“Loss and possession, life and death are one. There falls no shadow where there shines no sun.”
These three words had entered my mind more than once during the last two days while I’d formulated a plan. I wasn’t a man to be fucked with and that’s exactly what Angelo Rossi had done. I’d reached the end of my patience.
Now he was going to pay.
I took a deep breath, adjusting the cuffs on my shirt, twisting the black onyx cufflinks as the elevator shifted to the top floor. The man held the key to increasing the King empire, but only if he’d allow us into the coveted Diamond Dealer’s Club, an exclusive portion of the Diamond District. One of the most powerful locations in the world, it was a place where millions of dollars were made and lost on a daily basis. Four hundred million to be exact.
I found it interesting that the man had kept his more modest, albeit posh office.
When the elevator pinged, I smirked, my cock aching. There was nothing more arousing than the act of revenge, especially if it meant obtaining a precious gift. I took long strides toward the double glass doors, an entrance to the man’s domain. Little did he know I was about to crush him like a bug.
As I blew by the receptionist, she blustered as she tried to stand.
“Sir, you can’t do that!”
I could do anything I wanted. After all, I was a member of the King family. I already knew that Angelo was huddled behind the massive mahogany doors. He’d made the ultimate mistake of avoiding my calls. When I walked into the office, the pompous asshole rose to his feet, his face reddening, a nervous tic already formed in the corner of his mouth. I could smell his fear along with the stench of a recent cigar.
He was wise to be terrified of my presence. I held all the cards.
I moved to within inches of his desk, offering a smile as I gazed down the length of him.
“What… What are you doing here, Lucian?” he asked, his voice much weaker than normal.
“It’s time you and I finished our business. However, I’ve changed the terms. They are non-negotiable.” I’d waited patiently for him to honor what few stipulations I’d made. In my mind, the deal had been simple, lucrative for both parties.
I’d supply his brokerage firm with pristine uncut diamonds. He’d provide an entrance to the exclusive club for dealers as well as his personal push to ensure the King family was fully entrenched, including being provided with a number of clients. He’d chosen to turn his loyalty somewhere else.
While I’d wanted nothing more than to have my Capos pay Mr. Rossi a visit prior to my arrival, I’d made the decision that keeping his ugly mug intact better suited the needs of the King family.
However, if he dared cross me on any point within the contract, I wouldn’t hesitate to use one of my father’s creative methods of providing pain.
“You can’t do that.” Swallowing hard, he backed away a few inches, nervously raking his hand through his thinning hair. He’d been the top dog on the food chain of the diamond industry for years, amassing a wealth almost comparable to that of the King empire.
For that, he’d sold his soul to the devil, a New York crime syndicate who ruled a portion of the East Coast with brutality and threats. Only he’d made a serious mistake.
“I can do any damn thing I want, Angelo. I’m the king of New York. Whether or not you agree, I simply don’t give a damn. You’ve refused to allow my business to be a part of the esteemed Diamond Dealer’s Club and that’s not acceptable. In addition, you’ve spread rumors regarding the quality of the King family diamonds. As you can imagine, that pisses me off.” I planted my hands on the surface of his desk, keeping the smile on my face. I was aware he could see the handle of my weapon, which had been fully intended.
Angelo paled, terror forcing strings of sweat to roll down both sides of his face.
“What do you want from me?” he asked.
“Well, it’s your lucky day after all.”
After wiping away the perspiration, he offered a single nod. “Okay.”
“Here’s how we are going to play this. It’s time that the King family become more connected to the Rossis. Before you ask how that might occur, I’ll tell you. I am marrying your daughter. She will become my possession upon your signing a contract that I’ve brought with me today. After that, you will not only allow my family’s entrance into the exclusive Diamond Dealer’s Club, you will ensure that the Kings’ business is first on your agenda, assisting me in every way.”
“You can’t do that. I won’t allow that to happen.”
