So Bitter (Dark Devotion #2)

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Summary

Raider is known as an infamous hitman who kills with no discretion. Ever since he started working under the employment of Lincoln Clement—a powerful underground businessman—his days have passed in bloody bliss and peace. That is, until a woman appears at Clement Industries, inquiring about someone named Azrael. Suddenly, Raider is plunged back to his dark past where demons reside and one particular angel continues to haunt him to this day. Ivory is on the run. She’s been on the run for years, but now, she has no other choice than to rely on the only person she can trust to help: Raider. Both once belonged to a family of cultists, and both betrayed said family to escape a twisted love, even if they knew true freedom would never be so easy. However, Raider doesn’t trust Ivory. He was nothing more than a pawn for her lies and deceit, but he also knows she is his best bet at finally ending his family’s legacy once and for all. And yet, the more time they spend together, the more they fear the strange yet familiar emotions they make each other feel, both in the past and the present. But there’s more. Raider’s suspicions are correct. Ivory is hiding a secret—one so bitter, it ensures their future no happiness, and only tragedy.

Genre:
Romance / Drama
Author:
FlamingLeeAndre
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
2
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
18+

Prologue

In a small chapel, deep in the woods, far from civilization, and free of law and order, was the ending of a ceremonial welcome. The leader and father of their family, Jerome, stood on the stage, robed in pure white.

“We are a family of love. We are a family of acceptance. And we are a family of forgiveness. Even if our brothers and sisters are led astray, one day, they will come back to where they belong. Today, there are two who have returned to us. And so, my children, please welcome our new family members: Hazel and Ivory.”

Two individuals walked onto the stage: a woman and a girl. Both had skin as pale as ghosts and hair as fair as snow—identical to the rest of them. What the world labeled as albinism, Jerome preached as holiness; God gifted features, displaying their affinity with the Lord as his chosen children.

But Azrael knew better.

He had lived his whole life under the rule of their leader, and yet, with the little exposure he had of the world, he knew there was something strange about his family. One father, five—now six—wives, over a dozen children…

And one executioner. Molded from birth. Developed since childhood. And perfected at adolescence.

Azrael was the family’s blade.

One quickly becoming aware.

Not that he showed it.

“I’ve known Hazel for years, but we had to part our separate ways. It was just not the right time. But when I met her again, I fell in love once more. I knew she would be a perfect fit in our family. Please accept her, and her daughter, Ivory, as if they were our own.”

The gathering murmured in agreement, smiling with ease, with promise. The woman, Hazel, smiled back, overwhelmed with emotion at their acceptance. The girl, Ivory, stared with the eyes of knowing prey.

She recognized the trap—foresaw her future—and her instincts to run were still in full effect.

Azrael found himself intrigued.

Once permission was granted, the family approached the stage, eager to greet the new members. Hazel happily wove into the wives. Ivory refused to acknowledge her siblings.

“It’s a new environment for both of us,” Hazel explained, “She’s shy.”

The woman was wrong. Azrael recognized murder when he saw it. In the girl’s eyes wasn’t fear or uncertainty. It was fury. Fury at her mother. Fury at the family. Fury at the world.

Jerome placed his hands on her shoulders, and she flinched from the touch. “She will grow to love us as we have already grown to love her.”

Ivory sneered in disgust.

Azrael felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.

“My child,” Jerome continued, “You may not see it now, but this is where you belong. I have prepared for you a place of welcome, of belonging.”

His father met his gaze and motioned for him to step forth. Azrael obeyed, as he always did. Ivory watched him approach, her eyes lingering on his. The hard lines on her face softened in curiosity and fascination. He wondered if he were her mirror. From where he stood, the air seemed to have become denser, thicker, harder to inhale.

“This is Azrael. My son. My greatest treasure. And your future husband.”

Whiplash. Her expression snapped back to one full of hate and disgust and regret.

