I’d been told my entire life that the family I’d grown up in were Kings, powerful in every manner, capable of brutality.
Required to follow the family oath.
Kill or be killed.
I’d learned after years of my father’s merciless encouragement that my heritage wasn’t something that could be denied.
While I’d balked at my position, my older brothers in line for the throne, I’d learned through experience that procuring our way of life meant making sacrifices.
As well as eliminating our enemies.
I wasn’t a good man. I’d never claimed to be. There were times I enjoyed watching the life of some asshole determined to destroy us being snuffed out. Enemies would always be an issue, more so in the businesses conducted outside of the King Empire.
The club in Key West, as well as our profitable business handling party favors, was becoming an issue, several attempts at cutting off our drug supplies forcing me to make the trip.
I was out for blood.
The light breeze coming off the ocean waters did little to calm my rage. I’d come to Key West merely to ensure the family’s business transactions were going as planned. Finding out that our ship had almost been capsized, our shipment placed in peril fueled my pissed-off mood. The drink in my hand also did little to squelch my need for retaliation.
I heard a thumping sound behind me and sighed. The fucker responsible had been found.
“Boss, we found the asshole.”
My Capo’s tone held a sense of actual glee, the soldier who’d worked with me for years knowing that I wouldn’t take anything less than success. Carlo Sanchez was a man after my own heart, brutal and dominating, refusing to accept a single compromise or excuse. I heard the sound of a body being dragged out onto the deck and smiled. The action enticed the sadistic portion of my soul.
I studied the churning ocean, drinking in the scent of saltwater and the wafting odors of restaurants close by, the combined fragrances of seafood and steaks grilling on an open fire almost making my mouth water.
But not nearly as much as the thought of eliminating an enemy.
I adored Key West. The sights. The sounds. The music. Being responsible for the Cabana Club allowed me the perks of traveling from time to time. Only this time hadn’t been a pleasure, but a requirement to annihilate the pompous assholes who’d attempted to hijack our boat. The task had been handled, their bodies dumped into the ocean. However, the person responsible had run like a scared chicken, finally located in a dive bar where he’d been hiding.
Sighing, I took another sip of my drink, relishing in the way the smooth scotch slid down the back of my throat. Then I placed the glass on the railing of the massive deck surrounding my respite for the night.
As I turned, I could barely recognize the man’s face, my soldiers taking their time to inflict a reminder that fucking with the King Empire wasn’t in the man’s best interest. Given his actions, he had to be a low-level player trying to move up in the ranks. Too bad I couldn’t help him in his endeavor. I moved closer, removing my gun from my holster and taking the silencer from my pocket. There was no need to interfere with the two hundred guests frequenting the elusive hotel.
When Carlo yanked the asshole’s head back several inches, the worthless piece of shit opened his eyes, the swollen tissue covering almost every inch of his face giving me a smile.
I walked closer, taking the time to study his face, leaning over in order to do so. There was no fear in the man’s eyes and if I didn’t know better, I’d say he was amused by the entire situation. “You fucked with the wrong people.”
“Do you… think I give… a shit?” His gruff words were followed by a wheeze, the asshole spitting a spray of blood across my face.
I took a deep breath before smashing my Glock across his face, knocking out two of his teeth. The dinging sound as they toppled to the deck gave me a smile. I rubbed the back of my hand across my face, hissing from the sight of the bloodstained spittle. “That was your last mistake.”
While I’d come to despise weakness on any level, I also loathed a dying man’s defiance. I pointed the barrel of the gun against his forehead, studying his face in the waning light. When he smiled, it was all I could to do keep my composure.
“You stepped into a lion’s den,” he huffed, the warning only fueling my anger. A lion’s den. The sentiment was interesting. More like a rat’s nest and I was the exterminator.
“And you obviously don’t know who you are dealing with.”
“The great King family,” he huffed, laughing, although the sound was strangled.
“Then you completely understand what I’m about to do.”
His eyes managed to burn through me, the asshole’s rebellion unlike anything I’d been forced to deal with before.
“Pronto aprenderas lo que significa ser una rata en una jaula.”
The meaning of his words only gave me a smile.
“You will soon learn what it means to be a rat in a cage.”
I chuckled, shaking my head. “And you will soon learn what it means to writhe in hell.”
The collective sound was like music to my ears. I crouched down as the bundles of joy flew in my direction, both wrapping their arms around my neck. I savored every moment of bonding with my children, the twins the true meaning of my life.
