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

Chapter One

Twenty years earlier

Diego

I’d just killed a man.

Ordinarily, that wouldn’t mean anything particularly special in my line of work. My family had taken justice into their own hands generations before, especially in dealing with our enemies. We’d taken enough lives that it was impossible to count the number or remember their names. The streets of LA had been painted with blood, remnants lingering in even the finest neighborhoods.

Beverly Hills.

Malibu.

Bel Air.

No one was immune if they’d crossed the Santos family.

The only reason this particular kill was worth mentioning to any degree was that it was my first, the gun remaining in my hand as I stared at the man’s crumpled body, the bullet lodged somewhere in his brain.

The rain fell harder, the torrent of water unusual for this time of year, the storm washing away a portion of the evidence. Not that we cared given we owned the police, but there was something cathartic about the way the blood rushed toward the drains of the pavement, slowly pooling before sliding into the abyss of the sewer system. With seventeen thousand miles of pipes, the blood could certainly go a long way before finding an official resting spot.

Or it would become liquid libation for the millions of rats and other vermin feasting on what was left of trash and human waste.

I wasn’t normally so engrossed in the effects of ending someone’s life. In fact, I’d been looking forward to hunting down the bastards who’d dared go against my family’s regime. I’d even begged my father to allow me to pop my cherry, becoming one of the men working for the Don of the Santos Crime Syndicate.

The fact I was barely seventeen meant I was constantly watched, the babysitter my father had appointed studying every move I made. He’d report back to my father on my techniques, my ability to hunt and my reaction after the fact. There was no room for guilt of any kind, our hearts taken by the darkness that had entrapped our family for decades. While my hand continued to shake from the rush of adrenaline and the power I felt in the Glock I’d been given for my sixteenth birthday, I only hoped the raging storm would hide it.

If not, the variation in my behavior would be duly noted.

I took a deep breath, blinking away water lingering on my eyelashes.

“You did good, kid,” Ivan said in a low rumbling voice, his Russian accent somehow more pronounced than usual. While he was only ten years older, it was a lifetime for a kid who wanted to become a made man, a soldier in my father’s army.

When he flanked my side, I lowered my weapon, shoving it into my pocket, then for effect only, kicking the bastard who’d attempted to hijack one of our ships.

“He’s dead, kid. You have a damn good aim. You’re a natural at this. Your father will be proud. Come on. We need to get the fuck out of here before the shitheads find out their ruthless leader is dead.”

There was something about this level of justice that remained nagging the back of my mind, as if in killing the man I’d been initiated into the depths of hell, my soul finally taken to be held captive by the grim reaper for all eternity.

I’d thought at this moment I’d feel like a man, a warrior excelling in battle. Instead, I felt nothing but emptiness inside, the kill unsatisfying. Yet I felt the arms of the devil himself wrapping around me, holding me in an icy embrace, whispering sweet nothings into my ear. I turned away, lifting my head as the rain continued to fall.

Maybe this moment was cathartic after all. For now, I was a monster like my father, no longer able to call on my conscience or the Catholic Church to protect me. This is what I’d wanted for as long as I could remember.

Then why did I feel so alone?

“Alright,” Ivan barked to the six other soldiers who’d come with us. “Let’s get the fuck out of this rathole.”

South Los Angeles was one of the poorest areas of the city, far removed from the glitzy neighborhood I’d grown up in. Known for its violent crimes and disgusting living conditions, there wasn’t a cop in the borough who would think twice about the cartel member being found dead on the street. But the other members of the Mexican Cartel would. And they’d be eager to retaliate. We’d sent a message but even my limited experience told me they’d seek bloody revenge soon enough.

I followed behind the others, heading toward the three vehicles we’d arrived in, four of the men piling into two vehicles, the other two waiting until both Ivan and I were safely secured inside. It felt good to be treated like royalty for a change instead of a kid tagging along, little more than a nuisance.

Before I climbed inside, I heard a noise, my keen hearing picking up on the clanging sound easily.

I stopped moving, scanning one side of the street then the other, trying to locate the source.

