*There is a part 2 coming on Devil’s Night. This doesn’t end in a cliffhanger, but it does tease of the next scene to come. Please read with caution as Part II will not be released until October 30. This scene will remain on Penelope Dougla’s website, so feel free to go there if you want to wait for Part II to release. Happy reading!
I walk in, dropping my keys on the entryway table as I pass on my way to the kitchen. I dart my eyes up.
There are no lights on upstairs.
If she left me, I’m going to burn the whole fucking world down until I find her, and if she took my kid, I’m really going to take my time with her. This is bullshit. When I call, you answer. When my men pass you the phone, you take the goddamn call! I have no idea what the hell I did now, but I’m going to have to break something to keep myself from wringing her precious, little neck.
Cutting my trip short to race home, because she decides to ignore my calls and do little pirouettes all over my peace of mind? What the fuck? I knew I should’ve been single. I knew that I knew that, because this is what women do, isn’t it? They take you and ball you up into a nice, little fucking knot until you can’t breathe, and…
I clench my fists, shaking my head. Bullshit. This is such bullshit!
I charge down the hall toward the kitchen, ready to hit the attached garage and grab myself some rope to remind her who she’s in love with, but I spot a figure out on the patio and stop.
It’s raining outside. Who’s there?
I change directions and head for the windows.
Heath Davis, one of the guards Mr. Garin hired for the night shift, leans against the bricks of the house, shielded from the rain under the awning. His hands sit in his pockets and a cigarette hangs out of his mouth. Smoke billows into the air above his head, and I lick my lips, trying to ignore the burning need on my tongue. The problem with quitting smoking is it’s really hard if you never fully quit.
His black hair, neatly combed back, shines under the flaming porch light, and his blue eyes are turned toward the yard, watching something.
I follow his gaze.
Winter stands waist deep in the pool, her back to us as droplets pummel the surface of the water and her hair sticks to her back.
I release a breath I didn’t realize I was holding. She’s there.
She raises her arms, gliding them through the evening rain as she steps to the right, and then swings out her arms and steps to the left.
She’s dancing. She practices in the pool a lot for balance.
But then I watch as she pulls all of her hair to one side, revealing her naked back, and I drop my eyes down her spine to her naked waist and hips.
I dip my chin, my eyes going hot. She’s not wearing any clothes.
I move just my eyes, darting them over to Davis. He doesn’t blink, his gaze staying on her.
When I said watch her every minute, I didn’t mean that.
Winter turns around, still fisting her hair with both hands, so her arms are covering her breasts, but I notice the white tulle she wears covering her face, and my heart feels like it’s skipping ten beats. It’s part of the costume for her upcoming show, and she’ll practice with it to get used to it.
But only wearing that and no clothes—and as far as she knows, I’m not here to see it—really pisses me off.
I watch as she drops her arms and sways to the side, shooting out her hands and twirling in the rain. Her wild hair, the see-through fabric on her face, her perfect breasts and skin…
God, she’s fucking surreal. With something about her that will always be innocent. Thunder cracks overhead, splitting the sky, and I no longer care if she’s angry or why. I want in that pool.
Heading over to the fridge, I pull a sandwich off the tray inside and take a butcher knife out of the block, slicing the square in half before walking outside. I take a bite with the knife still in my other hand.
Davis notices me right away and straightens, stomping out his cigarette. I stare out at Winter, her slender body arching and bending and taunting the fuck out of me like she’s so good at doing. My dick swells in my pants, and I cast him a quick glance. I’ll bet his is good and hard, too.
Davis clears his throat. “You said to watch her every minute.”
I take another bite and scrape the blade across the wrought-iron fence, cleaning the mustard off.
“Excuse me, sir.” And I see him dip his head out of the corner of my eye and back away to leave.
But I stop him. “Give me your belt.”
He pauses. “Sir?”
I sheath the knife in the flower pot in front of me, stabbing the soil.
He clears his throat again, and I hear a jangling as he quickly removes his leather belt.
He holds it out for me, and I take it. “If you ever insult my wife again,” I tell him, “I’ll take my son fishing using your eyeballs as bait.”
It’s not Winter’s fault. She’s in her home, it’s late, and she should be able to expect privacy.
I fling the rest of the sandwich into the bushes and slide the end of the belt through the buckle. “Go home,” I tell him.
After a moment, I hear the back door open and close, and I head for the pool deck, belt in hand.
