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I was the boy who would never be king. The monster who could never be loved.
Gia was just a job. Just another girl caught in a world of monsters.
It didn’t matter that I liked the look of her.
I didn’t care that she cringed when she saw my soul.
I liked it.
I liked her fear.
And I wanted her.
Monsters didn’t get to live happily ever after, though. I knew one day I’d have to go back. Because time neither forgave nor forgot.
And neither did I.
Old debts needed to be settled. Enemies punished. It was past time I returned to the family business. I’d been gone far too long.
All my life, I believed in fairy tales. Not the Disney kind. Never those. I always knew life was darker than that.
I was the daughter of a foot soldier. The sister of a snitch. A nobody.
Monsters had been part of my life for as long as I could remember, but none as dark as Dominic Benedetti. None as cruel. None as broken.
I had no illusions about what he was. I had no desire to save his soul. And I couldn’t care about his bleeding heart.
But love isn’t always beautiful. It could be a twisted, ugly bitch.
I’d always known this was the kind I’d find. The only kind that could touch me.
Because some of us, we belonged in the dark.
And Dominic and I belonged in the dark.
Author’s Note: Dominic is a steamy standalone romance. He is the ultimate Anti-Hero, so be prepared for a crazy, rough ride. To fully understand Dominic’s actions, I recommend reading the first book in the Benedetti Brothers duet, Salvatore.
This book is intended for mature readers. No cliffhanger and no cheating.
Fear has a distinct smell, something that belongs only to it. Pungent. Acidic. And at the same time, sweet. Alluring, even.
Or maybe only sweet and alluring to a sick fuck like me. Either way, the girl huddled in the corner had it coming off her in waves.
I pulled the skull mask down to cover my face. The room was dark, but I could tell she was awake. Even if she held her breath and didn’t move a single muscle, I’d know. It was the scent. That fear. It gave them away every single time.
And I liked it. It was like an adrenaline rush, the anticipation of what was to come.
I liked fucking with them.
I closed the door behind me, blocking off the little bit of light I’d allowed into the small, dark, and rank bedroom. She’d been brought here yesterday to this remote cabin in the woods. So fucking cliché. Cabin in the woods. But that’s what it was. That’s where I did my best work. The room contained a queen-size bed equipped with restraints, a bedside table, and a locked chest holding any equipment I needed. The attached bathroom had had its door removed before my arrival. Only the bare essentials were there: a toilet, sink, and a shower/bathtub. The bathtub was truly a luxury. Or it became one at some point during the training period.
The windows of both the bedroom and the bathroom had been boarded up long ago, and only slivers of light penetrated through the slats of wood. Both rooms were always cold. Not freezing. I wasn’t heartless. Well…I had as much heart as any monster could have. I just kept the rooms at about sixty degrees. Just cool enough that it wouldn’t do any damage but it wouldn’t be quite comfortable.
I walked over to the crouched form on the floor. She stank. I wondered how long they’d had her. If they’d washed her during that time.
I wondered what else they’d done to her, considering the rule of no fucking on this one. My various employers didn’t usually give that order. They didn’t give a crap who fucked the girls before auction. It’s what they were there for. But this time, Leo—the liaison between the buyer and me—had made certain I understood this particular restriction.
I shoved the thought of rape aside. I didn’t do that. Whatever else I did to them, I didn’t do that. Some tiny little piece of my fucked-up brain held on to that, as if I were somehow honorable for it.
I had no delusions on that note. Honor was a thing that had never belonged to me. Not then, not when I was Dominic Benedetti, son of a mafia king. So close, so fucking goddamned close to having it all. And it certainly didn’t belong to me now. Not now that I knew who I was. Who I really was.
More thoughts to shove away, shove so far down they couldn’t choke me anymore. Instead they sat like cement, like fucking concrete bricks in my gut.
I stepped purposefully toward the girl, my boots heavy and loud on the old and decrepit wood.
She sat with her knees pulled up to her naked chest, her bound wrists wrapped around them, and made the smallest movement, tucking her face deeper into her knees. I noticed she still wore underwear, although it was filthy. That was new. By the time they got to me, they were so used to being buck naked they almost didn’t notice anymore.
The three night-lights plugged into outlets around the bedroom allowed me to take her in. Dark hair fell over her shoulders and down her back. So dark, I wondered if it would be black after I washed the dirt and grime from it.
I nudged the toe of my boot under her hip. “You stink.”
She made some small sound and dug her fingernails into the flesh of her legs, crouching farther into the corner, folding and withdrawing deeper into herself.
