows rather than leaving my back exposed to my mom and any stupid idea she might come up with to help her husband. I stop moving once the edge of the neighbor’s bushes cut along the backs of my legs, both my parents now in my line of sight. 

     Like I knew he would, my dad follows my movement, shifting his feet sideways to face me once again. 

     He’s antsy, head whipping around as sirens sound somewhere in the distance, and his nostrils flare, knowing we can’t stand out here much longer, that if he gets us back inside, he can at least try and hide us, manufacture an excuse of some sort – like when I had a ‘bike accident’ that broke bones when, really, he’d shoved me out the upstairs window, sending me sailing into the bed of his El Camino in the driveway because he thought I’d been outside with the fresh black eye he served me the day before. I wasn’t outside, but my sister was, and I knew one of us would face his wrath for it, so I made sure it was me. 

     His hold must loosen, because in the next second, my sister’s piercing scream fills the air and she tears herself from his brutal grip, ripping the hair straight from her scalp as she crawls to me. 

     I dart forward, grabbing her torso with my arms as gently as I can, and yank her back to me. She goes limp the second she’s in my arms, eyes flickering as she mumbles incoherently.  

     We tumble to the ground, and my dad screeches into the air, charging at us. 

     My eyes widen when he raises the gun, pointing it at my sister, and then something cold presses into my palm. 

     I look down in what feels like slow motion but must be no more than a fraction of a second, frowning at the matte black pistol, my eyes briefly flicking to the split knuckles of the hand passing it to me through the bush. 

Hayze Garrett, my one and only friend because I don’t have to hide from him. He lives in hell too.

      A branch snaps, and I face forward, lift my left arm, and grin. 

     Dad’s eyes shoot wide, and a cold, dead laugh leaves me. I pull the trigger at the same moment he does. 

     My body jerks, and his gives up on him. 

     He crashes to the ground with a loud crack that sends a satisfying shiver down my spine. 

     My pulse pounds heavy in my ears, my mother’s cries loud and bellowing, my sister’s whimpers of pain deafening and then…nothing. 

     I don’t feel the bullet he sent through my shoulder earlier, or the gashes his belt left in my back afterward. I can’t feel the sting of the foxtails embedded in dead grass from the cuts he drew across the bottoms of my feet with his hunting knife to, ‘keep me in the chair,’ he had said. I don’t feel worry or anxiousness or dread. 

     I don’t feel helpless or stuck.

     I don’t feel shit. 

     I walk over to my father’s lifeless body and stare down at the pathetic excuse of a human, the complete waste of flesh and blood. 

     I blink, my vision clearing, coming back to the present. 

     My eyes are still on the ground, tracing the path of red backward, from the grass to the cracks, to the cement slab…up to his ear and temple, to the dead center of his beaded brows, where the blood gushes from.

     A perfect fucking shot.

     My head cocks to the side as I stare into crystal-colored eyes, the same ones I see in the mirror every morning. 

     The man the movies say you should trust and love most in the world. 

     The man who showed us you can trust no man. Or woman for that matter. 

     My father.

     The abusive drunk.

     The dead drunk.

     A slow smirk spreads along my lips. 

     Muffled shouts fight their way into my conscious, and slowly, the echoes in my ears calm, the real-time noises hitting me all at once. 

     Sirens, shouts, demands. 

     “You’ve been shot…”

     My shot was better.

     “Son, it’s over...”

     I’m no one’s son anymore. 

     “Put the gun down…”

     I will when I’m ready.

     “We’re here to help…”

     No one ever helped us. 

     I point the gun at my dear old dad’s cold, dead heart, and pull the fucking trigger. 

     After that, everything goes black. 

 

*** 

 

     By the time my mind decides to tap back into reality, I realize I’m sitting on shiny leather seats in a fancy town car, not cuffed in the back of a dirty cop car or belted to a bed in a mental institution. My body feels like it was hit by a truck, and then I remember, it wasn’t a truck. 

     It was a custom, stolen, steel-bodied Glock, shot by my dad. My dead dad. 

     My sister!

