I breathed in the crisp air of New York City, free at last. I smirked, jaunting down the steps of the prison, my driver awaiting me. Leo opened my door for me, nodding as I stepped in, bundled up against the cold. He rounded the car, entering the driver’s side, reaching over and tossing a bag to me. My phone, watch, and wallet awaited our joyous reunion. He peeled out, and I glanced up at the thick, grey walls, smirking. If only they knew the damage I had been able to inflict while protected inside.
“I’m taking you to Damien’s, right, boss?”
I rolled my eyes, turning my phone on.
“Yeah, I need to have a chat with that fucker,” I said as messages began to roll in. Leo chuckled, pulling off his beanie, his blond hair sticking straight up all over his head. Damien was my cousin, the one left to run things on the outside on my command, and he’d screwed up more than a few. His ass would get a beat down tonight.
“You have a new job offer. Pretty pressing, it sounded like. Broad asked for de Luca and Co. specifically,” he said, brown eyes glinting in the rearview mirror. I snorted.
“Can I piss by myself first before I get back to work?” I said. He barked out a laugh, understanding more than most—he’d done a few stints in state prisons. Sometimes, the job demanded it. But sharing a toilet, and a bunk, and a shower with a bunch of grimy ass men had tested my strength daily. No one propositioned me for…favors, though. Guess they knew better than to try.
“Sure, just thought you’d be interested in the price.”
I rolled my eyes, glancing out the window at the city locked in winter’s icy grip, the view almost overwhelming to me. Money was always good—money meant power, and I was addicted to power, to control.
“Fine, I’ll bite.”
“She doesn’t want to meet in person, says she’ll pay two mil up front if you kill her daughter or some shit.”
I felt my brows furrow as I glared at my phone that was still buzzing. Apparently, I was popular.
“That makes no fucking sense,” I said, distracted.
“Sorry, step-daughter. Guess daddy died and left all his money to her alone. Once she dies, then the lady gets it. She’s next of kin.”
There was something familiar about his words, and raven hair flashed in my mind. It couldn’t have been her, though. I knew for certain her family had no affiliations with the mafia. Duke had already ensured that.
“Must be a shit-load,” I said, thumbing through messages, most from women I could barely remember.
“He was some big time investor. Sounds like billions.”
I paused, chest constricting, but pressed for more information.
“Greedy bitch. What does she want, exactly?”
“She wants her murdered, wants proof, says she can take care of the rest.”
My eyes snapped to his in the mirror.
“When? And how did she find out about me?”
“As soon as you’re able. Said she runs with a crime family.”
“What’s the name of the daughter?”
“She won’t say, just told us where she lives.”
Premonition flooded my veins as I glared out the window into the grayness of the day.
“Eira! Over here!” Britt waved to me across the bar, and I sighed, shoving through sweaty bodies in my attempt to reach her. She gripped my forearm, yanking me forward, her light brown hair curled, her red lipstick immaculate. She was on the hunt, then.
“I’m so glad you came!” she said, wrapping her long arms around me, the smell of vodka thick on her breath. I patted her back, overwhelmed by the amount of people crammed into the bar. Britt was my dearest friend—a psych major as well. Her internship was counseling underprivileged kids. Just over two weeks in, I was beginning to question my choice of working at the prison, for more reasons than one.
“I thought you were gonna stay home,” she said, brows furrowing as she sipped at her pink drink. I sighed, leaning against the bar.
“I’ve been staying home too much,” I said, feeling a bit more rested after a night in the hospital receiving a transfusion. It had been a few days, and I finally had some color back in my cheeks. My heart, though, was another matter entirely, shattered as it had been. Not to mention the morbid embarrassment of passing out and waking up in Dante de Luca’s sturdy arms. I prayed I’d never see him again. It was a moment that would haunt me forever, no matter how good looking he was.
She rolled her big blue eyes, grinning down at me.
“You deserve all the time in the world after putting up with that asshole,” she said, winking, waving down the bartender. I clapped a hand to my cheek, grinning up at her in all her blunt glory.
