While there wasn’t a human alive who didn’t have at least a few, those in my world were savages, brutal men who had no care for anyone but themselves.
But I was the most savage of them all, condemned to hunt for salvation.
I’d been taught at an early age not only to understand but to embrace the concept, which I had done without question. My father had been a brutal man, unforgiving even with his only son. He was also well respected in Dublin, a city he ruled like a king. There were kindnesses to his methods, but only for those he considered worthy of his generosities.
They were three of his requirements upon joining his massive army. He refused to accept anyone’s weakness, doling out punishment for the slightest infraction. While he’d developed enemies from every walk of life and within several countries, not a single person who’d challenged his regime had ever beaten him.
Until the day he was gunned down outside our home.
I’d been thirteen at the time, rebelling against my father’s every wish, determined to do something else with my life other than run a criminal organization. I’d been a boy, but on the day that I’d rushed out onto the massive stone patio, falling to my knees, cradling his bullet-ridden corpse in my arms, I’d become a man.
That had also been the day I’d surrendered my soul to the devil.
The quiet, unassuming young man had turned into a brutal killer.
Family had meant everything to my father, something he’d tried to instill into a boy who’d fought every rule, ignoring the various celebrations and gatherings at all costs. I’d finally learned to recognize the importance of having a close-knit family.
But not until everything that mattered the most had been taken away. That was now several years ago when my wife and son had been murdered in cold blood, assassinated in much the same way as my father had been.
My blood continued to run cold even after almost four years. During that time, I’d become insufferable, more like a savage than a man. At least that’s what my most trusted enforcer had told me on several occasions. I couldn’t give a shit. Until I hunted down the person responsible for murdering my family, I would continue being brutal and unforgiving, doling out the harshest punishments.
Tonight was no exception.
I heard the knock and sighed, moving away from the window and toward the bar in my office. “Come.” I didn’t bother paying a damn bit of attention to who was walking in. I already knew. “Tell me you found him.”
“Yes, sir. He’s here just as you requested,” Finn answered, eagerness in his tone. The man I considered my second in command had been with me for years, loyal as they came. He also knew my moods better than anyone else.
“Then send him in.” I took my time pouring another whiskey, holding up the glass and allowing the warm glow of the light to create prisms in the crystal. Then I took a swallow, holding the expensive liquor in my mouth for a few seconds.
Even the way the liquid burned against the back of my throat couldn’t ease the pain. Many people had suffered over the course of the last few years, but no one had opened their goddamn mouth. I found it hard to believe that no one knew anything about how my son had been ambushed, brought down like an animal in cold blood. As far as my wife, the silence regarding the murder occurring in my own home haunted me every night.
Someone would eventually talk, if I had to beat the information out of them.
As was the way of every mafia organization, men liked to brag about their achievements, more so when they were able to gun down an important man. My son hadn’t just been important. He’d been the only heir to the throne. I’d made a list of assholes who’d destroyed any chances of my regime continuing.
And I was ticking them off one by one.
I heard footsteps and returned to the window, staring out into the darkness, the sliver of a moon doing little to highlight my expansive property.
Finn remained quiet as expected but the fucking asshole dragged in from the streets was whimpering like a sow. I loathed the ones who begged for mercy, acting as if they’d never done a wrong thing in their lives. No one involved with organized crime was innocent.
I chuckled at the thought, taking a few additional swallows before turning around. The look of the man was just as expected. James Becker was a low-level player for the mafia family out of Atlantic City. He’d made the mistake of invading my territory and from what I’d heard, he’d done so before right around the time of my son’s murder. That wasn’t a coincidence.
The son of the Capitano crime syndicate was also on my list, but the enjoyment I’d have in taking the man’s life would need to wait for the perfect moment.
Finn kept James in a choke hold, standing over the pipsqueak in case the man was stupid enough to try to run. As I walked closer, the sound of my steps echoed in the room. Other than the asshole’s wheezing, there were no other sounds. I couldn’t tolerate music any longer; doing so reminding me of one of my son’s greatest joys.
