Rules of Bennett Prequel
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.