It sounded like the beginning of a suspense novel. Very often, it was my life and one I’d chosen several years before. On most nights, I didn’t mind the darkness, but the recent thunderstorm had left not only a slight fog in the air, but the kind of dampness that cut through the thin layer of clothes I was wearing. A dress to attract attention. What the hell had I been thinking?
While I was in search of a bloodsucking killer, a man who’d been identified as a suspect in at least five murders, I knew the risk I was taking just being here. This was an area of Miami not meant for the regular good folk or tourists who wanted nothing more than a cold beverage and a nice evening out on the town.
The Skull and Bones bar lived up to its less than stellar reputation. It was the kind of place where bar fights occurred almost every night, the majority bloody and two resulting in violent and very brutal deaths.
It was also a location known where drug deals went down on a regular basis. The bar owner and what few employees he had looked the other way for fear of retribution from either the Cartel, the scroungy street gangs, or myriad other thugs who were hell bent on making money selling party favors. There was nothing worse than the assholes who sold drugs on the streets, often to unsuspecting idiots who had no idea their drug of choice had been cut with some pretty disgusting shit.
The killer was nothing more than an assassin for hire, a man with no discernable past other than what little information collected by various law enforcement agencies in four different states. Now he’d set his sights on Miami. The trouble was he’d hung around, which meant there was another person on his list.
“Now, what’s a pretty girl like you doing in a shithole like this?” The question came from a man standing behind me, his deep voice likely matching his thick belly and a collection of tats covering almost every inch of his body. When I swung the barstool in order to face him, I could instantly see my intuition had been right.
“That’s a damn good question, bubba. I suggest you go on your merry way, bugging someone else to find out.” I kept my voice low, doing my best not to draw any additional unwanted attention. While I knew my curt answer would piss him off, he wasn’t the one I was interested in. The well-dressed freak in the shadows was my target. Why the perp frequented this particular location was beyond me but who was I to judge? It had taken three weeks of surveillance to hunt him down.
Tonight was the night he would pay for his sins.
“Fucking bitch,” the unwanted hulk of a man snorted before walking away, moving toward his buddies.
I glared at him, daring him to drag the group of assholes in my direction in some hapless attempt to terrify me. I wasn’t easily intimidated by anyone, no matter how many people they’d killed.
I stirred my drink, taking another sip as I continued to listen intently to all the chatter around me. It seemed burly men could talk up a storm when they were half drunk. The case had been arduous, but we were so close to nailing the son of a bitch that I’d volunteered for this gig. My gut told me it was the only way to get to the man. I took another sip, trying to keep from expressing just how disgusting the martini really was.
When I casually turned around, floating my hand through my hair, I realized the perp had disappeared. What the fuck? I’d taken my eyes off him for less than thirty seconds and the asshole had bolted out the door? Since I’d already paid for the overpriced drink, I was able to move toward the door quickly. I couldn’t let him get away from me.
“Not so fast, bitch. We have unfinished business.” The brute from before snagged my arm, yanking me away from the exit.
Sighing, I tried to rein in my anger, but the guy had managed to irritate me to the point of no return. I smiled at him sweetly, crawling my hand down to the hem of my dress, winking as I slowly drew it up along my thighs.
“Oh, we have a hot one!” the burly asshole exclaimed, his buddies whistling in approval.
“Do you think you can handle me, big boy?” I asked, purring after asking the question.
“Sweetie, you’re going to find out what it feels like to handle six men. How would you like that?”
“Mmm… I can’t wait. My mouth is watering at the thought.” I snapped my weapon into my hand, pointing the barrel against his forehead.
“What the fuck?” one of the others snarled.
I gave the vocal idiot a dour glance before returning my attention to the hulking mass standing in front of me. I had to finish this shit quickly or I’d lose my single attempt at catching the killer. “Unless you’d like to eat some hard, cold steel tonight, I’d suggest you and your repulsive buddies back the fuck away. Do I make myself clear?”
