Retribution was a word I knew far too well. My father had used it over the years, often said as a forewarning of punishment that would be doled out only seconds later. He had a way of deepening his voice until the gravelly sound echoed no matter the size or shape of building where he stood ready to wield his brutal methods of punishment.
I hadn’t been immune to his harsh discipline, most of it deserved. I’d been the bad seed, a kid who could hide behind a handsome face and nice smile while picking your pocket. That was when I was five. I moved onto other atrocities over the years, some of which nightmares were made of.
However, after years of facing my inability to temper my actions, I’d finally learned control. But today I was prepared to act on my desire to spill blood.
Yes, retribution was the only thing that would soothe the beast.
I stated the word in passing, almost in reverence to the man who’d taught me how to become vicious in nature, I wondered if the thick vines full of lush grapes disguised the understanding of what was about to occur.
By the look of sheer terror on the man’s face, I could tell it hadn’t.
The other word that remained associated with my world was death.
It was inevitable. You lived. You fucked up your life. Then you died. The lucky few enjoyed the time in the middle even during moments of tragedy and strife. Some people were considered life givers. Doctors and surgeons came to mind. Others claimed lives.
While I was highly educated, trained in several skills considered specialized, I’d never once saved a life. There’d been no need. However, I’d claimed more than a dozen, some bloodier than others.
I’d doled out punishment as necessary, offering what they deserved. There’d been no mercy shown or had there been any remorse.
Today was no different.
I shoved my hands into my pockets, allowing the light breeze to scatter the scent of the swollen purple fruit to my nostrils. With the rolling hills and lush greenery, I had a sense of why my sister preferred living across the country from her family. However, her need to find solace was entirely different than mine.
Maybe I sought salvation.
But that wasn’t possible for a member of the Diamondis family. We’d been forged in bloodshed and violence, accepting our ultimate fate of being dragged to hell with pride. On days like this, I remembered why I loved the life chosen for me.
I took a few seconds to glance at the destruction, vines ripped from the ground, grapes squashed from the heavy feet of police officers searching for illegal weapons that didn’t exist. Mounds of dirt remained where they’d dug holes, expecting to discover hidden bunkers of assault rifles and handguns.
All done carelessly.
All done without regard to my sister’s well-respected reputation.
And all because of the pissant standing in front of me.
My lieutenant stood behind me while two of my soldiers held the treacherous pig by the arms. I’d heard the agony in Elena’s voice when she’d called. I was the only one in the family she’d kept in infrequent contract with, knowing she could trust me.
She also knew I’d be her champion if needed, something she’d been lucky enough to avoid over the years. Not any longer.
My sister might not be a killer, but I was, born and bred into savagery.
There were no second chances in my operation, no apologies acceptable. There was truth. There were lies. The black and white of reality removed the guilt.
I had little time to waste with the first man who’d betrayed her, my sister’s well-being more important. But I could take a few extra minutes to relay my message.
“I’m going to ask you this once, David. Who paid you to falsify information to the police?”
When Elena had called, she’d been hysterical, the police raiding her winery that very moment. By the time I’d arrived in Napa Valley, she’d been placed under arrest. Now I was seething, bloodlust on my mind.
“No one. I did nothing of the kind.” The usual tremor in his voice didn’t surprise me. Only the strongest of men accepted their fate without the annoyance of becoming emotional.
As Jonas moved closer, I noticed his jaw was clenched, eager to carve a piece from the guy’s skin. His knife work rivaled my own. As my second in command, Jonas Kazan had been tasked with performing several harsh punishments, but not today. David’s punishment belonged to me.
When a familiar pungent stench assaulted my senses, I lowered my gaze to the front of David’s jeans, shaking my head.
Jonas chuckled, muttering in Greek.
I nodded to my soldiers, who freed David’s arms. As I walked closer, he was forced to tilt his chin significantly given the height difference. Even his lower lip was trembling. While I doubted that I’d get any information from the treacherous shithead, I gave it one last shot.
While our family had a long list of enemies, several attempts made to destroy us over the years, none had been as egregious as this effort. The person responsible would be hunted down one way or another.