“Two vodka crans,” she demanded before turning back to me, quirking her perfectly arched brow.
“Sanjay is coming out tonight, too. Had to practically drag him away from his computer,” she said. I smiled, enjoying his calming presence. We’d known him for years now. He was a cryptographer—something I’d wanted to be, once upon a time. I’d even helped him solve a cypher a few years ago, a fond memory for both of us.
A few frat boys meandered by, giving Britt the once over. I always seemed to be in her shadow—her tall, athletic, model-esque shadow. I wasn’t that short, and Britt often pointed out how perfect and perky my breasts were, and I made sure to do my squats, like, once a month.
“So, let’s find you a prince charming for the night. Deal?” she said.
“Oh, no, Britt, I couldn’t—”
She threw me a portentous glare as she handed me my vodka.
I knew this wasn’t a fight I was going to win, and it was only serving to make my anxiety worse, so I just nodded, sipping at my drink. Britt prattled on about some guy she’d hooked up with last week as we waited for Sanjay. Sighing, I downed my drink, wincing as it flamed through my chest. Britt’s fingers dug into my arm then, and I turned to glare up at her.
“I was listening, I’m sorry—”
“Is…that…Beck?” she hissed, leaning down into my ear. My stomach dropped at her tone as my eyes scanned the packed bar, finding his sandy blond hair. The alcohol in my chest burned, searing through me. He was on the dance floor with Joan, the woman he’d accidentally fucked.
His thick fingers gripped her hips as he ground into her ass, and she turned, locking their lips in a sloppy kiss as his hand wound through her hair. Tears stung my eyes as I watched them, stunned into a catatonic state. Quiet fury shook me, and I gripped my empty glass, stomping onto the dance floor, planting myself right in front of them. I had no idea what I was doing—only that I’d been pushed over the brink by him and I’d finally snapped.
Drunk and horny as he was, his eyes took their time focusing on me, but when they did, I threw my ice in his face, livid and heartbroken all over again as I stomped off, Britt yelling obscenities at them in my wake.
I began to hyperventilate as I made it outside into the slush and snow, tears streaming down my face. I’d given him everything. My time, my money, my virginity—my love.
“Eira!” Britt called, hobbling after me in her skimpy heels. I reached up, flagging down a taxi as I gasped for air.
“Eira!” came Beck’s deep voice. My mind whirled.
“Keep…him…away from me…” I said between gasps as a yellow taxi rolled up to the curb. I climbed in, slamming the door, prattling off my address as quickly as I could. Even through the glass, I could hear Beck and Britt’s heated exchanges. I pinched my eyes shut, my heart aching for my father, for his guidance and protection in a time such as this. He was gone, though, swallowed up by the insatiable void that is death. The only person who could protect me now was myself.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I hissed, her name flashing on my screen in a text. I’d forced Leo to do more digging on the job I’d been hired for, and of all the billions of people in the world, it had to be her.
“What?” Gabe asked, slamming down his weights on the rack, drenched in sweat as he pulled himself up into a sitting position. I shook my head, tapping my phone on my knee in thought.
“That new job,” I said, distracted. I watched from my peripherals as he swigged a bunch of water. Gabe was the only one of my men that could keep pace with me during a workout. He was also the one I trusted the most—with everything.
“What about it?”
I frowned, turning my gaze to him.
“I know the girl.”
He chuckled, laying back and readying to bench press another round, his mop of dark blond hair plastered to his red face.
“So…you gonna do it?”
If I did, I felt I would be wasting a gift, given to me by God himself. But if I didn’t, I’d have a huge target on my back and I knew the girl would die at some other man’s hands—someone who would likely find joy in torturing her first. I was stuck, and I needed a solution.
“She’s a cryptographer. Well…an amateur one, but still…she helped solve one that was like, fifty fucking years old…” I pondered aloud. Gabe racked his weights again, pulling himself up, eyes wide as he heaved a few steadying breaths.
