Standing tall, Jethro glared, waiting to see what I would do.
I was half his size—and without witnesses, I was helpless. I’d never taken self-defence or thought I’d be in a situation that required it. The treadmill trimmed my figure, but didn’t give me muscle to fight.
What could I do but obey? I didn’t move. I couldn’t. Even my vertigo didn’t dare make me queasy when I was trapped in his savage golden eyes.
A moment ticked past before he nodded curtly. “I’m glad you’re acting with more decorum. To ensure that behaviour, I’ll share one piece of information about the debt with you.” He ran a finger along his bottom lip. “You are the only one who can repay. You must come of your own free will. You are the sacrifice.”
I swallowed, flinching at the bruising around my larynx. His level voice lulled me into thinking I had a chance at escape. Keep him talking. Get him to care. “Sacrifice?” I instantly hated the word.
His eyes narrowed. “A sacrifice is something you do or give up for the greater good. All of this could stop…you have the power.”
It could? The promise of freedom hung in the night-sky, taunting me.
I shifted on the seat, shivering from the cold. “If I have the power, why do I feel as if you’re laughing behind my back?” Steeling myself, I snapped, “Whatever you might think of me, I can read between the lines of what you’re not saying. What are the consequences if I don’t go with you?”
I felt ridiculous talking of debts and consequences. None of this made sense, but a horrible sensation slithered up my back. A memory that I’d buried…from a long time ago.
“You have no choice, Arch. I can’t explain it, but you, me, no one can stop this. My only regret is meeting you.”
My father huffed, whirling around in the drawing room of our eight bedroom manor. “Your only regret? What about V and Nila? What should I tell them? What should I say when they ask why their mother abandoned them?”
My mother, with her glossy ebony hair and dusky skin, stood tall and fearless, but from my hidden spot by the stairs I knew the truth. She wasn’t fearless—far from it. She was petrified. “You tell them I loved them but I should never have given them life. Especially Nila. Hide her, Arch. Don’t let them know. Change your name. Run. Don’t let the debt get her, too.”
The memory had ended abruptly thanks to Vaughn throwing a soccer ball at my head and shattering the final moments my parents had together. That had been the last time I ever saw her.
I rubbed my palm against my chest, cursing the tightness around my heart. Confusion weighed heavily, equally as pressing as despair.
Jethro smiled. “I’m glad you’re being more reasonable. That is one question I will answer. The consequences of not coming with me are Vaughn and Archibald Weaver, amongst other things.”
My whole world flipped upside down—and this time it wasn’t vertigo.
“Your life for theirs.” He shrugged. “Simple really. But don’t worry about the details. There’s the fine print and endless history lessons to explain.”
My heart stopped. My life for theirs? He has to be joking. I didn’t know if I should be screaming in terror or laughing with amazement. This couldn’t be real. It had to be a farce. A horrible, cruel joke of my dad’s to ensure I never wanted to date again. Please let it be a joke.
“You can’t be serious.” I might’ve been hidden from the world of men, but I wasn’t completely clueless. “You expect me to believe you?”
Jethro lost his ice, sliding straight into artic winter. “You think I care if you don’t believe me? Do you think all of this is bullshit and you can somehow argue with me?”
My heart jack-knifed. He was so sure. So resolute. No hint of worry that his scam might be revealed. It isn’t a joke.
Jethro lowered his voice to a hiss. “I’ll let you in on another secret about me. I never do things by half. I never take chances. I never hunt alone.” Leaning closer, he finished, “Ever since I set eyes on you, eyes have been set on your brother and father. They’re being watched. And if you so much as sneeze wrong, those eyes will turn into something a lot more invasive. Do you understand?”
I couldn’t reply. All I could picture was Vaughn and my father being exterminated like vermin and never see it coming.
“Say another word and I’ll end them, Ms. Weaver.” With a glacial glare, Jethro grabbed the handle bars and swung his leg over the black powder-coated machine. Every inch was black. No chrome or colour anywhere.
