- 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
- Chapter Fourteen
This story is rated Mature for adult language, sexual content, references to graphic violence, drug, and substance abuse. This means that this is intended for audiences 18 and up.
This chapter includes mentions of cheating.
“So you haven’t heard from him?” Yui slumped into the booth next to her. Their fingers laced as they watched the world outside pass them by.
Eli’s attention was stolen by a pair of long legs. A phoenix sprawled across a shapely thigh — its wings grazing the backside of the dancer who wore it. For a moment, she was envious, realizing that she wanted to sink her teeth into the place where ink dominated skin. “Yeah,” she replied absent-mindedly.
Yui pouted, slapping her arm with the back of her hand. “You can check girls out when we’re not talking.”
“I can do both,” she protested, wearing a wicked smile.
Yui’s matched. She didn’t try to protest. Though, she did sigh quite dramatically. “How do we know that he’s not going to run off on us?”
The break in the Siren’s voice was enough to jar Eli’s attention back to her. A sympathetic frown overtook her features as she allowed her gaze to roam over her friend. For the first time since their last failed attempt, she looked at her. Really looked at her. The light within her had begun to dim. Hopelessness was winning out, leaving her as a muted version of the woman Eli had come to care for.
With a soft click of her tongue, she reached for her. Her fingers brushed sweetly through Yui’s dark hair, pushing it away from her face. “He’s getting a fuck ton of money.”
“Enough to risk the run-in with Nex and Omnus?”
“Enough,” Eli exhaled. “Besides, he seems the sort of egotistical bastard who would get off on getting one over Landyn.”
Yui let out a soft hummed noise, seemingly unconvinced. “It’s been weeks.”
“It also took Damien weeks.”
Silence spread between them, their eyes darting nervously toward each other as if worried that a bomb was soon to go off.
Eli still wasn’t ready to talk about it. Let alone him. But, the closer they came to escape, the more she felt like she could put his memory at ease. She could tell him on the winds that they finally made it out. That his sacrifice wasn’t for nothing.
Deep down, she knew that it was. There were hundreds of causes he could have laid down life and limb for. But, saving Elizaveta Black should not have been the reason. She was not innocent. She was not a victim. She was complicit — in everything that Landyn and his lackeys did. She was a survivor who learned the art of tearing down others to live another day.
There was no making peace with what happened to Damien. There was no making peace with his memory. If he decided to haunt her for the rest of her days, it would be what she would deserve. She would accept his punishments from the world beyond.
They sat together in uncomfortable silence, Yui’s eyes locking on the main stage. “Do you think there’s a chance we can… do this by ourselves?”
“I don’t know,” Eli replied, her eyes roaming over the dancer’s profile. “If this doesn’t work out, then we’ll have to give it a try.”
Yui’s expression grew doubtful. Her brows furrowed, her head jerking sharply from side to side. “I worry that we aren’t going to have many more chances, Eli.” Even over the loud bass of the club, she could make out her whisper.
She gave her friend’s hand a final squeeze and brought her knuckles up to her lips. “We’re going to get out of this,” she promised, summoning more conviction than she actually felt. “No matter what. Okay?”
“Yeah,” Yui exhaled, her thumb swiping over the back of her hand. “Yeah. Okay.”
“I have to get going,” she murmured, snaking her arm around the woman’s shoulders to pull her closer. Her hand closed around the nape of her neck, tugging her closer in a vaguely possessive gesture. Their lips met — a sweet, lingering kiss. “I’ll see you later.”
“Mhm,” Yui replied airily, her smile brightening. “Call me when you get in?”
Family dinners were, quite arguably, one of the worst parts of her relationship with Landyn. No matter how many times she had been forced to endure them, she couldn’t help but liken them to “trial by fire.” They were overdressed affairs, meant to assert dominance over one another — they spoke of little else other than the family business. Their dialogue seemingly existed only to reaffirm to the others where their place was in the natural pecking order. Landyn’s father seemed to be the only one who enjoyed himself. Though, she imagined that there was great fun in being the greatest evil to sit at the table, watching as the lesser demons created their playground. Eli despised every dinner.
She could at least admit that the Devil at least had his charm. A charisma that made her and others desperate to fall in line. He was a vile creature who got off on destroying everyone around him, but he was at least able to hold a conversation.
His brothers were far from as blessed.
