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Lord of Punishment: A Dark Mafia Romance by Piper Stone – Sample

Prologue

Sabatino

“What are you doing?” I asked as I watched her brushing her long fingers across the small stuffed animal. When she brought the fluffy lamb to her chest, I sensed her sadness even from where I was standing.

“Just looking.” She lifted her head, gently tucking a strand of her dark hair behind her ear. The tears in her eyes cut through me, so much so that I almost allowed the anger to resurface, something she hated with a passion. It didn’t matter how much time had passed, both our nerves and pain were raw.

How could I not be angry? We’d suffered a miscarriage almost a year before, but the agony remained fresh in both our minds. While the doctor had mentioned it would likely be impossible to have a child given the scar tissue he’d detected, she remained hopeful.

We both did although I wasn’t the kind of man to allow hope to get in the way of reality.

“Come on, baby. Let’s grab some ice cream.” When I reached out and touched her arm, she flinched. Not from my tender touch but from being reminded of the memories that couldn’t be erased.

I’d wanted nothing more than to take away all her agony, fixing the situation but there was nothing I could do. I’d tried but as the doctors had told us both, it was something she had to work through, and it would take time.

I pulled my hand away, allowing her the few moments of quiet. I bristled from the way she was trying to hide her tears, turning away before wiping her eyes. But I knew what she was doing. I’d been the one standing behind the closed bathroom door listening to her sobs for months, uncertain how to help her. Her grief had turned into depression, leaving her a shell of the woman she’d once been. While the antidepressant drugs her doctor had prescribed were helping, she was no longer the bright light she’d once been.

Very slowly she put the lamb back onto the shelf, nodding to let me know she was ready to go.

As we walked out into the bright sunshine, I shielded my eyes with one hand as I wrapped my arm around her waist. “What do you think, pistachio today? Your favorite?”

“I’m not hungry.”

She was never hungry any longer, her once voluptuous body frail, her skin sallow.

“Ice cream isn’t food. Isn’t that what you told me once? It’s a treat.”

Her face scrunched up as she looked at me. “Okay. You win. Just this once.”

“Oh, you’re admitting it. That I should win.”

“Uh-huh. Just like you’re always right.”

I laughed as I guided her inside the mostly empty ice cream store, the little shop one we’d gone to several times in the past. Sadly, it had been over a year since we’d done so. As we headed to the counter, I was pleased to see she was more animated than she’d been before, staring down at the case holding the various flavors with a smile on her face.

“Hi. What can I get you both?” the girl behind the counter asked.

“Two pistachio cones,” my baby answered as she held up two fingers.

“Sugar or plain cone?”

“Sugar. The only way to go.”

I was more than thankful she was so animated. Maybe for today I could take a deep breath.

When she turned around a couple of minutes later, handing me one of the cones, she licked mine as she used to do so long ago. It had been one of the things she’d done on our first date, her playfulness in direct contrast to the brooding man, her favorite term for me.

“Am I safe now?” I asked, giving her a heated look.

“I think so.”

When I swiped my finger through my ice cream, she backed away quickly before I could paint her face with mint green icy goodness. My heart ached for her but today was at least a much better day. After paying for the cones, we returned to the sun, finding a place at one of the outdoor tables.

She sat down casually, eyeing me quietly as she enjoyed the treat, but I could tell something was on her mind. When she didn’t say anything for a couple of minutes, I couldn’t stand the silence any longer.

“What is it?” I finally asked, leaning closer to her, inhaling her exotic perfume.

“I was wondering,” she said so quietly I had to strain to hear her words.

“Uh-oh. That means I’m in trouble.”

She giggled, the sound the sweetest music. It had been so long since I’d heard her laugh. “No, goofy. Not today at least.”

“Then what?”

When she reached over, rolling her finger across my knuckles, I tensed. “I think we should try again.”

I closed my eyes briefly. While she’d finally wanted to be intimate almost two months before, she’d been stiff, crying afterward. “Baby. You know what the doctors said. I don’t think it’s the right time just yet.”

