Genre: Contemporary Dark Romance
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I stole her from her life.
I’ll go even further to keep her in mine.
She was a job. Nothing more. Nothing less.
I took her from the party. It wasn’t personal. It was a contract.
Grab her, head to the safehouse, and wait for the ransom.
Scarlett is so gentle, so trusting.
She doesn’t know that men like me exist.
Doesn’t know the brutal nature of this world.
Me? I come from a world of violence.
I’m a killer. I prey on nightmares and make them come true.
If you cross me, I kill you.
So when her father decided not to pay, word comes down that I’m supposed to torture her.
If he still doesn’t cough up the cash, I’m supposed to kill her.
I won’t hurt this fiery angel.
I crave her.
Me, a monster that could never be what she needs.
Who can never settle down.
I can’t just do the job and destroy her.
No, I have to make her mine. Forever.
The way this thing is going down… it’s going to be either her love.
Or her life.
Welcome to Mayhem Ever After series! This is the first in a series of dark, possessive, alpha male romances featuring brooding heroes and the sassy women that love them. No cheating. No cliffhangers. HEA guaranteed!
A resounding crack echoed through the dive bar, Stripes, as I smashed the cue ball in the sweet spot. Like a whirling dervish, it shot toward the racked colored balls, and a duller yet more intense crack echoed through the smoky air. Cigars and cigarettes still flew here, in blatant defiance of clean air laws. The type of clientele Stripes tended to attract—ex-service men and women—weren’t the type to call the state health department in a tizzy, so it’s a pretty low-risk affair.
I grinned in satisfaction as I beheld the fruits of my labors. My erstwhile companions, however, were less enthusiastic. Particularly, my opponent in this game of pool.
“Aw, man, look at that break,” Jon scowled as four of the stripes sank into the pockets but none of the solids. “Fucking sharking me, man.”
“Why would I do that, Jon-boy?” I smirked and lined up my next shot. “You don’t have any money. Obviously, I’m stripes.”
“Yeah, obviously.” Jon chuckled. “I suppose I should be grateful you’re picking up the tab.”
Stripes wasn’t an overly large joint. Less than a dozen patrons were usually here at a time and it got to feeling crowded. But it’s a great place to shoot pool without some broflake trying to hustle a guy. The low ceiling and pseudo-military aesthetic weren’t exactly my jam, but I was there to shoot pool and throw back some brews not admire the scenery.
And speaking of admiring the scenery… Janie the barmaid kept flashing smiles my way. At five-foot one inch of pure stacked blonde sexiness, Janie was considered a prize by my fellows, but I’d already tapped that once. So, I just nodded when she looked my way. Didn’t even smile.
“Dude,” Steve, Jon’s cousin and one of the guys we suffered through basic with, spoke up. His speech was slurred since he’d gotten a head start on happy hour. His apartment was a short walk away, so as long as he could stumble down the sidewalk without getting picked up for public intoxication, I guess he was all right. “Janie keeps checking you out, Wolf. How are you not all over that shit?”
Jon laughed as I missed my shot and cursed my luck. “Didn’t you hear? Will already took her home last week. You know he’s not into repeat performances.”
“Damn straight,” Steve drawled, watching Jon attempt an ill-conceived masse shot. “If I had shoulders and abs like that, I’d probably be rolling in pussy, too.”
I shrugged because I was hardly rolling in pussy, as he so quaintly put it. Did I lack for female company? No, but I also wasn’t a hound dog whose only interest was getting laid. You know, like those two idiots.
“Still, man, just because you fucked her once doesn’t mean you can’t dip your cock in it again.” Steve clapped me on the shoulder as Jon missed a shot. “Come on, man, we want to live vigorously through you.”
“I think you mean vicariously, Steve-O,” I grunted. “And you’ll have to find someone else to perform that particular service.”
“Vicar-whaterously?” Steve flashed me a confused frown.
“You know rich boy here went to the finest private schools before he enlisted with us schmucks, right?” Jon straightened. “You didn’t leave me with any decent shots, you bastard.”
“Why should I leave you with any decent shots?” I mused with a grin as I lined up my next point of attack.
“Why did a rich guy like you join the Army, anyway?” Steve asked. “You want to prove you’re a tough guy?”
“Something like that,” I smashed the cue ball and sank another stripe.
“Bullshit,” Jon leaned over the table and grinned. “You joined the Army because your girlfriend picked big brother over you.”
“What? For real?” Steve cackled way too damned loud.
My face twisted up in a grimace. Obviously, it wasn’t a memory I savored with any degree of relish. It’s quite unusual for someone from my affluent background to go through basic training. ROTC—that’s reserve officer training corps to civvies—or a fancy academy like West Point were more appropriate. But I wanted out of my household, fast, and had no time for wait lists or favors to come through.
“Shut up, Jon,” I sighed. “You’re breaking my concentration.”
“Yeah, for real,” Jon ignored the fact I’d spoken. “You were just too wasted to remember the time he broke down in tears during basic and whined about her.”
I know Jon didn’t mean any malice by what he said. He was just trying to blow my concentration.
I still made my shot.
“Eight ball, side pocket,” I tapped the appropriate hole with the end of the cue.
“You’re going to miss, dumb ass,” Jon growled as I lined up my shot. “Miss, miss, miss…”
Crack. The eight ball sank like a stone while the cue ball rolled back to bounce harmlessly off the bumper. Just the way I’d planned. The thing about pool was that it’s a game of seeming dichotomies. In order to hit ball A with ball B, one may not wish to directly strike at the target at all. This was where banked shots came in. I’d never been a pool shark, my companion’s statements notwithstanding, but I’d always excelled at picking my shots. I’d tried to apply that concept in all avenues of my life outside the world of felt-covered marble.
