I instructed my driver to get me to the Caedmon Village as quickly as possible. Caedmon events usually lasted well into the night, but I despised being late. This wasn't an event I could miss. One, it would've looked bad for me not show up after I promised I'd be there. And two, after learning that Elisa had already arrived I couldn't pass up the chance to see her again. How long had it been since I'd seen her? A few weeks…maybe even a month. All I could think about on the way here was her. I was more interested in seeing her than getting to the wedding. I knew that was selfish, but at least I wasn't lying to myself. She was all that mattered to me anymore. My mate—whom I had yet to claim—and my kingdom. I held those two possessions high above all others. Which was why that as soon as I found out who had intercepted that drop, I would make them pay.
"Are you okay, Alpha?" Brian Hexel, one of my most loyal Enforcers asked me.
He must have sensed my escalating anger.
"Not really," I replied.
"Maybe you should get some rest. Your congratulations to the bride and groom can wait. Should I send word to Devin Caedmon that you won't be able to make it and tell the driver to head back to the compound?" Brian asked.
"No, you shouldn't," I simply said.
Brian sat back in his seat and left me alone. He knew me well. My short replies told him that I was angry and defeated, but trying my best to hold my emotions in.
I pushed a button on the control panel near me and the windows rolled down. The wind gushed across my face as the limo sped along the freeway. I closed my eyes and welcomed the thick, dense atmosphere of the countryside. I leaned back in the chair and closed my eyes, allowing the breeze to wash away my anger. The last thing I wanted to do was show Elisa how full of angst I was tonight. The little witch was good at picking up on my emotions—good and bad. There was nothing I could hide from her.
Before long, I was in a deep state of mediation and my thoughts began to wonder elsewhere.
I followed Anderson Arnou, my father, out of the limousine. The drive over to the mansion of the Underboss Vincent Zovic-Reynold had taken a half hour but his driver had insisted that we take the less scenic route. Between the flight to Philly and the mix-up with the rooms at the hotel we booked, I hadn't slept in nearly twenty hours, but father had insisted that I needed to learn the ropes if I was ever going to get a job with the Zovics just like him. Just like my grandfather. They said I wasn't a boy anymore. I was thirteen. Nearly a man now.
"You're finally here," Vincent—Vinny, for short—clapped my father on the back and led him up the driveway to the mansion which was bustling and alive with excited guests everywhere. It was Vincent's fiftieth birthday and he'd thrown a great big party with a casino theme.
"I see great things to come, Anderson," Vincent was telling my father. "With this third division in the north, we'll triple our earnings in no time."
"No doubt," my father agreed.
Some strippers that were being paid to entertain closed in on us. They didn't seem to mind that I was so young and they touched me on the chest, back, and neck—whispering dirty things in my ears. I kept my hands to myself. My father had told me this meeting was about business. I quickened my pace and closed the gap between myself and my father.
"Let's go somewhere quiet and have a drink. I'm gonna leave the party to the young ones now," Vincent said, leading my father across the ballroom where most of the guests were mingling. "Vincent should be around here somewhere. Goran sent him to sign some papers in his absence just in case we come to an agreement tonight."
"The Boss couldn't make it tonight, huh? He's in London, right?" my father inquired.
"Probably so. Maybe even hunting down the next big thing in that strange place. Me…I like to keep it domestic, if you know what I'm saying."
"I get that," my father said.
"Are you sure that you and Tristan wouldn't like to stay with me for the time being? We have a guest house in the back," Vincent offered.
"I appreciate the offer. The hotel suits us," my father replied.
"Come then. I have a full bar in my office."
My father glanced behind his shoulder, probably trying to make sure that I was still behind him. I'd been known to get lost—on purpose—on many occasions.
He led us down a hallway and then opened the door to what looked like a room. I thought I saw a chess game with the pieces on the board. Chess had come to be my favorite game. Before my father and I stepped foot into the office, someone came running down the hallway.
I recognized the person to be my cousin and son of the Boss, Jovan Zovic.
