And talk to Kite.

My heart thumped. He wasn’t kind or a sympathetic ear to cry to. But I was glad. I didn’t want someone to pat my back and make me feel worse with commiseration. I needed someone to tell me to buck up, keep going, and never wallow in darkness.

Kite didn’t know it yet, but I planned to use him as my barometer of liveliness. If I could muster up the energy to flirt and chat and pretend everything was okay, I had the strength to continue. The moment I used him as an outlet to purge whatever Jethro did to me, I would know I needed to re-centre myself and dig deeper to stay true.

Jethro let my hand go, tossing it away almost violently.

I breathed a sigh of relief, then stiffened as his fingers latched around my upper thigh.

Whispering harshly, he said, “Keep watching the horizon, Ms. Weaver. You’re about to see your new home.” His hand crept up my leg, following the same path his brother had—freezing my exposed skin with his icicle-like fingers. “Don’t take your eyes off the windscreen. You behave and I’ll make sure you have somewhere warm to sleep tonight. You disappoint me and you’ll sleep with the dogs.”

I bit my lip, eyes flaring wide.

Sleep in a kennel? Shit, Nila. You couldn’t be any more stupid.

All this time I’d braced myself for sexual payments—bodily taxes and unwanted attention—but in reality I hadn’t stopped to think about the bare essentials of living. There was so much more Jethro could do to me than torment my body.

He could deprive me of nutrition.

He could prevent me from sleeping.

He could make me live in squalor and suffer illness after illness.

Daniel stayed facing the front, ignoring us. I risked my first question since the airport bar.

“You aren’t just going to use me. Are you?” My voice sounded strange after not speaking for so long.

Jethro stilled, his fingers twitching on my inner thigh. “So naïve. You’re worse than a pet. You’re like a child. A loveless girl who knows nothing of the big, bad world.” Breathing shallow, his hand moved higher and higher. “Pity I’m not turned on by little girls. Pity you don’t get me hard, my loveless, clueless Weaver. Then you might’ve been prisoner in my bed.”

In front of us, the car’s headlights illuminated a driveway. The woodland stopped, giving way from thicket to a huge expanse of manicured lawn and a large oval fountain. Birds of prey replaced angels and fair maidens, their talons dancing on top of water spray.

Jethro’s hand burned, never stopping his slow assault. My heart jack-knifed, pain shooting in my chest as panic replaced my blood. I’d wanted sexual contact for so long but not like this. Not taken. Not even wanted.

The car slowed, skirting around the fountain. We turned left, following the sweeping driveway.

And that was when I saw it.

The monstrosity that was my so-called new home.

The rising monolithic, French turreted, tower fortified, sweeping, soaring mansion. Tarmac turned to gravel beneath the tyres, pinging against the metal panels below. Jethro’s fingers crept higher, demanding I pay attention to everything he did.

“Welcome to Hawksridge Hall, Ms. Weaver. It’s going to be a pleasure entertaining you as my guest.” The sentence wrapped around me like a noose; my eyes snapped closed as his fingers brushed my core. Firm, unyielding, he cupped me through my knickers, sending snow to my womb with his vile fingers.

I bit my tongue, hating him. Hating myself. Hating everything to do with debts and vendettas and family feuds.

“This is what you wanted, isn’t it?” Jethro whispered, pressing harder, forcing the seam of my knickers into my sensitive, barely experienced pussy.

Everything clenched, repelling against his awful ministrations.

I tore my eyes open. “Not like this.” Dropping my voice, I locked eyes with him. “Please, not like this.”

The car rocked to a stop.

Daniel looked over his shoulder, his gaze dropping to the blatant position of Jethro’s hand between my legs. He smirked. “Welcome to the family. Don’t know how much you’ve been told about us, but forget everything.” His teeth glinted in the pooling light from the mansion. “We’re much worse.”

Jethro stroked me, drifting down to where the silk of my underwear gave a little, pressing against my entrance. “He’s right. Much worse.”

I shuddered as his finger bit into me. The unhurried, controlled way he touched me twisted with my mind. His violation was different than his brother’s. Still not wanted, but at least more easily tolerated.