I squatted down, looking at what I could see of her too skinny body. I’d check her for bruises later, once I cleaned her up. Make sure there wasn’t anything that needed immediate attention. No festering wounds acquired in transit.
“Did you piss yourself?”
She exhaled an angry breath.
I grinned behind my mask. There we go. That was different.
“Lift your head, so I can see your face.”
I lay one of my hands on top of her head. She flinched but otherwise didn’t move. I gently stroked her head before gripping the long thick mass of hair and turning my hand around and around, wrapping the length of it tight in my fist before tugging hard, jerking her head back, forcing her to look at me.
She cried out, the sound one of pain and anger combined. They matched the features of her face: eyes narrowed, fear just behind the rebellion in her hate-filled, gleaming green eyes. Her mouth opened when I squeezed my fingers tighter, and a tear fell from the corner of one eye.
“Get your hands off me.”
Her voice sounded scratchy, low, like she hadn’t spoken in a long time. I looked at her. Heart-shaped face. Full lips. Prominent cheekbones.
No, more than that. Aristocratic almost. Arrogant. Beautiful. Different.
Different than the usual girls.
She scanned my face. I wondered if the skull mask scared her. Fuck, it had scared me the first time I’d put it on. Nothing like death staring you in the face.
“Stand up,” I said, dragging her by her hair as I straightened.
She stumbled, but I kept hold of her, tilting her head back, watching her process the pain of my fist in her hair. Teaching her.
Actions spoke louder than words. I always started my training from minute one. No sense in wasting time. She’d learn fast to do as she was told, or she’d pay. She’d learn fast that life as she knew it was over. She was no longer free. No longer human. She was a piece of fucking meat. Owned. Owned by me.
That first lesson was always hardest for them, but I was nothing if not thorough.
I guess you could say I’d found my true calling.
“You’re hurting me,” she muttered.
She swallowed hard and blinked even harder, maybe to stop the tears that now leaked from both eyes. This girl was a fighter. She hated weakness. I could see it. I recognized it. This battle, she warred as much with herself as she did me.
“What’s the magic word?” I taunted.
She glared, her gaze searching, trying to see through the thin layer of mesh that covered even my eyes. I could tell she was trying not to focus on the mask but rather my eyes. To make me more human, less terrifying.
Fear. It was the one thing you could always count on.
She reached up with her bound hands to grab hold of the mask, but before she could tug it off, I jerked her arms away.
I spun her around and shoved her against the wall, pressing the side of her face against it. She pushed at the cheap, dark-paneled walls with her hands, her bound wrists just in front of her chest. Her breathing came hard, harder than mine.
I looked her over. Even beneath the layers of dirt, I saw the print of a boot turning blue on her side.
I was right. This one was a fighter.
Leaning in close, I let go of her hair and pressed my body against hers, bringing my mouth to her ear. “Try again. Magic word. And remember, I don’t usually give second chances.”
“Please,” she said quickly before a sob broke out that she tried hard to suck back in.
I kept my chest to her back, holding her against the wall. I wondered if she could feel my erection. Hell, she’d have to.
“Gia,” I whispered against her ear. I knew her first name, knew it was her real name when she sucked in a breath.
That was all I knew, but I wouldn’t tell her that. It was all I wanted to know. Contrary to what my various employers thought, I didn’t like training the girls. Or selling them. I wondered if I should. It was one of the things my father had done, my real father. He was a scum-of-the-earth asshole. I’d just been trying to live up to my heritage over the last seven years. Hell, I had to make up for lost time. Twenty-eight fucking years’ worth. From the terror on the girl’s face, I was doing a good job of it.
I hated myself a little more because of it every day. But that was the point, wasn’t it? I didn’t deserve any different.
“You belong to me now. You will do as I say, or you will be punished every single time. Understand?”
She didn’t answer, but her body began to tremble. She squeezed her eyes shut. I watched as tears rolled down her cheek.
“Understand?” I asked again, trailing my fingernails up her back and splaying them beneath the heavy veil of hair at the base of her skull, ready to grip and tug and hurt.
She nodded quickly.
I abruptly stepped back. She almost fell but caught herself. She remained standing as she was, her back to me, her forehead against the wall. Her hands moved, wiping her cheeks.
It took her a moment. She moved slowly, keeping as much space between us as she could, keeping her bound hands raised so they covered her breasts.
