—Rachel E. Carter
There were about a dozen reasons that word continued to drift through my thoughts and had since I’d stepped foot in this goddamned city.
The fucking danger capital of the world. At least in my mind. The only damn good thing about the crowded city was the food, which I’d had my share of. However, I couldn’t wait to get out of the place, the people making my skin crawl.
Tonight was no exception.
I was on edge, scanning the ugly bar, itching to use my weapon on someone. Maybe because my testosterone had surged, my balls aching. Still, I could smell danger all around me, my extensive training providing a sixth sense for such things. Unfortunately, I couldn’t put my finger on why.
Confronting danger was always a priority in a world where men pretended to be kings.
The statement had been something I’d remembered from years before, long before I’d become the Wiseguy for one of the most notorious and powerful crime syndicates east of the Mississippi. I was the enforcer, a man both feared and respected by men within our organization as well as within the ranks of our enemies.
Threats were a way of life, no matter how legitimate certain aspects of our operation had become. And they were never to be taken lightly. That’s why I’d been tasked with coming to New York. To keep the peace.
To keep anyone from destroying our operation in any manner.
To annihilate anyone who tried.
Given I had no regrets for anything I’d done in my career, killing some asshole who dared try to hurt such a precious commodity would be easy. And enjoyable.
A smirk crossed my face as I swirled the drink in front of me.
I relished being called the Boogeyman, taking my job seriously. I also valued the friendship I shared with the Kingpin of the Thibodeaux family, the man I considered my brother. There wasn’t a single thing I wouldn’t do for Arman, including taking a bullet for him. I’d done that on more than one occasion. I’d also hunted for him, scouring cities to locate assholes who dared get in our way or betray us.
Those were easy deeds to handle, bloodshed certainly not something I shied away from. I was a lethal man after all, my methods of eliminating problems making me legendary.
As if that mattered.
However, the request he’d asked me to handle personally was… difficult as fuck. And why? Because it involved a beautiful woman, one I couldn’t have, the single woman considered forbidden. But dear God, my thoughts weren’t just impure, they were downright sadistic. Tying her to my bed would just be the beginning of defiling her. I certainly understood the ramifications of what I was thinking, let alone if I acted on the fact my cock suddenly had a mind of its own.
Get a grip, dickhead.
She was fucking off limits, the epitome of forbidden.
Arman would likely cut my dick off with a dull knife, shoving it down my throat until I choked. I was here to keep watch over his most precious possession of all.
I tossed back the cheap liquor, the biting taste sliding down my throat doing little more than reminding me that death was a great equalizer. I almost laughed at the thought, yet as the piano player returned from a short break, my entire body stiffened. The truth hit me hard between the eyes. Death meant nothing. What did?
That’s what I was experiencing, something I’d worked very hard to ignore. I’d succeeded, refusing to think about my desires for even a single second. Granted, I’d filled the majority of my days with work or going to the gym in order to keep my mind on everything else but the reason for my potential demise. Now that was impossible since she was only thirty feet away. Thank God for the darkness of the club or my needs would become impossible to ignore. I’d had over forty years of being able to shield my thoughts and my desires from those lurking in the shadows, determined to bring down the Thibodeaux family.
Tonight, it seemed as if the armor I’d positioned around myself mentally was tarnished.
All because I wanted to fuck her, claim her as my own.
Arman’s only daughter.
Zoe Thibodeaux was stunning in every way, her long raven hair shimmering in the lights the only decent thing about the joint where she was working a gig. She’d left a mafia princess, a young girl with big dreams. She’d return to her hometown as a woman, which didn’t bode well for curtailing my thoughts.
Or my raging desires.
As she eased onto the stool in front of the aging baby grand, I took another sip of my drink, holding the cheap liquor in my mouth. Watching. Forever watching her. The week I’d spent guarding her had allowed me to study her every move, her lovely nuances something I hadn’t noticed before. Sure, she’d been nothing a kid to me before she’d left, a girl I’d tried to remember with pigtails and a coloring book in her hand.
