Revenge is mine, sayeth…
I often thought of the words my mother used to say during times of strife, more so lately. They were meant as a reminder that forgiveness was the Godly thing to do. Good people forgave others, believing their sins could be redeemed. I knew better. Then again, I was a bad girl. I hungered for revenge.
Not the kind that would simply tarnish a man’s soul or his business. Not the kind that would expose him for atrocities committed without conscience. And not the kind that would allow him salvation in the end. What I craved and what I would take from him was something else entirely.
Everything, including his life.
Only there wasn’t just a single evil man I planned on destroying. There were three.
All three would face my wrath.
I’d thought about death over the last few months, what it would feel like when your mind began to understand you were facing your demise. I could imagine the swirling blackness as your vision started to fade, your ability to focus slipping through your fingers. Hearing the thudding of your heart as it took its last breaths of Earth’s crisp air. And the silence that would follow, thorny claws wrapping around you, dragging you straight into the pits of hell.
Death was the ultimate cleanser.
That’s exactly what they deserved.
There would be no salvation.
I’d made a vow, spending months to plan how and when I’d exact my revenge. Now it was time, and the anguish I had in mind was… perfect.
I would enjoy every single moment of stripping their lives away, adding misery to their wealthy, powerful existence.
I would be there as they took their last breath.
Then I would walk away.
The revenge was all mine.
New York City
I’d built it, resurrecting not only the building but another method of keeping a powerful hold on a solid portion of the city. I’d made a fortune since the day the doors were opened, parlaying the money earned into other profitable businesses.
Although the majority were of the unsavory kind.
Inhaling, the crisp evening air was invigorating. I did so love New York this time of year.
I handed the valet my keys. There was no need for explanations or preemptive admonishment if anything happened to my beloved Ferrari. I hired the best people in the industry and none of them would ever dare fuck with the prince of the Durante mafia family. I was primed to take over from my father, his impending retirement based on a desire to leave the ugly world behind instead of injury or age.
I enjoyed being called the Brutal Lord. It suited me as well as the business my family had been successful in for generations. I’d learned how to be a merciless leader, more so because of the education my family’s wealth had afforded my father’s only son. I enjoyed the perks associated with my level of power, indulgences that most men would shy away from.
While I hadn’t been to the location in almost two weeks, I managed to keep a firm hold on every business operation. I kept to my regimen, overseeing the various facilities on a regular basis.
I took a few seconds, studying the environment as well as the influential crowd. There were several high-ranking officials in the house tonight. Judges. Lawyers. Corporate moguls. There was a waiting list of at least five hundred men, all determined to gain an invitation to the most sought-after club in the city. I was selective on purpose, only catering to those who could be of service at a later time.
As I headed for my regular table, the manager noticed my entrance immediately, pushing aside the man he’d been engaged in a conversation with, walking in my direction. The moment I sat down, two of my enforcers shifted toward the table, taking the other two seats. The routine was always the same, the behavior preventing me from taking a hit more than once. Only the most loyal were allowed to guard my presence during outside functions. There was nothing I valued more than respect, and most gave it to me in spades.
“Any issues tonight?” I asked Martinez casually as I motioned toward one of my favorite cocktail waitresses. She didn’t need to approach our table, my drink of choice known by almost everyone.
“Nothing we haven’t been able to handle,” Martinez said as he scanned the crowded space. “Just the usual disagreements.” He was a brutal enforcer, a man who’d done well with the club after taking my staunch advice. The club had the hottest entertainment in town.
I sat back, glancing at the cages hanging several feet over the tables. I drummed my fingers on the table, allowing my gaze to move from one girl to another. They danced and gyrated in the limited space, using the steel bars as props, every one of them dressed in some fabulous costume. A French maid. A gladiator. A cowgirl. There was almost any flavor available to my members. While they were all beautiful women, their skills exemplary, one in particular caught my eye.
The dancer seemed impervious to the hungry men below her, enjoying herself without needing affirmation.
