Authors: Max Henry
Tags: #Romantic Suspense
I stand and slip my feet into my heels, one hand on the banister while I watch those doors like a hawk for the guest. Carlos emerges from the right as I descend the stairs toward the entrance. Boot buckles clink with each step our guest takes, the sight of leather enough to put my heart into a tailspin.
Is he associated with the Fallen Aces? Does he know about King and me?
I crane my neck sideways as I take the last steps to the floor, trying to see around Sully who’s partially blocking my view.
“Hammer,” Carlos exclaims, offering his hand. “We were starting to worry you’d been held up.”
“Nothing a bit of gentle persuasion couldn’t hurry along.” His voice is deep and husky, no doubt from years of smoking. I can’t see much more than a shock of graying hair that sits long at the collar, and his enormous Blood Eagles patch as he stands with his back to Sully and I.
“I’d like you to meet my wife,” Carlos says, one arm outstretched for me. “Elena, this is Hammer.”
I make my way quickly to Carlos’s side, my head down to avoid the newcomer’s stare. I live with the devil; I don’t need to look into the eyes of a demon to recognize evil when it’s present.
“Pleasure,” I say, extending my hand with my eyes still downcast.
“Show me that lovely face,” Hammer urges. “No need to hide from me.”
Oh, but there is.
Sully leaves, exiting toward the servant’s area at haste. Disappointment emanates off him in waves. He knows something more, and the thought has my palms breaking out in a sweat.
I lift my chin and face this heathen in leather head-on. I’ve never heard of his club, but if he has an association with Carlos I can only imagine that he has to be an enemy of King’s. Sharp green eyes look back at me, so strikingly clear that it knocks the breath from my lungs. I’ve only seen eyes that green on one man in my life . . .
“There she is.” A heavily ring-laden hand lifts to caress the apple of my cheek. “So beautiful. You’ve picked well, Carlos.”
“No room for flaws in my stable.”
I ignore the breeding stock reference from my dearest husband and stay fixed on this stranger. How does Carlos know him? What is he here for? And why the hell are his eyes
My earlier lies about feeling unwell come back to bite me in the ass as true nausea takes hold. I contemplate making a break for the bathroom when my arm is caught in Carlos’s hold, and I’m dragged toward the living room.
“Emile and I have sorted out the details. We were working on the final draft just now.” Carlos talks to Hammer over my head as though I’m not even present.
“Good. I’m curious to see what you have to offer me.”
We turn through the doors to find the rounded ass of Madam Bitchface shoved our way as she bends over to select a grape from the offering on the table.
“Oh, I didn’t realize you were back so soon.” She straightens with cat-like elongation, arcing her back to press those fake melons out and toward the men. “You must be Hammer.” She sweeps across the room, offering her hand for him to take. “Such an unusual name.”
“It’s not my real name, darlin’. My birth name is Norwegian, as is my heritage, and it’s a little hard for people to wrap their tongue around it properly.”
The woman’s eyes spark up at this little tidbit of information, and she positively drools as he presses a chaste kiss to the back of her hand before dropping it like a hot potato.
“Take a seat. Maria will be in with refreshments shortly.” Carlos directs Hammer toward the over-sized armchair at the head of the long coffee table. Madam takes the chaise lounge and stretches herself out as though she’s expecting somebody to break out the charcoal and sketchpad.
I stay rooted to the spot and eye Carlos as he drops onto the center of the sofa, effectively leaving me no personal space should I wish to sit as well. I scowl at the asshole, doing my best to remain “lady-like” as I make my way around the table to sit beside him.
He drops a hand to the cushion, blocking my descent. “I think our newest guest might enjoy your company, darling.”
I flick my gaze between the Silver Fox who holds my freedom in the palm of his hand, and the Gray Wolf who looks as though he’s hell-bent on capturing me should I get away from him. I frown as I try to decide which beast’s bite would be worse.
Rock and a hard place
. There’s no real choice; both options will leave me as bruised.
“Didn’t realize you were the type to share,” Emile croons, eyeballing Carlos with nothing short of blatant hunger.