Markus, the middle brother, was the same height as Landyn. However, he liked to carry himself like he boasted a head taller than everyone else. He boasted a thick swathe of black hair he kept long and well-oiled swept away from his face. He, unlike his brother, wore no tattoos. Though, he did wear a single earring in the center of his ear, punctured through the cartilage. Like everyone else in the family, he wore a garish, overpriced suit. A glance down at his feet revealed a pair of gator shoes. He had no woman nor man on his arm. It seemed that he liked to make a show of being alone.
Like Eli was that evening. She was relieved to not have Landyn hanging all over her as she forced herself to make small talk with Markus. His presence would have made an already unbearable situation all the worse. It wasn’t often that duty called him away. But when it did, she reveled in her freedom — in being able to breathe, even with the rest of the Cole family breathing their sulphuric breath down the nape of her neck.
By the grace of a higher power, she had managed to avoid conversation with Julian and Markus thus far. Though she knew that the time was fast approaching for her to make polite. She treated herself to a glass of champagne, drinking in their surroundings as she downed the bubbly liquid. There were precious few walls in this sky rise, allowing them to see the city in all its splendor through thick panes of glass. The floor beneath them was dark wood, likely too rich and exotic for her to be able to pronounce. The tables were set with fine china and crystal, lined with crisp, white linen sheets. A chandelier overhead cast rainbows on the floor beneath it, painting her skin with opalescent butterfly wings. She smiled faintly, imagining how Yui might brighten at the sight of it. The mere thought of her smile alone was enough to lift her spirits.
Though, not entirely. Eli was too aware of the glib smile Landyn’s younger brother wore. The one he kept casting her way before drunkenly turning his attention to his cup.
Kade earned her awareness from across the room. There was no denying the family resemblance. He, too, was dark-haired and light-eyed, but his features were more square. He was understated in his wealth, boasting a tailored suit and a flattering amount of jewelry. Unfortunately, though, nothing was flattering about the way he carried himself. He kept his arm tight around his lover’s waist — Teagan was a pretty, vapid little thing. Willowy and doe-eyed. She was impossible for predators like the Cole family to turn down. There was something too innocent about her. Eli couldn’t help but smirk privately into her glass when they locked eyes. She knew the shape Teagan’s mouth took when she came undone — the way her breath hitched when fingers and lips found the swell of her breasts and their sensitive peaks.
There was a secret sort of pride to be had in knowing she had been there first.
Kade leaned sloppily against her, his thick lips finding her pulse. Teagan feigned amusement she visibly did not feel, swatting at his chest as young lovers might. He wobbled unevenly, staring at her with heat in his gaze from beneath his lashes.
Against her better judgment, Eli made her approach. She couldn’t shake the strange feeling that she was somehow responsible for the girl’s well-being.
“Shhh,” Kade stage-whispered to his date. “Don’t say anything to her about where Landyn is.”
Eli froze in her stride. It was too obvious for her to feign ignorance and proceed. It had been noticeable. Enough so that she could feel Markus’ eyes on her. Julian’s stare sought out hers from across the room, but she refused to meet it. She was in a lion’s den now. One wrong move and she knew the cage would be littered with her entrails.
“Where would Landyn be? I thought he had prior obligations. Family business,” She greeted, a thin smile forced onto her lips.
“Oh, he’s just… doing some business-related stuff,” Kade hiccuped into his cup, staring bleary-eyed at her over the rim.
“There’s more to it than that,” she said, hazarding a step closer. “C’mon, Kade,” she near-purred. “You and I both know that he’s not off doing business tonight. So what’s the harm in telling me?” She tilted her head to the side, her smile a bit too saccharine.
It must have been a smile Kade recognized as wholly insincere. He scowled at her, his cup clutched tight to his side. “I’m not going to tell you, Elizaveta.”
“I bet you I can find someone else who will.”
He shook his head assuredly to the side. “Nope,” he grumbled. “No one is gonna tell you anything. So you best make peace with not knowing.”
Eli laughed, her hand braced on her hip. “I suppose I could just wait until he gets home to ask him.”
“You don’t even live with him,” Kade protested.
“Oh, that’s how—” Teagan’s cheeks turned a vibrant shade of red, her hand closing over her mouth.
Eli felt the weight of Julian’s stare. She felt pinned to her spot, even as the gears in her head started turning. Everyone seemed to be watching her, waiting for her to connect the dots. To realize the many ways Landyn Cole had made a fool out of her.