She didn’t bother to hide it either, and every single person in the room saw. A quiet wave passed through the chapel, and Hazel, desperate for acceptance, scolded her daughter.

“Ivory,” she hissed, “That’s enough!”

Azrael watched in interest as the girl glared at her mother before anguish passed over her features. Then, she erased the emotions from her face, appearing almost doll-like.

“Hello,” Ivory greeted, “It’s nice to meet you all.”

She looked to be no more than fourteen—one year younger than he was—but Azrael could tell she was far more aware of her surroundings than the other children. What she had just gained wasn’t family, but a prison. All her actions, and even her thoughts, would be monitored and reported back to Jerome. Until she completely submitted to the family’s ways, she would never be able to escape their scrutiny.

So the question remained. Would she break? Or would that persistence continue to kindle?

>>>>>(A Few Months Later)>>>>>

Azrael stood before Jerome in his father’s bedroom. He had just finished another hit and was reporting the successful results. Anytime someone disrespected the family name, it was his duty as executioner to bring back their honor. The job had been easy, and handled with discretion—as per usual.

“Well done, my son.” Jerome smiled, flashing his white teeth. “Is there a reward you seek?”

In normal circumstances, Azrael accepted nothing in return for his work. He had grown accustomed to the pleasures of blood on his hands as reward enough.

But he couldn’t stop thinking about Ivory.

During the first few days of her arrival, she had done her best to fall in line with the family, but her ruse hadn’t fooled anyone. When she thought there weren’t others looking, she cursed her circumstances. Her eyes often searched for any opportunity of escape, and her sweet words always had a sharpness to them.

Jerome had isolated her in hopes of influencing her thoughts, but the fact that Azrael hadn’t seen her in months meant it wasn’t working.

She was resilient.

Stupidly so.

“My bride,” he answered his father, “Why is she not by my side yet?”

The question caused Jerome’s eyes to flash. “You are eager for her?”

Azrael never showed interest in anything but his purpose: to kill. His father was right to be surprised.

To hide his true feelings, he shrugged in nonchalance. “You said she was to be mine.”

“Ivory has yet to...acclimate to our family. Until she realizes what role she plays, I do not want her to taint any of the others.”

“And her mother?”

Jerome smiled. “Hazel is the complete opposite of her daughter. It is as if she has been part of our family for years.”

“She trusts you. Shouldn’t I deserve that same loyalty from my own future wife?”

Azrael knew exactly what to say to his father in order to feed his ego. Once upon a time, he had actually believed the words that came out of his mouth, but the older he became, the more he realized Jerome was just like the rest of them—prideful, spiteful...

Mortal.

“You’re not wrong, my son,” his father replied. He contemplated for a few more seconds. “Go. Stake your claim.”

Thrill shot down his spine, and after receiving a key, Azrael left to meet the girl.

On the grounds of their land was a mausoleum isolated from the other buildings. There were no dead bodies within, but the ambience was enough to unsettle any living person. He could only imagine what it had done to her mental state.

Azrael wasted no time and immediately unlocked the heavy doors to witness Ivory kneeled in the far corner of the stone tomb. Beside her was a half empty water bottle and a bowl of eaten porridge, along with a thin cotton blanket.

The only light that reached the inside of the tomb was through the door. It caused her to flinch and cover her eyes from the brightness.

After her vision adjusted, she focused on his figure, and he saw recognition flash across her expression. Followed by disgust.

Seconds passed in silence, both of them refusing to speak first. However, Azrael noticed that Ivory did not look away. Just as he observed her, she observed him.

Her frail body was thinner than he last recalled, and her overall condition was far worse. She was also shivering, and for some reason, it chilled him as well.

“You’ll die here if you don’t convince the family of your obedience.”

His voice startled her, but she recovered and sneered, “If it means escaping this hell, then good.”

“What of your mother?”

“Sounds to me she’s fitting right in with you crazy motherfuckers.” She paused, looking past him to the outdoors. “How is she?”

