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The Skull Ruler (Skull 3) Penelope Sky 2022/8/5 16:54:46

“You can keep seeing her after Lucian is dead, you know.”

“No, I can’t.” When Lucian was dead and she didn’t need my protection anymore, it was officially over. If she stayed with me, our arrangement would turn into a relationship. I wasn’t the kind of man that could commit to a woman for longer than a few months. There was no point. I had to ditch Cassini before it became too complicated. The longer she stayed, the more difficult it would be to let her go.

“You know why.” I drank from my glass.

“You could also step down, and I could take your place.”

I turned to him, my eyes narrowed. “Is that why you’re pushing Cassini on me so hard? Because you think you could take my throne? That would never happen.”

“Because the men don’t want you. That’s why.”

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He shrugged. “I’ve been doing good work here. Building a lot of trust.”

“Being the Skull King is about more than good work. It’s about controlling hundreds of crime lords without lifting a finger. It’s about crushing skulls without hesitating. It’s about outsmarting your enemies before they even realize they’re your enemy. You don’t have enough experience, Heath. At least, not at this moment.”

“That’s inspiring,” he said sarcastically.

“What do you expect me to say? You want my job.”

“It’s not like I want your woman or anything.”

I gave him a look full of warning.

“Because I don’t,” he said quickly. “And you really have no plans for Lucian? Hit him first, or let him hit us first? No trick up your sleeve?”

“Hitting him first is tricky because he can wire explosives at his location, lure us in, and then detonate.”

“With him inside?” he asked. “That’s a suicide mission.”

“No. He could pick a meeting spot and then wait for us to get there first. If we hit his home without warning, he could have that place rigged too. Explosives are for cowards. It’s impersonal. It’s like hunting with a gun—it’s from a distance. Lucian is weak and has no physical strength. It’s in his best interest to avoid me at all costs.” I sipped my scotch.

“And I can’t wait too long because he may try to infiltrate the Underground or the compound with explosives. Then we’ll really be screwed.”

“Maybe we should tighten security.”

“Or maybe we should use Cassini to draw him out.”

The thought had crossed my mind too. “I’m not going to use her as bait.”

“It’d probably be easier if you did.”

I stared at my glass. “No.”

“Well…then you could use me as bait.”

I pulled my gaze away from my glass to look at him.

“He doesn’t know there’re two of us. We could make him believe I’m really out somewhere alone. When he makes his move and takes me, there’s no need for explosives. That’s when you jump in.”

It wasn’t a terrible idea. “One problem with that. He might kill you on the spot.”

“Or he might ask me to hand Cassini over. I can stall until you get there.”

I shook my head. “With me out of the picture, he could get Cassini himself. There’s a good chance he’d kill you then and there.”

“Not if you’re nearby and covering me.”

I couldn’t bait Cassini, but I couldn’t bait my brother either. “This is my war. I’d lure him out myself. You would cover me.”

“You’re better in a fight.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’m not risking you.”

He grinned. “You care about your baby brother?”

I faced forward and ignored him.

“You love me, asshole,” he said with a chuckle. “That’s sweet.”

“You flatter yourself. I just don’t want any of my men to die for my cause.”

“Whatever you say, man.” He finished his glass and wiped his mouth with the back of his forearm. He turned to see a beautiful blond woman, the kind of person that was never spotted in the Underground. She wore a black dress cut low in the front, and a thick mink coat that covered most of her frame was on top. With curled blond hair, bright-red lipstick, and eyes blue like mine, she reminded me distinctly of Marilyn Monroe. “Here she is.” Heath pointed to the seat across from us. “Miss Lightning, take a seat.”

I glared at my brother because I’d told him I wasn’t interested in providing protection to this woman’s prostitutes. But Heath went over my head and made it happen anyway. If we didn’t share the same blood, his eyes would be so black, they would be swollen shut.

The blonde sat across from me and swept her hair off her shoulder, displaying a confident charm every prostitute possessed. They were fantasies, dreams that men had every night. It was their job to be real, to seduce all the men around them with subtle looks and elegant poise. “The Skull King…I’ve heard so much about you.”

“Nothing good, I hope.”

“Actually, to the contrary.” She leaned forward, a seductive smile on her lips.