Conclave Part II (Devil’s Night) Bonus Scene by Penelope Douglas

Nov 082019
 
 8 November 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: ,  Add comments

Conclave Part II (Devil’s Night) Bonus Scene by Penelope Douglas

Can’t get enough of Kill Switch? Well, thankfully, Penelope Douglas gave us a 2 bonus scene of our favorite series.

I had goose bumps all over reading this.

Enjoy!

Oh, and make sure to check out our review on Kill Switch!

Book Review Kill Switch by Penelope Douglas

Conclave Part II

*Conclave Part I is available here. Please read that before this. This is a spoiler for every book in the Devil’s Night series.

RIKA

I head down the long, dark corridor, the engines humming under my feet as I pass by the cabins on the yacht. It feels like I’m alone on board, but I know I’m not. This boat will always give me the creeps, I think.

I reach the end of the hall and pull out my AirPods, leaning my ear into the final door and listening.

But I don’t hear anything. I grip the handle and slowly twist it, cracking the door open.

A form lays in the bed, under the covers, and I slip inside, leaving the lights off as I set down my phone and earbuds.

I look over at her.

The fading light of the day seeps through the blinds, casting a striped shadow over Alex’s body, and I walk toward her and softly climb on the bed, straddling her on my hands and knees.

I look down at her. She’s the only one who can make me smile lately. I study her face, taking in her flawless skin and long lashes. Her pert nose and rosy apple cheeks. Her calm breathing and how her eyes don’t move behind her lids. She’s so peaceful. And honestly, when she’s asleep, she looks twelve. Vulnerable. Innocent. Pure.

It’s when she opens her eyes that you see that you see the woman.

I brush the tip of my nose against hers. She stirs, and I smile.

One of the stewards said she was the first on board today, arriving late this morning, but I haven’t seen her. I decided to get in a workout in the gym, but I can’t wait for her to wake up anymore. I slowly lay down on her, my head resting on her chest as I tuck my arms under hers and hold her tight.

“Mmmm.” She shifts under me and yawns. “You can’t come at me with your seven-hundred-dollar perfume and expect me to keep this platonic, Rika. It’s devastating.”

I laugh. “Why are you sleeping?”

“Because some of us works nights.” She stretches her arms above us and yawns again. “And we have a long one ahead of us.”

Yes, we do. I close my eyes, her heartbeat filling my ears. I’d give anything not to have to leave this room, just stretch the minutes and make them last forever so Conclave never begins. She’s my safe space.

“Need a hug?” she asks.

But before I can answer, her arms are wrapping around me and holding me, too.

“Nervous?” she asks.

I don’t reply, though. If I don’t make a big deal out of this, I can convince myself that my nerves are just overreacting. I soak up her warmth, her body heat under her cami soothing.

She strokes my hair. “You’re too young for all this, you know?”

We all are. Yeah, I’m a twenty-two year-old graduate student and mayor, and I’ve taken over a large portion of my inheritance, including businesses and properties, but we all have full plates. It seems the deeper we get, the more danger that arises.

Guilt nips at me. “And you’re too good for all this,” I tell her. Too good for all the tangles we bring into her life. “We love you, you know?” I still don’t meet her eyes. “You’re the breath that feeds the wolf.”

I graze my thumbs over her arm, where my hands are tucked under her shoulders, and hold onto her, because she’s the best of us. Still innocent. Still pure no matter that ugliness that comes into her life. But no longer vulnerable. There’s not a time when she isn’t here for us, and I’m not sure if we’d be where we are without her.

I know I shouldn’t seek refuge in her as much as I do, but there’s so much going on, she seems to be the only one who realizes that I’m…

Weak.

When it comes down to it, I still feel like a kid playing at all of this.

I feel her swallow, and when she speaks, her voice is quiet. “Did I ever tell you about how I came to live at Delcour?”

No. And I hadn’t pried much into her life except to discover she was thrown out of her house when she was seventeen, and she doesn’t want to talk about her parents.

“I lived in the dorms my freshman year,” she tells me, still stroking my hair in a steady rhythm. “Living off loans, a scholarship, and a part-time job working the beer tub at a dive club in Whitehall.”

I listen. That would’ve only been months before we meet then.

“One night my roommate and I go out and party,” she continues, “have lots of drinks, and come back to the dorm really lit and horny. She calls her boyfriend at Yale on her laptop. They always video chatted on her phone, so he and I never saw each other or met. I only knew he was a genius and twenty-two, a senior.” She falls silent, and I wait. “We’re talking and joking around, both of us kind of flirting with him and making him laugh—which wasn’t easy to do, because he seemed a little sad. I can’t pinpoint what it was, but it was there.”

I remain still, waiting for her to go on.

“Anyway,” she says, “we got on the subject of whether or not it’s cheating if she sleeps with another girl. I look at him and her, and I… start unbuttoning her shirt.” She lets out a small, quiet laugh like it seems so silly now. “I don’t know when it changed from fooling around to full-on making out and undressing each other, but I looked over at his face on the computer, and his smile was gone. It was almost like he forgot how to breathe, you know? That’s how entranced he was. He barely blinked as he watched us.” Her voice drops to a whisper. “As he watched me.”

I close my eyes, listening as she caresses my scalp.

“We fucked for him on my bed, Rika,” she says.

I picture the scene she paints.

“The sex was a little boring—she was nervous and embarrassed,” she explains, “so I had to take control—but I didn’t want to stop, because I didn’t want him to stop watching me. I thought he might touch himself and jerk off or something, but he didn’t. He just watched and took everything in.”

My mind goes back, and suddenly, I’m sixteen again, standing in the catacombs. I liked to watch, too. Or listen, because Michael blindfolded me that day.

“It was so hot.” She goes back to rubbing my back, but I can tell she’s lost in the memory. “It can be so much more exciting when you can’t touch. I just wanted to never leave that night. Everything felt so fucking good.”

Her chest rises under my head as she takes a deep breath and sighs.

“But things kind of went to shit between Aurora and me after that,” she says. “She didn’t say so, but I could tell she was ashamed. And it made me ashamed, because it felt natural at the time, and she was making it dirty. Like she was bullied into it, and I was weird for liking it. And she was also suspicious, and I didn’t know why until she let it slip during an argument that he wanted to see us again. That he’d asked her if we would do it for him again.”

Despite the disdain from her friend, a flutter hits my belly for Alex. I love her, and I can understand anyone who wants more of her. It’s natural for Aurora to be jealous, but it’s natural for Alex to like being desired.

“So in a fit, she finally agreed,” Alex tells me. “And I wanted to do it, too. I wanted more.”

There’s a pause before she continues.

“A half an hour later, though, she walked out, they were broken up, and he was begging me not to stop.”

Her voice is thick with pain. Did she stop? Would I have if it were Michael? Alex and this guy aren’t together, so it either didn’t end well, or it didn’t begin at all.

“A week later,” Alex nearly whispers, “they were back together and I was the campus slut.”

I close my eyes again.

“And a month later, I’d lost my scholarship, I hadn’t seen or heard from him, Aurora and I were both kicked out of the dorms, because of our fighting, and my boss at the club was introducing me to the first of many of his friends who would help me pay for my new apartment.”

Jesus.

“Choices drive our lives,” she goes on. “I sometimes think about where I’d be if I never wanted him to watch me so much. If I’d never started throwing fucks around to whoever paid for it, because if I could never hear him tell me how beautiful I was again, then I didn’t care what I did with my body or with who.”

She tightens her arms around me.

“But then… I might never have become friends with you,” she tells me. “My path with you and the guys might never have crossed, and I wouldn’t have a family.”

Her chest shakes under me, and my lungs swell. I feel her heavy breathing, and I know she’s tearing up.

“I need Will back, Rika,” she whispers.

I lift my head, resting my chin on her chest and seeing her eyes glistening.

She purses her lips to keep her emotions in check, but eventually, she explains, “I love you and Banks and Winter and the guys, but… Will gets it.”

I stare at her, my heart breaking a little. Alex puts on a good show, but how easily it never occurred to me how much she was missing him. All the time Damon wasn’t around, Alex was there for Will.

And we always looked at it like that, too. Alex is with Will. Alex is taking care of Will. Alex keeps Will company.

But none of that was really true. She hung onto him just as much as he hung on to her.

“He didn’t deserve you,” I tell her. “Your roommate’s boyfriend.”

She stares at me for a moment, looking a little pained, but then she lets out a sigh and forces a smile.

“Yeah, no one does,” she jokes. “Not for less than five hundred an hour anyway.”

I give her a pointed look at her sudden change in demeanor. “Alex…”

But she rolls us over, and the next thing I know, her head is on my chest. “Rub my head now,” she demands.