Though there was acid in her tone, Azrael could tell she still held affection for her mother. If Ivory’s eagerness to hear about her was any indication, then he knew just what could make her crack.

“Hazel misses you.”

She twitched. “She’s a failure of a mother.”

“And yet, you still care for her.”

The girl’s lips curled into a sour frown. “Only because she’s an idiot. Just look at the mess she put us into.”

Azrael wondered if the mother and daughter roles had somehow reversed between the two. Hazel seemed like an easily impressionable woman, but Ivory stubbornly held her own. Perhaps it was something the girl had to adapt into in order to survive.

“There is no escape from here,” he said, “The best you can do is conform to the family’s ways if you want to live.”

Ivory met his gaze, and he froze, as if pierced by the blue ice of her irises. Even in the shadows, her eyes seemed to glow like a feline’s.

“Why are you here?” she asked. A second later, realization crossed her face and she glared at him once more. “Oh. They sent you.”

“I came here myself.”

“Leave,” she snarled, “You’re not going to trick me.”

Azrael stared at her flatly. “I’ve told you nothing but the truth. You will never be able to escape from here. The best thing you can do is accept your role and live in ignorant bliss.”

“My role? You mean as your wife?” She scoffed. “Gross.”

He blinked at her insult. While it was true that some members of his family had been mocked and ridiculed for their features, Azrael hadn’t shared their hardships. Anyone who saw him for the first time often mistook him as an ethereal being—in fact, if he recalled correctly, Ivory had stared at him in awe when they first met in the chapel.

No one had ever regarded him in disgust before like Ivory just did. It made him feel...offended.

“It’s considered an honor to be my future wife.”

She rolled her eyes. “We’re technically siblings now. Do you see nothing wrong with that?” Ivory blinked. “Of course not. You’re in this family. You probably think just like the rest of them.”

How was it possible she could test his patience so easily after just meeting?

“I’m trying to help you,” he spoke through his teeth.

“The best thing you can do is leave and let me rot.”

Ivory turned her head away and refused to look at him. It was obvious she wanted to be left alone, but Azrael was never the type to give people what they wanted. Not even when they begged.

He approached her, and she froze as he kneeled to her eye level. They were so close, he could touch her.

But he refrained.

Instead, he snapped, “You’re a liar. You want freedom just as much as you want to live. If you really wanted to die, you would’ve refused everything given to you, but it’s obvious you’ve been using the sustenance provided to stay alive.”

She flushed, embarrassed for being called out by the truth.

“You don’t have to believe my intentions, but you can believe my advice is true. Either you do your damned best to feign obedience while your mind is still yours, or wait until the family takes advantage of you when you can no longer think for yourself. Which do you prefer?”

Ivory gazed into him, searching for lies, searching for truth. Azrael, on the other hand, became lost in the blue of her eyes. In the dark, at an angle of light, they almost looked lavender—just like his. It wasn’t as if he had never seen another with their color, but it was the way she stared that left him breathless.

Her gaze was unwavering, and she wasn’t afraid, nor timid. The other children, and even the adults, knew to fear Azrael. He was their leader’s greatest creation, after all. While he shared all of their physical appearances of holiness, he gained none of their flaws. His eyesight was perfect, his skin could bear the sun for longer periods of time, and his cognition was clear of any debris. It was what made him the family’s greatest asset—as both their next leader and their sword of justice.

Jerome called him a miracle from God. Azrael knew he was closer to a mutation of a mutation.

“I can’t,” Ivory finally spoke. “I just...can’t. I know you’re all crazy, but for once, my mom looks happy. For once, she looks as if she belongs somewhere.”

It was then that Azrael realized her conflict was more complicated than he thought. She was not only factoring in her own circumstances, but her mother’s as well. The moment she allowed another to dictate her thoughts, she could no longer function as an individual. And it was her gullible mother of all people too.

“Then you’re doomed.”

She blinked, tears forming in her eyes. However, she refused to let them fall and refused to wipe them in acknowledgement.

