I decided to make things easier by putting the prequel on my blog since it's already free. No newsletter signups, no file confusions, no hassle—just reading. I hope you all enjoy the start of Bennett and Aurora's story!
Chapter 1 -Bennett
My mother once told me that I couldn’t be saved, that some people were just born to walk down a path of darkness. It wasn’t until years later that I understood what she meant.
You couldn’t save the devil.
“We’re here, boss. Where do you want him?” Bruce said over the phone. I looked at the screen in front of me to see him pull up in the alley on the side of the club, waiting on instructions.
“Bring him to the basement. Just make it seem like a regular meeting. Did you activate the audio jammer?”
“Yep. Did it as soon as I approached him just in case he was wearing a wire. Didn’t need anyone to know where we were going or the last person he was with.”
“Very good. Bring him on in then. I don’t have all night,” I said and hung up.
The loud bass from Club Secrets, one of many clubs my family owned, vibrated around me in the damp, humid space. It was such irony that while life thrived upstairs, many ended downstairs in this very basement. Sometimes I wondered how people would feel if they knew that people were strangled, burned with acid, shot, and mutilated down here while they danced the night away.
“Stop fucking pushing me, you fucker! I can walk perfectly fine!” I heard outside the door.
I pulled another audio jammer off of the shelf and placed it on the old wooden desk, flipping it on as soon as Joseph and Bruce walked through the door. I nodded to Khalil “KC” Swanson and when the door closed, Joseph looked back at it when the heavy lock clicked from the outside.
“What’s with the locked door?” he asked, pointing back at the door with his thumb.
“Just a precaution. We have some important shit to discuss and I don’t want people walking in who shouldn’t hear about it,” I said, leaning against the desk. “Have a seat.”
He slowly made his way over to the single wooden chair in front of me and sat, his beady black eyes traveling between Bruce and me.
“Hopefully this meeting won’t take too long. I have a hot blonde waiting for me,” he said with a nervous chuckle. I folded my arms across my chest with a grin.
“It won’t take long at all. Let’s go ahead and get started then.” I pointed at his shirt. “Get rid of that.”
He looked down and then back up at me. “What? For what?”
“You of all people know that I don’t like repeating myself, Joe. You want to get back to that blonde, don’t you?” I asked with a raised brow.
His Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat when he swallowed. “I mean is there a reason why?”
I rolled my eyes. “No shit, Sherlock. I damn sure don’t want to see your beer belly for fun,” I ground out as I pulled the gun from my waist band. “Get rid of the fucking shirt.”
He took his time pulling the bottom of his shirt out of his jeans, going so slow that I couldn’t stand to continue watching him.
“Bruce, get the fucking shirt off,” I finally said. Bruce wasted no time ripping the man’s shirt from his body, revealing what I suspected all along.
I tsked and shook my head. “A wire, Joe? I thought you were better than that. I never took you to be a snitch.”
“It’s not what you think, Benny, I swear. Some asshole just put it on me and—”
“Who’s Detective Olive?” I interrupted.
His mouth opened and closed for a few moments. “I-I don’t know any Detective Olive,” he stammered.
I chuckled and picked up the manila envelope on the desk. “It seems like you do,” I stated. Joseph’s face fell when I pulled out a picture of him and the cop taken from the camera that was in the interrogating room. “There’s actually a lot of pictures like these with your little cop friend.”
When I dropped the folder of photos to his feet, he scrambled down and grabbed them, looking at them with wide eyes. Checkmate.
“Come on, Benny! You got it all wrong! You know I’d never betray you,” Joseph babbled, shuffling through all the pictures.
Just looking at the man before me made me want to put a bullet between his eyes and get it over with. But no, I had to make him suffer like he’d made my business suffer for months while we all tried to figure out who was ratting us out. When people threatened my freedom or stopped my cashflow, I made them pay with their blood.
“Never betray me?” I asked, narrowing my eyes at him. “So someone Photoshopped those pictures to put you in them?”
“I don’t know what they did, but I know I’m not a fucking rat,” he hissed.
I raised an eyebrow and gestured to the wire he still wore. “Then why the fuck are you wired, Joseph?” I asked.
He swallowed, a bead of sweat rolling down his bald head. “Starfish,” he murmured, never looking away from me. When nothing happened, he repeated it a little louder. “Starfish!”
“Let me guess, that’s your code word to tell your cop friends that you’re in trouble,” I said with a smirk. They can’t even hear this conversation right now. Did you think I didn’t know beforehand? I was prepared before you even knew you were coming here.”
His gaze followed my hand into my pocket as I pulled out a small tape player. “You want to take a guess on what could be on this tape I have?”
“Whatever it is, I swear it wasn’t me! Somebody’s trying to set me up!” he exclaimed.
“Set you up, huh? Well, let’s see what you said on this tape,” I said and pressed play. The small basement filled with Joseph’s voice as he divulged into my family’s business affairs. Human trafficking, prostitution, gun smuggling. He told them of people we’d murdered and how we washed our money through legitimate businesses. As we all listened, Joe only lowered his head and shook it.
I looked to Bruce. “That sounds a lot like Joe, yeah?”
“Sounds like him to me,” the large man a few feet away as he glared down at Joseph.
“My father and I thought we could trust you, Joe,” I said with a shake of my head before coming to a stop before him. “You were my third in command. After all my family has done for you, you thank us by fucking us over and snitching to the cops?”
“Bennett, I swear to you, man. I’d never do that to you. You’re my family!” he exclaimed.
“You know there’s nothing I hate more than a snitch and a liar. And you turned out to be both,” I stated, my voice even as I lowered my gun and shot him in the knee.
“Shit! Bennett, please man! You don’t have to do this!” he wailed, clutching his wounded knee.
It was interesting to watch what fear did to a grown man. Watching them beg. Plead. Turn into a little bitch when I held their life in my hands. The thumping bass from the club above us reminded them of the inevitable. No one would hear them scream. No one would call for help.
No one would save them.
“My first thought was to just put a bullet in the center of your face, but I had a change of heart. We were friends after all,” I said with a nonchalant shrug. “So I’m going to give you a choice.”
“What fucking choice? It’s not like you’re going to let me walk out of here alive,” he growled.
“Now what kind of friend would I be if I didn’t give that choice to you?” I mused with a grin. “Actually, I want to play a little game. Let’s call it….would you rather?”
“Just get on with it, Bennett,” he wailed, the pain starting to really settle in.
“Okay then.” I put the gun down on the desk as Bruce walked over and handed me a small glass box. “Would you rather eat a Carolina Reaper pepper or take two more bullets? And think smart because they both have their consequences.”
“The pepper! I’ll take the fucking pepper!”
“Are you positive? I mean this is the world’s hottest pepper we’re talking about here—”
“It’ll hurt a lot less than being shot two more fucking times,” he snapped. I raised my hands with a grin.
“Suit yourself,” I said. “Pepper it is. As long as you eat the whole thing, I’ll let you walk free.”
He looked up at me. “Are you fucking with me, Bennett? You’ll really let me walk out of here after what happened?”
How fucking pathetic.
Even when looking death in the face, he still had hope that he’d get to leave this basement alive. As many times as he’d been down here to assist me in my “meetings,” he should’ve known how this would work. No one that was brought to a meeting left out of here alive, no matter how close we were.
“Sure. You eat the pepper and I’ll let you out of here. But if you keep talking with the police, you won’t get a second chance.”
“I swear it won’t ever happen again, Benny. I can promise you that,” he exclaimed. I fought the urge to laugh. Him snitching after tonight was the least of my worries.
I opened the glass box, looking away from it when the smell alone made my eyes water. Picking it up by the stem, I held it out to Joseph.
He hesitated for a moment, wrinkling his nose when the heat of the pepper slapped him in the face. I watched him as he blew out a breath and finally bit the pepper off the stem.
At first, nothing happened. I was almost convinced that my added surprise hadn’t worked. But then his face turned red as he grabbed his throat, coughing. Leaning against the desk, I grinned at him as he gasped and coughed, clawing at his throat.
“What the fuck, Bennett?” he wheezed in between coughing.
“There was one teeny, tiny detail I left out, buddy,” I teased. “While you’re actually eating a Carolina Reaper pepper, I injected a little bit of pure capsaicin into it for extra ‘kick.’”
“I can’t….breathe….” he panted, his eyes darting around the room.
“Did you know that pure capsaicin is at the top of the Scoville Chile heat chart? In fact, it’s so hot that it isn’t recommended for human consumption,” I started, ignoring his pleas.
“It’s so hot that it causes your body to have a violent reaction to it in order to protect itself. To protect the rest of the layers in your mouth, you get blisters in the places the capsaicin touched.” I paused and looked down at him with a bright smile. “That’s why it’s hard for you to breathe.”
Joseph’s black eyes bulged out of his head as blood dripped from his mouth. His tongue and the inner part of his lips were covered in red blisters as he coughed and gagged. There was nothing more satisfying than watching the rat die a slow death.
I squatted down in front of him. “I always told you that mouth of yours would get you killed,” I said, just as he fell off the chair and onto the floor. His body jerked violently as bloody foam came out of his mouth, his eyes bulging so far out of his head that I thought they’d pop out. “You can’t win when you play games with the devil. Save a seat for me in Hell.”
Bruce and I watched until he took his final twitches, blood pooling from his mouth.
“You’re getting more and more creative when it comes to killing people,” Bruce mused.
“I have to say I’m pretty impressed myself,” I said with a chuckle just as my phone rang. “Get rid of the body, will ya?”
“Will do,” Bruce said and got to work.
I took a few steps away from him and retrieved my phone from my pocket, seeing my father’s name on the screen.
“Yeah,” I said upon answering.
“Has it been taken care of?” he asked, skipping the formalities.
I glanced back to see Bruce wrapping Joseph up in a black tarp. “Don’t I always take care of things?”
“Very well. You’ll be paid handsomely for getting rid of the rat, but now we have another issue.”
“Well, I’m on a roll tonight, so what’s up?”
“Come to my office. There’s too much that can’t be said over the phone.”
“Okay then. I’ll be there as soon as I clean up here,” I said and hung up.
Bruce looked up at me. “Everything cool?” he asked.
I rubbed the back of my neck. When it came to meetings with my father, they always made me nervous. You never knew if you were on his good or bad side and he rarely invited people to his home office. Even while growing up, I was never allowed in his office. Hopefully my night wouldn’t end like Joseph’s when I got there.
“Yeah. Let’s hurry up and wrap this up though. Gotta meet with Command.”
Walking into the mansion I grew up in was bitter sweet. While there were good memories, there were so many more bad ones. Once upon a time, my mother and baby sister made this place brighter despite the darkness looming around my father. But soon enough, the darkness swallowed them too, along with my innocence.
I fought the urge to look at the winding staircase in the foyer, but it didn’t stop the flashbacks of my mother’s body laying on them with a gunshot wound in the center of her forehead with my bloodied sister in her arms. The day my mother and sister were gunned down was the day the innocent Bennett died. I was now nothing but a shell of pain and anger, reborn from death, darkness, and destruction.
“Mr. Moreno, your father will see you now,” a voice said, breaking me out of my painful memories. I turned to see Yolanda, my father’s housekeeper, standing in the hallway, waiting for me to follow her.
I pushed the thoughts of carnage from my mind and followed her down the hall to my father’s office.
How he could still live in this house after what’d happened was beyond me. I’d booked it out of here as soon as I made enough money to buy my own. He always told me that people had their own ways of dealing with grief, and maybe staying here was his way of dealing with his guilt. After all, those bullets were meant for him, not them.
My father, Wilson Moreno, stood from his desk when I entered and walked over to me, pulling me into a tight hug.
