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  • The Devil I Hate - Chapter Eight

    Chapter 8 Alex As I entered the great hall, a tall blond approached me. His thick chest and muscular arms bulged beneath his black suit. Shane “Sonny” Cormac IV was Marcello’s best friend and the oldest son of a shipping tycoon. And he wasn’t afraid to tell you about his family’s billions. Sonny’s gaze moved up and down the length of my body. “Look at you.” He shook his head. “You are fuck-hot and don’t even know it.” I chuckled. “Still a charmer, I see.” “I know your secret.” He bent down to my height, a smirk tugging at his mouth. “Secrets are commodities in Devil’s Creek. You’d be smart to collect as many as you can.” “You don’t know me,” I challenged. “Oh, but I do.” He clicked his tongue. “You’re here for revenge.” I avoided his gaze, afraid he would read the lie on my face. “I’m here to marry Luca, nothing more.” “You’re playing a dangerous game, Lexie.” My stomach churned at the thought of Aiden and his nickname for me. “We don’t know each other well enough to have nicknames.” “That’s because Luca always kept you to himself. But we could get to know each other.” He waggled his eyebrows, shoving a hand through his thick hair. “I own the biggest yacht in the marina. Take a ride with me next weekend.” I laughed. “Does that pickup line work on girls?” He lifted his black and silver mask and winked. “Wait until you see my yacht.” “Is that a metaphor for what’s in your pants?” Sonny snorted with laughter. Shaking my head, I smacked his muscular bicep. “Stop flirting with me.” “You have the eye of every man in this room.” He tugged on the thin spaghetti strap on my shoulder. “And this dress… stunning.” “Luca chose my dress.” His fingers trailed down my bare arm, making me shiver. “But you painted your body with glitter.” He took another look at me and licked his lips. “You have fingerprints on your chest and neck.” I looked down at my cleavage spilling out of the dress, and my eyes widened. “Oh, my God.” “I’m guessing the fingerprints are from Luca.” “Good guess.” “It’s okay, Little Wellington,” he said with a sexy smirk. “I won’t tell anyone.” “So,” I muttered, my arm brushing his soft suit jacket as I attempted to change the conversation. “Where’s your wife or girlfriend?” Sonny sipped from the highball glass in his hand, scanning the crowded room. “Unattached.” “Afraid of commitment?” His eyes found mine. “Haven’t met the right woman.” “Your parents don’t meddle in your love life?” “We’re Irish,” he said as if that explained everything. Bastian and Damian Salvatore entered the room from the private entrance. They both had hair like a raven’s feathers and lean muscular bodies hidden beneath their expensive designer suits. I hadn’t seen them since before Aiden’s disappearance, and time had served them well. They made a beeline toward Luca, whose stony demeanor shifted when he saw them. Flanked by Bastian and Damian, Luca looked like a king, leaning against the wall as if his shoulders were holding up the damn thing. Everyone wore a mask except for Luca and his brothers. The Salvatore men were so delicious my heart raced as I examined each of them. Bastian’s hair was messy, as if he’d rolled out of bed and still looked hot. He scrolled through his cell phone with a smug expression on his gorgeous face. What was with all of them? None of them ever smiled. Smirked, yes, but never anything that resembled a genuine smile. Damian’s shirt was untucked, a few buttons open, revealing the dark tattoos on his chest. He had a red lipstick stain on his collar, and his gold silk tie hung around his neck. I glanced up at Sonny. “Damian and Bastian never spoke much around me. So what’s their deal?” “Damian’s a fucking psychopath,” he announced, his glass raised to his lips. “He’s into some sick and twisted shit.” He might as well have said Damian likes to golf nine holes on Sundays. That was how the confession sounded from Sonny’s mouth. Unlike most people in Devil’s Creek, Sonny made you feel at ease. “Are we talking Dexter-level psycho?” He bobbed his head, his eyes on the crowded dance floor. “As a matter of speaking, yeah.” A chill rolled down my bare shoulders. Sonny’s declaration should have creeped me out, but with Arlo as their father, it was no surprise. “Word of advice,” Sonny said with a hint of warning. “Never put yourself in a position where you’re alone with Damian. He has a thing for blood.” “Good to know.” At the Salvatore table, Luca’s brothers huddled around him. They seemed to gravitate to him like he was the center of their universe. Even Marcello followed his older brother’s orders. I nudged Sonny with my elbow, and he looked down at me. “What about Bastian? Does he have any scary kinks I need to know about, seeing as I’m living under the same roof as these weirdos?” “Bash is a sadist. He’s into bondage. I taught him a thing or two about tying proper knots.” A haunting smile tugged at his mouth, giving me serial killer vibes. He seemed delighted by the idea of binding someone. These men… and the weird shit they liked. “Can’t be any worse than what Luca has done to me,” I offered since we were spilling our secrets. Sonny laughed. “We’re all sick fucks.” Taking in the scenery, he moved from one woman to another, hunting for his next victim. Despite his killer looks and charm, Sonny was like his friends. The Founders’ children threw their wealth and power around like they ruled the world—because one day they would. “Want to know a secret?” I asked him. Sonny dipped his head down. “Of course.” “Your bestie drugged me on my second night in the house,” I admitted. “That’s my secret.” “Hmm…” Sonny scrubbed his hand over his jaw. “Marcello told me. Don’t hold it against him. He’s