“What do you want?” she whispered. When she saw his confused expression, she further elaborated, “What are you trying to gain by talking to me like this?”

Azrael was taken aback, realizing that he...had no answer. He didn’t know what he wanted by meeting her here. Was he simply curious? Of what? Of her? Of her experiences outside the family? Or something else entirely?

He swallowed, and it took a few more seconds for him to find his voice. “I don’t know.”

Contrary to his expectations, his answer didn’t anger or disappoint her. Rather, the blatant confusion from him seemed to soften her.

It also made her come to another realization.

“You’re aware as well, aren’t you? That this family isn’t real. That it’s wrong.”

He refused to answer. He couldn’t risk any sort of discovery into the depths of his mind.

“You’re just as trapped as I am,” she continued, “You told me I couldn’t escape...because it’s the same for you.”

Unlike her, Azrael had been birthed by the family, and raised by them. Of course, because he was special to Jerome, he had been given far more freedom than the rest, but it also made him realize that he had no purpose elsewhere. He had been molded by the family for the family.

On the other hand, Ivory knew what freedom tasted like, and she still craved for it.

“I’ve heard enough,” she murmured, “Please leave.”

Azrael could no longer read her. She had completely withdrawn into herself, blocking him out of her thoughts.

He stood and turned around. Just as he reached the door, her voice stopped him.

“What’s your name?”

She hadn’t remembered. “Azrael.”

The angel of death.

A bitter smile transformed her lips as he shut the door, leaving her to ponder in the darkness, alone once again.

But not before he heard her whisper in farewell,

“Goodbye, Angel.”

>>>>>(Several Weeks Later)>>>>>

Another day, another successful commission.

This particular target hadn’t done anything to the family. No, it was his father, a local minister, who had called the family a group of cultists who held hands with the devil in order to lead innocent sheep away.

Jerome took great offense to that statement, and demanded justice. Of course, as the family’s blade, Azrael did his bidding. The task had been simple: feign an overdose with the drug addict son. Not only would it hurt the minister, but it would also bring his reputation to ruins.

Unfortunately, Azrael finished the job without bloodshed, and he went home in an irritable mood.

And yet, the moment he witnessed Ivory walking around the grounds of their home, his thoughts were flushed away. She had a serene expression on her face while clasping Jerome’s hand.

He shouldn’t have approached them, but the sight of her drew him in like a magnet. He just had to know what had caused this development.

As Azrael reached their side, the trio consisting of Jerome, Hazel, and Ivory turned to him.

“My son!” his father greeted, “How did your duties go?”

“Fine,” he answered dismissively, his eyes on Ivory. “Has she…?”

Ever since Azrael left her in the mausoleum, he didn’t think he would see her again. At least, not in the condition that she was right now. She looked...at peace. Had she cracked? Was her mind as lost as her mother’s now?

“Ivory has made a full recovery under my care,” Jerome answered.

Azrael stared at her, assessing her mental state. She only continued to gaze at him with empty eyes that held not a trace of fear or annoyance or reluctance.

She had broken.

What a disappointment.

“I see,” he murmured.

“I understand this is the first time you’ve seen her in a while, but we must continue our stroll,” Jerome said, “We will speak afterwards.”

“Of course, father.”

The three went on their way, walking through the grassy grounds. He watched them disappear over the hills, feeling an ache form within his chest. Azrael didn’t understand what it signified, and he discarded any hints of discovery.

And yet, thoughts of Ivory continued to plague his mind. It didn’t help that he saw her at every opportunity. During meals, during worship, during free time. The rest of the family easily welcomed her back with open arms when they saw her docile form, but in his eyes, it was wrong.

Their time spent together couldn’t have lasted more than ten minutes, but it was enough for Azrael to discern just what kind of person Ivory was. She would’ve hated every bit of attention she was receiving. She would’ve hated the affectionate touches that lingered on her skin. And she especially would’ve hated plastering that smile on her face for hours upon hours with no time to rest.

