- 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
- Chapter Fifteen
- Chapter Sixteen
- Chapter Seventeen
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.
Her spine was rigid as she navigated her way around her room — a white marble cell. She felt like a caged creature. A great predator left to rot behind these four walls.
Landyn’s smell was everywhere. His sweat lingered on her sheets. Her skin. Their night together had been a flimsy pursuit of what they once had. She felt him trying to eke out every lingering passion he felt for her, and she — as always — found him wanting.
They had laid together in the aftermath, her staring up at the ceiling, praying for it to collapse. His hand had found the imaginary swell of her stomach, his thumb tracing her midline beneath her navel. She tried to forget what he said, but there was no un-ringing a bell. The Devil wished for her to be pregnant with his child.
Then, he reassured. Then she would know how much he loved her.
The thought of his baby growing inside of her womb was enough to want to reach into herself and rip out the parts of her that could carry it. It filled her with a stomach roiling nausea that would not leave. Not even as she paced the glossy floors of her cell.
There was little comfort to be had in her routine. The sheets were stripped from her bed, candles were lit. Brazen after their argument, she even allowed herself a few cigarettes indoors. Though she wasn’t so bold that she’d let herself have more than three. She hadn’t dressed yet. Instead, she strolled around her apartment in little more than a white bathrobe. Barefoot, and bare. Even the robe felt hot and scratchy against her skin. She felt dirty — in the way that could never be scoured clean, but something about her own nudity felt indecent. As if shedding the fabric would burden the world with a hideous portrait of a hellscape. The sort of picture that chewed holes into brains and ripped away any semblance of rightness. Goodness. Comfort.
A bone-crushing sense of listlessness washed over her. She texted Yui and asked her to run to the store to pick up the Plan B pill. She felt the slightest bit of relief when she received a message that her friend was on her way.
She found herself on the balcony again, this time not thinking about what could await her at the concrete beneath. Instead, her eyes remained glued to the bustle of the street below, waiting for any sign of Yui.
Her phone chimed again, rumbling in her pocket. The screen lit up with an unknown number. But the message was clear. A too-broad smile found its way to her lips as she read the text once. Twice. A third time. Over and over until the words were all but carved into her brain matter.
It was Archangel. Everything was going according to plan — it wouldn’t be much longer before they were free.
Her stomach twisted strangely, somewhere between relief, excitement, and terror. Landyn had made her escape feel like an impossibility. The thought of trying again was daunting. Petrifying. But she had no choice. It was now or never.
The crackle of a cigarette being ignited somehow still managed to sound thunderous in the Vegas streets. Even more deafening than the frantic beating of her heart. She heard the hiss of the ash, even over the calls of the people below.
A familiar click jarred her from her pondering. A cursory look at her phone told her that it hadn’t been long enough for Yui to arrive. Her heart sunk into the pit of her stomach as she turned, expecting to see the Devil himself watching her.
What she saw was even worse.
The more ancient evil stood in the hallway, offering something of a lopsided smile when he caught sight of her. He was quite the vision in a crisp, fitted suit. His hair perfectly coiffed, his impossibly white teeth gleaming, even in the shadows.
“Elizaveta,” he greeted, his long legs devouring too much space as he strode toward her. He had a presence about him. One that owned every room that he walked into. Including her apartment.
She forced a smile, her feet leading her grudgingly toward him. “Julian,” she greeted, too aware of her state of undress. “What a surprise. I can’t say I was expecting you.”
“Nor would you have any reason to,” he said, looking around at her place. “I don’t think I’ve ever visited.”
“You have not.”
He made a soft sound in the back of his throat. “To be fair,” he said, almost hesitantly. “I had assumed you and Landyn were sharing a home.”
“There’s not much we share,” she answered, holding out her pack of cigarettes.
Julian helped himself to one. The crackle was still too loud. Overwhelming. He watched her levelly for a heartbeat, exhaling the smoke through his nostrils. “My son is an idiot.”
You won’t hear me argue. Eli kept her expression impassive, her dark eyes locked on his features, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“I am… aware of his indiscretions.”
She shifted uncomfortably.
“I am equally as aware of yours.”
The proper reaction would have been to flush. To feign embarrassment or even try to deny it. Neither came. Instead, she met his gaze levelly, her cigarette pressed to her lips.
“It’s clear that you’re not happy.”
Eli smiled brightly. A sardonic grin that shattered her impassivity. “I assure you, I’m as close to happiness as can be here.”
Julian shook his head, a long exhale escaping him as he braced his elbows against the balcony railing. “Landyn makes it impossible for anyone to be happy. At least, truly. He’s impulsive. Violent. Greedy. Egotistical. Entitled,” he carried on, his hand bouncing as if he were a conductor, and the streets below were the symphony. “I’m very well aware of where my eldest fails.”
She watched him through narrowed eyes, unsure of what he was doing — why he was sharing these thoughts with her.
“Which is why I was incredibly pleased when he brought you home to us.”
Eli stiffened, her jaw locking as she studied him.