Now, that was impossible.
I’d noticed how sultry her laugh had become, how she ate her food gingerly, and when she loved something, her eyes rolled into the back of her head. She was serious about almost everything, walking quickly from building to building while attending classes. Shit. I’d stood outside her dorm as rain had pelted my skin, using the excuse of remaining her bodyguard when all I’d wanted was to catch another glimpse of her.
The word possessive came to mind.
Or maybe I should use the term obsessive.
In my depraved mind, she belonged to me.
My actions had shifted from bodyguard to stalker, including hiding from her as Arman had requested. Shit. This needed to end. Thank God, his fucking flight was due in tomorrow. I’d lose my mind if I was forced to stay another day.
I laughed and threw back the rest of my drink, almost slamming the dense tumbler on the bar. As soon as she started to play, I took a deep breath, instantly mesmerized as I’d been before. She had no idea what the music did to me, luring the beast from deep inside out into the open. I was forced to shift my cock, trying to keep it from being pinched in my zipper. The throb remained, the tightness in my balls becoming critical.
At least this was her last set. She’d return to her dorm, sliding under the covers and I’d retire to the hotel where I’d spend another sleepless night, up at the crack of dawn to use their worthless gym. At least I could burn off some testosterone.
Or so I hoped.
I’d be leaving in two days, just after Arman and Raven arrived for her graduation. Then I’d collect my shit before the three of them returned.
She was such an amazing performer, but the way she was feeling the music on this night was entirely different than the last concert she’d been required to perform at her college. Then she’d been graded for her final exam, choosing to wear black as she handled the classical concerto with professionalism.
On this night she allowed her emotions to show, her body movements adding to the passion of the selected piece. While the male customers leered at her, licking their chops as if they had a chance with her, no one was appreciative of her talent.
And I wanted to crush all of them like the fucking cockroaches they were.
As her fingers tickled the ivories, I leaned my head against the wall, trying to shove aside the sexual images that had formed the moment I’d laid eyes on her after almost five years. Unfortunately, they continued to pulse in my mind’s eye, refusing to allow me any peace.
Her naked body under a shower of water.
Cupping her full breasts in my hands, squeezing her nipples until she cried out in pleasurable pain.
Licking her sweet nectar as she writhed underneath me, calling out my name as ecstasy rolled through her.
Driving my throbbing cock deep into her tight channel, filling her with my seed.
I fisted the glass once again, only this time I heard a slight crack as the tumbler succumbed to the pressure. Moments later, I opened my eyes, realizing more time had passed than I’d realized. Almost instantly, I lost my cool as I noticed some guy hanging around the stage. While in his hands were flowers, blood-red roses to be exact, I sensed the very danger that had kept me alive during various assassination attempts over the years. Christ. The asshole was swaying, obviously drunk. That he’d gotten the flowers at this time of night was the reason for my concern.
Still, making a scene wasn’t necessary until it was, even if the hackles on the back of my neck were raised.
Inching closer, I continued to stay in the shadows even though it was all I could do not to wrap my hand around the offending asshole’s throat. The last thing I needed was for some unknown drunk to trip my wires, alerting Zoe to my presence. Arman had been clear about reminding me she was not to learn I’d been sent to watch her.
The fact I was here wasn’t unusual given children and wives were considered the single weaknesses of powerful men such as Arman. However, the timing was. The seemingly out of the blue request had raised a red flag, yet my best friend had simply shrugged off my concerns. That had pushed me to an edge that usually meant someone would face my wrath. Maybe tonight it would be the dude with the gray hair attempting to lay his filthy paws on the beautiful princess.
Almost nothing about Zoe surprised me at this point, including her tenacious attitude, the rebellious woman reminding me of the perfect combination of her mother and father. Yet as I moved closer, I could smell her fear. That did surprise me. She’d just ended the short set, now standing and facing the man offering her flowers.