“Who. Paid. You?” The second of hesitation further infuriated me. I yanked the guy’s head by fisting his hair at the scalp.
The stupid son of a bitch had the audacity to smile.
That was the end of my patience.
The hard punch I issued resulted in a loud cracking sound as his nose splintered, the sound like shattering glass. As blood splattered across my shirt, it fueled the rage, the rush of adrenaline coursing through me becoming rocket fuel.
He threw his arms up, howling but his defense was weak. Perhaps he was prepared to accept his fate after all.
I released my hold, throwing four hard punches, snapping his head back from the force of one. He tumbled to the ground, hitting with a hard thud. I raked my hand through my hair then glanced at my bloodied knuckles. The pain coursing through my hand was exactly what I needed. After taking a series of deep breaths, I grabbed him by the shirt, jerking him off the ground and into the air.
His mouth was a canvas of red, yet he still wore the smile.
“Astvads Hogin lusavori,” he struggled to say but I caught it clearly, the phrase one I’d heard a half dozen times.
It was a warning sent to me personally. My sister had been forced to suffer for the war that had been brewing for years.
While I wanted the man to suffer, he was nothing in the world of my enemy, sold a bill of goods that his soul would go to heaven. I knew better. I tossed him aside, immediately reaching for my weapon, firing off three shots into the man’s brain.
“Fuck,” I hissed under my breath.
“What the hell did the dude say?”
Exhaling, I scanned the beautiful setting, the kill doing little to abate my fury. “It’s an old Armenian saying when people pass. Let God shine a light on their soul.”
Jonas chuckled. “What the fuck?”
I tipped my head in his direction. “It means the battle is about to begin.”
“I’ll have Elena out on bail in three hours,” Gregory Watson stated with confidence from behind me. He’d been the family’s corporate attorney for as long as I could remember, earning a license to practice law in California in order to protect my sister’s dreams of owning a winery. The girl was headstrong, refusing to kowtow to our father’s wishes. I admired her spunk and tenacity, but she was naïve, which is why she’d allowed herself to be conned by an aging man with gray hair.
The thought repulsed me.
What surprised me was that he’d obviously been working for the Armenians. He’d been vetted by me personally when hired. I’d found zero connection to any organization, law enforcement, or crime syndicate.
“That’s not soon enough,” I snarled, remaining in front of her office, the stark surroundings a perfect representation of the simple life she’d become determined to live. Elena hated everything to do with the family’s powerful hold on Philadelphia, refusing to return under any circumstances. While my two brothers and I were vicious by anyone’s standards, she was the epitome of a law-abiding citizen, which was another reason for my extreme fury.
“It’ll need to do for now.” He shifted his heated gaze toward the front of my formerly white shirt, the dark stains consistent with my usual behavior. As expected, his condescending glare followed. He wouldn’t ask. He knew better.
“My sister didn’t embezzle from her own company, for fuck’s sake. Nor did she suddenly go into the illegal arms trade business.” I chose my words carefully even around the man who’d experienced firsthand the power of my family. I’d been called away during a difficult time, my attempt at avoiding a war vital to the continued well-being of my corporation. I had zero patience for liars or thieves, especially when it came from within.
Betrayal was unacceptable under any circumstances, more so when it endangered the lives of a family member. The organization had its share of challenges, truths hidden beneath thick barriers, but the bitterness existing in my throat had left a significant burn.
Anger swelled deep within, my need for revenge as pronounced as it had ever been. No one fucked with the Diamondis family, especially highly valued employees. When I located the pompous accountant Elena had trusted, he was a dead man.
But he wouldn’t die quickly.
He’d experience the full wrath of my Greek blood for days until he begged me to die. Then I’d start over again.
Gregory exhaled. He knew my temper as well as anyone else inside the family. If I didn’t calm down, Napa Valley would be eradicated in its entirety. I wielded that much power.
“There’s the charge of money laundering as well,” Gregory said more softly than before.
“That’s fucking bullshit and you know it.”
“That may be the case, but Mr. Canfield outplayed her.”