“As I said, this isn’t a request. This is a demand you will agree to or I’ll have no choice but to provide evidence to the Vitali mafia Don of your betrayal.”
I could tell he hadn’t expected the statement I’d made. I allowed him the opportunity to absorb the ramifications of what I’d told him. Several emotions crossed his face, his mouth twisting in fear and frustration.
“That just can’t… You can’t force me to marry off my daughter! You have nothing on me or my business.” His insistence made me laugh. “She’s my daughter.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. I can do anything I want. If you don’t do what I say, Don Vitali will know of your betrayal within the hour.”
“You should know me very well by now, including my methods of operation. I never bluff.” I took my time tugging a series of papers from my jacket, unfolding and sliding them across his desk.
He darted a look down then into my eyes before grabbing them with a shaky hand. I felt extreme satisfaction when the realization set in that I could not only ruin his business but also destroy the lives of himself and his family.
“You’re a bastard, Lucian.”
I rose to a full standing position, taking a deep breath. “That I am, Angelo.” I shifted around his desk, standing in front of him and unbuttoning my jacket.
“You can’t do this. My daughter was promised to Vitali’s son.” He backed against the wall, gasping for air, unable to take his eyes off my Glock.
Lazaro Vitali. Now there was a man who’d been born with fewer brains than most. Sadly, he was also a true savage, savoring bloodshed more than anything else in his life. I’d heard about the supposed arrangement through an informant, which only made this play that much more satisfying. While Genevieve meant nothing to me, I refused to allow something so precious to fall into the hands of a cockroach. “I’m curious, Angelo. Does Genevieve have any idea you’ve betrothed her to such a fucking monster? Do you know how many women he’s beaten badly, forcing his father to fork over tidy sums of money in order to keep them quiet? Then there were those who disappeared. What a shame.”
“And what are you? You and the rest of your brothers act as if the entire world is your playing field. You’re nothing but scum. You are murderers who enjoy destroying lives.”
While his words riled me, I was in a damn good mood.
After all, I was getting married.
“I’ll need your decision, Angelo. I don’t take your actions lightly, nor does any member of my family. As you might imagine, if Don Ciro Vitali found out that you’ve scammed their organization out of at least two million dollars, I could imagine his reaction. I’ve heard that their brand of torture is among the finest in the industry. However, my guess is that you’ll be required to watch as your lovely wife and daughter are made examples of what happens when you cross the Vitali family on any level. That would be… painful. I don’t want that for you.”
After another deep breath, I walked toward one of the windows in his office, peering down at the world beneath us. I loved New York. The sights, the smells, and even the bustling activity. What I didn’t love was the pretentious bullshit I’d been forced to deal with for years.
A full minute passed while Angelo suffered from the decision he had to make.
“I’m not a patient man. What had you decided?” I finally asked, not bothering to turn in his direction.
“I was right about you, Lucian. You are a cold-hearted killer with no regard for human life.”
I chuckled under my breath. “Another compliment.”
“Damn you. Fine. You can have my daughter.”
The fact he simply gave her up like she was nothing more than a toy for sale disgusted me.
“Excellent. The wedding will be in a few days. I’ll have the contract delivered to you within an hour. After that, you will instate the King family as honored members of the club. You will also ensure that my business becomes the focal point of your activities. For that, I will maintain your secret to my grave.”
I turned to face him, walking behind his desk and crowding his space. “However, if you attempt on any level of cross me again, I won’t hesitate to end our relationship in whatever way I see fit. Then, I will do with Genevieve as I see fit. Do. You. Understand?”
“Yes…” he hissed, actually managing some level of gumption.
Nodding, I kept my heated gaze on him for a few seconds. The man was a weasel but controllable. “Arrange an engagement party for tomorrow night, Angelo. And make certain you invite the press. I want the event one of the finest held in New York this year.”
He exhaled, his body sagging. “One day you’re going to come to regret this, Lucian King. I will make certain of it.”