But he shouldn’t have been surprised. This was exactly how all the new members of their family had been converted. In the presence of Jerome, their minds stood no chance. He offered love, he offered comfort, and he offered a place of belonging with no judgment.

Others often looked down upon albinos with scrutiny, as if they were creatures and not mere humans. The children were especially impressionable because of bullying, but the adults craved for just as much affection.

Every technique to break down a person’s barriers that Azrael knew had been taught to him by his father. What to say, what to mention, what to avoid—it was all just games. Find out what caused a person to tick, what caused them to melt, what caused them to waver, and they could be molded like clay.

If he had known Ivory would’ve succumbed so easily to their father, he would’ve done it himself.

As their family ate the last remaining bites of their dinner, Jerome, who sat at the head of the table, turned to Azrael, who sat beside him.

“Tonight, you may escort Ivory to your room,” he announced.

Ivory, who sat further down the table, looked toward them and smiled softly, understanding the command. The two of them stood at the same time, and on their backs were the gazes of the family, seeming to follow them even after they exited the dining room.

Neither of them spoke as they reached the living quarters of the house. The bedrooms were split into four rooms: children’s, wives’, Jerome’s, and Azrael’s. Every night, Jerome invited one individual to share his bed. Sometimes it was one of the wives.

Other times, it was one of the children.

Azrael, himself, had shared his father’s bed multiple times. The older he became, the fewer invitations he received—but the memories remained.

First was fear. Then, confusion. Finally, acceptance.

When he turned thirteen, he was given his own room, and granted the same privilege. However, he never partook in sending invitations as his father had. The night brought upon dreams he’d rather tread through alone than with someone beside him.

Once they entered his bedroom, Azrael shut the door and faced Ivory. She glanced around the room, taking in the lack of furniture and simplistic layout. While Jerome’s teaching did include shunning materialistic goods, Azrael also found it easier to not have too many things to clutter his surroundings.

“Ivory,” he spoke her name.

She glanced at him, the same blank expression on her face.

His brows furrowed. “What happened to you?”

No response. Instead, she turned her back to him and walked to the window. As she watched twilight approach, Azrael paced back and forth, observing her.

More silence spread between them, and he wondered what he would do with her. Did she understand what was to transpire? Of course she did. She had spent nearly all her free time with Jerome. He would have informed her of her nightly duties.

However, a thought entered his head that caused his blood to run cold.

Had Jerome already taken her? Was that how she had been broken?

The thought enraged him more than it should’ve. Ivory was his. It had been promised as such since the beginning. But he discovered long ago that Jerome’s rules only applied to the family and never to himself. Had his father broken his pledge? For his own selfish pleasure?

“Did he do something?” he growled, “Is that why you’re like this?”

Again, she did not respond. It was as if his words fell upon deaf ears.

Azrael rushed to Ivory and took hold of her shoulders, forcing her to face him. Startled, she stared at him with wide eyes. It was the most emotional he had seen her since the last time they met.

“Answer me!”

She didn’t.

But the touch they shared was enough to distract him. She was warm and soft. It felt as if the air around them was heating—similar to the very first moment they locked gazes. Azrael found it harder and harder to control his breathing, and his hold on her tightened, his fingers digging into her skin.

When he met her gaze, he realized that something was happening to Ivory as well. No longer was she a husk. Her cheeks were flushing, her lips were parted from heavy breaths, and her body trembled in echoing vibrations.

“Let me go,” she growled.

As if he touched fire, Azrael’s hands flew into the air, and he took a step back. Ivory glared while shrugging her shoulders, erasing the remnants of his hold from her.

“Damn it, Angel,” she snapped, “What the hell was that?”

Angel. The same name she had called him in the mausoleum.

“Ivory?” he spoke in disbelief.

Realizing what she just did, she swore under her breath and turned to the window again. “Well shit. Now there’s one idiot who knows.”

He discerned her words, understanding what her goal had been.