“When will it be the right time? When? You act like I’m breakable but I’m not. I just want a family. I thought that’s what you wanted.”

“I do. Baby, you know that.”

She shook her head. “I don’t think so. You’re always working. You come home late smelling like alcohol.”

“You know exactly why I’ve been working so many hours.”

“Oh, that’s right. Since you’re the big, bad Don of Baltimore. How could I forget?” The edge in her voice was unmistakable.

“That’s not it and you know it.” I suddenly had no desire for ice cream any longer.

She licked furiously for a few seconds then stood, tossing the rest in the trash. When she started heading toward the street, I groaned and jerked up, tossing mine into the trashcan, grabbing her arm before she stepped off the curb.

“I don’t want to argue with you over this, baby.”

“Then don’t,” she snapped, allowing me to keep hold of her arm, but she was stiffer than before.

There was no talking to her when she got this way. I was sick inside, so uncertain how to help her or what was the right thing to say. I tugged out my keys, hitting the key fob and locking the doors. “Why don’t we consider going out to dinner tonight? We haven’t done that in a little while.”

“I doubt I’ll be hungry.” She started to head around the back of our car but stopped short. “You know what? I’ll be right back.”

“What are you doing?”

“Buying something for me. You don’t have to like it. I do have my own money.” She glanced at the traffic, waiting for a few seconds before dashing across the street.

I knew exactly what she was doing. Maybe it would be good for her. As I leaned against the car, I realized just how much I wanted a family, although it wasn’t a good idea, at least not right now. I closed my eyes, wishing I could be a better husband. When I looked again, I could tell I’d been right about what she was doing. She’d purchased the lamb from the toy store. Exhaling, I reminded myself that chastising her wasn’t a good idea, and if the stuffed animal helped her even a little, then who was I to say a damn thing? I had to be supportive of her various phases of grief.

I’d pushed mine aside given my reaction to something of this nature was to act on my need for violence but here there was no one to blame.

She started to cross the street, cuddling the lamb against her face. I pushed away from the car, eager to hold her in my arms and tell her I was sorry. That was a trait she said no one in my family had, the ability to apologize when we were wrong. Oh, how right she was. I kept my gaze locked on her, enjoying the vision of her beautiful face. I had no idea how I’d gotten so lucky given I was a terrible man. At least in my business life.

A sound drew my attention, which immediately put me on edge. While my instinct was to reach for my weapon, I curtailed the action, trying to figure out where the sound had come from. In an instant, I heard the blast of a horn seconds before screeching tires. As of that moment, everything shifted into slow motion. I turned my head to the left, narrowing my eyes as I watched a car racing through a red light, headed in our direction.

As I turned my head, I realized my baby was ignoring the sound, the car already on the street and accelerating toward her.

I raced forward, throwing out my hand. “No!”

The speeding car headed right for my beautiful baby. At the sound of my scream, she stopped and lifted her head.

But it was too late.

The car barreled into her, tossing her frail body into the air by several feet from the force of acceleration. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think straight, my legs fighting me as I tried to lumber forward. I had to protect her. She was my everything.

As her body tumbled back to earth, the driver of the speeding car didn’t bother slowing, racing through another intersection before making a sharp turn.

“No. No!”

There was no sound, nothing but the rapid beating of my heart as I fell to my knees, cradling her broken and bleeding body in my arms. She peered up at me, a slight smile crossing her face before the light faded from her eyes.

And in her hand remained the little lamb she’d hoped would belong to our baby.

Chapter One

Charity

“I should kill you.”

It wasn’t the first time he’d issued the warning, and it wouldn’t be the last. “Then do it. I don’t care any longer.” Every inch of my body trembled with fear, but I’d been through so much that nothing mattered any longer.

He leered at me, swaying back and forth, the combination of venom and lust disgusting.