“What’s wrong, kid?” Ivan asked, once again flanking my side.

“We’re not alone.” Death was everywhere, the stench of it assaulting my senses. It permeated the air like a fog remaining over the entire neighborhood, this particular street full of abandoned warehouses and homes, the thought of renovation in the distant future. However, there were also people living in dilapidated apartments, slumlords holding their future in the palms of their ruthless hands.

It was also the playground of the Mexican Cartel, their members considered monsters, streaming in from the southern country to join in the crusade. At least that’s what the powerful, brutal leader had called his desire to rule as much of the city as possible. With him dead, my father would soon round up the man’s soldiers, exterminating them one by one. Would that provide hope to those living here? It shouldn’t matter to me in the least, the thought surprising.

Something was wrong, someone in the wrong place at the wrong time.

My hackles were raised, my heart racing. I had good instincts just like my father, which was one of the few compliments he’d given me while growing up. Everything else had to be earned, and he was a tough taskmaster. But tonight, I knew something was wrong.

Ivan took a step away from me, studying the area carefully as I’d done before. “I don’t see anything, kid. Krome krys i tarakanov.” His laugh was bitter, the phrase something I’d heard often.

Except for rats and cockroaches.

I continued listening, hearing nothing after a full minute. Maybe he was right. As he turned around, heading toward the armored SUV, I continued scanning the perimeter. Then I noticed a lone figure walking down the opposite side of the street. I immediately yanked my weapon into both hands, my heart thudding to the point the sound was echoing in my ears.

“We got trouble,” I said under my breath.

While the other two soldiers snorted from behind me, acting as if I had no fucking clue what I was talking about, the hair stood up on the back of my neck.

La chica bamba,” one of the two men said, his term for recognizing a girl. Marco was the kind of asshole who didn’t like following me around, trying to keep me out of trouble. He made certain I understood his dislike of me every chance he had.

I craned my neck, trying to make out why he’d think that. As the lone figure passed under one of the few streetlights, I was able to get a slightly better look at her. Marco whistled as he moved in front of me, making lewd gestures as he always did.

From what I could tell, the girl was young, the sound Marco was making drawing her attention. She stopped walking, lifting her head and for a few seconds, our eyes connected even in the darkness and torrential rain. My God. She was just a child, no more than eight or nine, easy to tell by her clothes and small frame.

I found myself walking toward her for no particular reason, but I didn’t make it very far before headlights were flicked on coming from several directions. Shit. There was no doubt at least a dozen Tijuana Cartel soldiers had lain in wait, ready to avenge their leader’s death. The fuckers had surrounded us. Before anyone could react quickly enough, shots were fired, Marco catching the first bullets, the force tossing his body back and forth like a ragdoll. The fact he was standing in front of me likely saved my life.

I dropped and rolled, falling into a strange sense of time lapse, the sound of Ivan’s bellowing voice nothing but a slow rumble. I managed to get off a couple of shots, my gaze still locked on the girl.

And I could swear I heard her scream.

There was no rhyme or reason for my reaction, running toward her, my instinct to somehow get her to safety not something I’d planned. I was reacting instead of thinking, which I knew would come back to haunt me, but the girl didn’t deserve to die.

Bullets continued to fly, the bastards coming at us from all directions. From somewhere, I heard my name being called, but I didn’t respond, nor did I care. The girl remained frozen in fear, her body swaying back and forth.

There was no time, footsteps sounding from behind me. I scooped her into my arms, the girl immediately fighting me, struggling in my hold. She managed to scratch my face, her small body stronger than I’d originally thought.

“Let me go!”

“Quiet,” I barked, racing down the street in search of a hiding place. That was the only way I’d keep us both alive.

“No. No. No!” Her voice was so tiny, so full of terror and I could only imagine how scared she was.

As I rounded a corner, I stopped and peered back toward the street. There were too many of them. The rain had soaked through my clothes, clinging to my skin. I peered down at my captive as I pressed her against the hard brick surface. The warm glow of a streetlight yards away allowed me to witness the pleading look in her eyes. As if the girl was searching for redemption.