My anger isn’t fuelled by jealousy; I couldn’t care less who he fucks in his spare time. It’s fuelled by raw pride. If she thinks she can come in here and order me around, she better think again. She doesn’t know me. She has no right to think she’s any better then I am. Who the hell is she to believe that her life is so much more important than mine? Where’s the compassion for her fellow woman? For a person so obviously here against their free will?
“There’s no sense in being selfish,” Carlos answers. “I get her to myself every day, so why shouldn’t my guest get the privilege of enjoying what he so clearly admires for an evening?”
I scour Carlos’s face for any sign that this is all a ruse, that he’s about to flip and be the psychopath I’ve come to know and depend on in times like this. Nothing shows. He’s deadly serious.
He fucking hacked my mother up in front of me this morning, and so far I’ve managed to hold it together, to find my sanity in this unbelievable pantomime out of sheer fear of screwing up my chance at escape. But enough. How much more does he want to ridicule me, to belittle me and use me?
Picking up the nearest thing to me, I hurl the bowl of grapes at Carlos’s smug face. He ducks with milliseconds to spare before I kindly rearrange his already marked mug. Hammer laughs at the spectacle, while Madam Bitchface squeals with put-on shock.
Made for Hollywood, that one.
The room falls into shocked silence as Carlos slowly rises; red rushes his face and forces the veins in his temples to show. “Get over here.”
I trip over the arm of Hammer’s chair as I back away, defiant. “No. I’ve had enough of this, of being your God-damned puppet.”
“You’re my wife,” he roars, “so you fucking well do as you’re told.”
“Why am I even here, Carlos? What the fuck was even going through your head when you thought of bringing your arranged wife into the room as entertainment?”
Emile gasps, her hand delicately hovering over her lips.
“And you,” I shoot her way as I continue to back away from Carlos while he stalks me around the furniture. “You can quit with this fucking show. You call me uncultured, and yet all
are is fake, from your bleached hair, to your tits, and right down to the put-on accent. You’re not French—you’re American.”
Her face glows red. “Get your God-damn pet under control, Carlos. Show me she can be contained, otherwise the deal’s off the table.”
“What deal?” I falter behind the sofa Carlos had been sitting on, forgetting about our chase and allowing him to catch up.
He takes a hold of my hair roughly in his right hand and yanks my head back. “I told you, you’re of no use to me now that your fucking mother died and took the location of the money with her. She repaid me this morning, and now you’re going to pay back what I’ve wasted on you, too.”
My eyeballs burn with the force I place on them to try and see what Hammer’s doing in all of this. Why is he here? What part does he play?
“I don’t understand why the fucking money matters so much,” I wail. “You can’t tell me you don’t earn in a single month more than what my grandfather could have hidden away.”
Carlos rushes a heavy breath over my face as he scowls. “You’ve got no idea what that man did, do you?”
“Clearly not.” I try to pull free of his hold and he tightens his grip sending fire racing over my scalp.
“I have two clients interested in a Latino woman,” Emile states coolly, her fake French accent still in play, “but they won’t take an untrained one.”
“How much?” Carlos barks, forcing me out into the middle of the room by his hold in my hair.
Madam Bitchface circles the two of us as she assesses me like stock at a market. “I could push for one million, but she has to be without scars. Is her flesh pure?”
Ha, got you there, you asshole.
“I can’t remember.”
More like he’s never seen all of me to know. Sickness slams into me hard when I realize what that means—they’re going to strip me down and check me out right now, right here.
I crane against Carlos’s hold to plead with the only person in the room—Hammer. He watches our spectacle with raw interest, not an ounce of compassion to be found in his cold clinical eyes.
What the hell am I going to do now?
“A million’s not enough,” Carlos states with deadly authority. “Her slut of a mother only gained me two. I’m still down eight.”
Ten million? My grandfather’s stash was rumored to be ten million?
“I could maybe push for one and a half, but like I said, she has to be pure. No tattoos, no scars, no birthmarks.”
Emile glowers over my shoulder at Carlos. “One point seven. Final offer.”
They’re discussing me like a damn property changing hands. My body sags in Carlos’s hold, jolted upright again by a quick yank to my hair. I cry out, wrapping my hands over his to beg him to ease off. He peels my fingers free and flicks my hands to my sides.