“Always good to see you, son,” he said, his deep voice resonating around me.
“Good to see you, Dad,” I said when he finally pulled away. He looked like he usually did, wearing a black buttoned-up dress shirt and tan slacks. His hair had a bit more gray in it than it did when I saw him a few months ago. “Keeping the grays this time, old man?”
“The ladies seem to love the silver, so why not?” he joked, clapping me on the shoulder before walking over to his desk. “Cigar?” He flipped the lid on the cigar box and looked over at me.
I shook my head, looking at the picture of him and my mom that sat on the bookshelf. Pain constricted my chest looking into her smiling face. I still remembered how her blonde hair would tickle my face when she’d snuggle me close. Her favorite Chanel perfume was stained into my memory, and her voice still sounded in my head when I missed her too much.
“Think mom would’ve liked your hair?” I teased when he came to stand next to me.
“I think so,” he murmured. “Come, have a seat.”
I ground my teeth and nodded, trying not to let it bother me at how dismissive he was anytime I talked about her. Or how almost all of her pictures that used to be around the house were now gone. It was almost as if she was never here aside from this one picture he’d had of her in his office. I followed behind him and sat in the chair across from his desk as he settled behind it.
“So what’s this about?” I asked.
He lit his cigar and sat in his chair. “We have a little situation,” he said and took a long pull from his cigar and exhaling the smoke. “One of our packages has gone missing.”
“What package? And missing since when?” I asked.
“A girl,” he simply said and took another puff.
“A girl?” I flipped through my mental inventory of all the girls we’d recently gotten. All of them should’ve been accounted for. I was always careful about that because one fuck up could be the end of us. “I don’t know anything about a missing girl—”
He held up his hand. “This one isn’t on you. This girl…she was given to me in exchange of a deal,” he started.
“So…what does that have to do with me if it’s not one of my girls?” I asked, growing impatient.
He pushed a folder across the desk to me and nodded toward it. “Go on,” he said.
I ground my teeth and plucked the folder from the desk, opening it on my lap. A picture of a gorgeous woman with long, chestnut hair, bright brown eyes, and succulent pink lips caught my eye immediately. This girl would bring me so much money once I add her to my stable, I mused. Men would pay big bucks to have their way with such an innocent face. I could only imagine how she’d look underneath the sweater dress she wore in the photo.
“Who is she?” I finally asked, shifting through different photos of her.
My father stood and walked over to his mini bar. “She’s Aurora DuPont,” he stated, tossing a couple ice cubes into a glass.
There was something about her last name that sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it. As if reading my mind, my father continued.
“She’s Sergio DuPont’s daughter,” he said, grabbing a bottle of Bourbon and pouring it into the glass. “You remember Sergio, right?”
“Yeah,” I answered idly, looking down at the photo of the man. He used to scare the shit out of me when I was a child. His wild black hair, mean dark eyes, and the scar that traveled clear across his face in a diagonal. He was my father’s right hand man back in the day, but then he just fell off the face of the earth. “So why is his daughter the missing package?”
“When her mother became pregnant, Sergio wanted to ‘clean up his act,’” my father drawled sarcastically as he came back to his seat. “He said he wanted out of the life so that he could keep his family safe. As a family man, I could respect that.”
“Yes, you can’t get out of this life alive. That’s where the girl comes in,” he said, keeping his eyes on me as he took a sip of his drink.
I looked down at the picture. My father would never let someone leave the business alive. If Sergio was still alive and my father let him walk away, that only left…
“He bargained the girl for his own life then,” I stated.
My father smiled, a mischievous glint appearing in his brown eyes. “You’re too smart for your own good, you know,” he said, raising his glass to me. “You’re correct.”
I closed the folder. “So what happens now?”
“That’s where you come in. See, Sergio thought if he changed the girl’s name and moved her clear across the country, she’d be safe. So the first thing that needs to happen is that Sergio must pay for breaking his blood contract. And once he’s dealt with, I need you to travel to South Carolina to retrieve the girl.”
I ran a hand down my face. Out of all the things I did for our family’s business, traveling to retrieve “packages” was my least favorite. It was a lot different than taking things in your own territory. On one hand, I didn’t know if her father had paid people to protect her or if there was already a trap there waiting for me. But on the other hand, I trusted my father knew what he was doing. Though I questioned his sanity at times, he was always thorough in his plans and never sent me into a situation where we didn’t have an advantage.
“So you want me to go to South Carolina to get her and bring her back here to California for…what? What do you want me to do with her? Kill her? Sell her? Make her work?” I asked.
He waved a dismissive hand at me as he took a gulp from his glass. “It makes me no difference. Sell her, keep her for yourself, whatever. She just needs to understand that she’s now Moreno property. I have faith you’ll break her in well, yes?”
“Of course,” I replied, a sinister grin on lips as her face flashed in my mind. The thought of breaking her actually made me excited. My fingers tingled in anticipation at the thought of watching the hope leave from her eyes and the will to fight leave her body. I couldn’t wait to see the fear that always came when they realized this was their new life and there was no way they could escape it alive. And there was nothing that I loved more than to break away every innocent piece of their world, leaving them with nothing but the exposed ugliness and evil that was now their life.
“But before you think about the girl, deal with Sergio,” my father said, interrupting my thoughts.
“But why now though? I mean if he gave her up before she was born, why are you just now trying to get her?”
“We’d made an agreement that once she turned 18, he would hand her over. But he sent her off somewhere under a new name and then disappeared himself. It took a couple of years, but we’ve found both his location as well as hers.” He shook his head and finished the rest of his Bourbon. “I should’ve killed him back when I had the chance.”
“I’ll take care of it,” I said as I stood, clutching the folder in my hand. “I’m guessing you’re going to allow me to use your jet? There’s no way I’m flying commercial with an emotional woman.”
“Everything of mine is at your disposal. Let me know when you’re ready to leave and I’ll have my people get everything you need,” he said with a nod.
“Okay then. I guess I’ll get with my men and make a plan on how to deal with Sergio,” I said.
“Be sure to keep me in the loop. You know I don’t like being in the dark,” he said.
I nodded. “Will do.”
As soon as I turned to head for the door, his voice stopped me once more. “What happened with Joseph?”
I slowly turned back around to face him and shrugged. “He’s dead,” I stated, my tone flat.
He let out a low whistle and shook his head. “Ouch,” he said. “I’m sure he suffered through that.”
“He did,” I stated. “Is that all? I need to get to work.”
“Always the eager one,” he said with a small smile as he stood and walked over to me. “Just be careful out there. We’re all we have.”
We’re all we have. It was that one sentence that reminded me that he was still my father and not just my boss. That he still had a sliver of humanity left inside of him after my mom died, no matter how small of a sliver it was. When you lived a life of crime, it was hard to show that familial love and affection when you had a shit ton of enemies waiting to exploit you for that weakness.
He clapped me on the shoulder with a grin as he opened the door. “Keep me updated and let me know when to start preparing the jet,” he said.
“I will. See ya,” I said and left his office.
Blocking all past memories from my mind, I focused on the new task at hand.
First, deal with Sergio for trying to cheat my father out of what belongs to us.
Then finally, go to South Carolina to pick up my new toy.
Chapter 2 - Aurora
“Babe, you’ve been obsessing over numbers since it happened,” my boyfriend Heath murmured, gently taking the iPad from my hand.
I frowned. “But what if it was a mistake? A glitch or something?”
It was still hard to believe that my cosmetics company had not only sold out all of our Puppy Love eyeshadow palettes and lipsticks, but it also raked in one million dollars in an hour.
The whole launch was doomed when the idea was first born. People bitched about the colors not being bright or flashy enough. Critics claimed the palette was nothing special and that donating a portion of the proceeds to a local animal shelter wasn’t enough to make people waste money on it. So imagine my surprise when it launched and sold out in an hour—breaking the website in the process—and brought in a million dollars with raving reviews from beauty influencers. There had to be some kind of mistake.
“Nessa, you’re the savviest business woman I know. You worked hard for this and you deserve every bit of success that you’re getting right now,” he murmured, taking me into his arms.
“You think so?” I asked with a smirk as I wrapped my arms around his neck.
His bright green eyes sparkled with love and adoration. “Oh, I know so,” he stated and devoured my mouth.
A low moaned slipped from my throat as his tongue found mine, his hands moving down my curves to settle on my ass. I slipped my hands under his white t-shirt, relishing in the feel of his tight abs and chest.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” I murmured in between kisses.
“A quickie on the counter before everyone gets here?” he asked with a wicked grin.
I bit my lip and nodded. “Bingo. Take this off,” I whispered, lightly tugging on his shirt.
He grinned and reached down to remove his shirt when the elevator doors that gave entry into the penthouse pinged and rolled open.
“Party’s here, bitches!” Savannah sang as she entered the penthouse. “Vanessa, where are you?”
“Or not,” he said with a chuckle. “I really wish they’d learn what a call button is for.”
I gave him a quick peck and turned back to the uncut produce still sitting on the kitchen island.
“I’ll make it up to you later,” I promised. “Can you help me with the veggies?”
“I told you before that you didn’t have to do this. You should be relaxing for your own celebratory dinner,” he said, grabbing a knife and settling next to me.
I shrugged. “It’s not a big deal. I need something to keep me busy so that I don’t keep analyzing numbers.”
“Vanessa?” Kandice sang out. “Where are you? We have wine!”
“Kitchen!” I called out, popping a sliced carrot into my mouth.
Vanessa and Kandice entered the kitchen with their boyfriends in tow, moving over to hug me.
“If it isn’t the one-hour millionaire! I still can’t believe it! Congrats, girl!” Kandice said as she squeezed me.
“Thank you,” I gushed. “It’s still crazy to think about. I can’t believe it myself.”
“You better believe it. You’re going to be the biggest makeup mogul in the beauty industry pretty soon,” Heath said and kissed me.
“Thanks, babe,” I said.
Savannah looked at all the ingredients on the island and rolled her eyes. “I know this is your house and all, but why are you cooking your own celebration dinner?” she asked.
“Yeah, I asked her the same thing,” Heath agreed, smirking at me.
I scoffed, playfully jabbing him in the side. “I wanted to be helpful! I needed to do something to keep myself from overanalyzing the numbers. I just—”
“Okay, okay, that’s a sign that you need wine pronto,” Kandice interrupted. “Let your head chef boyfriend here put Kyle and Ash to work and you come relax with your besties.”
“Yeah, go relax, babe. I think we can handle it. Right, guys?”
“Yeah, the men got this,” Kandice’s boyfriend, Ash, said, rolling up his sleeves.
“There’s nothing more sexy than seeing a man work his way around the kitchen,” Kandice said, standing on her tiptoes to kiss him.
“As long as someone tells me what to do, I’m down,” Savannah’s boyfriend, Kyle, said with a shrug.
“Yes, please keep an eye on him. He’s very talented. He can even burn air,” she teased. When he tried to put an arm around her, it didn’t go unnoticed that she stepped out of his embrace and shook her head. An awkward silence hung in the air for a moment until Heath cleared his throat.
“How the fuck do you burn air, dude?” he teased.
“Well, you guys have plenty of time to rehash that story,” Savannah said, looping her arm through mine. “Okay, ladies! The wine calls us!”
I looked to Heath. “Are you sure you don’t mind?” I asked.
He smiled his beautiful smile and leaned over to kiss me. “Yeah, it’s fine. I’ll let you know when everything is ready,” he murmured and kissed me again. “Love you always.”
“Love you forever,” I said before Savannah dragged me off to the living room.
The three of us settled on the white sectional couch, Kandice placing three wine glasses on the glass coffee table. Savannah tossed her fiery red hair over her shoulder and grabbed a wine glass as soon as Kandice poured wine into it.
