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The Skull Ruler (Skull 3) Penelope Sky 2022/8/5 16:54:45

“No.” I called into the house, “Case, we’re here.” I could smell the scent of food, a new culinary masterpiece I would get to enjoy. There was no good cooking that happened at Balto’s place, not unless I wanted to eat his boring-ass food. I hung my coat on the rack.

Balto didn’t have one since the winter chill didn’t bother him.

“We?” Case called back.

Balto followed me. “You should have told him I was coming.”

“He’ll get over it.” I stepped into the kitchen and found him sprinkling parsley on top of the lasagna. “Ooh…that looks freaking delicious. Look at all that sauce and cheese.” I moved to the counter and stared at the delicacy. “You have no idea how happy I am to be here.”

Case would normally tease me for my enthusiasm, but his eyes were locked on Balto. “You didn’t tell me he was going to be here.”

“Who cares?” I asked. “The more, the merrier.”

“Not in this case.” He kept looking at Balto while he spoke to me. “He can barge into my office but not my home. That crosses a line.”

“Case, drop it. Please?” I gripped his arm and gave him a gentle squeeze. “I want him here.”

“I don’t care what you want, Cassini.” He sliced the lasagna then scooped out the squares and placed them on the white dishes.

Balto approached the counter, not the least bit offended by Case’s words. “I’ll wait in the truck. But you better give me a bottle of scotch for my trouble.”

Case grabbed a bottle and handed it to him. “There. Bye.”

“Case…” I watched Balto turn toward the door. “I’ll come get you in a few minutes.”

He held up his bottle in front of me. “I already have dinner. Don’t worry about me.” He gave me a quick kiss on the lips before he walked out.

Case watched the entire exchange but didn’t say a word until he heard the front door shut. “You like the guy now?” He shook his head then added the broccoli to the plates. “Stockholm syndrome.”

I crossed my arms over my chest. “I do like him. A lot.”

He rolled his eyes. “That man is evil.”

“The same could be said about you.”

“Don’t expect me to disagree with that. But I’ve never kept a woman hostage.”

“He agreed to give me back to Lucian a few days ago. They made a deal, me for the diamond.”

Case took off his oven mitts and placed his palms against the counter. His eyes were focused on me as he listened to the story.

“Balto called off the deal. Lucian said he would torture me then kill me, so Balto refused to hand me over. Instead, he’s going to kill Lucian and let me go.”

Case stared at me, his gaze hard but his eyes full of disbelief. “Why? Why would he do that for you?”

I shrugged. “He’s not as bad as people think he is. He has a heart…under all that muscle and testosterone.”

“And he’s just going to let you go?”

I nodded. “He said I deserve to be free.”

He stared at me for another moment before he looked away and sighed. “My limited time with the Skull Kings has shown me how loyal his men are to him. They practically worship the guy. He’s earned their respect a million times over. He doesn’t control them with fear and terror, not like most crime lords.”

“Because he’s a good man. Maybe he breaks the law and crushes the heads of his enemies…but he’s a good man. Lucian’s men tried to take me when we were having dinner, and Balto fought off all seventeen of them entirely on his own and saved me. I still don’t know how he did it.”

Case shook his head slightly.

“I like him. And when it’s time for me to leave…I’m going to miss him.”

He turned back to me and studied me for a while. “You have feelings for him?”

“Of course. The man saved my life, and he’s gorgeous. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel something for him.”

“I just hope your feelings don’t go beyond that. Maybe he is a good guy—but he’ll never be good enough for you.”

I studied my brother, touched by what he said. “He made it clear he doesn’t feel that way.”

“Good.” He opened a drawer and grabbed the silverware. “Set the table. I’ll go get him.”

I smiled. “Thank you.”

I drank straight out of the bottle as I sat in the truck, unaffected by the freezing temperatures outside the window. The booze was strong enough to keep me warm, so I didn’t bother turning on the engine.

Case’s reaction didn’t surprise me. He didn’t hate me as much as he did before, but he certainly didn’t want me in his home.

I wouldn’t have wanted him in my home either.

He walked outside and approached my passenger window. His knuckles tapped against the side, then he nodded for me to hop out of the truck.