     My hand shoots for the door handle, and I hiss as pain explodes across every inch of my flesh. Before I can move another muscle, the door flies open, and a man slips inside. He’s a big fucker, built like a linebacker, and dressed like I interrupted his fucking wedding or something. He’s wearing a suit. An actual suit, suit, with a tie, shiny shoes, and a watch I’d swipe right off his wrist without him realizing if my limbs weren’t so fucking heavy. 

     “Who the fuck are you and where’s my sister?” I growl, searching for a weapon in case I, somehow, landed myself in the presence of another twisted fuck. 

     “She’ll be okay.” He speaks calmly, like he didn’t just climb in the back seat with a murderer. “The doctor is with her now, waiting to see if she will need surgery or not.” 

     “I want to see her.” 

     “I’m afraid you can’t. Not yet.” The man studies me. He can’t be much older than the dead man I called Dad, maybe early forties. “Not until you make a decision.” 

     I don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about, so I cut the bullshit out and wait, and he doesn’t hold out long. 

     “There’s a place for someone like you not far from here. They find kids in your position and offer them an out.”

     My position. Right. Like there’s just a gang of people out there, looking around for beat-on punks who get pushed to the edge and kill so they don’t fall over it. 

     Or maybe killing is falling? 

     “Oh yeah?” I cock my head, ignoring the sharp sting it causes. “Sounds like some shit slick bastards tell young, broken girls, seconds before they stick a needle in their arm and drop them into rotation at some run-down hourly motel.” Panic roars in my chest at the thought. “Where is my sister?”

     He watches me a minute, then says, “She’s safe. In the hospital, getting the care she needs, but the longer this takes, the less chance I have at keeping social services away.”

     My brows dig in the center, and the man dips his chin.

     Yeah, fucker, you got my attention. 

     He sits back, screaming money and power as he adjusts the slight crookedness of his suit jackets sleeve. I’ve never even tried on a suit, let alone worn one.

     He speaks again. “You have five minutes to decide if you want to step from inside this car and let the badges outside of it take you downtown, where some random person on a set salary will decide if you’re a murderer or not – that ends with you behind bars or tossed in foster care – or you can sit back in that seat, I’ll take you somewhere new, and all this goes away.” 

     My eyes narrow. “Where? How?”

     “You’ll see if you agree, but coming with me means you have a job, a bed, and food in a place free of heavy-handed adults.”

    Yeah, okay.

    When neither of us says a word for several seconds, I lick my lips. “How do I know you’re not playin’ me?”         He’s definitely playin’ me. 

     “You don’t.”

     “Who are you?”

     “Someone you might never see again, no matter what you choose. Three minutes.”

     I glare at the guy, trying to make sense of his words, but how the fuck can I? I killed my dad, then shot him in the heart for the fuck of it, in front of who knows how many people, and for some fucked-up reason, I’m not in a jail cell, but in the back of a fucking fancy car with champagne flutes and LED lights on the floorboard. 

     I’ve never even seen a ride like this in my entire life, let alone sat in the back of one. 

     This is a trip. Wild as fuck. Some real-life, other world type shit. 

     A thousand questions are going through my mind, but right now, I only need the answer to two. 

     One. “It keeps me out of jail?” 

     “It does.”

     Two. “My sister stays out of whatever this is?”

     “She does.” He nods, looking to his watch then back to me. “So, what do you say, kid?”

     “Don’t call me kid.”

     His lips twitch and he cocks his head like a prick. “What should I call you then?”

     I think about that a minute, then fall back against the seat, letting go of part of the name I was given and claiming a new one. “Name’s Bishop. Bass Bishop.”

     He nods. 

     I nod. 

     And then we’re on our fucking way. 

     Chapter 1

 

     Bass

 

     This motherfucker… 

     Sighing, I crouch down, my knees bent and pointing toward the dude’s head. “If I knew you were a bleeder, I’d have stolen a car to deal with you.” My words are wasted on him. He can’t hear me, not with his ears ringing the way they should be—a pencil to the eardrum will do that to you. 

     Eavesdropping on conversations not meant for you will do that to you. 

     A deep groan pushes past the fuckup’s lips as he rolls onto his back, eyelids twitching before opening and landing on me.

     My smirk is slow, and I cock my head to the side. “You conscious or still stuck in the in-between?” 