Raining, dark, enclosed by trees… I stalk toward her, quiet and calm. It’s like we’re kids again. I love being hidden with her outside.
Winter dances slowly, her movements long and languorous with no real choreography as she freestyles to the soft, haunting tune coming from the pool house. Her wet skin glimmers in the faint glow coming from the house, and I don’t take my eyes off her as I strip off my clothes.
Leaving them in a pile on the ground, I grip Davis’s black, leather belt in my hand and hop in the pool. She stops moving, turning her head at the sound, but she doesn’t face me or say anything.
She knows it’s me.
Threading the strap through my fist, I walk through the heated water, taking in the glittering droplets on her shoulder blades as the rain hits my own head and arms.
I stop right behind her, the top of her head resting under my chin.
“I have something for you.” I lean down, grazing her ear with my lips. “You want it?”
But she turns her head away.
I cock an eyebrow, widening the gap in the belt.
“You must be very angry,” I say. “I call, you don’t answer. I send flowers—fucking flowers, Winter—and I don’t even get a text. I tap into the cameras, and you have them offline…”
She refuses to turn around.
I drop the loop over her head and pull the slack tight, her body slamming back into mine.
She gasps, and I look down, seeing her breasts rise and fall quickly.
I dip down again. “What did I do now, huh?” I growl low in her ear.
But she whips around, the belt slipping through my hand as she sloshes through the pool and away from me.
I grind my teeth together, following her with my eyes. She stands up tall again, defiant with her hands on the surface of the pool in front of her, so she can feel me coming.
The strap of the belt wraps around her neck, the slack falling down her back, and while I can barely make out her eyes, I see her pink lips, panting through the wet fabric.
“Not talking to me?” I start to circle her. “Hmm… I must’ve done something very bad.”
Her hair sticks to one of her breasts, and I can almost feel them between my lips.
And I no longer give a shit what she’s mad about, because I want her in our bed.
“Come here,” I tell her.
But she moves away instead, sensing my approach.
“Come here, Winter,” I say more firmly.
She continues to circle as I circle, the rain dancing across the pool and splashing up onto her stomach. Every inch of her skin is drenched, and my mouth is suddenly so dry.
But she tips her chin up a little, keeping her lips good and closed.
I grin, hoping she can hear it in my voice, because I’m losing my fucking patience. “Your sister came when she was called,” I taunt.
And that is it. Winter’s icy façade suddenly cracks. Her eyes go wide and then quickly morph into a glare as she shoots out both hands and shoves water at me.
I dive in and grab her as she’s distracted, throwing her over my shoulder. “Such a troublesome girl,” I scold, slapping her ass. “Why couldn’t I like the easy one? But no, I wanted this one.”
I hold her in my arms, but she arches back up, facing down at me with a scowl as she pushes at my chest.
Darting out my tongue, I run it up her stomach, licking off the water. A whimper escapes her, but she turns her head away, playing defiant.
My dick is ready to go, but it’s funny. As mad as she gets me, I secretly love it. I like it when it’s not easy. I take some skin between my teeth, looking up to see her eyes close as she digs her nails in my shoulders.
“Yell at me,” I whisper. “Scream. Hit me.”
I grip her ass in my hands, keeping my eyes on her as I graze the underside of her breast with my mouth.
“You mad at me?” I say against her skin, seeing her nipples, erect and hard for me.
She says nothing.
My lips tickle her breasts as I continue taunting her. “You want to leave and find yourself a decent man?”
She doesn’t want someone else. She better not want someone else. She likes me misbehaved. She likes me, period.
She still doesn’t answer, but she’s no longer pushing me away.
I quirk a smile. “You wanna touch me?”
When she doesn’t say anything, I shift her to one arm and grab the belt at her back with my free hand and pull, forcing her neck back as I catch one nipple between my teeth.
She gasps. “Damon.”
I nibble hard, biting into her breast and sucking on it as her clit throbs against my stomach.
“You hate me?” I play, walking to the edge of the pool and dropping her to her feet. “You done with me? Is that it?”
I push her into the wall, seeing a smile peek out before she quickly hides it again.
“You hate what I do to you?”
She bites her bottom lip, breathing hard.
I whip her around, wrapping my arm around her waist as I press her into the pool edge and breathe hot into her hair. My dick is so hard, I can already feel it dripping.
“Talk to me,” I tell her.