“Landyn never learned how to take care of anything for himself. He’s too used to doing whatever he wants without having to worry about the consequences. He’s a brat,” he shrugged, his jaw working. “I’m aware that these were shortcomings in my own parenting. When he brought you along, I hoped that he would be smart enough to not ruin a good thing.”
She made a soft sound in the back of her throat, the butt of her cigarette rolling over her lower lip as she looked away.
“He has,” Julian concluded. “Which is what brings me to my visit. I need to ask you something.”
Her gaze darted to his, her mouth pressed into a severe line. “You’re going to ask me if I’m going to leave?”
“Yes,” he said, drawing himself to his full height.
“And what could I say that would convince you I would stay?” She asked, her head tilting to the side. “If I say I won’t too readily, you’ll think I’m a liar. If I tell you I plan on leaving, you’ll have a loose end you’ll have to take care of. If I say that I’ll stay after some thought, you’ll assume my intention is to extort Nex. Omnus,” her tongue darted over her lip. “You’ve put me at a disadvantage.”
“Not enough of one, as you’ve managed to evade answering.” He smiled. A genuine smile. One that seemed to be filled with pride. It was a strange look for him to wear. Eli couldn’t recall seeing him look at Landyn in such a way in the past. “I’ve always liked you, Elizaveta,” he took a seat opposite her, his cigarette temporarily abandoned in the ashtray. “I am not oblivious to the fact that Landyn’s success can be attributed to you.”
“Perfect,” she smirked, draping one leg over the other. “Then leave it all to me,” she said airily, waving a hand in the air between them.
He chuckled, his head craned slightly to the side as if he were considering it. “It’s a family legacy.”
“Wouldn’t want to upset the line of succession.”
Julian’s jaw worked, his head shaking once to the side. “There’s a way we can… have the best of both worlds.”
She watched him levelly, her jaw tensed. “How so?”
“People like to think that arranged marriages are a thing of antiquity. A relic of less civilized times. But, I assure you, they’re alive and well.”
Eli tensed, her eyes locked on his — a cat staring into the fishbowl, waiting for a moment to strike.
“What I’m proposing is that you… indulge my son,” he gestured vaguely. “And I make sure your time here is bearable.”
Her tongue traced the inside of her lip. “And run your empire for him?”
Julian offered a sharp nod. “In a show of good faith, I have changed the employment status of your guards. They report to you. And only to you,” a devious smile pulled at his lips. “They are also instructed to tell you what Landyn asks after.”
“So, they’re playing double agent.”
“Yes,” he replied, leaning forward, their knees almost touching. “No one else in the family and I is oblivious to the fact Landyn doesn’t deserve you. But I assure you that staying with us will be the best thing you could ever do. We’ll make sure that you’re well taken care of. Anything you could want, I will give to you. Money, power,” he paused, his eyes locked on hers. “Fame. Your own tattoo shop, if you’d like.”
Eli felt her heart constrict in her chest, her eyes widening as they locked on his.
His smile broadened devilishly, knowing that he had struck a chord.
“No one needs to know about your uhm,” he paused, sucking his teeth, “your female friends, either,” he smiled wanly. “Your affairs will be your own. Your secrets will be your own.”
“All I have to do is marry your son?” She drew in the last breath of her cigarette and ground it out in the ashtray. Reminded, he reached for his own, tapping off the slender column of ash.
“Yes,” he said, after a heartbeat’s hesitation. “Marry my son. Give me heirs,” he rolled his eyes, gesturing vaguely around him. “I don’t even care which son you have a child with. So long as they’re a Cole.”
She hummed, her tongue tracing her eyetooth. “Landyn is a liability, you know that.”
He nodded gruffly.
“And what happens to me, after we marry, and I have his children?” She leaned forward, her voice barely above a conspirator’s whisper. “Will a prince assume your throne?”
He watched her for a long moment, his expression unreadable, his dark eyes hardening as he found the true meaning behind her words. The question she managed to guard. “I think,” he began, his voice trailing off as he weighed his words carefully. “I think, by that time, the crown would sit better on a Queen.”
Eli exhaled slowly, leaning back in her seat. They studied each other for a long moment, her tongue darting over her lip. “Thank you for visiting me, Julian.”
He smiled warmly, grinding his cigarette butt into the base of the ashtray. “Thank you for the cigarette,” he cleared his throat as he stood, adjusting his jacket. His eye roamed over the city skyline, his square jaw set as his mind drifted elsewhere. “For what it’s worth, Elizaveta,” he paused, his hand braced at the top of the table. “You deserve more than he could give.”
“Marry for money. With enough, someday, you’ll be able to buy love.”
“Who says I want love, Julian?” She held his gaze for a long moment. He looked away first, offering a slight nod. It was impossible to say what he saw in her eyes, but she swore she saw the faintest shudder trace up his spine.
He rapped his knuckles against the patio table, offering a close-lipped smile before he left. Eli waited until she heard the click of the door behind him before sinking further into her seat.
Yui couldn’t get there fast enough.
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