Shit, what do I do? I had to run. Run!
But I couldn’t. Not now he’d threatened my family. Not now my brain had unlocked a memory adding weight to Jethro’s lunatic suggestions. Not now I believed.
I didn’t know what it was. It could’ve been code for something I didn’t understand or literal and requiring payback. But one thing I knew, I couldn’t risk not obeying.
I loved my family. I adored my brother. I wouldn’t chance their lives. Not after this so-called debt broke up my parents’ marriage and happiness.
I jumped as the ignition growled to life, tearing through the silence, and somehow granting me strength in its ferocity. Kicking the stand away, Jethro took the weight of the bike.
He didn’t wear a helmet or offer me one. I expected him to turn around and deliver more information or demands, but all he did was reach behind, steal my arm, and place it around his hips. The moment my hand rested on him, he let me go, unknowingly giving me a safe harbour but with an anchor I already despised.
I looked longingly at the building where my brother and father mingled with fashionistas and the only world I knew. I silently begged them to come running out and laugh at my stunned, fear-filled face yelling ‘we fooled you.’
But nothing. The doors remained closed. Answers hidden. Future unknown.
I’m being stolen for a debt only I can repay. A debt I know nothing about.
I was idiotic to wish for more than what I had.
Now, I had nothing.
With a twist of his wrist, Jethro fed gas to his mechanical beast and we shot forward into darkness.
The Milan airport welcomed me back.
It felt like an eternity since I flew in, though in reality it’d only been two days. My skin was icy, and despite my repellent dislike for Jethro, I hadn’t been able to stop huddling against him while he broke speed limits and took corners at hyper-speed on his death machine. My tiny skirt and sleeveless corset weren’t meant for gallivanting around Milan so late.
Pulling into a short term parking bay, he killed the engine and kicked down the stand. I immediately sat back, unwinding my arms from around his waist.
The fear remained in my heart, growing thicker with every beat. I couldn’t look at the so-called gentleman without swallowing a cocktail of murderous rage and teary terror.
His profile showed a man with a five o’ clock shadow beginning over his jaw, windswept thick hair, and an edge that catapulted him from sexy to dangerous. He stood out from a crowd. He drew need and desire effortlessly. But there was nothing tame or kind or normal. He reeked of manipulation and control.
He’s an iceberg.
The car park wasn’t empty, but it wasn’t rush hour either. Despite the clunking echo of a couple dragging suitcases toward the terminal, the night was quiet.
Jethro climbed off the bike. Once standing, he rolled his neck, rubbing the cord of muscle with a strong hand. His eyes latched onto mine. They looked darker, more autumn leaf than precious metal, but still as cold.
I glowered back, hoping my hatred was visible.
His face remained closed off—not rising to the challenge of a staring war. Holding out his palm, he waited. The way he watched spoke volumes. He didn’t wonder if I’d take his hand. He knew. He believed in himself so damn much everything other than his wish was dismissed as ludicrous.
Too bad for him, I didn’t do well with the silent treatment. V had trained that out of me. Having a boisterous twin armed me with certain skills. And ignoring moody males was one of them.
Swatting his hand, I pushed off from the black leather and landed on bare feet. The brisk concrete bit into my soles. Wrapping my arms around my shivering torso, I muttered, “As if I’d accept your help. After everything you’ve done so far.”
Dropping his arm, he chuckled. “So far?” He leaned closer. “I’ve done nothing. Not yet. Wait until you’re in my domain and behind closed doors. Then you might have something worthy of being melodramatic about.”
My skills at coping with the future rested on being able to ignore his threats and focus on the now. Standing tall, I said, “I could ask something stupid like why are we at the airport, but I can guess why. However, you failed to think about my schedule—”
“I don’t travel alone, Mr. Hawk. I had tickets booked for my brother, assistant, and wardrobe organiser. Not to mention the excess luggage. They’ll be expecting me. Hell, my assistant will be expecting me back at the hotel tonight. All of this—it’s a waste of time. It’s a waste because the police will be told and if you think my father won’t come for me, you’re mistaken.”
