Read an Excerpt
A Scarred Souls Novel
By Tillie Cole
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Tillie Cole
All rights reserved.
Brooklyn, New York
I blinked ... I blinked again. It didn't fucking work. Didn't remove the images from my mind.
Reaching up, I clawed at the knot of the silk tie I'd been forced to wear and loosened it off. I couldn't fucking breathe.
Every muscle in my body was tense as I sat up in this suffocating private box, looking down on the Dungeon's cage, the wide window giving me the perfect fucking view of the two fighters ripping each other apart.
The crowd noise was deafening; screaming and clamoring for spilt blood, as the first match of the season kicked off.
No matter how hard I tried to look away, my eyes were securely locked on the two men in the cage. My heart raced, my hands curled into fists, and my jaw ached as my teeth gritted together way too hard.
With every blow the fighters delivered, my legs twitched. With every spray of blood on the concrete floor, every body smashed into the wire surrounding the cage, an envious pain sliced through my stomach.
I wanted in, I wanted to rip those fuckers apart. I wanted to feel the cold steel of my knuckle-dusters back on my fingers, feel my spiked blades slowly pierce my opponent's flesh, and I wanted to watch as the life leaked out of his eyes. I wanted to bring death; I wanted to rip out someone's fucking soul.
The monster within me wanted out and I was losing the battle to keep him at bay. Six months ... six months of being away from that cage, yet every instinct I had was telling me to go back. That it was where I belonged, that I deserved to keep fighting. My nightmares were getting worse ... more memories of my killings becoming clearer ... the guilt, and the fucking uphill battle of trying to adjust to this godforsaken world. A world that was becoming more and more difficult to be in.
Shit! I couldn't fucking breathe!
I sat forward, raking my hands through my hair, fighting my thoughts, the urges in my head. I wanted to embrace the demons inside, but at the same time, I wanted to fucking leave this shit hole of a fight ring and not feel the coming sense of death clogging up the air. I wanted to get the fuck away from the cage. It was in a cage where I'd slaughtered over six hundred men. It was in a cage where I'd killed my only friend.
I winced as 362's face flashed into my mind: his grin as he met me in the gulag as a kid, teaching me how to survive, and his face as I took his life, stealing his chance at revenge on those who had condemned him to the life of a fucking monster.
I saw nothing but red as I straddled his waist and speared a bladed fist into his neck. Felt nothing but rage as my second bladed fist skewered his temple. Felt nothing but single-minded determination to slaughter Durov as I lifted both fists and, pointing them straight down, plunged them into 362's chest, the wheeze of his dying breaths assaulting my ears, wrenching me from my anger.
I'd killed him. I'd watched as his dark eyes frosted over with the coldness of death. I'd watched as the color from the fight drained from his face, and I'd listened to that final beat of his heart until there was nothing but the deafening scream of silence.
"Revenge ...," 362 had uttered, choking on blood washing back down his throat.
I'd fucking promised him my revenge on the people who sentenced him to the gulag's cells; the people I still hadn't found; the people I still hadn't killed in cold blood.
I was failing 362, my only friend. And I couldn't fucking live with it.
Jerking on my chair as the crash of memories assaulted my mind, my heartbeat drummed too fast, and the screaming rush of my blood racked through my ears. In that second of panicked movement, my eyes went to the center of the cage as a fighter gripped his weapon of choice — a jagged hunting knife — and sent it straight through the eye of his opponent, the crowd noise soaring in volume.
My father and the Pakhan got to their feet and clapped, demonstrating their superiority to the bloodthirsty crowd below. The bloodthirsty crowd who were already exchanging money and placing bets on the next fight. All of the desperate and sadistic fuckers thanking the Russian kings for this damn dungeon of death.
My father looked down at me and aggressively flicked his chin. He was ordering me to stand, to clap, to stand like a fucking regal God at the window, to show the fuckers jamming up the Dungeon that I was the Bratva knayz, the Russian Mafia prince. The sole heir and the one destined to take charge. We constantly had to show our strength.
But I couldn't move. This suit I was forced to wear was fucking suffocating me. This silk tie, although loose, still feeling like a damn leash tying me to this Bratva role I couldn't bear to embrace.
I tried to move, but I couldn't force myself to lift from this chair. Memories of 362 bleeding out below me were stabbing harder at my brain, stealing my fucking breath.
My eyes squeezed shut, sweat pouring down my cheeks. I was losing it, I was fucking losing my shit.
Six months of this fucking torture. Six fucking months of slowly going insane, too many painful memories and flashbacks scourging the fuck out of my brain.
I abruptly lurched to my feet, and the Pakhan darted his gaze to me. "Luka?"
The room began to spin, the walls fucking closing in on me.
My father stepped forward. "Son? What's wrong?"
But I couldn't answer them. I had to get out, needed to get the fuck out of this tiny fucking box.
Staggering to the steel door barricading us in, I used all my strength to smash it open, snapping the top hinge clean off the frame.
"Luka! Come back!" I heard my father shout as I disappeared into the dark hallway. I ignored him as I turned to race down the steep staircase that led to the packed crowd.