loyal and will do anything for his family.” “Yeah, I got that. He does whatever Luca tells him.” “Marcello likes order,” he said with a sigh. “After growing up in this house, he’s not used to freedom. He needs things to be a certain way.” “Seems we have that in common,” I commented, wondering if Marcello was as innocent as Sonny claimed. I didn’t know Marcello well. But, even after ten years, I had much to learn about the Salvatores and this world. I would always be an outsider—the girl from the Midwest with a secret family legacy that forced her to marry a cruel prince. “Now, Luca… he thrives in chaos.” “How do you figure? Luca is always in control. I’ve never seen him lose it.” “He hasn’t been the same since you returned to Haven.” I raised a curious eyebrow. “Do tell.” “He’s been losing his edge since then. It seems you’ve finally gotten under his skin, Little Wellington.” “I doubt that. Nothing gets to Luca.” “You do,” he insisted. “You’re his only weakness.” I rolled my eyes at the thought of Luca having any weaknesses, and I was not one of them. “The power has shifted within the Salvatore family.” I wondered if he was telling me this to gain a reaction, and I didn’t let him see the effect this information had on me. I tipped my head up, giving him an interested smile. “How so?” He nodded toward the Salvatore table. “Look at how close Luca and Marcello have grown in your absence.” I glanced over at the two of them. Luca propped his elbow up on Marcello’s chair, whispering as they stared in my direction, though their eyes never found mine. “I always thought they hated each other.” “They did,” he said as he pressed the glass to his lips. “But you brought them together.” I wasn’t sure how to respond to his confession. Sonny didn’t strike me as the type of person who shared random tidbits to hold down a conversation. No, he wanted me to know these things for a reason. “I guess having a common enemy united them.” “No, sweetheart, you misunderstand,” he said with his eyes pointed down at me. “You are the one person who binds all of us. We’re at your disposal. So whatever you need, you only have to ask.” Confused as hell, I narrowed my eyes. “Who’s we?” “The Devil’s Knights.” I was well aware of the secret society founded by Luca’s great-great-grandfather. The Knights were the bankers of the criminal underworld, which earned them a lot of enemies with axes to grind. “I want nothing to do with Luca’s billionaire boys’ club,” I tossed back at Sonny. “And I can take care of myself.” Sonny frowned. “I see your future husband hasn’t properly explained our organization.” “Just the basics.” “We need to rectify this,” Sonny said in a firm tone, his focus on the Salvatores. “I’ll talk to Luca.” From across the hall, I could see Damian’s chest rise and fall as he studied a woman with long blonde hair that spilled down her shoulders. She wore a pale blue strapless dress that clung to her lithe body and stopped mid-thigh. Damian looked at her like he wanted to throw her over his shoulder and drag her out of the hall. But so did Bastian. I inclined my head in the blonde’s direction, and Sonny’s eyes followed. “Who is that woman?” “Kali Marx,” he said with a sly smile. “Her dad forced her into moving to Devil’s Creek. Senator Marx is running for governor of Connecticut next year. And guess who’s helping him?” “Arlo Salvatore.” He nodded. “She’s a prop piece for her father’s family values campaign.” “Have I met her before? She doesn’t look familiar.” Sonny shook his head. “No. You visited during the summers when Kali was in California visiting her mom. The two of you never crossed paths.” “I lived in Devil’s Creek for over two years before I moved back to Haven. I don’t remember Kali coming to Arlo’s parties… or anyone talking about her.” “She ran off a few months before you moved to The Hills.” “Where did she go?” He shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. Even the Salvatores could never piece together how she evaded them.” This gave me hope for Aiden. Had he done the same thing? I peeked up at Sonny. “Which Salvatore is she dating? Damian or Bastian.” “Both.” My jaw unhinged from his confession. I wondered how one woman could handle the insane desires of Bastian and Damian. She had to be strong to deal with both of them. Blood and bondage? Luca was a lunatic, but at least his brand of torture didn’t involve ropes or cutting. I spotted Pops across the room. He wore a tuxedo with a black and gold mask over his eyes. His white hair hung over his forehead, styled to hide his receding hairline. Blair drank champagne at his side, chatting with her friends. She dressed like a fairy peacock in various shades of purple and gold. The cold bitch stood ramrod straight like she had a pole shoved up her ass. My mother stood beside my father in a black mermaid gown with gold trim and a matching mask. She threw glances in Arlo Salvatore’s direction, which piqued my curiosity when I saw him return her stare. Knowing my mother, she needed more money. And she would do just about anything to maintain her lifestyle. My father was an architect but made nothing of himself, content with living off my mother. “I think it’s time you meet your new subjects,” Sonny said. I raised an eyebrow at him. “Subjects?” “Someday, you’ll be the Queen of the Devil’s Knights, which makes you a very powerful woman.” His admission tugged at my emotions, but thankfully, my carnival mask hid the change in my demeanor. “I’m not interested in power.” “Which will make you a good queen.” Sonny offered me his arm, and I latched onto him as we moved throughout the ballroom. “My mom and Arlo were high school sweethearts,” I said as he led me through the crowd. “But what’s the real story? My grandfather doesn’t tell me much, and