While she took them at first, I gathered from the look on her face that she was concerned enough about the gesture to place them immediately on the top of the piano. Whatever she’d said to him obviously annoyed the son of a bitch by his crude facial expression but fortunately for him, he turned and walked away.
Much to Zoe’s relief.
She waited, pressing her hand against her chest before walking off the stage in the opposite direction toward the small employee locker room that I’d already checked out. I waited for a full five minutes for her to return. When she didn’t, I sensed she’d slipped out the back door, possibly to avoid the asshole who’d bothered her.
I yanked out three twenties from my wallet, tossing them on the bar before pushing my way through the crowd toward the exit, running toward the subway. As soon as I noticed her heading down the flights of stairs, I realized the same guy was following her, even glancing over his shoulder before he moved behind her.
The street wasn’t deserted yet one of the man reasons I loathed New York was that no one would care if she was accosted, looking the other way instead of getting involved.
That was all I could take. I raced forward, snapping my hand around the man’s jacket, yanking him backward by several feet.
After issuing a punch, I expected him to stay down on the sidewalk where I’d explain to him that following pretty young girls wasn’t in his best interest. When the fucker made the mistake of struggling to his feet, even taking two swings at me, I had to grin. He actually believed in his inebriated state that he could best me.
I grabbed him by the throat, driving him across the sidewalk, slamming his body against the wall. His breathing was rancid, like a brewery mixed with a French whorehouse. Men with no self-respect pissed me off almost as much as those I considered treacherous bastards.
“What… do you want?” he asked gruffly.
Instead of answering right away, I reached my hand into his jacket pocket, easily finding his wallet.
“You’re robbing me? Just don’t kill me.”
I released my hold from his neck while I yanked out his driver’s license. “Lucas Marciano.” After reading off his name, I purposely dropped his wallet on the cracked sidewalk before yanking the Glock into my hand and pressing it against his temple. “Now, I’m giving you a choice. You can either walk away from here and live to see another day or attempt to follow that young woman any further. It’s entirely up to you. I’m a fair man.”
“I wasn’t doing nothing. I swear to fucking God.”
While there was a slight slur to his words, the fact he knew exactly what I was referring to irritated the piss out of me. “You have three seconds to decide.” When his eyes barely registered I was speaking to him, I shoved my other arm into his throat, cutting off his air supply. “Two seconds.”
He coughed, doing his best to nod.
I drove my arm against his vocal cords, cocking my head and sneering at him. I could easily snap his neck if I wanted, but I wasn’t here to cause any more of a scene than necessary. When I released my hold, he tumbled to his feet.
“I know your name and where you live, Mr. Marciano. I’m giving you a piece of advice and I suggest you take it. Stay away from pretty young women and you just might make it to your next birthday. If not, I will be back. And next time, I won’t be so nice since I’ll be forced to dole out punishment.”
“Who the fuck do you think you are?”
I drove the barrel of my weapon under his chin, using every ounce of control not to fire off a single shot. Allowing things to get messy would only add to my workload.
“You can call me the Boogeyman.”
Two months later…
Fucking July heat.
New Orleans was broiling, sweat beading across my forehead. Maybe because I was dressed in a goddamned suit. Even the air conditioning in my pricey sports car couldn’t keep up with the relentless heat. Just before I was about to exit my vehicle, my phone rang and I answered without looking, ready to bark at the person on the other end.
“She’s home.” Arman Thibodeaux’s voice was distinctive as usual, but today the tone held a sense of relief. “She landed safely. Just got in an hour ago.”
He’d insisted his only daughter return from New York, which would likely be a bone of contention for the stunning young woman with a brazen attitude and a mind of her own. “You finally convinced her to return.” I’d been surprised she hadn’t returned with her father. I doubted her decision to remain in the city longer had been met with Arman’s full approval. Granted, the girl did have him wrapped around her finger and always had.