      His eyes close again, and my boy Hayze chuckles from behind me. 

     “He ain’t conscious…” he trails off, his voice coming back quieter. “And we ain’t alone.”

     Wiping the blood from my knuckles along the edge of my shirt, I glance over my shoulder to find a sleek and sinful wet fucking dream. 

     Curves any man would die for—kill for even—and a guaranteed wicked ride. 

     It’s an Aston Martin, shining a custom candy-blue paint job, with a mean-ass black grill, and it only gets sexier. The doors lift straight up in the air. 

     `You’d expect a ritzy fucker to climb out of it: the tailormade type. A stiff prick who flicks his eyes our way in disgust or disregard, but expectations are for fools, a fact that’s proven a single second later. 

The first thing to come into view is a sharp spike in the form of a heel, nearly equal in size to the switchblade in my pocket, the black strap at the back of it latched tightly around a creamy, arched ankle. A pleated skirt is next. Hitting just above the knee, I follow it upward to where it stops at the fullest point of sharply narrowed hips, a tight white long-sleeve top disappearing beneath it. Large golden cuffs cover the girl’s wrists, and the small rings along her fingers gleam in the sun as she reaches up. She pushes a few strands of long, thick blonde hair back, saving them from being caught in the hot-ass pink of her lips, when a gust of wind meets her skin as if she summoned that shit herself, like some kind of fuckin’ wind deity.  

     “Goddamn.” Hayze groans.

     Yup.

     A goddess in the flesh, and no doubt, the girl knows it.

     Her steps are slow and effortless, the kind stemming from years of practiced perfection. 

     She looks every bit the prep school princess, but it’s the shade her mouth is painted and the way her tongue slides across that pouty top lip that gives her away. 

     She’s no princess. She’s a piranha. 

     Slick, predatory…prone to bite. 

     Not the petty high school type.

     As she heads toward the small building, behind and a little to my right, her eyes float our way, but only her eyes, narrowing on the bulky bastard on the ground at my feet. She can’t possibly spot more than an arm and the string of duct tape hanging from it, maybe a hint of his hair, but no more than that.

     I shift, slowly pushing to my full height, and her attention snaps my way, holding as I turn to face her fully, ready to move in if needed. This is when we’d normally witness the freezing of the muscles, the widening of the eyes, and the quick flicker of panic that sends someone scurrying away from the big bad wolves. 

     If her bravado snaps and she bolts, I’m only six steps away. I’ll chase her, back her up in the corner where Hayze will be waiting, but that doesn’t happen. 

      It’s like I said, this girl…she’s not what first glances will tell you, so it’s not so unexpected when she tsks her tongue instead, her hand running over her long hair as if to make sure it’s still perfectly in place. “Boys and their toys.” 

     And she teases. Interesting… 

     “This one malfunctioned.”

     Her lips twitch, and she hums, keeping toward the small brick building to my right. I watch until she disappears inside it and then turn to Hayze. 

     “Grab some pain pills and stuff ’em down his throat before you roll him down the hill. He’ll wake up enough to run once the ache’s hidden a bit.” 

     Hayze says nothing but rushes for the trunk.

     Bending again, I empty the guy’s pockets, coming up with a wallet, cell, and a busted lighter. Hayze is back right as I’m climbing to my feet. 

     In tune as fuck with my thoughts, like always, he passes me my phone and I move toward the gas pumps, coming up behind the chick’s two-hundred-thousand-dollar beauty for a quick shot of the plate, just in case shit goes south and she’s not as immune to blood and bondage as she appears.

     The second I toss the items into the trash can wedged between the window-cleaning station and the pump, the door to the convenience store is pushed open, and out she walks, silver-lensed shades now pulled down over her eyes.

     She doesn’t falter at the sight of me standing two feet from her ride, just keeps on coming, a deep-red straw buried between her lips. 

     A perfectly arched brow lifts behind the large frames as she places herself an arm’s length from me, pressing a button on the keys in her hand. The butterfly door lifts, and she holds her right arm out, dropping her slushy into the trash. The blue liquid splashes up the barrel, but neither of us bothers to look to see if it marked us or not. 