“She has no tattoos. But as for scars, I could have easily missed one.” The tone of his voice brings bile to my throat. He’s insinuating we were too busy getting kinky for him to notice, too wrapped up in the act. I swallow twice and straighten my back to push me closer to his hand, and slacken the pull on my hair.
“I’ll check her over then, shall I?” Emile asks, reaching for my dress.
Instinct sets in and I kick out, connecting with her elbow.
“Ouch!” She steps back, cradling the sore joint as she glowers at Hammer. “Restrain the woman, for crying out loud. You’re going to get worse than her when you start transporting them for me, so prove you’ve got what it takes and hold this one down.”
Carlos places his free hand to my throat, applying just enough pressure to issue a warning as his lips caress my ear with his words. “One twist, Elena, and I could snap this pretty neck.”
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
I shoot an elbow backward and connect with his ribs as Hammer advances. It does enough to get the hand off my throat, but my scalp burns as Carlos yanks my head to his hip, tilting me off-balance so I fall to the floor with a solid thud.
Carlos places a polished shoe to my throat as Hammer’s hands circle my ankles. “Don’t. Move.”
Emile kneels beside me, making the task look a chore in her ridiculously tight skirt. Hammer offers her a hand down, and she fucking gushes all over him as I feverishly look around the room, trying to find a means of distraction. There has to be a way out of this.
Her cold hands find the hem of my dress bunched around my knees, and she pushes it up toward my chest, intent on stripping me down. I fight her as best I can, scratching and clawing at her hands as Carlos’s foot gets heavier and heavier until each rasped breath is next to impossible. Clouds gather on the edges of my vision, and I still. I can’t black out; there’s no telling what they’d do then.
“Good girl,” Carlos croons. “Not so bad once you stop fighting, is it?”
The dress is at my panties. My life is over. My
life is over. I’ll never know what it could have been. A lone tear forms in my left eye and I swallow away the pain and regret, urging myself not to cry. I close my eyes in the hope that if I center myself, I can push down the panic and be strong through this, find another way to save what’s mine . . . what’s
An almighty crash echoes around the room, followed by Maria’s rapid babbling. “Se
or, I am so sorry. I’ll clean this up straight away.”
The distraction was there all along. Emile’s hands drop away from my dress as she turns to see what the commotion is. I look down myself to Hammer and find him standing to move away from the spreading pool of water that creeps out from the mess of broken glass Maria has created.
“This is one time too many, Maria,” Carlos yells, lifting his foot off my neck so he can charge across and tower over the poor woman.
or.” Her face is down, but her eyes lift to find mine. “I’ll go get something to clean this up.”
“Do that,” Carlos snaps.
I take it—the opportunity. While all three backs are turned on me, I push to my feet and run from the room. Emile stumbles as I connect with her in my haste to get away. Carlos’s roar chases me down the hallways as I sprint for safety.
I need to hide.
I need to go where he won’t follow.
The answer is obvious.
Footfalls follow me as I sprint through the massive house towards the wing that’s always been out of bounds. Stale air assails my nostrils as I burst through the stiff doors and run toward Carlos’s first wife’s bedroom. The handle doesn’t budge on my first attempt, and all color drains from my face when I realize it could be locked. An almighty growl resonates off every wall, and I spin around to find Carlos at the double doors that connect this wing to the main residence, his fists clenched at his sides.
“Get out here!”
“No!” I turn and try the door handle again. The metal rattles as erratically as my heartbeat while I pray to whatever god is listening that this works.
“I’ll get her.”
I look over my shoulder to see Hammer try to step past Carlos. He doesn’t make it an inch inside the previously shut-off wing. Carlos forces him back with a strength I’ve never seen out of him, screaming at the confused man to stay out, to not “taint” the area.
The bedroom door gives, and I throw my shoulder into the dusty wood to push the stiff doors open.
“I’m warning you, Elena . . .” Carlos’s idle threats fade behind me as I rush through the enormous room, looking for the best way out of this hellhole. I’m safe in here for now, but how much longer before Carlos finds the strength to cross over into an area he clearly hasn’t stepped foot in for years?