Reaching around, I tip her chin up toward me and cover her mouth through the fabric, an electric current shooting through me at the feel of her tongue brushing my lips, but I can’t get at it, because of the tulle. My whole body hurts. I need her.
“Talk to me,” I whisper against her mouth. “Please.”
She keeps silent.
I nibble her lips, sliding my hand down her ass and teasing that little spot that scares her just a little.
She shudders as I push her forward and force her knee up onto the step. She leans onto the pool deck as I rub her clit with one hand and her ass with the other. My dick naturally finds where to go, pressing into her tight, little entrance.
I see her gulp.
“Talk to me,” I warn her. “If you want me to stop me…”
Then you’re going to have to ask.
Her jaw flexes as she keeps her mouth shut, and I’m not even mad. I don’t want to stop. The rain falls around us, and I lean down, sucking the water off her back as the head of my cock presses into her, and I hear her whimper as I push through her tight little opening and stop.
“Damon,” she pants, her chin trembling nervously at where I’m going. “Damon…”
But I clamp my hand over her mouth and pull her back to me, her back arching so goddamn beautiful, and I’m not even all the way inside her yet.
“You had you your chance,” I whisper in her ear. “My turn.”
I slowly slide the rest of the way in, taking it in stride as much for me as for her. She needs to adjust, but she’s so damn tight I’ll be done before we even start.
I bury myself to the hilt, feeling the cool skin of her ass pressed into my hips, and I pause for a moment to let her get used to it. Her body shakes in my arms, but as soon as her breathing starts to slow, I start moving.
Gliding in and out, shallow at first, I feel her constrict around me, and I’m reeling. I don’t care what I did. I’d happily take an eight-hour flight for this. All she has to do is ask.
After a minute, I feel her start to back up into it, meeting me halfway, and I remove my hand from her mouth.
“Don’t talk,” I tell her. “Just take it.”
I grip her hip in one hand and the belt with the other and fuck her tight, little ass, taking out all the frustration she causes me that I love. I kiss and bite her neck and lips, eating her up as I sink my body into hers with her moans filling my ears.
“Decent men don’t do this,” I tell her. “But that’s why I wanted this one. She’s a devil just like me.”
She digs her nails into the pool deck, her neck pulled back by the belt, and I look down, watching my dick slide in and out of her as her wet hair bounces against her ass.
“Harder,” she moans.
I take her hand and put it on her clit, watching her arm move quick as she rubs herself, while I fuck her.
Her moans get louder, I feel her body shake, and I pound harder as I pull the belt as taut as I can.
She screams, and I’m immediately behind her, coming with three more hard thrusts and every muscle burning to exhaustion.
Oh, God. My whole body fires up, my stomach explodes with pleasure, and I release the belt, letting her fall forward before I break her neck. She lays over the edge, whimpering and breathing hard, and I unclench my fingers from her hips, withdrawing my nails from her skin.
She whines a little when I slide out of her, but I don’t move otherwise. Leaning down, I rest my forehead into her back.
“I love you,” I say.
She doesn’t respond, and I’m too weak to keep up the pretense.
“Okay, okay,” I admit. “Yeah, I may have threatened your choreographer with…” I search for words that won’t piss her off, “removal of certain limbs. I don’t like him putting his hands there. I put my hands there.”
He doesn’t need to hold her that far up her inner thigh, for Christ’s sake, I don’t care what the lift is called or if he’s gay. Just no.
“They all need to fucking know,” I explain. “They’ll respect you, and they will respect me, so by the time Ivarsen is old enough to notice, they won’t need to be reminded again.” I stand up and turn her around, guiding her legs around me as we float back into the pool. “The only one who can bring Ivar Torrance’s father to his knees is Ivar’s mother.”
I want them all to respect me. He doesn’t touch my wife like that, and if that means they fear me, then okay.
She purse her lips to one side, looking unimpressed but not really angry anymore.
I rub her nose with mine. “Forgive me?”
She lets out a sigh but then slowly nods.
I smile, relieved. “Talk to me then?”
But then she shakes her head.
I growl and push back, letting her go. “Then if that’s not it, what the hell did I do then?” I slap the water. “Goddammit!”
She stands up, replying flatly, “You won the bet.”
And then she turns around, finding the edge of the pool and hopping out.
It only takes a moment for the light to dawn, and I realize what she’s talking about. The bet. My chest swells, and a smile spreads across my face as I dive for the edge of the pool, catching up with her.
