You don’t become the fiancé of one of the most powerful crime lords in the city without understanding exactly how gritty and depraved the world truly is… and how to thrive in the inferno. After five years spent under his controlling thumb, Daniela knows her position with a man like Vincent Stacatto is precarious, but as long as she plays by the rules of his “game”, she’s safe… Until she’s taken by the devil. Kidnapped by a rival boss, Daniela becomes a pawn between two powerful forces, and just another casualty in a bloody game of chess. But to get to the top, and stay at the top, you have to fight dirty and hold nothing back, because the most dangerous piece on the board isn’t the King. Contains Mature subject matter not suitable for those under 18.
I think I hate him the most of all. The bastard with the blue eyes—he’s watching me even now.
The other men are mere dogs like Vinny. They don’t understand anything but violence and bloodshed. But he...this man is different. He’s colder. He’s calculating. He is a snake circling the carnage and swallowing down his chosen prey before the poor soul even knows what’s happening.
Though, maybe it’s the alcohol that makes me so angry. My head drifts. My thoughts are harder to grasp, and sanity is like a rudder, struggling to propel me through the darkness. The bottle is gone; I don’t know what he’s done with it, or if it was really there in the first place.
Delirium likes to play tricks on an already exhausted mind. My head is on a cloud. My right ear is miles away, and everything else feels like distant pulses. I can see my other limbs when I crane my neck down, but controlling them seems about as easy as telling smoke in which direction to float.
I can’t help feeling like this is his own selfish pittance; make the poor girl so drunk she won’t be able to feel her own rape. Hell, maybe she’ll pass out during it. Whatever helps him sleep at night.
Silly, silly bastard. Didn’t he know how impossible it was to sleep with the souls of others weighing you down? They whispered in your ear at night, right before you drifted off, and they haunted your dreams, turning them into nightmares. I haven’t slept in five years. I cease to exist at night. I go numb right until the exact moment that slumber takes me. Then, I open my eyes again, wide awake, and it’s torment.
On second thought, he doesn’t seem as tired as I am. He drank more than me, and yet his posture is stoically erect. He watches me unashamedly. He’s counting down the hours.
“Vinny.” I don’t know why I speak. My voice is a hollow whisper that slithers to the farthest reaches of the room—he can’t pretend like he doesn’t hear me. “Vinny. You want to know what would really make him angry?”
My tormentor doesn’t answer, but I know I’ve piqued his interest.
“If I willingly f-fucked another man...that would make him anggrrrryy.” My tongue fumbles with the words and then end on a sudden hiccup. “That would make him want me back.”
If only so he could kill me himself.
The man doesn’t seem impressed by what I’ve said. He’s un-amused by the unfiltered Daniela, but she suddenly feels desperate to have an audience.
“I would do it, too,” I tell him. Virginal Lynn’s deep, dark secret. I would take anyone over Vinny. The red-haired man. Any one of his thugs. The man with blue eyes.
Anyone. I’d deny him the one thing of value I had left. No matter how tonight ended, Vincent Stacatto wouldn’t claim all of me.
“I’d do it,” I say out loud, just to make it sink in. My confirmation to the universe if not to the man himself. Vinny would never have me fully. The thought makes me snicker, and the blue-eyed man pulls away from the wall, bored of me already.
I watch him head to the doorway that leads to the stairs. There he pauses, and it’s only then that I realize someone else is already in the process of descending them.
“It’s show time,” the red-haired man declares in a guttural rumble. His eyes burn with a sickening mixture of rage and excitement.
Slowly, my gaze drifts over to focus on the wall. I’m not here anymore. I see a stage...a cello. I’m playing Bach. My mind spins the invisible notes. I focus hard on crafting the melody, its soothing cadence. But I’m too dizzy. Words break through the song.
“What the fuck is wrong with her? Is she drunk?” The words dissolve into countless syllables that bounce across the room. My head throbs. A million thoughts and fears leak through the cracks these men have beaten and cut into—I can’t hide them anymore.
