- Meet The Girls
- Meet The Guys
- Chapter One
- Chapter Two
- Chapter Three
- Chapter Four
- Chapter Five
- Chapter Six
- Chapter Seven
- Chapter Eight
- Chapter Nine
- Chapter Ten
- Chapter Eleven
- Chapter Twelve
- Chapter Thirteen
This chapter is NSFW! This chapter is rated Mature for adult language, sexual content, references to graphic violence. This means that this is intended for audiences 18 and up.
Trigger warnings include: domestic violence.
Eli would never get used to the way they dressed her up. They treated her like a doll, shoving ill-fitted gowns onto an unyielding body. She admired herself in a floor-length mirror, taking note of the many gems that lined the bodice – how they accentuated her ample chest and traced a flattering line over a manufactured waist. The skirt hugged her backside so tightly, she was half-afraid the fabric would rip.
She had always boasted a more athletic physique, even long before her preternatural nature made her predisposed to the long, lean lines that were typically only made possible after hours spent at the gym. Within weeks of her transformation, she had noticed the outline of abdominal muscles, only hidden when she took too hard to the bottle. Which, of late, was often.
Her tattooed arms coiled their way around her middle, shielding herself from the phantom in the mirror. Her smile was brighter but harsher – all teeth and no glimmer behind the eye. Mussed hair was now reset into perfect, glossy waves. Dark eyeliner and harsh red lipstick now replaced with something softer. Subtler. There were appearances to maintain. Shoulders to rub and egos to soothe.
Early on, she had impressed Landyn’s father. Mr. Cole, or Julian as he insisted on being called. He was another one whose smile never met his eyes where darkness lurked beneath serene blue depths.
He was not the Devil. He was something far worse. A more ancient evil who waited on the ocean floor, waiting for the earth to once again sit over his great, gaping maw. And then the ground itself would open up and swallow humanity whole.
Darkness followed her, masquerading as her shadow. Every step blackened the ground beneath her. Once, she had believed she was a good person, with all the makings of a success story. Every adversity that had been thrown her way would be squashed, and she would stand victorious. A phoenix, risen from the ashes to stare down her nose at the demons who would try to steal her light away.
What once was a tiny flame had been snuffed out. Smothered under the tattooed hands of the very Devil who now knocked on her door.
Her hand reached instinctively for her scotch – the overpriced liquor burned on the way down only a hair less than the cheap shit did. She swallowed hard, her heels clicking self-importantly against the marble floor of her apartment.
Landyn stood on the other side, his tongue darting over his full lips as he studied her. Once upon a time, she had believed him to be a Prince Charming. A hero who had come to save her from the bedlam her life had become. It was easy to see what once had charmed her when he dressed like this. An overpriced suit, custom-tailored to hug every inch of his tall, lean frame. He wore his sandy hair closely cropped and kept his face clean-shaven – once she had believed she saw honesty in those crystal blue eyes and the near-gaunt lines of his face. Now she saw him for what he was. A reaper with a diamond-encrusted timepiece on his wrist.
He smiled at her, and ice traced a path down her spine. He wore that same toothy grin when he told her his every sin – that he took his first life at sixteen, how he tortured, tormented, and abused. She was willing to wager he wore the same smile when he sent their ‘product’ off to their deaths. Innocent young women abducted off the streets and smuggled across international lines to cater to the most lascivious, heinous desires a client could have.
She took his arm, despite the maggots she felt burrowing beneath her skin.
“You look beautiful,” he purred, his English accent doing little to charm her the way it had in the past.
“You look handsome,” she lied, the barest hint of a smile thrown in his direction.
“Tonight is a big night,” he announced. “We’re solidifying our contract with the Léandre family.”
Eli made a non-committal sound in response. It was always the same – show up, look pretty, keep her mouth shut. The up-and-coming Queen was to do little more than keep her mate’s arm warm. But she grew so very tired of these parties. Of a life, better-spent observed through the television screen. She had sampled all of the fineries the world had to offer, and she found it wanting. Tasteless. Bland.
Or maybe, it all had something to do with the new teeth in her mouth. Nothing had ever tasted the same since.
“Father requested you especially,” Landyn said, his tone indicating that she should feel fortunate. As if it was an honor to be summoned to the great sea monster’s reefs.
“I’m flattered,” she lied, smiling politely at her guards as they walked past.
Landyn didn’t take note of them. He never did. They, like most others, were beneath him. The King of bloodshed. The King of decay.