“Fuck…” he said, running his forearm along his face. I glared at myself in the mirror across from us, my mind kicking into overdrive, my resolve thin to begin with, my conscience non-existent. People were a means to an end in my life after everything meaningful had been stripped from me. As I stared at the stark tattoos that adorned my chest, the words seemed to cement my decision. Veni, Vidi, Vici. I came, I saw, I conquered. All that was left was to conquer.
There was no pity in my eyes as I set my mind to the task at hand. Eira von Waldeck’s life was now mine.
“I have a job for you, Gabe.”
I paced in the kitchen, checking the glaring red numbers on the microwave clock yet again, annoyance building within me. It was nearing three in the morning. How long did it take to kidnap someone who weighed as much as a sack of potatoes? Being the level I was (boss, for lack of better term) I could delegate such jobs and keep my hands fairly clean. But once she was here, she would be mine alone.
I planned to release her, eventually, once she completed what I needed her to do. And if it took persuasion, I wasn’t above threats. She had a half sister, younger, though the details given about Maggie were a bit muddled and unspecific. It wouldn’t matter. Eira seemed the type to be selfless to the point of her own destruction, and so using her sister as leverage would work if it came to that.
The front door to our rented penthouse slammed open, the voices of Gabe and Leo and their struggles gracing my ears. I stormed forward, meeting them at the doorway to my room. Her little body writhed in Gabe’s sturdy grasp, her eyes blindfolded, her lips duct taped. Leo chuckled as Gabe tossed her on the bed and wrestled for control of her arms to still her, wielding a key to the shiny cuffs that adorned her pale, slender wrists. He held it up to me with a quirk of his brow. I snatched it from his hand, watching as she blindly kicked and shoved her way backwards on my mattress, until her shoulders collided with the headboard.
She brought her knees up to her chest, shivering, and it was then I took in her outfit. With a snarl, I whirled on the men tasked with such an important job.
“You didn’t pause to think she may need pants? In New York? In January?” I hissed. Gabe held up his hands in surrender, nodding to Leo, who rolled his eyes.
“She was a bit more feisty than we thought—”
“Not good enough,” I said, cutting him off, dragging my eyes back to her pathetic form. She wore a pair of loose pajama shorts and an oversized white t-shirt. I bit my cheek as her chest heaved, her hardened nipples poking at the fabric.
“Her things?” I growled. Leo tossed a backpack onto the bed. I’d ensured they knew to comb her place for anything that looked medically necessary as well as things such as clothes, trinkets--anything to make this easier on her.
“It’s a shit load, boss, better get Davide,” Leo said with a chuckle. I eyed Gabe, who’s face remained stoic. He wasn’t fond of his elder brother, but we’d need his medical expertise. I jerked my chin to the door, eyeing Leo.
“Go get him,” I commanded. He left with a grumble of dissent that I chose to ignore, as I stepped forward and crouched before her.
“Give us a few, I’ll get you when I’m done,” I said, not looking at Gabe. I waited for his retreat, listening as the door clicked shut softly. She jumped at the sound. I reached up, pulling the length of fabric from her eyes, letting it flutter to the floor. She blinked rapidly, squinting in the sudden brightness, before her eyes settled on me. They widened, and she shook her head, kicking away from me as a few frightened tears escaped. She recognized me, it seemed.
“Come here, bellissima. Don’t make this difficult on yourself,” I said, a warning in my tone. She shook her head again, a strangled sob creeping up her throat. I felt a sting of pity, seeing someone so frightened, so helpless. I’d been her, once, incapable of fighting off the monsters of my past, young and weak. I would never do to her the things that had been done to me.
I stood, planting myself on the mattress, leaning forward as she leaned back, though she had nowhere left to go.
“Do you want me to take that off?” I asked, voice low, gentle as I could make it. Her expression shifted, and we stayed with locked eyes for a moment, until she trembled and tore her gaze away, shrinking in on herself. I waited, patient. After another few painstaking moments, she gave a subtle nod. Slow and cautious with my movements, my deft fingers peeled the tape from her flushed cheeks, gentle as I was capable of being. Once freed, her bound wrists rose to rub at her jaw and wipe at her flowing tears. Again, her eyes refused to find mine.