After placing the drink on the edge of my desk, I sat down next to it, folding my arms and crossing my legs. “It seems we have a problem, Mr. Becker.” I nodded to Finn to let him go.
While he did so, he kicked James in the back, forcing him to drop to the floor. James continued to whimper through his coughs, fighting to get to his feet.
“Stay the fuck down on your knees,” Finn snarled, shoving him down by his shoulder.
James acted as if he didn’t know I was sitting in front of him, his eyes glancing from right to left but never in my direction.
I snapped my fingers, the sharp sound finally grabbing his attention. “I was talking to you, Mr. Becker. I encourage you to have some respect.”
There was no need to direct Finn at what to do. He smashed his weapon against the man’s head, immediately jerking him back into position. James had the audacity to smile.
After rubbing my eyes, I glanced at my enforcer, shaking my head. “I can see this man doesn’t understand what respect means. Then I’ll remove the pretenses.” I issued a hard kick to his face, the force pummeling him several feet across the tile I’d only recently been required to replace. There’d been too much violence in my office. I made a promise to myself that after tonight that was going to stop. This was my home after all.
Once again, Finn dragged him into position. The idiot was grinning even as blood trickled from both sides of his mouth.
“I’m going to cut to the chase, Mr. Becker. You fucked with me. You came into my territory not once but twice. I don’t take kindly to anyone who attempts to take business away from me. I’m certain you can understand that. Even worse, you’re providing information for your boss. That’s also unacceptable. However, I’m a fair man. Wouldn’t you say so, Finn?” I didn’t bother glancing in my enforcer’s direction.
“Very much so, Captain.”
“And as such, I’m going to give you a single opportunity to provide one piece of information.” I held up my index finger, smiling after doing so. “Would you like to know what that is?”
“What the hell,” James hissed.
The man’s arrogance was almost charming in a sick kind of way. However, I wasn’t amused nor was I the kind of man who had any level of patience. I moved closer, even crouching down in front of him. “Who had my son assassinated?” While I longed to find my wife’s killer, there was no indication the same person had committed the crime. In fact, the police had ruled it a home invasion. Granted, I’d had a nagging feeling as of late there was some nefarious plan in the works, their deaths connected.
At first it seemed my question didn’t register. Even though his face was starting to swell, his eyes little more than pinpricks, I could tell they were twinkling. My anger had turned into rage, which didn’t bode well for anyone in close proximity.
“From what I heard, your bastard son had it coming for what he did.”
I’d killed men for less, but the idiot’s arrogance was something I hadn’t expected. I had a list of possibilities, various men as well as organizations who could be responsible for my son’s death. While I couldn’t rule out the other mafia families in New York, I doubted they would cross that line. We’d been able to keep some level of respect regarding family members. However, at this point there would be no stone unturned, no entity I could rule out.
“Unfortunately, that’s the wrong answer, Mr. Becker.” Without any further hesitation, I pulled my weapon from my waistband, firing a single shot.
Usually, I would spend more time prior to issuing the kill shot, but I’d grown weary from the hunt. To admit I’d gotten nowhere pissed me off almost as much.
“Get him the fuck out of here,” I snarled, turning away and grabbing my drink. No one understood that Noah had been the only thing good in my life, other than his beautiful mother, God rest her soul.
Now I had nothing.
Finn wasted no time dragging the asshole’s body from my office, leaving a trail of blood along the way. I watched in near fascination, my jaw aching from clenching it forcefully. Maybe I needed some relaxation time, shoving aside my mission to rid the world of scum like James.
As soon as Finn closed the door, I pounded my fist on my desk, using enough force the wood cracked. Then I threw back my head and roared.
One day, the fucker would be found and anyone who had knowledge would pay a severe price.
My wife and son’s murders would be avenged.
I rubbed my two fingers together, staring down at the blood covering them, still taking deep breaths. I’d enjoyed exacting revenge, but lately, it had become an obsession. I returned to my bar, grabbing a towel, smiling as the white cloth immediately stained a dull shade of red. Then I refreshed my drink, hissing when I heard yet another knock on my door.