While he held up his hands, backing away a few steps, I had the distinct feeling I hadn’t seen the last of him. At this point, I couldn’t take the time to reiterate my position. Turning sharply, I bolted out the door, quickly scanning both sides of the street in hopes of seeing him. As expected, the son of a bitch was nowhere to be seen, but I knew exactly where he’d parked his expensive sports car.
I kept close to the brick façade as I moved into the shadows, loathing the fact there was almost no lighting on the street or located on the few buildings in close proximity. After taking a deep breath, I moved into the even darker parking lot, waiting for a few seconds until my vision became accustomed to the darkness. I’d been a fool to do this without backup, not even bothering to tell my captain what I had planned but seeing the body of the last victim had ignited a fury deep within me that I could no longer ignore.
The fucker had killed an innocent woman.
As far as his other victims, I was determined to do my job, finding justice for the tortured men, even though a part of me believed they’d gotten what they deserved.
After removing the safety, I continued to crowd against the building, making certain I made zero noise as I moved to the corner of the building. The perp’s vehicle was parked just on the other side. I heard a single noise and bristled, swallowing hard as I weighed my options. I’d wanted to engage in a conversation with the man, getting him to talk, not to confront him in this manner. Sometimes, compromise was necessary in my line of work. Damnit, the darkness was oppressive.
After darting my head around the corner, I hissed. The bastard had gone somewhere else.
“Are you following me, Detective?”
A cold chill swept through every inch of my body, not only because the killer was standing right behind me, but mostly because he’d pegged me in a heartbeat, even in one of the few sexy dresses I owned. He was known in the world of violent crime as the Butcher, his choice of weapons a long handled serrated knife, which made him more of an anomaly. Knives were used for personal kills, but he enjoyed the artistry of carving the blade into human flesh.
I said nothing, still scanning the parking lot to see if he was alone or had brought one of his minions with him. Finding no one, I realized that this was his night off, although I had no doubt that he was plotting his next act of revenge, which was the reason he’d been hired in the first place.
“Interesting. I would think you’d have plenty to say to a man you’ve been tracking for several days. How sad the cat cut out your tongue. Now, I suggest you hand over your weapon or things will get very ugly.”
His accent was decidedly European, although I wasn’t entirely certain from what country. If I had to guess, I’d say he was well educated, purposely able to change or add an accent at will.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that. You’ll just have to get over it.”
He laughed, the sound pissing me off almost as much as his repulsive aftershave. I was a damn good judge of character, and I knew he was about to strike. I could almost smell the steel from his blade. That’s why I had to act first.
Unfortunately, I didn’t react quickly enough.
He wrapped his forearm around my neck, jerking me against his body, and at the same time bent back my hand holding the weapon almost to the point of breaking it.
“Drop the weapon, Detective, or you won’t be happy with what happens next.”
The pain was excruciating but I continued to struggle with him until I could tell my fingers were ready to snap. Finally, I let go, my weapon tumbling to the ground, his hold tightening around my neck until I was unable to breathe. Coughing, I continued to fight him, knowing that he wouldn’t let me get out of here alive.
“That’s not being very nice,” he hissed. “You’re going to pay for that.”
The second he pulled out his blade, holding it out in front of me, I used every ounce of muscle I had, landing a hard kick to his knee then twisting my body, able to free myself from his hold. As I spun around to face him, making a dive for my weapon, I didn’t need to be able to see the murderous look in his eyes. No number of shadows could hide what he was planning on doing to me.
Once again, his actions were too fast, issuing a hard kick that caught me under my chin. As I was tossed backwards, the force enough to slam my back against the brick wall, anguish burst into every muscle. He pocketed my gun before raking his hand through his long blond hair.
I did everything I could to get the hell off the pavement, but my legs wouldn’t work.
“It’s going to be a pleasure carving into your beautiful skin.” He laughed as he approached, flipping the knife back and forth.
Fear had kept me from paying any attention to my surroundings, finding it difficult to follow my training as I always had. I’d been laser focused on getting the Butcher.
The sound was muffled, but I’d heard enough weapons being fired in my career to know the gun had a silencer attached.
