Eight and a half years earlier
It was a necessary evil, although after taking the position as leader of the Thorn Corporation, I’d managed to keep acts of brutality to a minimum.
“Well, well. If it isn’t the great Constantine Thorn.” His boisterous laugh barely registered in the soundproof room, but it grated my nerves just the same. He stood just off the main door near one of the bars, holding a mostly empty snifter.
Dominick Montoya was many things, his family owning a dozen influential corporations. He was considered a pillar of society, a man without reproach. However, as he stood in one of my esteemed private suites, his poker winnings close to a million dollars, he was nothing more than a typical thief. I was surprised he’d had the balls to request a place at the table, using the very influence that had brought him great wealth to push another member aside. I’d allowed it for a single reason.
To be able to exact needed revenge.
I glanced at my lieutenant and smiled easily. Tristen Ward had followed my orders, plying the man with expensive cognac until I’d been able to arrive, making small talk as if tonight was nothing more than expressing small gestures of gratitude for a job well done.
“Mr. Montoya. I’m glad you could join us tonight. I understand you did well,” I said casually as I approached, the door closing behind me. I’d had reservations about hiring him as a broker, but my father had insisted, citing there’d never been an issue as to the product supplied.
Everyone played a game, usually when they believed their opponent was so comfortable in their surroundings that they wouldn’t notice the discrepancies. I noticed everything, taking careful count of what was owed. As a businessman with no patience, I couldn’t tolerate being lied to or stolen from.
He’d done both.
“Yes. It would seem your special players were inferior. I always win at business and pleasure.”
I extended my hand, keeping the smile as I closed the distance, walking around him as if prepared to make myself a drink. The bartender had already been sent away, the floor removed of other employees. They didn’t need to experience the worst part of my job.
He believed his posh suite was waiting for him, complete with one of our finest escorts hand-picked for his dark proclivities. The truth was I wouldn’t allow anyone to slide into bed with the man. He was sick, repulsive in every way. Few knew his real sexual tastes. I’d discovered everything about him.
Dominick deserved to die for an additional reason that had nothing to do with his treachery.
As I shook his hand, my grip firm, I looked him square in the eye. “Mr. Montoya. Unfortunately, you crossed the wrong man.”
While he narrowed his eyes, his body language suggested he was reaching for his weapon.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” I told him and reached into my pocket.
“What the hell are you doing?” he asked, still playing the guessing game.
While I knew he likely expected me to pull evidence of how he’d sorted the crates of arms he’d had delivered, that wasn’t my style. Instead, I presented vivid photographs of his extracurricular activities. “You are a very sick man, Dominick. The worst kind of rodent on this earth.”
As his gaze swept from my face to the picture, his eyes opened wide. Then he had the audacity to smile. “What I do in my personal life is my business.”
“You’re right. However, since you’re on my property, drinking my liquor and toying with my employees, your business has become mine. And I don’t accept your repulsive behavior.” There was no reason for additional foreplay. I yanked my Beretta into my hand, the silencer intact. And just because I was pissed, I pulled the trigger twice, both bullets hitting him right between the eyes.
As I spouted off how he would be welcomed in hell seconds before ending his life, the door was swung open, an unwanted visitor walking inside.
The scream was muffled, but decidedly female.
As Dominick’s eyes clouded over, his body slumping to the floor, I caught a split second of the witness, her face and torso covered in blood and brain matter. Then she disappeared.
“What the fuck?” Tristen snarled, his weapon already in his hand as he raced toward the door. “What do you want me to do?”
“Catch her,” I growled. Whoever had allowed her onto the floor would be terminated.
“And if I do?”
“Bring. Her. To. Me.” Whoever had dared enter my realm would face my wrath.
Several weeks later
“Don’t say a goddamn word to the press. Not one,” Barrett Sheffield advised as he flanked my side the second I was dragged from the back of the police car.
I’d anticipated the presence of reporters, my impending arrest obviously leaking the second the cuffs were slapped around my wrists. I took a deep breath, cognizant my entire family was behind me. My father had gone off the rails, threatening almost everyone about what he would do if I wasn’t released immediately.
