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He laughs to himself, a laugh that conveys some unnamable fury in him. “He even made my father promise no one would touch his marks . . . all because the bastard couldn’t have anyone getting close to you.”

He gives me a sideways glance and his smile is the fakest thing I’ve ever seen. “You trust me, princess, he gives a thousand shits about you, more than he’s given about anything. It used to be impossible to bargain with him. His mother was gone, nowhere to be found. He doesn’t give two shits about our father. He didn’t even give a shit about being alive. Until you . . .”

That laugh again, making every alarm bell in my system ring even when I have nowhere to go—and I’m trapped, trapped, in broad daylight, in the backseat of this car.

“Greyson’s smart, methodical,” his half brother says, his eyes narrowing on my face. “But he doesn’t have what it takes. He wants to keep it too clean, too nice, gentlemen doing business. This is my world. He doesn’t even want it. He’s just doing all this to find out where his mom is.”

He smiles again, laughs again.

I hate that smile.

I hate that laugh.

“Yeah, pretty boy Grey thinking Dad is a bad guy. Always saving people. Kills for the wrong reasons. It’s a dirty world, the Underground. When my dad’s gone, Zero’s going to turn it into a legit enterprise. What? Are we going to sit down at a committee table and f**king negotiate?” He laughs. “That’s not the way the Underground runs—as long as I live, it ain’t running like that. Now I have you, so I got him. Now I’m the one taking the woman out of his life.”

“You can negotiate without me. He doesn’t want me anymore,” I assure. “Why don’t we go to his mother . . .” I suggest.

“Bitch, nobody knows where the bitch is but Slaughter, and he won’t say SHIT!” He jerks the wheel so we weave to the side, then he glares at me as he straightens the car back out. “God! It’s beyond interesting to me that my brilliant, talented brother would fall for a bimbo like you. But I’m sure you give good head.”

I remain silent, too scared to speak now.

Greyson thinks I left. He let me GO.

He won’t come for me.

I know the exact shade of Grey’s eyes when he looks at me.

How he sleeps with an arm under a pillow, facedown with his head turned to me.

I know he smells like a forest I want to get lost in, forever, and never be found.

And I don’t know shit about his stupid criminal actions.

Except that he was hiding them all from me.

And now I don’t even know how dangerous his brother is. If he’s a ra**st and a killer in addition to a kidnapper. If he’s just holding me for ransom or planning to torture me simply because he can . . .

I don’t know what the f**k to do!

“Go ahead. Judge me. I don’t give a shit,” the guy spits out.

He pulls the car into an underground garage and slides a gate closed behind us, and pulls me out of the back of the car, pressing the gun to my temple. Cold. Hard. Steel.

My stomach roils as he clenches my arm and drags me to the underground elevator.

“Tell me,” he says as we ride up, and I can hardly hear him through the pounding of my own heartbeat. “Who was doing Slaughter’s dirty work when his precious Greyson took off? I was sure he’d never come back, but oh, no. Julian was willing to practically beg. He was too afraid to lose his golden child. When Julian learned he was sick, he couldn’t sleep thinking he’d never see his precious Zero again, his Underground—all the fights, all the gambling, the lucrative business, the prestige among fighting leagues—it would all go to waste if Zero wasn’t behind the reins.”

I hear his words, but most of all, I feel the sick resentment that he’s venting out on to me.

Kick his nuts, Melanie! But I’m frozen.

“See, I’m not jealous.”

Melanie, twist around, run away!

It looks so easy on television, but my stupid knees . . . my stupid knees feel like Jell-O and it seems that, apparently, I can’t run to save myself.

“When Slaughter dies, Greyson gets nothing so long as I got you,” Wyatt continues as he opens the elevator gate and shoves me into an abandoned loft, littered with old wood, dried-out paint cans. “Sit on that f**king chair or I shoot your legs.”

I drop down on the chair without question, clenching my jaw to keep my teeth from chattering.

“He’s dying right now. And I got you. Greyson loses. The list is incomplete and he loses. Even if he were to fight me for it, if he wants you back, he’s going to need to give it up in exchange for you, and I’m going to have to kill him. And you—you want to live, then give me a juicy little f**k and we’ll see.” He looks at me. “That’s right, Melanie. You see, I’ve been watching you lately too. All those videos he plays. I’ve been watching you. Your tits bouncing. You screaming, ‘Riptiiiiide!’ Yeah, my brother’s not the only one with a hard-on for you.”