Defiant eyes met mine, the green shining bright in contrast to her dirt-smeared face. There was something about her. Not once in the dozen girls I’d trained had I ever felt anything but emptiness, a space between me and them. The girls, they weren’t even human to me. It was easier that way. They were things. A means to an end. That end being me sinking deeper into depravity, so deep I’d never see the light of day again.
I steeled myself and let my gaze roam over her. She shivered, and I knew it wasn’t the cold that made her shudder.
“Raise your arms over your head. There’s a hook there. There are many throughout the room.”
I watched as she scanned the room. Her eyes would have adjusted to the dim light, so she’d see at least the outline of what I was talking about. Chains had been fitted to the ceiling in various spots. Overkill maybe, but like I said earlier, I liked fucking with them, and imagination was often worse than reality. Attached to these chains were large hooks, like meat hooks. When I needed to, I used them to secure the girls.
“You’ll have to stand on tiptoe to slide the ring at the center of your restraints onto the hook. Do it.”
Her chest moved as her breathing came in short gasps while her gaze traveled around the room again before finally coming to rest on the one over her head.
I walked over to the locked chest and took the key from my pocket. “I already told you, I don’t like to repeat myself,” I said as I bent to unlock it. I raised the lid, taking out what I needed. This was the usual. Gia was no different than the others. They always had trouble obeying at first.
I put the lid down and held the crop close to my leg so she wouldn’t see it. When I reached her, I took one of her wrists and raised both arms to secure her on the hook.
She immediately started trying to free herself. It was futile, but what the hell. She could wear herself out. I already knew she’d be a slow learner. The fighters always were.
“Yes,” I said, moving around her.
She tried to follow me but on tiptoe, she was slower. I wondered if she even saw the first strike come because at the sound of leather striking flesh—a sound my sick brain loved—she sucked in a breath and went stock-still.
“Do I have your attention?” She tried to turn this way and that, wriggling to lean away. I raised my arm again and this time, struck the side of her hip.
“Stop!” she cried out.
I gripped her arm, turned her to face away from me, and brought it down three more times over her still panty-clad ass.
“Please! It hurts!”
“No shit, Sherlock.”
I struck again, this time spinning her to face me and marking the fronts of her thighs.
She screamed. I wondered how much of that was shock, although the crop could sting like a motherfucker, and I wasn’t being gentle. No sense in coddling them.
“More?” I asked.
I laid one more stripe across her thighs anyway. “No, what?”
“No, please, no!”
“Well, hell. Maybe you’re not as slow a learner as I’d pegged you to be.” I tossed the crop onto the bed and adjusted the crotch of my pants. Her mouth fell open, and her eyes widened as she watched. “Now don’t move.”
I looked her over, checking for bruises, finding several, all of which seemed to be a few days old. No fresh cuts, nothing that needed anything other than time to heal. Although time was limited.
Turning her, I touched the imprint of the shoe on her side. She hissed when I pressed. “You must have pissed someone off.” I chuckled.
“He didn’t appreciate my knee in his crotch.”
I laughed outright. “I like a girl with some fire,” I said as I slid my fingers into the waistband of her panties. “These have to go.”
She struggled violently until I smacked her ass with the flat of my hand. “I said don’t fucking move.”
“That won’t work every time, honey.” I tugged them off, watching them drop to the floor. Gia squeezed her legs together, clenching her ass as she tried to get away from me.
“Please,” she tried again.
I dug my fingernails into her hips to keep her still. “Do you need the crop to stop fucking moving?”
“No! Just don’t…please don’t—”
I felt her struggle to stop moving, and I knew what she was afraid of. I knew exactly what she was afraid of.
“Still.” My voice came as a low, dark warning.
She shuddered in my grasp and hung her head, her breathing loud and uneven.
That was when my thumb rubbed against a thick scabbing of skin. It was about two inches all around and when I pressed against it, she sucked in a breath. I leaned down to have a closer look. The circular scar stood on the side of her left hip. It was an intentional marking, a burn.
She just made a sound.
“What is it?” I asked again after smacking her other hip.
“He didn’t exactly bother telling me when he fucking branded me.” She swallowed a loud sobbing breath.
I straightened. It couldn’t have been more than a few days, maybe a week old. I’d see what it was once the scab healed. In the meantime, I had work to do.
When I didn’t hold her steady, she wobbled from foot to foot, unable to get any sort of a foothold considering her height. She couldn’t be more than five feet five. She’d barely come to the middle of my chest when she’d stood on flat feet. I walked around her a few times, just circling, taking my time as she tried to follow my movements, her eyes watching me closely.