His demands had been met with smiles from the arresting officers, laughter from the prosecutor. They had quotas to fill and snagging a notorious mafia leader was the highlight of their year. What their behavior told me was that the witness had been found, a feat my father’s web of informants had been unable to accomplish.
I said nothing as I was pulled directly through the crowd, microphones stuck in my face as we tried to pass, the questions berating me and my family’s organization. It would take all I had to keep my cool.
“Mr. Thorn. What does it feel like to finally be arrested?”
“Mr. Thorn. Do you feel any remorse for killing an innocent man?”
Innocent, my ass. However, the fact one of the most elusive arms brokers in the country had been killed by a so-called ‘known enemy’ had made national news. The scene was a fucking circus.
“Mr. Thorn. Do you expect to use your family’s influence to get out of the charges against you?”
“Mr. Thorn. Do you feel any remorse?”
The last question came from a young female reporter, her face reminding me of the witness, whose face and figure I’d finally seen arriving at the courthouse on the news the day before. I’d thought about her too much since. She had to be found.
I stopped abruptly, the officer holding my arm glaring at me. When I turned my head, staring into the reporter’s eyes, I sensed fear and within seconds she backed away.
Barrett tried to push me along, his harsh whisper duly noted.
“Not. One. Word.”
As I was led up the stairs to the precinct, the prosecutor was waiting, the aging man wanting his moment of glory before retiring. When he approached, Barrett moved in front of me, prepared to begin the legal battle.
“Mr. Thorn. What a pleasure to have you in my house of justice,” Michael Morechower said, laughing as his expression of disdain was caught by every camera. “And I assure you that you will be going to prison for the rest of your life.”
Not without the witness.
I’d learned her name, the girl believing she could hide from me and my soldiers. Jade Wellington had no idea that she’d faced a monster and would do so again.
When I found her, I would take my time, enjoying the power of my position. She’d learn to obey my every command.
I’d taste her.
Fuck her in every hole.
And I would break her.
Yes, the lovely young woman had crossed my path and there was no doubt that one day she would be mine.
“Here’s the latest list your father has proposed. At least a few of them might keep your attention. I took the liberty of checking their backgrounds. Several are… interesting.”
Translation: Not up to the Thorn standards.
As the family attorney, Barrett Sheffield placed a file on my desk, I took a deep breath. He’d stormed into my office without an invitation, determined to interrupt my day.
And it pissed me off.
How many lists of women had I been provided in the last few months? Too many, my father’s insistence I marry and produce an heir to the throne more of an annoyance than anything, but there was too much business on the table as it was.
Besides, it couldn’t matter how beautiful the woman was, not a single one would be able to tolerate a savage like me.
I shoved it aside, furious when he pushed it back. Then he dared to open the flap so there was no chance the savage man inside of me wouldn’t be curious enough to glance through the photographs and the names.
“You know I don’t give a shit,” I answered, although I found it impossible to resist at least flipping through the documentation.
“You’re running out of options,” the family attorney said in retort. Barrett had been our attorney for almost two decades, acting as if he was my godfather far too often. “We’re now looking at women from other cities. In my opinion, only two are decent candidates.”
“For what?” Gabriel Giordano asked from the sidelines. His smirk brought a chuckle to my lips. He was in town to handle some connecting business. I hadn’t paid close enough attention how much he looked like his brother Luciano, a man I’d called a good friend for years.
Even if we were considered enemies, rivals seeking power at all costs.
“My father is insistent I get married, providing an heir to the throne.” My answer was laced with my annoyance. While I wanted an heir, at least one child to continue the family legacy, I found it incomprehensible my father had made it his mission to find the perfect candidate.
In my mind, there wasn’t a woman on this earth who could tolerate the darkness dwelling inside of me. I was a sadistic man, a complete dominant who accepted nothing but full submission. My tastes were such that what few women had managed to endure my dark proclivities hadn’t returned for a second helping.
“Well, you are considered Kansas City’s most eligible bachelor. Right?” Gabriel was enjoying the moment, witnessing what I considered a weakness of our family.
I noticed Barrett’s harsh glare directed toward a member of the Brotherhood and sighed. He couldn’t understand my affiliation with the man any more than my father could.