I was intrigued not only by her beauty but by her obvious enjoyment of what she was doing. My cock immediately hardened, which was unusual. I’d never been attracted to any of them. I had to know more. I beckoned for my manager, waiting impatiently as Paul Rodriguez approached.
My drink was placed in front of me, and I grabbed it immediately, swirling the dark liquid as I studied the gorgeous redhead.
“Who is she?” I asked, pointing toward the cage where the redhead entertained the crowd. I noticed at least three members moving closer, attempting to shove hundred-dollar bills in through the bars.
Paul twisted his head around, chuckling under his breath. “I thought you might appreciate my latest find. She’s magnificent, isn’t she? She can dance for hours and dear God, does she know how to flirt.”
“Has she been requested?” I asked. Most of the girls remained dancers and nothing more. However, a select few were paid very well to provide personal and very private entertainment for men who paid a hefty price for the extra attention.
“Dozens of times, but I’ve held back. I wanted to make sure she was the real thing.”
Paul’s statement was an indication of why I trusted the man. There’d been many a law enforcement agency that had endeavored to slide in an undercover officer, attempting to bring me down.
As if that was possible.
I took a sip of my drink, my cock twitching. How long had it been since I’d enjoyed the company of a beautiful woman? Too long. Maybe tonight was the night to engage in a little extracurricular activity. “Have her cage brought closer.”
He didn’t need a reason why nor did he hesitate before motioning for one of his employees, who came over quickly. “Bring number nine closer,” he instructed.
Nine. My lucky number. This could prove to be very enjoyable. She was dressed in what appeared to be a warrior’s costume, complete with thigh-high leather boots, her tight corset highlighting her voluptuous hourglass figure.
As the pulley was turned, several of the members vocalized their displeasure. I could understand why they’d enjoyed her performance and why they were disappointed her cage was taken away from their purview.
With the redhead’s long legs and seductive movements, even in the confined space, she seemed to enjoy the limelight more than most of the women. As she gyrated, wrapping her hands around the bars, I moved to the edge of my seat.
“I think you will enjoy the song as well as her performance,” he stated before walking away.
Only seconds later, another selection of music began to play.
I laughed softly to myself. I couldn’t have chosen a better piece of music for her myself. ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me.’ I sat back, sliding down in my seat as the cage finally landed in front of me. She was close enough I could almost reach out and touch her.
But that would wait.
I always took what I craved, but in this instance, I would show at least some restraint.
As she began to dance, undulating her body as she held onto the bars, I took a deep breath. She was indeed a creature so beautiful that keeping her as my personal possession would be a jewel in my thorny crown. I was drawn to her for inexplicable reasons other than just her stunning physique and obvious attitude. She knew she commanded the small stage, using what God had given her as a weapon. The thought was riveting.
After a full minute, I motioned for Paul again. As he leaned down, I couldn’t take my eyes off her performance for even a second.
“What’s her name?”
“Interesting. Does she have a story?”
Paul chuckled. “Don’t they all? She’s trying to pay her way through college. A side job to make ends meet.”
Yes, of course. Whether or not that was true didn’t matter. I scooted my chair even closer as she tossed her long, flaming red hair from side to side. If she cared about my presence at that point or knew the identity of the person she was dancing for, she didn’t react in any way. Her performance and attitude were fascinating, dragging the darkness dwelling inside me closer to the surface.
No one ignored me.
Every employee was told who they worked for and what to expect, yet she didn’t seem to care I was paying close attention to her.
Her attitude pushed my level of intrigue even higher.
As the second chorus began, she reached for a prop, a container I hadn’t paid attention to. “Pour some sugar on me…” The chorus rang out. Dahlia lifted a container, pouring a white substance over her head. I longed to lick off the sticky substance before thrusting my cock deep inside her tight little pussy. She didn’t miss a beat, twisting and turning like a true professional.
“Have her brought to my table after this dance.”
Paul chortled, muttering under his breath. “She’s not due for a break for fifteen minutes. She won’t be happy. She’s that kind of girl.”
I turned my head slowly, glaring at him. “I don’t give a shit what kind of woman she thinks she is. Bring her to me. Period.”