Placated by her response, they found themselves at the elevator. The same elevator she had unraveled an orange-haired dancer in only hours before. Landyn’s nose wrinkled in distaste, no doubt scenting cotton candy and cum.
Eli bit back a smile.
“You will be on your best behavior tonight,” he warned. “The deal is tenuous at best.”
“Of course,” she sighed, her throat already burning for more scotch.
The elevator began its slow descent. “The Léandre family is willing to give us the contract for part of Southern California.”
She ground her teeth, trying to forget that their contract involved trafficking women. “A big win for Omnus.”
“Very,” he said glibly. “And it’s being negotiated by me.”
Understanding washed over her, coiling itself around her ankles. It was too late now; she was already caught in the undertow.
“That’s good,” she replied breathlessly. “I’m glad your father has finally trusted you with something.”
“I am, too,” he beamed, seemingly missing the hesitation in her tone. Or, perhaps, uncaring.
The door chimed and then opened, leading them out into the lobby. They moved soundlessly through the crowd, exchanging polite smiles and even politer nods with the other residents. Landyn had everyone fooled – he played the part of doting partner so well, even she could be convinced at times. When the weakness filled her stomach and turned her insides to piles of worms. He opened the car door for her, waving the driver off as if it was a cruel affront to their relationship to have another cater to her every need.
Women would fawn, men would seethe with envy, and Eli would swallow the lie along with the bile that carved its way up her throat.
He had a quality about him that could disarm anyone. An easiness in the way he carried himself that could only have been fostered by a life of privilege. But he was the sort of person who could only be tolerated in small doses. The problem with possessing that much malignancy was that it turned everything he touched to cancer. It bled off him in uncontrollable waves, testing the boundaries of those who foolishly stepped too close to the shadows.
Mr. Julian Cole hadn’t requested her presence because he wanted her to see the formidable leader Landyn would become. It was because he knew that he would fail.
Being the eldest and heir-apparent to his father’s legacy, he had expectations placed on him that his other siblings could shirk. Unfortunately, the years of cruel grooming and fiscal compensation had left him inept. He was not diabolical – he was not a man who possessed many strategic qualities.
But that was where Eli came in. She was quick and observant after years of watching for signs of her lover’s ever-shifting temperament. Her grudging acceptance of her new lot in life left her painfully aware of the ins and outs of Omnus’ dealings – legal and otherwise. The board was always laid bare before her, the pieces always so easily within reach. With a dazzling smile and a rake of black-lacquered nails over her décolletage, she could move anyone’s fingers. To a pen. A throat.
If there was one thing she could thank Landyn for, it was how he inspired her own toxicity to flourish. She had learned what it meant to be self-possessed. To own herself. If only so she could own others.
Keep them just as she was kept. A sultry-voiced pet.
Their time spent in the car was filled with idle chatter. They knew better than to talk about business in such close confines. No one could be trusted. No driver, no guard, no friend, no lover. No one but each other. It was the credo of the felons. A toast whispered over wine glasses before the poison could even fully dissolve.
It was like someone else entirely took over as the car came to a halt outside the restaurant. Together, they stepped out from the dark interior, glittering, gleaming, resplendent as the Dark Prince and his faithful concubine ascended the carpeted steps.
They didn’t wait to be escorted to their table. They never were.
They were guided to a private room. Two couples sat close to one another – a tall, imposing brutish figure sat beside a petite blonde. She looked barely old enough to drink. But that had always been Julian’s type. At his side was a far smaller, lithe frame — Leandré. His head tilted back as he let out a rich laugh. The sort that boomed throughout the restaurant, claiming every inch of its interior as his own. He held his date ensnared, she equally as young and far more dead-behind-the-eyes.
Eli knew that look. It was the one she wore too when no one was looking. The three of them, little more than glorified dolls, meant to sit astride their puppeteer’s laps.
Julian’s eyes snapped to hers, the warning evident in the flickering scowl he wore. She nodded, her mouth pinched, her eyes darting to the man at her side. A switch flipped, and her smile grew broad – her gaze soft as if she was looking at the man she loved. Her insides twisted, protesting as they often did, recalling how reviled this psychopomp indeed was. It was easier to feel the swell of affection when she imagined that it was his throat laid bare – dreaming of the way his life’s blood would coat her tongue. The thought of his last shuddering heartbeat beneath her teeth was enough to inspire a swell of desire between her thighs.
His gaze flickered with interest, his eyes slipping longingly over her frame. Over the body that hadn’t been malleable to him in months.