I pause there, aggravated she’s changing the subject and putting up that façade again, but she holds me, dressed in her tank and underwear, and swings a long, naked leg over me. I let out a quiet laugh. Hiding behind playfulness. Will does that, too.

I start to rub her head, but then the cabin door opens, and we both look over, seeing Banks standing in the doorway.

She stops dead, her eyebrows nearly reaching her hairline as she catches at us in our little, cuddly embrace.

Her mouth forms an O, and she starts to back out, closing the door.

“Get in here,” I call out. “We’re not doing anything.”

For crying out loud.

She stops, a half-smile curling her lips, and she comes back in, closing the door behind her.

“And get that constipated look off your face,” Alex says.

Banks heads over to the bed, dressed in some work-out clothes, same as me, but her hair is down. “Brat,” she spits out.

Laying at my side, she joins me in giving Alex a scalp massage, except Banks’ massage looks more like how you rub a dog’s head, curling her fingers and lightly scratching.

“Stop that,” Alex barks at her. “I hate you.”

Banks and I both start to laugh. She has like fifty-eight dogs—okay, not that many, but a lot—so petting probably comes naturally to her.

I glance at Banks. “Mads okay?”

“Yup,” she says. “At your mom’s with the nannies, and hopefully Ivarsen by now, too.”

Awesome. My mom is in baby heaven lately. Kai’s mom, Vittoria, and her happily walking the streets of Thunder Bay and buying all the things for their grandsons. I’m surprised Ivarsen doesn’t have a car already. You know, just for when he’s ready.

“Where’s Winter?” I ask her.

“Probably getting Damon-ed in the back seat of a car. She’ll be here.”

I snort. I think Winter lets him do anything he wants as much as he wants during this time, because she can’t get pregnant if she’s already pregnant.

“And Michael?” Alex chimes in.

“On his way,” I reply.

Alex lifts up her head, and I stop rubbing her. “So…” She looks at Banks. “You and Kai.” And then to me. “You and Michael. And Damon and Winter, and…”

“Misha and Ryen,” I offer. They’ll be here, because Misha is Will’s cousin, so we have business he wants to be involved in.

“Misha and Ryen,” she repeats absently. “And what am I supposed to do while everyone else takes “breaks” tonight?”

She put “breaks” in air quotes as if she won’t get any hot, little downtime, too.

Oh, who will she find to play with?

“There’s a full crew,” I assure her.

Her eyes go wide.

“And David and Lev will be boarding with Damon,” Banks adds.

She gasps and then her face scrunches up into a delighted squeal. “It’s like Christmas and my birthday together.”

I ruffle her hair and roll her over, giving her a quick peck on the nose and cheek. “We got you. Don’t worry.”

She laughs, and Banks and I hop off the bed, heading for the door.

“Eight o’clock,” I tell Alex, grabbing my AirPods and phone off the dresser.

She still lays in bed but gives me a thumbs up as she pulls her phone off the charger. I hesitate a moment, watching her and realizing that no matter how many people are in her life, there’s something about her that always seems alone.

Banks and I leave, closing the door and walking down the corridor. She stops at her and Kai’s cabin. “Eight o’clock,” she says and pushes open her door.

I unlock my phone, already speed-dialing. “See you soon.”

And I hold the phone to my ear, taking the stairs up to bridge deck.

The line rings twice before I hear Mr. Lyle’s voice. “Ms. Fane,” he says.

“Hi,” I tell him. “Take this info, please.”

There’s silence, and then I hear him again. “Okay, ready.”

“Alexandra Zoe Palmer, apt. 1608 at Delcour. Find her freshman year college roommate,” I instruct. “And the woman’s boyfriend that year, as well. Apparently, a student at Yale at the time. I want the works by tomorrow.”

“Got it.”

“Thank you.”

I hang up and step onto the bridge. I probably shouldn’t pry in Alex’s life, but I haven’t decided if I’m going to yet. At least if I do, I’ll be ready.

George Barris stands at the helm, going through his checklist, and his first mate Samara Chen works at her station. I see faxes spitting out of the machine, and I tear them off, reading them.

Pithom has a satellite weather system, but the captain likes to double up on precaution. Which is good.

I look over the weather reports and nod, satisfied. “You can take us out of the harbor,” I tell him, starting to leave again. “Drop anchor about a mile out, and we’ll wait for Mr. Crist.”

“Yes, Miss Fane.”

I leave the papers for them and start to exit the bridge, but I stop, staring out the port side window and seeing the stewards carrying a couple of suitcases on board. Someone else has arrived. A light layer of sweat cools my back, and my stomach knots, but I know it’s not Michael. He won’t be in from Seattle for a couple hours.

Heading out, I descend the stairs to the Owner’s deck again, and make my way through the sitting area. I stop and pick a few pieces of prosciutto and cheese off the platter and stuff a slice of meat into my mouth.

I walk out to the sun deck, the dying light behind us, and see Damon standing at the edge of the boat. Looking down at the darkening water.

His eyebrows are pinched, and I cup my food in my hand, leaning against a column and watching him as I chew. The last time I stood where he stands, Will was in the water with a cinderblock tied to his ankle and Trevor was trying to kill me. Will and I were almost lost that night.

“Sometimes,” Damon says, breaking the silence. “I let my mind wander enough, and it always comes back here.”

He breathes hard, staring hard at the water as I stick a cube of cheese in my mouth.

“Except Michael doesn’t catch him, and you never come up.”

He turns and sits on the ledge, sliding his hands into his pockets and our eyes meeting.

I see our mother in him now. A lot.

I didn’t before. The way his eyes go big and round, and it takes a moment to be sure whether or not they’re happily surprised or pissed off. The way he says what he wants and doesn’t like to lie. The way they both hate being alone.

What an amazing thing time is. Three years ago, I thought I was going to die on this boat, him the last person I see or talk to. I’d never been more scared.

Now, there’s hardly a day that goes by where I don’t speak to him or need him.

“You know…” I approach him.

He lifts his head, listening.

But I don’t continue. I take a breath, let out a sigh, and… shoot out, shoving him hard in the chest.

His eyes go big, his arms shoot out, flailing, and the next thing I know he’s lost his footing and tips over the side of the yacht.

“Shit! Fuck!” he growls.

But he plummets. His body hits the water ten feet down, a big slash as he disappears under the surface.

I stare down and pop another cold cut into my mouth, chewing. Did he land on his shoulder? How do you land on your frickin’ shoulder?

He shoots up through the surface, splashing and sputtering as he pushes his hair back over his head and glares up at me. I fight not to smile.

Water hangs on his eyelashes and lips, and I’ve never seen two more pissed off eyebrows. “You little shit!” he bellows.

“Okay, yes, that was harsh. I admit it,” I tell him, teasing. “But it was only fair. I almost died that night, Damon.”

“Get your ass in here, and I’ll show you what death looks like!”

“Are you crazy?” I pick up another piece of cheese. “That water’s really cold.”

He growls again and swims for the back of the boat, and I finally let myself laugh as I grab a towel for him. He looks so vulnerable.

Walking down the stairs, I watch as he hops up onto the back of the yacht and stands up, his white dress shirt and black pants, sticking to his body.

But his hair looks good.

I bite back my smile and hold out the towel.

“Piss off.”

But he snatches it from my hand anyway.

What a baby. I guess some people can only dish it out.

“You know that guilt I was feeling a minute ago?” he blurts out. “It’s all gone now.”

“Good.” I nod once. “We have bigger things to deal with tonight anyway.”

He seethes, drying off his hair and face and kicking off his shoes.

“Everyone in?” I hear someone call. “We’re ready to shove off.”

I look up at the captain, standing up on the bridge deck.

I give him a wave. “We’re ready.”

Damon and I climb the stairs again and walk across the sun deck as the engines start purring a little louder.

“Is Michael here?” he asks.

“He’s coming.” I dump out the rest of my uneaten food and grab a bottle of water. “I wish everyone would stop asking me that.”

I move around the bar, ready to head to my cabin to shower, but Damon grabs my arm.

I stop, meeting his dark eyes.

“Everything on the table tonight,” he commands. “Everything.”

My heart skips a beat, and my muscles, relaxed a moment ago, start to tighten and strain again.

But I nod in agreement. “I know.”

And as the yacht moves out into the darkening Atlantic, and the stars light the night sky, nothing but Damon’s words play in my mind over the next two hours. Everything on the table. I shower, I dress, and I barely have the stomach to think about anything else other than what’s going to happen in the next hour. Or the next four hours.

Or tomorrow.

Everything hinges on tonight.

I put on my lipstick, and the faint sound of propellers echo in the distance as dread sits on my lungs, making it hard to breathe. I look up at my ceiling, turning my eyes toward the sound of the helicopter above descending onto the yacht.

Michael is here.