"Vinny! Vinny!" he called out. "You've gotta come. Something's going on in the basement."
"What's going on down there?"
At fifteen years old, Jovan was about two years older than me, but he'd been schooled all of his life by the Zovic men. He was being tutored by his grandfather, a former Boss, and was currently now being groomed by his father, Goran, the current Boss.
Jovan moved his hands frantically in the direction of the back hallway where he came from and said, "It's Daniel…he—he has that girl Sophia down there." He looked confused. "She says—"
"Sophia is here…?" Vincent asked.
"What is she doing here?" Vincent grumbled.
When Jovan shook his head, Vincent shoved pas him, and then in his Slavic tongue, he ordered, "Come on, boy. Show me what you're talking about."
My father looked at me with a look of pure disgust on his face. He didn't want to be here in the first place, but grandfather had sent him. We had a duty to the Zodiac family, but I'd been taught ever since I could understand that the Zovic family and other relatives who ran the network were sometimes incapable of making sound business decisions. My grandfather was an advisor to Goran, so he knew firsthand about everything that went on in the family. He was being paid to advise the Boss on how to strengthen the network, but he also knew their weaknesses. Most all of them.
"Let's go," my father told me, charging down the hallway after Jovan and Vincent.
When we got into the basement, what I saw and experienced there would change me forever.
As soon as we descended, the room smelled of marijuana, cigar smoke, and blood. There were four other men and a girl in the room when Jovan, Vincent, and my father and I got there. Two of them were seated at a card table, cards and beer still in their hands. I recognized one of them from being members of Vincent's security team. The other two men were in a separate lounge area, holding a young girl on the leather couch. I couldn't see much of the girl's face as the men had her face down on the couch, but my wolf's senses had already kicked in. She was scared half to death and mortified.
"What the fuck is this?" Vincent bellowed.
When Vincent spoke, the girl thrashed and bucked one of the men off. "Please! Help me, Daddy. Please," she cried.
She was so young. If my observations were correct, she couldn't have been any older than I was. Her bra was ripped and smeared with blood. Her breasts were small, barely formed. Her face was bruised and she was sweaty like she'd fought through the whole thing. I spotted blood and what appeared to be semen sticking to the inside of her thighs. A pair of girl's panties were on the floor by the leather chair.
One of the men slapped her clear across the face. He spat at her. "Shut up, you lying bitch! Vincent has no daughter."
Tears began streaming down her face. "Daddy, please…"
I grimaced and bile rose in my throat. I hadn't realized that I'd taken a step forward when my father put his arms out to stop me from intervening. On instinct, I wanted to help her.
Vincent stood there, frozen. The look on his face was one of horror and rage.
The man who had slapped the girl began zipping up his jeans and buckling his belt. "This lying ass whore right here kept trying to get into the party claiming to be your daughter with a message for you. We told her ass no, but then she snuck around to the back saying that she was homeless. She's probably one of them thieving skanks from across the tracks who stole ten grand from you last month. Well, she paid for it today," the man said.
"What the fuck did you do to her, Daniel?" Vincent growled out between clenched teeth.
"What I said I was going to do the first time she didn't leave. I told her if she came back, I was going to fuck her bloody."
Vincent lifted a hand and motioned to the girl. "Come here, Sophia," he told her in Serbian.
She came slowly, limping like Daniel had fucked her hard and violently.
"I'm so sorry," she cried. "I had to tell you. Mama's dead. She overdosed. I didn't know where else to go."
He pulled off his shirt and handed it to her. With trembling fingers and meek composure, she covered herself up in the oversized shirt.
By this time, Daniel's smug grin had disappeared from his face. He'd even put more distance between him and Vincent.
"Who else fucked her bloody?" Vincent asked, looking around the room at the four men. Come to think of it, they were probably all from his security team.
Both men at the table shook their heads. Vincent looked at the third guy standing beside Daniel, and said, "Ed…Did you fuck her?"
Ed too held up his hands in the air in a gesture of submission and shook his head. "No. I-I…I only held her d-down so she wouldn't run out of here and cause no pr-problems for you," the third guy claimed. "I ain't fucked her. No…not me. It was Da-da…Daniel."