“Let me be the first to say how proud I am of you,” Kandice started, passing me a glass.
I smiled. “Aww, thanks. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the best friends a girl could ask for.”
“And the best boyfriend!” Heath called out the kitchen.
“Shut it, Heath! You’re stealing our moment,” Savannah threw back before smiling at me. “Now what were you saying about your wonderful friends?”
“You guys are the best and I love you,” I said and laughed.
“And we love you too!” they said in unison as we clinked our glasses together.
As we talked about my cosmetics company, I noticed Savannah glancing back at Kyle with a frown. Seeing their interaction in the kitchen earlier, something was going on that she hadn’t told us about.
“Everything okay?” I finally asked, placing my hand on her knee.
She gave me a small smile and nodded. “Yeah, I’m good.”
We spent the next 45 minutes catching up on life and work. When we got to the topic of relationships, Savannah grew quiet and focused on drinking more wine.
“Are you sure everything’s okay? I mean you and Kyle are good, right?” Kandice asked.
“Food’s ready, ladies!” Heath called from the kitchen before Savannah could respond.
“Good, I’m starving,” she said and hopped off the couch.
Kandice and I watched her as she made her way to the dining room table, settling for the seat at the head of the table.
“Has she said anything to you about Kyle?” Kandice whispered as we got off the couch.
“No, but I’ll get to the bottom of it before they leave,” I said.
I sat at the table just as Heath put a plate of filet mignon, mashed potatoes, and mixed veggies in front of me.
“Thanks, babe. It looks like it came from a restaurant,” I said.
He leaned down and kissed me. “Well, tonight is a night to celebrate your achievement. You deserved something special,” he said.
Ash and Kyle placed plates in front of Kandice and Savannah before returning to the table with their own plates. Savannah took another sip of wine.
“She’s lucky to have you, Heath,” she said with a slight hiccup. “Every girl deserves a guy that treats her right. Especially a faithful one.”
Heath looked at me with a raised brow, which I could only shrug at in response. Another bout of silence hung over the table, the only sounds coming from the clinking of forks on the plate.
“This is really good,” I finally said. “You guys did a good job.”
“Thanks,” Heath said and gestured to Kyle with his steak knife. “He cooked the veggies without burning anything. Savannah, you would’ve been proud.”
“Yeah. Sooo proud,” she drawled, rolling her eyes.
“So Vanessa, what’s next for the company? I mean with the success of your latest launch, you’re going to skyrocket now,” Kandice said.
Thank goodness for the subject change. The tension on Savannah’s end of the table with Kyle made this whole dinner uncomfortable. The more she drank, the more worried I became. Drunk Savannah was an emotional mess and the last thing I wanted was to spend a night of celebrating consoling my drunk friend while she threw up everywhere.
“We create the next product,” I said with a shrug. “It’s still hard to believe that I sold out in an hour and made that much money so quickly. I still pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.”
“You deserve every bit of success you have, baby,” Heath said, reaching over to put his hand on mine. “You work so hard and I’m happy to see that it’s finally paying off.”
“Thank you,” I said, feeling warm all over.
It was amazing to be surrounded by the people who’d pretty much become my family. After years of living in fear and looking over my shoulder, it’d been hard to trust people enough to allow them into my world. For so long, I’d been empty as I roamed the world alone but Heath, Savannah, and Kandice came into my life at the right time and reminded me that you could always create your own family when the one you were given abandoned you. To have these people here to celebrate my biggest achievement meant the world to me, and I couldn’t be more thankful.
“I’d actually like to make a toast,” Heath said, grabbing his glass of whiskey and holding it up. His eyes locked with mine, a small smile on his lips as his green eyes sparkled with love and pride. “Vanessa, it’s been amazing watching you grow into the business woman that you are today. It seems like yesterday when we lived in a small studio apartment and you were up at all hours of the night mixing lip stick formulas. Now you have a multimillion-dollar business and just cleared a million dollars in only an hour. I want you to know that I’m so damn proud of you and so happy that I get to watch you on this journey. I love you.”
“I love you too,” I gushed, tears burning my eyes. We all took a sip of our drinks, but Heath didn’t sit back down.
“Also,” he continued and took a deep breath. “On top of being on this journey with you and watching you grow, I also want to spend the rest of my life with you.” My heart pounded in my chest as he got on one knee in front of me.
“Heath,” I whispered.
“I love you so much, Vanessa. Before I met you, settling down anytime soon wasn’t on my agenda, but I can’t see myself being with anyone but you. I want nothing more than to have you as my wife.”
Despite everyone cheering around the table, I could barely hear them over my own heartbeat. Heath looked up at me as he pulled out a ring box, revealing the most beautiful diamond ring I’d ever seen.
“Vanessa Taylor, will you marry me?” he murmured.
“Yes!” I squealed, bouncing in my seat as he slipped the ring on my finger.
I stood and hugged him tight, tears streaming down my face as so many different emotions strangled me. Underneath all love, excitement, and happiness that coursed through me, there was a sliver of dread nagging at the corners of my mind. With all of the good things happening lately, something was bound to go wrong.
You’re being paranoid like Dad, I reminded myself, forcing myself to stay in the moment. I was fine, and everything else would be fine. No one was after me, despite what my father thought. I was safe, engaged, and living my best possible life. Everything would be fine.
“Oh my goodness!” I exclaimed, wiping my eyes. “This has literally been the best week of my life.”
“Speech! Speech! Speech!” everyone around the table chanted.
I giggled and picked up my wine glass. “Okay, okay. So first, I want to thank you all for coming,” I started, wiping away a few stray tears. “You guys have been my family for the last few years and I’m so grateful to have you guys here. I wouldn’t have been able to do all of this without your support. Thank you guys so much.”
“Oh, my turn! My turn!” Savannah said and stood up with her glass. “I just want to say that I’m so proud of you, Vanessa, and I love you like a sister. Congrats on your business achievement and your engagement. You’re so lucky to be with such a great guy like Heath and not with a guy who can’t even wear a condom when he cheats.”
The table became so quiet you could hear a pin drop as everyone looked at her. Kyle put his face in his hand and shook his head as Savannah shrugged.
“Cheers to you guys,” she said and chugged the rest of her wine. We all sat there in slight disbelief as she walked away from the table and out of the sliding door onto the terrace.
“What the hell just happened?” Heath asked.
Kandice pushed her chair out from the table. “I’ll go check on her,” she murmured.
“Yeah, me too,” I said and looked to Heath. “I’m sorry. I’ll be right back.”
Kandice and I walked out of the glass sliding door and into the cooling summer air. The view from my terrace gave me the perfect view of the Greenville, SC skyline, constantly reminding me of how lucky I was. Despite practically being abandoned by my family without any kind of explanation, I’d made my life into something worth being proud of. Maybe sending me across the country was the best thing my parents could’ve done for me after all.
“Kyle cheated and she’s pregnant,” Savannah said without turning to face us.
Kandice and I exchanged glances before focusing back on her.
“How’d you find out?” I asked, glancing through the window at the guys awkwardly still sitting at the table.
“The woman called while he was in the shower a few days ago. I’d answered his phone, which isn’t nothing new. I mean he asks me to answer it sometimes, so I answered her call and she got really defensive and asked why another woman was answering her boyfriend’s phone.”
“Yikes,” Kandice said and took a gulp of her wine.
“I just pretended to be his sister and told her he’d call when he finished fixing my shower.” Savannah sighed. “I went through his texts after that. They’d been having an affair for the last few months. The nights where he says he has to work overnight at the hospital, he’s usually with her. And the nights he’s with me is when he tells her he’s working overnight.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said, moving over to hug her.
“She’d sent him pictures of her ultrasound and he’d said how he was so excited about becoming a dad. I don’t know what I’m more upset about really, the fact that he cheated or the fact that he’s going around acting like nothing has happened when he has a whole secret life he’s living.”
“You deserve so much better than him, Savannah,” Kandice said, stroking her hair. “Plus, Kyle isn’t all that anyway. You said his dick was weird.”
Savannah laughed and wiped her tears. “It really is weird,” she said. “And small, too.”
“See? Now you can make yourself available to guys who don’t have small, weird dicks,” I added with a grin.
She looked up at us and smiled. “Thanks, guys. I just…sometimes I feel like something is wrong with me because all of my relationships suck.”
“Maybe take a break from dating and figure out what you want. When the time is right, the right one will come to you,” Kandice said.
Savannah nodded. “You’re right. I think that’s what I’m going to do for now.” She looked up at me. “I’m sorry for dropping that bomb at the table. I probably ruined tonight.”
“No, it’s fine. I figured something was wrong the moment you guys got here. But Kandice and I are here for you if you need us,” I reassured her, giving her a tight squeeze.
When we looked through the glass door, Kyle was no longer at the table. Savannah scoffed.
“I hope he left,” she muttered and then sighed. “Let’s go back inside before dinner gets cold.”
“Crazy night, huh?” Heath said as we finished cleaning up. I sighed and leaned against the counter.
“I don’t even know how to describe it. I feel bad for Savannah, you know?”
“Yeah, that’s pretty fucked up. As soon as you guys went outside, he started babbling about having to leave and damn near teleported out of here. I hope she’ll be okay.”
“I hope so, too,” I said. Heath put down the dishcloth and crossed over to me, wrapping his arms around my waist.
“But the best part about tonight was you becoming my fiancée,” he murmured. “I can’t wait to make you my wife.”
I smiled. “I can’t wait either,” I said. “Vanessa Grady has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?”
“Mrs. Vanessa Grady. Don’t forget the Mrs,” he corrected and kissed me.
“We’re getting married,” I whispered as I gazed at my ring.
He took my hand into his and kissed it. “We are. Now about what we started earlier…”
I squeaked in surprise when he scooped me up and put me over his shoulder. He walked out of the kitchen and into the living room, putting me onto the couch. The moonlight pouring through the floor-to-ceiling windows washed over him, casting shadows on his broad shoulders and face. I watched as he slowly pulled off his shirt and tossed it aside.
“How did I get so lucky?” I murmured.
He joined me on the couch, settling between my legs. “I ask myself the same thing,” he replied and devoured my mouth.
Chills ran up and down my spine as his warm hands slid underneath my shirt. His strong hands squeezed my breasts through my bra, a low growl of lust rumbling in his throat.
“Take me,” I whispered in between kisses.
“I plan to, doll face,” he replied lifting my shirt. I sat up and pulled my shirt off. He’d barely given me enough time to get my bra off before he was kissing my shoulders and chest. My pussy throbbed with need as he sucked my nipple into my mouth, his fingers caressing the other one.
A soft moan left my lips as I ran my fingers through his brown hair, watching as he lapped at my peaks until they were both hard. He moved down to unbutton my jeans, pulling them down my legs as he peppered my thighs with kisses. Just as he grabbed the top of my panties, my phone rang on the coffee table.
“Ignore it,” I breathed, anxious to feel his tongue on me. He grinned in response and pulled my panties down my legs, settling in between my thighs.
“Mmm,” he groaned as he took my clit into his mouth. I gripped his hair tight in my hand, arching my back as his tongue started a delicious assault on my pussy.
“Yes, just like that,” I moaned. My legs trembled in pleasure as his tongue moved faster against my clit, the pressure of an orgasm slowly building within me.
My ringing phone cracked through my hazy cloud of lust.
“It might be Savannah,” Heath murmured from between my legs, though he didn’t stop what he was doing.
“I’ll call her back in the morning. Keep going,” I moaned, my hips bucking against his mouth in desperate need.
As soon as the phone stopped ringing, it started up again.
“Fuck!” I exclaimed, sitting up. Heath sat up as well.