A hand grazes my shoulder, and I flinch. Then the entire chair is wrenched out from under me, and I land hard on the floor. My knee smarts. More pain joins the symphony of it that fights with the rising stream of voices for my attention.
“Set up the camera—”
I bite my lip to silence a scream and squeeze my eyes shut, blocking out the room and the men who crowd it. I’m not here. I’m floating...flying...playing. Bach’s melody fills my ears again. My bow is in my hand. I can feel the tension in the strings.
“All right...get her clothes off.”
A hand seizes the collar of my borrowed shirt and tugs. I hear ripping. There’s cool air on my back and the laughter and jeers of countless men battle with my attempts to ignore them. My cello is too heavy to lift. The bow breaks. The music dies off.
All at once, I’m lying on an ice-cold floor, clothed only in a pair of underwear, which someone attempts to drag down my legs while they croon what a “sweet ass” I’ve got into my ear.
The hands stop tugging, but the calloused fingertips still graze my skin. Whoever speaks...he has a voice that makes the entire room go silent. The roar of a lion is heeded by all predators. A part of me flinches in recognition. I know that voice, but my mind is too busy spinning to place it.
CRESCENDO EXCERPT 2
I wake up in the lair of a beast. His scent irritates my nostrils, though for some reason my lungs heave to breathe him in. I’m nauseated by his flavor, but my belly is a shriveled ball, devoid of anything left to force out through my mouth in protest.
I don’t know how long I lie there. How long before my eyes manage to peel open one by one and light stabs at them like jagged pieces of glass. I’m naked. Damp sheets create a shocking sensation that I can feel against nearly every part of my body. My head throbs, and it’s almost ironic—my fingers prefer the strings, but my brain apparently has taken up percussion. It hammers out an unsteady rhythm against the inside of my skull.
I can’t decide if I’m alive or if this is that eternal torment in hell that Bibles warn about. An agonizing few seconds pass, but I still don’t know which destination seems more appealing, Hell or Vinny? Then I see him. My vision is a colorless blur, reducing him to nothing more than a splash of shadow against an otherwise gray surface—but those eyes shine through, unsettlingly clear. Through the chaos of my thoughts, a single name comes tumbling out. Dante. A part of me scuttles away from it the way a roach escapes the light. It’s a terrible thing to learn the name of a monster. I’ll settle for choosing a made-up one to call him instead.
I blink until his dark features form into more solid lines. In the pale light that comes in through the window, he almost seems harmless. Lucifer. He used to be an angel, I remember. God’s favorite before he fell. I’ll call him that.
Lucifer doesn’t react when he sees that I’m awake. He eyes me coldly, and then he turns his gaze to the empty wall behind me instead. Broken women are such a poor way to start the morning off, who could blame him?
He sits a few feet away with his back braced against the wall. There’s something on the floor beside him. Two almost invisible cylinders...white caps...light blue labels. Before my mind can settle on an identity for them, he bats at one with the flat of his hand, and it rolls toward me.
Water! I lunge for it, bringing a million different agonies to life. I try to ignore them as I capture the bottle in a trembling hand and wrestle off the cap. I’m too exhausted to pull myself upright, so I tilt my head instead and allow the water to pour into my open mouth like a funnel. More of it winds up dribbling onto the sheets than going down my throat, but I manage to drain most of the bottle in seconds. Before I can even choke down the last drop, Lucifer nudges the second bottle toward me.
I reach down to trap it in a fist while easing my body upright this time. God. The world pitches and sways beneath me. It’s like I’m on the merry-go-round my brother and I used to frequent as children. My throbbing head even manages to tap out a lively beat.
Staring down at the blankets twisted around my legs, I inhale. Then I bring the bottle to my lips and greedily take in every last drop. The moment I do, Lucifer stands and inclines his head toward the doorway that leads out into the hall. The command may be silent, but it’s no less authoritative than one of Vinny’s shouts. Come. Now, Daniela!
I glance at my pathetic, bruised body. I’m naked, except for a pair of black underwear that survived my trip from Vinny’s town car. Other than that, pale skin and numerous imperfections paint a morbid picture. I hate the fact that he’s seen me like this. His eyes have traced Vinny’s brand without a shred of emotion. If only I could be as indifferent to it.