He was the devil I knew. Not the devil I didn’t. In a morbid way, that made Jethro my ally rather than tormentor.

“I’ll look forward till we meet again, Weaver.” With another smirk, Daniel shoved open his door and disappeared.

Jethro’s fingers rocked into me, but I refused to give him any reaction—neither upset nor regret. Sitting with my hands balled, I asked, “Why are you doing this?”

Jethro chuckled. “The ultimate question. And now that we’re home, you’re about to be told.” Removing his hand, he opened the car door and climbed out.

All the blood in my body rushed between my legs—almost as if every molecule needed a cleansing—searching for relief from the hot, cold, tempting, vile way he’d touched me.

He looked so elegant in his dark grey suit, so refined with the glint of diamond on his lapel. Why did someone so horrid look so beautiful? It wasn’t fair. Nature’s cruel irony. In jungles, birds died from being attracted to the gleam of cavernous flowers. In rainforests, snakes and omnivores succumbed to toxin-riddled-jewelled frogs.

Beauty was the ultimate arsenal. Beauty was meant to deceive. It was meant to trick and beguile so their prey never saw death coming.

It worked.

And to a woman who made her life creating beauty for others and never being granted the ease of naturally acquiring it, Jethro was a double threat, both to my ego and lifespan.

Turning back to offer me his palm, Jethro waited for me to accept his token of help.

I ignored him.

I wasn’t naturally a defiant person, but there was something about him that made me become a brat. Pushing off the seat, I propelled myself awkwardly and stiffly to the open door. The moment I was in grabbing distance, Jethro snatched my wrist and jerked me from the vehicle.

Of course, standing for me was already a careful affair, mixed with an unknown substance that’d hijacked my motor controls, I didn’t land on my feet.

With a cry, I tripped out of the SUV, sprawling face first on the gravel below. The car suddenly cranked into gear and drove off. Leaving me alone and bruised before a manor worth millions.

“What on earth?” The gruff exclamation came from above—different from Jethro’s deep timbre, but powerful and full of supple authority.

“Goddammit, this is getting ridiculous,” Jethro muttered. “Are you going to be like this all the time?”

His strong hands lassoed around my waist, yanking me to my feet. The moment I was vertical I blinked, trying my hardest to find an anchor and remain standing. The world steadied and I shook Jethro’s lingering hold off my hipbone. “Yes, I’m ridiculous. Yes, I’ve suffered all my life. Yes, I know it’s a huge inconvenience for someone who wants to kill me that I’m already a little bit damaged, but did you stop to think—just once—that the reason I’m struggling more than normal is because of the stress you’re loading my system with?

“Have you never dealt with an upset stomach or a tension headache?” Waving my hand in his face, I snapped, “It’s the same thing. My body doesn’t handle upsetting circumstances well. Get over it or let me the hell go!”

It felt wonderful to let go of the anger bubbling inside. It purged me a little, giving me room to breathe.

Jethro remained steadfast, his eyes wide, mouth thin and unamused.

“Well, she has fight. All the fun ones did.”

The man who’d spoken stood on the second-to-last step of a humongous portico. The house loomed overhead, blotting out the moon and stars as if it were a living entity. Burnished copper gilded the many roofs and turrets, criss-crossing flowerbeds lived beneath soaring lead-light windows, and lattice planted grass grew on the side of the turrets. It wasn’t just a building—it was alive. Maintained, proud, a piece of impressive architecture that had weathered centuries, but been so well cared for.

I craned my neck left and right. The building continued on and on, at least ten stories high, with intricate alcoves, sweeping doorways, and a hawk embellishing every keystone.

It’s a work of art. I was a creator. My passion didn’t just lie in textiles, but in everything where a level of skill blared from every inch.

And Hawksridge Hall was majestic.

I wanted to hate it. I despised the family who owned it. But I’d always been a lover of history. I’d always pictured myself as a lady of a manor, with horses and gardens and refined dinner parties. I loved exploring stately homes, not for the furniture or statues, but for the drapery, hand-stitched wallpaper, and massive hanging tapestries.

The talent from an age where women sewed by candlelight never failed to impress and depress me. Their talent far outweighed my own.