“It’s okay. We have all night,” he said and kissed me. I sighed as I grabbed the phone, but it wasn’t Savannah’s name that showed up on my screen.
“Can you give me a minute?” I asked him. He nodded, stood up, and headed into the kitchen.
I answered the phone, already knowing who it was without even recognizing the number. It was only one person that called me from different numbers.
“Do you know how late it is?” I asked in a harsh whisper.
“Hello to you, too, Aurora,” my father said. “I know it’s late, but this is important.”
I ground my teeth, shivering when the air conditioning kicked on and cold air washed over my naked body.
“What is it now?”
“Things are heating up here and you’re not safe where you are. You need to find somewhere else to go.” he said.
I held the phone away from my ear in disbelief, my previous irritation morphing into anger.
“What?” I exclaimed.
“You need to find somewhere else to go. It’s bad enough that your public company has put you on their radar and—”
“No, I’m not going to keep doing this with you,” I stated through gritted teeth.
“Don’t call me that,” I spat. “I’m sick of living in fear and watching over my shoulder when I haven’t done a damn thing to warrant that.”
“You don’t know what you’re up against,” he replied, his tone sharp.
“And whose fault is that? I’m not the one who left my 8-year-old at a train station with a stranger without so much as an explanation as to why I had to leave while you and Mom stayed in California!”
He sighed deeply. “You wouldn’t have understood back then, my love.”
“I’m fully capable of understanding now and you still refuse to tell me,” I snapped.
“It’s safer for you if you didn’t know,” he said, which had been the same answer he’d given me for years any time I asked him about it.
I scoffed and shook my head. “You know what? I’m done with this. Everything in my life is finally falling into place right now. My business is successful, I just got engaged—”
“Engaged? You know that’s not safe for you to do. You’ll just be putting someone else in danger!”
“I’m not letting you dictate my life with your paranoid delusions that someone is after me,” I stated firmly. “I’ve established a life here and I’m not leaving it behind just because you say so. Please don’t call me again.”
I hung up and tossed the phone on the couch next to me. The feelings from earlier came back to the forefront. Something in my gut told me that the things happening in my life right now was too good to be true. With everything happening in my favor, I knew the other shoe would drop and my father would find some way to ruin everything with his bullshit.
“Everything okay?” Heath asked.
I looked up at him to see him standing on the other side of the coffee table with a glass of whiskey in his hand, his jeans unbuttoned. As much as I wanted to tell him I wasn’t fine, I couldn’t bring myself to say it. Would I be putting him in danger by marrying him? Was someone truly after me? My father was convinced someone was coming after me when I turned 18, but they never did. I only heard from him when there was a problem, but how the hell was I supposed to know if this was the real deal or a false alarm?
“Who was that on the phone?” he asked and took a swig of his drink.
I ran my hand through my hair and sighed. “My dad.”
“The guy that pretty much abandoned you when you were a kid?” he asked. He came around the table and sat next to me on the couch. “What did he want?”
“Just up to his usual bullshit and paranoid delusions,” I said with a shake of my head. “I don’t want to think about it though.”
“Don’t worry about him. Whatever he says is gonna happen, he’s wrong. Nothing has happened, right?”
“And you know I’ll protect you from anyone, right?”
I gave him a small smile. “Of course.”
“Okay then. Don’t worry about what he says. Everything is going to be fine,” he said and kissed me.
I took his glass from him and took a sip, letting the alcohol warm me. “You’re right. But enough about him. We have unfinished business to handle.”
Chapter 3 - Bennett
“I’m sorry we had to meet under these circumstances,” I said to Sergio as he sat before me, bound to a chair. He glared at me, blood running down the side of his head as his wife, Farrah, sat next to him whimpering. “I think you know why I’m here.”
“You’ll never get her,” Sergio spat. He growled when Bruce punched him in the face once more. Farrah screamed.
“Please! You don’t have to do this,” she begged, tears streaming down her face.
“I actually do,” I said with a deep sigh. “You can actually thank your husband for this.”
“Leave my wife out of it,” he sneered.
I chuckled and narrowed my eyes at Farrah. “Do you know why I’m here? Or rather, do you know why I’m looking for your daughter?”
Her teary eyes widened. “He said that your father would try to punish him for leaving that life behind. But please, she’s innocent in all of this,” she begged.
I tsked and shook my head. “So he didn’t tell you everything,” I said and looked back to Sergio.
“Don’t,” he said, cutting his eyes between me and Farrah.
“Farrah, my father would’ve killed him a long time ago for trying to leave, but—”
“Please, don’t!” he exclaimed, pulling at the zip ties that bound him.
“Will you shut the fuck up?” I snapped before smiling back at Farrah. “As I was saying, your coward husband traded your daughter’s life for his. He signed a blood contract with my father stating that when your daughter turned 18, she’d be Moreno property.”
“What?” she said in disbelief, looking at her husband.
“She was doomed before she was even born. And since your husband thought he could outsmart us by hiding her, that’s considered a breach of contract.” I turned to Sergio. “And you’ve worked with my father long enough to know what happens when you back out of a contract.”
“Then kill me and leave her alone,” he barked.
I grinned in amusement as he bared his teeth at me. It was almost comical how he thought it was as easy as him giving his life. If that was the case, he should’ve gone ahead and did that to begin with instead of bargaining his daughter.
“You know we don’t operate like that, Sergio. It hasn’t been so long that you forgot how we do things, has it?”
“I won’t tell you where she is.”
I laughed. “I already know where she is. And once I’m done here, I’m going to go get my property. And man, I can’t wait to get my hands on her.” His face turned red with anger. If he weren’t bound to a chair, I wouldn’t doubt that he would’ve tried to kill me. “I have so many plans for her.”
“Don’t you fucking hurt her,” he growled, spittle flying from his mouth.
I smiled. “I’ll do whatever I want with my toys,” I told him and gave him a firm pat on the cheek.
“Please,” he begged, his tone changing from his earlier growl. “She’s innocent in all this.”
“Still doesn’t change what’s going to happen to her.” I looked at the picture of her that I’d brought along with me before holding it up in front of him. “How does it make you feel to know that your daughter is going to be my little slut?”
He only stared at me, the expression on his face hard. Farrah only shook her head, silent tears dripping down her cheeks.
“How does it feels to know that she’ll be screaming soon when I stuff her full of my cock, knowing that it’s your fault she’s in such a position?”
He shook his head. “Please,” he whispered, a single tear rolling down his cheek.
“She’s going to be so confused, so scared,” I murmured, squatting down in front of him. “Fear is an interesting emotion, you know?”
“Bennett, I’m begging you.”
“Did you know the body’s response to fear is to lock up? Just imagine how good her pussy is going to feel squeezing my cock out of fear, all because you thought your life was more important than hers,” I concluded and stood up.
“I can’t believe you, you fucking bastard!” Farrah screamed at him. “I’d kill you myself if I wasn’t strapped to this chair!”
“Oh, would you?” I asked with a raised eyebrow. “You sure about that?”
“I’m sure,” she ground out.
I crossed my arms across my chest and grinned in amusement. “Bruce, cut her loose,” I said.
Bruce moved over and cut the zip ties from her wrist and ankles with a razor blade.
“Don’t try anything stupid, bitch,” he growled, pulling her out of the chair.
“Here are your options, Mrs. DuPont. You kill him, I’ll let you go free. Don’t, and I’ll kill you both anyway,” I said.
Sergio looked up to his wife with tears in his eyes. “My love, please. I didn’t want this to happen,” he begged. “I’ll fix this.”
“How can you fix this, Sergio? They’re going to look for her until they have her. You did this to her!” she screamed, slapping him across the face.
“Oh, this is getting good,” I mused. “But first, I need to record your final words to your daughter. You know, as an insurance policy.”
Bruce pulled out a camera and passed it to me. Turning it on, I turned it on myself and smiled.
“Aurora, hey. You don’t know me yet, but you will soon. Though, when you see this, I’ll have you in my possession. Anyway, I’m with your lovely parents here.” I turned the camera onto Farrah and Sergio. “You’re probably wondering what’s going on, but lucky you, I’ll tell you what kind of situation you’re in. Your coward father here basically traded your life so that he could stay alive after leaving my father’s organization. He sent you to South Carolina, thinking we’d never find you, but surprise! Now daddy has to pay, and it looks like your mommy is going to do the honors.”
I pulled my gun from my waistband and held it out to Farrah. She looked at me with wide eyes before looking back at the gun, hesitating.
“Having second thoughts already?” I taunted.
Her hands trembled as she took the gun from my hand, holding it awkwardly in her hand. Sergio squirmed in his chair.
“Farrah, honey, look at me,” he pleaded. “You don’t have to do this. He’s just trying to turn us against each other!”
I held my hands up. “Actually, I didn’t do shit,” I said. “I’m just the messenger. I’m not the one who made the blood contract.”
“You’ve lied to me for years, Sergio,” she whispered, tears rolling down her full cheeks. “You told me the reason we had to send her away because she was in danger because they’d try to attack those you loved since you left that life behind.”
“She was in danger—”
“But it was from your own doing!” she screamed, aiming the gun at him.
“Oh, this is good footage. So much emotion; so much drama! You’re doing amazing, Farrah. The audience is gonna love this,” I said, pointing the camera at them as Bruce snickered next to me.
“It was the only way I could get out then. Even if they would’ve killed me, they would’ve gone after you too,” Sergio said.
“He’s actually right about that,” I said with a nod.
Sergio glared at me. “Shut the fuck up. You’re making this worse,” he snapped and looked back to his wife. “Baby, listen to me. Don’t do this. You can’t win with the Morenos. Every avenue you take with them will lead in death.”
“Then what does it matter?” she whispered.
“Wait, before you pull the trigger, I still need his last words,” I cut in. “Anything you want to say to your daughter, Sergio?”
He slowly brought his eyes up to the camera. Sorrow and regret filled his gaze as tears crested his eyes once more.
“Aurora, baby, I’m sorry,” he said and shook his head. “This is all my fault. I should’ve thought about the long-term consequences of my actions and I didn’t. I never intended to hurt you, and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. I’m so, so sorry.”
“Annnnd scene!” I exclaimed and then nodded to Farrah. “Go on with the grand finale.”
“I’m sorry, Sergio,” she cried, her hands shaking as she raised the gun once more.
“My love, please. Don’t!” he exclaimed.
The gun went off and Sergio gasped. Farrah dropped the gun and fell to her knees, crawling over to him. A grin formed on my lips as I walked over and retrieved the gun from the floor, watching as Farrah held onto her dying husband.
Sergio gasped for air, the hole in his chest leaking blood.
“I’m so sorry,” Farrah cried, holding his face in her hands. “I love you so much. I’m so sorry, Sergio.”
I rolled my eyes, but continued filming them, as the best part was coming up.
“I…love…you,” Sergio choked out right before he took his last breath.
I moved around to stand closer in order to catch Farrah’s wide eyes search Sergio’s face, smiling when the realization of his death hit her.
“Sergio! No, no, no, no!” screamed, her head falling to his lap.
“What did you expect would happen after shooting the man in the chest, you murderer?” I asked.
She only sobbed in response, wracked with grief. I handed Bruce my gun.
“Take off the suppressor,” I murmured. Once he did, I passed him the camera and took the gun back from him, walking over to Farrah. “Still filming?”
“Yep,” Bruce said.
I looked down at the distraught woman. I couldn’t begin to imagine how it felt to have just killed your lover and lose your child forever. But I wasn’t in the business of feeling emotions or caring about how someone else felt.
“Farrah,” I called out.
She slowly looked up at me, makeup running down her face as her sobs turned into hiccups. I held out my gun to her.