my parents don’t speak to me.” “Until your mom ran away, the Salvatores were finally going to get their wish. To marry into one of the founding families.” I shot him a bewildered look. “The Salvatores founded Devil’s Creek and then deeded plots to the richest families in the country.” He shook his head, and blond hair fell into his eyes. “Not the founders of Devil’s Creek. The Salvatores didn’t move to the United States until over a hundred years after the Founding Fathers ratified the Thirteen Colonies.” “Oh, you mean those Founders.” He nodded. “Yes, your ancestors.” I never acknowledged my family’s heritage because it never mattered to me. My bloodline had nothing to do with me as a person. Being related to someone famous only made my life harder. People considered the Wellingtons American royalty. “When your mom ditched Arlo,” he continued, “she embarrassed the Salvatores. The news of your mom’s betrayal rocked the town. It made Arlo look weak like he couldn’t hold on to his woman. So people started rebelling against the Salvatores. But your grandfather did his part and took care of the backlash.” “I hate politics,” I groaned. “And all the bullshit in this town.” “If you want out, there are ways to leave Devil’s Creek… if you know the right people.” “And you’re the right person?” He gave me one of his golden boy smiles and winked. “I have my ways.” “No, I have to marry Luca.” My voice sounded confident when I felt the complete opposite on the inside. A marriage to Luca only benefited him. So what the hell was I getting from the deal? That part was never clear. Not even Pops could explain it in any way that made sense to me. “You’re a tough girl,” Sonny commented as he surveyed the room. “Most people would crack in your position. Your mom did.” “Good thing I’m not most people.” Kali Marx waved as she approached us. “Hey, I’m Kali. You must be Alexandrea. I have heard so much about you.” “Call me Alex.” I extended my hand for her to shake. “Nice to meet you.” Kali wrapped her fingers around Sonny’s bicep and peeked up at him. “I’m sure this one has told you a few things.” “You saying I’m the town gossip?” Sonny held his hand over his heart and sighed. “You wound me, Kali from Cali.” Kali rolled her eyes. “I’ve lived here long enough that you can drop from Cali.” Sonny slid his arm behind Kali’s back, pulling her close. “You’ll always be an outsider. But that’s okay. We still love you.” “Founders are such snobs,” she cooed. He pointed a finger at his chest. “Not this one.” “That’s debatable,” I interjected. “You asked me to take a ride on your yacht.” “Maybe I wasn’t talking about my boat,” he quipped. The three of us roared into a fit of laughter. For the first time since I’d moved to Devil’s Creek, I was having a good time. Around Sonny, I could be myself while discovering the truth about my family and this town. The Salvatores shot daggers at us from across the room. The hell with them. “Do you have plans this week?” Kali asked me. “We should grab lunch at Blue Moon Cafe.” “Sure, I’d love that.” “I love the chili fries at Blue Moon,” Sonny said, licking his lips. “I’m coming with you pretty ladies.” “No, you’re not.” Kali objected. “This is a girl’s lunch.” “Fine, have your girl’s lunch.” He stuck out his tongue at her, and she laughed. “But next time, we’re getting takeout and eating it at the marina. On my yacht.” “Deal.” She smiled at Sonny, then turned to me. “How does Wednesday sound?” I glanced across the room at Luca, who was already staring at me. No shocker there. Whenever we were in the same room, his eyes followed me. Stalker. “Can you ask my keepers if I have plans for Wednesday?” Sonny muttered okay, then slipped through the crowd. “How’s it going?” Kali leaned into me, keeping her voice low. “Are they treating you okay?” “Yeah,” I lied. “The Salvatores have been very welcoming.” She gave me a look that said she knew I was lying because she probably did enough of her own. “They’re controlling, huh?” Before I could answer her question, Sonny appeared at my side. “Noon on Wednesday.” “Great.” Kali grinned. “I have to mingle, or my dad will give me shit. Come find me later.” Then she walked away. “You look like you could use another drink,” Sonny said as he swiped two champagne glasses from a server’s tray, handing one to me. “You read minds now?” “I read faces,” he countered. “Don’t worry. This will all be over soon. Just smile and look interested. Everyone is watching you.” He was right. I looked over at Luca. He sat beside his father at the front of the room on a chair that looked like a throne. Marcello was on his father’s left side, while Bastian and Damian were next to Luca. It was an odd configuration that showed the balance of power within the family. The chairs had high backs with intricate symbols carved into the wood. An S with a snake wrapped around it. A snake—like The Serpents. Luca rested his elbow on the arm, leaning over to speak to his father, who gave him a curt nod. His terrifying gaze swept over the room and landed on me. Were they talking about me? Sonny slid his hand to my lower back and sipped from his glass. I looked up at him, inspecting his handsome face. “What’s your secret? You’re too happy to be a founder’s son.” He shrugged. “Lots of alcohol, loose women, and the feel of the open sea on my face.” “How did you get the nickname Sonny?” “Because of my last name. Mac is Irish for son. My father is Shane Cormac III. I’m the fourth.” He rolled his eyes as if it annoyed him to share the same name as his relatives. “Since my family owns Mac Corp, one of my uncles thought he was funny and started calling me Sonny Mac. It was already getting too hard to tell all the Shanes apart, so everyone started calling me Sonny, and the name