I groaned – the sound of a beeping monitor pulling me out of sleep. My back was stiff, and my shoulder burned in crippling agony.
My eyes shot wide, my most recent memory coming to the fore. I had been surrounded by a small army, held at gunpoint. Multiple gunpoints, actually. I remembered him the most, though. Their leader.
With dark hair, hazel eyes, and sharp features, he had been breathtaking. The most beautiful man I had ever laid eyes on. His attractiveness did little to hide just how terrifying he was, though. Power and dominance had radiated off him, making the air crackle around us.
I couldn’t remember anything beyond his last words: You can clearly hold your own.
Forcing my eyes open, I blinked against the white fluorescent lights. The ceilings weren’t opaque like I expected them to be, so I wasn’t in a hospital. They were high, with pipes and other structures running across them.
Turning my head to the side, I found the monitor that wouldn’t stop beeping. Wrapped tightly around my right bicep was a blood pressure cuff, and a pulse oximeter rested on the index finger of my right hand. I tried to reach for it with my left arm and immediately winced, not met by resistance but a white-hot stabbing sensation.
I had to take a minute to catch my breath before I pushed through it, pulling the cuff and O2 monitor off. An IV was in my vein, right in the crook of my arm, so I pulled that out too, grinding my teeth against the discomfort. The monitor started to beep erratically, probably assuming I had died since it couldn’t detect my pulse anymore.
At that moment, a memory flashed across my mind. The three men I’d killed, one after the other. Bile rose in my throat as I recalled the way the life left their eyes when I pulled the trigger once, twice, three times. I had used one of them as a human shield. God. My stomach rolled and I swallowed the bitter acid that threatened to escape me. I shook the images away, reminding myself it had to be done. It was self-defense – them or me.
I would always choose me.
I pushed myself into a sitting position, all the while clenching my jaw against the steady pain in my left shoulder. It was then that I realized my wound had been dressed and a sling held my arm in place. My jeans and T-shirt were gone, replaced by a thin hospital gown.
I quickly took in my surroundings. I appeared to be in some sort of medical room, but it was clear I wasn’t in the emergency room. There were heavy metal doors on either side of the large space and the floors were made of concrete.
I had either been kidnapped by Jigsaw, or I had been taken by the beautiful monster and his army of thugs. I suspected the latter.
At the far end of the room, I noticed a washing station. On the counter sat a large metal tray with an array of surgical tools. I nearly laughed at the irony. The fact that they left me alone with a selection of sharp objects to choose from as my weapon was downright comical.
Throwing the blankets off myself I stepped onto the cold ground and quickly made my way toward the counter. I picked up a scalpel and tested its weight in my hand. It was light, but I knew better than to think that made it any less deadly. These things could slice through flesh like butter.
The heavy doors to my right opened and I immediately took a defensive stance, holding my weapon in front of me with my back to the counter. A young man walked in, dressed in a pair of black scrubs and a white coat. His eyes landed on the empty bed, noticing the IV tube leaking all over the floor. His gaze immediately found mine.
“Good morning,” he said cautiously, eyeing the weapon in my hand. “There’s no need to be frightened. You’re safe here.”
I immediately noticed the similarities between this man and the one from last night. It was uncanny. Brothers, perhaps?
“Where am I?”
A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “You’re at an undisclosed location. No one can trace you here.”
The fuck? “Let me go.”
He arched a brow, his eyes shining with amusement. “I just came to check your stats and take a look at your wound. Your breakfast will be brought over shortly.” As if I wasn’t holding a weapon, the young doctor approached me.
“Stay back,” I asserted, clutching the hilt of the blade and aiming it at his throat.
“Look, I really don’t want to have to sedate you. My brother wants you to have a clear head when he arrives. So, let’s just put the scalpel down and take a seat on the bed. As I said before, I’m only here to check your vitals.”
My assumption had been right. This man was the brother of my captor. The boss’ family. I shouldn’t have believed him but being threatened with sedation was worse than being threatened with death. I didn’t want to imagine the things he or his dogs would do to me while I was unconscious.
I lowered the scalpel, setting it back on the counter, and made my way to the edge of the bed. As though nothing had happened at all, the man approached me, picking up the discarded blood pressure cuff and returning it to my good arm.
“You lost a lot of blood. You should really take it easy.” He pressed his stethoscope to my chest and felt the pulse in my wrist as he listened. His hazel eyes were the same as his brother’s. A perfect mixture of brown and green. I remained silent as he worked.
“Everything sounds good. Mind if I take a look?” He gestured toward my injury with his chin. I nodded, turning my head to the side so I wouldn’t have to keep being reminded of his sexy-as-sin brother.