“It’s your turn now,” I murmured.
Her forehead creased in confusion as she shook her head. “I don’t understand. I did what you asked.”
“You should’ve listen to your husband,” I said with a grin. “You can’t win playing games with the devil. So now it’s your turn. Take the gun.”
She stared at me for a long moment, before her shaky hand took the gun.
“Good girl. Now put it to your head,” I instructed.
“God, no. Please don’t make me do this,” she cried.
“Put it to your head, Farrah,” I repeated.
“I did what you asked!” she wailed.
I sighed deeply. “I don’t like repeating myself. Put. The gun. To your fucking head.”
She shook as she raised the gun to her head. “Please,” she begged. Tears flowed from her eyes, her mouth pleading with me to not make her do it.
“Pull the trigger,” I said.
She shook her head. “I can’t! I can’t!”
“Farrah,” I said, holding my hand out to Bruce. He handed me his gun and went back to filming the scene in front of me. “Pull the trigger or I will. You have until the count of three. 1.”
“Please, God, no!”
“God forgive me!”
I fired my gun, shooting her in the head. She collapsed in a heap at her husband’s feet, her blood pooling on the hardwood floor.
“Nice shot, boss,” Bruce said.
“Thanks. You can cut the camera now. I think that’s enough footage for their little princess,” I said. I passed Bruce his gun back and retrieved mine from Farrah, putting it into the waistband of my jeans. “Let’s get out of here.”
Once we were back in the truck, I called my father.
“It’s done,” I said when he answered.
“Very good,” he said. “I’m assuming you’re ready to get the girl?”
“Yeah. How fast can you have the jet ready?”
“It’s ready for you. You know where to go, right?”
“Yeah, I remember. I’ll check in when I get back.”
“Sounds good, son. Talk to you soon,” he said and hung up.
Putting the phone in my pocket, I started the car. “Time to pick up my package.”
Six hours later, KC, Bruce, and I landed in Greenville, South Carolina. Adrenaline coursed through my veins at the thought of having her, even more so at the thought of seeing her face when she saw what happened to her parents.
We settled in a hotel for the day. I could’ve taken her in broad daylight, but there were other things I needed to do to ensure this went smoothly. You couldn’t just take a makeup mogul without people wondering where she was or risking someone investigating her disappearance.
“KC, I need you to hack her phone,” I said, looking over the mini bar options with a frown. As expensive as this room was, they sure skimped out on the good alcohol and snacks.
KC pulled out his computer, tapped on it a few times, and then looked over at me. “Anything you want in particular?”
“I need texts sent to a Heath, Savannah, and Kandice,” I said.
“Gonna kill them too?” Bruce asked before tossing a handful of Fritos into his mouth.
I scoffed. “I don’t kill everybody, Bruce. What fun would that be? Besides, that’ll do nothing but bring more attention to Aurora’s disappearance.”
“So what’s the plan for them? Having witnesses won’t help either,” he countered.
I grinned. “They’ll be witnesses, but I have something for them. You’ll see.” Looking to KC, I added, “Send texts to those three telling them to be at her house at 5:30. She has an announcement to make.”
“You got it,” he said with a nod and began typing on the keyboard.
“Do you have all the business papers?” I asked Bruce. He wiped his hand on his pants and flipped through the folder on his lap, finally nodding.
“Yep. Everything’s here, boss,” he answered.
I nodded and moved to sit in the empty chair near them. “Good. Let’s finalize these plans and get ready, shall we?”
We spent the majority of the day going through different scenarios and casing the building she lived in. Because she lived in a penthouse, she had a special key that was needed to even get the elevator to take you to her floor.
“I can make a copy of it if you have a keycard from her building,” KC said.
“Is that even possible?” I asked with a raised brow.
KC smirked. “Almost anything is possible in tech. If it’s controlled by a computer system, it can be hacked,” he said.
“Well, I don’t have one from her building. Can’t we use our hotel key?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Hacking the keycard from here will only give us access to all the rooms here. It’ll be useless at her building.”
“We can always get the master key from whoever is at the front desk,” Bruce said, cracking his knuckles. “I could use a good fight.”
I looked at my watch. Time was running out and we’d have to leave soon in order to get there before Aurora did.
I sighed. “That’s what we’re going to have to do, as we don’t have time to do all that now. We need to go.”
We packed up our belongings and headed back downstairs to the blacked out SUV. As Bruce drove, KC busied himself with hacking into the camera system of her building to make sure they were down by the time we arrived. I looked at her picture once more, anxious to get my hands on her. She looked so innocent and pure, and I would savor every minute of breaking her until she was nothing but a shell of her former self.
Bruce pulled around the back of the building and he and I got out, leaving KC inside to hack what he needed to.
“Cameras are down, so you’re good to go,” he said.
“Thanks. We’ll make this quick. Call me if anything looks weird,” I said.
“Will do,” he said with a nod.
I walked around to the front of the building with Bruce following close behind me, walking inside the ritzy lobby. A short, chubby man behind the desk looked up at us, his eyes bored as he looked back down at a sport magazine laid out in front of him.
“Can I help you with something?” he drawled. So much for Southern hospitality.
I plastered a smile on my face. “Yeah, I’m here to see my brother Heath? He’s in a penthouse in the building, I think,” I replied.
The man sighed deeply and shook the mouse of computer. “Name?”
“Jared Grady,” I answered, reciting the name I’d picked up when I’d dug into his past. The man clicked around for a few moments before reaching into a drawer and pulling out a silver key card.
“Just put that in the elevator and it’ll take you to the floor. Be sure to return it before you leave.”
“I will, thanks,” I said, giving him a nod and heading to the elevator. That went a lot smoother than I’d intended, but that was fine with me. The less people dead, the quicker I could wrap this up and get back home.
As the elevator inched its way up to the penthouse, my heart pumped hard in my chest. I couldn’t wait to see the look on Aurora’s face when the realization hit that her life as she knew it was over. That she couldn’t hide from the fate she was born into.
That she couldn’t escape the hell she was about to endure.
The elevator doors opened to a hallway decorated with abstract art. The air smelled of potpourri and apple pie, a signature scent that a woman’s touch was all over this place. Despite the homey scents, the actual decorations in her place told another story. The living room appeared so sterile with the white sectional couch, glass coffee tables and end tables, white rug, and white floating fire place that it didn’t look anything like the cozy home I’d assumed she’d have.
“Who the hell are you?” a masculine voice as when I stepped into the penthouse. When he came into view, I grinned. He was the perfect, cookie cutter boyfriend with his dark hair, green eyes, and hard body. He frowned at me, his hands balled into fists at his sides as he looked between me and Bruce.
“You must be Heath,” I said calmly, walking further into the penthouse. When I approached the living room, two women hopped off the couch, alarmed.
“Heath, what’s going on?” one of them asked, looking at him nervously.
“If you’ll all have a seat, I’ll tell you,” I said with a smile.
“I think you need to leave, bro,” Heath growled.
I sighed and pulled my gun from my waistband, holding it at my side. “Don’t make me repeat myself, bro,” I said, mocking him.
He clenched his teeth together and sat, the women following suit. I looked over the red-haired woman sitting next to him. Savannah, according to my research. If I’d had the time, I would’ve taken her and put her to work. My clientele had a thing for red heads with pale skin and she would’ve made me so much money. The woman next to her had skin as dark as chocolate, her curly hair pulled into a high ponytail. Her long legs and thick thighs in the short dress she wore tempted me to drag her off into a bedroom and show her a good time, but again, time wasn’t on my side. The quicker I got this over with, the quicker I could grab Aurora and get back to California.
“So I’m here for Aurora,” I started. When they just stared at me, I chuckled. “Sorry, I forgot. You guys know her as Vanessa.”
Heath’s eyes widened as anger fired in his eyes. “What do you want with her? She hasn’t done anything to anyone,” he growled.
“You know, so many people keep saying that, but it doesn’t change the fact that her father used her as collateral,” I said with a shake of my head. “So now I’m here to collect my property.”
“Are you going to kill us?” Savannah asked, her voice small.
I walked over to her, reaching out to caress her cheek. “Oh no, baby doll. I actually have an opportunity for you all.”
She flinched at my touch, pulling away from me. Yep, my clients would have a field day breaking you down, I thought to myself.
“Heath, you’re a chef, right?” I asked.
He glanced over at the girls in slight shock before looking at me. “Yeah, why?”
“Ever thought about having your own restaurant?”
“All the time,” he said with a shrug.
I looked to Savannah. “It must be hard to see Aurora achieve everything you wanted, huh? You know, with the makeup company that was basically your idea, but since you didn’t have the money, she went to took it from under your nose. Don’t you want to be a makeup mogul?”
“More than anything,” she whispered.
“And you, Kandice,” I said, watching as her eyes widened. “You’re a dancer. Haven’t you wanted your own dance studio?”
“So here’s what’s going to happen,” I interrupted. “In exchange for your silence, I’ll give you all startup money for your own ventures. No strings attached. I won’t own anything or interfere with anything. Your company will be 100% yours.”
“What’s the catch?” Heath asked.
I grinned at him. “I’ll give you that in exchange for your silence,” I said. “When Aurora and I leave, no one is to speak of her, report her as missing, or go to the police.”
Heath jumped up from the couch. “I’m not letting you walk out of here with my fiancée,” he barked.
“Who the fuck is going to stop me, bro?” I asked with a smirk, my gun pointed at his head.
“Why are you doing this? Why do you have to take her?” he asked.
I scoffed and threw my hands in the air. “Did you not fucking listen earlier? Let me break it down for you. Her father used her as collateral to save his own life. Instead of him honoring his contract, he sent her here under a new name thinking he could save her. But he couldn’t. Now he’s dead and if you fuckers don’t get with the program, you’ll end up on my death list, too. Are we on the same page now?”
Heath swallowed hard and sat back down without a word.
“Very good. Bruce, the paperwork please,” I said, holding my hand out. He placed the folder in my hand and I pulled out the three contracts, placing them on the coffee table in front of me.
“What’s this?” Kandice asked.
“Your lifeline if you want to walk out of here,” I said with a shrug. “This is a binding contract. By signing this, you’ll each get half a million dollars to do what you want with it. You’re agreeing to not mention anything about what happens here tonight, report anything to the police, or come searching for her yourself. Doing any of these things will get you killed. It’s that simple.”
“And if we don’t sign?”
“Then someone will be picking your brain matter off the couch,” I said, my tone flat. “I’ll let you do the honors of signing first, Fabio.”
Bruce held out a pen to him, to which he scoffed at. I raised my gun once more and the girls screamed on the couch. Suddenly the elevator dinged and the doors opened.
“Guys, you won’t believe the day I had,” a feminine voice said as it entered the penthouse. “My phone is on the fritz and—”
She stopped dead in her tracks when she’s saw the scene in front of her, yelping when Bruce grabbed her arm and dragged her to the living room.
Her picture did her no justice.
She was even more beautiful in person, makeup highlighting all her best features. Her maroon lipstick made me curious as to what that color would look like on my cock later. She wore a tight white dress that accentuated her curves, stopping in the middle of her creamy thighs that I’d be between soon enough. Her hair was pulled back into a low ponytail and even though I hated ponytails on women, it was fucking sexy on her.
“What the fuck is going on?” she screamed. “Heath, who are these guys?”
“They said they’re here for you,” he said. Though he spoke to her, he never took his eyes off of me and my gun. Smart man.
“Here for me for what?” she shrieked.
I sighed. “Fuck, this story is getting old to tell,” I muttered. “Your father basically sold you to my family as a baby. Now we’re here to collect you.”
The color drained from her face as she looked at me, shaking her head. “No,” she whispered. “No, this can’t be happening.”