“No. I insisted she come home for the summer at minimum. Pick up a dozen roses. Will ya? No, make that two dozen. And they need to be red.”
Red roses. I loathed the flower more now than ever. Especially the color, but for him, I’d make an exception.
I shook my head, Arman’s request driving a smile to my face. He was my boss, considered the most powerful man in New Orleans. The ruthless syndicate leader known as the Kingpin was also my best friend.
And I was his Wiseguy.
He rarely asked for favors, preferring to handle his business and personal needs himself. This made number two for the day, the first being to hunt down a rat who’d dared steal from the organization. That one had been easy, the smarmy dude’s inability to keep his trap shut the very reason it had taken me all of one hour and four minutes to track his sorry ass to his on-again, off-again girlfriend’s place just outside of the city.
The second favor wasn’t difficult, but it did remind me that his daughter, the luminous Zoe Thibodeaux, was headed back to town after several years of being away. She’d been little more than a kid when she’d left for college, a typical eighteen-year-old with a chip on her shoulder, flirtatious as hell. It had been easy then to ignore the crush she’d developed on me. Several years had passed since then but after Arman had recently requested that I shadow her in New York given his growing concern for her welfare, everything had changed. Desire had reared its ugly head, making it almost impossible to block the girl out of my mind.
I’d stood in the shadows after stalking her for over a week, watching as she performed in what I considered a seedy club on the west side of town. An adventure far removed from both the required protocol of her life and of her status as princess of one of the most powerful mafia families within the United States. It was a secret she kept from her father. I was certain of it. Who was I to interfere? She was a woman after all.
The thought of seeing the sweet, innocent, and vulnerable Zoe again was like having a dagger driven into my heart. Sighing, I rubbed my jaw, realizing it was as tight as my chest.
Just thinking about her made my cock ache, my balls tighten. That couldn’t happen. Period.
There were rules in every business, the ones inside the Thibodeaux organization brutal yet fair. However, among friends there was a code of ethics that shouldn’t need to be written down or clarified. Thou shalt not entertain lurid thoughts about your boss’ and best friend’s daughter. Unfortunately, I’d been a rule breaker my entire life.
Why stop now?
Because Arman would fucking kill me. “Anything else?” I asked as I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel. Even though I had the windows closed on my Charger, I could still hear the thumping bass drum from the blaring music the asshole was playing. How the hell could her neighbors stand to listen to that crap? Great. Now I was showing what Zoe had often called my advanced age.
“She adores Kristal champagne. That’s not what we’re serving. Why don’t you pick her up a bottle.”
“You’re allowing her to drink? I’m in shock.”
“Pu-lease. She’s been living on her own for years. She’s a full-grown adult, something she continues to flaunt in front of my face.”
Yeah. He shouldn’t remind me of that. Since returning from New York, I’d done everything possible to keep visions of her stunning face and voluptuous body out of my mind. That had included hours spent in the gym pumping iron and boxing until exhaustion had taken a significant toll on my muscles. Hell, I’d even gotten another tattoo. Yet the lurid fantasies had remained, lingering in my mind alongside visions of a thick rope ready to be wrapped around my neck. Fuck me. “I’ll be happy to. Incidentally, I found Blockhead with his gal,” I told him, trying to draw the conversation back to business. We’d taken to calling the stupid Italian that since he’d been given a second chance after fucking up a direct order less than a year before.
At this point, it was best to keep my mind on the business at hand.
“You are the man, which is why I sent you to handle this.”
“Don’t lie to yourself, buddy. You sent me because that lovely wife of yours would kick your butt straight to Texas if you didn’t help her with the final events for the party.”
He groaned and all I could do was grin. “Okay, fine. You’re right.”
If anyone had told me that a gorgeous woman would have the merciless, savage man wrapped around her little finger so tightly all she had to do was give him a heated look and he’d jump, it would have been a call for a bloody battle. But Raven had managed to soften the guy, his young son adding fuel to the family fire.