“You were planning to trick me?”

She glared at him from over her shoulder, but it didn’t annoy him. No. Azrael felt relief. This was the Ivory he knew. The girl who was headstrong and determined and impatient.

“Am I supposed to trust you?” she scoffed. “You’re the last person I’d trust in this whole damn family!”

If he were in her circumstances, he probably would’ve shared her sentiments. Compared to the rest, he was an anomaly—in more ways than one. Likewise, those who tried to gain trust were usually the ones least trustworthy.

“I would’ve kept your secret. I will keep your secret.”

“Hooray,” she blandly cheered, “One more risk to this fuckery.”

“How did you convince Jerome?” he asked, eager to discover more of her secrets.

His question caused her brows to twitch. “My mom. She’s a...weakness. I have to keep her safe. If it means playing games with that old bastard, I’ll do it.”

A rush of air filled his lungs, causing Azrael to feel as if he were taking his first breath in years.

Not a single piece of her had been broken. If anything, she had only fortified herself even more in preparation of her future.

Ivory bit her nails as she continued to stare outside the window. He stood next to her to see what she was looking at, but it was just the usual scenery—an empty horse shed and a vast forest. Though it couldn’t be seen from where they stood, about a mile away were train tracks that still functioned daily.

“What’re you looking for?”

She glanced at him before doing a double take at their distance. Avoiding his presence as much as possible, she slipped away and stood at the far wall. He could tell she was wary, but it only caused his senses to become more alert.

Running prey excited him more than anything.

“If you try anything, I swear I’m scratching your eyes out.”

The image made his lips twitch. “I’m faster than you.”

Ivory snarled, exposing her teeth. “Try me.”

He blinked at her expression, and soon realized that what he thought to be nothing more than banter was actually a dire situation for her. She really thought he was going to force her.

“Ivory,” he spoke softly, “I’m not going to do anything.”

His tone made her hesitate, but she was still wary.

“Did Jerome do anything to you?” he asked for distraction. She shook her head, and Azrael released a sigh of relief he didn’t understand. “He probably won’t do anything in the future. Not as long as you’re meant to be mine.”

There was nothing Jerome deemed above himself but God. Even then, it was a close race. However, he knew what Azrael was capable of. He also knew the legacy he would pass on when his mortal body eventually perished. And so, he spoiled him rotten.

If Ivory was his, then she would stay that way.

He observed her as she contemplated his words. She had the same features as the rest of them, but just like him, Jerome must’ve seen the tenacity within her. He must’ve realized she was the best candidate to continue his family to the next generation. The only hindrance was her ability of independent thought, but Jerome was confident in his abilities to erase that part out of her.

However, Azrael wasn’t so sure he agreed.

“As long as you maintain your facade, you won’t have to worry.”

Ivory stared at him as her lips pulled into a puzzled sneer. “What are your intentions, Angel?”

Her nickname for him slithered up his spine. “What do you mean?”

She tilted her head. “Are you helping me...” She paused. “...or luring me?”

Again, just as before, Azrael discovered that he had no answer to her question. To be frank, he wasn’t sure of anything. And so, he simply asked her, “What would I gain from either of those?”

“I don’t know. That’s why I’m scared. That’s why you should stay away.”

He didn’t understand. “You’re warning me?”

Ivory smiled bitterly. “I’m warning both of us.”

>>>>>(2 Years Later)>>>>>

They should’ve heeded Ivory’s warning.

But Azrael couldn’t stay away.

At first, he deemed her intelligent, but he soon came to realize she was beyond that; she was omnipotent. The more time he spent with her, the more she opened his eyes. The world was vast and filled with people of all kinds.

But when it came to Jerome and the family, Ivory confirmed to Azrael that there was nothing normal about them.

A normal family did not breed amongst themselves.

A normal family did not order killings because of pride alone.

A normal family did not birth an executioner to fulfill their holy crusades.