“Be careful who you make threats toward, Angelo. Without thinking twice, I could crush you like a bug.” As I walked toward the door, I could hear his heavy breathing. So far, this was a damn good day.
Genevieve Rossi was a gentle flower, a beautiful reminder that there were still virtuous things on this earth. However, I wasn’t a good man, my plans regarding the sensual woman sadistic on every level. I would enjoy having a new toy.
Soon, my stunning bride would learn to obey my every command.
I would enjoy every second of tasting her sweet pussy.
Fucking her in every hole.
Deflowering her in the most vile and filthy ways.
Then I would break her.
After all, she was my possession.
“When passion meets inspiration, an obsession is born.”
Not only my family but my friends had called me obsessed, my hunger to create the perfect work of art keeping me awake at night. I’d felt the calling to create since I was a child, spending endless hours drawing pictures in vivid detail. While I enjoyed painting, working with clay was the passion of my life.
I pulled away from the pottery wheel, easing my foot off the pedal. The humidity in the room was oppressive, forcing me to rub the sleeve of my shirt across my forehead. As I sat back, a smile crossed my face. The beautiful piece of pottery was exactly as I’d envisioned. I’d spent almost a full two days locked in my studio, preparing several works of art.
Or at least I hoped that’s the way they’d be considered.
Exhaustion was close to the surface, but I still had one last piece to create. Then I’d be satisfied I had enough for the gallery showing. While the small store wasn’t well known, at least it was a start. I grabbed a bottle of water, still admiring the piece.
When I heard the sounds of footsteps, I cringed. This was my private space, the only location in my parents’ expansive house that was truly mine.
As the door opened, I closed my eyes. I’d know my father’s heavy footsteps anywhere.
“Genevieve, we need to talk.”
After taking a deep breath, I shifted in order to face him. The look on his face was full of apprehension, his muscles pinched. While I’d known he’d been under a significant amount of pressure, his face was positively ashen. He darted a glance toward my creation, frowning as he’d always done.
“What do we need to talk about?” I tried to keep the disdain from my tone, but it was difficult. I had a contentious relationship with my father, a man who hated everything about my decisions. I’d known since I was a small child about his level of disappointment that I hadn’t been a male. Given my mother hadn’t been able to conceive another child, his disappointment in me had continued to grow over the years.
I grabbed a rag, wiping my hands before standing. I could only imagine what I looked like, disheveled and covered in clay. As I stood, forcing myself to face him, he walked closer.
“There is no other way to say this. You’re getting married.”
At that moment, I was shoved into a vacuum. My father never joked about anything. He was the meanest, nastiest man I’d ever met, his work the only thing that mattered to him. But this was… horrifying. “What did you say?”
He took another few steps closer. “I said, you’re getting married.”
I laughed, tossing the rag. “Who I choose to be with is my choice, Father.” I’d yet to care about a single man in my life, but I’d heard the discussions he’d had with my mother about finding the right suitor.
“That’s where you’re wrong. You’re my daughter and you’re going to do as I say. You sit up here all day long, making trinkets that won’t sell for a goddamn thing. You waste your life while taking up space. It’s about time you’re good for something.”
A rush of humiliation and horrible pain flashed through me, unwanted tears forming in my eyes. While my father had never been a loving man, his inability at showing emotions something I’d simply learned to accept, this was out of character even for him. “I’m a grown woman, Father. I will do what I want, even if that means moving out of here. I don’t care.”
He laughed, turning his attention to the pottery and figurines I’d created with loving hands. “With what money, Genevieve? You have nothing but the allowance we give you. No job. No education. Nothing. You are going to do what I tell you to do. You will be prepared to get married. That way, at least you will be worth the trouble of having you. The wedding will be in a few days.”
Anguish washed through me from hearing his horrible words, but my resolve kicked in as well as my anger. Fuck him. “Bullshit. I won’t do it. There’s nothing you can do to make me. This is my life. Mine.”
