I wanted to tell this man how I felt since it was the last chance I would ever have. He wasn’t the man I’d been looking for. In fact, I’d hated him in the beginning. But now he was the man in my heart. I wanted him home every night because he wasn’t just my captor, but my man. Our relationship was ending sooner than we wanted, and it was hard to say goodbye.
He pulled away first then pressed his lips to my forehead.
I closed my eyes because he’d never kissed me like that before. It was gentle and soft, full of the kind of affection he never showed me. It was the kind of embrace a man deeply in love gave his woman.
I sat back and looked into his eyes.
They weren’t blank like before. They were packed with emotion, so many things at once, that a single feeling couldn’t be identified. The words came pouring out of my mouth. “Balto, I—”
“We have to go.” He opened the door and hopped out.
I stayed in the front seat for a moment, seeing him stand beside the SUV and ignoring my look. When I swallowed his cold rejection, I got out of the car and came to his side.
“Stay behind me.” He grabbed my arm and pulled me back. “Let me handle this.” He turned to his brother. “Heath, stay with her.”
“Alright.” Heath came to my side, his gun held in his left hand.
Balto stepped forward, entering no-man’s-land as all the lights blanketed his physique. Alone, he walked until he was in the middle, his powerful frame unmistakable in his t-shirt. Without armor or a weapon, he still looked like the most intimidating man in the world.
Lucian got out of the car and slowly came forward, wearing a black suit.
Case was nowhere in sight.
Balto spoke when Lucian was directly in front of him. “Where is he?”
“He’s here.” Lucian’s eyes landed on me. With just a simple look, he conveyed all of his rage. He wanted to punish me for making him look like a fool. He wanted revenge for my affair. He wanted to fuck me until I cried. Then he wanted to kill me, to watch the light leave my eyes after he triumphed over my dead corpse.
I wasn’t afraid of that deadly promise. All I wanted was my brother. Nothing else mattered. I stared back at him, refusing to be scared. Maybe I was only brave in that moment because of all the adrenaline.
“Show him to me.” Balto’s back was to me, but his voice painted an image of his features.
Lucian turned to his men and gave a nod.
They opened the back door of an SUV and dragged Case out. Handcuffed with bruises all over his face, he looked like he’d been imprisoned for days.
Tears sprang to my eyes, but I fought them back. When I was in Lucian’s captivity, I would find a way to kill him. I would steal a knife from the kitchen and stab him in the neck when he was on top of me.
Lucian turned back to Balto. “Let’s make the trade.”
Heath grabbed me by the arm and yanked me back. “Hold on.”
Balto kept his arms by his sides. He didn’t hold a gun like everyone else, which was surprising considering his status as their leader. But right now, he was the negotiator. “I have something better to offer you.”
Lucian smiled. “Something better than my wife?”
Hope sparked in my heart. Perhaps Balto had found a way around the dilemma. Maybe he would offer Lucian something more valuable than me. Maybe we could get Case back and secure my freedom at the same time.
“Yes,” Balto said. “Cassini is just a woman. Yes, she betrayed you, but she’s not remarkable. She has no power or connections. She’s not a threat to your organization. I can offer you something much better than a woman.”
“What?” Lucian asked, looking at Balto.
Balto stepped forward. “Me.”
My heart dropped into my stomach. “What…?”
Balto kept talking. “I’m the Skull King. I’m your biggest enemy. If you take me instead of her, you could kill me once and for all. With me out of the way, the Skull Kings will be in chaos. And wouldn’t you rather punish the man who slept with your wife? Make him pay for what he did?”
“Oh my god…” I tried to run past Heath. “No!” Now I understood that this had been Balto’s plan all along. He’d never intended to give me up in the first place. That was why he’d agreed so easily. He was taking my place—saving me and my brother in the process.
Heath’s strong grip kept me steady. “There’s nothing you can do.”
I started to scream. “Balto, no! Don’t do this!”
Lucian looked at me for a long while before he looked at Balto. “Not only did you sleep with my wife, but you fell in love with her.”