stuck.” Pops crossed the room and tapped Sonny on the shoulder. “Mind if I borrow my granddaughter for a moment?” Sonny flashed one of his golden boy smiles. “Go ahead, Mr. Wellington. She’s all yours.” Pops extended his hand. “Can I have this dance?” The band played a slow tune, all instrumental with a soothing beat. I took his hand, placing the other on his shoulder. We swayed back and forth, gliding along the dance floor, pretending that everyone’s eyes were not on us. He tipped his head as we passed an older couple who smiled at us. “You’re getting along well, I see.” “As expected.” Pops spun me around so I faced the Salvatores. Luca burned a hole through me like he had X-ray vision. His intense gaze made me feel naked, bared to him in front of everyone. It was frustrating and intoxicating, and also confusing. “Far right corner,” Pops whispered into my ear. “Four men, all in black tuxedos and carnival masks. Do you see them?” Pops spun me again, and four tall, stunning men stared at us. “Who are they?” It was hard to tell with everyone wearing masks. “The people your brother chased after.” A rush of excitement shot through my veins. “The Serpents?” “Yes.” Last year, The Serpents invited my brother to join them. After years of trying to gain their attention, Aiden succeeded. And not long after, he vanished like a cloud of smoke. “The only way out is through,” Pops reminded me. I didn’t understand what he meant the first time he recited the quote. I later learned the original quote came from the Robert Frost poem Servant of Servants. “One of The Serpents will ask to dance with you,” he said in a hushed tone. “Say yes. Let him lead.” “How are you so sure?” “I overheard them talking about you.” As he turned me, I scanned the crowd. Everyone looked happy, entranced by the music, alcohol, and gourmet food. They were blind or oblivious, not the least bit affected by the overwhelming power of the Salvatores. “I need to get out of this house,” I told Pops. “Marcello hasn’t let me out of his sight. I have no freedom. It’s like I live in a cage.” Just like Evangeline Franco. “Your belongings are on the way to Devil’s Creek. Everything will return to normal this week,” he assured me, though I did not find his words comforting. I sighed. “How do you figure?” “I rented a space in town for the new Wellington Architecture and Design. You can go back to work this week if you’re up to it. Your parents have a handful of clients waiting for them to open their doors.” I stared at him in disbelief. “So soon? How?” “When you have enough money, you can make anything happen.” Pops twirled me one last time, giving me the perfect view of the Salvatore table. “Anything except make the Salvatores go away,” I said through clenched teeth. He followed my gaze. “Arlo doesn’t want money.” “No, he wants revenge.”

  • The Devil I Hate - Chapter Seven

    Chapter 7 Alex The darkness found me again. It always did. Hello, old friend, it whispered in my ear. Welcome back. Like most nights, I tossed and turned, forced to endure my own personal Hell. Images flashed before my eyes. Colors swirled together, the room spinning around me. Hands slid down my arms, touching me in places Luca had claimed for himself. I rolled onto my side, and the hands slipped away. The room spun on its axis. A gray mist swirled around my head, the room replaced by a new nightmare—a new version of Hell. My body ached from my feet pounding the cement. Every muscle cried out for me to stop, begging me to slow down. But I couldn’t. They were too close, right on my tail. I ran through the crowded streets of Beacon Bay with a group of men chasing me. They called out my name, taunting me with each step. Don’t stop. Keep going, Alex. They took Aiden from you. Don’t let them take you, too. “You can run, Alex,” a man taunted. “But you can’t hide. We will always find you.” Not unless the darkness finds me first. The soles of my shoes burned as I bolted down a back alleyway, headed toward The River Styx. But when I reached the rundown bar, my feet stuck to the ground. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t take another step. Stretching out my fingers, I reached for the door. The handle was right there, just a few more inches. So why couldn’t I touch it? I heard loud breathing behind me, and a shiver rolled down my back. The hair on my arms and neck stood at attention. As I turned my head to the side, fear rocked me when my eyes landed on four tall men with broad shoulders. My mouth dropped in horror at the sight of the paint on their faces, one half covered in snakeskin. The tallest of the group had golden scales branding his tanned skin. He looked like a copperhead snake, poisonous and deadly. But so were his friends. All of them had tattoos on their necks and hands. They wore black hoodies and fitted jeans, the right side of their faces obscured by the paint. Beside the tallest of the group, a man with white blond hair raised his tattooed hand to his jaw. He painted his pale skin yellow with white chevrons like a king cobra. The man on his left had the greenish-yellow hue of a pit viper. They were all terrifying, but the last man was pure evil. His scales were dark brown, and I gasped at his black tongue when he opened his mouth. A black mamba. What the fuck? He stood in front of the others, the apparent leader of The Serpents. “Give him back to me,” I shouted. The black mamba opened his mouth. But before he could reply, my vision blurred, and someone shook my shoulder so hard it snapped me back to reality. “Alex, wake the fuck up.” My eyes shot open at the sound of Marcello’s deep voice. He held onto my shoulder, sitting at the edge of my bed. Concern scrolled across his face. I attempted to speak, but my mouth was so dry