***

The bells chime eight, all the clocks in the cabins singing the hour, as well as a faint dong of the tower clock in the wine room carrying through the corridors of the yacht.

Michael didn’t come to find me when he arrived. I leave my room, taking my phone, silent of any texts or calls I thought he’d send when I wasn’t in our cabin. It’s for the best, though. It’s why I decided to get ready in another part of the boat, other than the place we share. I don’t want to see him until I go in there. I’ll lose my nerve.

Ryen, Misha’s girlfriend, steps through their door, followed closely by him, and she looks over at me coming her way.

I smile, unable to stop my eyes from trailing down her body. She wears a tight black dress, falling about mid-thigh, with black heels that make me feel a little short. Misha turns to me, wearing a tailored black suit, minus the tie, and no matter what Damon says about his tattoos, they really do go with everything.

We’re all in black, and I almost laugh. I’m glad it’s understood that tonight is for a power color.

He holds out his hand, waving me by. “Lead the way,” he says.

I walk ahead, feeling them follow me. Alex’s door opens as I pass by, and I see her fall in with Misha and Ryen as the four of us head toward the bow, under the sun deck and deeper into the ship.

Glass walls shimmer with the firelight from the sconces, and I turn into an open doorway, seeing a large room spread before me as Kai, Winter, Banks, and Damon all stand around. Floor to ceiling windows decorate the far wall ahead, and the sea spreads before us as the engines whir again. Michael gazes out at the night, his back to me.

I drift slowly into the room as Misha, Ryen, and Alex walk past me, but I can’t take my off him. My insides melt, and after the years of wanting him and loving him, I’m still sixteen with a crush from afar. Loving someone so much it hurts.

The stewards finish setting out food and drinks on the buffet table, pulling a couple bottles of red off the racks on the walls and opening them for us. As soon as they leave, the doors close, and everyone drifts to the large, round table, finding their seats.

Michael turns, and our eyes lock. His hazel gaze holds me frozen, and it’s hard to breathe, because I see it in his eyes. I always see it.

The love. The need. The longing.

But now, it’s different. There’s a hesitance there, too, now. Like he’s unsure of what to do with me.

His beautiful eyes glide down my body, taking in my long, thin, black gown with a plunging neckline and cutouts on the back and sides, damn-near to my ass. A leather belt wraps around my waist and naked back to hold the dress to my body. I take a step forward, my leg popping out of the slit all the way up to my hip, and I know what he sees. Or doesn’t see underneath my dress.

His jaw clenches, and his gaze dart up to me again, a small fire blazing behind his eyes. I want to take pleasure in it. Taunting him.

But I simply love it. I love us.

I take the seat closest to me as Kai, Banks, and Alex go to my right and Misha, Ryen, Damon, and Winter sit to my left. Michael takes the last remaining seat, across the table, directly opposite of me.

But then he quickly rises again. “Before we begin…”

We watch as he opens a shiny black box on the table and pulls out several smaller black cases. He slides one each to Damon, Kai, and Misha, and takes one himself, circling the table toward me.

“When Will comes back,” he says to everyone, “we’ll figure out something for the men, but… every family has their heirlooms.”

He stops at my side, meeting my eyes. Boxes flip open as everyone busies themselves, looking to see what it is, while every nerve under my skin fires at his attention. He opens the box, setting it down on the table, and removing the item inside.

“So let these be our first,” he adds, holding up an ornate black necklace with a pendant in the center.

“What is it?” I hear Winter ask as Damon pulls hers out of the box.

“It’s a necklace,” he says.

“It’s a collar,” Banks spits out.

Michael and I share a smile at her jab.

But it’s beautiful. Regal. Thin, black chains weave together, dotted by small black jewels, and in the center sits an oval broach. Michael drapes the necklace around me as Kai and Damon put theirs on Banks and Winter.

“It has a white pendant,” Damon explains to Winter. “With a skull. The skull has antlers above a bed of grass where a snake lies.”

“The skull represents our true faces.” Michael fastens the clasp at the back of my neck, the necklace only falling as far as my collar bone. “What comes out of us when we put on our masks.”

“The call of the void,” Damon whispers to Winter.

Michael continues, “The antlers represent a deer which means watchfulness, being in touch with your inner child, innocence, and vigilance. The snake means rebirth and transformation.”

I touch the broach with my fingers. “And fertility,” I add as an afterthought.

Michael holds my gaze for a moment and then turns away, heading back around the table.

He takes another box and sets it down next to Alex, opening it up.

But she stops him. “I want Will to put it on me.”

He nods. And closes the box again.

Standing at his place at the table, he looks over at Misha and Ryen who just stare at the item still tucked inside its box.

“It belongs to the family,” he tells her. “If you forfeit it, you forfeit it to us or no one. Do you understand?”

She looks between him and Misha at her side, nodding nervously. “I appreciate the gesture,” she says, glancing back at Misha. “We have some things to think about.”

Misha doesn’t say anything, and I absolutely understand their reluctance. I don’t know Ryen well, but this isn’t him. Misha likes freedom, not answering to anyone but her, and I’ve never known him to be in a club other than his band. Too many people interfering with his privacy would paralyze him. It’s not who he is.

And quite frankly, they don’t have a history with us. The rest of us are here, because we wouldn’t be anywhere else. Misha is here for Will and only Will.

Michael takes his seat and swipes his fingers across his phone, setting it in the middle of the table to record the minutes. “Alright, considering our agenda, let’s first tackle the—”

“I want to kill your father,” I say, cutting him off.

Damon chokes on his vodka rocks. Every eye at the table turns to me, and Michael silently stares as my words hang in the air.

I know it was abrupt, but I need to set the pace tonight. Or I’ll lose control.

“I won’t,” I add. “I just want to. I wanted you to know that.”

Michael sits there, playing with the Mont Blanc in front of him as everyone watches on silently, but he doesn’t blink, and neither do I.

“And I want to marry you,” he tells me. “Is this why you’re dragging your feet? My father?”

I falter. One has nothing to do with the other. “That’s a private matter.”

“You don’t talk even when we are in private. The only time things are good lately is when we’re fucking.”

Damon shoves his chair back, making Banks and Ryen jump, and rises, scowling at Michael.

But Michael is already on it, not bothering to get out of his seat as he glares up at Damon. “I was there when she was five and eight and thirteen, so you remember where you and she started the next time you want to imply you have any more responsibility or love for her than I do,” he bites out. “My woman. Sit down.”

I’m simultaneously hit with flutters over Michael’s words and appreciation for Damon’s protectiveness. As much it hurt, though, Michael was right. Things are okay but only great when we’re in bed lately.

Damon hesitates but finally sits, still seething, and I look back at Michael.

He turns his gaze back on me. “This was your fantastic idea,” he says. “So out with it. You resent me for not avenging you. My father killed yours.” And then he gazes around the table leaning back in his chair. “Is that how you all see it? I haven’t defended her?”

But before they can chime in, I tell him, “I don’t resent you. I love you.” I am a little hurt by his lack of urgency, but I understand the position he’s in. “And I’ll die your wife or I’ll die no one’s.”

There. Happy now?

He stares at me, hopefully understanding there’s no doubt in my love or devotion.

He clears his throat. “The only living witness I could manage to locate was murdered last year.” He tosses a look at Damon, referring to Gabriel’s demise. “And even if I could find more, I can’t put my mother through the humiliation.” He drops his eyes, pausing. “I know what your father’s death did to your mother, Rika. What you’re asking is only fair. I know that.” His eyes raise to mine again, pained. “But I killed her son, Rika. I can’t… kill her…”

He falls silent, but he doesn’t need to finish the sentence.

I know. Even if his father “quietly disappeared”, Michael wouldn’t lie to her. She’d find out, and she’d be hurt by him. She might even start to fear him.

“I’ll do it,” Damon chimes in.

Michael nods absently. “I know you will, but I’m not going to let you. You have things to live for now. Don’t put yourself in unnecessary risk.” He sighs, sitting back again. “We can’t slaughter every problem anyway.”

No, we can’t. We’re not criminals, and I have to constantly remind myself of that. We don’t break laws for personal gain. We do it for fun.

We don’t have to kill him, but things can’t stay the same, either. “I want him gone. Out of Thunder Bay,” I tell Michael. “And out of Meridian City.”

“We can’t buy him out,” he replies.

“We won’t have to,” Banks interjects.

Everyone stops, turning to her. The skin of her bare shoulders glows in the candlelight, and I sit up in my chair, meeting her eyes.

“He’ll give it to us,” she says.

I hold back my smile. My favorite thing about Banks is that she proudly refrains from bringing anything to the table unless it’s a solution. I’m listening.

She turns to Michael. “Killing Schraeder Fane isn’t all your father is guilty of, to be sure. We’ll find something and use it to persuade him.”

“Persuade him to do what?”