He raised both arms, backing away into the shadows. As soon as the song finished, the pulley began to move. I watched as hers was brought to the floor in the staging area, curious how Paul would handle my request. I had a direct line of sight, allowing me to see what appeared to be a terse conversation. The girl was feisty. She had to be to engage in this line of work. While I had a half dozen men serving as security, tossing out any unruly patrons, that didn’t mean with the five hundred or so members that she wouldn’t find herself in some uncompromising positions from time to time.
She was dramatic, using her arms as she obviously disagreed with my request. Only I hadn’t made a request. I’d made a demand, something she would learn about very quickly. In a huff, she blew Paul off, taking long strides toward my table.
“Gentlemen,” I told my soldiers. “If you will be so kind as to give me some space.”
They reacted without hesitation like good soldiers. All my men were well trained to suit my needs, no matter how nefarious my requests might be.
Dahlia slowed her gait the closer she came and when she was within three feet, she stopped altogether, glaring at me as if I was her enemy. Then she allowed her gaze to fall ever so slowly toward my feet, shaking her head after doing so. When she looked into my eyes again, hers were filled with disdain.
I liked this girl.
Perhaps too much.
That meant breaking her would be even more delicious than I’d originally thought.
She closed the distance, standing on the other side of the table, placing one hand on her hip. While she wore a smile, it was clear she would rather be anywhere else but standing in front of me.
“You requested me?” she asked after I gave her the silent treatment.
“Please, sit down.” I motioned toward the chair closest to me.
“I think I’ll stand.”
“I said. Sit. Down.”
Dahlia smirked then chose the one furthest away, sitting on the edge to give herself a better advantage of getting away from my clutches. Smart girl. The same look remained on her face, her eyes full of venom. “What can I do for you, Mr. Durante?”
“So you are aware of who I am.”
“I make it my business to do research on anyone I’m thinking about working for.”
“Very astute of you.”
She was a spitfire, even more luscious up close and personal. I allowed my gaze to fall from her high cheekbones to her long neck, her voluptuous breasts calling to my sadistic side. Her costume was perfect for her, highlighting every curve and just enough of her breasts to cause any red-blooded male to fantasize about tying her to their bed.
While I could easily fall into that category, I didn’t need to dream in order to have exactly what I wanted. “Do you enjoy your job here with us, Dahlia?”
She shrugged, glancing around the room. “It pays the bills.”
Her disinterest allowed me to laugh, which was rare these days. “You can certainly make more money if that’s your goal.”
She snapped her head in my direction, immediately standing. “Mr. Durante. While I am extremely grateful for being allowed a position in your… firm, I’m not a whore. That’s not why I applied here. Whether or not the other girls provide lap dances or other personal services to the members of your club is of no concern to me. As my mama used to tell me, to each their own and I should mind my own business. However, selling my body is certainly not me and never will be. Not for any amount of money in the world. I do so hope you can understand. If not, then I’ll be happy to provide you with my two weeks’ notice.”
What I understood was that she’d crossed a line few people in my employ ever dared.
“Sit down, Dahlia. We are not finished with our conversation.” When she didn’t obey me immediately, I lifted my head, giving her the kind of look that usually had rough and tumble men shaking in their boots.
She smiled, not a hint of anxiety or fear in her sparkling eyes. I couldn’t wait to gather a glimpse of the color of them. “You don’t scare me, Mr. Durante. Few men do. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I do need to get back to work. I rely on tips and your members aren’t happy when I’m not in my cage at my specified time.”
“I said. Sit. Down. I will not tell you again.”
I was shocked as she grabbed my glass, tossing my drink in my face. With that, she moved away, holding her shoulders back and her head held high.
And I’d never wanted a woman more than I did at that moment.
Growling, I wiped my face, then fisted my hand around my glass, almost shattering it in my fingers. Goddamn the audacity of the woman.
I turned my head in Paul’s direction and he came without so much as a twitch of my hand.
“I take it that didn’t go over very well,” he said.