“And you let me fuck you like that?” I scold, hopping out of the pool and lifting her up again.
Her arms and legs wrap around me, and I gaze up at her beautiful face as she strips off the mask and the belt.
“Yes, because I needed that,” she admits, looking embarrassed. “You know I’m all over you in the first trimester, especially.”
I laugh and squeeze her harder. I never actually thought I’d succeed. After Ivarsen was born, I wanted to keep going. Kids in our twenties, raise them in our thirties, and ship them off to college in our forties when we’re still young enough to have the house to ourselves and still be kinky, you know?
But she read some study that gifted children are usually only children or in families where the kids are five years or more apart. She wanted Ivar to have our complete attention during his formative years or some shit.
So we made a bet. She would get pregnant if I could get her pregnant. While she was on birth control.
I knew I was Superman.
“You’re mad you’re pregnant again?” I tease.
“I’m mad I lost the bet,” she snaps.
I kiss her. “Do you really think I’d not let you have something you wanted?”
She smiles. “Really?”
“You want a motorcycle, you get a motorcycle.”
Her face lights up with her beautiful, excited smile, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to take her out in the middle of the night on the empty roads.
After the baby comes, of course.
“I love you,” she finally says back.
I let her down, and we both walk to the pool house, grabbing towels laid out under the awning.
“And in all fairness, I wasn’t trying to cut your trip short,” she explains. “I’m sorry. I was just making you mad enough that you’d hunt me down when you got home.”
A mischievous smile spreads over her face.
Honestly, I don’t even care anymore. Michael and Kai can handle the meetings, and I love the angst in the games Winter and I play. When we’re in bed—or the pool—it never feels like we left high school. We’re perpetually two horny teenagers, and I feel alive in my life every day.
I wrap a towel around my waist. “Has he been good?”
“Yeah.” She nods. “The nanny wanted to give him a sliver of chocolate to see his reaction, but I told her we needed to wait for you.”
Hell yes. First chocolate? That’s big.
Winter was timid about having a nanny at first, guilty that she couldn’t do everything herself, but it’s been good. It gives us a little more time alone here and there, too.
She covers herself, and I take her hand. “Come on. I wanna see him.”
I know he’s asleep, but it’s been a week.
But she digs in her heels, stopping us. “He’s um…”
I look at her, my nerves instantly firing. “What?”
“He’s um…” She swallows. “Not here.”
“He’s not here?” I repeat. “He’s twelve months old, Winter. Where is he?”
She shifts on her feet. “Rika wanted him for the night.”
“Rika…” I say. “And she took him to Meridian City?”
Winter turns her head away, telling me all I need to know.
I nod and grab her hand, leading her back to the house. “Of course not.”
Minutes later, we’re in the car and racing down the road, heading for the Fane house. I can’t believe they’d do this while I was away. If I hadn’t come back tonight, would I ever have known?
Winter sits up, dressed in a jeans and navy blue sweater, her wet hair combed and in a tight ponytail as she faces my direction. “Don’t be mad at me.”
“You know how I feel about this,” I tell her, grinding the wheel in my fist. “There’s no one else on my side. Not even Nik. You need to stand by me on this.”
“I am,” she rushes out. “I just… I don’t know.” A look of guilt crosses her face. “I guess I felt sorry for her. Rika said she’d be there every minute. I wouldn’t put him in danger, Damon.”
His “grandmother” is danger.
I want to be angry with Winter. She, above anyone else, should stand by me. She knows why I don’t want Ivarsen around Christiane, and it’s for good fucking reason.
But it’s not like I don’t go behind her back to educate her choreographer from time to time or see to it that her old pal Ethan suddenly lost his interest in photography.
But this is our son, dammit. They don’t get to make decisions about him without me. Rika has no business sticking her nose in this.
“You know she can’t prove herself if you don’t give her a chance,” Winter points out.
“She had a chance.”
After a short pause, Winter adds, “Yeah, so did we.” Her voice is somber as we both stare out the windshield. “Thank goodness we gave each other another one.”
I storm through the dark house, holding Winter’s hand, and spot Rika standing outside the library, looking through the windows in the closed doors. A couple of other people stand next to her, and I charge over, the sight of Christiane holding a sleeping Ivar in her arms as she sits in a chair coming into view beyond the glass. A man is in the room with her, reading quietly on the sofa as she rocks my kid.