There was no rest in this house as of late. Business was booming, but I’d been experiencing several thefts that seemed coordinated, something that couldn’t be tolerated. I would need to break away from my list in order to hunt down the person or entity responsible. The last thing I needed was to lose control.
“What now?” I barked.
“Sorry for another interruption but you have a guest.” Finn sounded exasperated himself. It seemed to be Grand Central Station around here lately, another aspect I abhorred.
“Who would dare to bother me this time of night?”
“That would be your best friend.” The man’s voice was boisterous, and he wasted no time barging into my office, his laughter booming in the expansive room.
I turned around, snarling at first, reaching for my weapon as I took long strides toward him. Then I grinned like a kid, offering him a chaste embrace. “What dragged you out of the lion’s den or should I say out from under a rock?” I teased, gripping the man’s arms as I pulled away.
“A rock, eh? I can see you’re still hiding under one, old friend.” His smile faded, but his green eyes remained illuminated. “I was in the neighborhood. I thought I’d stop by and see an old friend who just might need my support. Besides, I get to see my kid’s new house.”
“Shane bought a house?” My thoughts drifted to the young man. I hadn’t seen him in three years. That much time could change a man.
“New job. New house. New life. He’s going to out-earn his old man. I guarantee it.” Patrick grinned, although I could see a strange, haunted quality in his eyes.
Patrick Kelly was perhaps the only remaining person in my life I considered a true friend. The fact we’d grown up together in Ireland, boisterous kids who refused to accept any rules, both of us vying for top dog position had somehow cemented our relationship since we’d nearly beaten each other to death in front of cheering boys egging us on.
“Give him my regards and I never hide, my friend. You of anyone should know that by now. What the hell really brought you here?”
Patrick sighed, looking past my arm toward my bar. “Do you mind sharing a drink with an old friend?”
“Uh-oh. What the hell is wrong?” I eased away, returning to the bar and pouring another tall scotch. Grabbing both drinks, I returned, able to tell he was deeply troubled.
He sighed as he took the glass from my hand, swirling the liquid then gulping almost half the contents. “The fucking Armenians.”
“Interesting. What have they done now?”
“They managed to destroy several of my shipments, pissing off a lot of my customers. The fuckers think they’re going to take over my city. That isn’t going to happen.” He snarled after issuing the words, shaking his head and laughing again. “That’s been my world. How about you?”
“Don’t blow it off. The Armenians are pigs. What the hell are they doing that far away from home?”
Patrick shrugged. “Expanding. What else? They have a new leader, some asshole named Tigran Davtyon.”
“I’ve heard of him.” In fact, I’d heard enough I’d become concerned as well, especially since one of my ships carrying merchandise had been capsized only four miles offshore. While there were two other crime syndicates with the muscle to derail my product, neither the Italian mafioso family nor the Bratva would dare disrespect my organization for fear of immediate and harsh retaliation. And the Capitanos didn’t have the intelligence to pull something like that off.
“I figured you had. Do you have any issues with the bastard and his crew?”
I lifted my glass. “I think the monsters know better than to challenge me directly, but I’ll keep my ear to the ground.” Patrick and his family had moved to the states two years before I had. It had been his encouragement that America was fruitful, ripe for takeover that had led me to the difficult decision of leaving my home country. It had been one of the toughest as well as best decisions I’d ever made.
While some would see our friendship as odd, we’d always remained close, even though we’d never ventured into each other’s turf. Chicago was the perfect location for him while I preferred remaining in New York, my proclivities fulfilled easily when necessary, if only for a single night. However, I wasn’t foolish enough to show any sign of weakness, no matter how close our friendship.
I trusted no one implicitly.
“You’re lucky. Maybe I need to hire more brutes like the one dragging your latest victim out of the house.” He winked then walked around the perimeter of my office. “Nice digs, my friend. I love your office. Maybe I need to take some decorating tips from you.”
I snorted as I watched him study my artwork. He’d always had more of a classical taste in music and art, where I preferred modern with an erotic influence.
“Very funny. I know your soldiers. They’re even more ruthless than my warlords. What about the Armenian?”
“He’s in town. That much I know.”
“Interesting.” My hackles were raised. Unless the man had family in town, he had no business being here.