“She’s defiant, which under normal circumstances would be a firing offense. However, I can tell how enthused our members are. Unfortunately, she does need to learn a lesson. Bring her to the room of pain.”
His mouth twisted and for the first time since I’d hired the man, he disagreed openly with my request. “Sir, I mean no disrespect, but I don’t want to lose her.”
“Take her to the room.” When he hesitated, I sighed. “Unless you’d like to find another job.”
“Of course not, sir. Right away, sir,” he hissed.
I was certain I’d never have another disagreement with the man. One was always enough. I returned to my drink, concentrating on enjoying the smooth scotch as it slid down my throat.
But in my mind, I thought about all the dark and filthy things I was going to do to the woman and not just once.
As often as I desired.
I would punish her for her egregious behavior, breaking down her walls of shame and inhibition.
I would pleasure her beyond her wildest imagination, driving her into the kind of ecstasy few women ever experienced.
I would teach her how to submit, surrendering not just her luscious body but her soul to the man who’d just become her master as well.
Then I would brand her as mine.
My name is Cassie Lark. I’m a good girl. I follow the rules. I never stray.
And on this day I was Dahlia, the Black Dahlia to be exact. While I’d planned this moment for almost three months, I’d remained determined not to be attracted to my mark. But everything had changed the moment I’d been brought before him like a prized doll. Alexander Durante was captivating, his commanding actions nothing like I’d expected.
The three words categorized the horrible man perfectly. He wasn’t the monster I’d prepared myself for seeing. There was a level of polish exuding from every pore. He was suave and sophisticated, a truly powerful man. He radiated sensuality in every movement, and his deep baritone was almost as exciting as the way he handled himself. He was domination personified.
Why did that attract me? I’d never looked twice at a man like him, let alone a ruthless killer.
Except I’d almost met him once before and had thought of him far too often. He wouldn’t remember. A monster like him would never recall a moment that had meant something to me. I was thirteen at the time, my existence barely acknowledged, but I’d never forget the butterflies swarming my stomach or the lightheadedness I’d felt. But this bastard hadn’t registered my existence.
Instead, he’d issued a threat, horrible words said during a heated exchange, but I’d known then that he’d make good on his murderous promises. I’d hidden away after that, catching glimpses a few additional times until my mother had banished him from our property at gunpoint. I would never forget that day.
The day a portion of my world crumbled away, falling into a deep abyss. Maybe that had been the moment I’d promised myself that I’d get even with the men who’d taken something precious from me.
I’d studied him extensively, gleaning everything I could from my internet searches. He was articulate, highly intelligent, and likely the most cunning man I’d met. The fact that I was attracted to him pissed me off, but at least that could provide some assistance with what I was about to attempt.
I took a deep breath, returning to my Dahlia persona, a limited protection easing some of the butterflies in my stomach.
And I couldn’t believe I’d tossed a drink in his face, but it had allowed me to be singled out, which is exactly what I’d needed in order to act on my plan of revenge.
“Get your slimy hands off me!” I knew struggling with the brute who’d dragged me toward one of the ‘special’ rooms wasn’t going to do me any good, but I did what I could even though I kept my voice low. The muscular bouncer didn’t say a word as he dragged me down a long hallway, making a sharp turn to the right. I knew the area.
All the girls did, especially the dancers. Most of them had taken a turn or two inside one of the private suites, every room designed with a treat for the members in mind. But each room had nothing to do with the kind of fun normal people longed to add into their lives. The tastes of the wealthy, powerful men were twisted, sick in every kind of way.
At least the women who’d participated in accepting special invitations had been paid well. While I’d only been working in the toxic establishment for two weeks, I’d seen enough repulsive events to keep my blood curdling.
Vow. Remember your vow. Tonight you’re Dahlia. This is what you’ve been waiting for, planning for.
While my inner voice was correct, that didn’t reduce the number of butterflies swarming in my stomach or eliminate the tic in the corner of my mouth. I had to get my shit together or my cover would be blown.
The second the beefy bouncer opened a door, he tossed me inside, lingering in the doorway.