After returning my gaze to the file, I flipped through several documents, gritting my teeth.
Betsy, daughter of Missouri’s most hated senator.
Amelia, daughter of a corporate mogul who owed our family money.
Jennifer, niece of a former NFL football player, her uncle’s penchant for gambling placing him in hot water with our organization.
While they were all beautiful women, not one of them was acceptable.
None of them would be able to handle my needs; they were walking, talking mannequins and nothing else. I wanted a real woman with curves, hips I could grab onto. I fisted my hand, the darkness inside of me swimming close to the surface. I wasn’t certain it was possible to find a woman who’d enter into a contract and not expect a relationship.
I wasn’t looking for romance. I simply wanted to honor my requirement of bringing an heir to the throne. It was the way of my family and had been for generations, even if I couldn’t stomach the thought of the old ways.
“I’ll take a pass,” I said, shoving the file aside.
“Your father will be pissed,” he said.
“You can tell my father that I’m far too busy handling the fact the Grasso family has decided to set their sights on our territory to plan a fucking wedding. No, I’ll tell him myself.” I was finished with the game of matrimony for now. The Sicilians were pigs, their recent overture more invasive than I’d liked. They’d toyed around with trying to slide into the region for years. It had never bothered me until now.
I didn’t like the shit I was hearing on the streets. Times were different than my father was used to, rendering his recent attempts at keeping our enemies from encroaching on our territory useless. He wanted to wage war in the streets. The brutal tactics of old were no longer acceptable. At least not while I was CEO of our multibillion-dollar corporation. I’d shifted our wealth into more legitimate operations, arms deals kept to a minimum. While they were the most lucrative side of our business, the risk versus the reward had grown much higher with the continued push from the DEA and other members of law enforcement.
The last thing I wanted was to put my family into the limelight any more than it already was. There were few people who could be trusted.
“Can I talk to you for a few minutes outside?” Barrett asked as he leaned over my shoulder.
“Yes. But make it quick.” I had a golfing event to attend and I refused to allow Thorn business to interfere with my only day off in a solid month.
Barrett didn’t waste any time heading out of my office, already pacing when I closed the door behind me. Given it was a Sunday, there was no one else in the expansive office, but he kept his voice low, as if fearful Gabriel would overhear him.
“Are you certain you want to associate with Gabriel Giordano? It’s not in your best interest, or your father’s for that matter. He’s an enemy and you’re providing ammunition he could use against us.”
“Us?” I growled.
He turned red, realizing he’d crossed the line. “You know what I mean.”
Barrett had known about my friendship with Luciano years before. What he didn’t or refused to understand was that he and I had built a formidable association as sophomores in college that we’d called the Brotherhood. Once we had, there hadn’t been an end to our power.
Or our brutal methods.
Times had changed, additional members indoctrinated, but our point of existence remained the same.
Exterminating those considered enemies outside our organization.
Six powerful and very dangerous families had been brought together in order to keep the peace, lowering the bloodshed between crime syndicates spanning the entire continent. For over ten years, our round table of heirs to various thrones had worked, preventing countless deaths.
We were all monsters whether we chose to believe it or not. Whether in suits or plain clothes, our goals weren’t entirely different than those of our fathers, our methods of brutality securing our places as leaders. Our idea had been successful enough there were several men and a few women who were vying for a seat.
That only came with death.
Which was the only reason Gabriel was standing in my office today.
If the Grassos believed that by getting a seat they’d gain more power, I’d hand the head of the organization over on a silver platter to prove a point. However, I knew Grasso had made overtures with several of the other members as well, vying for a place for his son Cataldo. That didn’t set well with me as the chair. Going behind my back wasn’t in his best interest.
“I suggest you learn your place, Barrett,” I told him after crowding his space. He was trusted. He was my father’s friend. But he was riding a fine line of disrespect that wouldn’t be tolerated. “Gabriel is a trusted member of the Brotherhood.”
“Who will use your weakness against you!”