Azrael should not have come to fruition. And yet, Ivory never once denied his existence. In fact, she informed him that there were others out there just like him, who knew how to do nothing else but kill by command.

She also spoke of simple pleasures. Smoking a cigarette. Drinking a can of beer. Having sex with someone of mutual understanding.

It shocked him to hear that she wasn’t a virgin—something sacred within the family, and another theme that was both hypocritical and corrupt of Jerome’s teachings versus his actions.

Her first and only partner had been a classmate when they were at the age of thirteen. They had been in a relationship for one year and when they were alone at the boy’s house, they found themselves naturally falling into each other’s embrace.

The images that came into Azrael’s mind confused him. Heat and ice. Sweet and bitter. Igniting and devastating.

However, the relationship hadn’t lasted long. In the end, her partner cheated on her with another girl, and though Ivory shrugged it off as nothing more than an unfortunate disappointment, he wanted to find the boy and murder him for what he had done.

Azrael was experiencing new emotions he couldn’t take control of. From wonder, to anger, to humor, Ivory somehow forged feelings he never knew existed within himself...

—unaware that he had fallen right into her scheme.

The day of their marriage was approaching, but Azrael had other thoughts on his mind:

Freedom.

He saw the way Ivory yearned for the outdoors. He saw the way she reminisced about her old life. And he wanted to grant her wish.

Previously, he told her there was no escape from the family, but he had been wrong. It was possible, and he was the one who could make it happen. Together with her, they could leave. With his skills, they could survive in the real world, and the family would never be able to trap them again.

Azrael swore he would propose to Ivory his plans that day, but the opportunity was interrupted by another:

Jerome.

Gathered in the chapel was the whole family. On the stage was, of course, Jerome. But also Ivory. And only Ivory. Sitting in the pews, Azrael stared on in puzzlement with the rest of the family.

“I’ve gathered you all here today to make an announcement,” their leader spoke, a blissful grin on his face.

With a motion of his hand, he waved Ivory to stand next to him as he wrapped a hand around her shoulders. The possessive claim caused Azrael to see red, but Jerome’s next words completely severed him.

“Ivory will not be marrying Azrael. Instead, she has chosen to become my bride.”

Chosen. By choice. By Ivory’s choice.

Around him, the family was just as confused, but Jerome’s words were absolute. And so, they immediately congratulated the two on stage while dismissing Azrael’s utter silence.

He stared at Ivory.

She refused to meet his eyes.

Instead, she gazed up into the eyes of Jerome, a proud smile curving her lips. She had never shared that expression with Azrael. Even though he was the one who knew her secrets. Even though he was the one who had guided her through her survival.

Just like that, she had betrayed him.

By becoming another’s.

By becoming Jerome’s.

Azrael stormed out of the chapel, refusing to engage in the celebration. Refusing to accept it as reality. Refusing to acknowledge the deception.

>>>>>>>>>>

Later that night, he was called into his father’s room. He would’ve ignored it, save for the fact that Ivory was probably there, waiting as well. After the announcement, he had tried to get her alone, but she was always with Jerome, never leaving his side.

If she wanted to play that game, then so be it.

As expected, when he entered the room, Ivory was there.

Right beside her new future husband.

“What do you want?” he growled at his father.

Jerome waved him in, motioning him to close the door. Azrael slammed it shut, earning a dirty look, but he didn’t care.

“I understand you’re upset, my son, but Ivory has made her choice.”

His nostrils flared, and it took a moment for him to catch his breath. “Who’s idea was it really?”

Jerome patted Ivory’s shoulder in reassurance, and she responded, “There is no trick. It was mine.”

Hearing it directly from her lips caused Azrael’s throat to constrict, and he struggled to choke out, “Why?”

“Because Father loves me for who I am. Because even with my flaws, he will not abandon me.”

“Bullshit!” he shouted. “You’re telling me he knows about your secrets? That you’re not—!”