He’s impatient, lingering on the threshold of the bedroom like an animal uncomfortable with being locked in a cage, even one of his own making.
I eye the gray carpet while my tongue shoots out to trace my bottom lip and returns with the flavor of blood. Standing has never felt like a more impossible task. A part of me just wants to ignore him and lie here until these men finally settle on a use for me. I’m so tired. At least Vinny rarely delayed his punishment. Retributions for breaking his rules came swiftly—he didn’t like to play around with his food. Unless, of course, he was in a mood.
Setting the empty bottle aside, I brace one of my hands against the floor and attempt to push off that way. I manage to clear the mattress about an inch before my arm gives out and I land on my side, croaking out a gasp of pain before I can smother it. Lucifer watches as I grit my teeth and try again. God...the pain...I can taste it. The left side of my face aches. The room’s still air assaults the tender flesh there like a repeated blow. My eyes water. Focus, Daniela. For a second, I imagine that Vinny’s here, sneering down at me from the man’s position.
Get a fucking hold of yourself, Lynn.
I hate myself for the fact that even the imaginary threat of him is enough to marshal my body into action. I crawl over to the wall and then use the surface of it for leverage to slowly climb upright. For a moment, I think I’ll lose my balance again, but my trembling knees hold up. I succeed in taking a step in the man’s direction, and he enters the hallway without a word.
It’s a slow, agonizing shuffle down the hall to enter what seems to be a small sitting room. I have to cling to the wall the entire way before choosing to crawl on my hands and knees to a couch, which I scramble onto.
“Here.” The man throws something at me while I settle on the uneven cushions. They’re upholstered in a faded material that seems to sport blue and white stripes. At some point, the colors must have been vibrant. Now they’re worn and gray in places. I picture the leather furniture that decorated the suite I’d called home for five years. Vinny certainly wouldn’t approve of this abode. The furniture is minimal. There’s an armchair matching the style of the couch a few feet away, resting against the wall. There’s a small television as well, and a plain coffee table sits in the center of the carefully assembled selection. Someone’s tried their best to make it homey, I think. But furniture and blue curtains can only go so far to displace the otherwise charged atmosphere. I feel like I’m in a pot, dangling above a pit of fire—while I may not be able to see the flames through the metal prison, I can still smell them. Their heat tickles my skin.
Lucifer’s eyes burn like that inferno. He nods to a wad of gray fabric that has appeared on the couch beside me. “Put it on,” he says. Each word is pronounced slowly and deliberately. It’s like he knows that my brain will take twice as long to process them.
Put it on? Oh, that’s right. I’m naked. My hand drifts out, and my fingers seize a handful of cotton. Another shirt, apparently. This one doesn’t smell like him, but I pull it onto my lap, fingering the hemmed edges. I glance up to find him watching, and then I set the shirt aside.
There’s no use in donning another garment that will wind up being torn off. I’m too exhausted. I’ll make it easy for these men. Lucifer frowns at the disobedience, but he says nothing. His eyes drift over me, lingering over the center of my torso, and I realize that he wants me covered for his own benefit. No man likes to be reminded of the power of another, but I’m too tired to humor his pride. His gaze can’t violate me any more than Vinny’s hands already have.
He blows out a harsh sound the way a penned bull does when it paws the earth, right before lunging for the bullfighter egging it on. Then he turns and approaches a refrigerator that is separated from the rest of the room by only a row of counters. He rummages through the cabinets and then turns to face me.
“What do you want?”
I stare blankly until he raises both of his hands, revealing what he holds in either one. The right contains a bag of bread. The left holds a colorful box sporting a grinning chipmunk in the process of shoving round bits of cereal into its mouth. Chunky Bites.
“What do you want to eat?” he demands again. His voice deepens when he’s losing his patience, I notice. It’s a chilling sound.
My mouth opens. Whatever you think is best. Those words are on the tip of my tongue...but I wrestle them back at the last moment. My hand rises from the couch and a trembling finger points toward the Chunky Bites.