"Jovan, what did you see? Who fucked Sophia?" Vincent asked.
Jovan hadn't said a word since he came back down to the basement and by the way his lips were sealed tight, it appeared that he still didn't want to say anything.
"Jovan?" Vincent repeated.
"It was Daniel," Jovan blurted.
"What did you see?"
"The door was ajar. I only came in to secure the room. That's when I saw Sophia—your daughter. His cock was down her throat. He had a gun to her head and said if he felt any teeth, he'd blow her brains out," Jovan exclaimed.
Vincent frowned. "You knew she was my daughter?"
"My father…he knows everything," Jovan whispered.
It was the truth. The Boss knew all. More than we all thought he did.
"No matter. The Boss ain't here and this is an act of betrayal against me," Vincent said, and then pulled out two guns from the waistband of his pants. He fired two shots, hitting Daniel in the left foot and Ed in the right.
The girl screamed and scrambled over to the opposite end of the room. Vincent ran to aid her, but she swatted and kicked him away.
Ed collapsed to the ground, crying over the hole in his foot.
"Oh shit," Daniel exclaimed. He tried to run from the room, but Vincent fired another shot in his opposite leg.
"Get up and hold him," Vincent ordered the two men at the table. "No one leaves this room."
Vincent then turned to Ed, the guy who claimed to have held down the girl while Daniel had raped her.
"Why didn't you tell me that my daughter Sophia was looking for me?"
"We didn't know, man," Ed wailed. "She's your daughter?"
"She's illegitimate. Her mother was the whore from across the tracks who stole from me," Vincent said.
"So that's why you didn't order us to hunt the whore down and kill her. I didn't know…we thought you had no children," Ed told him.
"But, when she asked for me, you told her no. And then you held her against her will while Daniel raped her."
Ed's lip trembled. He said nothing as he looked downward at the ground, avoiding the angry stare of the Underboss.
Vincent spat. "Get up!"
Ed slowly rose, despite his injured foot.
Vincent's gaze landed on my father. "Anderson, your assistance."
"Stay," my father told me before going to Vincent's side.
I watched as Vincent instructed my father to hold Ed's right hand, produce a sharp knife and then proceed to cut off four fingers. Ed's blood curdling screams were so loud, I was certain that it could be heard despite the soundproof walls and loud blaring music. I did everything in my power to try to keep down my last meal, but still tasted remnants of cheese pie. Ed passed out cold on the floor. If somebody didn't assist him soon, he would probably be dead in less than five minutes.
After torturing Ed, Vincent then turned to Daniel who was now bucking against the men trying to break free.
"You sorry dog!" Vincent said.
"Fucker," Daniel spat back. "I didn't know. That's what you get when you fuck whores and make illegitimate sluts. I was doing my job."
Vincent punched Daniel in his jaw. "I'm not paying you to fuck girls down here. I'm not paying you to play cards and smoke my cigars."
"You told me not to let anymore skank bitches on your property!"
Vincent grabbed Daniel by the throat. "You raped a twelve-year-old. My daughter."
Daniel grimaced then smiled menacingly. "I've fucked younger than that. They're all whores. She's no different."
Vincent throat punched him. Daniel gasped for air before taking a deep breath. "You don't want her anyway. You should teach her to listen. She came around here in that tight little dress and got what she deserved."
Vincent's mouth was foaming with anger. "You like young pussy?" he asked. "Is that it?"
"Yeah, so what. You want me to pay her for it. She's a whore like her mother. What's that little virgin cunt worth, huh? I fucked her in the ass too. Two grand? Five grand?"
Vincent chuckled devilishly. "Oh no. Much more than that. You'll pay alright. You'll pay dearly."
Daniel wiped the smug grin off his face. "Man, I said I didn't know."
"You won't pay because you didn't do your job correctly. No, that's not why. We don't rape little girls. We don't beat women. That's not the Zovic way. Is that something you learned on the street? If so, I'm sorry Goran ever initiated you."