I slapped my hand over my mouth to keep from yelping. The shadowed stranger had come from nowhere. There’d been no noise, no sound of approaching footsteps. It was as if he’d appeared out of nowhere firing two shots into the back of the Butcher’s head. The ugly spell broken, I crawled up the wall, trying to locate my weapon.
The mysterious stranger hunkered down over the Butcher’s body, and from what I could tell, he was taking the time to press his fingers against the man’s pulse. All he did was laugh, the deep baritone ominous. When he stood, he shifted his intense gaze in my direction then slid his weapon into his pocket.
I started to walk forward until he lifted his head. I could tell I wouldn’t be allowed to discover his identity. After another five seconds, he turned and walked away.
That was when I realized I’d been holding my breath. After exhaling, I raced forward, scrambling to get my weapon out of the dead man’s pocket. “Fuck.” As soon as I snagged the handle, I took off running to see if I could find the mysterious hero.
And as expected, the man who’d saved my life had disappeared.
Two months later
That was my line of work, and I took my profession seriously, enjoying almost every aspect of my duties.
I considered myself a consummate leader, a highly respected man. I was also considered savage and merciless, someone to be feared.
Those who raced away in terror had no idea the kind of man I really was, those who learned falling into a nightmare.
After all, not only was I in control of a significant portion of a notorious mafia dynasty.
I was a Lycan.
A vicious predator.
There were times I loathed hunting down those who betrayed me, but it was necessary to do so in order to maintain a sense of peace as well as to send out a warning to anyone daring to challenge me. Tonight was no exception. While some men killed for the sheer joy of doing so, satisfying their sadistic needs, others executed their enemies to gain more power. However, my reasons for killing a man were simple.
“Look at me,” I snarled, taking a deep breath as I tightened the silencer. When the bastard continued blubbering, I nodded to my Capo, waiting until the traitor’s head was snapped up by his scalp.
I took a deep breath, staring at the cocksucker as he whimpered like a child, his battered face swollen from the hours of punishment. While my men were usually damn good at their jobs, they’d failed to glean anything of use. I was beginning to think the worthless bastard had nothing to share with us. That was a shame. If he’d provided the right information, I might have allowed him to live to try to fuck me on another day.
Instead, I’d been forced to make a stop on my way to dinner.
“That’s better, Sanchez.” I patted him on the face before taking a step back. “Unfortunately, I don’t have much time, but I will ask you one last time. Who are you working for?” I should have added when he’d sworn his loyalty to me, but at this point, it no longer mattered.
“Ba… No… No one. I… swear.”
He’d riled my anger with his stupid attempt at hiding something from me. With a hard swing, I cracked my weapon against the side of his head, sighing as I raked my hand through my hair. Even I found it arduous to continuously be forced to make an example out of someone. If only the men working for me would simply do their jobs, I wouldn’t need to inflict pain. However, times had changed, some men switching loyalty for a few dollars more in their paychecks.
“Then I’m afraid that your time on Earth has expired.” As I placed the barrel against his temple, I could see the fear of God had been driven into him. Too bad he wasn’t going to see the golden light at the end of the tunnel.
None of us were.
The quiet sound as I pulled the trigger still echoed slightly in the barren space, but not enough to draw any attention from the other businesses.
After checking my watch, I glanced at Tyrone. “After you clean up the mess, check the streets once again. Someone is talking.”
He grinned, sliding his weapon into the back of his jeans. “Happy to do so, Mr. Dupree.”
As I moved around the traitor, my gut told me I would be invoking my final judgment on several additional assholes in the upcoming weeks. There was a stink in the air, the stench not one I could recognize.
Fresh blood was in town. Too bad they had no understanding of who or what they were dealing with.
The moment I headed for the warehouse door, I allowed my beast to surface, the ache in my loins to shift growing stronger every day. Soon, it would be time to feed.
My father liked to claim we were born into a dynasty, our power and influence unequaled. Some might say we’d come into this world with silver spoons in our mouths given our level of wealth.
Not unless they were covered in blood.
We were considered the most ruthless and brutal crime syndicate, feared by our enemies, especially those ignorant enough to cross us. Our punishments were savage, death the most pleasant option. Our control spread from LA to Chicago, Philadelphia to our hometown of Baton Rouge, then all the way to Miami, the territory I’d been responsible for over the last ten years.
