You have no choice. Embrace the black, recognise the truth.
Gritting my teeth, I tucked the knife into the back of my waistband. The moment it was out of my grip, I breathed normally again.
“You know what I want.” My voice didn’t resemble a man anymore.
I might as well pretend I never was one. I was nothing more than a creature with the urge to bathe in his enemy’s blood. I’d never felt such baser needs or the compulsion to stab and mutilate so keenly.
Franco nodded. “I know what to do. Don’t worry, we’ve got your back, and we’ll make sure your exit is clear…” His eyes darted away before settling back on mine. “Look, if anything does go wrong, there’s a man called—”
I held up my hand, cutting him off. “I don’t want to know. Nothing will go wrong. T’as compris?” Understand?
Franco gave me a tight smile. “Of course, but...” He snapped his lips closed. Avoiding my eyes, he passed a Glock to Frederick along with a matching knife. “I know you probably won’t use these, but it’s best to be armed.”
Frederick grimaced. “I’ve managed to work with Q for years and kept my hands clean. But I’m not squeamish if I have to.”
Franco smiled, but his body language frustrated the f**k out of me. He had something on his mind, and if he didn’t spit it out who knew if he’d be compromised.
My eyes narrowed. “Speak, Franco. What the f**k do you want to say?”
He glared, before looking away briefly. “I’m just worried that we’re walking into a building full of murderers and drug dealers and Tess might not be there. What’s the next step?” He dropped his voice so only I heard it. “Sir, what if she’s run… What if others have her?”
The memory of Lefebvre rutting between Tess’s legs collided through my mind. Would I never be free of that f**king image? The hatred for myself for hurting Tess so much she ran into the clutches of a ra**st hammered me into the ground.
I clenched my fingers so hard, I pressed the trigger on the gun. Luckily for everyone in the van, the safety was on.
“They won’t give her an opportunity to run. She’ll be there.” She has to be. Otherwise, I didn’t know where the f**k to look, and that terrified the shit out of me.
Franco nodded. “Fair enough. You know this cocksucker better than I do.” He straightened. “Let’s get this ball of fun on the road, shall we?”
I nodded and slid open the door. Franco spoke to his men. “Alpha squadron with me. Beta team you’re with Dean, and Charlie outfit you’re with Vincent. Everyone, you have your orders. Follow them meticulously if you want to stay alive.”
Frederick climbed out to stand next to me as Franco’s clones disembarked the van. They moved like a legion of shadows, armed to the f**king teeth and dying to bloody their weapons.
No one spoke as Franco took the lead. With a few finger codes from him, we fell into formation. Half the team melted into darkness as if they evaporated into the night. The other half plastered themselves against the rich architecture of the Wolverine’s hotel. The same hotel I owned shares in, arranged permits and consents for. The same hotel that gave me two slaves as bribes.
I prided myself on remembering every girl’s name, linked in my mind to the building or acquisition that allowed me to save them.
Sophie and Carmen were collateral for this particular building. Polish, and English, both beaten within an inch of their life, both forever unable to walk properly with what was done to them.
The familiar rage compounded on top of the already black blood in my veins. I pitied anyone who was my enemy—I would have a tally of deaths after tonight.
I wanted to drive a wrecking ball through every floor and crush the hotel to rubble. Fucking Russian bastard.
Within a matter of milliseconds, Franco’s team spread out and camouflaged into the night, leaving Frederick and me to stroll casually the rest of the way. The small semi-automatic weighed down my blazer’s inside pocket, and the knife pricked the top of my ass every time I stepped.
Every movement felt different: smoother, sleeker. I no longer owned my body—the beast inside did.
“Try and pretend you’re still human, man. You’re freaking me out, and I know you won’t hurt me.”
I shot a look at Frederick, who’d hidden the Glock in his suit and smoothed his gelled hair, so he looked presentable.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I growled.
“Course you don’t. But I’m telling you, lighten up, try and think of pleasant things. Your eyes are positively savage.”