If only she knew she was the temporary prisoner of a vile young man determined to make his mark on this wretched world.

She continued fighting me, her squeals likely drawing their attention. I clamped my hand over her mouth. “Do you want to live?” I growled.

As her body went slack, I took a deep breath, waiting until she nodded.

“Then stay quiet. Do you hear me?”

Once again, she nodded and I removed my hand, pressing my index finger over my lips as a reminder. After searching the area, I bolted toward one of the buildings to a set of concrete stairs leading down to a basement area. I could tell the building was abandoned, the windows up above boarded up. But the door was locked. With no time to waste, I smashed my foot against the solid surface, forced to do it a second time before the doorjamb splintered.

Once inside, I closed the door behind us, backing away immediately.

The single broken window near the door allowed the limited light of a second streetlight to add an eerie glow inside. I kept my arm wrapped around her waist, dragging her into the bowels of the dilapidated building, narrowly avoiding tripping over a series of leftover wooden crates.

Once safely away from the door, I forced us both behind one of the stacked groups of boxes. As I tried to catch my breath, she scooted several feet away, folding her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around her legs.

The gunfire continued, a horn suddenly blaring out of the blue. I wiped my face with the soaked sleeve of my shirt, peering around the edge of the crates toward the door.

“Are you okay?” I asked, the question automatic.

“Ya… Yes.” Her teeth were chattering, her response weak.

I could hear my father’s voice booming in the back of my mind, the ugliness of his tone likely exactly what I’d hear moments before he punished me for the ridiculous infraction I was engaging in.

Choices have consequences. You need to keep that in mind, my son. If you don’t, you will die an early death.

In my mind, that could be by his hands. He hated weaknesses of any kind, using women as objects to fulfill his sickening sadistic desires. I’d lost my mother years before, his refusal to talk about it fueling constant anger. Maybe my significant loss was the reason I’d suddenly lost my mind, abandoning my father’s men to protect a mere child.

The sudden disruption in gunfire was more unnerving than the shower of bullets whizzing through the air.

“Who are you?” she asked in a tiny voice.

Huffing, I shifted my gaze toward her, surprised how her long strands of hair shimmered in the ominous light. “The boogeyman.” Her eyes opened wide after I made the statement, the young girl folding her arms around her bent knees, rocking back and forth. What in the hell was she doing here all by herself?

I didn’t bother asking her name. In truth, I didn’t want to give a shit. Whether or not I was angling for good boy points in a world where violence was little more than a game, Russian roulette on steroids, I wasn’t certain. And I couldn’t care.

Yet I did.

She was the epitome of innocence, yet to endure the reality that humanity was divided into two distinctions. Those with power and those without. I sat back, uncertain what to do from here. I’d already screwed up in protecting some unknown girl instead of my father’s men. I should have fought alongside them, proving my courage as I annihilated as many savages as possible.

There was time for regret as the voices were coming closer, suddenly just outside the broken window. I turned toward the girl, scooting closer. She had a choice to make herself. Either live or die. “Listen to me. Whatever happens, don’t leave this spot for a couple hours and don’t make a single sound. Do you hear me? Then you’re going to wait until morning before you leave. Can you do that?”

She nodded profusely, her entire body shaking more than before. Another sound forced her to bite her lip to keep from crying out. As I started to back away, yanking another fresh magazine into my hand, she wrapped her small hand around my arm.

“Why are you helping me?”

Her tiny voice pulled at the boy inside of me, the one who’d lost his innocence a long time ago.

“I don’t know.” I was honest with her, more so than I’d intended but maybe that’s what she deserved in the end.

At the sound of door hinges creaking, my entire body stiffened. Once again, I placed my finger over my lips before slowly and quietly replacing the clip of ammunition. I managed to offer a smile, which she returned in kind.

As I turned away, I heard her small words, a light whisper that would likely haunt me for years to come.

“Be careful. Thank you. You’re my hero.”

Hero.

