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The Skull Crusher (Skull 2) Penelope Sky 2022/8/5 16:51:54

Case’s nostrils flared again. “Who is he, Cassini?”

“I’m sure you don’t know him,” I said. “He’s the leader of some criminal cult. He’s gone most nights doing god knows what. If he scares Lucian, then he really must be dangerous. When he walks in here, maybe it’s best if you say nothing—”

“Who the fuck is he?” Case stepped forward, his eyes shifting back and forth with hostility.

My brothers were honest men who ran their pasta company. They worked long hours and made a quality product that had been in our family for generations. Even when the price of goods rose, they did their best to keep their product at the same price for customers. They made a handsome living from the enterprise, but at the cost of their blood, sweat, and tears. Honest men like them would have no idea who my captor was. They wouldn’t understand the true ramifications of the situation. “His name is Balto. I don’t know his last name.”

Case’s entire body slackened noticeably, like that name meant something to him.

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Dirk stepped forward too. “Balto…as in the Skull King?”

I’d never heard that title before. “The Skull what?”

“Skull King.” Case had his arms crossed over his chest, but he dropped them at the revelation. “That Balto?”

I raised an eyebrow. “You know him?”

Case nodded. “Unfortunately. Does he wear a ring on his left hand, an image of a skull carved out of a flawless diamond?”

Shit, they did know him. “Yes…”

Dirk pressed his palms against his face and dragged them down to his chin. “Shit.”

Case kept staring at me, his jaw clenched tight and his eyes unblinking. He sighed as he closed his eyes for a long pause.

“How do you know him?” I was married to a criminal, and I hadn’t heard of Balto until recently. How did these two pasta makers know the biggest criminal in this city?

Case never gave me an answer. “How long has this been going on?”

“I’ve stayed with him for almost three weeks.” Now I was in his bed a lot more often than my own. I used sex as a weapon, but I suspected I would regret that soon enough.

“You said he’s better than Lucian,” Case said. “That means he treats you better?” Case couldn’t keep the pain out of his eyes, the fact that he couldn’t protect me from the horrors in this world.

“Yes, he does.” I couldn’t look into his eyes because the pain was too much. “He’s never laid a hand on me. He’s never forced me to do anything I didn’t want to do. He lets me eat whatever I want. I don’t have any freedom yet, but he said he’ll give it to me when I earn it.”

Case didn’t ask how I would earn that freedom. He wasn’t clueless as to my value to men. He knew exactly what they wanted me for. But it was too disturbing to say out loud.

“I know Lucian will do whatever he can to get me back, but I don’t think he stands a chance against Balto.” I would be safe as long as Balto wanted me to be safe.

“No, he doesn’t,” Case admitted quietly.

A moment later, heavy footsteps sounded behind me. The impact of his large size was audible with every step he took. My back was to him, but I could feel his power radiate across my back as if I were standing next to a roaring fire.

Case looked up and stared at him, his vulnerability dying away as he turned into the cold and hard man he projected himself to be. It was the image he showed to strangers and enemies, not family.

Dirk did the same, staring him down like his number one enemy.

Balto slowly came to my side but didn’t touch me. He stared down my brother with the same ferocity, silently warning him that it would be unwise to draw a weapon. He was the same height as Case, over half a foot taller than me. His casual attire didn’t make him any less formidable. He could be completely naked, and he would be the most intimidating man on the planet. “Case.”

Case stared him down. “Asshole.”

I closed my eyes at the insult, praying this bad situation didn’t get worse.

“Asshole?” Balto asked, his voice full of amusement. “I saved your sister from a spineless psychopath.”

“Then save her from yourself—and let her go.” Case addressed Balto like I wasn’t even there. They were two enemies on opposite sides of the battlefield. “My sister isn’t some show animal. She’s a fucking Cardello, and you will release her.” Case was either very dumb or very brave, because he stepped closer to Balto and got in his face.

Balto didn’t retreat an inch. “What happens when Lucian hunts her down? We both know you won’t do a damn thing. If you could, you would have rescued her in the first place. But you did nothing. Not a fucking thing.” Balto took a step forward, forcing Case back. “I took her. So she’s mine.”