"Mr. Tolstoi?" one of the byki called as I ran past him. Heads turned as I pushed through the mass of scumbags trying to get to the side of the cage to fucking see the carnage inside. But all the fuckers moved out of my way, sensing that I'd rip them in two if they got in my fucking path.
I headed for the hallway, the familiar hallway that I'd walked down when I was Raze, the death-match fighter I'd been conditioned to be since a child. The hallways where I'd lived as a Dungeon fighter, stayed each night, only one focus in my mind: revenge on Alik Durov, my childhood friend that, along with his father, had condemned me to a life of killing.
Ignoring the trainers and fighters filling the narrow space, I staggered to the locker room I used to occupy. Smashing my shoulder into the door, it burst open and I slammed it shut, blocking out the world.
It was quiet in this room, no noise fucking with my head. This locker room made me feel safe.
Walking into the center of the room, I kicked off the leather shoes from my feet, feeling the cold from the asphalt ground. Tipping my head back, I stood in the sliver of moonlight slipping through a crack in the wall and ripped off my tie. Hands shaking, I roared when I couldn't undo the buttons of my shirt. Gripping the expensive material, I pulled hard, the shirt slicing in two, shreds drifting to the floor.
Bare on top, my chest heaved at the severity of my breathing. I tried to calm down ... to think of my life now, away from all the gulag shit, but it wasn't any fucking use.
Walking to the wall, I slammed my palms against the cold hard stone and closed my eyes, just trying to fucking breathe. But this room made me feel like the old me. I felt like him, Raze. I felt like the death-match fighter 818. I felt like the Georgian gulag's bringer of death. Luka fucking Tolstoi was a stranger to me. The knyaz of the New York Russian Bratva was a total fucking stranger.
The same feelings of how to kill, how to position my bladed knuckle-dusters just right to cause the most pain, circled my mind ... and I fucking embraced it. It was familiar ... it felt like ... me.
Suddenly, a hand gripped my shoulder. Sensing the familiarity of a gulag guard attack, years of being a "fuck thing," a punching bag for those abusive pricks taking me back to that lost kid I used to be, I turned and gripped the fucker's neck under my hand, smashing him back against the wall. A red mist fogging my eyes, I gritted my teeth and lifted the asshole off the floor.
No one would hurt me again ... ever. I was stronger now, tougher. I was a built and conditioned fucking stone-cold killer.
Fingernails raked at my skin; wheezing breath filled my ears. But my hands squeezed tighter, the familiar feel of draining a life pumping me the fuck up.
The flailing cunt in my hands began to go weak and I tightened my grip, almost snapping his neck. This fucker would die. He wouldn't get to rape me no more. Wouldn't get to push me in that cage and kill another innocent kid. I was an innocent kid, too. This fucker would die. This fucker would die slowly, painfully, under my hands. They wouldn't touch me anymore. They wouldn't push me in that fucking ring anymore —
Too focused on the kill, on the rush that came with feeling a pulse slow to a stuttered stop in a neck, I didn't hear the door open behind me. My mind was a damn slide show of images, fucked-up images of my kills; kids begging for their lives, guards pointing their guns in my face if I didn't finish those kids off. Pain, torture, rape, blood, so much fucking blood —
"Luka, stop!" A distant yet familiar voice broke through into my stormy mind. I shook my head.
"Luka, put him down." The voice was soothing. I knew that voice. That voice made my heart slow down. It calmed me ... who ... what ...?
"Luka, lyubov moya. Come back to me. I'm here. Come back. Fight the memories. Fight them, just, come back."
Ki ... Kisa ... my Kisa ...? My eyes snapped shut at the soothing voice and new memories flashed through my mind ... a boy and girl on a beach ... kissing ... making love ... blue eyes ... brown eyes ... one soul ... love lost ... love found ... a wedding ... love ... so much love ...
Gasping, my eyes flew open, the free hand at my side shook and my skin was drenched with sweat. My other arm was elevated high, and when I followed the length of that arm, it was gripping a neck in an iron vise ... the neck of a man, a man my head told me I knew.
Confused at what had happened, I stepped back, my hand releasing its grip on the man and he fell to the ground, wheezing, gasping, fighting for breath.
I staggered back farther until my back slammed against the opposite wall. Feet moved beside me, but I couldn't look up. I was frozen on the floor, my knees tucking into my stomach and my head falling into my hands.
"Viktor? Viktor? Are you okay?" The female voice from before made me look up, and there she was, my Kisa, my solnyshko, bending down, running her hands over the man's —
My stomach fell.
Viktor. Viktor, my trainer, the man who helped me to defeat Alik Durov.
Feeling as though the gulag tattoo across my chest, the bold and broad 818, was on fire, I watched Viktor's eyes close and Kisa call to the byki for help.
Two of the Pakhan's men ran in, and I watched them as if they were moving in slow motion. Kisa stepped back as they helped Viktor to his feet. The byki dragged him out in seconds and I felt a pain as sharp as a dagger's strike slice through my stomach.
My fists clenched as I realized what I'd done. I'd almost killed Viktor.