I reach out and grab the handle, but Rika twists around and steps in front of me, covering my hand with hers.
“Move,” I order her.
“She’s not hurting him.”
“That’s right. She won’t.”
“Damon, calm down,” the guy next to her says.
I look over, seeing Will’s cousin, Misha.
I glare at him. “Eat my dick.”
Winter groans at my side, and some chick with Misha comments, “Oh, so this is Damon.”
But I turn my anger back on Rika.
She stares up at me, holding my stare. “Misha?” she says. “Will you give us a second?”
Yes, please. Piss off.
Winter slides out of my hand. “Misha, can you show me the sun room?” she asks him and then to us, “I’ll let you two have at it. Sorry, Rika.”
“Sorry for putting you in the middle, Winter,” Rika tells her.
They leave, and I try to push past her, my eyes darting from her to Ivar.
“That kid doesn’t absolve you.” Rika inches in front of me again, trying to catch my eyes. “He doesn’t make your past go way or make you better than her.”
I get in her face, gritting out. “Move.”
But she doesn’t. “You tied me to a bed,” she says. “Kissed me. Bit me. Even as I cried.”
The memory of all the times I tried to hurt her—did hurt her—rushes at me, but I push them away.
“Wanted to share me with your friends,” she goes on. “Wanted me to yourself for a little while, too, remember that?”
My stomach knots. What the hell?
“Your little sister…” she taunts.
I grab her arm and pull her away from the doors, shoving her into the wall. “You shut up about that shit,” I whisper, seething down at her. “I never want to hear about it again.”
“You threw me on the ground and tried to take off my clothes…”
I rear back, running my hand through my hair. What the fuck? I thought we were okay. Why is she doing this?
“I didn’t want you,” she continues to fucking talk, “but you forced your mouth on me anyway.”
Taking her by the wrist, I pull her into the kitchen, her bare feet stumbling across the hardwood floors. I force her into the wall and glare down at her.
“I would never have done anything,” I growl, no longer keeping my shit to a whisper. “I would never have hurt you!”
She answers so quickly and so easily that I hesitate, because I expected her to argue.
She knows. She knew.
Well, at least there’s that. But still… She can’t compare Christiane to me. We’re not the same. Yes, I made enough mistakes to last a lifetime, but I’m not a bad parent, and that’s just about the worst thing you can be.
And she was bad for twenty-three consecutive years. Not only did she completely abandon her child, but she put me in the hands of people who were evil.
I made my mistakes when I was young. When I was angry. When I was…alone.
I’m not those things anymore.
What does Christiane have to say for herself, huh?
“And I know you never will hurt me,” Rika tells me, her eyes soft and glistening. “I trust you. So trust me.”
I narrow my eyes, part of me wanting to give her what she wants. It’s only fair, and I want to trust her.
But she’s too good at getting what she wants out of me. Of sacrificing her queen to get my king.
We stare at each other, her words hanging in the air, but then I hear a ringing, and she raises her fingers to her ear, tapping on her earpiece.
“Erika Fane,” she answers the phone, holding my eyes. “Charles, so nice to hear from you.”
A glint hits her eyes, and I stand up straight, but she stays glued to the wall, watching me as she talks.
“Yes, my assistant sent the itinerary. I can’t wait.” She smiles.
I slowly release the knots in my stomach, calming my breathing as I wait for her.
Charles…itinerary…She’s been busy, trying to finish her degree and mayor the town. It’s impressive, though. Putting her into position was one of the better ideas I’ve ever had.
“Oh, rest assured our future alumni are in good hands,” she tells whoever she’s talking to. “I’ll be there early.” She laughs as I hear a male voice on the other end. “Oh, yeah, you know me. Overprepared every time.”
I watch her, graceful and well-spoken. A true player.
“No, Michael is in London,” she tells him. “But keep his seat open.” She eyes me. “I might still be escorted.”
I almost snort. As in moi?
Bitch just took my king. She knows I want this. Escorting her to a function in Thunder Bay. Making a public appearance at a respectable event. Having my wife, my kids, and my sisters around me and slowly building my family and our world, so that when my kid—my children—are old enough to remember, they won’t know it was any other way.
She does trust me. God, I don’t know why, but… she did let me go when she could’ve turned me in. And then she rescued me and bled for me and fought with me…
“I know what you do to parents who hurt you,” she finally says, returning to our discussion. “Do you really think I’d put her in your path if I weren’t sure?”
