Escaping the Devil: Chapter Twenty Two

Catch Up!

Content Warning

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.

Trigger Warning: Physical Harm, Abuse

Yui was quick to make her departure. She practically bounced out the door, beaming and waving excitedly. Gunner left like he had the first time, though, this time, she had been expecting his magic. He would be sorely disappointed if he hoped to impress her again. 

Her insides roiled with conflicting emotions. Her heart swelled with joy that threatened to burst through with every beat. But her stomach twisted with worry. Something sat wrong with her. A heavy, malignant weight that slowed her stride. That kept her feet barely inches above the ground as she strolled back into her apartment.

Eli couldn’t help but wonder what sat so heavily on her spirit. If it was fear of the unknown? Worry that they wouldn’t succeed with their plans? Or was it thoughts of Damien that kept her tethered to this strange in-between place? Where optimism and pessimism kissed, keeping her entangled in their lover’s embrace.

Sighing heavily, she fell to her couch. Her eyes swept appraisingly over the apartment — the white furniture and stone. The black accents lent to a crisp, modern — albeit somewhat masculine — appeal. 

If she were to leave Vegas, she would leave all of this behind. All of the wealth. All of the power.

The monster within her hummed with disapproval. She’d no longer be able to afford designer clothes — no longer be able to bedeck herself in white-collar finery. No red-bottomed shoes or selectively doled-out handbags. Gritting her teeth, she stared at the wall opposite her. 

If Julian hadn’t offered her the throne, she wouldn’t have had these doubts. It had been different when she was Landyn’s captive, but now, she had every potential to be something more. She could have it all — take control of everything and make herself a Goddess on earth.

Her cell phone chimed in her lap, jarring her from her pondering.

Tristan: Landyn is back in Vegas.

Eli: What? How did that happen?

Tristan: There’s an emergency Nex meeting. I will be coming in to tell you shortly.

She gaped at the screen, scanning, and re-scanning the message, half-believing she had misread. Her eyes then darted to the time; it was close to midnight.

No one ever talked about anything good this late at night. Whatever had happened to get Landyn back so quickly had to have been monumental. Disastrous. Her stomach roiled in upset.

Desperate for something to distract herself, she went to the washer and moved over the long-neglected sheets. The apartment was soon filled with the unmistakable, sweet scent of her detergent — geranium, and something sweetly spiced. A knock came as soon as she pressed the power button on the dryer. 

Tristan appeared in her doorway, wearing a grim-mouthed solemnity one might expect of a funeral goer. “I’m sorry to disturb you, ma’am,” he said, so politely she half-expected him to bow. “An emergency Nex meeting has been called. A car will be here in a half-hour to collect you.”

Eli nodded sharply, her lips pressed together in an unreadable line. “Thank you, Tristan.” 

The guard nodded, spinning on his heel to leave him staring at his back. She wasted no time getting ready, slipping into a pair of well-loved jeans. She tucked one of her most favored t-shirts into its waistband and slid into a moto-jacket. Another knock came when she was in the process of lacing up her boots.

“Come in,” she called, her eyes falling to the clock on the wall. She should still have fifteen minutes.

Landyn appeared in the doorway, looking ruddy-cheeked and bloodless. Never before had she seen the Devil so scared. 

“Landyn?” She had to confirm. He didn’t look like himself.

“Elizaveta,” he hummed, stepping toward her, long fingers reaching for her forearms, her wrists. “It’s a relief to see you.” Before she could protest, she was gathered up in his arms and pulled to his chest.

She froze, startled into accepting an affection she desperately did not want. “I thought you weren’t going to be home for a few more days?”

“I wasn’t supposed to be,” he said into her hair. “But things have changed.”

“What has?”

He exhaled slowly, his lips brushing against where her neck met her shoulder. A shiver raced its way up her spine, and she thinly resisted the urge to scrunch her shoulders up to her ears. “We have a problem.”

“Do I get to know what that problem is?” 

He sucked his teeth, stepping backward to create space between them. His expression darkened as he watched her, teeth grinding together as he studied her expression. “Why, yes, Elizaveta. I’m fine. Thank you for asking.” 

