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I’ve got my dick buried inches deep in a mewling woman’s cunt when I first become aware of the click of my front door. I pull out and grab a handful of bedsheets, toss them over to her, and she moans in protest over being without my dick anymore.
“Cover up, sugar, you have three seconds . . .”
The first to materialize in my door is Derek. “Your father wants you.” Next to him is my asshole half brother, Wyatt, and he looks none too pleased to see me. What can I say? It’s mutual. I jump into my jeans. “He sent two of you?” I ask, almost laughing. “If I were a girl, I guess this would be the part where my feelings get hurt.”
Both men walk into the room, checking out the territory with quick flicks of their eyes. They don’t see me coming. In less than a second, I’ve got Derek pinned up against the wall and I’ve got Wyatt in a choke hold. I spin them to face the door as I watch the rest of the men shuffle in. Seven of them, plus the two squirming in my hold. The nine-member squad composes the Underground enforcing committee led by my father—every man here with a different level of skills. None, not a single one of them, as skilled as I.
“You know damn well if it involved you, it’d be a nine-man mission,” Eric Slater, my father’s brother and right hand, says as he steps inside. Eric is stern, silent, and dangerous. He’s my uncle and the closest thing to a dad I had growing up. He taught me to live among my father’s private little mob—no, not live. He taught me to survive. To take my circumstances and thrive. Because of him, I grew smarter, stronger, meaner. I learned whatever there was to learn, multiplied by the billionth power. The power of kill or be killed. Doesn’t matter if you’ll use the skill, it’s an insurance. Ever heard of insurances, boy? People who have insurances rarely use them. It’s those who don’t have shit who end up needing one. See that arrow? Use it. See that knife? Wield it, fling it, learn how to use the least amount of effort to do the most amount of damage. . . .
I’ve got all kinds of insurances. My entire mind is a computer programmed to think the worst of a situation, all in less than a second. Right now, I know for a fact all these men are armed. Some of them carry two weapons, under their socks, at the small of their backs, or in the front flaps of their jackets. Eric watches my eyes scan each and every one of them, and he smiles, clearly proud of me. He opens his jacket and looks down at the gun on his hip. “You want to touch my piece? Here you go, Grey.” He pulls it out and extends it, the barrel in his hand.
I let go of the two men in my grasp when I sense Wyatt is about two seconds from passing out. I pull them back, then with a shove send them smashing against the wall. “I don’t give a shit what he wants to say to me,” I state.
Eric looks around my bedroom. My apartment is perfectly clean. I don’t do mess. I have a reputation and I like hearing a pin drop . . . the reason I heard these assholes enter my studio loft in the first place. “Still banging these whores? With that fucking face, you can get a goddess, Grey.”
He eyes the woman in my bed. She’s no masterpiece, true, but she looks just fine pressed down against the mattress with her ass in the air, and she expects absolutely nothing of me except money. Money I can give. Money and cock, both of which I have in abundance.
I grab the dress on the floor and toss it to the whore. “Time to get out and go home, sweetheart.” Then to Eric: “My answer is no.”
I peel off a couple of bills from a stack on my nightstand and push them into the whore’s extended hand. She makes a big show out of rolling them into her bra, and the men part to let her pass, some of them whistling while she flips them off.
Eric comes closer to me and lowers his voice. “He’s got leukemia, Greyson. He needs to pass on the reins to his son.”
“Don’t look at me like I can feel pity anymore.”
“He’s got the act cleaned up. No more killing. All the businesses are strictly financial now. We’ve no more open enemies. The Underground is quite a successful enterprise, and he wants to officially pass it on to his son. Are you that cold blooded you’d deny him his last request?”
“What can I say, his blood runs through my veins.” I grab a black T-shirt and jerk it on, not out of modesty, but so that I can start loading up my babies. My Glock, a Ka-Bar, two smaller knives, two silver stars.