Even as I said it doubt crept over my soul. Tex Weaver shoved me into this nightmare. Why did I think he’d come and bring me home?
Jethro crossed his arms, lips in a tight smile as if I were amusing and not pointing out valid facts. “There were a multitude of mistakes in that paragraph, but I’ll focus only on the relevant points.” Tilting his head, he continued, “Your father is fully aware of everything. Your loyalty to the man who gave you away with no fight is misplaced. His hands are tied and he damn well knows it. As for the police, they have no relevance in your future. Forget about them, your family, hope. It’s over.”
His voice dropped to a growl. “Do you know why it’s over? It’s over because your life is over. There’s so much you don’t know, and so much I can’t wait to tell you.”
He shed his icy exterior, grabbing my hair and jerking my head back. “You’ll learn about your peerage. Your rotten family tree. And you’ll pay. So shut up, give up, and appreciate my kindness thus far because I’m running low on decency, Ms. Weaver, and you won’t like me when I hit my limit.”
My shivers evolved to full blown tremors. “I don’t like you now, let alone in the future. Let me go.”
He surprised me by stepping away, releasing me. My scalp smarted, but I refused to rub my head.
“You’re testing me. But lucky for you, I know how to deal with troublesome pets.”
My hands balled.
How did I ever think I wanted him? The fact his lips had been on my face and his thumb in my mouth repulsed me.
Jethro’s gaze drifted down my state of undress. “You’re shaking. I don’t want you getting sick.” His eyebrow quirked. “I’d offer you my jacket, like the chivalrous man I am, but I doubt you’d accept it. However, I have something better.”
Spinning around, he drifted toward a deep shadow cast by one of the large pillars. “Flaw? Get out here. You damn well better be—”
“I’m here.” A man appeared from the shadows. Dressed in black jeans, shirt, and black leather jacket, the only glint of colour came from a simple silver outline of a diamond engraved on the front pocket. He looked like a thief waiting for a victim. “Been here for forty-five minutes. You’re late.” He tossed Jethro a duffel, running a hand through long dark hair. “Lucky for you the flight’s delayed.”
Jethro caught the bag, glaring at the man. “Don’t forget your place. I’m not late according to my rules—not yours.” Manhandling the duffel, he said, “You did as I asked?”
The man nodded. “Everything. Including photographic evidence. It all went smoothly, and the tickets are inside. I’ll take care of the bike, just leave it there. Cushion and Fracture are tracking the Weaver men until you tell them otherwise.”
Jethro pulled out an envelope, then flicked through the contents. He looked up, something resembling a smile gracing his lips. “Good work. I’ll see you back at Hawksridge.”
My ears pricked at the name. It sounded familiar—reeking of old money.
He’s from nobility? The concept of Jethro being a duke or an earl was preposterous, and yet…uncannily perfect. Everything about him was deceptive and…bored. Was that all this was? A game to pass the time for some rich brat who got sick of killing puppies?
I couldn’t stop my teeth from chattering—both from disgust and cold. The man named Flaw glanced my way. His eyes narrowed. “He’s expecting you and the woman. I’ll message and let him know it’s gone well.”
“Don’t,” Jethro snapped. His English accent thickened with the demand. “He doesn’t need to know. He’ll see us soon enough.” Dismissing the man as if he was the hired help and no longer required, Jethro stalked toward me, holding out the bag.
Flaw dissolved back into the shadows like a scary apparition.
“This is yours. Get dressed. You won’t be allowed in the building half-naked and shoeless.”
Taking the duffel, I muttered under my breath, “I was dressed in an outfit worth thousands of pounds before you tore it off me.” The loss of my showpiece smarted like an open wound.
I had two wishes—one, that he’d heard me and knew just how pissed I was. And two, that he didn’t hear, because I was afraid of his reaction.
Jethro smirked before turning to his bike.
I opened the bag and promptly dropped it.