“I thought you’d find that fascinating. I figured I’d pay the asshole a visit of my own, maybe disrupt his business the way he has mine. You know, I’ll send him a forceful warning.”
“Let me know if you need any assistance. I’m always happy to oblige.”
His eyes twinkled even in the dim lighting. “I knew I could count on you. So, tell me. Who was the poor asshole you eliminated?”
“Just another one of the idiots on the list.”
A hit list. He’d been with me on the night I’d created it, the single time I’d allowed anyone to see me in my grief-stricken form. He’d been there the entire night supplying me with booze and advice. I’d only accepted the liquor. All I could think about was getting even, eradicating the world of scum and cockroaches.
“I’m going to give you a piece of advice and one I know you don’t want to hear. You need to stop seeking vengeance, my friend. That’s not boding well for your reputation or your influence.”
“Meaning,” he said as he turned to face me. “You need to get on with your life. Cara has been dead for almost four years, Noah for three.”
I bristled as soon as me mentioned my wife’s name. Four years both seemed like a lifetime and no time at all. As far as my son, it was my business and he’d never dared challenge me before. Doing it now meant he’d heard scuttlebutt on the streets as far away as Chicago. “People deserve to face my wrath.”
“That’s not what I’m saying, Liam. People talk. You’ve losing credibility with this list you’ve made. You need to spend time building your empire.”
“I thought that’s exactly what I was doing. However, you need to keep in mind that neither bastard killer was found.”
“I get that. I know it bothers you. However, you have a business to run and what you’re doing is considered a weakness. It’s only a matter of time before someone tries to pick apart your regime or use enough force to crush you. In my opinion, you wouldn’t see it coming.”
I swaggered closer, wanting nothing more than to be pissed off at him, but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t already thought of. “I find myself hating to ask you this, but what do you suggest I do?”
“You mean other than disbanding this illogical hunt you have going on?” When I growled, he lifted his glass in amusement. “Okay. Okay. It was worth a try. If you’re determined to hunt down the bastard who destroyed your life, fine, maybe yank the wool over the sheep’s eyes.”
“What in the fuck does that mean?”
“An American expression, my friend. You’ve been in this country long enough. Get with the program.” He walked closer, thinking about what he was going to say before stating the words with purpose. “Get married.”
I was in the process of gulping down a portion of my drink when Patrick made the ridiculous statement. Choking, I spewed a solid stream against his fine linen suit. “What the hell did you say?”
He rolled his eyes, moving around me and grabbing the same bloody towel I’d used. “I’m serious. What better way to keep your enemies on edge than doing something they wouldn’t expect? This isn’t about love or romance, or even finding anything like what you had with Cara. This is about protecting your empire.”
I was disgusted at first, snarling under my breath. The thought of an arranged marriage of any type was disgusting on every level. It was old school, something my father would have considered.
It had nothing to do with me or the way I ran my business.
However, I was no fool. I’d heard the rumblings of my soldiers as well as people who served as informants. I’d become my greatest enemy because of the agony I’d experienced, the black shadow I’d placed over my world. Maybe his suggestion held merit.
“I’ll think about it, my friend,” I managed, although I had my doubts I could follow through.
“Good. It will do your mood a world of good too. Oh, and I’m not talking about grabbing some chick and taking her to a little church in Cancun. I’m talking about a lavish wedding that makes the news. You want as many of your enemies to think you’re finally moving on, ready to start a new life. So…” He hesitated, licking the rim of his glass. “You need to find a much younger wife.”
Now I gave him the finger. “I’m almost fifty years old, my friend. Please don’t think I can tolerate the foolishness of an eighteen-year-old.”
“Oh, for God’s sake, Liam. There are thousands of beautiful women who are highly intelligent, personable, and gorgeous, especially in New York. As a powerful, eligible bachelor, you could woo any girl you wanted into marriage.”
I twisted the glass in my hand, still thinking about his idea. What surprised me was that it was growing on me every second. “I’ll think about it. Now, how can I help you with the pigs?”
“Let me work on it for a little while. I have a plan for handling Tigran. If it doesn’t work, I’ll give you a shout out. Deal?”