They took their seats, his hand finding the smooth flesh of her thigh, teasing the hem of the silk skirt. Her hand closed hard around his, keeping it still. His jaw locked as his gaze hardened, and his expression morphed into a scowl.
“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Landyn,” Léandre crooned, his pale hand held out in offering. He looked barely a day over thirty, with perfectly coiffed auburn hair. He was handsome in an androgynous way. He might have been enticing were it not for the unnatural serenity behind his hazel eyes. One didn’t get to where Léandre was without his fair share of bloodshed.
“Narcisse,” he greeted, their hands joined together over overfilled glasses.
“And who might this be?” His attention snapped to Landyn’s side, his eyes boring holes into Eli’s.
“Elizaveta,” he replied, her name rolling off his tongue, mirroring near-perfectly its Russian inflection. Landyn’s hand lifted to possessively settle on the nape of her neck, his thumb tracing her hairline.
She did her best to resist the urge to recoil or shudder. Instead, she offered her hand to him, held delicately like a dead fish.
Léandre seemed pleased to accept it, his cool lips brushing the back of her hand sweetly. Even his breath was cold.
Eli had never met a Vampire in person, but she immediately found herself regretting that she had. “Charmed,” she lied, pulling her hand back as slowly as her self-control would allow.
“Stunning,” he murmured, his eyes roving over the tattoos across her chest. But something told her he wasn’t commenting on the artwork. “I heard that you were both quite… colorful,” he said, gesturing at them both, her ink proudly on display. “I have always loved art,” he commented.
“And so she is,” Landyn gloated, his fingers raking through the soft underside of her curls.
She stiffened, braced for his fingers to tangle in them. But, instead, his hand fell away, resting on the table’s surface.
“Quite, which leads me to the nature of our dinner together,” Narcisse reached for his glass, offering a sidelong smile to Julian. “I must admit, I’m keen to get through the finer details so we can enjoy this night together. It’s been a long time since the Léandre family and Nex have shared seats at the same table.”
In more ways than just physical, Eli recalled. They once had a business arrangement when Nex was in its infancy. Narcisse’s Sire had bad blood with Julian, which ultimately led to their dissolved partnership. However – if the rumors were true – his Sire had been dispatched by the hands of his progeny, Narcisse. Soon after, assumed the throne for himself. It was alleged that Julian had more than a bit of a hand in getting him into that position, which would have indebted the new King to him. Thus, this negotiation should be a certainty. Enough so that Julian was willing to trust his son to do the talking.
But clearly, not wholly.
Eli guarded her expression behind her glass, taking small, lady-like sips as Landyn lurched into the division of contracts and territories.
To Landyn’s credit, he had always had a head for logistics. He could piece together information like no other, but when it came to the larger picture, his brilliance faltered. Especially since the game was played at tables like this. Where drinks were free-flowing, and cigars were exhaled in the faces of their arm candy.
Eli’s eyes glazed over, her attention flitting to the server when her cup ran dry. She lifted her hand to summon them when Landyn’s smooth baritone stopped her dead in her tracks. “Maintaining a Nex presence would help you maintain control of the vineyard territories. I’m aware it’s been a struggle in the past—”
Narcisse’s eyes narrowed, his fingers tensing around his glass.
Julian’s eyes darted to Eli.
“What my love means to say,” she started, surprised at the evenness in her tone, “is that with our backing and our support, we can help ensure that Ignatiev stays where he belongs.”
Léandre’s eyes darted to hers, his mouth pressed into a thin line. Then, his head inclined toward her, indicating for her to carry on.
Landyn’s fingers dug into her thigh, pinching the skin hard. She stiffened, feeling heat flood her cheeks. Already, she could feel a bruise forming beneath his grip. She ground her teeth, her attention flitting to Julian. His stare frightened her more, forcing her tongue to loosen despite the pain dancing like fire across her skin.
“You’ve done such a remarkable job of keeping those ingrates. Your Sire,” she hissed, grimacing when Landyn’s touch roamed up higher, finding the sensitive skin of her inner thigh. Fortunately, it seemed a natural place to show sympathy. Her hand clasped onto his, her nails biting crescents into his skin, but he carried on, unperturbed. “Your Sire did not have the head for alliances as you do. He was too hot-tempered, too short-sighted. It’s emboldened Ignatiev. Nex has the muscle to loan, and while you do not need it to hold your own,” she continued, releasing Landyn’s hand when he finally relented. The undersides of her nails were dirtied by his blood as she held her hand up. “You will need it to force him into submission.”