     “Done already, huh?” 

     “I only wanted a taste,” she quips, tossing her tiny purse on the seat.

     One backward step at a time, she changes her mind about sliding into her car, not bothering to close the doors, even though her bag is now sitting right inside, begging to be stolen.

     I follow her, my movements slower, eyes locked on her long, toned legs as she crosses the right in front of the left, then spins, her skirt swirling around her thighs, hand coming up to hover over the hood of my car. Starting at the passenger side, her steps follow its contour, palm tracing the body without so much as letting a finger meet the frame. 

     “Yours?” she wonders as she rounds the vehicle, stepping out wide to avoid the stained proof of the asshole who ate gravel near the front right tire. She leans a bit closer, her eyes trailing over the hood before snapping to mine. An expectant blonde brow hikes up, the girl not used to being made to wait.

     “Mine,” I confirm, keeping my face blank, but this chick saw a body on the ground before she walked into the store and didn’t so much as blink. Now, she skipped over a puddle of blood as if it was nothing but water and is pretending to admire the long, rusty-red hood of my ride…right where the VIN number used to be before I took a razor to that bitch. “It’s a—”

     “A Cutlass, 1972,” she interrupts, bending at the knees, and my eyes dart to the curve of her ass so close to showing itself in that skirt. “And with the original grill.” 

She glances over her shoulder, and I move my eyes to hers. 

Hers narrow slightly, but it’s a play. Fake as fake can be. 

This one knew exactly where my attention would be, just like I knew it was exactly where she wanted it.

     She rises to her feet, completely ignoring Hayze’s presence when he makes his way back up the hillside. He slows, eyes darting my way in search of a signal—should he bag and gag her or let this play out. Arms loose at my side, I skate my fingertips over my jeans, silently letting him know without a word or glance that all’s good. 

     Blondie moves forward, hands folded behind her back like the perfect fucking prep she is, pausing when she’s about to pass me. Her left breast presses into the sleeve of my jacket, and her hand lifts, pushing her glasses up onto her head, and as it lowers, the points of her white-tipped fingernails graze along the edge of the zipper. 

     Mossy-green eyes lock on mine, and she blinks, nice and slow. “Your car has potential. Hate to see it wasted.”

     “What can I say.” My gaze falls to her body, but I bring it right back with a quick flick. “I like a rough ride.” 

      This girl, there’s nothing rough about her. She’s all satin and silk, with smooth skin and sleek curves.

     She doesn’t blanch or react in any way, but slow and fuckin’ steady, those lips of hers curve to one side. “What you mean to say is you can’t afford to fix her up.” She cocks her head, speaking with mocking innocence. “Shame.”

     Yep. Piranha. 

     I’d let her teeth sink into me, and then I’d bite her spoiled ass back. Literally. And harder. 

     She steps in closer, waiting for a reaction from me she won’t get, but it doesn’t take her long to realize as much, and her lips part with a wider smile, her tongue peeking between perfectly pearly expensive whites.

     And then, on her way past, she shoulder-checks me.

     I don’t watch her go because I know she expects me to. 

     Less than a minute later, she peels out, leaving us in a cloud of burned rubber.

     I do spin around then, and Hayze comes to stand beside me, our eyes following the taillights down the dark, supposed-to-be deserted road. 

     A quick, surprised chuckle escapes him, and he shakes his head. “She thinks she’s slick, don’t she?”

     I pull in a deep breath. 

     She sure as fuck does. 

 

                  *** 

 

     Rocklin 

 

     The double doors are pulled open the second my heels hit the final step. The second I’m through and closed inside the entryway, the outside light is cut off. Only once the sensors register the entrance has been sealed do the automatic doors five feet ahead disappear into the wall.

     As I step into the Distinction room, the room where several sets of eyes you can’t see, see you and decide which door ahead is to be opened for you, I’m instantly sealed inside what I like to call our lovely little lockbox. Of course, as quickly as the one at my back clicks closed, my team grants my entrance. 