“Seek life elsewhere,” she replies sarcastically.

Michael shakes his head. “He still won’t leave quietly.”

“Then we’ll take care of it,” Kai says, losing patience. “We’re only doing what’s necessary, Michael. We have kids to think about. Rika’s right. He can’t stay.”

It takes a moment, but Michael finally looks up at me, and I know what’s going through his head. Yes, his father is dangerous. Yes, he’s hurt people immeasurably.

But couldn’t we say the same things about ourselves? We’ve hurt each other. We’ve killed.

The difference between us and Evans Crist, though, is that he acted out of greed and a lust for power. We’ve always acted out what we thought was service to our family. Our true family. Evans barely acts with consideration for his wife and Michael. He won’t care about the rest of us. I don’t want Mads and Ivar anywhere near him.

Slowly, Michael nods.

“And I don’t want his name,” I add.

He stills, his eyes slowly rising to meet mine.

I know he probably feels targeted so far in this meeting, but I need it out, and better sooner than later. I’m not changing my name when we marry.

His chest rises and falls slow and steady, but I can tell he’s fucking pissed. “I want you to have the same last name as your children.”

“I will.”

My heart pounds, because I don’t want to hurt him, but I can’t bend on this. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about. Why should I have to change my name? Who made that rule anyway? My father was a good man who left no sons to carry on the name. He deserves this.

My last words hang in the air as no one breathes at the table, and Michael stares at me, the growing anger playing behind his eyes. I know I’m asking a lot. He was born with a name he thought he’d carry his entire life. He doesn’t have to change his.

But I’m not changing mine. Michael and I are locked, but neither of us says more, probably because we don’t know what to say. He either wants to yell and doesn’t want to do it here, or he wants to throttle me.

“Al….right,” Kai stammers, and I know he’s glancing between Michael and me. “We’ll… come back to that then.”

Everyone shifts around the table, but Michael won’t look away first, so I do. I’ll let him have that.

“Will…” Kai says, moving onto the next subject. “What do we know?”

Misha sits up. “The last text I got from him was months—”

“Forget texts,” Kai states, looking around the table. “When was the last time we had a visual on him?”

“Thirteen months.”

We turn to Damon, his whisper hanging in the air as he rolls an unlit cigarette between his fingers.

“And twelve days,” Alex adds. “He video called.”

Thirteen months. I blink long and hard. Thirteen fucking months.

“And we can rule out he’s not dead, because his parents aren’t worried,” I tell them.

Misha pulls something out of his breast pocket and unfolds it, setting it down on the table. Damon immediately snatches it.

“What’s this?” he asks, inspecting the sheet.

“A list of males from wealthy and prominent families who have fallen off the grid and reappeared over the past thirty years,” Misha explains.

Damon scoffs, flinging the paper over to Michael. “We usually deal in digital files here in the twenty-first century.”

Michael takes the paper, scanning it.

“And what good is interviewing a bunch of middle-aged dudes going to do?” Damon continues. “A. They won’t talk. No one talks about Blackchurch. And B. The location changes. Even if they did talk, they wouldn’t know where it was anymore.”

“Maybe the location doesn’t change,” Misha argues. “Maybe that’s part of the story they tell us. And maybe Warner… Stratford… Walmart Cunningham III can give us a lead. Something useful. Unless you have a better idea?”

“His grandfather,” Winter chimes in. “He’s the one who probably put him there to begin with, right?”

Michael turns to Alex, plotting the next step. “Can you get in?”

She laughs under her breath. “I don’t know why you think these men divulge state secrets to their whores.”

“Because it’s worked before.” Damon grins, teasing her. “You don’t give yourself enough credit.”

But I sit up. “No.”

They all look at me.

“We’re not using Alex like that,” I explain.

At some point, she’ll finish her graduate degree, get a new job, and what will we do then when we can’t pimp her out? I’m not sending her to that old man.

“Besides,” I go on. “Men like him don’t handle the details themselves anyway.”

“His assistant then,” Kai says. “Jack Munro. He’ll know everything.”

“And if he won’t talk?” Misha retorts.

“I’m sure information is more forthcoming when you want to put someone in there instead of take them out,” Alex mumbles.

The table falls silent, but I see a slight smile curl Michael’s lips.

“What?” I ask.

He quickly hides his smile and shrugs. “Nothing.”

But I watch him for a moment. He’s thinking something.

Alex draws in a breath. “I’ll ingratiate myself to Senator Grayson’s assistant as soon as conclave concludes.” And she meets my gaze before I can say anything. “I’m doing it, Rika.”

I swallow my argument, not happy putting her into the position, but it’s Will, and I know she’ll do whatever it takes at this point.

Winter sets her hand on the table. “And if we find Blackchurch, and he’s there, how do we get him out?”

“We need to know what kind of fortress we’re dealing with first,” Banks tells her. “If the stories are true, they’ll have free run of the house and grounds. If we’re able to get to them, then they’re also able to get to us.”

The table falls silent as Banks looks around at each of us.

“There’s a reason Blackchurch is like that,” she continues. “Why it’s not simply a luxury spa with locked cages and guards. Why they’re left alone as if they’re dogs thrown into a pit to eat or be eaten.”

Images flash in my mind of what she’s describing, and how, at this moment, Will could be sitting in that place. My head falls.

“They’ve burned their bridges and decided not to be part of a family,” Banks goes on, “so now they’ll learn their place in the natural order.”

The natural order. Tough love on crack. They have their needs provided for. Food, shelter, medical attention if needed… But otherwise, they’re completely alone and…at each other’s mercy.

“They will have resorted to base instinct,” Banks tells us. “They’re lives are about survival now. The rest of the world does not exist anymore. They’re a system of their own with rules and laws…” She pauses. “And consequences.”

She might know more about Blackchurch, since Gabriel considered sending Damon, or she might just know what happens to dogs in cages. Either way, I know everything she says is true.

“They’re hoarding food,” she says, “each one of them fighting for their share. They’re forming alliances to protect each other, and they will have made weapons with whatever’s lying around.”

My chest constricts.

“There will be an alpha,” she continues, “and Will…will not be it.”

None of us speak as, I’m sure, everyone’s mind is going to the same place as mine. Imagining Will and what he’s possibly living through right now. Those men are not his friends. Will isn’t strong by himself.

He isn’t Michael. He isn’t Kai.

“I’m going to be sick,” Winter chokes out, tears filling her eyes as she rises from her seat.

Damon gets up, takes her hand, and they both leave the room.

The door closes again.

“How did we let this go for so long?” Kai breathes out.

“We fucked up,” Misha says, his eyes now more worried than ever.

But Ryen chimes in. “Will’s okay.”

Alex looks over at her, a tear streaming down her face. “How do you know that?”

“Because he has an advantage over those other prisoners,” she tells us. “He’s been in prison already. He’s done this before.”

I tuck my lips between my teeth and close my eyes, trying to calm myself. She’s right. I swallow and try to unknot my fucking stomach. If Will is there, he’s alive.

“Jack Munro,” Michael says, looking at Alex. “You make contact, and we want to hear from you as soon as it’s over.” And then he repeats, “As soon as it’s over.”

She nods.

“Let’s take a break then,” he tells us.

The room suddenly feels too tight, and I push back my chair as everyone rises from theirs. I need some air.

The food on the table sits uneaten as everyone drifts out the door to stretch their legs. I turn to leave, but someone grabs my hand, stopping me.

I look up at Michael, both of us silent as the room slowly empties.

“Say my name,” he whispers.

The vein in my neck throbs.

“Michael,” I say.

“That’s not how you say it.” He inches closer, taking my face in his hand. “How you always said it.”

I want to look away, because I can feel the tears at the back of my throat. I want to tell him. I want to get rid of this pain and fear, but… Our future looks perfect. I’m about to change it.

And I can’t.

We’re in love. Right now, in this moment. Things change in seconds, and I can’t.

“Where did you go?” He searches my eyes. “Where are you right now?”

I feel my chin tremble.

“There’s something else you’re not telling me.”

I open my mouth to say it. Or kiss him or anything, but I…

I have all night. I can’t yet.

Pulling away from him, I turn on my heel and charge out of the room.

“Rika!” he barks.

But I don’t stop. I swipe the tear off my cheek just as it falls and make my way out toward the sundeck, passing through the lounge area where everyone is congregating on the couches with a drink.

I stop at the edge, peering out over the black ocean, a white beam of moonlight spreading into the horizon. The wind blows through my dress, the chilly air doing nothing to soothe my nerves.

Just let me make love to him one more time before I fuck everything up.

“How far out are we going?” someone suddenly asks.

I blink away my tears, looking over my shoulder at Ryen.

“The boat’s been moving for a few hours now,” she points out, laughing a little. “We must be far enough out. No one is escaping to shore at this point.”