“You really do stink,” I said, stopping to face her. “Did you piss yourself, or did they piss on you?” I couldn’t help it. One corner of my mouth lifted at the question. At the callousness of it.
The girl’s eyes narrowed. A brief look of shame flashed through them.
“Are you going to kill me?” she asked finally. “If you are, just do it. Just get it over with.”
She wasn’t begging for her freedom, or her life, for that matter. Hadn’t offered a single bribe—they usually did. Offered all the money they had. Their families had. They didn’t have a clue that what I’d be paid would far exceed what most families of these lost girls could earn in a year.
Lost girls. I’d come to call them that. This one, though, this Gia—she was no lost girl. No. She was different, and I wanted to know what it was that made her so.
“You’re not here to die. You’re here to train. We only have two weeks, which is less than my usual. And given your…unpleasant disposition”—I let my gaze travel over her—“it’d take anyone else double that time.” I looked her in the eye and winked. “But I’m a professional. I’ll make it work.”
“Teach you how to behave—for the auction, at least. After that, you’re not my problem anymore.”
“Slave auction. There’s one in two weeks. You’ll be there. Guest of honor. At least, one of the guests of honor. Let’s get you cleaned up, so I can see what I’ve got to work with.”
I reached up to free her cuffs from the hook, and she sighed in relief when her feet stood flat on the floor again. Holding her by one arm, I wrapped the other around the back of her neck and pulled her close. She planted her hands on my chest, keeping as much distance as she could between us.
“You want the cuffs off?”
She searched my masked face, focusing on my eyes, then nodded.
I reached into my pocket and took out two pills. “Open up.”
She eyed them. “What are they?”
I shrugged a shoulder. “They’ll help you relax.”
She shook her head. “No. I don’t want them.”
“I don’t recall asking you if you wanted them.”
She slowly turned her gaze up to mine and gave me a one-sided grin, then opened her mouth.
Piece of work, this one. I would administer the sedative a different way next time, and when I did, she’d be begging me to take it orally again. But for now, I brought my hand to her mouth and tilted it. But before the pills could slide in, she opened wide and bit hard into the flesh of my palm, breaking the skin.
“Fuck!” I yanked her off but only after she’d drawn blood. My hand automatically rose to slap her, and she cringed, cowering before me.
In the moment I hesitated, she backed up against the wall, eyes huge, hands up, palms to me.
I lowered my hand and took hold of her arm instead, shoving her to the floor. “Down!”
My blood streaked her skin where I held her. She made a sound when her knees hit the hardwood.
“Pick them up.”
She whimpered, muttering something senseless. I squatted beside her and gripped the hair at the back of her neck to force her to look at me.
“Pick. Them. Up.”
Her terrified eyes shifted from mine to the two pills lying on the floor and back. Holding my gaze, she felt for them and closed her fist around them.
“Hold them out to me.”
She did, her hand trembling, her eyes locked on mine.
“You want to swallow these, or do you want me to shove them up your ass?” I sounded calm, as if I had full control of myself. Little did she know that was when I was at my worst. When rage owned me.
She studied me, perhaps unable to speak.
“Ass it is,” I said, making to rise and dragging her with me. But by the time we were standing, those pills had disappeared down her throat, and she gripped my forearm, trying to relieve the pressure on her hair. “Open.”
She did, and I turned her head this way and that to make sure she’d swallowed. She had.
I released her, and she stumbled backward.
“I owe you one,” I said, referring to a punishment, but from the look on her face, she didn’t get it. I headed to the door.
I unlocked it and pulled it open. I’d bandage my hand while the pills did their work.
Gia moved toward me and then stopped.
“Go lay down,” I told her.
She’d be out soon. The dosage was probably too high. She was a little thing. I’d guess maybe 115 pounds soaking wet.
“Please let me go,” she managed.
I took her by the arm and walked her to the bed, picked her up, and placed her on top of it.
She pulled her knees into her chest, and my eyes fell again on the scab that had formed on her hip. Something about that worried me. I had a feeling I wouldn’t like what I found once the wound fully healed.
I met her gaze again. Our eyes locked, hers searching, uncertain.
She reached for the blanket, pulling it toward her. Her fingertips touched mine when I took hold of it and dragged it away.
Warmth was a privilege earned, and she had in no way earned it.
She shivered. “Please. I’m so cold.”
I looked at her and shook my head.
“Don’t fight me, Gia,” I whispered. “You won’t win.”
Purchase: Amazon US | iBooks | Amazon Universal | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | All Romance
Purchase: Amazon US | iBooks | Amazon Universal | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | All Romance