I wrapped my hand around his throat, slamming him against the wall. “As I said, I suggest you learn your place.” I squeezed for a few seconds until I noticed conciliation in his eyes. The Brotherhood had rules that all members were required to follow, including not fucking with another’s territory. To date, no one had breached the oath taken in blood. When I released my hold, I swirled the black onyx ring with the serpent inscription several times, remembering the day Luciano had proposed the idea. It had been during a particularly violent year for our fathers’ organizations, both New York and Kansas City experiencing bloody street wars. Within a year, the violence had ceased.
Much to the chagrin of our respective dads.
However, if a single member crossed the line, he would be terminated.
Barrett immediately lowered his head, nodding several times as he coughed. “Very well, Constantine. However, if you trust anyone, you’ll be a fool.”
It took all I had not to snap his neck.
I didn’t wait to hear another call for action regarding the list, returning to the office instead. But he followed.
“I need to tell you something else. It’s very important.”
Sighing, I moved toward the bar located in the corner of my office, grabbing a rocks glass and lifting it toward Gabriel. He grinned as he nodded, obviously amused with the task I was avoiding. My father’s commitment to marrying both my brother and me off within the year was enough to make me drink far too early in the day. “What is it, Barrett? We have a tee time that’s fast approaching.”
Golf was one mindless joy I allowed myself, but only every so often.
“It would appear the new prosecutor is determined to retry you for the murder of Dominick Montoya. From what I’ve learned, this has been in the works for some time.”
“Where did you hear this?”
“Unfortunately, from one of my colleagues. From what Mark told me, the prosecutor has already bloviated his intentions to everyone he knows, which means your enemies likely got wind of the vulnerable state you’re in.”
My enemies. It was funny how he divested himself of the dark cloud of working for our family for years when push came to shove. Montoya’s family had sought revenge, but they’d been handled. There’d been no one pushing for a retrial because they knew better. Besides, my father had made it his mission to keep prominent members of law enforcement under his thumb.
However, I took a deep breath, fighting laughter as I poured two bourbon drinks. “Forgive me if I don’t see the problem. That was years ago.” The witness had disappeared. I’d searched for her at first, but it had become obvious she had no intention of making trouble.
“Bullshit, Constantine. If he reopens that case, everything in your world will be on lockdown. You almost went to prison for the rest of your life. My guess is that the prosecutor will make certain you do this time. Trust me. There will be little I can do to help you this time, especially if that girl remembers every detail. She’s no longer a child.”
I thought about the young girl and my cock twitched. The witness had been one week shy of turning eighteen when she’d seen me kill the pig. The prosecutor had tried to keep her name and her identity out of our hands. Barrett had intervened.
For killing a slime bag who’d stolen from us, but that was only half the reason I’d eliminated him myself.
As I closed my eyes, I envisioned her beautiful face, the same vile thoughts about what I’d wanted to do to her rushing into my mind. Hmm…
I tipped my head, staring into Barrett’s eyes. My arrest had been a fluke, a mistake that had almost cost me everything. Or had it been? That’s the same question I’d asked myself for years after the arrest. I’d fired two employees over the fact she’d been allowed onto a locked-down floor, resisting killing them because the spotlight had remained on our family for months after the mistrial.
The single witness to the crime had managed to get onto a locked floor of a casino my father owned, suddenly bursting into a room, acting as if she was there by accident. Before Tristen had been able to grab her, she’d run, disappearing within minutes. Then the little bitch had taken herself to the police station, identifying me after only catching sight of my face for five seconds. No more. “Isn’t there a statute of limitations?”
“Not with regard to murder,” Gabriel answered.
I’d already known the answer. I also remembered the case far too well. It had been the closest I’d come to prosecution, a situation I had no desire to relive. “The witness disappeared, Barrett. If I wasn’t able to find her, the police certainly couldn’t.”
“Well, somehow they managed,” Barrett commented, giving Gabriel another frown.
“O-kay. What’s the point of retrying it after all this time? Notoriety?”
“Absolutely. Martin Banks wants to prove his worth for one thing. And, from what I’ve been able to determine, the witness has a clear understanding of what happened on that night several years ago. You do remember it was a high-profile case.”
The media circus had been ridiculous, national coverage lasting for weeks.