But every time I hugged them close, I was reminded of the beautiful woman who’d lost her life, gunned down in an attack. After almost two years, I found it difficult to shake the sadness or the anger.
The bastard responsible had yet to be found.
“How are my little munchkins? Was today a good day?” I asked as I pulled away, studying their perfect little faces. Isabella was the epitome of my deceased wife, her long blonde curls and shimmering blue eyes depicting a miniature version of Cassandra. My bold and bodacious son, Alessandro, was exactly the way I’d been at his age, refusing to accept any rules. His dark hair and lavender-gray eyes gave him a look of arrogance. His often far too aggressive demeanor had become unacceptable for a five-year-old. Just like his father.
“I drew you a picture, Daddy,” Isabella squealed, shoving a work of art into my face.
I took it from her hand, admiring what could be true talent one day. “That is magnificent, my beautiful baby. What about you, Alessandro? What did you learn today?”
He wrinkled his face, taking a defiant step away from me then adjusting his confining blue jacket, a requirement of the school. “I learned that history is crap.”
While a part of me wanted to laugh, and Carlo was unable to keep from chuckling, I gave him a stern look. “You know better than to use bad words. That’s not nice.”
“You mean like you do, Daddy?” he asked with utter innocence in his voice, although I knew he was playing coy.
Sighing, I glanced at the school’s entrance, the Catholic facility the very location Cassandra had insisted our children would attend. While I hadn’t visited the site since their first day, the parent–teacher conference had been insisted on by their teacher.
And I’d only returned from Key West two hours earlier.
However, I was a man who kept his promises.
I placed both my hands on his arms, my grip firm. “Alessandro, while your father may use adult language from time to time, that does not mean that you are allowed to break our rules. Is that understood?”
My little carbon copy rolled his eyes but nodded, the promise of good behavior lasting likely only a couple of hours.
“Carlo. Will you make certain the children arrive home safely?”
“Of course, boss. Titus has a car waiting.”
Titus. The man who’d once been a heavyweight boxer, his brawny six-foot six-inch frame delighting the children, especially since he seemed to have a soft spot for them. In fact, he spoiled the hell out of them.
“Good. I should only be a few minutes.” I straightened to my full height, smoothing the jacket on my suit, the after school hours meeting unusual.
“You sure you want to do this, boss?” Carlo asked, the usual concern in his voice.
The King family had been threatened dozens of times, the majority nothing more than inflammatory bullshit. However, there wasn’t a single enemy who didn’t know the few things that were off limits.
Including my children.
The kind of hell they’d face was widely known throughout New Orleans, my entire family prepared to bring down the very wrath of God if necessary. However, I didn’t take Carlo’s warning lightly. Given what had occurred the night before in Key West, I’d left the cartel in dire straits. They’d want to exact their own level of vengeance.
“Stop worrying, Carlo. This is nothing more than a fifteen-minute meeting.” I turned to watch as Titus pulled away from the curb, Isabella waving from the darkened window. A knot formed in my stomach, much like all the others that had kept me awake at night. They had their entire lives ahead of them and neither Isabella nor Alessandro mentioned their mother any longer. They’d been too young to remember her beautiful face or her lilting laughter.
“Yes, boss. I got your back just in case.”
Both Carlo and Sloan, a soldier I trusted, leaned against the SUV, folding their arms while remaining on guard. I laughed softly to myself, buttoning my jacket to hide my weapon. The last thing an elementary school teacher needed to see was a show of force.
I took the concrete steps two at a time, pausing for a few seconds before throwing open the door and walking inside. Memories of attending the same school rushed to the forefront of my mind. The years had been insufferable but also enforced the realization that as a member of the King family, my antics were tolerated.
The stench was exactly the same as I’d remembered, the odor of bleach and other cleaning supplies overwhelming. By the time I reached the door of the children’s classroom, a nasty taste had formed in the back of my throat. I didn’t bother knocking, merely walked inside. Even the fucking desks were exactly the same.
I resisted hissing as I studied their neat little rows, shifting my attention to the same muted yet chipped tile that remained from years past. Given the money required to send my children to the exclusive school, I was disgusted that nothing had changed.
“I’m so sorry, Daniella. I know you’re going to find something else.”
The feminine voice captured my attention, the words whispered.
“I’ll be fine, Karen. I’m just pissed the bastards didn’t give me more notice.”