My mouth curls a little, amused. “You scared of me?”
“Oh, lots.” She nods exaggeratedly.
I laugh and turn around, relaxing a little as I walk to the sink and fill up a glass of water.
I gulp down all of it as she pulls some things out from the refrigerator.
She pulls up her hair into a bun and takes out a slice of bread, scooping some tuna onto the slice.
A hunger pang hits at the smell, and I realize all I had to eat today was that half sandwich a half hour ago. Coming to stand at her side, I take a slice out, too, and scoop some tuna salad onto the bread.
“Charles,” I repeat the name of who she was just talking to. “Kincaid?”
As in our old dean who’s still dean of Thunder Bay Prep and helped Winter’s father take me down the morning I was arrested?
Rika smiles to herself, and I look down to see her take her single slice filled with tuna and fold it in half, peeling off the top crust. I falter, glancing down at my sandwich, which is already folded the same way. Huh.
“I’m giving the orientation speech tomorrow for the incoming seniors,” she explains, taking a bite.
“And Michael and Kai are in London,” I add, “trying to wrangle that architect.”
I was there, too, until Winter decided to be funny.
So Rika had no one to escort her, except me.
She trails around the island, sitting down on a stool.
She props up her elbows on the counter. “I mean, you don’t have to escort me,” she explains. “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself. And the Andersons will be there, not to mention Kincaid still hates you, so…”
Is she trying to get me excited?
“You just might steal the show.” She feigns a sigh, sounding forlorn. “And I know how you like to keep a low profile.”
I chuckle, peeling off my crust. She’s as good as Winter at playing me, but I can’t say I don’t enjoy it.
But… I also know she wants a show of trust, too.
I don’t want Ivarsen around Rika’s mother. But I’m not entirely sure it’s because I don’t trust her.
Maybe I want to punish her. Maybe I’m jealous that he gets to have what I didn’t.
I stare down at the sandwich I can no longer eat, my stomach churning and the hint of bile in my throat.
If I want Rika, and I want my kids to have her, there’s no getting around Christiane. I don’t want to have to explain to them why they can’t see her or why they can’t come here.
“He can stay the night,” I tell her, “and we’ll see how it goes.”
She’s silent, but I can see her looking at me out of the corner of my eye. “Anything beyond that goes through me.” I look over at her. “You understand?”
And if Christiane disappoints me, she will meet her maker before she ever meets another kid of mine.
I toss the sandwich down on the counter, filling up another glass of water. I have to get this taste out of my mouth.
“Winter’s pregnant again, isn’t she?” Rika asks, taking another bite.
“How did you know?”
She shrugs. “She’s been tired. Nauseous.”
Well that explains why she took the cameras offline then. She didn’t want me to see.
Rika leans on the counter, her eyes downcast as she plays with the rest of her sandwich. Her throat moves up and down as she swallows and then her jaw flexes like she’s deep in thought.
I take a drink and then dump out the rest of the water. “What?”
She darts her eyes up. “Nothing.”
But she’s not convincing. She’s thinking something.
“What?” I grit out again.
But she fires back. “Nothing.”
Her gaze falls to her sandwich again, and I decide to leave it. She knows how to solve her problems.
Which reminds me…
“While we’re on the subject, I want you married before you have his child.”
She laughs at me. “You want?”
I nod. “Kai married Banks in a day. What’s taking so long?”
It was a little different when she was just my friend’s girlfriend, but things have changed.
“You’re not married to Winter yet, either.”
“Winter and I are waiting for Will to come home,” I point out.
“Yeah me, too,” she quickly replies as if latching onto the first viable excuse I was stupid enough to give her.
But that’s not it. I know it’s not it. They’ve been engaged for a while, and Will only left town about a year ago. At first, I thought it was Michael. His schedule, his obligations, etc.
I’m not sure it’s his fault anymore, though. What’s going on with her?
I watch her play with her bread, remembering the first time we were alone in a kitchen together. I had to be fifteen. She saw me, stopped breathing, and left as quickly as possible.
Now she rarely makes a move without my knowledge or input.
“You know what a papal conclave is?” I ask.
She shakes her head a little. “Um, kind of, I guess.”