“Boy . . .” He steps to me, and I meet his lone dark eye—not the fake one. I haven’t seen him in several years. He’s the one who taught me how to use a .38 Special. “He’s dying,” he stresses meaningfully, curling his hand over my shoulder. “It won’t be long. He’s got six months, if not less.”
“I’m surprised he thought I’d care.”
“Maybe when you’re done womanizing, you’ll start to care. We”—he points at the men in the room—“want you to be the one who takes control. We’ll be loyal to you.”
I cross my arms and look at my half brother, Wyatt, the “Whiz”—my father’s pet. “As long as I’m his lapdog and do as he says? No thanks.”
“We’ll be loyal to you,” he stresses. “Only you.”
He jerks his head toward the guys. One of them cuts the center of his palm. Soon they all follow.
Blood starts dripping on my floor.
Eric ducks his head and slices his own palm. “We’re pledging to you.” He holds out his bleeding hand.
“I’m not your leader,” I say.
“You will be our leader when you realize your father is finally willing to reveal your mother’s location.”
Ice spreads through my veins, and my voice hardens as Eric mentions her. “What do you know about my mother?”
“He knows where she is, and it’ll die with him if you don’t come with us. Morphine makes him delusional. We need you back, Greyson.”
My face reveals nothing of the turmoil I feel. My mother. The only good I remember. I’ll never forget the look on her face when I made my first kill. Right in front of her, I lost my humanity and let my mother see that her son had turned into an animal. “Where is he?” I growl out.
“He’s flying to a fight location; we have a plane ready to meet him there.”
I shove things into a black duffel. A laptop. More weapons. When you deal with my father, you can’t deal with him straight. My father taught me to be crooked. Guess I learned from the best. I grab my Leatherman tool knife, cut deeply into my palm, and slam it into Eric’s hand, our bloods meshing. “Until we find her,” I whisper. The other men come over and shake hands with me.
I search their eyes and make sure they meet my stare. There’s a threat in my gaze and I know that if they know me, they’ll heed it.
No matter what words are spoken, what acts are committed, I never, ever take my eyes off someone else’s. The way they flick to the left or to the right, a tiny flicker, tells me more than when I hack into someone’s computer. But I do that too.
I trust no one. My right hand does not trust my left. But as the most powerful of the nine men I’m faced with, the one I least trust is Eric Slater. As it happens, he’s the one I most care about too. He and my friend C. C. Hamilton—but C.C.’s been visiting me even after I left, secretly helping me track my mother. I trust him as far as I could ever trust a human being. Which still means I interrogate the crap out of him every time he comes in. I can never be sure if my father knows he’s meeting me.
Hell, even with the blood oath, I’m going to have to test each and every one of these men’s loyalties before they can get any semblance of trust from me.
• • •
NOW, AN AIRPLANE flight later, we find my father in a closed room wired with cameras, in the Los Angeles Underground. The Underground is our livelihood. A place where fighters square off against each other every season, two or three times a week. We organize events, sell tickets, program the fights in warehouses, bars, parking lots—wherever we can get the people in and get a good deal. The tickets alone make us a fortune. But the gambling on the side makes us ten times more.
Tonight, we’re in a warehouse-turned-bar crammed with screaming people and rowdy fights. I used to enjoy strategically planning the locations where the fights would take place, which fighter would face who next, but it’s all being taken care of by the rest of the team. Everything from the organizing, to the fights, to the gambling.
I head down with Eric as the fights are under way, my eyes scanning the crowd, gauging the number of spectators, the location of security cameras, the exits.
We access a small dark hallway and then stop at the final door before Eric jerks it open. “I take your presence here tonight as acceptance of my offer?” my father asks the moment the door swings open and I step inside. I check the room for the exits, windows, the number of people.
He laughs, but it’s not a strong sound.
“When you’re done wondering if I have a sniper around ready to hit you, maybe you’d come closer. One would think my mere presence offends you.”