The other voice came from Daniella Zimmerman, my children’s teacher. I wasn’t certain what I’d expected, but the woman standing in her calf-length dress and light brown hair pulled into a bun certainly wasn’t the picture I’d formed in my mind. She was… exquisite, unassuming in her beauty, demure yet there was a force of electricity surrounding her that left me breathless.
My cock twitched, something that hadn’t occurred since the death of my wife. While she certainly wasn’t the kind of woman that I’d ever paid attention to before, I was tossed into a moment of filthy visions, a longing that shocked the hell out of me.
As well as all the dirty things I wanted to do to her.
Feast on her.
I was one savage man.
Daniella finally acknowledged my arrival, squeezing her friend’s arm before nodding toward me. “Seriously, I’m going to be okay.”
“Just call me if you want to talk,” Karen offered before shooting me the kind of look I was used to experiencing.
One full of hate as well as fear.
I was obviously recognizable in the city, photographs of my entire family often gracing the front of one of the local newspapers. There was always an attempt by a member of law enforcement to bring one or all of us down, exploiting fictitious stories in an effort to entrap at least one of us.
Much like they’d done my brother over a year before.
After Karen left, slamming the door behind her, Daniella took a deep breath, finally walking closer. “Mr. King?” Her intense gaze pierced my soul, driving straight into my black, cold heart. Very few women had cut through the many layers, searching for the man inside. Others knew me as dark and dangerous, their attempts at recognition never attracting my attention.
But everything about this woman was different, from the way she held herself to the condemnation in her eyes. Still, the electricity crackling through us was powerful, the connection as if forged in fire.
“Michael,” I said quietly. I rarely used my given name of Michelangelo, loathing the references to the famous artist that were often made. Every cell inside my body erupted in the kind of raging desire that would be difficult to deny.
She seemed nervous, her hand shaking as she shifted a fallen strand of hair behind her ear. The simple act was breathtaking, my heart racing.
“Okay, Michael. I appreciate you coming in on such short notice. I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about Isabella and Alessandro.”
“Is there something wrong?” I asked, taking several long strides closer. The move seemed to make her uncomfortable, her eyes flashing.
“They are amazing children with so many talents. Isabella is extremely polite and a brilliant artist.”
She took a deep breath. “He’s struggling, picking fights with the other children.”
The news certainly didn’t surprise me. “I’ll have a discussion with him. He can be rebellious.”
“I think it’s more than that.”
There was no doubt Daniella was nervous around me, although I’d noticed that she’d allowed a weighted gaze down the length of my body. Her breathing was also ragged, her words breathless, which only added to her sex appeal. My balls were tight as drums, the desire to taste her pretty pink pussy encroaching on my sanity.
“I’m aware that your wife died, Mr. King, I mean Michael. While it’s none of my business, I do think that he’s suffering more than Isabella, acting out in order to gain your attention.”
“Well, Ms. Zimmerman, then I will take your concerns seriously.”
“Daniella,” she half whispered.
“Mmm… Beautiful name for a lovely woman.”
A warm flush swept up both sides of her cheeks, a slight nervous tic appearing in the corner of her mouth.
She swallowed, offering a nervous, plastic smile, a jolt of electricity soaring between us. Inhaling, I was able to gather a scent of her feminine wiles. And I could see her fully erect nipples pushing through the soft material of her dress. Vile thoughts rushed into my mind, the hunger to shove my cock deep inside her tight channel becoming almost debilitating.
“Mr. King. I am well aware of your reputation. While I appreciate your comment, I’m certainly not the kind of woman that you require. I simply wanted to take a moment to let you know about my concerns.”
After a few seconds, I sighed. “What did Karen mean in saying you’d find something else?”
She hesitated before answering, glaring at me with her doe eyes. “Budget cuts, Mr. King. I’ve been let go. This will be my final week. That’s why I felt it important that I have a discussion with you.”
Budget cuts? What the fuck?
I bristled, allowing an audible hiss. “That’s bullshit.” I’d obviously stated the words too vehemently, her mouth twisting. “My children talk about you all the time. You are the reason they function like normal children. Your departure will not be tolerated.”
“There’s nothing you can—”
Her statement was interrupted; the door to the classroom was kicked open. Before I had a chance to grab my weapon, a man dressed in fatigues, a mask covering his face grabbed Daniella, yanking her against him. The bastard also held a gun in his hand.
Rage rose up from the very depths of my being, the asshole who had her around the neck obviously unaware of who he’d dared fuck with.
“I suggest you lower your weapon,” I said in a quiet yet commanding voice.