“Oh, it’s happening,” I mocked with a chuckle. “But I’ll deal with you in a minute.” I looked back to Heath. “Are you going to sign your contract or no?”
“Can I at least talk to her first?” he asked.
I gestured to her. “Talk. She’s standing right there.”
“Absolutely fucking not. But,” I walked over to her and took her from Bruce, putting the gun to her head. “If you don’t want to sign it, then I can kill her and the three of you and then no one has to sign. How about that?”
“Heath, please! Just sign it!” Savannah cried, tears running down her makeup.
“Might want to listen to the woman,” I said.
“Heath, please,” Aurora said, her voice shaky with fear. “Just do whatever it is he wants.”
“But he wants me to sign this to let him take you away and I never see you again!” he exclaimed. “I told you I’d protect you—”
I shook my head. “You can’t protect her. Her own father couldn’t protect her. You’ll only get yourself killed.” I looked at my watch. “I don’t have all day, Heath. Sign it or don’t. It’s your life.” Bruce moved to Savannah and handed her the pen. Both she and Kandice wasted no time putting their bank information and signature on the documents, which left Heath. Again.
“Last chance, Fabio,” I said.
He stared at the document for a long moment before shaking his head. “I can’t sign my fiancée’s freedom away,” he said. “I’m going to search for her every day of my—”
His words were cut short as a bullet pierced his stomach. The women all screamed, Aurora collapsing to the floor.
“Heath! No!” she screamed, snatching out of my grip and running over to him. “Oh no, no, no. Baby, I’m so sorry.”
“See what happens when you try to play the hero in real life, Fabio?” I asked with a shrug. “That shit only works in movies.”
“Fuck you!” Aurora screamed at me.
If only she knew how I planned to fuck her once we got back to California.
“Aurora, I need you to sign something as well,” I said to her, pulling out business transfer papers.
She ignored me, murmuring to Heath as he grew pale, still clutching his stomach as his blood stained the white couch. With a deep sigh, I walked over to her, grabbed her ponytail and dragged her across the floor away from him. She yelped, slapping against my hand until I plopped her on the other side of the coffee table and pointed at the business transfer papers.
“Sign it,” I ordered.
She picked up the papers and looked over them, shaking her head before looking up at me.
“I’m not giving you my business, you psychotic fuck!” she screamed, spitting at my feet.
I slapped her across the face, satisfaction flowing through me when she wiped blood from her lip.
“There’s more punishment where that came from,” I growled. “Either you sign it, or your little girlfriends here are gonna end up like Fabio.”
When she didn’t move, I strolled over to Savannah and grabbed her by the hair. “You’re a pretty little thing, you know that? I could sell you for a lot of money,” I murmured in her ear.
“Please,” she cried, squeezing her eyes shut. “I signed what you told me to.”
“Yeah, but Aurora won’t,” I said, looking over at her. “Do you want her to pay for your stubbornness?”
Aurora looked at me with tears in her eyes, her shaky hand reaching for the pen on the table. “I’ll sign. Please just leave them alone,” she pleaded.
“Then sign,” I said.
She looked down at the document, slowly signing it as her tear drops splashed onto the paper. Once it was signed, she pushed the paper away with a sob.
“Thanks for doing business, ladies,” I said, picking the contracts up and putting them back in the folder. “Kandice and Savannah, you’ll have your money before the week is out. If you even breathe a word of what happened here, we’ll hunt you down. Got it?”
They both nodded, their eyes cast downwards. I grabbed Aurora’s arm and pulled her off the floor.
“Time to go, buttercup,” I said.
She looked back to Heath, who’d bled out on the couch, a sob ripping through her. “Can’t I say goodbye to them?”
“No. Let’s go.”
She fought against me, trying to pull away to get to Health, to hold on to the sliver of her life that she finally thought was going right, to the life that was about to evaporate in the next few moments.
I holstered my gun and put her in a headlock, squeezing until she went limp. “That was fucking annoying,” I muttered, dropping her to the ground. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
Bruce picked her up and tossed her over his shoulder without another word. I looked to the girls, who looked at me in tears as their unconscious best friend was carried onto the elevator and out of their lives forever. I put a finger to my lips and walked backwards onto the elevator, making sure I was the last thing they saw to remind them to stay silent.
Otherwise, they’d learn that my thirst for blood was insatiable when someone crossed me.
Chapter 4 - Aurora
I should’ve listened to him.
When my father told me to run, I should’ve listened.
I’d had my own thoughts on what could possibly happen when this so-called “dangerous guy” found me, but I never imagined it would be like this. I never imagined that I’d see the love of my life dead on the couch we’d just made love on the night before. I never thought I’d see fear etched in my best friends’ faces as their lives hung in the balance.
I never imagined that my perfect life I’d created for myself would be snatched from me.
When I finally awoke, my lip stung, and my head pounded something fierce. I didn’t recognize the cabinet-looking walls or the bed I laid on, surrounded by darkness. Light penetrated around the edges of the door as a soft roar sounded around me from outside the walls. My heart sped up in my chest when realization slowly dawned on me.
I was on a fucking plane.
“Help!” I screamed, attempting to sit up only to find that my arms were handcuffed to the railing above me. I jerked until my wrists throbbed with pain, but they didn’t give. “Help me!”
My voice was raspy and dry, as if someone had taken sandpaper and rubbed my throat raw. Memories of Heath’s pale face filled my mind and my heart broke all over again. How were we on top of the world less than 24 hours ago and now he was dead?
I stiffened as the door opened and light spilled into the room, a tall, muscular figure looming in the doorway. The light flipped on, the brightness of it burning my eyes as they adjusted.
“Good. You’re awake,” a deep voice said. He walked over and stood on the side of the bed, his head cocked as he looked at me.
Looking at his face brought memories of the last few hours flooding in. Heath was gone. My company was gone. My life as I knew it was no more. The look in his man’s eyes was dark, hungry for violence and blood. And the sinister smirk on his lips as he watched me silently alluded to the horrors he had in store for me.
“Help me!” I screamed again, pulling against my restraints. He smiled, a beautiful smile of white teeth that would’ve melted the panties off of any woman he’d granted it with. But I knew what he was capable of. I’d witnessed the evil harbored within him.
Even the devil was beautiful.
He put his hands in his pockets. “You’re screaming and I haven’t even touched you yet,” he mused.
“Please just let me go,” I begged, tears burning my eyes.
He raised an eyebrow. “Let you go, huh? You wanna go now?”
“Please,” I whispered.
He nodded. “Okay then.” Keeping his eyes on me, he called out over his shoulder, “Bruce, the young lady would like to leave.”
He walked out of the room and came back with a key. My heart thrummed in my chest while he unlocked the cuffs and secured my arm. We walked out into the cabin that held four sets of chairs with polished wooden tables in between them. The brute, bald man with a scar across his cheek that’d been in my house earlier sat in one of the chairs, along with a guy with dark skin, dreadlocks, and a permanent scowl on his face across from him as they played chess.
My captor leaned down and whispered something to who I assumed to be Bruce, who nodded and stood up. We followed him down the aisle to the emergency exit and before I could react, the door flew open.
“You can leave now,” the man said a grin.
Bruce grabbed me by the back of my neck and arm, dangling me out of the flying plane.
“No!” I screamed. At this rate, I would’ve died of fear before he’d even dropped me.
“What was that?” the man yelled over the noise, cupping his ear. “You want me to let you go?”
“No! Please!” I cried. I dared to glance to my left to see the blades of the turbine engine whirring. The thought of dying by those blades was enough to scare me shitless.
The man looked over to Bruce and nodded. I screamed again when Bruce let go of the back of my neck, dangling me outside by my arm.
“Please! I don’t wanna go!” I screamed, squeezing my eyes shut. After what felt like an eternity, Bruce ripped me back into the plane and threw me onto the floor before quickly moving to secure the door.
I moved to my hands and knees, forcing myself to try to breathe as my body hyperventilated. My body trembled as uncontrollable tears ran down my face. My breaths choked me and the mixture of emotions—terror, anxiety, fear—were bound to drown me.
The man squeezed the back of neck and yanked me to my feet before slamming me against the very door I’d just dangled out of.
“Let me make something crystal clear for you,” he growled, squeezing my throat. I gasped, trying to get his hand from around my neck. As if hyperventilating wasn’t enough, he had to torture me a step further to rob me of oxygen.
“The only way I’d let you go is when one of my men collect your dead body when I’m finished with you. You. Belong. To. Me. Get that in through your dense fucking skull.”
I crumbled to the floor when he let go of me, gasping for air. I was as good as dead then. Maybe I should’ve died next to Heath had I known this was what I was walking into. Just thinking of his smiling face broke my heart. I was the reason he was dead. He was gone and I was trapped by the devil with no way out.
“Get up,” he barked.
My legs shook beneath me as I slowly stood to my feet, my previous desperate sobs now pathetic hiccups. He gestured back to the room he’d removed me from. I turned, keeping my eyes down as I slowly moved down the aisle and back into the room. He moved in from of me and lifted the bed until it rested inside of the wall.
“You probably have questions,” he said with a grunt as he pulled a loop from the ceiling. The clinking of metal chilled me to the bone as a short chain came into view. “But unfortunately for you, I don’t give a shit.” Pulling the handcuffs from earlier from his pocket, he waved his hand to me. “Hands.”
I looked between him and the cuffs, which did nothing but agitate him.
“I swear if I have to fucking repeat myself again, I’m going to lose my shit,” he snapped.
Bruce leaned out into the aisle with a smirk. “You don’t want him to lose his shit.”
“Now,” he growled.
I unwrapped my arms from around myself and gave him what he asked for, whimpering when he yanked them hard. Once he’d snapped them on, he raised my arms, opened the loop, and secured my cuffs through them before closing the loop.
“Please,” I whispered, tears dripping from my face.
“My rules are simple,” he said, ignoring me. “You will bow, you will break, and you will obey. Do that, and you’ll survive.” He squatted in front of me, his fingertips skimming up my thighs as he lifted my dress.
“Please don’t do this,” I begged.
“If you don’t follow those rules…” He raised my tight dress over my ass and lowered my thong around my ankles. “I’ll break you in ways that’ll make you wish you were dead.”
I trembled as he stood up, watching as he loosened his belt and pulled it off.
“Now repeat what I just said,” he said, his voice calm.
“Please God,” I wailed, jerking at the handcuffs as if that would do something productive.
He stroked his growing beard and shook his head. “There’s no God here. Just Bennett,” he replied, the sinister grin on his lips again. “Let’s try this again. Repeat what I said.”
“Please don’t do this,” I begged.
“I don’t recall saying, ‘Please don’t do this,’” he taunted. “Try again.”
“If it’s money you want, I’ll give it to you,” I offered. Even someone as psychotic as this fuck wouldn’t turn down money.
“You’ll give me money?” He laughed, the sound sending chills of terror through me. “Did you forget I now own your company? I already have your money.”
“Then what the fuck do you want from me?” I screamed as circled around me.
“The rules,” he said again. “Say them.”
“What do you want from me?” I said again, despair lacing my voice. Within a split second, fire-hot pain erupted across my ass, followed by another. My screams filled the plane as Bennett’s belt attacked my ass and the back of my legs.
“Please stop! I’m sorry!” I cried out, but it didn’t stop his assault. My feet became tangled in my panties as I moved to try to avoid the belt, causing me to lose my balance. Bennett grabbed me by the back of my neck and put me upright.
“Now that I have your attention,” he said, moving back to stand in front of me. “Repeat the rules.”
My skin was on fire, the pain making it hard to think. Though my tears blurred my vision, it didn’t stop me from seeing the chilling grin on his face as he waited for me to speak. I licked my lips, tasting the salt from my tears.