"Well, if that's what you think of me. You know what I think of you? You're a sorry ass pussy. You may be Zovic, but your skills are lacking as an Underboss. You can kiss my ass, Vincent." He spat.
Vincent pointed a gun at Daniel's face.
"Go on, you sorry ass pussy. You won't do it. You don't have orders from Goran to kill me," Daniel taunted.
"Sorry ass pussy, huh? Is that what you think of me?" Vincent asked.
Daniel said nothing. He looked a little pale from the blood loss, but he remained standing with his back against the wall.
Vincent slid the gun down Daniel's face and lined it up with his throat. "You want a sorry ass pussy to kiss your ass. Is that so?"
Daniel must have changed his mind about being tough, because his composure instantly adjusted to show signs of regret. "No," he whimpered.
"Oh, now you're saying that you didn't say that. That you wanted me to kiss your ass." Vincent laughed. "I could have sworn you said that I was a sorry ass pussy and that I can kiss your ass."
Daniel shook his head.
"Tristan!" Vincent yelled from across the room, jolting me out of my frozen stance. "Tell me what he said, Tristan. What did you hear from all the way across the room?"
For a moment, I was unable to find my voice and I looked over at my father, partly for approval.
My father nodded.
"He said, 'You can kiss my ass.'"
"See? I'm not deaf. He's not deaf. NO ONE IN THIS ROOM IS FUCKING DEAF!" He pistol-whipped Daniel across the face.
"Yes, Vinny. Please…" Daniel begged, his lip busted and bloodied.
"Shut the fuck up!" Vincent screamed. "Are there any ass kissers in this room? Is anyone here an ass kisser? I want all the ass kissers to line up on the wall." He gestured to the wall with the gun.
No one moved a muscle.
He turned the gun back on Daniel. "Did anyone join you on the wall?"
Daniel shook his head. "I'm sorry," he muttered.
"Sorry doesn't cut it," Vincent told him. "You broke the rules. You must pay the consequence. Can you pay?"
"I have money—"
"This isn't about the fucking money. Fuck the money!" He took a deep breath. "I bet you wished you had never put your limp dick into a little girl. What was it you said? You've fucked younger little girls? She's not the first little girl…" Vincent frowned in disgust. "Did you men hear that? This jack-off likes fucking little girls. Anyone else here that likes fucking little girls? Step forward. Line up on the wall."
No one stepped forward.
Vincent's eyes widened with feigned shock. "Oh! I know. How about sorry ass pussies? We've got sorry ass pussy number one right here on the goddamned wall like a beat mutt. Do we have sorry ass pussy number two? Anyone?"
"Vinny…?" Jovan called out.
"Are you a sorry ass pussy, Jovan?" Vincent inquired.
"No, Vinny. I was only going to say that Ed is bleeding out and they're both gonna die if—"
"I don't give a fuck!" Vincent pounded the wall near Daniel's head. "Let them bleed out. I don't need to show them any mercy. They didn't show mercy when they cornered a twelve-year-old little girl."
Jovan stepped back, falling in line beside me. My wolf ears perked up at the sound of his heart beating wildly in his chest. This couldn't have been the first time Jovan, as a fifteen-year-old, had seen how ruthless this life could be. He was the first son of the Boss Goran Zovic and the grandson of Maurice Zovic, former Boss. I had seen ruthlessness like this before, but never this up close and personal. My grandfather Thibaud Jr. was the Boss's advisor and my father would soon become a Lieutenant if the Zovics accepted him.
"You see, Daniel. The only pussy ass motherfucker in the room is you," Vincent said.
When Daniel proceeded to cry, Vincent asked, "Do you have anything to say for yourself besides crying like a little bitch?"
Daniel shook his head and extended out his left hand, spreading his fingers wide. "Just make it quick."
Vincent looked at Daniel's hand in disgust. "Make it quick…? That's what you say after raping my daughter and telling me to kiss your ass?"
"I'll pay. I understand the Zovic way. I did what I did and I'll pay," Daniel said.