“Yes, Barrett. I remember. Isn’t the timing interesting.” The arrest and subsequent controversial trial had almost brought our family to our knees, something that couldn’t be allowed to happen again. We’d been forced to back off our illegal activities for six months, which had pushed me into building our legitimate businesses.
“Not interesting, Constantine. Disturbing.”
I would never forget the witness, or the electricity that had soared between us even from across the room. I’d hungered to get closer, to be able to brush my thumb across her ruby-painted lips. But she was far too young, and I was the creature nightmares were made of. “What was her name again?”
“Jade Rollins, although she was known as Jade Wellington then.” Barrett pulled another file from his briefcase, walking closer and handing it to me.
“I remember very well what she looked like then, Barrett. I studied her for hours before the start of the trial.” She’d been so young, forbidden for several reasons. That had made my desire that much greater.
He observed me with a scowl on his face. He’d warned me against intimidating her then and he likely would again. All I’d needed to do was to keep my eyes on her during the tense moments in the courtroom. Chemistry had done the rest.
I took the information from his hand after hesitating. Then I flipped it open, gazing at her lovely young face. Even her smile was beguiling, forcing my cock to twitch. The girl had the largest luminescent eyes I’d ever seen, her expression filled with happiness, so unlike the days spent on the witness stand. Barrett had nearly torn her apart, which had pissed me off even if it had been necessary in order to discredit her. What I had learned after the fact was that she’d lied about her age in order to obtain a position inside my casino. And she’d only been working there for thirty days, during which she could have learned enough about the organization to keep my neck in a noose. A lot of things hadn’t added up then. “Any recent pictures?”
“I’m not Houdini,” he countered, frowning when I handed the file back to him.
It would seem Barrett was almost gloating at providing me with the news. “But I’m certain you are handling the situation. Have you located her?” I asked as I headed toward Gabriel, handing him a glass. While the news was unexpected, it would be handled one way or the other. The fucking junior prosecutor had somehow managed to get himself elected to a position he didn’t deserve. I should have had him eliminated prior to the election but hadn’t believed he had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. I added two ice cubes each, seething from the news.
“I’m a damn attorney, Constantine. Not one of your soldiers. If you think the Feds are doing any talking, let alone that pompous prosecutor, you’re wrong. The girl disappeared right after the mistrial, never to be heard from again. This sudden interest was planned, and my guess is that she’s very protected. If I were you, I’d be worried. Very worried. A retrial isn’t in your best interest.”
“So what are you suggesting?” I was amused at his sudden fear that I’d be arrested a second time.
“Deal with the issue. Find her. But don’t tell me what the fuck happens.”
I was also surprised he was rattled, not his usual behavior.
“I’ll take that under advisement, Barrett.” I turned and looked at him, never blinking. We’d sparred on too many things as of late.
I was prone to allowing my anger to take over any time my business or my personal space was betrayed. However, I wasn’t in the habit of eliminating beautiful, beguiling women who’d been trying to do the right thing. Although I had found it interesting that a good girl who was highly intelligent would work for such a bad man. My balls were now tight, aching. Sweet Jade had done that to me all those years ago. I could only imagine what she looked like now.
“Fine. Have it your way.” He left both files, storming out of my office and slamming the door. My father obviously had him worried. Or maybe he wasn’t thrilled that I’d taken the helm.
“An interesting man,” Gabriel said as he chuckled. He headed toward my desk, casually flicking open the last file.
“A pain in my ass.” But he was damn good at what he did, well worth the million dollars a year salary he was paid.
“Your witness is a very pretty girl. Beautiful, in fact.”
“I haven’t noticed.” I shot him a look and grinned.
“Bullshit. So why is your father hot and heavy on you marrying?”
I snorted then took a sip of my drink, enjoying the smooth, robust flavor before answering. “He’s still entrenched in the old ways, believing that if I have a family, it will boost our reputation.”
“Then find a woman and marry her. You don’t need to fall in love. However, you need to deal with your witness.”
“What about you?” I retorted, throwing him a grin. He’d recently gotten married to a woman he’d vowed to hate, his abduction of her all about revenge. Then he’d fallen madly in love.
“My life is different.” He chuckled and shook his head. Our lives were similar in far too many ways.