“The contract has already been signed, although I will need your signature. You’re not a little girl any longer, Genevieve. You will do what’s required. I’m through with you acting like a spoiled brat.”
“A contract?” I hissed, instantly receiving a look of admonishment from my father. My father had never called me spoiled. To see the look of spite on his twisted face wasn’t just horrifying. It was telling. “You sold me like cheap goods. How dare you do anything so horrible. How dare you!” I’d raised my voice, something I’d rarely done with my father. Now I no longer cared what he thought or even what he did.
“It is done. You will honor the terms of the contract.”
My father had signed away my life with the stroke of a pen. “Does it make you feel good, Father, that you’re selling your daughter in order to protect your little world?”
When he took two long strides closer, fisting his hand, instead of backing away as I normally did, I stood my ground, holding my head high.
His face was riddled with fury, veins popping on the sides of his neck. Then he did something I would never have expected.
He destroyed every creation in my room, tossing the pieces of pottery across the room, beautiful bowls and vases, some that had taken me months to perfect. As the sounds of the fragile pieces being smashed into fragments filtered into my mind, my world turning upside down, I slid to the floor, unable to stop shaking.
“What did you do, Father? What debt is required to be paid?”
I’d never seen my father crumble before, but I was able to see the level of fear as well as sadness in his eyes. “That doesn’t concern you.”
I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think clearly. This just couldn’t be happening.
Resolve. Keep your resolve.
“Just who am I supposed to marry, Father?”
He took several gasping breaths, obviously surveying the total destruction of my life with glee. “Lucian King.”
I knew nothing about the man, nor did I want to. However, I could imagine the kind of manipulative, dominating criminal he likely was. That was the only reason I could imagine for my father to sell me off like cattle.
“And if I don’t?”
A strange look crossed his face. As he turned toward me, I realized something I’d never seen before. He was a broken man.
“Then our entire family will be eliminated. I don’t think you want to have blood on your hands.”
Although I tried to remain strong, I couldn’t stop tears from sliding down my face, my heart racing, I was finally able to accept how much I hated my father.
I also knew I had no other choice.
It would seem my father had sold his soul to the devil.
“You look beautiful.”
Even my best friend’s comforting voice did little to appease the anger that had remained furrowing in my tummy as well as my heart. My own father had betrayed me, sending me away as if I was nothing but a possession to be bought and sold. I stared at the girl in the mirror, hating everything about her. In the day and a half since I’d been forced to accept my wretched fate, I’d been unable to venture back into my studio, refusing to accept the carnage left behind in the wake of my father’s violent outburst.
“I look like a whore.”
Every girl dreamed of the man she was going to marry, a knight in shining armor prepared to fight off dragons in order for the opportunity to take her hand. My dreams had turned into fantasies, the perfect man a combination of chivalry and brawn, intelligence and a deep longing for romance. Lucian King would never appear in my dreams, other than serving as the beast my handsome groom was prepared to slay.
I’d read the contract several times until the words remained etched in my mind.
“As of this day forward, Ms. Genevieve Rossi will be considered the property of Mr. Lucian King, including any and all assets bequeathed to her upon the death of her parents.”
I hadn’t been able to tell my best friend the gory details. She had no understanding of the kind of world I’d been a part of. I’d known about my father’s secret meetings with criminals, his fall from grace, but I’d chosen not to take it seriously. I’d planned for years to have a life of my own completely devoid of my parents’ tentacles. I hadn’t moved quickly enough or realized how low my father would sink.
He’d stood over me, demanding I sign the contract. When I’d repeatedly refused, he’d taken the last thing from me that mattered on any level.
My pottery wheel.
It had been a gift from my father years before, a wrinkle in his otherwise armor-plated shield. The hurt of his betrayal would never go away.