I turn back around, fixing my eyes on the sea. “I told them not to stop until they hear from me,” I tell her. “Or we hit land.”

“The next land is Ireland,” Misha says.

I force a smirk. “Then we better work fast.”

Actually, Misha and Ryen can probably sit the rest of the night out. Their business is done, and they certainly won’t need to hear the rest of what goes on. The Cove. Damon’s inheritance. His plans to put Banks in D.C which he thinks I don’t know about, but really, it makes perfect sense.

Will’s grandfather spends most of his career staying in power, and while Damon’s motivation isn’t entirely selfless, Banks would be absolutely suited for it. Once she finishes her degree, he’ll convince her to run for state legislature until she’s thirty and old enough to run for Senate. Everyone perfectly positioned to make the world how we want it to be and connected enough to keep making money. It’s shady as hell, but she won’t be bad in that office. Not bad at all.

If she goes for it, that is. Unfortunately, I foresee a huge fight first.

I turn around, seeing Damon enter the lounge, and I grip the railing behind me. “How’s Winter?”

“She’s okay,” he assures, carrying a box to the table. “Just freshening up.”

He plops down at the table, across from Misha and Ryen, and turn his attention to them.

“Babysoft,” he teases and dumps a box on the table in front of Ryen.

“What is this?” she asks, opening it up.

She reaches in and pulls out an ornate, black eye mask made of metal with black ribbons to secure it around her head. The designs allows for her skin to peek through the gaps and has exotic holes for the eyes. It’s more a masquerade type mask than what we wear. It’s beautiful, though.

“It’s the girl that comes out when you and Misha are alone,” Damon explains. “It’s for when it’s dark and private, and he wants to do fun things with you.”

Misha takes it out of her hand and sticks it back in the box. “No.”

Damon laughs, amused but not shocked.

Or phased. “Just let her try it on.” He pushes the box back to Ryen and looks at her. “Later. When you’re alone. See if you like what comes out.” And then he turns his gaze back to Misha standing up. “See if she hears it. Maybe you’ll hear it, too.”

They don’t ask what he means, but I know. L’appel du vide. Winter’s philosophy of who we are and what brings us together. Maybe Misha and Ryen are more like us that we thought. Maybe everyone is. Given the chance.

But Misha just sighs and pushes back his chair, getting up. “I need to be drunk to deal with you.”

And he walks to the bar.

Damon follows, making himself a drink, but he doesn’t bug Misha further. I glance at the doorway, noticing Michael hasn’t followed us. He’s probably ready to wring my neck.

I cross the lounge and step into the head, closing the door. But it catches, and I look up, seeing Kai slip in behind me and quickly shut the door.

My eyes immediately sting, and I didn’t realize how hard I’m holding back until I’m alone with him. He approaches me in the quiet, secluded little space in front of the sink and takes my face in his hands.

He looks at me, and my eyes water.

“I know,” I whisper. “I know.”

“You’re torturing both of you,” he says. “Tell him.”

My chest shakes, and I try to look away, but he doesn’t let me. He holds my face in place.

“It has to be in private,” I tell him. “He’ll be angrier if I put him on the spot in front of everyone.”

“He won’t be angry.”

He’ll be in a terrible position, though. One where he’ll be against a rock and hard spot, and I’d be asking him to make a choice where both options leave him giving up something he wants.

I need to make the choice for him. I always knew that.

I let my head drop, slowly falling forward into Kai’s chest. “It would kill me to see him with another woman,” I whisper. “What if he marries someone else, and I have to live in Thunder Bay and see them?”

I start to cry, feeling his arms circle around me, and I break down, the dread and anticipation sitting in my stomach and making me sick.

Kai whispers against my hair. “Shhhh…”

But the door suddenly swings open, and we pop our heads up. Michael stands there, and the look on his face makes my stomach sink. He bares his teeth, grabs Kai by the jacket, and hauls him out of the bathroom.

I gasp as he throws his friend back into the lounge, Kai crashing into the table, the vase on top sliding off and breaking on the floor. Ryen yelps, scurrying out of her seat and out of the way.

Michael charges over to Kai, grabbing him again and fisting his lapels.

“Whoa, whoa, stop!” Kai growls.

“Michael, stop!” I yell.

He shakes Kai, shouting in his face. “What the hell were you doing?”

“We were just talking!” Kai tells him.

Damon stands frozen, watching but ready, while Misha, Ryen, and Banks look on with worried stares at the scene.

Michael leans in, speaking low in Kai’s face. “You don’t touch her.”

“It wasn’t like that,” Kai argues.

“Then what was it like?”

This came from Banks, and I turn my eyes on her, her doubt stinging.

Michael throws Kai off, breathing hard, and Kai looks at Banks, fixing his suit and looking exasperated.

“Just hold up, okay?” he tells everyone. He’s not sure what to say to explain himself to his wife and protect me at the same time. I put him in that position.

I step forward. “Michael…”

“Fuck you, Rika,” he says, cutting me off.

He stands up straight, turning his attention on me, and I tense.

“Fuck your power, your schedule, you assistant,” he tells me, “your fucking little entourage everywhere you go, your plans, and your chess games. I gave you too much power.”

I can’t move. Slowly, the bricks of every moment we built together start to shake, and I don’t know if I’m more shocked by his sudden disdain or the fact that he actually thought Kai and I were…

“And you know,” he goes on, “I wanted this. I wanted you to own it. I didn’t want another version of my mother. Silent, docile, living separate lives. I wanted my other half.” He looks at me, and I don’t see love anymore. Just hurt. “And I got it,” he says sadly. “When I look in the mirror, all I see is your face. I can’t tell the difference anymore.” He hesitates and gestures to Kai and Damon. “I’m all about you, and you…? You talk to them instead of me.”

“Well, you are gone a lot,” Damon chimes in.

Michael holds my eyes for only a moment before he hauls off and hits Damon, slamming his fist right across his face.

“Michael!” I shout.

Damon grunts, falling onto the sofa, but shoots back off quickly, glaring and charging ahead.

But Kai holds him back, stopping him.

Michael forgets his attack and looks at me. “I’m retiring after next season,” he tells me. “Will you talk to me then?”

Retiring? I shake my head. “You’re twenty-five. You still have years if you don’t get injured.”

“It’s time to concentrate on other things. The Cove, our family…”

“We can’t move on the Cove until we get Will home,” Damon commands.

“Will won’t stop it from happening,” Michael replies, planting his hands and leaning on the table. “It’s time to level the property and begin.”

“Whoa, whoa, the Cove?” Misha steps forward. “You’re not tearing it down!”

But Michael slams the table with his fists, shutting everyone up. We all stand silent as he dips his head, staring at the table.

I inch forward. This is my fault, not theirs.

Finally, he looks up at me, his voice softer. “I feel less than you,” he says. “Like…”

“Like you have nothing to teach me anymore,” I finish for him.

He doesn’t respond, so I know I’m right. He’s intimidated that I have more going on than just him.

“I’m not your pet,” I tell him.

I was once, but not anymore.

“Why?” he asks.

Why? He’s asking why I won’t be his pet? Seriously?

He rises and walks around the table, approaching me.

“Because…” I say. “Because I need to be more. I need to be… useful.”

“Why?”

I want to laugh, not out of amusement but anger. I’m not a trophy. I’m not something to play with or program.

“Because I need you to see what I can do,” I tell him. I need to prove myself.

“Why?” He inches closer.

I open my mouth, but I can’t find my words. I know what he’s doing, and the tears start to fill my eyes. I just need to say it.

“Because I don’t want you to be disappointed in me,” I whisper. “Because you’ll be disappointed.”

He stands in front of my, only a few inches between us. “Why?”

“Because I can’t…I…” I stutter, swallowing the lump in my throat. “I can’t have children.” I close my eyes, silently starting to cry as the words leave my mouth. “I can’t give us a family.”

He stands there, not coming an closer, and while my heart is breaking at the life we can’t have, a weight lifts off my shoulders. I didn’t want to do this in front of everyone, because Michael will be the gentleman and assure me its okay. We’ll adopt. We’ll hire a surrogate. We’ll be fine.

But months down the road he’ll start to understand it’s not that simple. He’ll resent the life he can’t have, and I’ll feel like I’m keeping him from something better.

“My cycles have always been long, but…” I continue, “I’m not ovulating regularly. The doctor says it’s unlikely.”

“But not impossible,” Banks clarifies, approaching me. “Have you tried other doctors?”

“Yes.”

Damon steps forward. “Well, once you get off birth control—”

“I’ve been off for two years,” I tell him. “And I haven’t had a period in over one.”

“A year,” Michael says more to himself. “About how long you’ve been carrying this around, right?”

But it comes out sounding like an accusation before he turns his eyes on Kai. “Why don’t you seem surprised?” he asks him.