The door softly clicked shut and I heard the locks turning, two iron bolts being slid in place to keep me inside.
Quiet footsteps came toward me and the soothing scent of sweet flowers washed over my body and filled my nose.
Gentle fingers suddenly ran over my hand. I flinched and dragged them away as I fought back my instinct to kill, to hurt, to maim, to slaughter.
"Luka, look at me," Kisa ordered, but I kept my head low.
"Luka," Kisa repeated in a sterner voice, "look up."
Gritting my teeth, I looked up and my gaze found a set of perfect blue eyes.
Kisa. My wife.
Head tilted to the side, Kisa's eyes filled with tears and she reached out her hand to touch my face. "Luka —"
"No!" I snarled. I sank back farther against the wall, swatting away her hand. "Don't touch me! I don't want to hurt you."
Kisa reared back. I knew she was staring at me. I could feel her gaze burning through my skin. We sat in silence for what seemed like an age, my fists still taut, my blood still boiling with rage. Then, suddenly, Kisa stood, my muscles bracing for her to leave, my heart beating fast again at the thought of her leaving me alone.
But she didn't walk away. She didn't head for the door. She didn't leave. She stayed silent, only a rustling of material to be heard.
I didn't look up. Instead I focused on trying to calm the rage erupting from inside. But then a hand took mine and my palm met hot flesh.
Whipping up my head, I found Kisa kneeling beside me, the top of her sleeveless long black dress pulled down to her waist, her perfect tits on show. Her hand held mine over her bare breast and I tore my gaze away from the sight — the sight that was fucking destroying me — to meet her eyes. They were filled with a mixture of steely determination and love, fucking filled with nothing but love.
She bulldozed through all the barriers I had.
Taking control, Kisa squeezed my hand tighter around her tit, my cock hardening at the feel of my woman under my palm. Shifting her legs, Kisa released her hold on my hand, her eyes telling me not to move it from her tit, and lifted up her dress from the bottom.
My breathing quickened as her lace panties came into view, and then I fucking lost all anger when she untied the lace bows at the side, the panties falling to the floor.
I was struck mute as my wife — my fucking beautiful wife — straddled my thighs, her bare pussy dragging down my stomach.
My hand on her warm breast tightened as my solid dick pushed against my pants. Kisa's breathing hitched as her clit ran down my torso and her mouth lowered to my ear. "I love you, baby. I have you. You're okay. I'm here...."
My eyelids shut at the relief her words brought, and just like that, I was calmed.
"Kisa ...," I whispered in response, my words clogging my throat.
Kisa pressed a finger over my lips. "Shh, lyubov moya, just ... just ... love me," she said almost silently. "Let me love you with everything I have. Let me make you feel safe, with me. Be my Luka, the boy whose soul matches mine."
And she did. I made love to her on the locker room floor, and she brought me back to myself. She chased away the demons and pain.
As we both fought for breath in the aftermath, I reached up, never moving my gaze from hers, and said, "I'm ... I'm sorry."
Kisa's face softened. "Never be sorry. You're my husband, my heart, my soul."
The reality of what had just happened began to hit home and I shut my eyes in embarrassment. Kisa must have felt me tense as she tensed, too. Inhaling a shaky breath, she whispered, "I love you so much, Luka. Do you know that?"
The hurt and sadness in her voice was sharper than any weapon I've taken into the cage.
"Luka?" Kisa probed my silence and slowly drew back her head to look at me. Her eyes were filled with tears again. "I love you."
Kisa placed her finger under my chin and forced my head up. "Talk to me. Let me in." Her eyelids fluttered, chasing away tears. She sniffed back her cries and wiped at her eyes. "What happened tonight? What happened with Viktor? Why did you run from Papa and Ivan? You neglected your duty to the Bratva."
Feeling drained, I exhaled a shuddering breath.
As more seconds passed by, I heard Kisa sigh in frustration and her hands cupped my cheeks. "Look at me, Luka."
Reluctantly, I forced my gaze up and fixed my attention on her face, she was so fucking beautiful. Taking her hand, she reached down to my wedding ring, and lifted it to my face. "You see this? We're married. We vowed under God and in front of our families to be there for each other, for better or for worse." She then took my hand and, holding my index finger, ran it over my left eye. "We were made for each other. That means sharing your pain, telling me when and why you're unhappy."
The sadness on Kisa's face was too much. Squeezing our joined hands, I brought them to my lips and kissed the back of her hand. "I'm happy with you. I ..." I took a deep breath and added, "I never knew I could be happy before you."
Kisa's tears splashed onto her bare chest. "Solnyshko, don't cry," I rasped out.
"But you're not happy. I hold you when you sleep. I see you when you pace, dark thoughts plaguing your mind." Kisa kissed my cheek and gazed into my eyes. "You're getting worse, lyubov moya. Something's on your mind." A quiet sob slipped from her throat and I instinctively pulled her into my chest.
"Don't cry," I begged in a cracked voice. "I can't see you cry."
"Then tell me what you see in your mind. Tell me what is haunting you from being happy in our new life?"
Excerpted from Reap by Tillie Cole. Copyright © 2015 Tillie Cole. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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