My God. The man was intoxicated, which always made his anger unbearable. He was a violent savage who’d told me so many times he loved me. Without warning, he wrapped his hand around my throat, squeezing as his eyes filled with glee. I slapped my hands on his arms, but he was too strong. Choking, I couldn’t breathe, stars floating in front of my eyes. “Please…” Why beg him? Why stoop so low? That’s what he fed off, the agony and tears fueling his hatred.

He squeezed even harder before shoving me away. I tumbled backward, hitting my hip on the dresser. “You need to remember, bitch. There isn’t a hole you can crawl into where I won’t find you.” He threw a brutal jab and I was tossed to the floor.

His words echoed in my ears as I swallowed blood. I wished I could say the brutal punch to my jaw had been unexpected, something that had never happened before, but it would be a horrible lie like everything else in my narrow world. A world he owned, a bastard who’d wooed me, sweeping me off my feet months before.

I’d fallen into a horrible trap I had no way of escaping. No phone. No car. No friends. No money. He’d stripped my entire life away from me one dark night while I was sleeping, laughing about his horrible deeds the next day. After that, I’d become his prisoner. But I’d found a way of beating him even for a little while, the leash I was on allowing me a few outings from the house with two bodyguards by my side, a joyful taste of freedom if only for a little while.

Tears formed in my eyes, but I did everything in my power to drive them away. The beatings were worse when I showed any emotion. I remained on the floor, allowing my long hair to continue covering my face, gasping for air as the sobs furrowing in my chest threatened to give me away. I couldn’t live like this any longer. I was certain he’d kill me one day and I couldn’t allow that to happen.

“You will do as I say, Charity. You belong to me. I’ll fuckin’ kill anyone who tries to take you away.”

The threat was real.

However, I was much stronger than he realized. Hate replaced the fear, allowing a rush of adrenaline to put an end to the sadness. He’d lied to me. He’d used me. He’d stripped away my dignity. No more. Fuck him. Fuck his power. Fuck the life I believed would be magical. There was no such thing as a happily ever after with a savage like him.

“I fucking hate you. You will never own me.”

He laughed at my ridiculous words, shaking his head. I’d crossed a line. I’d gone too far. Maybe death was better than this.

“Heed my warning, you slut,” he growled as he fisted my hair, yanking my head back at an awkward angle. His glare was full of venom, as if I was the reason his world was caving in on him. The tip of his switchblade was driven under my chin, the cold prick of pain meaning he’d drawn blood. “I will slice you from ear to ear if you ever attempt to leave me.”

And I knew he would.

I managed a smile, an expression he hated. As soon as his fist connected with my face, I knew I’d crossed an invisible line, but the truth was I no longer cared. He’d taken everything from me, including my family, every safety mechanism destroyed.

With a single exception.

It was time.

No, it was past time to end the charade of my life.

When I said nothing, not a single sound flowing past my swollen lips, he finally grew bored, pitching me aside as if I was trash. His heavy footsteps as he stormed toward the door allowed me to smile. The door slammed and I slumped to the floor, bringing my knees to my chest. As I started to rock, doing everything I could to ignore the pain, I heard my mother’s voice inside my head, the lullaby she used to sing to me as a child.

If only she were here.

If only I could feel the warmth of her smile, or her strong arms wrapped around me one last time. If only…

Two months passed. Two months of biding my time, of trying to figure out what if anything I could do. Then an angel had come from the ugly shadows, her encouragement offering me a chance at hope and a better future. But I’d been forced to be careful, the bastard watching every move I made for weeks. At least his business had taken him not only outside of the house but out of the city as well. I could only imagine what horrors he was inflicting on those he considered inferior to him.

How often had he raged about claiming LA? How many times had I seen him with blood on his clothes? Enough that I knew exactly what he was capable of.

This would be my only chance at escaping. I’d managed to hide what few items I was taking with me in the garden shed days before, waiting until I could convince the only decent soldier working for my fiancé to allow me to go outside for a little while. When he’d taken a phone call, I reacted without hesitation. I would either find freedom or succumb to death.