But Kai just looks away. He’s the only one who knew, and I understand what Michael is feeling. But I didn’t confide in Kai. He just found out.

He went through the whole pep talk with me. Michael loves you. You have options. People make it work every day. Lots of kids need good homes. But people also break up over these things. Every day. People want children of their own. They want to make children with the man or woman they love. I never thought something like this would get in my way, but I’m scared. It’s easy to say I’m valuable. He loves me for me, and if my body can’t do this, it can’t be all he needs from me. I ‘m worth plenty, even if I can’t give him our children, right? This isn’t my fault. I haven’t failed.

But believing those words and feeling them is more difficult. What if he tries but he decides this is just too hard? What if I can never accept that I can’t do this for him?

I can’t look at him as I whisper, “We won’t have any children together, Michael.”

That’s as plain as I can put it. He needs to know the likelihood is slim.

I wait for him to not be angry. To give some sign that this isn’t the end of the world, and he still loves me more than anything, but…

He turns and walks away.

He leaves the room, leaving me standing there with tears on my face. Emptiness aches in my body everywhere. He hates me. God, he hates me. I can’t breathe.

“You knew?” I hear Banks ask.

“I found out,” Kai tells her. “It was an accident.”

I sniffle, my hands shaking. Oh, my God. He left. He walked out.

I close my eyes again.

“We’re killing him,” Damon growls, and he’s probably talking to Kai. “Right now.”

Banks, Ryen, and Alex step over, trying to hold me, but I shake them off gently. “It’s okay. I’m okay.” I wipe my eyes and move forward. “Excuse me, please.”

And I hurry out of the room, covering my mouth with my hand as I go, so they can’t hear the sobs.

***

Fuck you, Rika.

Something constricts my throat, and I startle awake, unsure if it was a noise or the sudden quiet that jostles me.

The engines have stopped. I lift my head and look around the dark room, seeing it’s still empty and the bed untouched. What time is it?

I’m still curled up in the chair in Michael’s and my cabin, having buried myself in it when I finally found the courage to step inside.

But he wasn’t here when I came in.

Setting my feet on the floor, I wipe my eyes and stand up, looking around again. It’s still dark outside. I glance at the clock on the dresser, the little bells chiming midnight.

It’s been three hours since the fight. Where is he? Why have we stopped?

Of course, I have no interest in going to Ireland right now anyway, so I’m kind of glad.

Leaving my heels next to the chair, I pick up my dress and walk barefoot to the door. Opening it, I peer outside into the corridor.

“Michael?” I call.

And I listen.

But nothing. No noise coming from the other cabins. No music. No movement or conversation.

Stepping out of the room, I pick up my dress off the floor and walk, swiping my fingers under my eyes to tidy up the eyeliner as I go. After the argument, I’d drifted to the bow to cool off and try to get my head straight. I’d put myself through every mental argument I could over the past several months leading up to this conversation, and not only did I completely blow it, but I expected everything from him except the one thing I got. Silence.

He just walked away like I was nothing. I was right to worry, after all, it seems.

And even if he were okay with it, I don’t know if I would be. He’ll go on, watching his friends have their babies, but it won’t be like that for us, and I hate that. I’d hate doing that to him.

I shake my head, taking breaths to calm myself. I don’t want to lose him.

After a while, I’d decided to go have it out privately, but when I went to the cabin, he wasn’t there. I curled up on the chair to wait and drifted off.

I hear splashes and look over the side of the boat and see people jumping into the water down at the stern.

Ryen and Banks swim back to the boat, while Kai and Misha jump in over their heads. They all laugh, blowing off steam while they can. Conclave still goes on, whether we’re in that room or not, I guess. It’s just Michael and me for now, though.

I take the stairs to the bridge. “Hello?”

“Hello?”

“Mr. Barris?” I say, stepping into the room.

We still face east, but he’s stopped the boat for now.

“Ms. Fane.” He rises from his chair. “Everything okay?”

I rub my arms, extra aware of my lack of under-clothes now. “Have you seen Mr. Crist?”

“Not for a while, no.”

I nod absently. Well, he couldn’t have gone far at least.

I turn to leave but stop, noticing he’s been in the bridge all day.

“Where is Ms. Chen?” I ask. He should be getting to sleep soon.

He stares at me for a moment and then says, “I dismissed her for the evening a while ago.”

But then he looks away, and something unnerves me. Like he didn’t want to tell me that.

I look after him for a moment, watching him busy himself with something silly, and finally, I decide to leave. What’s wrong with dismissing her for the night? Why would he look uncomfortable telling me that?

Heading back to the owner’s deck, I slowly walk down the corridor, lightly knocking on rooms I know are unoccupied. He could be sleeping it off somewhere else to avoid me. I search the galley, the dining area, the lounge, and the wine room. There’s no one in the steam room, and the further I go, the louder my heart beats in my ears, because if I haven’t found him yet, then he’s somewhere he doesn’t want to be found.

A thought occurs to me, and my stomach rolls with nausea. Did Michael ask for Ms. Chen to be dismissed from the bridge early? Is that why Barris looked at me so weird?

The boat rocks under my feet, and I stop for a moment steadying myself.

It’s not the boat. I’m dizzy.

Michael…

I swallow. No, he wouldn’t do that.

I descend the last set of stairs, the machines and engines humming quietly as the low lights glow across the red floors. I tread in the shadows, around giant cylinders, afraid to look in the nooks and small spaces, but this place—in the bowels of the yacht—is the only place left to search.

Maybe he’s with Damon and Winter. Maybe he took the speedboat back to shore?

A flash goes off ahead, and I look up, catching movement somewhere behind the tanks.

Slowly, I head that way.

Another flash goes off, and I hear a shuffle as I peer between two large white tanks, two more flashes going off. It’s a camera.

A woman with long, dark hair sits on top of a table, it’s legs nailed to the floor and her naked body in full view of whoever takes her picture. Her face is covered behind her hair, but I know who it is. It’s too long to be Banks and too dark to be Alex.

Samara Chen.

I watch as our first mate leans back on her hands, one foot propped up on the table and one leg dangling, as someone takes her picture over and over again. I close my eyes for a moment. I want to see who it is, but I’m pretty sure I already know.

I open my eyes, watching Samara slip her fingers between her legs, her hair falling behind her shoulders, so I can see her eyes now, eye-fucking the camera in front of her as she rubs herself in circles. The long lines of her torso, the smooth skin of her hips and back, her full, beautiful breasts…

An image of Michael fucking her on that table flashes in my mind, and my stomach twists again and again like a rubber band, and I clench my fists.

But as I slowly step to the side, my heart pounding so hard it hurts as I look around the tank, I see it’s not Michael taking her picture.

Alex has changed into a casual pair of gray lounge pants and white V-neck T-shirt. She holds a camera in her hands, cocking her head and watching as Ms. Chen props both legs up on the table, spreading wide for Alex’s view.

I release the breath I’d been holding.

But then, out of the corner of my eye, I spot movement. Lev enters from somewhere he’d been standing beyond my line of sight and walks over to the table, shoving Samara down hard.

She whimpers, and I suck in a breath. Alex’s holds his eyes for a moment, and then he dives down, eating the girl’s pussy.

He licks and sucks, nibbles and rubs, her body arching off the table as he goes at her without pause. She moans, and he wraps his hand around her thigh, holding her place as Alex continues photographing them.

I should leave. I step back but run into something hard, and I pause, the hair on my arms standing up straight. A long arm with long fingers reaches around me, and I spot the same beautiful vein in his hand bulging as he grips his bottle of Kirin, handing it to me.

A flutter hits my heart, and I’m sixteen again, back at St. Killian’s. I take the beer, looking up at the scene in front of us as he remains behind me. I take a swig, the bitter bubbles popping on my tongue.

Lev licks her slow but steady, rubbing his tongue around her clit and kneading her breasts. She moans, her hips rolling into his mouth, hungry for more. Another flash goes off as we watch them, silently tucked away and hidden.

“I love you,” I say, clutching the bottle.

I’m glad when he doesn’t respond, because I need to say this now that we’re alone.

“What’s my worth if I keep you from having the one thing most people really want?” I pause, staring at the scene but barely paying attention. “I couldn’t lose you, Michael.”

I take another sip, remembering that first taste all those years ago.

“I couldn’t lose you, but I couldn’t marry you, either,” I tell him. “Not under a lie.” I draw in a deep breath despite the tears lodged in my throat. “I just wanted to be able to love you as long as possible, because I don’t want you to give up your chance to have children, and I don’t know if I can cope not being able to give them to you. I feel like shit. All the time. I can’t stomach the thought of you having a family with anyone else, but I don’t want to make you unhappy, either.”

I’m hurting.

He’s still silent, and I don’t know if I’ve explained myself or if I make any sense.