I slide my hands into my pockets and lean against the fridge. “When it’s time to elect a new pope, every cardinal in the college of cardinals under the age of eighty is locked in a room until they can come to an agreement on who the new pope will be,” I explain. “They started doing this, because eight hundred years ago, it took three years to choose a new pope due to political infighting. People don’t solve problems if they’re not forced to face them, you know? Now, the cardinals are led into the Sistine Chapel, there’s a shout of “extra omnes” meaning “everyone out”, and the doors are chained shut, locking them in until they solve the problem.”
We might not make the best decisions under pressure, but you can’t make a decision at all when you’re not talking about it.
She sits there, the wheels in her head turning. “Conclave,” she murmurs to herself.
“It’s a good idea when you’ve got things to settle, you know?”
We have weddings to plan. Projects that can’t stall, because her fiancé is always out of town. Winter wants to start some humanitarian organization, and I know Kai’s family has connections abroad who can help.
Not to mention Banks. We need everything nicely set up for my plans for her, and it’s past time to get started. I’ll need help getting her on board.
And keeping Kai out of my way about it.
And, of course, there’s Will.
“Pithom,” she says.
I meet her eyes, a smile spreading across my lips. Michael’s family’s yacht. Not a bad location. No need for locked doors, because there’s no escape at sea.
Someone enters the room, and I look up to see Misha walk in, Winter holding onto the other girl’s arm.
“I need to talk to you,” he says to Rika.
She slides off the stool. “Right,” she says like they had a conversation I interrupted when I showed up. “I’m sorry.”
I take Winter’s hand and guide her over to me, locking eyes for a moment with the chick who brought her in.
“Who is she?” I ask.
But Misha takes the woman’s arm and slides her behind him, out of my view.
I snort. “I just wanted to say hi,” I tease. “I mean, we’ll all run into each other a lot. She may as well get to know me.”
If his dad is dating Rika’s mother, and they possibly get married, we’ll all have to get really friendly.
Winter chimes in. “His bite is worse than his bark, but he only bites me,” she assures the new kids. “Don’t worry.” And then she arches up on her toes to kiss my jaw. “Get along, please.”
Misha’s snotty little glare rests on me, because he wouldn’t know a good time if it sat on his face. The girl is cute, though.
He finally turns his eyes to Rika. “When was the last time you heard from Will?”
My stomach coils at the mention. Will is rarely in touch these days, but he is adamant that he needs to do what he needs to do. I left him once, after all. If he could wait me out, I can do the same for him.
“He texts,” Rika answers.
“He texts you?”
“Well, his parents,” Rika replies. “They say he’s on a retreat. Doing humanitarian stuff in Asia.”
Misha shakes his head. “They’re lying.”
“How do you know?” I chime in.
“Because I know them,” he shoots back. “His mother nods a lot when she’s saying things that aren’t true.”
Rika looks at me. “Rehab?”
Possibly. They could be getting him sober and keeping it quiet.
But it’s Misha who responds. “They would tell us, because they know Will would anyway once he got out.”
“They might not want us looking for him, though,” Rika suggests.
“Well, I think we should,” Misha tells her.
I thin my eyes, liquid heat running down my arms, because now he has me afraid.
“Why are you worried?” I ask him.
“Because my grandfather is coming up on re-election, and Will is a mess.”
The weight of what he’s suggesting slowly starts to sink in. My father threatened me with it countless time, but I’ve never heard of anyone actually being sent there. He’d be in more danger there than not.
But …he’d be out of the way. He’d be unheard and unseen. No longer a liability.
“Ivar was born a year ago.” I look down at Rika as I hold Winter’s hand, realization hitting me. “He wouldn’t have abandoned me this long. Not willingly.”
She shakes her head. “They wouldn’t…”
“I really hope not,” I say. “Even if we can find it, we’ll never get in.”
Misha moves up, standing directly at Rika’s side. “Don’t you worry about it,” he tells me. “We’ll take care of it.”
What? We’ll take care of…
I grab Rika’s arm and pull her over to my side as I glare at him. “That’s right. We will.”
You little shit. You know what your parents almost married makes you and her? Absolutely nothing. No one shuts me out.
“This is family business,” he maintains.
“And I’m the oldest,” I fire back, inching forward. “Get in line.”
He may very well be her step-brother at some point, but I’m blood.
“Guys…” Rika’s shoots out her hands to push us both back.
“You fucked him up enough,” Misha warns, meeting me eye to eye, “and I’m not twelve anymore.”