my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. I closed my eyes for a moment and sucked in a deep breath. Maybe he wasn’t real. Maybe it was all a dream. “Look at me.” Marcello slid his hand beneath my chin and squeezed, forcing my eyes open. “How long has this been going on?” “What?” I choked out. “Night terrors. You’ve had them since your first night here. They’re getting worse.” I took a deep breath and shoved his hand away from my face. “Don’t act as if you care about me, Marcello. You’re the one who locked me in this room. I only have you and Luca to blame.” He glared at me. “Aiden trusted you,” I said with venom in my tone. “He got his information about The Serpents from you. I told him you were all fucking snakes, but he wouldn’t listen to me.” Marcello’s jaw ticked. “Enough.” For years, I had woken up from the same horrific dreams. The dark closet. My mother and her slow, agonizing torture. Aiden had slept beside me most nights when we were kids and would rock me back to sleep and hold my hand to stop the shakes. Then, when we left for college, the dreams stopped. The distance from my parents kept them at bay. But after Aiden disappeared, the pain came flooding back. His loss had unlocked a part of my mind that held all my worst memories. All of my fears. Then the nightmares about The Serpents started. I met two of them once. If anyone could find Aiden, it was The Serpents. So every night, my subconscious attempted to find them. To revisit their hiding place—The River Styx. Marcello grabbed a tray from the table by the window. He set the coffee and a plate of toast in front of me. The Salvatores knew everything about me, and it wasn’t comforting. Now, they were even aware of my nightmares. I’d never mentioned them to Luca. Not like it was his business. He’d never stayed through the night to find out. I sat up and hooked my finger through the cup’s handle, lifting it from the saucer. “Is this a peace offering?” Marcello ignored my question, his hands on his narrow hips as he watched me eat. I slurped the liquid, my stomach rumbling, and bit into the toast. An explosion of flavor spread across my tongue as I chewed and swallowed the bread in one gulp. Eyes on me, Marcello sat in the armchair by the window, a black wingtip on his knee. We sat in silence, which suited me fine. He spoke little, and I had nothing to say to his grumpy ass after he locked me in my bedroom. After I finished eating, he got up from the chair and moved the tray to the writing desk. “Do you need to use the bathroom?” “Yes.” Marcello lifted me in his arms like a damn baby, crushing me against his chest. “I can walk,” I protested. “You don’t have to carry me.” He acted as if he hadn’t heard me, focused on the door he shoved open with his foot. We entered the ensuite bathroom, and he placed my feet on the cold tiled floor. He tipped his head toward the toilet with an annoyed look plastered on his face. “I’m not peeing with you in here,” I mumbled, sleep clouding my rough and scratchy voice. “Get out.” The room swayed in front of me. A flash of colors and lights blurred my vision as a sharp pain pierced my skull. I pressed my fingers to my temple. “I don’t feel good.” My head pounded like a jackhammer drilling into cement. Not a migraine, I thought as Marcello turned his back to give me some privacy. Sometimes the headaches were so bad I threw up for hours. Other times I had fucked up flashbacks and nightmares that made it impossible to tell the difference between fact and fiction. I slid my panties down and sat on the toilet, humiliated with Marcello standing a few feet away. But with the room slipping out from under me, I didn’t care as much. I wiped, pulled up my panties, and flushed the toilet before a wave of nausea hit me like a ton of bricks. Clutching the edge of the sink, I stared into the mirror, seeing two of myself. My reflection on the left gave me a devilish grin. The one on the right blew me a kiss. What the fuck? My mind played tricks on me. I should have been able to trust myself above anyone else. But when my dissociative episodes spiraled out of control, I was helpless. Like I was right now. And then I thought of the coffee and toast Marcello had given me. “What did you….” As I lost my balance, Marcello scooped me into his arms and whispered, “I got you, mi regina.” My queen. * * * “Time to get up, Sleeping Beauty.” Blinking the sleep from my eyes, I flattened onto my back and glanced up at Marcello. Dressed in another dark suit, his ink-black hair was messy but styled, armed with his usual emotionless expression. A few times, I saw him crack a smile, though those moments were rare. His long body loomed over me like a tree. “Luca’s home.” Despite nausea sweeping over me, I didn’t miss the excitement stirring in my belly. Luca had the strangest effect on me. Love and hate were the same emotions when they concerned my devil in disguise. “But I thought… You said Luca wouldn’t be home until the party.” Marcello shoved his hands into his pockets and frowned. “The masquerade ball is tonight.” I peeled the sheets from my sticky legs and sat up, fanning myself with my hand. When I had privacy, I preferred to sleep in as little clothing as possible. Most nights and mornings, I woke up drenched in sweat, sometimes forced to shower immediately. “No, that’s not right. It’s only Thursday.” He shook his head. “It’s Saturday.” A gnawing pain throbbed at the base of my skull. How the hell did I lose two days? I glanced up at Marcello, afraid of the answer, but asked anyway. “Did I have an episode?” His head bobbed in confirmation. “Fuck,” I groaned. “How bad was it?” “For starters, you trashed your bedroom.” “Yeah, I remember that.” Of course, there was no evidence of my meltdown. The collectibles