"Yes, you will pay," Vincent exclaimed. He then turned to stare at Sophia cowering in the corner in a small ball. "You see what happens when you don't listen. I told your mama to stay away from this. I warned you to stay away."
She sniffled, her cries muffled behind her palm.
"I didn't want this life for you," Vincent continued. "What do you do? Your mama comes running and then you come running. Rosetta should have taken you away. I gave her fifty stacks, right after she stole ten grand from me might I add. And what does she do? She fucking snorts it all and kills herself, the dumb bitch. Do you want that? This is not the life for you, but you insist, yes?"
Vincent wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand, and said, "You said I didn't love you. You said I didn't love your mother. A lie. I don't do things like this for people I don't love."
Vincent lifted his arm straight up without taking his eyes off Sophia, his daughter. He pulled the trigger. The bullet hit Daniel point blank in the forehead. His brains shot out from the back and splattered on the wall. His unmoving body fell to the floor with a muted thud.
My ears were still ringing from that last shot, just as if I were the victim. Or maybe it was the fact that Vincent's daughter was screaming and wailing at the top her lungs.
This night would forever change me. Harden me. I would not forget it.
"Jovan, get someone to wrap Ed's fingers and call for a cleanup," Vincent said as he left the room.
"And your daughter? What about her?" Jovan asked before he disappeared around the corner.
Vincent looked back at his daughter. His expression was cold and unchanging when he said, "Put some clothes on her. Find her a room."
My father nudged me. "You help Jovan with the mess," he said, before leaving the room to run after Vincent.
The other two males on the security team exited as well. If they had been wolves, they probably would've left with their tail between their legs. When I turned around again, Jovan was in the corner trying to persuade Vincent's daughter to come out.
"Don't touch me!" she screamed at him and threw a beer bottle at his face.
"Ow!" Jovan exclaimed when it hit him. "Well, suit yourself, bitch."
I grabbed a purple book bag and what looked like a girl's dress off the floor. I walked over and handed it to her.
"Everything's going to be okay," I told her.
She snatched the bag from me, but remained in the corner.
I picked up an abandoned handgun from the table the guards were playing poker on earlier. She shrank back a bit before she realized that I was handing the gun to her.
"You're safe. No man will ever touch you again." I gave her the gun and then told her something my great grandfather had told me. "All men fear death."
Her eyes narrowed and she observed me carefully. A look of confusion crossed her face as she must have sensed that something was off about me. I wasn't just a normal boy. I wasn't even human. She took the gun from my hand with trembling fingers. I offered her my other hand and pulled her up from the floor.
Jovan watched the entire exchange with a menacing glare akin to envy. He turned swiftly and left the room.
But the girl—Sophia— she never said a word to me after that. She just slipped into her dress, grabbed her book bag off the floor, and fled with the gun.
I wasn't the only one who would be forever changed by that night. True to my words, no human man ever touched Sophia in that manner again after that night. But our paths crossed six years later—long after I was chosen by Vincent to be groomed for a newly created leadership position within the network. By that time, she had become fully acclimated into the organization. She was still rebellious to her father. Did what she wanted. Got what she wanted. Went where she wanted. It didn't take her long to find her own way to become independent of her father, Vincent. But she found her way right into the arms of her true mate…not a man, but a wolf shifter from the Arnou Pack—Brian Hexel, one of my Enforcers.
I didn't even notice that the limousine had come to a stop.
Brian's voice jostled me out of my dream. "Tristan…Tristan…we're here."
He stood by the limo with the door open.
"I guess I was sleepier than I thought," I said, rising from the car and straightening my jacket.
"I wonder how you're even still standing. You haven't slept since yesterday," Brian commented.
"Hmm, that is right, isn't it?" I ran my fingers through the back of my hair. "I'll sleep when I'm dead."
"Ha! Sure you will."
"Enjoy the food, the drinks…whatever. I have a lot of catching up to do. We might be here a while," I told them.
"Page us when you're ready," Brian said.
I parted from my crew in search of the woman I'd come to see.