Rose sighed as she gripped my arms, peering over me in the mirror. “No, you look like a princess.” There was sadness in her eyes, although she’d done her best to keep me in good spirits. How could she understand what was going on? All I’d talked about for months was my first gallery showing. Now it would never happen. What did it matter?
“Since when do princesses wear red dresses with low-cut bodices?” My question was rhetorical, the dress another requirement from my father.
“You have the figure and chutzpa to carry it off.” Rose tried to laugh, but I could see sympathy in her eyes. She felt sorry for me while I could feel nothing but shame. “What does your mother think?”
“My mother? You mean the once beautiful ingénue who lost everything in order to marry my father? That woman?”
“She made a choice. Doesn’t she love your father?”
I laughed bitterly. “Yes, she had a choice. She just simply made the wrong one. As far as love, I wouldn’t be able to tell.” In truth, I wasn’t entirely certain she had been given a choice. I’d never heard any stories of how their romance had blossomed. There were no first dance songs or first date favorites. There were no photo albums or honeymoon pictures hanging on the walls. I actually had realized the night before that I’d never heard more than a few perfunctory mentions of their wedding.
Rose grimaced. “I’m sorry, girl. I don’t know what to say.”
There was nothing that could be said. “How many people are downstairs?” I asked as I pressed my hand against my waist, my nausea refusing to let up.
“I don’t know, a few.” Rose fiddled with my long curls, darting several glances in my direction. “Okay, maybe two hundred.”
Two hundred people were going to witness my enslavement. Oh, goody. “I’m certain my dear daddy made certain every member of the upper echelon of society is in attendance.”
“From what I could tell. There are also several members of the local press here.”
I’d be presented then paraded around, photographs of the night’s soiree rushed to front page news. Maybe I’d be able to keep the disgust off my face.
“For what it’s worth, Lucian King is a hottie.”
I shifted my gaze in the mirror. Rose actually believed a monster like Lucian was attractive, a real catch. I’d read enough about him, searching the internet and finding countless articles, to know he was a ruthless, brutal man who destroyed his enemies. Whatever Lucian had on my father in order for him to agree to something so treacherous must be damning. An arranged marriage. How barbaric. I’d never imagined that this kind of behavior was accepted any longer.
“Lucian King is a pig, a concrete reminder that there are evil people in this world.” All I’d needed to do was search the internet for less than ten minutes to get a better understanding of Lucian, as well as his dangerous family. They ruled New Orleans with an iron fist, pretending as if they owned the entire city.
Rose visibly shuddered, taking a step away. “But he’s handsome.”
Of course he was handsome. He was the epitome of a savage man, complete with broad shoulders and a muscular physique. Every magazine cover he’d graced highlighted his gorgeous body, the photographs accentuating his deep blue eyes.
“That doesn’t make this right.” My words no longer mattered. I’d attempted to reason with my mother, but she’d been pushed under my father’s thumb so long she had few words to say other than I’d grow to love the man.
Like hell I would.
I’d slit his throat the first chance I had.
The single knock on the door was followed by my father coming inside. I didn’t bother turning in his direction, but I was able to see the look in his eyes in the reflection in the mirror.
Did that mean my father actually had a conscience? No, he was likely unhappy the president of the United States hadn’t accepted his invitation. Oh, what a shame.
“It’s time, Genevieve. Rose, please go downstairs,” he instructed.
Rose squeezed my arm before walking away, giving me one last look. I could see how annoyed my father was.
“You need to be on your best behavior.”
His voice was just as grating as the day he’d sabotaged my world. I planted on a smile, checking the glossy scarlet lipstick I’d applied one last time. “Oh, I assure you, Father. I will be.” When I walked closer, he yanked me by the arm, digging his fingers into my skin. His whisper wasn’t just irritating, it was frightening.
“You will obey your new master, adhering to every term of the contract, Genevieve. If you don’t, Lucian will have one of his goons terminate your family. Do you understand?”