     The moment my heels click against the white-and-gold marble flooring, Damiano slips from the security room, falling in line beside me. He’s as silent as his steps, and my gaze slides his way, the two of us continuing down the hall, passing and ignoring each set of black double doors along the way. We pause in front of the Greyson suite, the largest one in the place, built and designed specifically for me and my girls, Bronx and Delta. It’s located at the end of the hall, where the space splits into a T, the crossing point of the hundred-yard catwalk, as Delta calls it. 

     It’s also the grandest of entrances, the archway carved and crafted from pure white, rose, and standard-colored gold. The three-dimensional serpents weave along thorny vines, their mouths open wide, fangs sinking into broadly bloomed roses, each a soft, delicate shade of pink akin to a ballet slipper. Dead in the center of the flowers, where the pit should be, a diamond sits instead. Rather than leaves framing the stems, they’re woven with the illusion of lace, lace that falls into harsh points at the ends and plays like stony icicles protecting the archway. Weapons in disguise, just in case. 

It’s a tether of slyness, Every aspect a representation that only me and the girls can piece together. As was intended. 

     The door clicks as I step before it and Damiano stands silently at my side, his jaw flexing when I continue past him without a word. I know he’ll follow before I hear him lock us inside together. 

     I go straight for the bar in the far-left corner, tossing my bag on top of it before moving to the large window to its right. The Enterprise is buzzing tonight, a full house expected. Half are people from our world—some eager for the show, some waiting for the business conversations that will follow it. The other half of tonight’s guest list consists of those we don’t want here but to whom we are forced to extend invites to “keep the peace.” They show up from sheer intrigue, shocked they were “lucky enough” to snag tickets to such a “prestigious” event. Gag me. 

     The cocktail area in the gardens below is lively, men and women twice my age drinking the night away as they wait for my girl Delta DeLeon to take her throne—the white leather and suede bench seat of a custom Steinway & Sons piano. 

     “Is Delta not here yet?” Damiano asks. 

     “I was told she and the boys arrived a half hour ago but would be…releasing some tension in the DeLeon suite.”

     “Good.” His shadow grows closer, falling over me from behind, and his palms lift, closing over my forearms. “Everything all right?” 

     “Why wouldn’t it be?” 

     I spin to face him, only then realizing he’s changed from his scholar’s uniform, now draped in the finest of black suits, the cuff links at his wrists rivaling the cost of a so-called Ivy League tuition, his golden, secret Greyson Society pin shining proudly along the left trim of his jacket. His blond hair shines under the light of the chandelier and, as always, is swept back from his face in a modern pompadour, making his brown eyes, the same color of watered-down espresso, stand out. 

     Damiano, or Dom as we tend to call him, is attractive. Abnormally so. He’s the kind of man you’d picture when making a list of all the predictably preferred physical attributes: tall, taut, and tempting, with broad shoulders and a square jaw.

     There’s an allure he possesses, an invisible pull between him and those around him, painting him in the prettiest of lights. People look at Dom and see poise and influence. It’s a strong ambience, a coveted one with a potential price tag for desired use in our world, and as we’ve found, time and time again, a useful one.

     He’s also oddly…basic, as pretty boys with power will be. 

     Does the vote of an overassertive cougar need to be swayed? Send in the picturesque Prince               Charming with an air of arrogance to capture her attention. 

     How about sending a warning to a man who thinks he’s bigger and badder than he’s earned the right to claim, who has a pretty princess of a daughter? Send the ideal suitor in to dirty her up and spit her out. 

     Damiano scans my face, breaking through my thoughts when he speaks. “Your day was tough.” 

     He’s right. It was, but his attempt at a therapy session is unnecessary, and the argument with my father he walked in on this morning is not something I want to discuss with him. He knows this.

I tip my head. “Use your big-boy voice, Dom. What is it you would like to say?”

    His glare is small, but he nods. “You had an unexpected delay this evening. Your father expected you here at six thirty and started asking at exactly six thirty-one. I’ve spent the last hour trying and failing to distract him. I can’t cover for you if you don’t tell me when I need to and where you are.”

     “In the event I need you to cover for me, you’ll be the first to know, and as for where I was, that’s what these are for.” I flick the golden cuff latched along his wrist beneath his suit jacket.

     “We agreed, no unnecessary tracking.”