Narcisse’s eyes darted between Landyn and herself, his expression contemplative for a long moment. She held her breath, hyper-aware of the holes Julian stared into her head.
“Elizaveta,” Léandre hummed after a long pause, her name coming out as a purr. “I like you.”
He lifted his hand to wave over the waiter. They remained silent as he ordered her another drink. It seemed that he was mulling over her words – or perhaps, more likely, treasuring the suspense. It was hard to tell with his strangely peaceful expression.
“Your partner makes a good point,” he said to Landyn, at long last.
Eli finally breathed.
“Our rekindled partnership would suit us both in chasing out what remains of our competition. We can finally reunite.”
“Yes,” Julian chimed happily, his glass lifted toward Léandre’s. “We can work out the fine details later. But, for now, I believe that requires a toast.”
They spent the remainder of the night as Eli imagined they would. Overfilled glasses and cigar smoke created dancing fog across the table.
Léandre took her hand before they left, his lips trailing over her fingers until his tongue found the dried blood beneath her nails. He wore a lecherous smile as he leaned in and whispered, “do call me if you ever get tired of being his kept pet.”
Landyn’s mood had been black, but it only blackened further. His hand closed painfully around her wrist as he dragged her back to the car. They sat in burdened silence as they drove back to her apartment, her wrist aching all the while. The car ride had been the only respite she would find. He practically wrenched her out of the car. He marched her toward the elevator, seemingly uncaring of the way that eyes tracked after their every move.
Jealousy was one of his most hideous traits. He had been insecure about every man that came around – he had killed an innocent man before turning her. His paranoia made him connect dots that were not there until he had convinced himself that she was having an affair. At the time, she had been devoutly faithful – a supplicant at the church of King Landyn. But that night had been the beginning of the end for them. When he revealed himself to be a monster with teeth and claws and proved he was more than willing to turn them onto her.
He practically threw her into her apartment, forcing her to trip and stagger over her breakneck heels as she fell in. He was on her in a heartbeat, his fingers tangling in her hair as he wrenched her head back with a suddenness that caused pain to lance up her neck.
“Just what in the Hell do you think you’re doing?” He snarled. “Embarrassing me like that in front of Léandre! You knew how important tonight was to me!”
“I wasn’t,” she hissed in pain as he wrenched her head back again, her knees buckling as he forced her backward. “You were doing wonderfully.” Fight. Flight. Befriend. She knew the siren’s song to still his hands. To calm the beast within. “You had it handled, but Narcisse is irrational,” she said, a whine slipping involuntarily past her lips as his other hand snuck around her jaw. “He needed a woman’s words,” she said, her heart hammering in her ears. His fingers dug into her mandible – she could feel his fingers pressing against her teeth, the tender skin on the inside of her mouth splitting. The taste of copper filled her mouth.
“He can’t talk like a man. So I only repeated what you said, but gentler. So he could understand.”
He stared at her for a long moment, the fury bleeding slowly away as he righted her. He moved like he had simply dipped her, his arms closing around her as he pulled her close.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured, brushing his lips over her temple. “You’re right. I didn’t see that you were only helping me.”
She shook, somewhere between terror and revulsion, as he tugged her closer.
“You’re trembling, my love,” he murmured, his thumb tracing the underside of her chin.
She jumped. He shushed her.
“It seemed like you were trying to talk over me. Like you thought you were better than me. But I see now that you were doing what any Queen should do, hm?” He lifted her chin, forcing their eyes to meet. “Supporting her King.”
He kissed her – the bourbon on his tongue being the only thing she welcomed as his tongue invaded her mouth and made her insides revolt. “You were made for this,” he said, his tone indicating that somehow, he thought it was a compliment. “Just look at this place,” he pulled back, his hand finding hers as he tugged her toward her bedroom. “Immaculate. Always so clean. When Omnus and Nex are mine, you’ll love our life. With you at home… children at your feet. I’m sure they’ll make plenty for you to clean,” he smiled brighter, tugging her closer – her heart ached, recalling the days when she had been so desperate for that future to come true. “Come to bed,” he whispered into her ear, pushing her hair away from her throat. She had to force herself to remain still – to not tuck her chin to her chest and collapse in on herself. “I’ve spent all night imagining taking this dress off you.”
He disappeared into the darkness of her bedroom, now a Hellmouth. “Elizaveta?” He called. And just like that, she went along after him.
Like a loyal pet, she came when she was called.
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