Gabriel was the oldest, in line for our father’s throne. I was second followed by Marcel, Dax, then Christoff. However, our family didn’t follow traditional mafia hierarchy. We were all considered alphas, leaders of the pack.
We had hundreds of soldiers and others in our employ, our legitimate businesses beginning to outweigh those considered underground criminal activities. Miami had been very good to me over the years, the vibrant city appealing to my hot-blooded nature.
The location was a mecca for the drug trade, of which I conducted most of the empire-wide transactions for the family, my transportation company handling a good portion of the disbursement.
We also owned people, including important politicians, corporate moguls, and men and women in law enforcement throughout the country. We had dozens of types of artillery at our disposal, the ability to start a war in any city. However, only a handful of our longtime enforcers, mostly Capos, knew about our most savage weapon.
We were wolves.
And we’d grown very, very hungry.
I moved into the entrance of the restaurant, instantly recognized by the hostess. La Mar had been my favorite choice for years. Located on Brickell Key, the waterfront view was spectacular, the Peruvian food one of my favorites.
“Mr. Dupree. Your guests have arrived. May I show you to your table?” Rosalie asked, batting her long, dark eyelashes as she glanced up and down.
I removed my sunglasses, the dazzling sunset breathtaking. I took a deep breath, sliding several bills in her direction. “You know I can find my way. If you will, please keep the closest tables empty for at least an hour.”
Her shy smile was accentuated by a lovely shade of blushing pink crossing her face. “Of course.”
I moved through the restaurant and onto the deck, surveying the area. My father and brother had come into town specifically for a meeting. At least they both agreed when I suggested dinner. There was no reason not to talk shop over a nice bottle of cabernet and a few grilled shrimp. As I headed onto the back deck, toward the same table I’d reserved for years, I could already see the look of concern on my father’s face. He seemed antsier than normal, constantly darting his head over his shoulder.
My father never allowed concerns of any kind to bother him. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Since learning about the second aspect to the ridiculous curse placed on our family generations before, he’d barked at all his sons to make certain business wasn’t interrupted under any circumstances while searching for a mate.
A freaking mate.
Another requirement because we weren’t entirely human, although up to this point, we could shift at will.
I had no desire to find myself coupled with a woman for the rest of my life. I preferred my playtime with no strings attached. However, given the recent attacks on the homestead, several businesses disrupted for a lengthy period of time, it would seem at some point I’d have to play along.
Until I became bored, sending the fated mate packing.
“Father. Gabriel. Welcome to my world.” I laughed as I threw out my arms, basking in the sunset and enjoying the scents of both the ocean and the delicious food the chef always managed to prepare.
“This isn’t a social visit, Sebastian. Sit down,” my father directed, pushing on the chair next to him.
After taking a deep breath, I chose the one next to Gabriel if for no other reason than to piss my father off. I’d been expected to mate within weeks of being told what would happen if we didn’t perform like monkeys the way Jade Brousseau intended. Considered the high priestess of the black art of voodoo over a century before, the now deceased woman had doomed every Dupree descendant into becoming a shifter by the time they were four years old. A wolf. Creatures of the night.
The blood of her villagers my great-great-grandfather had murdered remained on our hands. We were paying for Silas Dupree’s sins to this day.
And now? Because there were two blue moons occurring in the same year, our hunger was increasing exponentially, pushing us toward breaking our own rules.
And our primal instincts would only increase over time, which is why there’d been dozens of recent murders in several cities, all attributed to wild animals. The truth? Some pack mates of our extended family were to blame, the curse affecting them more intensely that the actual direct descendants. Even a truce mandated by my father and dozens of pack leaders hadn’t stopped the senseless slaughters altogether. At some point, we would need to intervene, killing our own in an effort to keep the peace.
That would break another sacred rule.
Hunting humans had been strictly off limits, whatever feeding was required handled through small game and creatures of the forest, although I’d all but shoved aside my hunger years before.