The girl had no fucking clue who she was talking to. I shifted to the very edge of the crates, easing one hand to the knife I always carried with me. There were three of them, three fucking bastards determined to take me out.

Fuck them.

I couldn’t screw this up.

I would prove my worth to my father. I would show him that I was ready to take more control. Yet at that moment, fear rushed into my system, preventing me from moving.

Until one of the bastards decided to taunt me.

Sal y te dejaremos vivir.”

The Spanish was crude, not what I’d learned from my grandfather as a boy. But I understood the meaning.

Come out and we’ll let you live.

Bullshit.

I knew better.

There were few choices, none that enticed me other than ending their lives. I’d been taught a long time ago that attacking a problem in the world I’d grown up in included violence. There was no other decision to make.

With the Glock firmly planted in both hands, I rushed the three of them, firing shot after shot from the semi-automatic, spraying the entire vacant space with gunfire. I didn’t stop until the clip was emptied. Only then did I take a deep breath, slowly shifting my gaze from one fallen enemy soldier to another.

As I walked toward their bullet-riddled bodies, blood already staining the concrete, I finally took a deep and satisfied breath.

And for the first time, I felt giddy.

After crouching down, ensuring the fuckers were dead, I stood with my shoulders squared. Now I understood what power I wielded, but it was only the beginning. I would become the most dangerous, brutal man in Los Angeles and beyond. One day all of this would belong to me.

I took methodical strides toward the door, eager to return to the soldiers, stopping long enough to glance over my shoulder toward where the girl remained hidden and silent.

“You’re safe now. No one is going to hurt you. Just wait until the streets are cleared before you head home. Don’t let anyone see you. Can you promise me that?”

“Yes.”

“Good girl.”

Safe.

The word wasn’t in my vocabulary and never would be.

“Why did you save me?” she asked for a second time.

It was an answer I wasn’t prepared to give, but she deserved to know. “Because you don’t deserve the bad hand you were dealt. Do something good with your life. Get out of here as soon as you can but be very cautious.”

I waited until she nodded. “Thank you.”

“Be careful, little one. Some consider me a true savage, but I’m nothing in comparison to the men who bled out on this floor. Never tell anyone I was here, or they’ll consider you my weakness. And they will hurt you terribly.”

“Okay.”

I could only hope she heeded my advice. As I stared down at the dead men with the vacant eyes, I wanted to laugh. I certainly wasn’t a kid any longer.

Buen viaje a los muertos,” I muttered.

Good riddance to the dead.

Chapter Two

Present time…

Sitka, Alaska

Sabrina Rose

You’re my hero.

Swimming up from the depths of deep REM sleep, I struggled to grab the ringing phone I always kept on my nightstand, trying to focus on the screen. An icy grip wrapped around my throat seeing the identity of the caller. In my line of work, calls in the middle of the night indicated something terrible had occurred.

“There better be somebody dead in a pool of blood and entrails, Damon, or you’re fired.” I glanced at the clock on my nightstand, blurry eyes from lack of sleep. It hadn’t helped that I hadn’t crawled under the covers until after one in the morning. At barely three a.m., I was beyond cranky.

“That pretty much describes what we’re dealing with.” Deputy Woods wasn’t the kind of man who joked about a murder.

“What?” I jerked all the way up, fumbling to reach the light. “Who? Where?”

“Another fentanyl incident, only this time it’s not just an overdose. The murder is pretty gruesome. It looks like someone had a score to settle. Found a small baggie of the substance as well.”

“A dealer?” There’d been five overdoses in the last month and a half, the highly lethal substance something I never would have anticipated making headway into Alaska, let alone Sitka. With a population of less than nine thousand people, the quaint borough near Juneau was known for its friendly people and a stunning coastline. With the city only accessible by air or sea, transport of the illegal drug should have proven to be difficult.

Unfortunately, it would seem organized crime had made a bid for our territory.

Over my fucking dead body would I allow that to happen.

“Possibly. You should get down here.”

“Where is here?”