As he lifted his glass, closing the distance, I grinned. It would be good working with him again. Our glasses clinking, I gave him a single nod. “Let me know. It will be enjoyable taking out another enemy.”
Pop! Pop! Pop!
The sound of silence. The gunfire had stopped, the acrid stench remaining in the air, yet the fear remained, pulsing deep inside her. As Candace lifted her hands, she was no longer shocked at the sight of blood staining her fingers. Maybe she’d gotten used to being in the middle of a war waged on the streets of New York.
Seconds later, she heard the sound of heavy feet racing in her direction. Shaking, she reached for the weapon she’d been given, refusing to surrender to anyone again. The first ray of morning light cast a luminescent glow around the figure as he approached. His stature huge, her instincts kicked in, her heart racing as another wave of desire cascaded through every muscle. Blinking, she crawled to her feet, pointing the gun in his direction. Then the tears began to fall, the man she’d fallen desperately in love with surviving the brutal attack.
“Roberto,” she whispered as he took her into his arms. While she hated crying in front of him, there was no way she could stop the tears from falling. Her single prayer had been answered.
“My baby. My beautiful baby.” As he cupped her face, the dangerous yet protective man staring into her eyes, she knew life would never be the same. But she never wanted to face another day without him. The man was savage as well as dangerous. But he was also her rock, her protector. Her master. And he’d become her hero.
I sat back, taking a deep breath, wiping away the single tear I’d allowed to slide past my lashes. Crying during scenes meant the book was good, damn good. I was more excited than I’d been in a long time from finishing a full-length novel. I’d kicked up my game, adding several additional kills, some of them very creative. There was nothing like being able to describe using a small power saw normally used in the garden to slowly saw off a man’s arm. While I enjoyed the knife play, my favorite murder within the book had been placing the traitorous soldier in the closed-in steel box. The contents? Only his body and a huge piece of dry ice. I’d have to see if my editor found it acceptable, but at least I’d indulged in writing the bloody scenes.
Maybe there was a bit of a black widow inside of me. I snickered then rubbed my finger across my Spyderco G-10 pocketknife, a present I’d bought for myself when thinking about writing the piece. Just having it on my desk had given me inspiration for the brutal kill scenes.
Savage and dangerous. There wasn’t a woman on earth who didn’t have dark fantasies about finding a bad boy on steroids. I closed my eyes, envisioning the perfect brutal man, the kind of creature who refused to take no for an answer, taking everything he wanted.
Tall with wide shoulders and a narrow waist.
Long, muscular legs.
A chiseled jaw and aristocratic features with eyes that pierced your soul.
I envisioned him, the image scintillating. I could see his face, his carved features and graying hair, a beard that tickled me when he…
Ate my pussy.
“Good God, girl. Whew.” Laughing, even as I opened my eyes, I could still see his face, but it wasn’t just any face. It was his face, the hero in my story. I sat back, rolling my finger across my keyboard. I shifted to Safari, opening another window. Then I typed in his name.
As his picture erupted on the screen, a series of tingles swept through me. He was commanding, even though the photograph had been taken from several feet away. Everything about him screamed of danger.
He was a merciless killer who had no conscience.
Exhaling, I glanced down at the bottom of the screen, shocked the word count had reached almost eighty thousand. Eighty thousand beautiful words that I’d managed to churn out in less than ten days. The book had practically written itself. All I had to do was edit the last twenty pages and I could send it off to my publisher.
After grabbing my wine, I lifted the glass in salute. I had a good feeling about this book, more so than the others. I closed my eyes, envisioning it turning into a huge success. That would be a fantastic little gift. Granted, I couldn’t complain. I’d been fortunate enough to have a release every two weeks, my publisher believing in me. With the more than moderate successes, I’d been able to purchase a cozy home on the outskirts of Richmond, quitting my job and becoming a full-time writer all after eighteen months of struggle.
But I’d never managed to reach the top two hundred. Heck, I hadn’t been able to reach the top three hundred. Who was I kidding? Maybe this was my time.