The doctor quickly removed my sling, peeling the gauze and tape from my skin to inspect the hideous gunshot wound. He poked the skin around it gently, making me wince before replacing the bandage and tying the sling back over my shoulder.
“Great. No signs of infection. You should recover nicely.”
I remained silent, refusing to thank this man for anything. He was a part of this crime organization and could not be trusted. I could care less if he saved my life. There was a reason his brother was keeping me around and I doubted his intentions were honorable.
“I’m Dr. Moretti, by the way. But you can just call me Danny.” He flashed me a charming smile. I fought the urge to roll my eyes.
Moretti…where had I heard that name before? “Why am I here?”
He chuckled and shook his head. “Straight to the point, huh? You got a name?”
I pressed my lips together tightly. No way was I giving that up. He seemed to understand I had no intention of telling him my name because he changed the subject entirely.
“Get some rest. Your breakfast should arrive shortly. You’re gonna need to build your strength back.” He gave me a look full of pity before leaving the room. He didn’t even bother to remove the surgical tools that could be used as weapons against him.
The thought of food made my stomach ache painfully. I hadn’t eaten for days. I should have been planning my escape, but the thought of being out on the streets again without any nourishment was less appealing than staying in this dungeon and getting a free meal.
So I stayed, leaning back on the bed.
As promised, one of the boss’ goons pushed the double doors open a moment later. I recognized him from last night as one of the three that had confirmed the deaths of his fallen comrades. He looked less than pleased as he crossed the room and handed me a tray of hot food.
The mouth-watering scent of eggs, bacon, pancakes and fresh fruit floated up to my nostrils. It smelled so good I felt my mouth pool with saliva instantly. A cup of hot coffee rested on the tray, a plastic cover preventing any spills and a few creamers and packets of sugar beside it.
I took the tray and dug in – tearing through the food like a wild beast. I didn’t bother with any utensils, too hungry to even think straight. The man scoffed, giving me a look of disgust before exiting the room. He hadn’t spoken a single word. For all I knew, this food might have been poisoned.
I was too hungry to care.
I scarfed down every crumb, not leaving a trace behind. I popped the plastic cover off the coffee mug and swallowed it down – not bothering with cream or sugar because I preferred my coffee black. It was heavenly.
A moan escaped my lips. That meal was everything in that moment. I could already feel my strength returning as my stomach worked to digest the load I had just dumped into it. Feeling the heavy weight of food in my stomach was something I hadn’t experienced in a long time.
Even when I was able to get my hands on food, it was never anything more than a few scraps. People always said Americans wasted a lot of food, but I was grateful for it. If it weren’t for that fact, I never would have survived. The upcoming winter made it harder to endure, though. Food trucks and street vendors closed up for the year and people hardly ate outside anymore. I was lucky to find a piece of bread in a dumpster that hadn’t been completely soiled by garbage juices.
I might have been homeless, but I still had standards.
“I like a woman with a healthy appetite.”
I froze, snapping my head in the direction of his voice. It was him. The bossman. He stood leaning against the door frame casually, his arms crossed over his broad chest. Dressed in a three-piece suit and shiny black dress-shoes, he looked about as appetizing as the meal I just devoured.
I was horrified. I probably looked terrible with crumbs all over my face and messy hair, dressed in a fucking hospital gown with one functioning arm. I set the empty tray beside me on the bed and scrambled to my feet, doing my best to wipe my face with my hands. This man was still the enemy, and I couldn’t let my guard down for one second.
“Please, sit. Don’t be alarmed. How are you feeling?”
I narrowed my eyes at his question. “Fine.”
The corner of his mouth lifted in a smile as he stepped into the room, shutting the door behind him. “You can drop the tough-girl act. You’re safe here.”
“It’s not an act,” I countered, offended he thought I was pretending. This prick had no idea what I’d been through. I wasn’t proud of the things I had to do to survive, and I didn’t have to explain myself to this guy. I didn’t owe him a damn thing.
He smiled. “I guess you’re right. You murdered three of my best delivery guys, after all.”
I gave him a menacing look. “It isn’t murder if they were trying to kill me.”
“It is when you stole from me to begin with. I don’t think you understand just how lucky you are to be alive. I’m not known for showing mercy. You should be thanking me.”
“That’s rich,” I guffawed, “what exactly should I thank you for? The fact that your men tried to rape me in an alleyway? Or perhaps the gaping hole in my shoulder? Fuck you.” I spat at the ground for emphasis. “I don’t owe you any gratitude.”
He arched a single, defined brow. I mentally prepared myself for his outburst, certain he would have me killed for mouthing off. I was surprised to see his lips stretch into a wide grin.