He takes the bottle from my hand, and I hear the liquid slosh as he tips the bottle back for a drink. I wait, because everything hinges on hearing his voice.

“I knew you were in my truck that day,” he says in a low voice.

I blink. What?

“I saw the backdoor open in the rearview mirror,” he explains. “And then I saw it close.”

In his truck…?

And then it hits me. Devil’s Night so long ago when I snuck into his truck to follow him and his friends. The same one where he let me try his beer for the first time.

“You weren’t old enough for everything,” he continues, “but you were old enough for some things, and I couldn’t wait anymore. It was always there. Since we were kids.”

Ms. Chen’s moans and whimpers fill the engine room as she holds Lev’s mouth to her pussy, their pace and breathing growing stronger and faster.

“Sometimes I thought I wanted to touch you,” Michael whispers, and I feel it on the top of my hair. “Other times I thought I wanted to kill you. I didn’t know if it was love or hate, but I knew it would change my life.”

“Slower, Lev,” Alex tells him, snapping a photo.

But he argues. “Come on, she tastes so good.”

“Like this.” Alex leans in, kissing Ms. Chen and Lev following her lead, both of them devouring the young woman.

“Oh, my God,” Chen pants, arching her back off the table.

I close my eyes, the memory of those same sounds coming back to me. “And you found me at St. Killian’s, just like this,” I say to Michael. “You took me downstairs, blindfolded me, and we heard things, just like this.”

Chen groans, panting harder, and I can tell she’s about to come.

“I loved your world,” I whisper.

“You wanted to see so badly that day in the catacombs.” The heat of this body warms my skin. “I even think part of you wanted to be her. To experience it all.”

“I wanted anything with you,” I reply, opening my eyes. “I wanted to let it all happen.”

Samara’s body bobs back and forth, her back arching again and again as Lev buries his mouth in her pussy and she gets closer. Her moans fill the room, growing louder and faster.

“I wish I could go back to that night,” I tell Michael. “I would’ve tried not to get in that truck. I would’ve tried not to steal all this time from you.”

Tears burn behind my eyes. I’m a burden to him. I feel like I’m making his life worse.

But all of a sudden, his arms wrap around me, and his whisper hits my neck. “And if I could go back, I wouldn’t have wasted a moment.”

He lifts me off my feet, and I suck in a breath as he carries me back a few steps. He drops down, bringing me into his lap, and I realize he’s in a chair. I still see slivers of the scene through the tanks, Lev rising and Samara panting and whimpering in protest that he stopped. He takes her legs, pulling her down to the end of the table as he unfastens his jeans.

Michael pulls me back against him, one arm around my body and one hand cupping my cheek as he whispers in my ear. “I would’ve left that warehouse that night, but I would’ve taken you with me instead.”

An ache hits my heart but also a flutter. I love how we love each other now, but if he had taken me with him that night—if I hadn’t decided to walk home—so much might not have happened to keep us apart all that time.

“I would’ve kept my word,” he goes on. “Just kissing you and holding you, and that would’ve been enough then, because just the feel of you drove me out of my mind.” His breath is hot on my skin, and I hear the desire in his voice. “l would’ve sat you down on the counter in my parents’ dark kitchen that night, standing between your legs as I ate you up, because at any moment we could’ve been caught, and I wanted to get us into trouble. I wanted them to try to keep me from you the way they always did, only this time I wouldn’t have listened.”

Lev thrusts himself inside Samara, and I see David come from behind her, grabbing her arms and forcing them over her head as she gasps. She whimpers, but he covers her mouth with his before taking her breasts in his hands, squeezing them.

She pulls at his hold. “I’m scared.”

“I know,” David says. And then he sinks his mouth into her breast, not stopping.

But just as Lev starts going hard and Samara starts writing under the attention of the two men, something comes down over my eyes, and I can barely breathe as Michael ties something around my eyes. The world goes black, and my heart pumps so hard, I want to smile and laugh and cry, because I’m too excited to know what to do. I raise my hand, feeling Michael’s necktie wrapped around my eyes.

Lev grunts. “Ugh, fuck.”

The table creaks on its bolts as moans and kissing fill the hot air of the engine room.

The camera starts clicking again as Alex takes her pictures. “Can David have his turn?” I hear Alex ask.

I don’t hear an answer as she takes more pictures.

“I would’ve kissed you,” Michael goes on, dragging his fingers along my jaw. “And touched your face and started sweating, because I was so hard, wanting something so sweet that I couldn’t have yet.”

The fabric of my dress chafes my breasts, and I nuzzle into him, breathing hard. Touch me. You can. I’m not sixteen anymore.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to stop,” he continues, “but I would’ve put you to bed, because the next I came home from college you would’ve been seventeen.” The tip of his tongue flicks my ear before he catches the lobe in his teeth and slips a hand inside my dress, cupping my breast.

I gasp.

“And I would’ve gone under the clothes then,” he teases. “I would’ve snuck you into my room, taken off your panties, and touched you and let you touch me, and I would’ve kissed you everywhere, Rika.” He kneads with one hand and spreads the slit of my skirt, baring my legs and naked pussy, teasing me with his fingers. “Everywhere.”

“Michael…” I moan, picturing what could’ve been. The boys would never have gone to prison, and I would’ve been high, living for when Michael came home, because nothing feels as good as him wanting me.

“Please, stop stopping,” Samara whines. “I need to cum.”

The table has stopped creaking, and I hear a shuffle of feet as Michael slides his fingers up and down my pussy, chaste and never dipping inside.

“My turn,” I hear David say in the distance.

“It would’ve driven us crazy,” Michael whispers, “and we would’ve come so close it hurt.”

Doing everything we could right under our parents’ noses but dying to do the one thing we couldn’t.

“And when you turned eighteen,” he tells me, the whispers seeping through my body and making my clit throb so hard, “I would’ve bid my time during the dinner and the fucking cake and the presents, and you wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it, because you would’ve felt my eyes on you during the whole damn thing and known what was coming. They wouldn’t have been able to find you. They would’ve been frantic, because I would’ve had you far away, down on the beach, in a tent, and I wouldn’t have stopped…all night.”

I bite my bottom lip, rubbing the tip of my nose against his cheek as I grinded on him a little. The thick ridge of his cock pulses under me, and I take his hand between my legs and guide it down further, pressing his fingers into the wetness on my inner thigh. A strap of the dress falls down, the air hitting my bare breast.

“Rika…” he growls under his breath.

“Michael.”

The camera clicks another picture, but this time I see the flash through my blindfold. The skin of my nipples grows tight as they harden. Alex is here.

Michael rubs his thumb over my nipple, and my breath shakes. “And you wouldn’t have turned up until I dropped you off for school in the morning,” he goes on. “In front of everyone so they knew who the fuck had you now.”

And he gives me a hard squeeze, making me gasp. Another picture and another flash.

I jerk, but instead of covering myself, I…

I like it. Chills spread across my skin, and I want more. I want to be looked at.

Alex snaps another picture, and I don’t know what she sees or what she’s focused on, but she’s watching us now as Samara and David go at it on the other side of the tanks, and Michael touches me. Where’s Lev? I still can’t see, so I don’t know.

“We wouldn’t have made it through dinner, Michael,” I whisper, breathing in his skin. “You would’ve felt me and known—all I wanted was you. I wouldn’t have been able to wait anymore.”

Michael takes my hand and guides two of my fingers down between my legs, sliding them inside of me. My pussy throbs, and I groan, needing so much more. He brings my hand back up and slips each finger into his mouth, sucking me off of them.

The camera snaps again as Michael’s hot tongue glides slowly across my fingers. Samara cries out in the distance, coming.

But then, suddenly, a hot breath falls across my face, and I hear heavy breathing. My heart stops for a moment. Who is that?

“Do that again,” Lev suddenly whispers, and I hear him swallow. “Please.”

I pant, my heart hammering.

Oh, my God.

Michael holds my face, kissing my cheek, jaw, and neck. “Do you trust me?” he asks.

I…

I nod.

“Then why would you ever think the idea of children with any other woman wouldn’t make me sick?” he whispers, and I can hear the pain in his voice. “We will have kids. If you want them. But I will never not have you.” He shakes me. “Do you understand?”

A sob lodges in my throat.

“Do you understand?” he growls again. “A world where there is no us can’t happen.”

We kiss, and I barely notice as Michael takes my hand and dips it down between my legs again. Oh, God. I start to cry, but I calm myself, the heartache breaking me, and I don’t know why. Why did I ever doubt him? I can live without a lot of things, but I can’t live without him. Why did I not trust the same from him?

Pressing my two fingers inside me, he withdraws them and holds my hand up, not sucking on it, though.

“Do you trust me?” he asks again.

“Yes.”