I indulged for another couple of minutes then got back to work, savoring every last page as I did my final self-edits. By the time I hit ‘send’ on the email, it was almost midnight. It had been a long day, but I was content with what I’d written. Now it was time to wait and see.
And to start another book or two.
I polished off my wine and turned off the light. Tomorrow was another day. Maybe I’d be lucky enough to dream up another book or two during the middle of the night.
Yes, a girl could dream.
Three weeks later
“I can’t believe I dragged you out of the house. Finally.”
I glared at Darcy, shaking my head. Granted, I’d been perched behind my computer for months, determined to keep my personal goals, even if that meant foregoing time spent with my friends. “Very funny.”
“Drink up, Shriner. This is a celebration,” she cooed as she poured from the pitcher of margaritas, pushing the glass directly in front of me.
“You’re right. It is a celebration. I had a book release last night.” I’d been thrilled my publisher had fast tracked this one. My backlog would have to wait. The cover was gorgeous, the title exactly what I wanted. Everything was set in motion. I’d even purchased several ads in hopes of giving the book a jumpstart.
“Don’t you have a book releasing every few weeks?”
“Two to be exact but this one is special. I just know it.” More like I prayed to God my instincts were right for a change. The last book had been abysmal, barely paying off the advance.
“Uh-huh. You’re a workaholic. What’s the name of this one?” Darcy took a sip of her drink, eyeing me carefully. She almost never asked about my work, but she was excited for me.
“Deadly Deception.” I was nervous as a kitty cat.
“Hmm… What’s it about?”
“It’s a dark mafia romance. It’s all the rage now.”
“Mafia and romance don’t go together. I know that better than most people.”
Yes, she did; she’d seen enough mafia activity while working with the New York police department, only transferring down to Virginia to ‘keep her sanity intact,’ she’d told me, when in truth she’d returned to take care of her aging mother. She’d shared enough stories that I couldn’t imagine the brutality she’d experienced, but I had a notebook of ideas from our late-night conversations.
One I might have used for my recent release. I cringed thinking about it. While I’d changed many of the details, the storyline was similar. I only hoped I didn’t piss her off. It shouldn’t since the case had been closed for a few years.
“So, how’s it doing in the ratings?” she asked.
“I have no idea. I can’t look. I want this one to do well. It’s killing me but I’m afraid I’ll jinx it if I look.” I laughed nervously. I hadn’t slept well in three days, let alone able to eat any food.
“Silly.” She pulled out her phone.
“Don’t you dare!” I snarled, trying to grab the iPhone away from her.
“Nope. You need to pay attention.”
Groaning, I hid behind the glass, taking sip after sip. I didn’t expect it to do a single thing until the publisher put out at least the first newsletter, but who knows.
Humming, she flipped through screen after screen. “What’s your name again?” She laughed, rolling her eyes.
This time, I gave her the finger. “You know what my pseudo is. Fallon Wynn.”
“Oh, yeah. Her.”
She was silent for a full minute. Then her eyes opened wide. “Um, is one twenty-seven good?”
“In what category?”
“In the entire Kindle store?”
“What? Stop kidding around. That’s not possible. Be straight with me. If it’s tanking, it’s tanking. I can handle it. I’m a big girl.”
Darcy shook her head. “I’m not kidding you. Take a look.”
I thought my heart was going to stop. Tears formed in my eyes, and it was completely out of the question for me to remain silent. The squeal I issued was likely heard in the next building over. My pulse raced, lights flashing in front of my eyes. “I think I need another drink.”
“That’s why we have a pitcher. Congratulations. That’s fantastic.” She pulled the phone back into her hand, continuing to glance at the screen. “Interesting. The description looks awfully familiar.” She leaned closer, giving me a stern look. “Please tell me you didn’t use the mafia case I told you about.”
I shrugged. “Maybe a little.”
“Girl! Jesus. I told you that in confidence.” She threw a look from one side of the bar to another as she leaned over the table.
“I changed everything. Mostly. I didn’t get you into trouble, did I?”
“It’s not that. It’s just…” She gripped my hand, squeezing with enough force I narrowed my eyes. “Maybe I didn’t explain how dangerous Liam McGinty is.”