I glanced over my shoulder, feeling certain his soldiers had followed me. Only when I’d gotten on the bus did I take a deep breath, yet all during the ride, I’d been terrified one of the bastard’s men would force the bus to the curb. When I stepped off, my stomach churning, I accepted that I was in divine hands at this point. There was no other way to look at the horrible situation.

My entire body ached from tension and terror, the combination keeping me short of breath. I’d risked my life coming here but it was worth it. I only prayed to God my only friend wouldn’t turn against me. If she did, I was a dead woman. I knocked again, forced to rest against the doorjamb, another wave of exhaustion tearing through me.

When the door finally opened, I lifted my head.

Sasha’s eyes opened wide, her entire face falling. “Oh, my God. Charity. I’m so sorry. Come in.” She’d approached me several months before, starting up a casual conversation inside the library I’d been allowed to visit, my fiancé believing it was a safe location for me to be. She’d seen bruises on me before, asking me gently where they’d come from. I wasn’t as naïve as I’d come across, realizing she had to be law enforcement, trying to get me to provide her with evidence she could have my fiancé convicted with.

I clutched my bag against my chest, the entire almost year playing out in my mind. I’d even dared go through the bastard’s desk, finding what little he didn’t keep locked up. I had no clue if it would help her or not but at this point, it just didn’t matter. Getting as far away from his toxic regime as possible did.

As soon as I dropped my duffle bag on her entrance floor, the tears began to fall. “Please help me. I have nowhere to go. He’s going to kill me. He’ll find me. I know he will. I just…” When I fell against her, she exhaled and wrapped her arms around my frail body, closing and locking the door before guiding me into her living room.

She held my hands for a few minutes until I stopped sobbing, her touch motherly as she brushed strings of unwashed hair from my face.

“He did this to you?” she asked in such a quiet voice that I had to strain to hear her.

“Yes.”

“And I know it’s not the first time.” Of course, she already knew the answer, but like a cop would do, she wanted the horror I’d been through confirmed.

I shook my head, embarrassed I’d fallen under his spell so easily. That wasn’t like me. Now I didn’t know me any longer. “I have something for you.”

“You do?”

The last time I’d seen her, she’d promised me assistance in gaining a new life, one that was far removed from his brutality and the danger that had surrounded me since moving to Los Angeles. In return, I was to find and bring everything I could on the asshole’s business dealings. Snooping had placed my life in jeopardy, but I would have brought her the Golden Gate Bridge if it meant having another opportunity at living the life I remembered. I pulled an envelope from my purse, fingering it for a few seconds before handing it to her.

I was no longer shocked I couldn’t stop shaking, my fingers numb from lack of food and sleep.

While Sasha took it from me, she didn’t bother opening the flap. We’d developed a level of trust over the last few months, a friendship that had been unexpected. However, I was no fool. I knew she worked for a law enforcement agency, tasked to friend the fiancée of the most notorious cartel leader west of the Mississippi. I wouldn’t testify against him, but I had provided enough evidence I was hopeful would send him to prison for a very long time.

Even if she managed to accomplish the mission, that didn’t mean the man I’d thought I’d loved didn’t have far-reaching tentacles, men prepared to reach out and torture me. If found, I wouldn’t die quickly. That much I knew about his operations.

Sasha stood, taking the envelope with her. I didn’t pay attention to what she was doing, holding my arms as a series of chills continued to keep me on edge. When she returned, she had another larger envelope in one hand, a set of keys in the other. She sat down opposite me in a chair, taking her time placing both items on the coffee table.

“I’m going to ask you one more time, Charity. Are you certain you want to do this?”

I found the courage to lift my head, looking her directly in the eyes. “Yes. I have no doubts.”

“And you do understand that once you leave my house, Charity Powers will no longer exist. Ever. You can’t contact a single person you knew from the past. No phone calls, no birthday cards. Nothing.”

The ache of never being able to see my parents again weighed heavily on my mind, but what choice did I have?

“Yes. Please protect my parents.”

Sasha exhaled. “I’ll do what I can.”