were replaced by new ones as if I had never lost my grip on reality. My bedroom looked the same, not an item out of place. “You tried to jump from the balcony,” Marcello told me. I gasped. “What? No way. I would never do that.” “It’s true,” he insisted. “I found you before you jumped.” My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth like hot tar. “What happened? The last I remember, you were in the bathroom with me. Then, the room started spinning.” “I drugged you,” he admitted with a devious grin. “Why would you do that?” “I had orders.” “You always do what you’re told?” He nodded. “Like a good little bitch,” I quipped, flipping my curls over my shoulder. His nostrils flared. “Watch it.” Needing some privacy, I entered the walk-in closet, pretending to pick out an outfit when I just wanted some space from the Salvatores. My closet reminded me of the one Mr. Big built for Carrie in Sex and the City. Dozens of dresses and skirts hung from silky hangers. I had shirts of every style and color, designer jeans, and shorts that cost more than most people’s yearly salary. Sandals, boots, and heels of varying styles and heights sat on display shelves next to a long mirror. Thanks to my kidnappers, I had everything from lacy underwear to thongs and boy shorts. Not like I needed their charity. I flipped through the hangers, and my eyes instantly found the green Tinker Bell dress paired with golden wings. The fabric barely covered my ass and showed a significant amount of cleavage. Luca loved showing me off to his friends. My dress screamed, Look at my queen! Marcello’s fingers dug into my shoulders, his touch rough and possessive like he wanted to claim me for himself. I fell into his chest, and he slid his hand up my throat, tapping his fingers against my skin. If I couldn’t wiggle my way into Luca’s freezer of a heart, then maybe I could tempt Marcello into dishing out the Salvatore secrets. He’d helped my brother find The Serpents last year and told him where to look. No matter the cost, I had to work all available angles. “Get ready, princess,” Marcello said against the shell of my ear. “Luca wants to see you in his office.” * * * The tulle strips of my fairy costume brushed the backs of my thighs, itching my skin as I walked down the hallway in a pair of ballet flats. Marcello was at my side, quiet as usual, his stony demeanor in place. We stopped at the end of the hall in front of a tall wooden door with an ornate gold handle. He balled his hand into a fist and knocked. A few seconds later, my tall, handsome future husband appeared with a wicked grin, staring at me with those haunting blue eyes. How was it possible for Luca to get hotter with each year that passed? Luca Salvatore was like a dirty dream wrapped in an expensive suit, dipped in nightmares, and sugar-coated with sex appeal. His hair was as black as ink, cut short on the sides and spiked in the front. The severeness of his jaw matched his expression. It said fuck with me, and I’ll slit your throat. My handsome devil was pure evil. He stepped forward, studying my face before he turned his gaze on his brother. “What took you so long?” Marcello gave him a bored look, shoving his sleeve up as he glanced at his Chopard watch. “You said on the hour.” He flung out his hand. “Leave us.” Marcello rolled his eyes and walked away without a word. Luca wrapped his fingers around my wrist, pulled me into the room, and slammed the door so hard I jumped. He moved his hand to the side of my face, tilting my head to both sides as he examined me. Was he looking for an imperfection? A blemish? He wore a bespoke navy blue suit that molded to his body as if sewn onto him. Fear shot through my body, my heart pounding as I stood before my cruel prince. “You look beautiful, as always.” His deep voice rolled over me in waves. Luca’s fingers moved from my throat to my chest, dipping between my cleavage that spilled from the low-cut dress. He studied the paint I used to color my skin. A gold glitter shimmered under the lights. My skin burned where he touched, my body confusing my fear for desire. He grinned as if he had won. “Take off your mask.” As his fingers grazed the top of my breast, I did as he asked, stripping away the fairy mask. He took it from my hand and backed me into the desk behind me. Luca grabbed my ass over the thin fabric and lifted me, making room for himself between my legs. I pressed my palms to the wood and sucked in a deep breath as he resumed carefully appraising my body. His hand dipped between my breasts, over my stomach, and then he hiked up my dress. He clutched my thighs, digging his long fingers into my skin. My body was nothing more than a weapon. Luca would never get my heart. I was still in control. His fingers grazed my lace panties. Liquid heat pooled between my legs, and a soft moan slipped from my lips. I hated myself for showing his effect on me. But a man like Luca Salvatore needed to feel in control, dominant. Even if I could never wiggle my way into his black heart, I could make him want to keep me in his bed. Aiden’s life depended on it. He sunk his fingers into my flesh and pulled me into his hard cock. “Have you been bad while we were apart?” I ignored the question, and his nostrils flared. “Did you fuck anyone?” “Depends on your definition of fucking.” Does my vibrator count, dickface? A glimmer of madness danced across his deep blue irises. He grabbed my throat, his lips inches from my ear. “Don’t lie to me, Drea.” I steadied my trembling fingers by tapping them on the desk. My body was on fire from his breath on my skin and his hands on my neck and thigh. I closed my eyes and waited, drinking him in. He smelled like the sea and sandalwood mixed with a hint of cigars and scotch. My