“He’s with another woman, isn’t she?” She asked, surprised at how it felt like she was speaking through shards of glass.
Kade looked murderously at his date. She looked terrified, recoiling into herself.
But Eli was too far gone to think of anything but herself. To feel much sympathy for anyone.
They had known his secret — known that he was making a fool out of her — and no one ever thought to warn her. No one said anything. She shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, he was the Heir Apparent to Julian’s throne. And she was little more than a Queen in the making. The second to fall in line. But only after Landyn had ascended. Until then, she was nothing. A scullery maid in this lavish castle they had erected around themselves.
Kade shook his head but refused to meet her eyes. “Elizaveta.”
“It’s alright,” she consoled, her tongue pressed to the inside of her cheek as she invaded his space, her eyes locked on his. “You can tell me. Is he with someone else?”
He didn’t have to answer her. That much was evident in how he drew himself to his full, impressive height. But the too expressive mouth gave him away.
“Is it recent?”
He said nothing. He didn’t have to.
“The whole time?”
His scowl gave her away. Her insides turned to rot, bile threatening to spill past her lips. Just as the Queen had her indiscretions, it seemed, so did her King.
Her face settled into something unreadable. Her expression must have been quite disturbing to those around her because no one dared to meet her eyes. No one but Julian, who watched her levelly over the rim of his glass.
“If you’ll excuse me,” she announced to a suddenly quiet room. “I’m not feeling too well.”
“Of course,” Markus whispered, hazarding a step toward her. “At least let me walk you to your car.” There was something in his voice that nearly softened her. If she didn’t know any better, she might have believed that he was worried. But she knew better than to believe that, for even a fraction of a second. A Cole was never sorry. They were incapable of it.
Discarding her glass on a table nearest the exit, she made a hasty escape. She hated the sound of her heels on the floorboards, but she knew better than to strip them in the eye-line of the family. The world around her was so quiet she was sure she would have been able to hear a pin drop — like a gunshot in the restaurant.
Eli took the elevator down to the lobby and climbed hastily into the car, still waiting for her. Her driver nearly jumped out of his skin, his cell phone screaming encouragement, followed by a cartoon-ish sounding popping noise. She might have laughed about the mountain of a man playing a cutesy “match-3” game, but she couldn’t think much beyond the pain that blossomed to life in her chest. The betrayal she felt sank like meat hooks into her skin.
“Home please,” she murmured, surprised to hear how unlike herself she sounded. Small. Lost. Vulnerable.
Too many thoughts swirled around in her head. Most of which were centered around the agony that awoke in the pit of her stomach. She didn’t understand the ugly feeling. It wasn’t like she had ever been faithful to Landyn — he had never deserved her fidelity with how he had treated her. So why did it hurt, knowing that someone else was in his bed? Why did it feel like the greatest betrayal?
Why did she feel like she wasn’t good enough?
Almost in a haze, she slipped out of the car and through the lobby. She floated across the marble floor, looking like little more than a ghost as she made her way to the elevator. Through the doors she went, and up many floors. Eli hardly realized that the elevator had stopped, jarred only to move when she heard the faint dinging of the doors.
It was like another force entirely was leading her to her apartment. Then to her closet, where she gathered armfuls of her clothes and threw them onto the bed. Then to her dressers, where she grabbed the drawers and dumped them into the pile. It was almost as if someone else took hold of her as she feverishly began packing her things.
Through the haze, she felt the tears come, burning hot as they traced damp paths over her cheeks. Indignation took the place of every pain. A gut-churning, rotting ire she hadn’t known she was capable of. She grit her teeth so hard she was half-convinced that they should shatter in her mouth.
He did this. He betrayed her. He took advantage of her and brought her across the country, only to discard her. A useless, broken toy he insisted on keeping around, even though he didn’t really want anything to do with her. She was little more than a collectible to be placed on his shelf.
What hurt the most was the realization that there was no love there. There never had been. Never could be. She was expendable. A prop in the play Landyn starred in.
All these years at his side — wasted. There had never been a sincere moment of affection between them. Theirs was not a love story gone wrong. It was simply a tale of being naïve and easily manipulated and the big bad wolf that came along to seal her fate.
What a fool she had been.
Sobs wracked her frame as she stuffed her suitcase, thinking about what Yui had said barely a few hours before.
Maybe she should have had a plan B.
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