My fingers shake with rage as I read the goddamn note again.
I have your beautiful wife. There is no ransom. You’ll receive pieces as I see fit.
Fernandez has Madison. Forget about how he got her, which is driving Alex, my enforcer and friend, crazy. Fernandez plans to torture Madison, bringing my worst nightmares to realization. I will not lose her, and that bastard will die painfully by my hands when I find him. If he wants to talk pieces, he has no idea that the pieces of his body won’t fill a plastic sandwich bag when I’m finished with him.
Austin, my counterpart in Southern California, should have wiped Fernandez off the face of the earth when he threatened Melina, Austin’s woman. I don’t give a fuck that Fernandez is her brother. He’s a danger to us all and his vendetta against Austin has now landed on my doorstep and my wife is suffering the consequences.
Holding back my fury, I pull in a calming breath even though I feel anything but. The knot in my stomach slowly expands to the size of a cannonball. I need to keep reminding myself that level heads will succeed. A world without Madison is inconceivable. I rub my burning eyes while trying to put rage aside and make a plan.
We need a plan.
Horrible images swirl through my brain and I slam that unseen door closed, refusing to think of Madison’s head in a box. With another deep breath, I gain enough control to lift the house phone and hit zero which rings straight to the security team inside the house. “In one hour, everyone will report to the conference room,” I say into the phone. “Alex, pull your head out of your ass and bring your A game. Call Dax about the meeting. I want him here even if he’s late. We’re at war.”
I’ve been here before. This will mean death and destruction for Fernandez’s organization. I can’t think about the loss of life on my side right now. The men on my team know the score. After another deep breath, my second call is to Austin. When he answers his phone, I give him no time for bullshit greetings. “Fernandez has Madison and he is no longer your concern. Stay out of my way or I’ll fucking kill you too.” I leave no doubt that I’m making a threat. If Austin had killed Fernandez like he said he would, Madison would be safe.
Austin releases a round of choice swear words in his heavy voice. “If you think I’ll step aside and let him hurt your woman, you’re wrong. Melina and I are in this. We’ll fly out first thing in the morning. He’s gone after your wife because he can’t get to his sister and this is how he plans to draw her out.” He leaves that hanging for a moment which sinks in deep. This is exactly why Fernandez took Madison. “How many men do you need me to bring?” he finally asks.
By not arguing, he’s taken the wind from my sails or maybe my rational brain has decided to show itself for a few seconds. “Bring who you can spare. You need men there in case Fernandez crawls back to his home turf.”
The call ends without another word spoken between us. I need to get my fucking head on straight. We have a little time, I assure myself. Fernandez will want me running around crazy not knowing which way is up. Too damn bad because it’s the last thing that will happen. The phone buzzes in my hand, and I answer it.
“Boss, we have a package here at the front gate delivered by courier.”
My heart stops beating for a fraction of a second and my fingers clench. Alex walks around the corner, coming from security. By the look in his eyes, the guards at the gate called him first. His expression is completely blank. He storms to the front door and throws it open, allowing a hot blast of Phoenix summer into the entryway. My deadened legs carry me forward while my brain screams “no” inside my head and air seems to be missing from my lungs. I can’t lose Madison. Not even the smallest piece of her.
I follow Alex to the gatehouse, dreading every step. He gets there first, says something to the guard that I don’t hear, and turns around with a small, maybe six-by-six inch white box in his hand. I’ve got to snap out of this fog that’s screwing with my mental functions and be the man Madison needs. I place my hand out and Alex reluctantly rests the box in my palm. My fingers curl around the rough edges and I know I can’t do this.
“We’ll open it inside,” Alex says with a nod to the front door. He’s reading me perfectly. I’m not operating on all cylinders. We both smell what I’m holding and we know what we’re facing. I don’t acknowledge the men on guard duty and hardly notice them. My world has fallen apart.
“Come on, Xavier, we need to get inside,” Alex tells me.
It’s the use of my first name that startles me out of the fog. I squeeze back tears and follow Alex, the box clutched in my fingers, a cold sweat breaking over my body. Alex heads directly to the conference room, which is off the main hallway leading to the kitchen. I glance up from the package in my hand and Gabriella, my housekeeper, is standing just outside the conference room door. Her eyes lower to the box and she crosses herself and backs a foot away. There’s nothing that happens in this house that Gabriella isn’t aware of and I don’t even blink at her knowing Madison is missing or that what I’m holding is a piece of my wife. She and Madison argue like cats and dogs, but they love each other. Madison grounds us and gives me so much more than I give her. She’s changed my world and now the box in my hand holds part of her body. My guts twist and I almost puke. Alex places his hand on my shoulder.
“Gabriella, please bring us a bottle of tequila,” he says as he pulls out a chair and guides me into it. I don’t even register I’m sitting until my ass hits the cushion.
“Fuck, Alex, I can’t do this,” I say gruffly while holding my friend’s gaze. I can’t imagine the look on my face.
Alex’s eyes are wild with no control. It’s never a good thing to piss off Alex and his next words prove it. “I’ll kill that fucker slowly. It will take days for him to die and the last thing I’ll do is remove his dick and cram it up his ass. I’ll use a tire iron to get the damn bloody thing as far up there as it will go.”
I can’t even offer a half-assed smile. Or tell him I’ll be the one taking Fernandez’s life. My way will be no less painful than the death Alex promises, but it’s something I’ll be doing on my own. A bottle of tequila and two shot glasses appear over my shoulder and they’re rested in front of me. This time it’s Gabriella’s hand on my arm.
“She would want you to be strong, jefe.”
If I look at her, I’ll lose it. Some sixth sense she possesses must be at work because her touch slides away and she leaves the room, closing the door behind her before she sees the true monster I really am. My gaze fixates on the box.
“I’ll do it, Xavier.”
All I can do is shake my head. It’s like tearing off a bandage, times a million. With dread in every fiber of my being, I lift the smooth, white lid.
“Fuck me,” Alex breathes over my shoulder.
I close my eyes and die a little more inside.