heart beat like a bomb about to detonate. With Luca touching me as if he owned me, rough and possessive, I couldn’t stop the wave of pleasure flooding my chest. I wished I hated his touch. Why did he feel so good? A moment passed before he eased his grip on my throat and looked into my eyes. He moved his hands, and my stupid body missed the loss of his warmth. What the hell? Luca moved toward the bar on the right side of his office. He poured a glass of amber liquid, taking a sip from the snifter before he angled his body to look at me. “I’m disappointed, Drea. We had a deal.” “I kept it,” I shot back. “No, you didn’t. Tell me about Michael Lansing.” I gasped at his words. How did he know about him? Luca studied me for a long moment. “If you lie again, you’ll suffer the consequences on your knees.” “I never had sex with Michael. And you don’t own me, Luca.” “That mouth,” he warned. “No talking back.” I bared my teeth to him. “Got it, master.” “Drea,” he warned. “You’re the only man who’s ever been inside me. The only man to make me come. Is that what you want to hear?” He smirked, adding more liquid to his glass. I wanted to smack him across the face and kiss his lips. Why did he have to be so damn sexy? And infuriating. That Italian temper of his brought mine to the surface, making my blood boil. He raised the glass to his lips. “What are you drinking?” “Doesn’t matter. Wine, I guess.” I wanted to fight him. Run away from this damn place. But this was not about me. “Red or white?” I shrugged. “Whatever.” “For a woman to please a man, she must know what she wants,” he snapped. “Don’t act stupid, Drea. You know what you want.” Yeah, your head on a fucking spike. Every bone in my body was on fire from the swirl of emotions ripping through me. I hated Luca, but my body didn’t get the memo. Blowing out a deep breath, I calmed my nerves and gave him an answer. “I never had a problem pleasing you.” He glowered at me. “After years of torture, we’re finally getting married. A proper toast is in order, don’t you think?” He leaned back against the bar, cradling the glass in his hand. His expression darkened like a storm cloud blocking out the sun. “I haven’t decided,” he said, his face devoid of emotion. “You haven’t earned your keep yet.” “And how do I do that?” He raised his hand and beckoned me with his index finger. “Come over here and put that mouth to good use.” Fuck him. What a dickhead. “Nah, I’m good over here,” I sighed. Luca topped off his glass and then dropped into an oversized leather chair by the window. He rested his glass on the arm, holding my gaze, and silence washed over us. Minutes passed as if they were hours. His cell phone dinged with a message, and he removed it from his suit pocket. A rare smile pulled at his mouth. I wondered who could produce a grin from the prince of darkness. He flung out his hand, his attention on the screen. “You can go now. Close the door behind you.” Tears stung my eyes, but I forced them down and lifted my mask from the table, shoving it over my eyes. I would never let him know he’d gotten under my skin. Grabbing the doorknob, I shot a nasty look over my shoulder at Luca before leaving the room. “Thanks for the drink, asshole,” I said before slamming the door.

  • The Devil I Hate - Chapter Six

    Chapter 6 Luca I was working through the night from my villa in Italy when my cell phone rang. Marcello knew I’d be up at this hour because I had never slept. I had too many demons keeping me awake at night, taunting me. Besides, the devil didn’t need sleep. With the computer on my lap and my feet on the ottoman, I answered the call and put it on speakerphone. “This better be important, Marcello. I’m preparing for the settlement tomorrow.” “Luca, you need to come home.” I dropped the computer onto the couch and sat up straight. “Did something happen to Alex?” Marcello breathed into the receiver. “Physically, she’s fine. Mentally, no. Alex needs you. She’s not okay.” “I’ll be home on Saturday. She’s spent the last nine months without me. I think she can survive two more days until I finish this deal.” I was closing on a construction project worth over thirty million dollars. A new shopping center in Milan. Not bad for a week’s worth of work. “She’s having night terrors,” my brother told me. “Maybe it’s too soon. If we push her… you know what the doctor said.” “She can handle it,” I assured him. “Her doctor agreed this type of therapy will work if done correctly.” “Yeah.” He laughed. “If we don’t fuck this up. We’re not doctors.” “You’ve worked with a lot of veterans who have PTSD.” “That’s irrelevant,” he shot back. “Men are different. They don’t want to talk about shit like women do. They’d rather shoot something.” “Well, don’t even think about giving her a gun. She’d sooner turn it on you than use it for target practice.” “She needs a doctor,” he muttered. “She’s not fucking okay.” “I got it covered. We’ll have someone on the inside. Wait until the party this weekend. You’ll see.” He released a sigh. “Is it who I think?” “Yes. She’ll deal with Alex and make her feel welcome. Help us lower her guard.” I had a contingency plan for my contingency plan. With Alex and her health, I covered all of my bases. I wasn’t a man who left anything to chance. We needed her to be sane and compliant, which would never happen in her current state, which required us to take drastic measures. The Devil’s Knights needed their queen, and it was time for Alex to serve her true purpose. “Okay,” Marcello agreed. “I’ll work on a cover story so Alex doesn’t get suspicious. If she asks too many questions….” “Alex has always wanted a friend, Marcello. So let’s give her one, okay? She could use some female companionship.” “Yeah. Okay, I guess. But if this goes