I almost lost my footing from his forceful shove, stumbling forward on my stiletto boots. Then I took a deep breath, rising to my full height. At least in the thigh-high leather I stood over six feet tall. I shored my shoulders and twisted my head so I could glare into the fucker’s eyes. The smile he wore was just as disgusting as the three hundred pounds of him.
“Don’t try to get out. There is no way. Be a good girl for Mr. Durante and you will be rewarded. He usually never tastes the merchandise. You should feel honored.”
With that, he slammed and locked the door. Was I supposed to feel excited that I’d been chosen by a brutal, heartless killer to become his flavor of the month? I sucked in my breath, finally daring to look around the room.
I’d been given a short tour of the facility after I was hired, but never shown inside one of the rooms. The manager, craggy-faced Paul, had made certain I knew the guest suites were completely off limits unless invited. I’d turned down several of those very special invitations, which angered not only management but several of the members. But I wasn’t here to pad my bank account or develop another earnings source. I was here to keep a promise.
I took a deep breath, trying to control my rapidly beating heart as I walked around the room. I almost laughed at the décor alone. Everything was in red, deep red, the color of blood. The walls. The tile floor. The sconces. The erotic artworks adorning the walls were all based in crimson or scarlet depictions of couples, framed in gold.
Even the couches, while plush and obviously expensive, were red velvet, the design emulating the twenties, with gilded frames, pillows with tassels seemingly tossed around—yet I knew they’d been strategically placed. There was a small bar in the back of the room, although management discouraged use of alcohol while in session in one of the private rooms. While the rules of the private club were clear, I doubted anyone paying the hefty yearly fee was required to follow them.
Nothing about the room itself bothered me. The apparatuses located along the entire length of one wall did. I’d been sheltered most of my life, a simple girl who’d been forced into learning skills I’d never dreamed of. And I’d become an expert in many of them, including several forms of martial arts and weaponry, including crossbows and even the effect of poisons on the human body. That had taken me months of training and researching, immersing myself into an entirely different lifestyle. I’d honed my muscles as well as my mind in preparation of exacting my code of revenge.
But as I stood here today staring at expensive wood and steel, crosses and benches, tables and other items that I’d never seen before and hadn’t shown up on my research, I realized I was possibly in over my head. However, there was no turning back. Not now.
I came here to do a job and that’s exactly what I was going to do.
On the day my savings account had blown up by a deposit I hadn’t expected or hadn’t earned, I’d been driven into utter darkness. It was blood money and nothing more. At least I’d been able to use a small portion to act on my plan.
After tonight, I’d be in the wind.
Time ticked by, my anxiety increasing. A man like Alexander Durante always took what he wanted. Now he was making me wait, adding to what he hoped was sick anticipation and even fear of the powerful man. I’d researched him for months, learning as much about the cold, merciless killer as possible. What I hadn’t expected was how electrifying the experience of meeting him would be. Even now, my nipples remained hard just thinking about him.
He was gorgeous, the kind of man who should grace fashion magazines. He was rugged, every muscle sculpted from the finest stone. Even more impressive was the way he carried himself. He owned every room he walked into within two seconds. He didn’t have to brandish a weapon or raise his voice. He simply… arrived.
Another five then ten minutes passed and still he hadn’t shown. How long did the fucker think he was keeping me locked away? Until the club closed? I hadn’t thought about that possibility. What if he’d discovered who I was? I bit my lower lip, shoving away the trepidation and increasing fear. Remember, you’re Dahlia.
The moment I heard the lock disengaging, I took another deep breath. This time, the echo was nonexistent. A smile crossed my face and I ignored whoever was entering the room. As soon as the person walked inside, there was no mistaking his identity. His exotic scent, one full of testosterone and the combination of exotic spices and freshly cut timber gave him away.
Alexander said nothing as he closed the door, the lock refastened. Then he advanced, but he left a significant distance between us. I shifted slightly, ensuring I could ascertain what he had planned, even though I refused to look at him directly.
After a few seconds of silence, I heard him ease onto one of the chairs or couches in the room, watching me. I didn’t have to ask to know what he was thinking or planning.