“One of the two-million-dollar bungalows right on the western shore. I’ll send you the address. You might want to bring a couple of antacids and a gas mask as well. The guy’s been dead for a few days at least, the struggle violent.”

That meant the body was bloated. My deputy didn’t usually find any crime scene intolerable.

“Text me the address. I’ll be right there.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

After ending the call, I bristled as I’d done after hearing about the second overdose. The epidemic wasn’t going to continue. Not in my jurisdiction.

I threw back the covers, allowing the anger to erase the exhaustion. As sheriff of this town, it was my responsibility to protect the innocent. It was time to go hunting for the person or group responsible.

And when I did, they’d rot in prison before seeing the light of day again.

As I moved toward the bathroom, I thought about the dream I’d been in the middle of, the very one I hadn’t endured in a couple of years at least. Why now?

The man from my past had saved my life, but he was no hero.

I’d learned a long time ago were no such things.

Just monsters lurking in the shadows.

In a town so small, nestled on a peninsula surrounded by mountains, very little went on without someone knowing about it. Granted, tourists were a mainstay, the ports used by smaller cruise ships and tycoons, some of the stunning real estate development done over the last few years catering to the wealthy clientele that funded our roads and school systems. But the locals were nosy, the people curious. That had provided aid in various crime activities over the years.

That’s the story I’d been given when lured to accept the job in a distant state, the glossy brochure I’d been sent tempting me. Living in such a small town was a far cry from the dirty, busy streets I’d grown up in.

While murders weren’t unheard of, they were usually due to domestic violence, theft given the poor economy or a random killing associated with an outsider. While the town didn’t experience entire days of darkness or light as so much of Alaska did, the longer days in the summer and much shorter in the winter did have an effect on people’s moods.

And their drinking.

I was more likely to be required to break up a brawl in a bar than investigate a murder scene. Especially ones of this nature.

As I stepped inside the posh three-story residence, I was taken by the luxurious environment almost instantly, including the works of art both on the walls and in the form of statues. As an avid art aficionado myself, I could easily recognize priceless editions, numbered paintings and hand-crafted designs. However, they usually weren’t a part of the local housing scene, including the residents that maintained their residency only a portion of the year.

Theft was something my team had been forced to deal with, the incidents on the rise over the last few years.

Whoever owned the place had wealth far beyond the typical means.

All I had to do was to walk inside the door and be assaulted by the disgusting stench, the odor reminding me of rotten meat. I pressed my hand over my mouth and nose as I walked further inside.

The living room was brilliantly decorated but now the walls were painted in red, blood having dried in long strings throughout the vaulted ceiling room.

It was macabre and my instinct told me it had been done after the murder had been committed. It was as if the killer was taunting us, leaving his signature for all the world to see.

I noticed Damon out of the corner of my eye headed in my direction, his coloration almost green.

“See what I mean?” he asked by way of greeting.

“You don’t look too hot, my friend.”

He rolled his eyes. “You haven’t seen the worst of it. Come on.”

The area was already being photographed by members of the medical examiner’s office, although I would take my own pictures in a few minutes as well. As he led me down a long hallway, I was able to see several other rooms inside the house, including the enormous kitchen that looked as if it had recently been renovated, brand new appliances and granite counters just a couple of the amenities.

There were at least two other rooms and a half bath leading to an open door at the end of the hall. I didn’t need to be told this was where the murder had taken place, the stench more pronounced.

Before we had a chance to walk in, one of the interns I’d met only days before came running out, already gagging from what she’d seen. As the girl bumped into me, forced to place her hand on my arm, I was surprised to see a spot of blood from her glove left behind. While that would ordinarily piss me off, the scene possibly contaminated, once I walked inside, I understood how impossible it was for the girl not to get blood on her person or clothes.

The bedroom was covered in blood. The ceiling. The bed. The floor. Everything. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the killer had pitched it against every surface to make a point.

However, the sight of the dismembered body gave credence that all the liquid had come from the victim. At least someone had the forethought of opening the doors enough to allow fresh air into the room. Without it, no one would be able to tolerate the stench for long.