Words were delays, and I wanted none of it. Glowering, I strode forward and headed toward the main entrance. The street held a couple climbing into a taxi, their luggage littered around the curb.
The doorman gave us a curt nod as we walked in. My back stayed ramrod straight thanks to the knife down my pants, and my hands ached to clench into fists and start tearing up the place to find Tess.
She has to be here. She has to be.
The lobby looked like the Renaissance period threw up on it. Scrolls and gold leaf, pretentious and ostentatious.
Trying to act normal, I eyeballed the concierge. I didn’t pay any attention to the private alcoves or carefully arranged seating nooks, nor did I listen to the gentle notes of a piano playing. I focused entirely on the man who would be my first victim if he didn’t take me to Gerald.
I demanded, “I’m here to see your boss. And before you ask if I have a f**king appointment, I don’t, and I don’t need one. Mention my name. He’ll see me.”
The elderly concierge looked down his nose, peering over half-moon glasses. “I know who you are. And he said to let you up when you arrived.”
I didn’t register shock. That would be a weakness; I was anything but weak in that moment. I was ready.
“Lead the way,” I clipped.
The man handed me a keycard and pointed at the elevator reserved for the penthouse floor. “Be my guest. I’ve been told not to disturb your meeting.” He gave me a sneer and my fingers twitched to punch him.
Frederick came to the man’s rescue by tugging my arm. “Great. We’ll head up.” He plucked the keycard from my grip, hauling me to the lift. “Wait till we’re behind closed doors before you go berserk, Q.”
I jerked my head in some sort of acknowledgement and followed him into the elevator. The doors began to close, and Franco appeared from nowhere, jumping in beside us.
“All clear as far as we can tell. I’m guessing he has his penthouse fortified. I recommend we wait till Alpha squadron can catch up.”
They were lucky I wasn’t scaling the f**king building with my bare hands. Wait longer? No f**king way.
I didn’t bother answering as the lift soared upward. I reached into my breast pocket and pulled out the gun.
Frederick eyed me warily, but then followed suit. Franco pulled two guns from his holster beneath his jacket. We nodded at each other then stared at the doors, waiting for the moment when they would open.
The three clicks of safeties being taken off helped mollify me for a moment.
Not long. Hold on, Tess.
The gentle ping of arrival sent every muscle in my body vibrating with tension. I was coiled, armed, and f**king ready to create some carnage.
The doors glided open. We crouched and moved forward.
“I expected you twenty-four hours ago, Mercer. You’re losing your touch.” Gerald chuckled the moment we stepped into the lounge.
I froze, battling back the urge to let loose the entire round of bullets into him.
The penthouse was five hundred square feet of pure decadence. Not only had I designed the hotel suite’s floor plan, but hired an interior designer who knew the value of great lighting, subtle wall tones, and elaborate wallpaper.
It was a perfect palace, sullied by the f**king gutter rat who lived there.
Gerald sat in a large weathered chair, nursing a goblet of liquor. His prosthetic leg cocked to the side awkwardly from a former gunshot, courtesy of a disgruntled business associate.
His pink scalp and wispy blond hair didn’t do anything to help his gob for a face, or the nasty scars on his cheeks. His nose was red and large, identifying him as a drunkard, and his large gut strained in the ridiculous paisley shirt. It made him look watery eyed and almost ready for the grave, but regardless of his sickly appearance, his control over his empire was legendary.
“Where the f**k is she?” I snarled.
His son appeared. My heart thudded with thick hatred and I wanted to shoot him all over again. He wore an exact replica of the jumpsuit he’d worn when he hurt Tess, only this one was a horrifying yellow. His gold-capped teeth looked garish when he smiled and waved a wooden cane in my direction in a salute.
“I never got a chance to thank you for the goodbye gift, cocksucker. Your dog over there dragged me out before I could repay the favour.” He pointed at Franco. “You’ll pay for kicking me when I was f**kin’ shot. Only way you could get one over me. If my leg hadn’t been gushin’ blood, I would’ve had you dead in a moment.”