Almost as soon as I sat down, my usual server moved in our direction, the young man paying his way through college. I liked to think I’d contributed more than my fair share, but he was one of the best in the business. I didn’t mind adding money to his coffers.
“Mr. Dupree. It’s wonderful to see you tonight,” he said, giving my brother and father a respectful nod.
“How is school, Jose?” I asked, ignoring the business at hand for a few minutes longer.
“Not bad. Straight A’s this year.” Jose grinned. “I’ll graduate this December, God willing.”
“Good boy. I’ll give you a little more incentive tonight if you take good care of us,” I said, half laughing.
“Absolutely. Your favorite bottle of wine?”
“Make that two.”
Jose nodded, even bending over in a half bow before moving away from the table quickly.
“You have him well trained, Sebastian,” Gabriel teased.
“It pays to play,” I answered, finally turning my attention to my father. “What was so urgent, Pops? I have a heavy schedule of business meetings.”
He narrowed his eyes, leaning over the table. “Then I’ll get straight to the point. We’ve had additional threats, a Cartel attempting to muscle in. We can’t allow that to happen.”
Cartels were notorious for attempting to gain more territory. I knew that better than anyone. My thoughts drifted to the dictator in South America, this discussion far too coincidental. I’d had trouble with Santos Ruiz before, his soldiers determined to use our docks to offload heroin and cocaine to sell on our streets.
“Where did you hear this from?” I was curious as to his answer.
Pops took a deep breath, glancing around him before answering. No one was paying a damn bit of attention to our conversation. The people in Miami knew better than to fuck with me.
“I still have my sources, Sebastian. Retirement doesn’t mean I’m dead.”
Both Gabriel and I laughed. He was still a man to be reckoned with. “Ruiz is a serious problem,” he finally said.
“Not so much I can’t handle him,” I stated with confidence.
Pops chuckled, as if the entire situation amused the hell out of him. “You need to learn to watch your back, my son. Your arrogance could get you killed.”
I resisted arguing with him. There was no point in earning his disdain.
“How much are we talking about dollar wise?” I asked, shifting my gaze toward the water. At least it was peaceful tonight, very few boats in close proximity, although I heard a powerful engine in the distance. There were far too many low-level players who thought they could gain access to Miami. It was something I’d need to watch as well as handle.
“A million-dollar shipment in my case,” Gabriel answered. “But this isn’t just about the party favors. Christoff had an attempt on one of the ships leaving LA two days ago. A shipment of jewels bound for Dubai. Even Marcel had a real estate deal go bad out of the blue, sold to an unknown source for an inflated price. He almost started a war over it.”
“Interesting,” I said, drumming my fingers on the table. “I’ve yet to have any major issues.” Although I had gotten word only recently that an unknown entity had been selling their product on the streets. Fortunately, several of the assholes had been found by one of my Capos, Santos and his soldiers just one group of several, the latest infiltration only occurring earlier in the day. The ugly situation was something I planned on taking care of after dinner. A message would need to be sent to whoever was responsible. Miami was off limits. “Then this mysterious player is expanding. Are you certain it’s the Cartel and not the Fontenots rearing their ugly heads again?”
“Tony Fontenot is nowhere to be found, his followers remaining quiet,” Gabriel answered. “But you can believe they’re keeping tabs on all five of us. I had a break-in at the house a week ago, a couple of threats sent to my office.”
“And you think the Fontenots were involved?” The goddamn wannabe mafia family were direct descendants of the high priestess, still using curses and other mystical bullshit to try to destroy our family.
Including hunting down and murdering our intended mates to continue the original curse. If they won, soon we’d shift into our hungry wolves and never be able to transform back into our human form. Hunting season would remain open perpetually.
I still had a difficult time believing the magical spell was real, but with both Gabriel and Dax’s mates abducted then almost killed, there was some truth to the claim.
And the ridiculous curse.