That wasn’t the kind of thing that I could allow to happen in my life. I was the enforcer, the man who kept the peace in a city full of demons and witches. My reputation suggested I commanded Black Magic. Who was I to alter our enemies’ train of thought?
“Haven’t you figured out that I’m always right?”
Arman laughed. “Handle business as you see fit but don’t be late or Raven will have your hide. The roses are important.”
“Stop worrying. I’ll be there with bells on.”
I ended the call, shoving the phone into my jacket. While I was certain Raven would admonish me for wearing black to a festive college graduation party, it was the color suit I always wore when handling business, a signature that had fit the term Wiseguy and the other moniker that was whispered in the darkness.
The Boogeyman was back in action. Maybe a little violence would soothe the savage beast inside. It was worth a try anyway.
I’d been given the feared moniker years before because I usually struck in the middle of the night, easing from the shadows and killing my victims without a second thought. I’d enjoyed the earned reputation, the terror that I’d instilled in the hearts of our enemies. The cloak of darkness had protected me over the years, not that anyone would dare go against me. I glanced at the waning light in the sky and sighed. Today was an exception only because the party was being held early evening, allowing Zoe to get settled after her flight from New York arrived.
Before stepping out of my car, I grabbed the brass knuckles, a recent birthday gift from Arman. I rolled the rough pads of my fingers over the thick brass, appreciating the feel. I’d yet to use them but my knuckles were bruised from the beating I’d given a disobedient soldier only a day before.
I wasn’t getting any younger, my ability to heal not nearly as fast as it had once been. I rolled my eyes as I checked the ammunition, slapping the magazine back in place on my Glock. After exiting the vehicle, I scanned the street. If anyone was paying any attention, I’d never know it.
And they certainly wouldn’t be stupid enough to contact the police.
I crossed the street, thinking about how I wanted to handle this. Time was of the essence, which would prevent me from engaging in my usual enjoyable activities. That didn’t mean the pipsqueak wouldn’t suffer first. It just meant I couldn’t carve pieces off his body as I preferred to do. Besides, I had his girlfriend to contend with and she was a handful and a half.
Plus, I wasn’t into hurting or killing women, no matter the bad deeds they’d done in their lives. It was all about respect, women vital in the world of powerful men. In truth, they ran the show. I grinned as I headed toward the small house, the dilapidated home fitting of the rundown neighborhood. If Ricky and Gina didn’t shoot up their earnings, placing it in stocks as I’d done, they’d be able to afford a nice place, a decent car. But no. Heroin was their proclivity of choice.
Everyone had one.
Mine was killing people.
The grin remained as I reached the front door. Goddamn, the people had the worst taste in music, the singer screeching out lyrics that made no sense. Whatever. I wasn’t here to critique their choice in music. Even if I bothered knocking on the door, there wasn’t a chance one of them would hear me. At least the loud volume would cover up any noise made, including Gina’s screams. The girl took being a screamer to new level.
The door was unlocked and as I walked inside, I slipped on the brass knuckles. They weren’t in the living room or the kitchen and they certainly hadn’t been out on the sagging back porch. That meant one thing.
They were engaged in activities in the bedroom.
As I headed down the crowded hallway, boxes piled against the wall on one side, I felt taller than ever. The low ceiling wasn’t something I was used to, my six-foot four-inch frame coming close to hitting the wooden beam. There were two doors, the cramped bathroom empty. The door to the bedroom was partially closed. I was amused the music couldn’t hide the animalistic grunts and snorts coming from inside.
I was already reaching the end of my patience. Another few seconds and I’d lose my temper, which wasn’t something Rick wanted me to do. Bad things happened when I did, violent and bloody things that no one could recover from. I had no intention of getting my suit bloody. That wouldn’t bode well for the two hundred guests Arman and Raven had invited.
I kicked in the door, half laughing when the two lovebirds paid no attention. Gina was in full control of the moment, Rick shackled to her bed in silk scarves. After a few seconds of waiting and being ignored, I finally cleared my throat.