Laughing, I lifted my glass. “I have no intention of being saddled with a girl who intends on spending my hard-earned money.” I wasn’t in the habit of killing women. That wasn’t my style. Then what the hell could I do to keep her from testifying other than using brutal tactics?
“Understood. Who is this witness?”
“She was a barely eighteen-year-old girl who’d lied about her age in order to work in one of our casinos.”
“A pretty girl with some balls?” He made it a question.
“What does it matter?”
He cocked his head. “Meaning. Could you stand fucking her?”
A few visions from the trial slid into my mind. The young woman had seemed so frail and innocent, but she’d been a delicious creature to look at, doing a damn good job of acting as if my piercing eyes hadn’t bothered her. I’d given her respect for her lack of emotions. “I could stand to do more than that.” Filthy thoughts swept through my mind. I could see driving my cock deep inside, taking her so roughly she screamed out my name.
“Uh-huh. That means you wanted to fuck her then. I have a suggestion.”
“And what is that?” Luciano had always been the one to come up with wild, often crazy ideas during our time spent in college. That had earned us bad boy reputations. It would seem Gabriel was following in his brother’s footsteps.
“Hunt the girl down. Marry her. That won’t help you with the Sicilians, but it will get the Feds off your back.” He used the slang term not realizing the blood that ran through my veins. The story went that the Thorn family was one of the original settlers in the United States centuries before when the truth was my brother, sister, and I were the first generation born in the country. However, my grandparents were royalty in comparison to the thugs within the Grasso organization. It was interesting Luciano and I had become friends since our grandparents had been enemies.
I laughed instantly, swirling my drink in my glass and tossing back every drop. “And why would I do that? Even if we were married, she could still testify against me.” The thought was interesting. I wouldn’t need to worry about how I handled her. If she broke, so what? If I selected a judge’s daughter or someone equally as empowered, she’d go crying to Daddy if I was rough with her, even if he wouldn’t do a damn thing about it.
“That’s not the point. If this comes up for trial, her testimony will likely be discredited if you’re married. Worth a thought. And it will get your father off your back.”
His grin made me laugh again. “You are a devious man, Gabriel. I’m certain we’ll work well together.”
“I am, but I’m also practical.”
“Understood,” I said, continuing to think about the option. “I could handle spending a year or two with her before discarding her. It’s finding her that could prove interesting.”
“Why not call Brogan?” he suggested. “He managed to locate a few assholes when my own team failed me.”
He’d called on Brogan to locate the Bratva Pakhan of New York when he’d been unable to.
Brogan Callahan was another member of the Brotherhood, a man who had a knack for finding anyone, especially those who didn’t want to be found. “Not a bad idea. Now, let go hit some balls. I need something to soothe the beast.”
As if that was possible.
I grabbed Jade’s photograph one last time before heading out, memorizing every angle of her face, every soft curve of her body. Gabriel was right. Capturing my perfect little bird, keeping her in a gilded cage would be the perfect retaliation against the prosecutor. The more I thought about it, the more I liked it.
As we walked out, I jerked out my phone, dialing Brogan’s number. Then I stared at the ring for the second time that day. Being a member of the Brotherhood had several benefits, including the use of expertise and equipment when necessary. This was one of those times.
“Constantine,” Brogan huffed, his Irish accent something I’d always found amusing since he’d been born in the States, his mother of Spanish origin.
“Brogan. How goes it?”
“The usual bullshit.”
The man had recently lost his license to practice psychiatry, which had surprised me. “I need a favor.”
“What can I do for you?”
“I need to find someone.” I gave him what few details I had, and he laughed, likening it to finding a needle in a haystack.
I’d knew he’d come through.
As I hung up the phone, several filthy things crossed my mind, including all the sadistic things I was going to do to her luscious body for punishment.
The woman who’d vanished without a trace.
Soon she would be stripped of her freedom, taken into my dark world.
Soon she would comprehend the wrath of an evil, dangerous man.
Soon she would surrender to me in every way, exposing her darkest desires.
Soon she would beg me for more, crying out my name over and over again.
Only then would she begin to understand that she now belonged to me.