“Fucking A, man,” Jon sighs. “Best five out of seven?”
“Fuck a B, there’s more holes,” Steve slurred. “No more chances, cuz. It’s my turn to face off against Mr. Lone Wolf here before big bro comes and tosses a leash on him.”
Looking back, I’m not sure what tipped me off to my brother’s presence before he even came in the door. Maybe there’s some underlying empathetic connection between brothers, or maybe it’s because Jon talked about the bastard. For whatever reason, I was already looking at the front door of Stripes when in sauntered Devlin.
Devlin’s my older brother, with the same wavy black hair and blue eyes as me. He’s a bit slimmer, especially across the shoulders, but I’ve wrestled him enough to know he possesses a wiry strength, which belies his slender frame. Unlike me, who prefers jeans and t-shirts most of the time, he always dresses to the nines. That day was no exception, with a black Ralph Lauren blazer over an ivory button-up shirt, which complemented his charcoal slacks. Shiny Bruno Maglis adorned his feet, as if he didn’t already seem quite out of place in a dive like Stripes.
Our eyes met, and he crossed the room, his nose wrinkled in disgust. His flashy shoes clunked off the uneven wooden floor, crunching down on peanut shells with a note of finality.
“What is that smell?” Devlin held a handkerchief over his mouth and nose.
“Probably Chet’s pork burger meat,” Jon offered. “He marinates it for hours and it gets pretty intense. Guess we’re all used to the smell.”
Devlin looked at Jon but did not speak to him. In Devlin’s mind Jon was low class. It was my business to slum it, but Devlin wasn’t about to join in the fun.
“I need to speak with you, Will.” Devlin, always cryptic. He had that particular tone that let me know right away it was business. Firm business.
Legally, we’re a security consulting firm, which brings in a fair amount of profit—say, thirty percent of our take, and one hundred percent of what we report to the Feds. Unofficially, we’re the guys who are called when the shit hits the fan and everyone wants Johnny Law to stay completely unaware—most importantly, uninvolved. I guess some could call us the bad guys. We’re definitely skirting and sometimes outright breaking the law, but from what I’ve seen there is no such thing as black and white morality. Everything is shades of gray, and I know my gray is more muted than most.
“I’ll be back in a bit, boys,” I grabbed my phone off the edge of the pool table and followed Devlin back out into the sunlight. His limo sat nearby, wildly out of place in the street-level environs.
We climbed into the back, me ducking my head low to fit through the door.
Devlin clambered in after me, and as soon as the door shut, he sighed. “Will, what’s the point of having a cell phone if you never answer it?”
“I answer it most of the time. I’m off duty, Devlin.”
“You’re never off duty from the firm,” Devlin snapped.
“Whatever. Just tell me what’s so important you couldn’t let me finish my pool game.”
“Hmph.” Devlin handed me a lumpy manila envelope. I could tell by the feel that there was a burner cell phone inside along with some documents.
“So who needs a dirt nap?” I opened the envelope.
“No one,” Devlin answered. “It’s a collection and babysitting gig.”
Devlin meant a kidnapping, but even when we’re pretty damn certain no one’s listening in we use euphemisms. It’s a habit drilled into us ever since we were young. I have memories from when I was fourteen of being forced to eat a bar of soap for talking too boldly about company business in my father’s office.
I tilted the envelope so the contents would slide out onto the plush leather seat beside me. The expected phone plopped out, as well as several pages of photos, obviously printed out from a computer rather than professionally developed.
I glanced at the pics and then refocused on my brother. “I don’t do jobs involving women or children, Devlin.” I stonily handed him the phone. “I’ve been very clear about this. Very clear.”
The photos all depicted a gorgeous twenty-something woman with red wavy hair down to her shoulders and bright, intelligent eyes that seem to hint at an inner toughness.
I’d do her, I thought, as a bulge grew in my jeans. I’d do her hard.
“Calm down, Will,” Devlin rolled his eyes and forced the phone back into my hand. “She’s not going to get hurt. Once the drop off is made, she gets to walk off without a scratch.”
“And if there’s no drop off?”
“Then you do what you gotta do to make sure there is.”
“I don’t like this,” I stuffed the items back into the envelope. “Not one bit.”
“You don’t have to like it, baby bro,” Devlin sneered. “When you walked away from the firm—from the family—that was supposed to be it. No second chances, no welcoming you back into the fold. You went and fought and bled for Uncle Sam and left us in the lurch. Now, you’re back and you want in.”
“Seriously, Devlin?” I arched an eyebrow and an old sting returned to the surface. “After the role you played in my leaving the firm, you’re going to say something like that?”
“Hey, Lily made her own choices, Will.” Devlin shrugged, and I could tell he was trying hard to be nice about the situation. As nice as he got, anyway. “I didn’t seduce her. She seduced me. If you really cared about her, you would try and respect her choices. Besides, this isn’t about the past. It’s about your future with the firm. You need to prove you’re still loyal to us first and foremost. Family is everything.”
I only hesitated a moment before bumping his offered fist.
“Family is everything,” I agreed. “I’ll do it. Do you have a name to go along with the photos? Or do I have to do my own legwork on this one?”
“You’re looking at Scarlett Shaw, eldest daughter of Hunter Shaw. You ever heard of him?”
“The gun guy?” I scratched my head. “I think so, but I never knew he had a daughter.”
Especially not one who looked like that. Just my type.
“Well, he does, and he’s loaded, so we’re sending her on a little vacation until Daddy pays up. I’ll leave the details in your capable hands, and we’ll keep in touch.”
I exited the limo, envelope clutched in my hand. It looked like shooting the shit time tonight was at an end. I wished I didn’t have an ominous gut feeling about the op.
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