Gina reacted first, throwing her head over her shoulder, snarling as she glared at me.
“You need to leave, Gina. I have business with Ricky alone,” I told her.
“Fuck off,” she said, as if my sudden appearance was nothing more than a slight hindrance. She’d made no bones about the fact she didn’t like me, even going as far as to threaten me on more than one occasion.
Without a second of hesitation, she allowed me to see how ambidextrous she was, spinning around then leaping off the bed like a goddamn cat. I was shocked she landed smack against my chest, immediately pummeling her small fists into my face.
I was forced to grab her wrists, tossing her off me easily, but she wasn’t going down without a fight, throwing her body toward me. This time, I took a step out of the way, snapping my fingers around her wrist. At least I’d come prepared, dragging her out of the room and into the kitchen. By all rights, I should treat her just like I would any other asshole who accosted me, but I couldn’t do that. Maybe I was growing soft in my advanced years. The thought brought another snicker to my lips.
“Get off me, you fuckhead!” she screamed.
“That’s not going to happen. However, you will need to calm down.”
She had the nerve to rake her nails down my cheek. Now she’d pissed me off. I snapped my hand around her throat, pushing her up against the edge of the counter. While she continued to fight me like a wildcat, I managed to rip out the handcuffs I’d brought myself, slapping one around her wrist, the other around the handle of the oven.
Before she had another chance to cause more blood, I backed away, shaking my head. “You should learn not to fight with the Boogeyman.”
“When I get loose, I’m going to kick your ass. You’re nothing but a cockroach that I plan on fumigating.”
The girl truly believed she was tough. Well, good for her.
“Whatever you say.”
“Goddamn you, prick. You bastard. I will fucking kill you.”
She was screaming obscenities as I took long strides out of the room, wincing when I touched my cheek. The bitch had drawn blood. Great. I’d need an antiseptic and likely a rabies shot. Just what I needed.
I returned to the bedroom, shocked to find that Ricky had managed to get himself out of the restraints, trying to fit his oversized body out the small window. It would have been a comical sight had I not been in such a pissy mood.
I wrapped my hand around the back of his thick neck, yanking him back onto the bed. I could tell instantly he was hyped up on drugs, his bloodshot eyes the first indication, the second the fact that he was stupid enough not to take his beating like a man. When he lunged for me, taking two wild swings, managing an undercut to my jaw, I hissed then kicked him square in the chest.
He tumbled backward, sliding across the slick sheets, his body slamming against the wall. Taking deliberate steps around the bed, I yanked him up by the throat, issuing two brutal punches. The music might be loud, preventing me from hearing the moment his nose was crushed, but given blood spewing toward me, it was easy to see what I’d done.
Fortunately, I was quick on my feet, dodging the gore seconds before it landed on my jacket. I issued one more to his kidneys then allowed him to slide down the wall. He stared at me with fear in his eyes and while I’d originally wanted to make this as painful as possible, I’d grown weary and bored with the fight.
“You fucked with the wrong people, dickhead. Didn’t you know stealing is against the law?”
He blubbered something I couldn’t understand.
“Sorry. I can’t hear you.” I replaced the birthday gift with my weapon, sighing when he beckoned me to come to his level with his hand. Fuck. Seconds later, I dropped down to a crouched position, chastising myself for playing with my target. “What is it, Rick? Are you trying to apologize, begging for another chance?”
He took gaping breaths, blood running into his mouth. As he started to wheeze, I cocked my head. Somehow, he managed to grin.
“Go fuck yourself.”
His words and the sentiment were clear. He hadn’t given a shit about loyalty or respect, which was why I wouldn’t show him any remorse.
I placed the barrel of the weapon against his broken nose and pulled the trigger.
“Fuck me.” As blood splattered onto my jacket, I cursed a blue streak.
It looked like I’d be forced to make a pitstop to change my clothes after all. I hated when targets made me late.
Especially for this event in particular.