She might have softened. If she gave a shit. Instead, she shuffled her weight from one foot to the other. “Are you all right?” 

The damage had already been done. Like a petulant child, he tensed his jaw and shook his head. “You’ll have to wait for the meeting. Like everyone else.” 

It was just another way of punishing her. Withholding information. While her curiosity was nagging at her, she knew better than to play into his hand. So she shrugged and tried not to smile too brightly when she took note of the tick in his jaw. 

With his mood sullied, he didn’t speak to her as she continued getting ready. She slipped into her bathroom and did her hair up in a high tail. It was too late for her to bother with makeup, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave the house without mascara and chapstick.

There was a brightness behind her eyes that wasn’t usually there. A giddiness she realized she hadn’t felt in years. Not even the last time she had tried to make her escape — perhaps, this time was different because she knew she had choices. This wasn’t a matter of survival anymore. This was a matter of taking her own life into her hands and refusing to allow anyone else to make her take a knee. 

Landyn’s sulking combated her pleasant mood. He didn’t speak as they slipped out of her apartment and wandered down the hallway. He remained mute as they boarded the elevator and descended through the floors. They slipped out from behind the double metal doors, walked across the lobby, and then to the car waiting for them, all without Landyn so much as breathing in her direction. As far as silent treatments went, he was outdoing himself. Usually, he’d have broken already — the sound of his own voice was his way of self-soothing.

The city streets were still bustling — traffic was just as bad, if not worse, in certain parts of the city.

If she were to leave tomorrow, would she miss this? Would she miss the crowded city streets? The catcalls? The madness?

After what felt like hours of driving, the car finally stopped outside an ostentatiously grand building. She nearly balked when she realized that their driver had taken them to the Cole family home. In all her time with the Pack, she could think of only two occasions they had met here. They didn’t even meet here for the holidays. Though many law enforcement agencies had tried, the place was a veritable fortress — impregnable.

Eli’s stomach turned to rot, her eyes darting to Landyn, whose profile was now quite surly.

The world seemed to drain of all sound and color as they slipped from the back of the car. Landyn’s hand found the small of her back in a self-pacifying gesture she didn’t have the stomach to correct.

She watched as the car swung around the circular driveway, disappearing around the bend to find the underground parking garage. Eli stared at the ornate stonework and archways that led them toward the house. They were surrounded by modern castle walls, plodding their way across stone floors. She searched for familiar faces but instead saw strangers; burly men in all black, wires curled around the shells of their ears. Their hands remained clasped as the couple walked past, their eyes hawkish, watching them as they walked past the various accouterments of home. An elegant outdoor fireplace and seating area. An enclosed outdoor kitchen and full bar. The wrought-iron lanterns guided them toward an impossibly large pool. The sound of running water was loud enough to drown out her frantically beating heart. Eli’s eyes lingered on the water as it spilled over the infinity edge. Then, she looked further beyond it to the Red Rock mountains. 

Gentle pressure at the base of her spine urged her onward past the pool and straight into the pool house. 

There were more guards — two at the main entrance and two outside the meeting room. Eli’s eyes tracked carefully over their surroundings, sweeping over the unfamiliar faces. The pool house looked exactly like she remembered, with ash floors and off-white, stippled walls. The cabinets in the kitchen were of pale, aged-looking wood. The handles were modern and black, pairing nicely with the stainless steel appliances. The countertops were made of marble — white, with light gray veining. 

The furniture was plush and pristine — cream-colored, too, which meant it was wholly unsafe for her to ever sit on them. If she dared to rest her cheek against the couch’s back, she would leave a smear of makeup that would be impossible to clean off. 

The mental inventory of their space was cut short as the doors opened. The guards watched them as they stepped across the threshold. 

Landyn’s father sat at the head of a grand table, a cigar white-knuckled between two thick fingers. His eyes fell to his eldest, his gaze penetrating. Unkind. His expression didn’t soften when his eyes darted to Eli, though they didn’t harden more. 

“Take a seat,” he said, gesturing open-palmed toward the seats beside him. 

Markus sat at Julian’s other side, flanked by Kade.

