I knew the reason why. “Case?”
Case’s head snapped in my direction quickly, his reflexes sharp. His eyes took me in with shock followed by relief. “Cassini?” He jumped out of his chair and came toward me. “Jesus Christ, where the hell have you been? I’ve been calling all week, and your phone is off. I tried to get a hold of Lucian, but he didn’t answer.” He reached me and wrapped his arms around me, holding me in a way that almost never happened. The last time he’d hugged me like this was when our father passed away.
He held me for a moment before he released me. “If you’re alright, then what the hell is going on? You usually check in every few days, and then you just disappear. Did that bastard do something to you?”
“No, this is what happened—”
“I’ve gotta call Dirk.” He snatched his phone off the table and made the call. “Cassini just showed up.” He stood with his hand on his hip, still looking pissed even though I was in one piece. “Yeah, she’s fine. Get your ass up here.” He hung up and tossed the phone back onto the table. “We were prepared to ambush him if it came down to it.”
“That doesn’t surprise me.” When I told him what really happened, he’d want to ambush someone else.
Dirk ran in a second later, relief on his face at the sight of me. But once he realized I was safe and in one piece, he turned back to the cold and indifferent younger brother. “Don’t pull that stunt again, alright? Case and I were losing our minds.” He came up to me and gave me a one-armed hug.
Dirk stood beside Case, his arms crossed over his chest. “What happened? Did he take your phone away or something?”
“He’s never done anything like that before.” Case was dressed in a gray t-shirt and jeans, tiny drops of sauce splattered across his clothes because he must have been in the kitchen earlier. He had muscular arms and narrow hips, his body type similar to Balto’s.
“It’s a long story,” I began. “And you aren’t going to like it…”
Case’s visage darkened noticeably.
Dirk inhaled a deep breath in preparation.
“Lucian has one enemy that he’s actually afraid of. I’ve never seen him sweat like a pig, never seen him turn so lifeless. But when this guy walks into a room…he practically cowers.” Lucian was the definition of weak. He punched me in the stomach because I was easy to overpower, but when it came to a real opponent, he turned into the world’s biggest pussy. He let Balto burn his hand without even trying to stop him—because he knew it was a fight he couldn’t possibly win. “We were at the opera house when this man showed up and burned a cigar into his hand. Killed Lucian’s men without making a single noise. I guess Lucian stole from him and didn’t fulfill his end of the deal.”
“What’s the point in all this?” Case asked. “Is this relevant?”
“Very.” I knew I only had minutes left before Balto stormed into the place and caused trouble. “The man came back to the house one night and told Lucian to give back what he stole. Or offer his complete allegiance. When Lucian didn’t cooperate…he took me.”
Case didn’t react right away because the knowledge was too much to absorb.
Dirk’s eyebrows practically popped off his forehead.
“I’ve been living with him ever since,” I continued. “He didn’t give me a phone or freedom until now. There’s a tracker in my ankle, so I can’t run away. And this guy…makes Lucian look like a child. Before you start throwing out threats—”
“Who the fuck is this guy?” Case snapped. “I’ll stab him in the neck with just a pen and watch him bleed out and die. Who the fuck does he think he is? You’re a person, for fuck’s sake. Not a prized horse that can change hands for the right price.”
I hated being treated that way too. I hadn’t been a free woman in a long time. I was a piece of property people fought over. They wanted my beauty and the prize between my legs.
“Who is he?” Dirk asked.
“There’s nothing you can do, so please don’t start anything.” Balto wouldn’t hesitate to hurt my brothers if they became difficult. I had to keep them calm before Balto marched inside. “He told me he would kill both of you if you moved against him.”
“I’d like to see him try.” Case’s nostrils flared.
“He’s going to walk in here in a few minutes,” I said. “He’s sitting outside in the truck.”
“Is he doing this to torture us?” Case asked. “To dangle his prize in front of our faces?”
“No…we’re here because I asked him to bring me.” I didn’t want them to worry about me. I wanted them to know I was safe. “He’s a cruel man, but if I’m being honest…I prefer him to Lucian. What I want most is my freedom, to be my own person again. But that’s clearly never going to happen…so at least he’s better than Lucian.”