He wanted to break me.
All men like him did.
It was as if lording their sexual prowess over women gave them an advantage, another notch on the powerful totem pole, every man seeking Top Dog status. I continued to ignore him, opening one of the cabinets and brushing my fingers down several of the canes. The lump remained in my throat, but I was able to breathe easily. I knew what almost every implement was.
However, seeing the bullwhips coiled on a thick steel rod did provide more than a few seconds of angst. I wasn’t into pain. There was no threshold I could fall back on. If he used one of those on me, I might lose my cool, exposing my real identity. Dear God. That couldn’t happen. I recoiled and I knew the instant I did, he’d noticed.
A slight chuckle oozed from his rosy red lips, the sound dark and ominous, but one full of seduction. “You are a fascinating woman, Dahlia. More so than most. Why don’t you come and join me?” His words weren’t a question but were a demand, an order he required to be followed.
I continued to ignore him, moving to one of the benches and doing everything I could not to show any reaction. The leather straps attached to the slats were thick, preventing any movement. I was lightheaded, uncertain I could go through with what I had planned. And I had to. I just had to do this. There was no other way of getting close to the man.
“Dahlia. I’m not going to ask you again. Join me or you will not like the consequences.”
I still counted to ten before I turned around to face him. He’d removed his jacket, his white shirt drawing my attention. It remained wet from the drink, which forced me to bite back a smile. I’d seen him on the first day I’d started training, wearing an almost identical charcoal gray suit and crisp white shirt, his choice of bold ties making a statement. There wasn’t a single person in the club who didn’t understand that he was the man in charge.
He’d rolled up his sleeves, unfastening several buttons on the front of his shirt, both actions exposing his muscular arms and chest. As he leaned against the couch, he appeared comfortable in his own skin, one arm tossed over the back, the other holding a drink. His legs were wide open and even from where I stood, I could tell he was fully aroused, the hefty ridge of his cock pressing against his expensive trousers. I should be repulsed, but I was drawn to his chiseled face and strong jaw. He’d exposed a single tattoo on his forearm, the colorful ink the design I remembered, as I’d dreamed about it more than once.
He was different from the person I’d met years before, more self-assured. He commanded an army now when he’d only directed a pack of boys before. It was obvious he believed he was a god.
The colorful tattoo was the same one that haunted my dreams, preventing me from getting a good night’s sleep for almost a year. And he wore it proudly, announcing his former membership into an elite club as if wearing a badge of honor.
The Wild Boys.
The dragon with piercing red eyes highlighted pure elitism and sanctimonious power. I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off it, the same tic forming in the corner of my mouth but this time out of rage.
He followed my gaze, smirking when he realized what I was staring at.
“A sign of power,” he mused.
“Or of weakness.” I was more daring than I should be, but at this point, I had little to lose.
Other than your life.
“Come here,” he ordered, the deep baritone even sexier than before, the tone dripping with lust. He studied me intently, taking several sips of his drink.
I wanted to get this over with, so I obeyed him, moving forward until I was only a few inches away from the coffee table. I stood with my feet apart, swaying my hips back and forth. He seemed amused.
When he unexpectedly jerked to the edge of the couch, I jumped involuntarily. He lifted an eyebrow as he studied me.
“Are you frightened of me, Dahlia?”
“I’m not frightened of anyone.”
“You should be very frightened of me.” He was doing everything he could to increase my anxiety, rolling the crystal glass from one hand to the other. He had long fingers, the black onyx ring he wore a piece he’d had for years. It was another symbol, every member of the Wild Boys owning one. I had a ring just like it in my jewelry box, waiting for me to return after finishing the tasks that were part of my vow.
“Why is that, Mr. Durante?”
He took a few seconds before answering. “Because I can either bring light into your meager life or crush what you’ve tried to accomplish. The choice is entirely up to you.”
As I stared into his intense green eyes, the color as mesmerizing as the man himself, I was forced to realize the situation I’d placed myself in was more dangerous than I’d expected.
I was locked in a room with a real predator.
And the beast had every intention of feasting on his prize.