Wyatt starts tying my arms behind my back with thick hemp rope.

Fear. It’s eating me alive now. I can hear the chatter of my teeth knocking.

The wind whistling outside.

He straps me down and I blink my eyes because, no, I don’t want this ass**le to see me crying.

“He’ll kill you when he finds you,” I rasp, hating the fear in my voice.

He laughs. “Darling, I’m already dead.” He leans over. “And he won’t. Kill me. See, that’s the thing about him. He doesn’t like to kill. He does it only when he has to. But I’m the only family he’ll have left. He still feels responsible for me. Bailing me out of my shit. He’ll feel, in that part of him that hates being a Slater, that it’s my father’s fault I’m like this too. He’ll let me live.”

He ties something around my mouth and leaves for a moment. Suddenly it’s so still, and the silence frightens me most of all.

My eyes burn from the need to cry.

My throat is raw, my tongue is dry and sticky under the cloth he wrapped around my mouth.

I may die today.

I failed myself, my sister, my parents. And it gives me no pleasure that the last time I saw the only man I’ve ever loved, I threw our love away. Oh god.

I told him how wrong he was for me, but never how right. He never knew that I was happy, blissfully happy—even if afraid—to be in love with him. I didn’t say that I think I fell from the moment he charged into the rain to spare me getting wet. I never told him that deep down I think it’s hot that he’s bad, and even hotter that he’s so good at being bad. I never told him that even after he lied, I trusted that he’d never, ever hurt me. I never told him any of that, only that I was scared. A f**king pu**y.

He will never know that I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that either by a cruel twist of fate or a blessing from heaven, he’s mine. And that I was his before he even touched me.

He is what I never knew I wanted and now all I need.

I believed it enough to come back to him. Enough to leave my fairy-tale land and follow him right into his exciting and frightening Underground.

He might never, ever know this.

Noises shuffle across an adjoining room and my stomach pulls and wrenches into knots as he approaches again.

Uncontrollable quavers seize me as I try edging my nails into the rope knot biting into my wrists. My hair is all over my face. I hate it. I. Hate. It. All my muscles are cramped as my blood rushes through me in an effort to make me move, to help me escape. The chair screeches beneath me and I wince at the sound.

Wyatt marches to a small, cracked window and peers outside, then he cants his head in my direction and stares at me, his eyes raking me on the chair.

The lust in his gaze is unmistakable, and it sends my fear spiraling out of control. Oh god, this can’t be happening!

A jolt of adrenaline kicks through me. Holding my breath, I press the inside of my wrists tight together and wedge my thumb in between the knot, using my nail to try to catch a tiny opening to get the knot to creak open. The rope loosens as I jam my thumb inside, followed by my other thumb, pulling it open on opposite sides, and I pretend to stretch and arch my back as I finally jerk one of my hands free, then wiggle the other one out.

In less than three seconds, he’s back on me. He grabs my hair with one fist and pulls me off the chair, then jerks me facedown on a rumpled makeshift mattress. “What are you trying to do? Huh? Escape?”

I’m scrambling, fighting to get free, but he flips me around and straddles me with his h*ps as he grabs my br**sts and squeezes. My blood pounds, my face growing hot with humiliation as I fight him.

“Don’t touch me, ass**le!” I cry as I buck and try using my knees.

He pins my arms above me and I turn my head and bite blindly, pulling out a chunk of meat.

He wails and I squirm free, panting as I get my bearings while my heart keeps pounding frantically in the middle of my throat.

He roars and lunges and I clip him with my heel, the gun clattering to the floor. Spitting out the blood from where I bit him, I grab the gun and swiftly turn when he kicks it away from me.

“Bitch.”

He smacks me.

The pain rips through me, then he grabs me by the throat and lifts me up in the air, and pain and the urgency for oxygen screams with every breath wheezing out of my throat. He grabs the gun and I kick in the air and raise my knee, ramming it in his nuts. “Ooof.”

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