What the fuck?
“I’m glad they didn’t kill you. You’re much more enjoyable alive.” He took a few more steps, stopping only a foot away from me. He towered over me, standing at six-four. He had to tilt his head to look at me because I was so short.
“That’s what your goons said before they threatened me with rape. I can assure you I’m much more dangerous alive than dead. You’d be a fool to think otherwise.” I stood my ground, not letting his towering figure or obvious wealth of power intimidate me.
“I’m certainly counting on that,” he replied, reaching out with his hand to touch my face. I smacked his hand away, a look of hatred in my eyes.
“Don’t fucking touch me.”
He chuckled, taking a step back. I breathed better for it, not realizing I had been holding my breath the entire time he had been so close.
“Yes, I think you’ll make a fine addition to my team.”
My eyes widened a fraction. “What do you mean by that?”
Reaching into his coat pocket, he pulled out a thick envelope. I watched his movements, anticipating an attack at any moment. When he handed me the envelope and dropped his arms by his sides, I was a little confused.
“Open it,” he said, thrusting his chin out to point at the package he’d just given me. He slipped his hands into his pants pockets and relaxed, as if I weren’t a threat at all.
“What is it?” I asked skeptically, “Anthrax? Ricin?”
He laughed boisterously, thoroughly amused by my assumption that he would poison me with an envelope. Removing the envelope from my hands, he ripped it open and handed me a folded piece of paper along with what appeared to be some sort of bank card.
The name at the top was unfamiliar to me. Raven Moretti. It appeared to be banking information. Some kind of off-shore account with five-hundred thousand dollars sitting inside. My eyes popped out of my head. I lifted my gaze to his, shock and confusion written all over my face.
“I don’t understand…”
He turned, pacing along the wide room before speaking. “Allow me to elaborate. Raven Moretti is your new identity. The paperwork you hold in your hands is everything you need to access your new bank account. The bank card allows you to spend any amount of money you wish, without it ever tracing back to any of us.”
I felt the papers slip through my fingers and scatter all over the ground. I was numb, too shocked to move. “You’re giving me a new identity? And the money…it’s all mine?”
He nodded once. “Yes. It doesn’t come without a price, though. As I mentioned last night, you will pay your debt off over time.”
I narrowed my eyes at his choice of words. “I’m not fucking you for any of this. I’d rather be tossed back onto the streets than disrespect myself that way.”
Another smile stretched his full lips and fuck…he was too beautiful to be real. “I respect that. I never expected you to spread your legs for me…although I’m not averse to the idea.” He gave me a mischievous look before continuing, “I want you to join my organization. You’d be a valuable member of this family. A woman with your confidence, strength, and determination is hard to come by. I’d like to train you as one of my soldiers. Those are the terms should you wish to accept them.”
I remained silent for a moment, letting his words sink in. “Your organization? What exactly do you do?”
He laughed, obviously finding my question amusing. “Do you live under a rock?”
“More like beside a dumpster,” I shot back, annoyed he thought my situation was funny.
He winced, a look of pity entering his hazel eyes. “I didn’t mean…never mind.” He stood up straighter, squaring his shoulders and recomposing himself. “I’m Luca Moretti. The Moretti Family, better known as The Moretti Crime Family, is mine. I own this entire city. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of me before, but I’ll admit it’s a little refreshing.”
Luca Moretti. Recognition hit me hard as I realized exactly who I was standing in front of. I’d heard his name on the streets several times over the past year. He was like a ghost, untouchable by law enforcement and sitting at the top of the FBIs ‘Most Wanted’ list year after year.
How I had managed to get myself tangled up with him, I’ll never know. I had officially hit rock bottom.
“So, what are you like the Godfather or something?”
His gaze darkened as he considered my question. “Yes. I’m exactly like the Godfather.”
A stone dropped into my belly. I remembered how that movie went…it ended pretty badly for everyone involved. I was faced with a difficult decision because if I turned down his offer, I’d be back on the streets with no money, digging for scraps in a dumpster.
On the other hand, if I said yes, I would be accepting a new identity and more money than I could ever dream of…but I would also be living a life of crime. It wouldn’t just be petty theft anymore. I’d be running with the big boys – a target constantly on my back.
“Think about it,” he said, interrupting my train of thought. “You have the rest of the day to decide. In the meantime, my men will escort you to a safe location where you can shower and change into something more appropriate. I’ll have a car pick you up around seven this evening.”
“What for?” I asked, already imagining how amazing that shower was going to feel.
“You’ll be joining me for dinner. Have your answer ready by then.”