Yeah, so had the vineyard worker she’d hired six months before. I’d been the one to discover the man’s treachery while on the plane. It was obvious my sister needed more protection than she’d been willing to accept. Theodore Canfield. I kept the traitor’s name on the tip of my tongue.
Seething, I rubbed my forehead, the pain behind my eyes becoming more intense by the minute. There were two things that could dull the ache.
And more violence.
Gregory had warned me over the years to keep my rage in check. He was handling me again, which pissed me off even more. The worst aspect of the crime against my family was that Theodore had stolen pertinent information, details that the family used or would use to blackmail various politicians, law enforcement officers, and people in influential spaces. Everyone had a dirty little secret and it had taken years to discover the ugliness hidden beneath the murky waters of people who could either become an issue or allies.
And the file itself had been wiped clean, no backup. Given Theodore’s clearance, he was the only person other than Elena who’d been given access. Goddamn it. If placed in the wrong hands, every scrap of information could be used to destroy us.
That wasn’t going to happen.
“Where is he?” I asked my lieutenant, turning to face him when he didn’t answer right away. “Where the fuck is he, Jonas?”
“He’s dead, boss. His funeral is tomorrow.”
I cocked my head, waiting for an explanation.
Jonas knew better than to hold back on me. “He had a heart attack.”
After a few seconds, I burst into laughter. “So the man who tipped off the police is dead of natural causes. This calls for a celebration. Get Elena out of jail, Gregory.” I took long strides toward the bar, realizing that at least my sister had excellent taste in liquor, the single expensive perk I’d noticed. As I grabbed a bottle of OVAL Swarovski, I could hear Gregory’s continued heavy breathing. “What’s wrong, old friend? Not in the mood for a quick libation before heading to the courthouse?”
“It’s not that simple, Phoenix. We’re not out of the woods yet.”
I added two ice cubes and continued pouring a glass, not bothering to offer one to the two other men in the room. “Meaning what?”
“The prosecutor threw in my face they have an open and shut case against her, black and white evidence as in doctored numbers and God knows what else. The kind that it doesn’t matter if Theodore Canfield is dead or alive.”
I wrapped my hand around the dense crystal before glancing over my shoulder. “Where is this evidence? In the prosecuting attorney’s hands?” I knew the answer myself. If that was the case, bail wouldn’t have been allowed. The police had been fucking with my family in both California and Pennsylvania since our arrival from Greece twenty years before.
Gregory scratched his chin, a twinkle finally forming in his eyes. “I’m not usually a betting man but given their reluctance to tell me anything, I’ll take an educated guess they don’t have it in their possession. But I’m willing to bet they think they know where it is. James Buckley is a tenacious prosecutor.”
I leaned against the bar, too hot under the collar to play a game of semantics. “What are you talking about? Either they have some tainted evidence, or they don’t.”
“They’re not telling me anything, which means they’re doing what they can to buy some time.”
“For what reason?”
When my attorney glanced at my lieutenant, my anger clawed through the surface. I was known by my enemies as a suave savage, a man who’d enjoy a fine meal five minutes after digging out the heart of a man with my bare hands.
“Answer me.” I pounded my fist on the bar, the force sending two glasses crashing to the floor.
“Calm down, Phoenix,” Gregory insisted.
I turned my attention to my lieutenant, someone I also considered a friend. “Did you dig up every scrap of information you could find on Canfield?” From what I’d been told, the man had no wife or family, no real friends that Elena had mentioned. Theodore lived alone in a small house, even though my sister had paid him a small fortune for protecting the winery assets while laundering money for the family’s other businesses. She’d made a fortune in her own right, parlaying her wealth into two other legitimate businesses.
Her frantic call had put me on the first flight out of Philly. But it had been too late.
“I can’t be privy to whatever method of revenge you’re determined to use, Phoenix, but as your attorney, I’m going to tell you to take it easy. Whatever the Feds think they have, they’ll use as a bargaining chip against your family. Your sister is merely a pawn.”
I knew what he said was true. “Make certain she can leave the state.”
“That’s not going to happen,” he said then snorted.
