I rolled out of bed, feeling unrested and sore and out of my mind with grief. It had been another rough night for me, one of many to come, I assumed. But what else could I do?
You’ll find coffee. Then you’ll try to find a way to keep breathing. Because that was what widows did.
As I stumbled toward my bedroom doorway to go check on the baby, the phone rang on my nightstand. The caller ID said Mack.
“Mia, I don’t know how to say this, but he didn’t stay dead. He’s back, but he’s not him anymore.”
“What?” I blinked. “Could you repeat that?”
“King is back, Mia. And he made it clear he’s not letting me end 10 Club.”
“I’ll call you,” I started hyperventilating, “back,” and passed out.
Tonight calls for a celebration. No, it is not a birthday nor an anniversary. Men like me do not give a dark fuck about life’s shitty little milestones. We care only for power or money—same fucking thing. And after tonight, I will have enough of both to break the fucking world.
“Hey, baby,” says the topless bleach blonde rubbing her ass on my cock over my black slacks to the beat of the music, “I’m free after work.”
“Shut up and keep dancing.” Women like her don’t come close to doing it for me, but she is the hottest, most expensive stripper in this private bar. A thousand dollars a minute. It’s pocket change to me; however, everyone here tonight now wonders why I’m treating myself.
Just as I hoped.
My eyes sweep the smoky, dimly lit bar filled with 10 Club members sitting at little tables, whispering in the shadows, making their deals and bartering for whatever sadistic crap will get them off tonight—sex slaves, drugs, torture, murder, whatever. Anything goes. Of course, they’re all talking about me, as well.
I smile and take a long victory drag off my cigar, ceremoniously blowing the smoke into the air above. I want them all to see me gloating. I want them talking to the other degenerate 10 Club fucks and speculating what I am up to. Because regardless of what it is, they’ll all want to steal it from me. They’ll all want a piece.
I’m counting on it.
“That’s enough.” I push the blonde’s ass forward, rise from my seat, and straighten my blood red tie. I’ve done what I came for and can already hear the phones vibrating with speculation around the world at the hundred other 10 Club establishments like this one. “King is here.” “Something’s going down.” “What do you know and what’s the price?” they’re all saying.
They’ll never guess. Not in a million years.
I toss a thick roll of hundreds at the stripper, who goes on her hands and knees to fetch it from the floor. I can feel her lust-filled eyes on me as I step over her like the dog she is. After all, she’s 10 Club property, not even human in my eyes. But she made her choice. We all have. No one is part of this debauchery by accident. That’s not to say some aren’t backed into impossible corners, forced to choose between things such as death or becoming part of our secret society comprised of two levels—the powerful and the powerless.
Make that three levels. Because there’s me. At the top.
I stroll toward the set of heavy iron doors and make my exit into the dark alley. It’s raining and windy. Typical for a January in San Francisco. Personally, I like the somber feel of this weather—fits my mood. Dark as fuck.
I am ten steps from my sleek black Mercedes when I hear footsteps splashing through puddles behind me. From the sound of the short strides, I know it’s a woman.
Fucking idiot. Doesn’t she know I despise desperation? And I definitely don’t pay to fuck strippers who are owned by 10 Club. God only knows where that pussy’s been.
I shake my head, pulling my keys from my pocket, and hit the unlock button on the remote. “Sorry, sweetheart. Not interested.”
“You’re King, right?”
The soft voice is unfamiliar, so I turn my head. She’s petite, blonde, and mildly interesting to look at; however, it’s hard to tell just how interesting since she’s wearing a garish yellow raincoat.
“Who’s asking?” I say.
“Yes or no,” she replies with a hint of a growl in her sweet voice.
My, my. Aren’t we a demanding little thing? I decide to play along. Of course, she has no clue I can snap her neck with the twitch of my fingers.
“Let us pretend for a moment that I have replied with a yes. What’s in it for me?” I ask.
She steps closer, which definitely draws my attention. Most people fear me. They don’t know why, they often don’t even realize it, but they definitely fear me. This one doesn’t seem afraid.
Either that or she’s too desperate to notice she’s in the presence of something black hearted.
“They say you are the man who can find anything or anyone for a price,” she says.
I like the way this conversation is moving. It means she wants something, and now that the streetlamp above has given me a better look at her luscious little lips, I’m fairly sure we can come to some sort of arrangement.
I cock a brow, silently urging her to continue.
“I-I need help finding someone.”
Someone very important, I hope. Because I think I might like to add you to my collection. I collect many things, including people, although usually not for sex. I can get that without having to take on the responsibility of ownership. But for her, I might make an exception. Her wavy, shoulder-length blonde hair and wide blue eyes are at the top of my list when it comes to turn-ons, but what really gets me off are naivety and fearlessness. She has plenty of both.
“Go on,” I say.
“I want you to help me find my husband.”
