I lived a normal life until Lucian. Evan got involved, and I laid down my life for his. Ever since that day, nothing had been the same. I changed handlers, but that didn’t make me less of a prisoner.
Balto watched me for a long time, the sympathy in his gaze. His fingers rested around the glass as he stared at me. Wordlessly, he comforted me, told me that an argument was futile. “I take care of my men, Cassini.”
“But shit happens anyway,” I whispered.
“Yes,” he said in agreement. “But rarely.”
I didn’t want to sit with my brother for another second, not when I was this irritated. After everything I’d suffered, the last thing I wanted was for my brothers to suffer in the same way, to get mixed up with the wrong people. They deserved a quiet and peaceful life making pasta. I ditched the chair and stormed out. “I’m ready to go, Balto.”
Case’s voice sounded from behind me. “Cassini.”
Balto trailed behind me until he caught up with me. His arm circled my waist, and he pulled me close.
I pushed him away. “Don’t touch me.”
He grabbed me by the arm.
I twisted out of his grasp and spun his arm away. He was so easy to disarm that he must have allowed me to do it. I looked up into his face, seeing the hard lines that looked like the cliff face of a mountain. “You knew, and you didn’t tell me.”
“Not my secret to tell.”
I yanked my arm back and slapped him across the face. “I’m fucking you every night, and it’s not your secret to tell?”
He turned with the hit and closed his eyes momentarily. When he turned back to me, his cheek had started to redden and rage had entered his gaze, but he was still as a statue, cold and devoid of emotion. “Do you want me to tell them that we were having an affair before I took you? That we were fucking for a month before I made you mine? Is that my secret to tell?”
I pulled my hand back and prepared to slap him again.
He grabbed me by the wrist and shoved me against the wall. His body crowded mine and kept me in place, pinning me against the wall in the hallway. “I gave you a freebie. But you won’t get another one. Slap me and see what happens.” He released my wrist and stepped back. “Men want money. They want power. They want women. All men are the same. You can be pissed at your brothers, but this is their decision. Let it go.”
“No. You’re going to stop them.”
“I have no control over what they do.”
“Yes, you do. Now make them stop.”
He shook his head. “They make a great product, and they do it quickly.”
My eyes narrowed to slits. “I don’t care. This is my family.”
“I keep all my men safe. The only thing they need to worry about is pissing me off. I’m the biggest enemy they could have.”
I threw my arms down. “Do this as a favor to me. Please.”
His eyes shifted back and forth as he looked into mine. “What do you expect to happen? I tell them to stop, and they just listen? If I won’t work with them, then they can just work with someone else. They become more vulnerable that way, then they’re at a disadvantage. Working for me is the best thing for them. The only way to make this stop is if they abandon this business for good, and I’m telling you, that’s not going to happen.”
I felt so powerless. I wanted to protect my family but had no idea how to do that.
“You want to know how the real world works?”
I cocked my head to the side.
“The closer you are to danger, the safer you’ll be. Because you always know exactly where the biggest threat is. If anything, your brothers are in less danger than they were before. All the big players know exactly who I am, and if they’re under my reign, they’re untouchable.”
When we returned to his building, I went into my room and got under the covers.
I couldn’t believe how stupid my brothers were.
All I wanted was to get away from this lifestyle, but I was sinking deeper into it.
I hadn’t been in this bed for a long time because I spent my evenings with Balto, but now, I wanted space. The two men knew each other even before I met Balto. That made me feel stupid—and clueless.
I stared at the other wall without really thinking about anything, just letting my mind wander to my childhood. Life was so much easier when my parents were around. I never needed someone to protect me, but now I needed someone who could guide my family in the right direction. My brothers were drug dealers, and I was a prisoner of a man who would hand me back to my original tormentor.