The elevator doors opened, and I stepped inside my home with Cassini beside me. I laid my pistol on the entryway table along with the knife I kept in my pocket. My feet slowly carried me into the room, the burden of my decision weighing across my shoulders like a three-hundred-pound bar.
My decision would come with consequences.
I wasn’t afraid of Lucian’s wrath because I wasn’t afraid of anything. Most men feared death, but they failed to understand it was a gift. When this life became too much, when the pain became too unbearable, there was a way out. It would be painless, quiet, and empty. Watching my enemies die under my boot was violent and cruel, but they were always rewarded at the end.
With the sweet relief of death.
I sauntered to the floor-to-ceiling window and knew it was only a matter of time before my phone started to ring. I was already late, but Lucian didn’t want to cave first and call me. His retaliation wasn’t what I feared. What I feared had already come to pass. I’d softened for a woman, made a decision based on emotions rather than logic. I put her life before an item so valuable that the people of the world would kill one another for it.
All for a single woman.
What did that say about me?
Cassini came up behind me. “Do you—”
“Leave me alone for the night.” I stopped in front of the glass and saw my reflection in the window. I still looked like the barbaric ruler who put men to death every single day. To anyone else, I looked the same. But I didn’t feel the same. I judged myself for the decision I’d made, but at the same time, I wouldn’t have done anything different.
Cassini stayed behind me.
I didn’t ask her again. I’d just spared her life and sacrificed that diamond for her. I shouldn’t have to ask her again.
Her footsteps sounded as she headed down the hallway. Judging from the length of her footsteps, she went into her bedroom instead of mine.
I kept my eyes glued to the bright city below me, the lights from the cathedral the brightest because it was the tallest building nearby. The city was quiet tonight, but that peace wouldn’t last long.
Without looking at the screen, I knew exactly who it was. I answered. “Yes?”
“You’re an hour late.” Lucian didn’t yell, but his oily tone showed his frustration. He probably had all his men posted at the estate, ready for whatever was about to happen. He probably had anticipated I would cross him just the way I anticipated he would do the same thing. Maybe I would make the exchange then shoot Cassini in the back of the head before I drove off. We were two men who innately distrusted each other—but that was his fault.
“I’m not late. I’m not coming.”
His silence was filled with anger.
“You choose a woman over one of the most flawless diamonds in the world?” he asked incredulously.
Not only was I choosing her over a priceless jewel, but also over the explosives I could use for the Skull Kings. It was possible Lucian and I could have formed an alliance at some point, or the very least, a truce. But I was throwing away that possibility too. “She’s worth more than all the diamonds in the world—but you already knew that.”
He turned quiet, letting the tension burn over the line.
The only thing we could promise each other at this point was war.
“You’re making a mistake, Balto.”
I’d regretted the decision the instant I made it, but I would have regretted it more if I’d followed through with the plan. I despised myself for letting my feelings get to this level. I lost my self-respect for turning so soft for pussy. The signs had been there all along, especially when I hunted down Evan and gave him a beating that almost killed him. I could argue that I did it for Cassini, but she didn’t even know about it. I did it entirely for myself—because I cared about this woman more than I was brave enough to admit. “You made a mistake when you crossed me, Lucian. None of this would have happened if you hadn’t been such a sleaze bag. In this world, earning the respect of your enemies is just as important as earning it from your friends. You’ve managed to earn it from no one.”
I slept alone then woke up early the next morning. I headed to the gym and spotted my brother there. We both liked to get our workout completed first thing in the morning, so we always crossed paths.
With my towel hanging over my shoulder, I sat on the bench and rested my arms on my knees.
Heath racked his weights then sat on the bench across from me, his muscles thick and pulsing from the weight he’d just benched. He patted his forehead with his towel then threw it over his shoulder. “You want to talk about it?”