“Yeah, I know.” I smile, giving him a pat on the cheek. He jerks away. “You grew into a pretty young thing, didn’t ya, Princess?” I flick the earring in his lip. “You wear more jewelry than a chick, but let’s get one thing clear. The only thing those pathetic tattoos serve to do is hide that baby soft skin underneath.”
He smirks. “Turning you on, am I?”
His girl snorts behind him, and I scowl.
Misha pushes forward, ignoring Rika’s protests. “You’re bad for him.”
“I didn’t let him O.D. to his death on my watch,” I growl, throwing the death of his sister in his face.
Misha shoves me in the chest, forcing me back, and the next thing I know, we’re both on the ground, scrambling to get on top of each other and punch the living daylights out of one another.
Ok, that was low. Annie was sweet and all. Honestly. But he has some nerve suggesting he’ll take care of Will better after what happened to his kid sister. What a little shit.
And to even suggest that he, Rika, and Will are “family business” that doesn’t involve me makes me want to grind my boot into his pretty, little fucking face.
“That’s enough!” Rika yells.
I feel people around us as the girls probably scramble to pull us away from each other, but he’s had this fucking coming. Wallowing around town in his own personal black parade, all woe is me, because he has a good dad and money and a safe home life but turning up his nose at it in his hippie search for truth.
Someone pulls at my shoulders as I almost get him under me, so I can straddle the little fucker and then maybe he can write a poem about it.
But then ice cold water hits us both, and I gasp, pausing long enough for Rika to kick me off of him. I fall to the side, both of us breathing hard.
Shit. My hair hangs in my eyes, and I wipe the water out of my eyes.
“Misha,” she grits out, staring down at him. “We’re having a conclave in one month. You just got yourself invited.”
And she stalks off, setting the glass pitcher down on the island.
Misha sits up, flipping me the finger. “Prick.”
I push myself to my feet. “Babysoft.”
Sea is a great place to bury bodies, you know? Deep breath, asshole.
I blow out the smoke, most of it filtering out the window. Normally, I’d go outside, but it’s still raining, and I’m too frazzled to care about one cigarette in the house.
Misha. Damon. Will.
Student. Mayor. Aunt.
I drop my eyes, taking another drag.
I want to do all of it. I hope I can do everything else I want to do, too.
A lump lodges in my throat at the thought of Damon’s conclave. There are things I need to say before I leave that boat, but I’m scared.
“I kind of regretted you never grew up with siblings,” my mother says, approaching my back, “and now that you have one, he’s an immediate bad influence.”
She wraps an arm around my waist and smiles at me, cocking an eyebrow at the cigarette in my hand. I laugh, grinding it out in the dish I brought over. Damon and I have stashes in several locations, but none here. I guess if Ivar spends more time here, Damon will, too. May as well arrange one more stash then.
I look down at the old black and white photos in silver frames adorning the little table in front of me.
My great-grandfather, circa 1900, sits on a horse at the family ranch in South Africa.
I run my finger over his ten-year-old face, the black hair and eyes like coal in the photo. “Ivarsen has the hair,” I remark. “Not the eyes, though.”
Ivarsen’s eyes are blue, like his mother’s.
“No,” my mother replies. “It skips several generations. None of yours or Damon’s children will have both.”
My children. A sinking feeling aches in my stomach.
I take a breath and pull away from my mother, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek.
“I’ll take the baby monitor in my room,” I tell her. “I want to get up with him if he wakes.”
And I start to walk away.
“When are you going to tell him?” she calls out.
I stop. But I don’t turn around, my heart beating faster. “Tell him what?”
“That your father’s will accounted for you and any other children I’d have,” she says. “When are you going to tell Damon?”
My shoulders relax. Oh, that.
I was pretty pissed when she first told me. I didn’t trust him. I wasn’t going to allow him to run my father’s work into the ground in some temper tantrum. I needed to make sure I could trust him.
In the meantime, I set aside his half in a trust for Ivar, but…
I guess my mother’s right. He’ll make something out of it. If he wants it.
But I have a feeling he doesn’t. I’m kind of proud of him. He’s the only one out of the four who can say they’re completely self-made. Damon is doing well. I kind of envy the freedom he has. He’s creating his own legacy.
But still…he should know. I was wrong to keep it from him.
“I’ll deal with it,” I tell her and continue walking.
What’s one more order of business to add to the conclave anyway? Nine friends locked on a boat with alcohol, spear guns, and the black ocean at night? This was a fantastic idea.
*Conclave Part II is coming on Devil’s Night!