I frowned, stowing the key in my pocket and tossing aside the crumpled tape, not trusting her defeated demeanor yet to take her cuffs off. I cleared my throat, rubbing at my scratchy jaw.
“I’m sorry it had to be this way. No one will hurt you,” I said. She winced, pinching her eyes shut and hunching her shoulders more as a sob wracked her. I ran my hand through my hair.
“When you’re ready, we’ll discuss the reasons for you being here. But only when I feel you’re capable of being rational,” I warned.
“I’ll…t-take it back,” she whispered, voice hoarse and wavering with tears. My brow furrowed.
“Take what back?”
She swiped at her cheeks again.
“Y-you scared me, in the…the interview…I kn-know you’re not a psych-psychopath,” she said, shivering. Shocked, I couldn’t contain the dark chuckle that forced its way past my lips. She turned her knees away from me, wrapping her manacled arms around her legs.
“That’s not why you’re here, Miss von Waldeck. I applaud your courage in that decision. Though, I’m equally as dangerous behind bars,” I said. Her watery eyes flashed to mine through the curtain of her raven hair, her plump, apple-red lips trembling. I tilted my head, noting the heart-shape of her pale face. She was a natural, beautiful woman. Shame she’d wasted herself on that asshole.
I sighed, standing.
“Davide is our…doctor, for all intents and purposes. It’d behoove you to explain your condition to him, so you’ll be taken care of properly. I’ll be back when he’s done,” I said moving to the door. She said nothing, only dropped her forehead to her knees, spasms rocking her. Dumbasses hadn’t even put shoes or socks on her tiny feet. My temper flared, but I exited, Davide and Gabe leaning against the wall opposite the master suite.
“All yours,” I said to him, a wave of exhaustion crashing over me. Where Gabe was tall and light haired, vivacious and a smart-ass, Davide was short, dark, unctuous and annoying. But he’d stitched us all up and dug more bullets out of my body than I could remember. His discretion and knowledge made him tolerable, at best. Gabe couldn’t stand him.
I made my way into the kitchen, pouring out a cup of coffee. I’d given up on sleeping tonight. Gabe seated himself at the bar, head falling into his hands.
“How did it go?” I asked, sipping at the bitter, black coffee. He snorted.
“Better keep an eye on Leo. He’s obsessed. Made him drive because I didn’t trust him alone with her.”
My blood began to simmer. It was a fact of our lives—men in this line of work were voracious wolves who had no moral compass, and I counted myself amongst them. But I drew the line, quite clearly, when it came to any form of sexual assault. I had two younger sisters, one of which had two daughters. If any man ever laid hands on them, they wouldn’t have hands, simple as that. I could extend the same protection to the girl now. It was the least I could do. But it didn’t mean that protecting her would be easy.
“I’ll help you, Dante,” he said, lowering his voice. My eyes found his, hearing the gentle tone he used.
“She’s a good girl. Pretty plain to see,” he said, eyes softening.
I nodded, relaxing a bit.
“Are we set to leave?” I asked.
“Tuesday,” he said with a nod. “Found her passport.”
“But you couldn’t manage to find shoes,” I growled, indignant. He chuckled.
“She took them off in the car and threw them at Leo. I wasn’t about to deny her that,” he said with a shrug. A smirk wavered on my lips. Feisty.
“Good,” I said. His smile faded.
“She’s…pretty weak. Seemed like she was already having a rough night before we got there.”
“How do you mean?”
He rubbed his palms together.
“There was some guy pounding on her door. He seemed a bit unhinged. After he left and she calmed down, we moved in. She’d fallen asleep holding this,” he said, digging in his back pocket, producing a weathered photo. I reached for it, the picture obviously one of her and her father. I stared at a young Eira, no older than six or seven, holding up a small bluegill on her fishing pole. Her father was crouched next to her, impressive mustache adorning his face as he beamed with pride. I couldn’t help the growing grin, even if I wanted to.