I smile coldly at him. Julian Slater is called “Slaughter” among his enemies; he’s been suspected as a man who silences his problems the old way. Even weak and in a wheelchair, I will never underestimate the damage my father can do. In a world measuring one’s destructive capabilities, my father would be the nuclear bomb, and wouldn’t you know it? Bastard’s already throwing verbal vomit my way. “You look fit as a bull, Greyson. I bet you still turn tires for fun and do a couple of cunts in your sleep. I’d give more than a penny to know what your thoughts are right now, and you know how stingy I can be. Hell, you know what I do if a single penny is stolen from me.”
“I remember clearly. Being I’ve done the dirty work for you. So let’s spare you that penny. I’m thinking, why bother to wait for you to die? I could smash your oxygen tank right now and take care of you nicely.” Slowly, I hold his gaze with a cold smile, pull out my black leather gloves from the back pocket of my jeans, and start sliding one hand inside.
He glares at me for a quiet moment. “When you’re done disrespecting, go and clean up, Greyson.”
One of the guys steps forward with a suit.
I calmly slip my hand into my other leather glove.
“As before, no one will know your name,” my father begins in a softer tone. “You can have money and the life you want as my son—in fact, I demand you live like a prince. But I need your head and heart in this. The job comes first, and I’ll have your word on that.”
“I have no heart, but you can have my head. The job is all there is and all that’s ever been. I AM my job.”
We survey each other.
I can see the respect in his eyes, even, maybe, a little fear. I’m no longer a thirteen-year-old, easily bullied by him.
“For the past five years of your absence, my clients . . .” he begins, “. . . they’ve seen no weakness from us at the Underground. We can’t forgive a single cent owed or we’ll be seen as weak—and right now there are many collections left to be done.”
“Why not have your minions do it?”
“Because there’s no one as clean as you. Not even the fighters know who you are. Zero trace. You’re in, you’re out, no casualties, and a hundred percent success rate.”
Eric pulls out my father’s old Beretta and offers it to me as some peace symbol, and when I find it in my hand, slightly over two pounds of steel, I find myself flipping it around and aiming it at my father’s forehead. “How about instead I take your Beretta Storm and encourage you to start telling me where my mother is first?”
He looks at me icily. “When you get the job done, I’ll reveal your mother’s location.”
I cock the gun instead. “You can die first, old man. You’re well on your way already and I want to see her.”
My father’s eyes flick to Eric, and then to me. I wonder if Eric will really be “loyal” to me while my father sits there, pretty as you please.
“If I die,” my father begins, “her location will be safely revealed in an envelope, already in a secure location. But I won’t reveal shit until you prove to me, through the collection of what every name on this list owes me, that you are—even after these years apart—loyal to me. You do that, Greyson, and the Underground is yours.”
Eric walks over to a nearby chest and produces a long list.
“We won’t be using your real name,” Eric whispers as he hands it over. “You’re the Enforcer now, our Collector; you go by your old alias.”
“Zero,” the rest of the men in the room say, almost reverently. Because I have zero identity, and leave zero traces. I run through cell phones like I run through socks. I am a nothing, a number, not even human. “Maybe I don’t respond to that alias anymore,” I mutter, curling my fingers inside my leather gloves before I stretch them out and open the list.
“You will respond to it because you’re my son. And you want to see her. Now get changed, and work your way down the list.”
I scan the names, top to bottom. “Forty-eight people to blackmail, scare, torture, or simply rob in order to get my mother’s location?”
“Forty-eight people who owe me, who have something that belongs to me that needs to be retrieved.”
A familiar chill settles deep in my bones as I grab the suit by the hanger and head to the door, trying to calculate how long getting pertinent information about each of these debtors will take me. How many months it’ll take me to meet with them, try to bargain the nice way—then the hard way.
“Oh, and son,” he calls, his voice gaining strength as I spin around. “Welcome back.”
I send him an icy smile. Because he’s not sick. I’d bet this list on it. But I want to find my mother. The only thing in my life I’ve ever loved. If I have to kill to find her, I will.
“I hope your death is slow,” I whisper at my father, looking into his cold slate eyes. “Slow and painful.”