“You were quick on the scene,” I told the medical examiner who was already hard at work taking photographs of the horrific situation herself.

Kathleen Simpson had recently moved to Sitka less than a year before from her illustrious job in Los Angeles. She’d wanted a quiet environment, a less chaotic place to call home. Since then, she and I had become fast friends, our quirky and often sick sense of humor part of the reason we’d gotten close so quickly.

She was also damn good at her job and we were lucky to have her given the former medical examiner had retired at the age of seventy-two.

“Yeah, well, your deputy made certain I knew about the gruesome scene since he knew how much I loved solving horrific crimes. The bastard woke me out of a good sleep.” She lifted her head, grinning as she usually did in these limited situations. Other than the recent overdoses, she’d only been on duty for one additional murder right after her arrival. She had commendations up the yin yang for her work in helping the San Francisco police solve several difficult cases in her career.

“Well, this one is certainly right up your alley. However, your intern not so much.”

She huffed. “Good help is hard to find.”

I pulled out gloves, taking another look around the room. “What do you know?” I crouched down close to the torso seconds later, doing my best to keep from walking in the blood and other liquids.

“Well, the guy is dead,” she teased, waiting until I gave her a dour look. “It appears he was killed four days ago by the instance of bloating and rigidity of the body. From what I can tell, and don’t quote me on this, he was shot in the head then dismembered. I’m not certain what the killer was attempting to do since the man appears to have died instantly from the up close and person encounter.”

I glanced at the man’s severed arms, both in two separate pieces. “Are those rope burns on his wrists?”

“Yeah, I was getting to that. I also saw signs of torture. It would appear the man had been held captive for some time. Notice the burns, cuts, and abrasions on portions of his body.” Kathleen pointed out various areas on the man’s torso. Whatever the victim had endured had been horrific.

“Groovy,” I said in passing, glancing up at my deputy who remained just off to the left. “Any idea of the victim’s name?”

“The house was registered to a Carlos Desposito, but I’m unsure yet as to whether this man is one and the same, given what little I’ve learned about the owner would put him in his sixties,” Damon said as he glanced at his small iPad.

“That’s not this guy,” Kathleen said, stating the obvious. “He’s somewhere between twenty-five and thirty-two but appears to be either Puerto Rican or Mexican in origin.”

I nodded, scanning the perimeter. “Any sign of a break in?”

“None,” Damon said from beside me.

“So the man knew his killer or met him here. What about the drugs?” I stood to my full height, exhaling from the sight of so much carnage. I’d had all kinds of shit happen in my career since I’d started as a beat cop in LA, moving to Phoenix to get away from a city I loathed before getting this job, but this was by far the worst. And the most complex. The person responsible had indeed left a sign, but unlike a serial killer taunting the police for kicks and giggles, I had a feeling this was gang related, a warning sent to all those not to interfere with their business.

That meant this could happen again.

“In the bathroom. And there’s a sign.” Deputy Woods led me into an oversized bathroom complete with a massive whirlpool tub, a glass window looking out onto the ocean over the fixture. On the counter was a small baggie of pills, some of them crushed. The substance was highly toxic, responsible for hundreds of deaths up and down the West Coast recently.

“Bag and tag it. Do not touch the powder or the pills,” I told him.

“You got it. It looks staged, left on purpose.”

“That’s because it was. This was left for us to find. The question is why.”

I walked closer, immediately pulling out my phone and taking several photographs. The mark written in blood on the window was huge, definitely a statement and if I had to guess, also without a doubt gang related. However, it wasn’t like any small gang I’d ever investigated. My gut told me it was a serious cartel or crime syndicate. Although I’d keep my determination to myself until Kathleen had time to work her magic.

The last thing we wanted to do was to let this get out to the public.

“Put a lock down on this. No reporters. No visitors. No comments. You got it?” I asked Damon.

“Yes, ma’am. I already figured that’s what you’d tell me.” He grinned and I shook my head.

“Time to take more photographs.”

I had a terrible feeling this was only the beginning of a nightmare.

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