He holds my hand out, and I barely have a moment to register what’s happening before Lev grabs my hand. I gasp as the flash clicks again. Slowly, the wet heat of his mouth covers my finger, and my mouth falls open as I whimper, his tongue making every hair on my body stand on end. Michael kneads my breast, possessive and breathing hard in my ear as Lev licks my fingers clean, gently biting them.

“I love watching you feel,” Michael says. “I love your face.”

Lev sucks the other finger clean, long and slow, and I know he’s looking down at me. Michael squeezes me as he buries his whispers in my neck and grinds his cock under me.

“I can’t follow the rules,” he says, “and with you, I don’t have to. I’m not alone. I can’t go back to being alone.” He hovers over my lips, our mouths open and hungry. “I can’t fucking breathe without my little monster.”

Little Monster.

I breathe out a half-laugh, half-cry. “I love you, Michael.” I kiss him. “I love you so much.”

He dives into my mouth, and I grab hold of the arm rests to steady myself, but I grab Lev’s wrists instead, his hands already wrapped around the arms of the chair. I don’t move my hands of him.

“Do you trust me?” Michael breathes out.

“Forever.”

“Stand up, Lev,” Michael orders.

And before I know what’s happening, he’s pushing me forward to sit up in his lap, Lev catching me before I go too far. Michael yanks at the back of my dress, and I clutch the waist of Lev’s jeans, the belt unfastened but still there. Michael rips the dress away from my body, more flashes going off from Alex’s camera, and only the black, leather belt remains around my waist.

Lev’s fingers caress my face, and I’m spinning behind the blindfold. “God, she’s hot,” he whispers. “Can I touch her?”

“No,” Michael tells him, and I hear his belt fall open and then his zipper.

He grips my hips, jerks me back, and I moan, burying my face in Lev’s stomach as Michael spreads my legs wider and sinks deep inside me.

I whimper, wrapping my arms around Lev for support. But I feel a bulge in his jeans and pull my head up.

He laughs under his breath. “Sorry.”

Michael’s cock stretches me, and I grip Lev’s belt as I start rolling my hips and fucking Michael slow. He squeezes my body, pulling me back into his cock, while I roll forward, pulling myself into Lev. Our pace quickens.

Alex takes more shots, and I arch my back, feeling my hair drape down my skin.

Samara pants and cries from somewhere beyond the tanks, and I moan, the light layer of sweat on my back cooling me as Michael jerks me back harder and faster.

“Hold on to me,” Lev says, and I feel him lower to his knees as he puts my hands on his shoulders. I can’t see him, but he’s close, his breath falling on my breast.

“Michael,” he says, struggling. “Please let me taste her again.”

Another flash goes off as Lev’s mouth hovers over my nipple. I breathe hard, rocking back and forth into both men, my orgasm starting to crest already. I push off Lev into Michael and off of Michael, holding onto Lev.

“Ugh, fuck, Rika,” Michael grunts, his fingers digging into my hips. He pumps his own up into me, and I can’t hold back anymore.

“Yes,” I moan. More pictures snap.

I bounce up and down on him, doing deep and hard, my orgasm building and my moans and cries getting louder. I rock back and forth, chasing it and then… it explodes, racing through my body, and I feel Michael grip the back of my hair, pulling my head back as he grunts and groans, Lev’s hot mouth damn near boiling over where it hovers over my nipple.

Oh, fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck…

I writhe a little, groaning as the pleasure courses. A trickle of sweat glides down my back, and Michael loosens and tightens his fist in my hair as he spills inside of me, and I try to catch my breath, noticing the flashes have stopped.

God…

God, that was so good. I pull down my blindfold and lean back, diving into Michael’s mouth again. Alex leans against one of the tanks, the camera dangling from her fingers as she watches us, photography forgotten.

Michael’s still inside me, and I look between Alex and Lev, both of them looking at us like they can’t tear their eyes away.

“Yo, Lev,” I hear David call. “She wants more. Come on.”

Lev smiles at me, his eyes peeking out from under his black hair, and he rises, leaning over me.

“At your service anytime, Miss Fane,” he whispers.

His eyes flash to Michael, and then he turns and heads back to his own party.

Alex opens the slot on her camera and pulls out the memory card. She comes over, handing it to us.

“Look at them together some time,” she tells us, and I take it.

She turns to head back, as well, but then she stops and looks over her shoulder at us. “And it’s probably good that you didn’t let Lev have that second taste.”

I pinch my brows.

“He would’ve sucked you off Michael,” she explains.

My eyes go wide, and I think Michael stops breathing. She grins and leaves, disappearing beyond the tanks.

It takes a moment to find my lungs, but all of a sudden, I break out in a quiet laugh.

Oh, my God. What would Michael have done? The image floats through my mind, and I don’t hate it, actually. It might be incredible to see him experience something new for a change. Put the shoe on the other foot, so to speak?

But Michael clamps his hand over my mouth and whispers in my ear. “Don’t even think about it,” he warns.

I smile, rising from his lap, and he stands up, giving me his shirt, since my dress is ripped to shambles on the floor. I hear the camera click again as Samara goes for round three or four—I lost count—and Michael scoops up my dress and takes my hand, leading me out of the engine room.

I can’t believe we just did that.

But then I can. We don’t have to hide around these people.

We climb the steps and make our way to the Owner’s deck, his warm hand gripping mine so tightly, like he’s afraid I’ll be lost.

“The wedding is in one month,” he finally says, pulling me along.

I hold his white Oxford closed around my body. A month? I start to protest. “Michael, I can’t…”

“One month.” He turns to look at me. “Devil’s Night. We have until then to find Will and get him back.”

He grips my hand, leading us both down the corridor to our cabin, and we pass Winter and Damon’s room, but all I can hear is muffled words and moans.

A month? I’m thrilled to have a date, but…

We’ll be paying through the roof to have everything ready in time.

But still…

A month. I smile, hugging his arm like I do when I’m feeling fifteen and smitten with him all over again.

He swings open the door to the cabin, tossing his jacket and tie, and both of us head to the bathroom. I jump into the shower, him following me, and he holds me, kissing my forehead as the steam billows around us.

And I don’t let go of him as he washes my hair and my body, barely blinking as I watch how good he loves me and how lucky we are.

After we get out, we dry off, and I let my hair down as he passes me my toothbrush with paste already on it. “I’m sorry I said those things earlier in the lounge,” he tells me, the toothbrush in his mouth. “I was pissed. And intimidated. You weren’t talking to me, and my pride was shot.”

I start brushing as he spits, and I meet his eyes in the mirror. “I was lying to you. I’m sorry, too.”

Omission is lying, and it was hurting us.

I finish up and rinse, patting my mouth dry with a hand towel. When I enter the room, he’s dressed in a pair of lounge pants and sitting by the windows, smoke from a cigar billowing into the air above his head. It’s so funny. Damon quits, and everyone else starts.

I slip on some white panties and a matching cami, walking over and sliding into his lap. I throw my legs over the arm of his chair as he cradles me, and I rest my head on his shoulder, watching the black sea spread out before us.

“No matter the money or the meetings or the mayor’s office, Michael,” I tell him, “I’ll always be perpetually twelve. Searching for Trevor’s older brother in every room I enter.”

He never has to feel intimidated. Nothing is worth anything without him. I bury my head in his shoulder, his hold tightening around me.

“And I’m not wearing white to the wedding,” I say sweetly.

Just so we’re clear.

He snorts, and I smile, looking up to see him taking another drag.

“Yeah, me, either,” he teases.

I run my hand up his beautiful chest, tracing the dips and muscles, and then circling my arms around his neck again and kissing him there. Nothing has really changed in all this time. His smell is like my matchboxes. It feels like Christmas and the Fourth of July together.

“I love you.” I pause and then add, because I can’t help myself, “Mr. Fane.”

“Oh, Jesus, fuck,” he grumbles and sits up. “I need a drink.”

Huh? I hold tighter, damn-near falling off as he tries to get up from the chair.

“Off me, now,” he orders. “I need a drink, Rika. Many drinks.”

I slide to the floor, the carpet scraping against my ass. I wince. “Hey.”

He pops the cigar in this mouth, shaking his head, and storms for the door.

Rika Crist just doesn’t sound right. He’s going to lose this one.

“We only have a weeks’ supply of food on this boat!” I yell as he opens the door. “So don’t wait too long to come to terms with this!”

“Goodnight!” he barks. “I love you!”

And he leaves, the door slamming rather hard for someone who says he can’t live without me.

I stare after him, a slow laugh rolling through me.

One month. I’m ready. I’m ready for it all.

And I smile, excitement coursing through me as I reach for my notebook on the table to make notes for the wedding planner.

***

Copyright 2019 Penelope Douglas. Don’t forget to check out her website for more news on her books.

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