Franco snorted. “Didn’t sound so tough when you f**king pissed yourself after I slapped you.” He leaned forward, eyes narrowing. “How about I slap you again and you can cry to Daddy?”
I swallowed hard, tasting the threat, the underlying violence in the room.
The man launched forward, and I didn’t give Franco a chance to deliver his promise. He deserved more than a f**king slap. My fist collided with his jaw, cracking in the silent room. The throb started in my knuckles and radiated up my arm, but for the first time in days, I felt like things were finally going my way.
“Come near us again and I’ll not only cripple you like your old man, I’ll redecorate your insides.”
“Enough!” Gerald demanded, throwing the goblet at my head.
I ducked, encroaching on his space. “Tell me where she is. Je ne le redemanderais pas.” I won’t ask again.
Gerald laughed, his big gut jiggling with every guffaw. “Why the hell would I know?” His eyes went from mirthful to hate-filled in a second. His entire body settled heavier in the chair as he glared at me from beneath his overhanging brow. “You shot my only son for sampling the present we gave you. Not exactly hospitable behaviour.”
My jaw ached I clenched so hard, but I didn’t move; I didn’t speak. I let him get on with his little f**king speech. The sooner he finished, the sooner I could get my hands on Tess.
“I had planned on using her myself—after all, the great f**king Q Mercer kept her as a pet, there must be something special about her cunt to warrant such a prize.”
I flinched and gripped the gun harder, imagining it was his fat-riddled neck I wrung.
“However, a better deal came along than f**king your sloppy seconds.”
My legs spasmed, dying to rush the bastard and slash the knife into his throat. My voice echoed with hatred. “Stop wasting my time.” I aimed the gun at his crotch. “Where is she, Dubolazov?”
Gerald laughed and wheezed, before answering. “That, my pu**y-whipped friend, is no longer your concern. I like keeping secrets. Consider this my notice that I will no longer do business with you.” He looked at his oaf of a son, huddled by the wall, nursing his bruised face. “After all, I can’t deal with a man who severely injured my own, can I?”
Something slithered over me. Something cold and sinister and normally I would fight. I would stop the shutting down of my emotions and the remainder of humanity receding like a wakeless tide, but I didn’t. I let the conversion happen, and the gun grew heavy in my hands.
Did he honestly think I wouldn’t kill him if he had nothing to offer me?
Dubolazov seemed to track my line of thought as he swallowed, a trace of fear ringing his eyes. “You can’t kill me. It would be business suicide. You so much as look at myself or my son again and I’ll crucify you.”
I shrugged. I honestly didn’t care. All I cared about was finding Tess and giving her the best life I could.
Shuffling sounded behind me and Franco yelled, “Stay right f**king there. Just having a conversation, boys. No need to get your cocks out.”
I looked over my shoulder at the three guards who’d arrived, all waving guns, trying to decide who to train their sights on. Deciding I was the greatest threat, they pointed the muzzles in my direction, even as Franco and Frederick trained theirs on them.
Raising an eyebrow, I held up my gun, letting it dangle from my finger. “All good. Just finishing up our little chat, then we’ll go.”
No one moved as I placed the gun on a side table and inched forward.
Gerald glared, but didn’t order the men to kill me.
I stopped within grabbing distance and gave him a thin smile. “So, you mean to take your secret to your grave, Dubolazov?”
One last chance to give me Tess’s location. Then I’d grant mercy. I would walk away. I would cage the demon inside me and not f**king maim him.
He leaned forward, sending a whiff of vodka into my face. “I’ll never tell a f**king prick like you. You pretend to be one of us, but you free merchandise. Slaves we’ve dedicated time to break, women who, by right, belong to us until their godforsaken little pussies wear out. Fuck you, Mercer. We’re done here.” He lowered his voice to a hiss. “I hope she’s dead already.”
The switch inside sprung permanently free, and I moved.
Time slowed as I reached for the knife in my trousers. I existed in slow motion as the blade came free, my arm swung forward, and the obstruction of gristle and windpipe gave way under the sharp metal.
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