“Thanks,” I said, holding up the photo for a moment before tucking it into my pocket for safe keeping. He nodded.
“Dante!” Came Davide’s roar. My nerves turned to steel as I abandoned my coffee and flew to my room. Davide stood to the side of my bed, hands pressed to his nose to staunch the flow of blood, his livid, dark eyes catching mine. The girl scooted to the middle of the bed, choking back sobs, her chest heaving.
“What the fuck happened?” I hissed.
“She kicked me in the fucking face, what does it look like?” he blubbered, furious. My nostrils flared as Gabe chuckled from the doorway.
“Get out,” I seethed, hearing her frightened cries behind me. Gabe sobered, grabbing his brother and towing him out. I turned my furious gaze onto her, and she flinched, cowering, holding up her cuffed hands, as though to push me away. I could hardly begrudge her defending herself, but it was something I couldn’t tolerate past tonight. Running my hand through my hair, I sat once more, reaching for her.
She tugged against my pull, kicking as best she could, but Gabe had been right—she was weak. With a growl, I pulled her onto my lap, clamping my arms around her as we faced the same way, her thrashing legs dangling between mine. I clamped down with my thighs, using my entire body to subdue her, craning my neck back as she tried to head butt me. It took a few minutes of struggle before she sagged, panting. I didn’t ease up on my hold, not trusting her.
“I’ll give you that one, bellissima, but anything you do to my men going forward will reflect on your treatment here. Understood?” I waited, growing impatient, even if the sight of Davide’s broken nose was comical to me.
“Just get it over with,” she hissed, wriggling again, before another sob of despair worked its way up her throat, her bravado quite fleeting.
“I’m not doing this to hurt you,” I said, knowing it wouldn’t be the last time I’d have to reassure her. She trembled, shoulders leaning back into my chest. I loosened my hold a bit.
“I apologize if Davide was rude, but—”
“He’s a fucking scumbag,” she seethed, muscles tensing again. I blanched, eyes glaring at the grey wall across the wide space.
“What did he do,” I said, a menacing edge to my voice, the words not coming across as a question. She shook her head, rumpling her hair against my clavicle.
“Tell me,” I growled, leaning around her, my cheek resting against the side of her head, as though I could pull her thoughts and the truth away.
“Stop…p-please, s-stop,” she cried, trying to raise her knees and curl in on herself. I loosened my hold on her legs, scooting back to accommodate her, allowing her to feel small, to do what made her feel safe. A rage of protectiveness overcame me as I held her, feeling each breath, each thumping, erratic heartbeat reverberating in my own chest. Her cries quieted after some time, turning to hiccups and then sniffles.
“Can I go home, please?” she pleaded, voice cracking. I frowned.
“You’re safer here than at home, I promise you that.”
“It’s not him I’m talking about, though I’m sure if he had the chance to hurt you, he’d take it.”
She shivered at my words.
“I…I don’t understand why…what did I do wrong?” she said through tears.
“Nothing. This isn’t your fault, and I’ll explain it when I feel you’re ready, alright?”
To my surprise, she nodded against me. It could have been all a show, but I felt her weakening bit by bit. She was clearly exhausted.
“Will you sleep, bellissima, if I leave?” I asked. She took a shuddering breath, tugging against my pull. I clutched her tighter.
“I’ll try,” she answered quickly. I chuckled.
“I can give you a sedative, if you’d like—”
She was shaking her head in quick succession before I’d even finished the offer.
“Alright,” I said, pulling her into my arms as I stood. Her cheeks flamed as our eyes met for a moment, before I turned and nestled her back into the bed, frowning. I’d leave her cuffed, but that wouldn’t stop her from running. I fixed her with a serious look.
“If you leave this room, I can’t keep my promise to you, understand?”
Her wide, glacier eyes stayed round, rimmed in red with purple shadows beneath. She nodded.
“Good girl,” I said, giving her a final look before I stalked out, flicking off the light as I went.