“Make it happen.” My growl rumbled in the room. “Elena needs to be surrounded by family. This is just the beginning of what the Armenians are going to do.”
Gregory opened his eyes wide. He knew better than to challenge me at this point. It never turned out well. “I’ll pull a few strings, but she might be forced to wear an ankle bracelet.”
“Over my dead body.” I kept my pointed gaze on him until he gathered his things, a pained look on his face.
“I’m posting bail now but remember the authorities will be all over the company. You need to keep a firm hand on the accounts and for the love of God, don’t start a freaking war.” Gregory’s last words left a bitter taste in my mouth.
After he walked out, I slowly turned my head toward my lieutenant. “Answer my question. Did you find what I asked?”
“I searched every avenue I could think of,” Jonas said, grinning.
“What do you have?”
He crossed the room, handing me a file. “He tried to hide it, but he does have a family, quite a lovely creature I might add.”
As soon as I opened the file, I started laughing even as my cock twitched from the sight of her. “A daughter.”
“There’s a strong possibility she’s estranged.”
“Why do you say that?”
Jonas shrugged. “That was the single picture I found in his house, but I did find a note he was in the process of writing to her. It’s in the file.”
I was still mesmerized by the photograph, even if it had been taken years before. She had hair the color of burnished cinnamon, long curls framing a heart-shaped face. Unlike her rail-thin father, she was voluptuous, the jeans and baggy shirt unable to hide her hourglass figure. Her skin was glowing, her large hazel eyes dancing with happiness.
As I pulled out the note, it was easy to sense Theodore suspected he would be dead within days if not hours. He was pouring his heart out to her. I wondered why they’d become estranged in the first place.
Not that it mattered.
“What do you want to do? I tried searching for Whitney Canfield, but no one with the same name could possibly be the girl.”
“The funeral is tomorrow?” With the level of remorse it was obvious Theodore was experiencing, it was entirely possible that his guilt would lead him to doing something foolish.
Sending her the evidence.
“Yeah, eleven in the morning.”
“Then it would appear we have a funeral to go to tomorrow, Jonas.”
“Because blood is thicker than water. With no other family, he’d leave his entire estate to his only beloved daughter. That could include the evidence Gregory suspects exists. There’s a very good possibility that she’ll attend his funeral even if she only wants to spit on his grave.”
He grinned. “You’re a savage man, Phoenix.”
“Yes, I am.” As I gazed at the picture again, my cock stirred more that it had in years. “Do a deep dive on Theodore. He was in significant emotional anguish when he wrote the note. That means he’s tried to get in touch with her before.”
“I’ll see what I can find.”
“Then you’re going to escort Elena back to Philly.”
He narrowed his eyes. “What are you doing, Phoenix?”
I thought about his question. “I’m going hunting. I will find Theodore’s daughter. She must hold the key to locating what was stolen from us.”
“You’re worried she’ll try and use it against us.”
Nodding, I thought about the entire scenario. I’d learned many things in my life, even if patience wasn’t one of them. There were usually two sides to most stories, not all, but in this case, I’d need to proceed with caution. Did I care what happened to her? No, but she could be an easy mark if Theodore had sold his soul to another devil. “Perhaps.”
Jonas grimaced as he did when he wanted to say something.
“Say it, Jonas.”
“Is this about the woman? She’s beautiful, and your type, but I don’t think you should be away from the organization right now. Let me track her down. I’ll bring her to you.”
“What’s wrong, Jonas? Are you afraid of losing your job?”
He huffed. “Maybe.”
“You forget I know how the Armenians act. They issued a threat. They think we’ll retaliate. That would give them a door opening to starting the war on their terms. That’s not going to happen.”
Not unless absolutely necessary.
“You protect my sister. I’ll track down the lovely Whitney Canfield.”
The beautiful woman didn’t know it yet, but she’d fallen into the dark lair of a predator with long, sharp teeth.
Betrayal couldn’t be taken lightly.
I’d hunt her.
And after that? I held up my drink, the ice cubes clinking the glass as I swirled the liquid.
If she was very, very good, then I’d keep her as my beautiful little pet.
But only after doling out required punishment.