“I-I-I will bow,” I forced out between hiccups. “I-I-I will….will…”
“Will? Will what?”
“F-f-fucking today, Stuttering McGee,” he snapped, raising his belt to strike me again.
“I forgot! I’m sorry!” I cried. He sighed deeply and walked back around me. “Please! I’m sorry!”
“You will bow,” he growled. I screamed when the belt hit my already raw skin. “You will break.” Another blow to the back of my thighs. “You will obey.” He continued for what felt like eternity, repeating the rules to ensure the pain burned them into my mind.
When my legs gave out and I dangled painfully from the ceiling, he circled around me.
“Pop quiz, slut,” he panted. “Tell me the rules now.”
“I will bow. I will break. I will obey. I will bow. I will break. I will obey. I will bow. I will break. I will obey,” I chanted.
“Okay, shut up,” he said. But I couldn’t hear anything other than the belt and the sound it made connecting to my skin. I just wanted it to stop, for it all to stop. I wanted Heath to wake me up from this nightmare and run his strong fingers through my hair until I felt safe again. I wanted to laugh with my friends as they convinced me that I was paranoid and should see a therapist for my nightmares and delusions that someone was after me. I wanted things to go back to normal, when Bennett and his evil weren’t in my life.
I continued chanting the rules until Bennett grabbed my throat and squeezed to shut me up.
“Shut. Up,” he growled. “Now, what will happen if you follow the rules?”
He loosened his grip enough for me to speak.
“I’ll survive,” I squeaked.
“And if you don’t?”
I swallowed hard as his hard, dark brown gaze held mine. “You’ll break me until I wish I were dead.”
He let go of me. “Good enough,” he said and slid his belt back into the loops of his jeans. He didn’t say another word to me as he grabbed the remote and turned on the tv that hung on the wall. “Stay tuned, pet.”
When he left the room, a sob ripped through me.
“Why me?” I whispered to myself. “Why is this happening to me?”
“Oh, I’m about to show you,” he said suddenly, reappearing in the doorway. Stepping in and closing the door, he strolled over to stand next to me. “Be sure you pay attention. I worked rather hard on this little presentation.”
The screen suddenly showed Bennett, smiling at the camera with my parents behind him.
“Aurora, hey. You don’t know me yet, but you will soon. Though, when you see this, I’ll have you in my possession. Anyway, I’m with your lovely parents here.”
The camera fumbled a bit before it turned to my mother as she stood next to my father, who sat bound to a chair. The living room they sat in brought in waves of memories, confusion and anger flooding through me. For years, my father had convinced me that they’d moved so that I didn’t go back to find them when I became of age. To see that they’d been living in the house I’d spent eight years of my life this whole time was devastating.
“You’re probably wondering what’s going on, but lucky you, I’ll tell you what kind of situation you’re in. Your coward father here basically traded your life so that he could stay alive after leaving my father’s organization.”
It suddenly all made sense. Him leaving me at the train station with no reason why. Not seeing him for years aside from the couple of times on video chat. He’d doomed me to this life before I was even born and all the hiding in the world wouldn’t change that. The very thought that this was my fate forever sent a wave of nausea over me.
I never even stood a chance.
“He sent you to South Carolina, thinking we’d never find you, but surprise! Now Daddy has to pay, and it looks like your mommy is going to do the honors.”
I watched as my mother took the gun from who I assumed to be Bennett, holding the weapon hesitantly in her hands. She and my father went back and forth, but I couldn’t concentrate on their words. Seeing them argue as my mother pointed a gun at him wasn’t how I remembered them. The parents I remembered were madly in love, always kissing and cuddling each other. Their loving marriage was being ripped apart by a monster who got off on the misery of others, leaving carnage in his wake.
My eyes cut to him, noticing him stroking his chin and grinning as he watched the video, proud of himself. Proud of the destruction, pain, and suffering he’d caused.
“Good part’s coming up,” he said, glancing over at me. “Keep your eyes on the screen, not on me.”
I forced my eyes back to the screen just in time to hear Bennett speak again.
“Wait, before you pull the trigger, I still need his last words,” he’d said. “Anything you want to say to your daughter, Sergio?”
My heart stopped as my father slowly brought his eyes up to the camera. Tears filled my own eyes upon seeing the sorrow and regret that filled his gaze as tears crested his eyes once more.
“Aurora, baby, I’m sorry,” he said and shook his head.
Just hearing his voice say my name broke my heart. Sure, I’d been mad at him and thought he was full of shit all these years, but just hearing him tell me he was sorry made my heart hurt for him. For our family. For myself.
“This is all my fault. I should’ve thought about the long-term consequences of my actions and I didn’t. I never intended to hurt you, and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. I’m so, so sorry.”
The eight-year-old girl in me wanted to forgive him, but the present-day woman suffering because of his decision wanted him to burn in Hell. I understood why he thought he had to do what he did, but I hated him so much for doing it. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever forgive him, but it wouldn’t matter if I did or not.
I was never getting out of here.
“Annnnd scene!” Bennett’s voice exclaimed on the screen. “Go on with the grand finale.”
I squeezed my eyes shut, not wanting to see the inevitable. Bennett gripped my face, his fingers digging into my cheeks so hard that it hurt.
“Open your eyes,” he said as he gave my head a shake. But I couldn’t force myself to. My heart hammered in my chest as my father’s voice echoed in my head while he pleaded for his life.
“Please. I can’t bear to look,” I whispered.
“Either you open your fucking eyes or I can remove your eyelids to keep them permanently opened,” he growled. “Do it now.”
My eyes opened just as my mother shot my father in the chest before collapsing in grief at his feet. Tears silently rolled down my cheeks as I watched my mother apologize to him over and over. Hearing my father’s last words of “I love you” and witnessing my mother fall apart made me weak in the knees. Bennett kept me upright by squeezing the back of my neck tight, forcing me to watch as he made my mother hold a gun to her head, eventually putting a bullet in it himself when she didn’t pull the trigger. He’d made my mother kill my father and slaughtered her afterwards; it was only a matter of time before he’d do the same thing to me.
“You want to know what I told your father?” he asked when the video ended. I sobbed in mourning. In the last 24 hours, I’d lost so much. My fiancé, my parents, my business, my life. Would death really be as bad as what was probably waiting for me in California?
Did I really want to deal with the torture Bennett would put me through?
You can’t give up so easily, I told myself, clenching my teeth together as Bennett closed in on me.
“Do you want to know?” he asked, breaking into my thoughts.
I looked into his dark, yet calm eyes. “What?” I forced myself to say.
He grinned, his body so close to mine that I could feel his heat radiating off him in waves.
“I asked him how it felt to know that he’d be the reason you’ll be screaming soon enough when I stuff you full of my cock,” he murmured.
“No!” I screamed, trying to move away from him. He firmly grabbed the back of my neck with one hand to keep me still.
“Oh yes,” he replied, his smile turning into a grin as his other hand moved between my legs. I’d tried to squeeze my legs together, but the more I resisted, the tighter he pinched my thigh. He shook his head. “You must love to be punished. But don’t worry, I have so much more to show you. All of this barely scratches the surface.”
I whimpered when he stuck his foot between mine and pushed them apart, his fingers circling my clit.
“No,” I whispered, trying to move away from him. This was wrong. He didn’t have permission to do this. I wasn’t his to do this to. My body, mind, and soul belonged to Heath no matter what this psychopath thought. “You’ll never have me.”
His chuckle rumbled low and deep as he leaned forward. “Look around, Aurora. I already have you,” he whispered in my ear.
I gasped as he thrust two strong fingers inside of me, but he didn’t move them. I bit my bottom lip and willed myself not to cry. “Please stop,” I begged. “Please just stop.”
“There’s that’s fear,” he murmured, finally moving his fingers in a slow rhythm. “Such a tight little pussy you have. Can’t wait to feel this very fear gripping my cock when we land.”
Fear consumed me, which did nothing but make him smile as he continued to thrust his fingers inside of me.
“Please stop! Please!” I cried, trying to get away from his violating hands. After a few moments, his withdrew his fingers from me, the sinister grin still plastered on his lips. He smeared my essence on my cheek.
“I’m going to have so much fun with you,” he said. A chill rolled down my spine as I thought of what he probably had in store. Whatever I imagined was probably no match for what he’d do to me.
He detached the handcuffs from the loop, letting my arms drop. A painful tingling sensation ran down my arms as my blood rushed back to where it was supposed to be.
“Bow,” he said.
I looked at him and blinked. “What?”
“Did I fucking stutter? Do I need to remind you of rule number one?”
“No, no, no,” I rushed out as his hand reached for his belt buckle.
“Get on your knees and bow,” he ordered. I reached down to grab my panties, but he caught my arm. “Did I tell you to touch those?”
“No,” I murmured, keeping my eyes low.
“Then don’t. On your knees,” he said.
I slowly lowered myself onto my knees. My ass and the back of my thighs hurt like hell in this position. My limbs were stiff, my body was exhausted, and my eyes were heavy. I just wanted today to be over with. I had no idea how I was going to survive this ordeal if every day would be like today.
If you follow the rules, you’ll survive, a voice reminded me. But everyone knew you couldn’t win with the devil. It probably wouldn’t matter if I did everything he told me to, he’d still find reasons to hurt me, to violate me.
He looked down at me. “Now stay in that position until we land,” he said. I kept my eyes down, watching as he turned on his heels and walked out of the room closing the door behind him.
All of my tears were cried out and I had nothing left. I focused on the engagement ring that was still on my finger, my heart breaking all over again at the thought of what would never be. Painful memories of Heath filled my mind as I gazed at the ring, remembering how I felt on top of the world last night with the love of my life. The more I thought about how much I’d lost over the last few hours, the more angry I became. Even though death would’ve been the easier route, I refused to give up.
I would avenge my family.
I would avenge the love of my life.
I would avenge the woman that I’d probably lose in this tango with the devil.
But before everything was all over, either Bennett or I would be dead.
And I didn’t plan on dying anytime soon.
Chapter 5 - Bennett
I settled down in a seat near the front of the cabin and pulled out my phone. There was so much shit that needed to be done and put in place before Aurora’s arrival. The protocol for her would be so much different, as she was now my pet, not a woman I’d planned to groom to get ready for auction.
After spending the next couple of hours booking a tattoo artist, esthetician, and a personal stylist, I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes. My mind replayed the events of the last few hours, a grin pulling at my lips. Her screams and desperate cries for help echoed off the corners of my mind, the sound a soothing balm to the chaos within me. I’d punished and beaten many women, but I’d never gotten aroused from inflicting pain on them. There was something about Aurora that made me want to hurt her, that made me want to lick the tears from her face as she cried. I relished in her pain and misery and even though she was probably doing what I told her to do right now, it took everything in me to stay in my seat and not give her another dose of hell.
Pace yourself, Bennett, I told myself as I closed my eyes and rested my head against the back of the seat. There was plenty of time to play with her. She wouldn’t be much good if she was dead before we even got to my house.
“Drink, sir?” the flight attendant asked, breaking into my thoughts. I glanced up at her, her bright blue eyes curiously watching me as her pouty lips held a slight grin. She was as thin as a rail, her blue dress loose on her curveless frame.
“Got Bourbon?” I asked. She nodded as she placed a napkin and a glass of ice in front of me before pulling a bottle of aged Bourbon from her cart. “Do you usually have this on the plane?”
She poured me half a glass and shook her head. “No, sir. Your father requested that it be stocked for your trip,” she replied and gave me a sweet smile. “Enjoy your drink.”