“Thank you. Will anyone else know who I am and where I’ll be?”

She shook her head. “No one. To be honest with you, what I’m doing could get me fired because approval of a new life generally follows testifying in court, but I refuse to allow you to be killed.”

Reaching out, I squeezed her hand, additional tears sliding down both cheeks. “I completely understand. He took everyone from me. I can’t thank you enough.” As soon as I let go, she placed her hand on the envelope.

“Inside you will find everything you need to start your new life. You have a new social security card, credit cards, money, a bank account already established. You also have a small but adequate house that was willed to you from your grandfather. You’ll find details on him and the other members of your family inside as well. Memorize the details then destroy the paperwork. The keys are to a car that will get you to your destination safely. Understood?”

“How did you manage this so quickly?”

Sasha smiled. “I have friends all over the world, some who belong to an organization providing assistance to people in need of escaping. From here on out, you’ve never heard of me.”

“Sasha isn’t your real name. Is it?”

“No.”

I studied the envelope, sick to my stomach. “What if he finds me?”

“He won’t. I’ll make certain of that. As of today, your new name is Georgia Ingalls. Charity Powers will end up washing up on a beach somewhere.”

“Georgia,” I repeated. “A good name.”

Her laugh was unexpected. “I’m glad you approve. Let’s finish altering your identity. You have a long trip ahead of you. I’ll make certain you’re not followed out of the city. The rest will be up to you. Now it’s time for you to forget about him.”

As she stood, I took a deep breath, placing my hand on my stomach. If only I could forget about him completely. Sadly, that would never be possible.

He would live in my fractured mind forever.

Chapter Two

Almost four years later…

Sabatino

Cold and heartless.

A killer.

A bloodthirsty man.

I’d been told that was my personality more times than I could count. While it was true, there were times I found the hatred spewed far more amusing than others. I enjoyed being a powerful, brutal man. That’s how I’d gained my fortune and kept out those intent on destroying what belonged to me. I flexed my hand, staring down at the scratches I’d received from beating the first son of a bitch soldier who’d dared cross me in a long time.

Brutality was the only thing that made me feel alive.

While the shithead would need time to learn how to walk again given the number of crushed bones I’d left him with, Chase should grateful I’d left him alive. It had surprised me that tonight’s level of brutality did little more than leave a bad taste in my mouth.

And a moment of repulsion.

Still, stealing was unacceptable, no matter the product or the terms. He’d confiscated a single bag of blow, the high-quality cocaine from a shipment I’d been waiting on for weeks. Whether his intention was to sell on the streets for extra cash or to snort up his nose personally didn’t matter.

“Send a message to the troops that disloyalty won’t be allowed,” I told my lieutenant as we exited the vehicle, heading toward one of the dozens of buildings I owned.

“How would you like me to do that, boss?” Andres asked. There was a hint of frivolity in his voice, more so than normal. He knew I appreciated using creative techniques while providing either a warning or in my methods of doling out punishment. I was well known for my horrific use of brutality as well as my vivid imagination.

I stopped short as we neared the building, taking a deep whiff and almost gagging. The stench of garbage was stronger than normal given the level of humidity in the air. “Send an email with a few of the photographs you took of Chase in his… new state of being.”

“Any caption?”

Exhaling, I rubbed my jaw. “Something to the effect of Chase has left the building in search of new legs.”

“You are a cruel man.”

“Yes, I am. And I’m good at it.”

Damn good at it. Violence was the only way I’d managed to cope with the demons over the last few years.

He chuckled as I opened the door, the sound providing a smile. I would never be considered a good man on anyone’s terms. That was certain.

As we headed toward the main doors leading to the factory, I glanced over my shoulder, studying the almost vacant street fronting the aging warehouse. The location had once housed a textile mill, some of the original pieces of equipment still inside. My family had purchased several buildings in the area, the location nestled in a part of Baltimore earmarked for the next great refurbishment of the grand city a future billion-dollar maker.

But for now, it was being used to increase the DiMaggio wealth with the family’s other profitable enterprise.