While his words were supposed to put the fear of God into me, instead, they fueled my anger. “I understand completely, Father.” I turned my head toward him, narrowing my eyes. “While you’ve become spineless, I have no intention of allowing that man to control my life. I will do what’s necessary and nothing more.”
I was shocked when he backhanded my face, the instant ring in my ears mixing with my anguished whimper. The force was enough my head jerked to the side. After taking deep breaths, I allowed myself to stare into his eyes. “You will regret that, Father.”
Unfazed, he jerked me into the hallway, pulling me toward the stairs. “Just do as you’re told. Act like a lady.”
“And if I don’t?”
He didn’t bother to answer the question.
As I was led down the long flight of stairs, my stomach rolled into knots. How could I be forced to marry a man I didn’t know? I was just like every other young woman, hoping to find Mr. Right in a sea of men who only seemed interested in one thing. All I wanted was romance, unbridled passion.
What did I know? I’d barely been kissed before.
I heard a series of oohs and aahs as I was taken into the living room. The sea of well-dressed people became a blur within seconds, the sounds they made echoing in my ears. I was nothing but a French poodle, well coifed and shoved into a pretty party dress.
“She’s so beautiful.”
“She’ll make a lovely bride.”
“She looks so much like her mother.”
I hated every single statement made. All I wanted to do was lash out, but I held my tongue, searching the room. When my fiancé stepped around the corner of the dining room, I sucked in my breath. Seeing the monster up close was entirely different than the pictures plastered in the news or in glossy magazines. He was extremely handsome, his charcoal gray suit unable to hide his powerful stature or sculpted muscles.
Lucian stood with his legs apart and his hands cupped together, a wry smile on his face. I could tell he found the entire pomp and circumstance as disgusting as I did, only he’d no doubt requested the fanfare. I sensed a number of photographs being taken. Our spectacular party would end up on the front pages of the New York Times in the morning. Who knew that a little girl with a penchant for stuffed animals and imaginary heroes could end up a star?
As I was dragged closer, I tried to pull away, only to have my father’s manicured nails dig into my skin. “You’re going to need to learn obedience. I’m certain Lucian will provide the harsh lessons you require. Smile and enjoy.”
I stiffened, trying to squelch my nerves. As I was forced closer, I could easily tell that Lucian was undressing me with his eyes. I was mortified, angry with everything and everyone around me. Even from the few feet keeping us apart, his scent wafted into my nostrils. I was thrown by how lightheaded I’d become, becoming almost intoxicated by the exotic fragrance. The smoldering look in his eyes remained, his nostrils flaring as I was pushed closer.
A level of fire erupted in my belly that threatened to consume me, my heart hammering to the point almost everything else was drowned out.
There was an instant hush in the room, the crowd leaning forward as the two lovebirds were brought together.
“Beautiful,” Lucian muttered yet his single word was one of possession.
Someone handed me a glass of champagne, the heavy flute almost slipping from my fingers. A hum remained in my ears as Lucian inched closer, pressing the palm of his hand against my back. My throat tightened, my legs quivering, and I had a sense of floating, far removed from the moment.
“Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Mr. Lucian King and my lovely daughter, Genevieve Rossi. Please lift your glasses in a toast to the couple. Da cento anni.”
For one hundred years.
The traditional toast sickened me.
“For one hundred years.”
It seemed as if every person in attendance repeated the saying, the vibrations of their voices reverberating all around me. I twisted my head, no longer able to focus, wanting nothing more than a way out of my nightmare. As I took several breaths, my head spinning, a sense of calm washed over me. I had no idea what my father had gotten himself involved with, but I refused to be collateral damage.
And so, I made a decision, one that I would never regret.
The second I tossed the entire contents of my glass into Lucian’s face, I felt vindicated, happier than I’d been in a long time.
The entire crowd seemed stunned, their gasps only giving me a smile.
“There isn’t going to be any wedding. Not to a monster like Lucian King.”