     “Exactly. If you had cause for concern, you would have checked. You know me. I needed a minute.”

      His eyes soften and I hate it, so when he says my name, I cut him off. 

     “Let my father know I’ll be down shortly.” I’ll smile and say all the right things and pretend he’s not making a mistake bound to bite him in the ass, but when it does, I’ll happily say I told you so. 

     I don’t tell Dom this, though. 

     Damiano doesn’t respond, but after a moment’s pause, he reaches up, his thumb gliding across my cheekbone. He’s always been good about doing what I’ve asked and never pushes too hard. 

     He knows better than that. 

     It’s no secret he wants me to accept his offer for more, and while I know he cares about me as a person, I also know it’s nothing more than a power play. 

     I know because we spoke of it in direct terms. I’m aware of what he wants, and he’s aware of what I do not. 

     He wants a wife at the tender age of twenty-two, and I want to make my father proud, to claim what’s mine as the strongest Revenaw heir, the head seat my father holds within the Greyson Union, an alliance between four families created to keep us on top, without the whispers of a man in my ear. Dom says he wouldn’t dare, and I know he’s telling the truth. 

     But today’s truth often becomes tomorrow’s lie, almost always by accident. 

     I couldn’t fault him for his failure to keep his word, and I’d hate for him to have to die because of it. 

     Lie rhymes with die for a reason, or so my father swears. 

     Why Dom’s in such a rush, I don’t know. We’re still stuck on the education train required of us, even though our IQs might surpass every professor on the payroll at Greyson Elite Academy. We both have a place in this world when all is said and done, but no one knows what that place is. 

     It has to be earned, as anything worth having always does. 

     Damiano dips his head, softly pressing his lips to the corner of my mouth, and then he’s out the door seconds after he releases me. 

     I trail him to the door, slapping my palm onto the large square on the left side of the wall, not bothering to watch as the steel pins jut out from both sides, piecing together and locking everyone else on the other side—not even my girls could get in now, without me allowing it.

      Flicking my eyes to the crown molding above, I return to the bar in the left corner, pursing my lips at the topped-off decanter full of Louis Remy Martin. 

      Only in my world is it normal for a suite designed for and dedicated to three eighteen-year-old girls to be stocked with liquor worthy of a king. 

     Or queens, in our case. 

     Of the criminal underground world, that is. 

     I pour less than a shot into the short crystal glass and draw it to my lips for a slow sip of the oaky butterscotch flavor. Blindly unclasping and easing the zipper down along my left hip, the heavy-pleated uniform piece falls to the floor. 

     Resting my elbows on the bar top, I drop my head back, close my eyes, and revel in the moment alone as I release the long, slow sigh I’ve been holding for what seems like days. In reality, it’s only been hours since my father broke the foolish news to me, and it’s twisting me up inside in an irritating mix of anger and anticipation. 

     But seriously, what the fuck is he thinking? 

     “I’m no expert, but I’m damn sure that’s how them heels are meant to be worn.” The deep, gravelly words come from somewhere behind me, slicing through my thoughts, and it takes true effort not to jump. 

     With steady, overly practiced grace, I point my attention over my shoulder to the far-right front corner of the room, where a black velvet armchair sits, the particular nook dark for a reason. 

     The golden edging along the crease of the wall offers the smallest reflection off the chandeliers, creating the slightest silhouette but nothing more.

     No man I know, or woman for that matter, would dare slip inside this suite without permission. 

     Silence falls, and the dead man leans forward in the chair, the light catching on something shiny along the left side of his face. 

     Gleaming back at me is a silver loop, curved perfectly around a full, crimson, crookedly hooked bottom lip.

     My shock gets the best of me, my eyes widening the slightest as recognition dawns, and he doesn’t miss it.

     A dark chuckle whispers into the air, the sound deep and rumbly like distant thunder, and then his gaze is flicking over my body. His teeth come out, toying with the piercing before his stare lifts, locking onto mine. 

      “We meet again, Rich Girl.” He cocks his head, an unrelenting, triumphant smirk spreading. “You gonna offer me a drink or what?”

     What. 

     The. 

     Fuck. 

 

 

Read the rest on release day, JUNE 1st! 

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