On Eli’s right was a man she recognized from other Nex meetings. From what she had gathered, he was the Beta. Tall, lean-muscled. His brown hair had begun to salt and pepper. He had long facial proportions and a strong jaw. His chin was cleft though the gray stubble concealed it. A hideous scar traced the line from his cheek to the corner of his mouth, making his already sour expression look even more so. Ivan.

Eli felt her palms grow slick with sweat as she took her seat, barely aware that Landyn held it out for her.

There were a few others worth noting. The head of security, Rolf. Another gentleman whose appearance was rougher than all of theirs. A street boss whom Eli had only seen in passing. She stared for a moment longer than was polite as she tried to recall his name. Ghost, perhaps? 

Julian cleared his throat, wasting no time in summoning all of their attention. “Thank you all for coming at such short notice,” he drawled, tapping the edge of his cigarette into the ashtray. It was hollow gratitude. No one had a choice in coming. When the Eldritch terror summoned them, no one could refuse the monster’s call.

“I have some… unfortunate news,” he said gruffly, his eyes locked on his son’s face.

Landyn looked shamed, ducking his chin to his chest.

Eli’s stomach revolted. 

“We were informed that the feds are building a case against the family and getting ready to move. We were also told that they were prepared to take Landyn into custody. We were able to get him home before such a thing could happen.”

Her mouth went dry.

Markus frowned, his jaw working as he leaned forward in his seat. “Do we know what they were going after him for?”

That was the problem of being involved in groups like this. It could have been anything. There was no one crime that could be tracked back to Landyn. No one thing that could be the source of his undoing. There had been so many — too many.

“Human trafficking,” Julian drawled, his steely gaze locked on his son’s.

Eli felt a cold sweat form on her brow. It trickled down her spine.

It was because of her that this was happening. The information she and Damien had delivered to the Feds was finally being put to good use.

Landyn’s head hung in shame. 

Kade laughed maniacally. “Oh, you fucked up,” he chuckled, uncaring about his father’s arresting stare. “You really fucked up.”

“Enough,” Julian interjected. It was not a bark nor a snarl. It was calm. Too calm. His gaze remained locked on his eldest. “We don’t have much choice but to put you into hiding.”

Landyn’s teeth grit together. “They can’t touch me,” he drawled, his lips quirking into an arrogant smile. Eli was unsure if it was all for show or if he sincerely believed it.

“They can,” his father replied coolly. “And they will. The Feds wouldn’t make a move against you unless they were one hundred percent certain they had the smoking gun. And if you fall, they’d have what they need to come after the rest of us.”

“That’s a load of bullshit—“

“It isn’t,” Julian snapped. “We need to make you disappear. And quickly.”

Landyn’s teeth ground together, his eyes rolling as he heaved a dramatic sigh. “I suppose my bride-to-be and I are in need of a vacation.” He took her hand, lacing their fingers together. He brushed his lips sweetly against the rise and fall of her knuckles. Her stomach rebelled at the affection. Somehow, she managed not to wrench her hand free of him by the grace of a higher power. 

“No,” Julian said, his gaze cold, locked on his eldest’s profile.

“No?” Landyn returned, indignant — startled. “What do you mean, no?” 

“I mean that we need someone here to assume control. Someone who knows your operations inside and out. Elizaveta has been with you every step of the way, has she not?”

Landyn scoffed. “She has, but there’s no possible way she can take over for me.”

“I beg to differ,” Julian drawled.

“You can’t possibly be serious,” he hissed, his hand tightening painfully around Eli’s. She felt her knuckles pop, her hand burning under his grip. She blanched, worried that he’d break her fingers right there.

“I can and am,” his father said, his eyes darting to where their hands were still visibly clasped. “You’re not making a case for yourself,” he hummed. “If you have an issue with me, you have an issue with me. I raised you to be a better man than to take it out on a woman.”

The air around them felt heavy. Charged, as if they were one spark away from igniting an inferno.

With one last, vicious sounding snarl, Landyn dropped her hand. His gaze darkened with loathing as he looked at her.

The Prince had been dethroned. And worse, he was alive to watch as his lover stole his crown.

Eli had to bite back a smile.

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