Tonight just got a whole hell of a lot more interesting. Because I love taking things that don’t belong to me, and I sure as hell love breaking a person’s soul.
I dip my head to give her a good look. She should see the face of the man who will be fucking her for the next few years until I grow tired of her and trade her away to another club member, likely one of those sick fuckers who enjoys making lampshades from women’s legs and breasts. Like I said, anything goes in 10 Club, just as long as you’ve got ten billion in the bank and money to pay your dues—one billion a year—which buys you complete immunity from any government anywhere in the world. Of course, we own all the governments. How do you think so many sadistic pricks make it into office? Power and money are everything.
I lean down and let her drink in my dark features. Yes, look into my eyes, sweetheart. See the promise of suffering in their cold gray depths. But as I stare back at her, there’s nothing. No fear in her eyes. No sadness or desperation. She’s void of all emotion.
Tonight just got a whole hell of a lot less interesting. It’s no fun for me if they’re already broken.
“Sorry. I’m busy.” I turn away and pop open the driver-side door.
“Wait. Aren’t you going to help me?”
“I could,” I say blandly, sliding into the cool leather of the driver’s seat, “however, as you’ve pointed out, I am the man who can find anyone or anything for a price. You don’t have anything I want.”
She wedges herself between me and the car door I’m about to close. “Name it. Name your price, King.” She grabs my shoulder and my groin floods with heated lust. Is it because she’s not the least bit afraid and should be? Probably. Like I said, fearlessness and naivety make my dick hard.
I look up at her, deciding to make an offer though I would probably be better off going home to enjoy a bottle of expensive scotch and prepare for my dinner party. No. I won’t be cooking or cleaning. I have slaves for such mundane bullcrap. This preparation is something else entirely.
“My price is you,” I say, thinking she might make an interesting toy.
She doesn’t bat an eyelash, which is surprising. They usually look a little offended or shocked when I tell them I’d like to own them.
“No deal,” she says.
I shrug and start the engine. “Then I’m afraid we must part ways. Good luck finding him.”
“I have money. A lot of money.”
“Not interested.” I’m already obscenely wealthy and will soon have the kinds of funds that make or break GDPs of first world countries. Whatever cash she’s got is a pittance.
I give her a push and send her stumbling back so I can close the door.
“Wait!” She gets her footing straightened out and comes at me again. I almost admire her persistence. Almost.
“I have a ring,” she announces. “I’m told it can keep a person from dying.”
I push back on the heavy door to prevent it from slamming into her. She’s got my attention. A man like me is always interested in items that bring back the dead or prevent people from dying once I do. Especially now.
I turn off the engine, slowly step from the car, and look down at her as she shrinks back a few feet. That’s when I notice something’s different about her. The light doesn’t quite touch her, but instead reflects off a nearly undetectable sheen of energy surrounding her.
And we’re back to a very interesting evening, indeed. People like her are rare. In fact, they are nearly extinct. I might have had something to do with that, but what can I say? In my younger years, I wasn’t a fan of her people.
“How did you come about such an object?” I ask.
She lifts her delicate chin defiantly. I fucking love it. She’s dancing with the devil and showing such bravery.
“None of your business.”
Such bravado. I chuckle. “All right then, how do you know it works?”
“I just know. Do we have a deal? Yes or no, King.”
That sounds like something I might say, so I appreciate it. “I confess I am intrigued; therefore I will say yes. However, I should warn you that welshers are shown no mercy. If you do not deliver, for any reason, you will belong to me, and I won’t be kind.”
The woman freezes.
Ah, there it is. Fear. My black heart tingles with delight. Now we are getting somewhere.
“I won’t back out,” she says. “And the ring will work.”
“Very good.” I slide a card from the inside pocket of my coat and hand it over. “Be here tomorrow night at eight. I’m throwing a dinner party.”
“I-I don’t understand.”
“I’m a busy man. You want me to find your missing husband, then we work when and where I say. That’s the deal. Take it or leave it.” Of course, that’s a complete lie. I have no intention of helping her, but she will most certainly be useful to me. In fact, she’s exactly what I’ve been needing. Saves me the trouble of having to kill my brother’s woman. For now.
She nods in compliance.
“Very good. And don’t be late. Ever.” I return to my car, close the door, and restart the engine, realizing that she’s simply standing there staring at me and that I’ve forgotten something.
I lower the window. “What’s your name?”
She suddenly looks like someone has punched her in the stomach—a pained stillness in her face, and shoulders hunched forward like she wants to be sick. I’m guessing it’s all sinking in. Yes, sweetheart, you’ve just made a deal with the devil. Actually, I’m worse. A thousand times over. There is no divine creation in my past. No possibility of regaining my wings. I am the sort of man who makes this world a horrible place to live in.
Not even death dares to fuck with me.
I look at the little woman, wondering what the hell she’s waiting for. “Well?”
“Mia. My name is Mia Turner.”