“You told me he was a brutal asshole. A killer.”
Darcy leaned even closer. “He’s not just brutal. He enjoys slaughtering people and I’m not using that term loosely. I was there, investigating several murders and let me tell you that junior police officers were chucking up whatever they’d eaten recently. He’s feared by everyone, including the police department. They didn’t take the various investigations seriously, but don’t you dare use that. I have no idea what hold the man had on almost everyone, but he regularly used threats to keep people in line.”
“Are you trying to scare me?” Because it was partially working. While I’d been particularly cruel in this book, the murders I’d penned more savage in nature than normal, I’d only known a few details, ones I’d dragged out of her when she’d been intoxicated.
“Yes. In truth, I am. Since the murder of his wife and son were never solved, he made a list of people he thought could be responsible. He’s actively ticking off that list.”
“A hit list? After all these years? And how would you know?”
Shrugging, she glanced over her shoulder, a nervous tic appearing in the corner of her mouth. “I still have buddies in New York. They tell me things, which I obviously can’t share with you.”
She remained nervous, tapping her fingers on the table.
“What’s he like, Liam, I mean?” My mind went back to the pictures I’d seen of him on the internet. Older, he reeked of money, every photograph depicting a man in full control, his attire impeccable. My mouth was suddenly dry as I thought about him. Jesus, even my panties were wet. I’d never been attracted to any of my characters.
Because they weren’t based on a real person.
Ugh, that was true.
She gave me an admonishing glare, chewing on her inner lip before answering. “He’s powerful, probably more than anyone else in the city. He’s managed to drag dozens of prominent people into his pocket, squeezing them in order to keep them loyal. He’s wealthy, owns several pieces of real estate and boxes for exercise. Why the hell are you asking me that question?”
A warm flush rolled up both sides of my face. “I dunno. Just curious. Is he as gorgeous in person as he is in pictures?” I winked, trying to be funny.
“You’re such a brat,” she huffed before offering a sly look. “Between you and me? I’d jump him in a heartbeat. Liam is one savvy, sexy man. That’s why I worry about you.”
I rolled my eyes. “Stop worrying about me. I’m not that desperate.”
“Are you sure about that?” she teased, but her eyes remained full of concern.
“You’re a horrible friend. Horrible. I made up the story, using different names and totally separate scenarios. There’s no resemblance to what happened in New York.”
“Uh-huh. Let’s hope you’re right,” she quipped then a huge grin crossed her face. “Oh, why do I care? He’s not going to read it and that was my old life. I’m happy for you. Let’s party.”
I could easily tell her wheels continued turning. Maybe I should have cleared it with her first. Damn it.
As she moved to a different subject, I couldn’t seem to erase the man’s image from my mind. What would I do if I met a man like him? I laughed to myself. Books weren’t real life, no matter how many readers though I did all those kinky things I wrote about.
Over the next hour or so, I was able to relax for the first time in months. I’d kept to a strict schedule, ignoring most of my life. Even my vacuum cleaner no longer knew who I was. Maybe it was all worth it.
When I heard my phone ring, I made several ugly faces.
“Who could be calling you now?” Darcy moaned.
“Likely a spammer. Let me see.” I couldn’t have been more surprised at seeing the number pop up on the screen. “My publisher.” What the heck? She never called me.
“Jackie. What’s up?”
“What do you mean, what’s up? Have you been paying any attention?” Jackie barked, her tone more jubilant than usual.
“To what? Oh, you mean the book. I’m glad it’s doing well.”
Darcy reached for her phone a second time, a sly look on her face.
“Well? Girl, you need to find another definition. It just hit number one,” Jackie exclaimed.
“Wait a minute. What?” I could no longer feel my legs. Or my hands. Or the rest of my body for that matter.
“You have a number one bestseller on your hands and from the looks of things, it’s not going anywhere.”
As Darcy showed me proof, I fought another round of tears. I’d reached another goal, one I’d dreamt about my entire life. This was going to be my year. Mine. No one was ever going to tell me I wasn’t good enough again.
And no one was going to stop me.