“Pure?” Jerome finished, startling him. “Yes. Ivory has informed me of her past. Her sin of smoking. Her sin of alcohol. And most importantly, her sin of giving away her chastity. I know it all. And I forgive her.”

Ivory smiled at the acceptance and leaned her head against Jerome’s shoulder.

Azrael was a fool. He thought he was special. He thought he had been the one molding her. In reality, she had been the one molding him.

“You still want her? Even after knowing all of that?”

“I cannot deny a child of mine,” Jerome cooed.

The vibration rang in his ears, bringing back disgusting recollections of his childhood when he laid in the very same bed in that very same room. It was Ivory who had made him realize that what kept him awake at night weren’t mere harmless memories, but sinister nightmares.

“She’s mine,” he growled.

Ivory twitched, and her wide gaze finally focused entirely on him.

In contrast, Jerome’s eyes narrowed. “You will not speak to me in that way.”

“I’ve done everything you’ve asked,” he continued through his teeth, “And never asked for anything in return. All I had was her! How dare you take away what’s mine?!”

“She does not want you.” Jerome rebuked, “Her choice is clear.”

Azrael turned to Ivory, knowing he looked desperate. Crazed. He was. And more.

“Tell me you do not want me,” he said, breathless. “Tell me, Ivory.”

She returned his gaze, her trembling lips parting to speak. But they were only met with silence.

“Tell him, Ivory,” Jerome prompted, “End his delusions.”

They waited. And waited. Until…

“A-Angel…”

Azrael snapped.

When others were around, Ivory addressed him by his given name. She only ever called him Angel when they were alone. It was their little secret—something no one else knew. His small, insignificant treasure.

But not any longer.

Jerome had heard.

And he questioned it.

“Angel?” he repeated.

Coming from his lips, it sounded like a curse. Disgusting. Repulsive. Tainted.

Before he could comprehend his own movements, Azrael reached into his sleeve, slipped out a hidden blade, and swung it across his father’s throat.

Like a broken faucet, blood spurted across the room, spraying the walls, staining the carpet.

Ivory gasped in shock as the liquid splattered onto her face, coloring her lips.

She looked...beautiful.

Jerome fell to the floor, convulsing, clutching at his gushing artery. It was no use. He’d be dead in seconds.

“Ivory…” Azrael reached for her.

She flinched and backed away, her eyes wide with horror, her face green with sickness.

It was then that he realized his mistake.

Throughout the time that they had spent together, Azrael never truly revealed himself to her as she had done to him. She knew of his purpose in life, yes, but she didn’t know just what he was capable of. She didn’t know that he found pleasure in his kills, that he enjoyed it too much to ever feel remorse. But now she did.

And she saw him for what he was.

The son of a monster—a monster himself.

But none of that mattered. Not anymore.

“I wanted us to run away,” he blurted—honestly, stupidly, regretfully.

Ivory gasped and held her breath. Again, he was captivated by her expressions, her presence, her entire being.

“I didn’t care about the marriage...I just wanted to be with you.”

For some reason, tears sprouted from Ivory’s eyes and rolled down her cheeks, dripping off her chin. He wanted to taste those drops as much as he wanted to wipe them away.

Azrael didn’t know what caused the tears. He didn’t know what they signified. But he didn’t have the time to find out.

This was the end.

“You got what you wanted,” he breathed, “You have your freedom. But only if you can escape your fate.”

He turned and ran out of the room. Down the hall, he entered his own bedroom and snatched the duffle bag he had prepared the previous night into his hands.

And then, he departed into the night.

Ivory would face her eventual doom. It didn’t matter that he had been the one to deal the killing blow. The blame would fall upon her shoulders for not saving their leader—or die trying. There had been no self sacrifice, and it would be seen as a disgrace. She may be completely unharmed, but it wouldn’t stay that way for long.

The family would have their revenge. Then it would be his turn to be hunted. Azrael had to survive.

He couldn’t afford to grieve over what he had lost.

Nor acknowledge the shattering of his heart.

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