Page 1 of 67 - Empire (Cartel #3)
 
 Next >  End

PROLOGUE

MARIANA

People aren’t born monsters.

They’re made that way.

After all, how do you fight the darkness when you’re thrust into it?

Same goes for vengeful beasts. They aren’t born. They’re created, fuelled by one singular moment in time when the universe wrongs them and their existence shatters.

I’d been with Dornan Ross for almost a decade. Slept in his bed, sewn up his wounds, tasted his blood, seen inside his soul.

I was the mistress of a monstrous man. Dornan Ross, vice-president of one of the most feared biker gangs in the United States.

Son of the most powerful drug kingpin along the West Coast.

A man whose entire being was predicated on violence, blood and death.

But even I wasn’t prepared for what he did.

He killed our child. He put his boot into my stomach and kicked our baby to death.

He killed the love I had for him.

And he took away the only family his son had ever known. Left his mother in a bathtub full of blood and a hotshot still hanging from her arm, for a sixteen-year-old boy to find.

I’d been foolish enough to question the brutality he’d delivered to his son’s mother, and lost my own child as punishment.

I should have known it would always come down to this, from the very moment I laid eyes on him in that motel.

I should have known his salvation was too good to be true.

Because it’s all gone now, the dark secret love I had for him bleeding away in the darkness that came afterwards.

Now, there’s only hate.

Now, I just want to escape.

Even if it means I have to kill him to be free.

***

I loved Dornan Ross once. I loved him so much that he became a part of me. I loved him despite his darkness, despite the impossibility of us ever being able to have a real life together.

I fucking worshipped the man. But false Gods always betray your devotion eventually. They peel off their mask, and you stare at a stranger. They are the shark and you are the prey, and you wonder how you ever thought you could trust them not to devour you on sight.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

MARIANA

You might’ve walked past us and wondered why a woman like me – twenty-eight years old, no tattoos, modestly dressed – was with him.

The president of the most lethal biker club in California, the Gypsy Brothers MC – John Portland. Covered in tattoos, smoking, the crest of his brotherhood inked on the flesh above his heart. That tattoo was hidden from public view as we stood side by side on the Santa Monica Pier and watched his daughter and my kind-of-not-really stepson ride the Ferris wheel, two teenagers clearly experiencing the first stages of love. Fifteen and sixteen. When I was their age I’d already given birth to my only child and had him taken from me. I’d already been tainted by life.

My not-stepson had found his mother dead, murdered by his father – my lover – a few months earlier, and it was safe to say he’d been tainted by life, too.

John’s daughter had been too, to a lesser extent. Junkie mother. A father who presided over criminals and murderers. Despite her beginnings, she still had traces of the naivety that summer love and an overprotective daddy provided. She still slept soundly at night, from what I could gather.

Sadly, it wouldn’t always be that way, but on that pier, in the sunshine, none of us had any way of knowing the horror that lay ahead, its gaping maw ready to scoop us up when we least expected.

‘We’ll have to watch out for him,’ I teased, tilting my head towards Dornan’s youngest son, Jason, as he rode the Ferris wheel with John’s daughter, Juliette.

Beside me, leaning against the railing that flanked the pier, the man I was secretly in love with shook his head. ‘Don’t even,’ he murmured, rubbing his stubbled chin with his palm.

I started to laugh, until I saw John wasn’t laughing. Or smiling at all. I gestured to the two teenagers as they rode in a carriage high atop the Santa Monica coastline. ‘They’re kids. You can’t seriously be worried about him.’

John’s eyes cut through me, making me wonder if I should be worried.

‘John,’ I tried again, ‘he’s a kid. He’s sixteen years old.’

John’s knuckles turned white as he gripped the railing feverishly. ‘He’s not a kid. He’s Dornan’s kid.’

I rolled my eyes. ‘He didn’t even know Dornan until a few months ago.’

‘Yeah, but he’s still Dornan’s blood. Still Emilio’s blood.’

I shrugged. ‘She’s not that much younger than I was when Emilio came for my family.’ And left with me as a consolation prize.

John appeared pained. ‘Jesus Christ, Ana,’ he said, his words like bullets, forceful and cold, metallic. This was our eternal impasse, our universal hesitation. We were in love. We wanted to run away, to flee Los Angeles and the eventual death it promised us.

But he wouldn’t leave with Dornan’s son, Jason.

I wouldn’t leave without him.

And so we were stuck.

‘Will you miss him?’ John asked me.

My heart squeezed painfully. ‘I’m not leaving Jason, John.’

He shook his head, his eyes glued to his daughter as she laughed and pointed out things to her crush. ‘Not Jason. Dornan.’

Oh.

Dornan Ross, the man who’d been my lover for almost ten years, since the day he collected me from a dirty motel in San Diego and claimed me as his own. From the instant he’d stopped his drug kingpin father from selling me as a sex slave to cover my father’s impossible debt.

John Portland had been Dornan’s best friend for longer than I’d known either of them – twenty years or more, I’d guess. I knew they’d met as teenagers, formed a fast friendship, a friendship that soon became a brotherhood of bikers called the Gypsy Brothers, a club that John had presided over since its inception.

I smoothed down my tank top, painfully aware that we were out in the open, an afternoon ice-cream date with his daughter and the stray I’d taken in. Dornan’s son Jason, the one he’d been unaware of for sixteen years, emerged from the fairground ride with Juliette, stepping back onto the pier, two teenagers in love, even if they didn’t know it yet. It was a rare day for any of us to be out, but the weather was so beautiful, John had collected us all in his beat-up car and brought us out into the sunshine for some fudge sundaes and a chance to dip our toes in the cold water.

 
 Next >