Jethro took a step toward the older gentleman. “You said it would be easy. I can assure you, it wasn’t.” Throwing a cold look over his shoulder, Jethro motioned me forward. “Come here and pay your respects.”

I didn’t move.

The older man chuckled. He wore all black, and just like the man who brought my belongings in the parking garage in Milan, he wore a black leather jacket with a silhouette of a diamond on the pocket.

His hair was fully white, yet his face wasn’t too weathered. He had a goatee, which was more dirty grey than snow, and eyes were as light and unnerving as Jethro’s.

Instantly my back stiffened; my heart bucked in refusal. This man didn’t deserve respect. I wanted nothing to do with him.

Just as I knew the younger man in the car was Jethro’s brother, I knew without a doubt this was his father. This man was responsible for upholding the evil pastime of torturing innocence for something that should stay in the past. He was ultimately responsible for my demise.

Jethro stalked back, stole my arm, and marched me forward. Under his breath, he said, “Don’t annoy me. I’m warning you.”

Jerking me to a halt in front of his father, he spoke louder. “Ms. Weaver, let me introduce you to Bryan Hawk. Head of our family, President to his fellow riders, and sixth man in a long line of succession to wear the family name.”

He glared at me, making sure I listened. “He’s also known as Cut amongst his brotherhood. But to you, he will always be addressed as Mr. Hawk.”

Mr. Hawk grinned, holding out his hand. “Welcome to my humble abode.”

I shied away, not wanting to touch him, be close to him, or even have to tolerate talking to him.

Jethro growled under his breath, grabbing my elbow and holding me firm. “You’re one infraction away from sleeping with the hounds, Ms. Weaver. Try me. Disobey once more.”

His father laughed. “Ah, I remember those days. The fun, the discipline.” Climbing down the final step, he closed the space between us. His aftershave reeked of sadism and old money—if that had a smell. A horrid mix of spice and musk that gave me an instant headache, whilst his eyes stole everything about me from my reflection to my dismal future.

He cupped my cheek.

I flinched, expecting the brutality and roughness I’d come to expect from a Hawk, but he ran his thumb gently over my cheekbone. “Hello, Nila. It’s a pleasure to once again entertain a Weaver in our modest home.”

Hearing my name repulsed me. Jethro hadn’t used it yet—sticking to the impersonal address of my last-name. I hated that Mr. Hawk thought he had the authority to speak it.

Wanting to spit in his face, I focused on the house behind him—swallowing the urge. My gaze soared to the stained glass windows, the imposing spires, and impressive stonework. There was nothing modest about this dwelling, and he knew it.

I kept my lips clamped. I had a whole novel of horrible things I wanted to say, but Jethro’s seething bulk beside me kept my tongue in check.

Jethro let me go, pushing me into his father. “She’s been nothing but trouble. I can’t deny I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

My heart leapt into my throat at the dark promise in his voice. What’s going to happen tomorrow?

Mr. Hawk dropped his palm from my cheek, wrapping his arm around my waist. With his free hand, he brushed wayward strands from my eye. “You look just like your mother. It’s a pity I’m not the one extracting in this particular instance, but rest assured, I will enjoy you once or twice.”

My stomach latched onto my heart, making me sick. Don’t ask. The question blared in my head. What did you do to my mother?

I’d been so young and full of righteous anger at her leaving my father. I thought she was the villain—the heartbreaker.

But she was the one who paid an unpayable price. And never returned.

Mr. Hawk’s eyes glinted. “I see Jethro hasn’t told you anything yet.” Trailing his hand from my hair to my lips, he stroked me gently. “That’s going to be a fun conversation, but for now I’ll let you in on a little family secret.” Crushing me against him, he whispered, “I’m the one who stole her. I’m the one who took debt after debt from her unwilling skin. And do you know what she begged for in her final minutes of life?”

My head swam. My world roared. Life as I knew it ended.

I hated him.

I loathed him.

I’ll kill you.

I’d never felt such heat, such insanely burning desire to cause harm. My teeth ached from clenching; my nails drew blood from my palms. Copyright 2016 - 2023