sideways, we’ll lose our status with The F Society. Carl Wellington is throwing us a life raft. We can’t screw this up.” “Marcello, we will get her back. The girl we know is still inside her confused body. We need to pull her out.” Alex was the key to everything, and we needed her back. Despite my colored past with her, we had an intense connection. I wanted her, but we couldn’t figure out how to make us work. We both sucked at relationships because of our shitty pasts. And knowing she would never belong to me and me alone, I constantly pushed her away. I avoided the marriage to keep her to myself for a bit longer. The Devil’s Knights didn’t get to have their queen until I willed it into existence. “She’s trashing her bedroom as we speak,” Marcello grunted. “Fuck. What am I going to do with her? She’s out of her mind.” I opened the security app on my laptop and flipped through the cameras until I found her bedroom. “Jesus,” I whispered. “Has she taken her medicine today?” “Yes, of course. I gave it to her this morning when she ate breakfast.” “Give her a sedative, something to calm her down.” Shaking my head, I watched Alex lose her shit. She threw a twenty thousand dollar vase across the room. Punted an irreplaceable Fabergé egg like it was a football. I won that in a game of poker with a Russian mobster. “It’s like she’s possessed,” I muttered. “What did you do to her?” “What you said. Locked her in the room without dinner.” She deserved a spanking for trying to run from Wellington Manor. But I was halfway across the world, so I figured a few hours in isolation would sort her ass out. It would give her time to think about what she had done. But as usual, Alex was full of surprises. “It’s not just the tantrum.” He sighed. “She’s like a cat in heat. I’ve had to push her away several times since I picked her up from Haven University.” “If she needs someone, I’d rather it be you.” I cleared my throat and loosened my silk tie, letting it hang around my neck. “At least until I get home.” Marcello wanted Alex and never hid his desire from me. None of the Knights did. They had waited a long time for my girl to accept her place among them. The Queen of the Devil’s Knights symbolizes power in our corrupt world. If Alex were mine alone, I would have been a better man. At least, I wanted to believe I would have treated her differently. Instead, I made years of her life miserable. Fought a relationship with her every step of the way. But now, this soon-to-be king needed his queen. “Not like this,” Marcello said. “She has to choose at Legare.” “If we even make it to Legare at this rate.” I rubbed a hand across my face, annoyed by the thought of Alex with anyone but me. “The doctor said sex helps her cope. Touch can bring her back when she’s having one of her fits. If she needs an orgasm, give her one. You can handle that, right?” He groaned. “Fuck off, dickhead.” “What, Marcello? Afraid you can’t handle your queen?” I loved taunting him. “Please, brother.” His laughter pierced my eardrum. “You’re the one who should be afraid. Alex has been begging for my cock from the second I dragged her pretty ass into my car. Consider yourself lucky I haven’t taken her up on the offer. Because if I were to fuck her, she’d never want your sorry ass again.” I snickered at his boldness. “Keep dreaming, little bro. I’ve already left my mark on her. Fucking you would be a half-assed replacement for the real thing. She would come crawling back to her master like a good girl.” I didn’t want any man touching her. But if she needed a release and wanted to use my brother until I got home, I could live with it. Not like I was a saint. She had tolerated a lot of shit from me over the years. Did I drive her to this point? Was all of this my fault? Yes. “Shit,” Marcello growled, keys jingling in his hand as his breath grew heavier. “Are you looking at the feed in her bedroom?” I glanced over at the video feed and gasped. With her eyes closed, Alex moved a table across the balcony and stepped onto it, her movements fluid, as if she were awake. “Marcello, get in there. Now!” She hopped onto the brick wall, arms stretched out at her sides like she was Rose from Titanic, pretending to fly. The wind blew through her hair, strands smacking her in the face. Unfazed, she stood there as if she were invincible. Did we fuck up already? Did one hour in the room make her want to kill herself? No, she wouldn’t. She couldn’t do this. “Alex, no,” Marcello said as he hooked his arm around her middle and lifted her off the wall. He carried her into the bedroom and kicked the doors closed. Relieved, I sank back against the couch and expelled a deep breath. I called it years ago. This woman would be the death of me. “I got her,” Marcello said as he set Alex on the bed. She blinked rapidly, staring through Marcello like she wasn’t in her body. Marcello waved his hand in front of her face, and she didn’t even acknowledge him. Lips pressed together, she sat with her palms on her thighs and stared at the wall. What the fuck? Stay with me, baby girl. “What do you want me to do?” Marcello turned his back on her and walked toward the ensuite bathroom. “She’s out of it. Unresponsive.” “Plan B.” “Okay,” he groaned, tugging at the ends of his messy black hair. “I’ll call you tomorrow.” I hung up and dropped my phone onto the couch beside me, staring at the ceiling. Marcello and I hadn’t grown closer until last year, right after I sent Alex away. Almost thirty years old, and I had never formed a single bond with anyone but Alex. It was fucking weird. She was the only person who made me feel whole. If anything happened to my girl, I couldn’t live with myself. I would rather die than lose her.

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