I nodded and took a deep pull from the glass as she moved down the aisle. There was so much to do when I got home. Aurora would have to be cared for as soon as we touched down, as she was already developing bruises in the area I’d hit her in. Maybe I was a bit rough with her too soon, but the beast within me couldn’t wait until I got home to make her suffer. Pleasure rolled up and down my spine at the sound of my belt hitting her bare skin. My cock jumped each time she squirmed with no way to escape my blows. And while I wanted to bend her over and fuck her right then and there, now wasn’t the time or place. I didn’t want any interruptions when I had her for the first time.
And I would savor every second of it.
When the plane finally landed, I got up and went back into the room to retrieve her. She wasn’t where I left her on the floor when I opened the door. As small as the room was, there wasn’t many places she could be.
“Try anything stupid and I’ll just end you right now,” I called out, smirking when the closet door opened.
I turned around just in time to see her drop a small Champagne bottle from the mini fridge.
“Really? You thought you’d be able to execute that?” I snickered. “You must be a glutton for punishment. I’ll deal with you later. Let’s go.”
She grunted when I snatched her up by the arm and dragged her out of the room and down the aisle. A car was already waiting outside when we stepped plane.
“Where are we going now?” she asked as I pulled her along.
“Home,” I replied, nodding to the man that opened the door for us. “Get in.”
She awkwardly got into the back of the SUV, groaning when she had to sit down.
“Hurts, doesn’t it?” I taunted.
“Fuck you,” she growled.
“You shouldn’t say such things, Aurora. You might get me excited,” I teased. “Trust me, I plan to fuck you soon enough.”
My property teemed with security by the time I arrived home. The red lights planted on the corners of my land blared as an alarm went off, and I immediately knew what was going on.
One of the girls had escaped.
I pulled Aurora up the driveway and entered the house through the garage.
“You’re in for a treat, doll,” I said to her with a grin. “While I had plans to show you what happens when you’re defiant and disrespectful, it looks like someone’s volunteered to have me demonstrate on them.”
“You’re a sick fucking bastard, you know that?” she snapped, trying to pull away from me.
I chuckled. She had no fucking idea how sick and depraved I could really be. I’d barely scratched the surface with her, but she’d soon know.
When we entered the kitchen, I stopped one of the guards that usually worked in the bunker under the house.
“Which one was it?” I asked.
He sighed deeply. “Fucking Alice. Again.”
“Again?” I asked with a raised brow. “Why is it my first time hearing that it’s happened before?”
“She didn’t make it outside of the building last time,” he explained. “But today, she hit Carrie with a broken shower bar when she was being dressed for a client and ran out into the woods.”
“Where is she now?”
“Hulk and Matthews are bringing her back.”
I nodded. “Have them bring her to the Retribution room in the bunker,” I said, pulling Aurora along.
“Let me guess, you’re going to kill her too?” she asked, stumbling along next to me. I didn’t respond, as I had other plans.
Aurora stopped in the doorway, her eyes wide with horror when I opened the door to my Retribution room. Everything that was in someone’s worst nightmare was in this room. Chains, canes, whips, knives, torture tables and chairs, and everything in between. Everything in the room was blood red and black and if anyone ever came into this room, they didn’t leave it alive.
“What…the…fuck?” Aurora whispered, her eyes scanning the room.
“Don’t worry. If you do what you’re supposed to do, you won’t see this room after today,” I reassured her, walking over to a table and moving it to the center of the floor.
“Then…why are we in here?” she asked, her voice trembling.
I grinned. “I already told you. You have a front row seat to a demonstration,” I said. “Now get in here or I’ll use you as an example too.”
Her whimper didn’t go unnoticed as she slowly stepped into the room, her eyes still looking over everything. She winced with each step she took, her earlier lashes now faint purple bruises. It was beautiful really, seeing those bruises on pure, untouched flesh. The thought of putting more of them on her at some point made my cock twitch.
“Why do you do this to people?” she asked, her voice low.
I met her teary gaze and shrugged. “People do this to themselves,” I said. “I make my rules clear.”
Hulk and Matthews appeared in the doorway and threw Alice into the room, where she landed before me on her hands and knees.
“According to the other girls, she’d been trying to recruit others to leave with her,” Hulk said with a huff.
“Thanks for handling the situation, guys. I’ll compensate you for it.”
“No problem, boss,” they both said in unison and closed the door as they left.
“Alice, Alice, Alice,” I said with a shake of my head. “It’s been awhile since we’ve seen each other, huh?”
She sniffled before me, but didn’t lift her head. She knew better.
I turned to Aurora. “Aurora, meet Alice,” I said, gesturing toward the cowering woman. “I want you to understand that belonging to me isn’t the worst that could happen to you.”
Aurora scoffed. “What could possibly be worse than what you’ve already done?”
“I could sell you. And trust me, there are men who could do a lot worse if they were to get their hands on you,” I said, my voice flat. It was satisfying to see the color drain from her face. The defiant posture she once had slowly melted into timid fear. “You see, Alice is one of many women I have here. There are three paths you could wind up on when you step foot onto this property. You could be my pet, which is considered an honor if you ask me.” I grinned as she clenched her teeth, probably fighting with herself to stay quiet. “All you have to do is follow my rules and life can be good for you. So, what happens to you here is ultimately up to you.”
I look down at the woman before me. “Then you have the path that Alice was on. I either make them work as escorts or sell them off to the highest bidder. And you don’t want that. Things can get violent when they get out of line.” I pulled my gun from my waistband. “Finally, you have the path that Alice is now on, which is termination.”
“No!” Aurora screamed out as Alice began to sob on the floor.
I smiled and shook my head. “Oh, I’m not going to kill her,” I said. “At least not right this second. I want to show you what’ll happen if you try to pull a similar stunt.”
I roughly grabbed Alice by the arm and yanked her to her feet. Her blonde hair hung in her face, dirt and pieces of leaves stuck to the loose dress she wore.
“I hear this is your second time trying to escape, Alice,” I said to her, dragging her over to the table. “Did you really think you could escape this place?”
She whimpered in response, trembling under my grasp. I gestured toward the table.
“Get up there now,” I ordered.
As soon as she got on the table and I secured the restraints on her, a solid knock sounded on the door.
“What?” I barked.
The door opened and Carrie, someone that I’d thought of as my sister, poked her head in the door. “Your dad’s here. He wants to see you and the girl.”
“Can’t he wait?”
“I guess not. He wanted you to hurry up, dispose of Alice, and get out here,” she said with a shrug.
I ran a hand through my hair and ground my teeth. “Fuck my goddamn life,” I muttered and looked back to her. A small bruise was forming on her cheek where I assumed Alice had hit her, setting my rage off all over again. “Are you going to be okay?”
She waved me off. “It’s just a little bruise. I’ll live.”
“Want to do the honors then?” I asked as I gestured to Alice.
She smiled and shook her head. “Thanks, big bro, but I’m not a killer. You have that covered. Just hurry before Wilson blows a gasket,” she said and shut the door behind her.
There was nothing I hated more than my father showing up to my place unannounced, but I hated it even more when he made me speed up kills that I wanted to savor.
He used to tell me that he was concerned about me, that I took too much joy in the process of killing and torturing. I didn’t have much of a choice. I either had to embrace the demon within me or be consumed by the dark evil that was now my life. After a few kills, the blood didn’t matter anymore. The screams of tortured souls didn’t shock me. The destruction and carnage didn’t affect me. If that made me psychotic or insane, I embraced it wholeheartedly.
“Looks like this party has to end early,” I said with a huff and looked to Aurora. “Come here.”
“What?’ she said, looking between Alice and I.
I rolled my eyes. “Are you fucking deaf? Come. Here,” I repeated again, agitated.
She slowly came over to me and stood next to the table.
“We’re going to play a quick game. Let’s call it ‘Deal or No Deal.’ Here are your options: you either kill her, or she can watch me rape you before I kill her.”
“No!” Alice screamed, her ocean blue eyes filled with tears! “I’m sorry! I swear it won’t happen again!”
“Oh, I know it won’t happen again. You won’t have another chance to do it,” I said and looked to Aurora. “Well?”
“You can’t be fucking serious!” Aurora exclaimed. “I’m not a murderer!”
I shrugged. “It’s amazing what decisions we’ll make in order to save their own ass,” I said. “Take your father for example. The reason why you’re here right now is because of the decision he made to save his ass.”
“Bennett, I…” she trailed, looking down at Alice.
“Please don’t do this,” Alice begged. “I don’t want to die.”
I started humming Jeopardy music, watching as panic flashed in Aurora’s eyes. She put her face in her hands and let out a frustrated groan as I continued to hum. Alice screamed and jerked against the leather straps that bound her to the table, which did nothing but cause more agony for Aurora.
“If it helps, she’s going to die no matter what option you choose,” I finally said. “The only difference is do you want to also suffer for a woman you don’t even know?”
“You’re asking me to kill someone!” she screamed.
“Yeah…that’s what I said,” I said. “I told you life could be easy for you here, Aurora. All you have to do is do what you’re told. Your choice. Ten second to decide. 10.”
She looked to Alice again, tears forming in her own eyes.
“Bennett, please don’t make me do this. Please,” she begged.
“I’m not making you do anything. You have to decide. 8.”
“Oh my God,” Aurora wailed, putting her face in her hands.
“Please don’t do this! I promise I won’t try to run again! I’ll be good! I promise,” Alice exclaimed to me.
“Too late for that, Alice. 6.”
Aurora only stood there and shook her head, looking at me in disgust, disbelief, and grief. It was a rather interesting combination of emotions to witness as she stood there deciding whether she’d put her own wellbeing before someone else’s.
I grabbed Aurora’s arm. “2. And remember, even if I rape you for not doing this, she still dies. You want to be violated for no reason?”
“No,” she whispered.
“Then make the common sense choice,” I said. “1.”
“Okay,” she exclaimed. “Okay.”
“Good girl,” I said, holding my gun out to her.
A slow grin pulled at my lips as she took my gun into her trembling hands. She looked so much like her mother, even more so as she held my gun and pointed it toward Alice.
“You know, your mother looked just like that before she shot your father,” I said, folding my arms across my chest. “You are your mother’s twin.”
“Don’t say that,” Aurora snapped, her voice shaking with nerves.
“It’s true. Same posture, same fear quaking you, same way your hands tremble at the thought of holding someone else’s life in your hands.”
I moved over to stand behind her. “How does it feel, Aurora? To know that you’re standing in between life and death for someone?” I whispered in her ear. “Doesn’t it make you feel powerful?”
“No,” she whispered.
“Just imagine those beautiful blue eyes being empty of life in a few moments. You’re in control of that. It should make you feel powerful, invincible.”
“Only sick fucks would feel powerful in this situation,” she threw back.
I chuckled. “Oh honey. When you’re with me long enough, we’ll see how you evolve from the delicate wallflower to the wife of the devil.”
“I’d never marry someone like you,” she spat.
“You wouldn’t have much of a choice,” I reminded her. “Now kill her. I don’t have all day.”
“No! Please!” Alice cried. “I won’t do it again! I’ll follow the rules! I’ll—”
A gunshot rang out and all was silent. Aurora’s breaths came out in short pants until she practically gulped down air as she hyperventilated. Alice lay still on the table, a single gunshot wound on the side of her head, her beautiful blue eyes wide open but staring at nothing.
“Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?” I asked with a smirk as I took my gun from Aurora.
She slowly took a couple of steps away from the table, her eyes wide as reality hit her. And when she released a bloodcurdling scream in despair, I moved over to her and placed a kiss on her cheek before leaning in to whisper in her ear.
“Welcome to Hell.”
Thanks for reading the prequel!
Ready for more of Bennett and Aurora? Grab book 1 of the Rules of Bennett series, You Will Bow!