“I’ll double security on the inbound shipments,” I stated, noticing Jose was on his way back to the table. I thought about the odd single attack I’d had two months before and the assassin I’d hunted down. The mysterious fuck had killed one of my soldiers during my employee’s attempt to save my life. Then he’d knifed a poor waitress as well. I’d had the feeling the man had been sent to try to assassinate me, his failure frustrating the hell out of him. It had taken several days to track the bastard down. Unfortunately, I’d lost my chance to interrogate him since he was in the process of attacking another woman.
A very beautiful woman.
I’d decided to become a hero for the first time in my life instead of doing my job. I rubbed my finger across my lips, putting the small snippet of information into the forefront of my mind. From what I’d been able to ascertain, the assassin could have been hired by any number of our enemies, including Tony Fontenot.
“You need to check with your sources, Sebastian,” Father said under his breath. “If there’s a chance the Cartel joined forces with the barbarian Bratva, we could be in for an all-out war.”
Bratva. They were just another annoyance as far as I was concerned. However, they were also well connected, their savage methods challenging our own. They didn’t care who they fought in their effort to gain more territory. I knew they’d recently come into town, but up to this point, they hadn’t reared their ugly heads. Still, I’d kept tabs on them.
“Understood and I assure you that I’m keeping a close eye on the Bratva.” The reason? They’d set their sights on destroying my brother Dax, including several attempts made on his life while in prison. It would seem there were at least two distinct possibilities of who could be responsible for the recent difficulties. Russians and South Americans. I chuckled under my breath. There was never a dull moment in my line of work.
I leaned back as Jose presented the wine, thinking about what Pops had said. After acknowledging the particular vintage was exactly as ordered, I glanced at Gabriel. My brother relished holding the reins, already expanding into Texas. Soon, there would be no one who could oppose our empire.
Unless the curse was real.
As Jose opened the wine, I shifted my attention toward the water, the sound of the approaching boat’s engine more powerful than the usual smaller craft docking near the restaurant. My hackles were suddenly raised, my hand immediately going for the weapon in my suit jacket pocket.
“What’s wrong?” Pops asked, noticing I’d tensed.
“Maybe nothing,” I huffed. Jose blocked my view, surprising me by reaching over in order to pour Gabriel’s glass of wine.
The rumbling intensified, the boat coming closer. Every sound was suddenly muffled except for the noise coming from the powerful engine. Without hesitation, I grabbed the handle of my Sig Sauer, yanking it into my lap.
But it was already too late.
Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!
The barrage of gunfire took less than ten seconds, but the number of shots fired was devastating.
My rage exploding, I jerked up, my forceful actions pitching the table in my father’s direction. Panic set in, screams coming from every direction, chaos occurring within seconds as everyone who’d been on the deck ran for cover.
I pushed away from the table, Gabriel following me, both of us racing toward the speedboat, the sleek craft already turning, sweeping a large wave of water across the deck. As adrenaline roared through my system, I pushed tables and chairs aside, jumping over the railing and racing down the sidewalk. Not only were my senses keen, but every normal human ability was also heightened, including my muscular strength. Running faster was just another perk.
Gabriel managed to keep up with me and within seconds, we popped off several shots, smoke coming from the engine telling us we’d made a direct hit.
“What the fuck?” Gabriel hissed when we finally slowed, watching as the boat continued on its path. At least the sound of the engine sputtering meant the asshole wouldn’t get very far.
“Another enemy. Another battle,” I snarled as I glanced in his direction.
The explosion was horrific, scattering debris hundreds of yards. The screaming continued, people still running for cover. But we remained, scanning the area around us to ensure there wasn’t a second attempt made.
A sickening feeling trickled through my system and when I turned toward the restaurant, my senses told me our father had been hit.
“Jesus,” I growled, racing back to the table.
As Gabriel crouched beside our father’s bloody body, I turned my attention to Jose, feeling his pulse.
“Pop’s alive but in bad condition,” Gabriel hissed.
“But he’ll heal.” I pressed my hand on Jose’s back, shaking my head. There were only two ways to kill a Lycan. One was a bullet through the brain, the other full decapitation.
However, the young man who’d fought his way to get into college, eager to graduate only a few months away wasn’t so lucky.
He was human after all.
The first casualty of a new war.
But my instinct told me he wouldn’t be the last.