Daniella’s eyes were open wide, her fingers digging into the man’s arms, whispered moans of terror coming from her mouth.
I took careful steps toward the assailant, my Glock positioned in both hands.
“Drop it, fucker,” he growled.
“I don’t think so.” I took two additional steps closer, sucking in my breath when he placed the barrel of his gun against her forehead. There was no way I could get off a clean shot.
While she was trembling, there was also a look of anger in her eyes.
“I have no problem shooting her before I blow your head off.”
The fucker had just made a mistake in threatening me. There was no way he was getting out of here alive. My move was calculated; I had one shot at saving her life.
“Get off me!” Daniella railed, jamming both her elbows into the perpetrator. As the asshole stumbled backward, she managed to snag the ski mask covering his face, ripping it completely away.
“Daniella. Get down!” I commanded, unable to catch a good look at the man’s face.
He caught his bearings, smashing the gun against the side of her head. As her body went limp, sliding to the floor, he took aim in my direction.
His anguished grunt indicated I’d managed a solid hit, but the asshole managed to dart out the door. What the fuck?
Footsteps echoed in the corridor and by the time I raced into the hallway, the fucker had ducked down one of the other hallways.
“What the fuck, boss?” Carlo huffed.
“Go after the bastard,” I hissed, taking several deep breaths.
Both Carlo and Titus stormed down the corridor, chasing after the motherfucker. With two bullets in his chest, the asshole should have dropped like a stone.
Unless he was wearing a bulletproof vest.
The thought riled the hell out of me. Who the hell would have the audacity to try an assassination in the middle of a school? The drug runner I’d eliminated the night before was low level at best, the scum not worth an undertaking of this nature. Besides, I had difficulty believing the organization responsible would have had time to process the carnage I’d inflicted, let alone make a planned trip to New Orleans. Shit. I returned to the classroom, crouching down beside Daniella, gently tilting her head in order to see if she’d been hurt. The blood seeping from a cut pissed me off even more. The asshole would be found.
And he’d die by my hands.
I brushed my fingers down her cheek, growling. Her breathing was shallow, her skin devoid of all color. She’d seen the asshole’s face, which wasn’t going to bode well for her survival. The man was obviously an assassin, which meant he would return and finish the job in order to keep her quiet.
“Boss, the fucker got away,” Carlo said from behind me. “Sloan is checking the streets.”
“God damn it.”
“What do you want me to do?”
I shoved the gun into my jacket then gathered her into my arms. “Just get the engine running.”
“What are you doing with her?”
Holding my temper, I glared at him after rising to my feet. “I’m taking her with me. She’ll be exterminated if I don’t.” The man knew better than to question me on any decision; however, I could hear the concern in his voice. He was worried about the children almost as much as I was.
“Are you sure about that? I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but there isn’t a single other person in the building from what I could see. How would the shooter know where you were other than to be tipped off by the teacher?”
I pulled her close to my chest as I walked toward him. “Don’t ever question me again, Carlo.” However, what he said made sense. The phone call had come out of the blue, the request one Daniella likely knew I wouldn’t be able to ignore. I shifted my gaze to her lovely face, realizing that I could have fallen into a trap.
“We need to find out everything we can about her background, and I do mean everything. Where she lives. Her friends. And what connections she has. Is that clear?”
“Absolutely, boss. I’ll take care of it.”
He waited as I carried her to the door, keeping his weapon ready for fire, ensuring the passage toward the SUV was clear then motioning me outside. By that point, Sloan was jogging around the side of the building, shaking his head.
“I chased him two streets away. Lost him when he got into the back of a vehicle.”
As suspected, the hit had been planned.
After Carlo opened the door, I gently eased her inside then stood scanning both sides of the street.
“Who do you think it was?” Carlo asked.
“A dead man,” I answered before storming around the back of the vehicle, hissing before climbing inside then staring down at the ashen face of one of the most stunning women I’d laid eyes on. Vulnerable. Fragile.
I leaned over, stroking the side of her face, my whisper husky and filled with the kind of thirst that would need to be quenched.
“My little flower, you’re safe now. No one will ever hurt you again.” I would find out everything Daniella knew, and she would confide in me.
Or I would be forced to teach her a lesson, one that she would never forget. If she’d been hired to provide information, the perpetrator would place a high price on her head. No one dared to enter the world of the King Empire without consequences, including the stunning woman who’d been in my arms. Her life was about to change.
Now she belonged to me.