He slams the box down onto the counter and then grabs a bowl from one of the cupboards. I watch his fingers move, almost studiously, as he tilts the box, allowing a pile of chunky bites to fall into it. Then he douses it all with milk from the fridge. My mouth waters. My greedy hands shake as he crosses the room and shoves the bowl toward me. I bring the rim of it to my mouth and sip at the strange concoction before I even notice the spoon he offers me next. It tastes like sugar, and my eyes drift shut as I swallow.
How long has it been since I’ve eaten cheap, commercial cereal? How long has it been since I’ve chosen for myself what to eat at all? Those two combined luxuries explode the moment I shove the first spoonful into my mouth and chew.
It’s good. I’m shoveling more into my mouth, quicker than I can get it down. It’s like I blink and the bowl is empty, and Lucifer is already snatching it away. Before disappointment can really descend, he returns. The bowl nearly overflows with more, and I take my time with the second helping—or at least I try to. I devour every last bit of chunky, sugary “bites” and then I down the milk so quickly that most of it winds up running down my chin. I’m greedy. My tongue shoots out, tasting the remains of sugar that coat the rim of the bowl.
I hold it out to Lucifer, licked clean, but he isn’t as gracious with the servings this time. “You’ll get sick if you eat any more,” he says while marching over to throw the bowl and spoon into the sink.
I think he’s right. Already my stomach is trying to adjust to painful emptiness, sudden fullness, and the poisonous effects of alcohol. I draw my knees up to my chin and bury my face between them, just in case, but it isn’t long before the nausea dissipates.
“Last night.” Lucifer uses the two words to draw my attention back to him. He stands behind the counter, bracing both of his hands on top of it. “You said that you had an idea to pay back Stacatto.”
He’s prompting me for something, but my memories are a tangled ball that hurts to unravel. I grimace. Last night...
Oh. I remember now. I’d claimed that I’d willingly sleep with a man, on camera no less, just to make Vinny seethe. God, I wish I’d been lying. Alcohol is a powerful truth serum, it seems.
“He won’t care,” I say haltingly, trying to justify the boast. “If...if I’m r-raped—” my teeth chatter over the words. “He’ll expect it. But if I was willing...”
Vinny’s perfect Lynn would never be so brazen. He’d be furious—more than that. For all my bravado, I can’t even imagine it. I rest my head on my knees instead and shut my eyes against that violent truth.
“He won’t negotiate otherwise.”
“Negotiate?” Lucifer’s voice is an almost amused drawl. “What makes you think that Ar...we want anything in return for you?”
I lift my shoulder in an artless shrug. So, it is true—these men only aim for revenge. How pathetic. It’s such...such a waste. Vinny will be able to make his Lynn a martyr, justifying more of his madness, and these men will just suffer a grisly end for their defiance.
It’s all enough to make me sigh, rustling the loose ends of my hair.
“You need a shower,” Lucifer declares, his tone wrought with disgust.
“Why?” My voice is a tired croak. My body prefers to wallow beneath a layer of misery and pain. It smells better on me than Vinny’s false perfume and cologne. I just want it over with. If these men want me, they’ll just have to contend with the blood.
“Why?” Lucifer doesn’t like being questioned. He turns each one of mine into a verbal missile that lands with an impact that makes me wince. “Because when you plead for your life, you might want to look like less of a used-up coke whore.”
A part of me stings beneath the harsh assessment. Then I register the rest of his words with a frown. Plead? I groan with the effort it takes to lift my head and meet his gaze. I intend to contradict him—hell, he could kill me himself, here and now. It wouldn’t matter.
But he’s ready for me. “You want your revenge against Stacatto? Then do what the fuck I say.” He cuts his gaze toward the hallway. “Clean yourself up.”
About Lana Sky
Lana Sky is a reclusive writer in the United States who spends most of her time daydreaming about complex male characters and legless cats. She writes mostly paranormal romance, in between watching reruns of Ab Fab and drinking iced tea. Only iced tea.