Cocaine.

I wasn’t necessarily proud of the operation, but my grandfather had built his empire from nothing after arriving in the United States with his mother and father from Spain decades before. My grandfather used to tell my brother and me tall tales about his dangerous escapades, becoming one of the most powerful and ruthless men in Baltimore by the time he was twenty-five. Even after all these years, his reputation and strangled hold on several major East Coast cities remained legendary.

Something lying near the building caught my eye, suddenly dragging me back to moments in my past. What appeared to be a brand-new stuffed animal was only a few feet away. A fucking lamb. Jesus. I raked my hand through my hair, realizing it was shaking.

“You okay, boss?” Andres asked as he flanked my side, still holding the door open as he concentrated his gaze in the direction of what I was looking at.

It took a few seconds for me to drag my attention away. “Yeah. It’s too quiet tonight.” It had been months since I’d been dragged back to my own private hell. All it had taken was a fucking abandoned stuffed animal. I allowed anger to replace the haunted sickness, eager to return to my house and into my private gym. Maybe a few hours of hitting the punching bag would exorcise the ugly demon.

“And that’s not a good thing?” My second in command chuckled even though he knew my instincts were almost always spot on.

“Not always, my friend.” I’d come downtown to check out the latest shipment of party favors that had only arrived in port a few hours before. I’d had extra precautions taken since the port authority and the coast guard were working with the local DEA agency to crack down on drugs coming into the capital city. I couldn’t blame them. Drug overdoses had increased significantly over the last few years, but usually the offending proclivity was heroin, fentanyl, or a toxic combination of opioids.

We catered to the rich and famous, those who could afford the high-quality white powder crafted in Latin America. The family’s client list would likely shock anyone if they ever got their hands on it. The scandals would all but crumble the upper echelon of politicians, corporate moguls, stars, and musicians. That wasn’t the only one reason I took extra precautions with the merchandise, taking my time with distribution. There would always be enemies determined to bring down the family empire on both sides of the law.

Maybe that’s why something bothered me about the stillness, my instinct always on the alert.

“Do you want me to call in backup?” Andres asked.

“No. Let’s just get this over with.” I headed inside, struck by the dampness even though the humidity was thick outside for an early May evening. “Are the points of distribution set?”

“You bet. The product will be in all four locations by morning.”

“Good.” Our footsteps echoed in the mostly empty space. I constantly moved the shipment arrival and processing locations between a dozen destinations in my attempt to prevent interference or hijacking by other criminal elements. To date, we’d experienced mostly minor skirmishes, which was totally unlike my grandfather’s and even my father’s days when there’d been constant wars between crime syndicates.

That didn’t mean our enemies weren’t powerful. It simply meant an alliance had been formed between many of the most ruthless organizations, preventing the loss of innocent lives. As if I’d ever shied away from painting the streets in red if necessary. I was exactly like my grandfather after all.

Savage.

We headed into the most secure part of the factory and I nodded to the four men keeping guard.

“Sir. Everything is in order,” Martin said as he stepped away from the crates.

I walked closer, peering inside one of them. After digging down by almost six inches, I selected a bag, bringing it to the single table that had been left from the former owners. I tugged my pocketknife from my jacket, slitting the bag a couple of inches. I wet my finger, dipping it into the substance. As I brought it to my lips, I realized how much I loathed anyone who resorted to using recreational drugs to get their jollies. I’d initiated a rule within the ranks within a month of my takeover. No one in my employ, either legitimate or illegitimate, was allowed to use recreational drugs under any circumstances.

Hell, I’d almost beaten to death a made man after he’d nearly botched a legitimate deal, his inebriated behavior almost proving to be the single time the police had arrested me. That’s why a codicil of being strict had been placed alongside my brutal reputation. I kind of liked it.

Sure, I had my own set of proclivities, but nothing that I couldn’t control at a moment’s notice. However, I knew an excellent product when I tasted it and the cocaine that had been provided was top notch, well worth every penny. We’d make millions on the few crates alone. Easy money.

All five men waited for my acknowledgment. They knew how I got when I was angry. No one wanted to ever see me enraged. People usually died when that occurred.

“Excellent. Please extend my appreciation to Señor Juarez for me, Martin.”

There wasn’t a single man inside the room who didn’t breathe a sigh of relief. “Will do, sir.” He immediately grabbed a roll of duct tape, securing the open bag before placing it back into the crate.

“When is the next shipment due in?” I asked as I headed to the rusted sink to wash my hands. I was headed to my brother’s house and the last thing I wanted was any cocaine residue on my fingers when I picked up my nephew.

“Two weeks. That’s the last for the quarter,” Andres answered.

“Good. We’re right on schedule. I’m headed out to a family dinner. Make certain the shipments get out as anticipated.” I didn’t waste any time, heading for the entrance, stopping short the moment I heard an unusual cracking sound. I immediately yanked my weapon into my hand, removing the safety.

“Do you want me to see what that was, boss?” Andres asked.

I tipped my head toward him, placing my finger across my lips. Using careful and quiet steps, I headed toward the other room, stopping just inside the doorway, darting my head inside the front room. My hackles immediately rose when I noticed the main door was swinging open in the light breeze.

Andres moved into the room, cursing under his breath. “Shit. I thought I secured the door.” The moment he stepped all the way into the room, another crack could be heard. My lieutenant was highly trained but his reaction to seeing a grenade tossed into the warehouse was slow. The explosion was almost instantaneous, pitching us both back by several feet, a rush of adrenaline fueling me when I was slammed into the hard concrete floor.

What the fuck?

I rolled over, gasping for air as rancid smoke swept through the space. While echoes pounded into my ears, they didn’t stop the sound of boots racing through the door. We were under attack.

My other soldiers had fared better, their reactions immediate. As they raced into the room, Martin grabbed me by the arm, dragging me to my feet.

Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!

The sound of gunfire was immediate, the shots coming from at least two directions.

“Protect the product,” I hissed before lunging forward, noticing flames had already erupted, the old crates left from a decade before perfect kindling material. My mind was rattled enough I was concentrating on why my orders to remove the flammable material hadn’t been followed. I noticed something appearing out of the shadows, forcing me to drop and roll, firing off several shots.

“Uh!” The ragged grunt came a split second before the enemy soldier dropped in front of me.

More shots were fired, several other targets hit. With the increasing smoke, it was impossible to tell the good guys from the bad. As if there was a difference.

Who the fuck were these assholes? When I found out, they’d regret the day they entered my city let alone dared to interfere with my business. I raced toward the side of the building, holding one arm over my mouth and nose as I swung my Glock from one side to the other. It was almost impossible to see anything given the haze. I blinked furiously just as Andres stumbled from the smoke. He’d been shot, his crisp white shirt soaked in blood.

I raced forward, grabbing him around the waist, dragging him behind another series of crates. The fire continued to roll, flames targeting several pieces of aging equipment. Another explosion sounded from behind me, the noise muffled yet I had no doubt it had come from somewhere inside the secured space.

The motherfuckers had known what had been delivered, using the grenade as a smokescreen. “Stay down,” I hissed to Andres, crouching low and heading back toward the room. A hard punch to my jaw caught me off guard but I snagged the assailant’s arm, yanking him down to the floor. With one hand wrapped around his throat, I held him in place and fired off two shots into his brain. He wouldn’t be bothering me any longer.

A bellow sounded off from my right and I jerked my head toward it in time to thwart another attacker.

Pop! Pop! Pop!

The fucker dropped with a hard thud. I managed to find the entrance to the secure space, catching another assailant attacking Martin. Using my weapon, I smacked the enemy soldier in the back of the head, unable to risk the shot. The gaping hole in the back of the building told me everything I needed to know.

Product had been stolen.

After several additional shots had been fired, the sudden stillness reminded me of a few minutes before.

As if it was the calm before the storm.

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