Trapped between two monsters.

One, I’d feared my entire life. No one knew how to make terror ripple through my body quite the same way as my old man, Alexander La Rosa. Standing on the walkway leading to his enormous mansion in the suburbs of Chicago, I felt that fear pulsing through my body now.

Tracing the upper stories of the dark, gothic structure, I felt it in my bones, that same feeling I used to get when I’d get up to use the bathroom at night in the dark, like someone was right behind me, about to pounce on me and tear me limb from limb. Father wouldn’t hesitate to do that now, not after what I’d done.

The other monster was the reason I stood here now, shivering in the slight autumn breeze. Daemon Petrov, my dark angel, the man I’d been searching for since our encounter five long years ago in Boston, my hometown. Every bit as dangerous and fiendish as my father, Daemon had ordered me to get out of his home because he couldn’t trust me. The sting of his words cut me deep, like the thorny roses he’d used to whip my back.

Unlike my father, I could forgive Daemon for his brutality. It was easy for me to overlook the evil that lived inside of him because I could identify with it. Neither of us had asked to be born into crime families where we were surrounded by murderous villains all hours of the day and night. I’d dealt with it my way, shrinking in on myself, becoming a weak ball of putty, and he’d become something stronger than the forces that threatened to destroy him.

Still unable to move, I imagined how my father would react when he saw me back here. It had only been a few moments ago when he’d called and ordered me home, reminding me of what it costs when one fails him. If I didn’t start walking soon, he’d undoubtedly send someone out to fetch me, and that would make it worse.

I thought of his new wife, Lillian, Daemon’s mother. She had been so kind to me during my short stay in the Petrov mansion. If she were here, perhaps she could make my father see reason. They’d only been married a couple of weeks, after all, and if they truly had romantic feelings for one another, she had to be capable of making him see that none of this was my fault. As always, I’d tried my best to do exactly what he’d wanted me to do, but I’d failed.

And that was about to cost me.

Lillian’s first husband had been a lot like my father. Why did Lillian insist on marrying these ogres? Konrad Petrov hadn’t even been dead that long. Murdered in his own cabin by his own son. The miserable bastard needed to die. I couldn’t blame Daemon either. How many times had I imagined myself doing the same to my father? Pulling a gun and ending my father’s life or stabbing him where his heart should be. I’d only hit rock, I was sure.

With a deep breath, I did my best to surround myself with iron plating, the kind that wouldn’t allow the pain to get past. Whether it be from my father’s horrible words or actual blows didn’t matter. It all stung the same.

If Daemon were here, would I be so afraid? Would I trust him to keep me safe? It was a stupid question born of the fact that I already missed him despite the fact that he was the reason I’d been brought back here. He’d sent me away, knowing what my father would do to me. How fucked up was my mind that I missed him despite the terror he was putting me through?

The door to the house creaked open. A maid I didn’t recognize stood there. Young and pretty, she dropped her eyes and gestured for me to enter. I had no idea who she was, but she must have known I was on my way home—except this place would never be a home to me.

I didn’t need to ask where he was. On leaden feet, I made my way to my father’s office. The scent of his cigars and the sound of his raspy breathing hit me before I even entered the room. He put his cigar down and stared at me, his beady eyes tearing through my defenses.

“Well, if it isn’t my fuck-up of a daughter.” He picked up a glass of whiskey and finished it down, shaking his head. “You’re such a fucking disappointment, Elisa. A disgrace to the entire family.”

I crossed the room slowly, hoping he couldn’t see my legs shaking. I’d rehearsed what to say to him. This was standard procedure for him, the name-calling, the cursing. I could try to tell him I’d done exactly what he wanted, that it wasn’t my fault, but I’d be wasting my breath.

“Why didn’t your mother end you before your first breath, huh? Her body should’ve swallowed you up as a fuck-up before you were even born.”

That hurt. He’d insulted me a million times in my life, but those words were meant to sting. I kept my mouth closed, fighting off tears.

“All you had to do was keep that animal happy. What, you’re not sexy enough for him? Or did you play hard to get? I doubt it, you slut.” He poured himself another drink while I stood there, waiting for the next insult.

My chin raised slightly as I thought back through all I’d been through. Daemon had done his best to try to break me, assuming all along I was there for my family, for my father, and not for him. He’d tried to get me to run from him but I’d withstood all of it. I could be proud of that.

But Daemon was impossible to please. Nothing I did or could’ve done differently would’ve proven to him that I wasn’t just there because my father ordered me to be. Trying to explain that to the man now would be futile. He’d refuse to accept it.

“Well, what do you have to say for yourself, you little bitch?” he insisted.

With a deep breath, I said, “Daemon doesn’t trust you, Father. He thought I was some sort of a spy.”

“That’s your miserable excuse?” He shook his head, took another swig of whiskey, and came around his desk. “That’s bullshit. You should’ve convinced him otherwise.”

“I tried, but he doesn’t think you’d be so nice as to give your only daughter to him unless you wanted something in return,” I explained.

“Bullshit!” he shouted. “You have no fucking idea what you’re talking about.”

“Then tell me,” I implored him. “You’re right. I don’t know as much about the family business as the boys do, but if you’d tell me, maybe I could do something to help!”

“I’m not telling you anything, you little whore. You’d just fuck it up.” He glared at me and finished his drink, slamming the glass down on the desk.

“Well, he isn’t going to trust me as long as he thinks that my loyalties are divided.” I could hear the sadness in my own voice. I really had wanted Daemon to believe that I was loyal to him. What form of loyalty could I possibly have to this man in front of me?

My father closed the distance between us, his face so close to mine, I could smell the liquor on his hot breath. “That’s why you were supposed to convince him. Fake it! You should’ve been able to do that, tramp.” His pudgy finger poked me hard in the chest to punctuate his statement. “There’s only one way out of this family. It would serve you well to remember that.”

Pain radiated from the spot he’d poked, but it wasn’t intense enough to last long. The physical pain never lasted as long as the ache he created deep inside of me. The bruise would set in, sinking through my bones, settling in my soul. That was where the pain would fester and grow.

Turning away from me, he began to mutter under his breath. “This isn’t over. Goddamnit. Those Petrov boys are wildcards. They’re going to ruin this whole fucking thing.”

“What whole thing?” I had no idea what he was talking about, but it seemed important.

Realizing he’d spoken aloud, he whirled on me, his eyes narrowed. “Don’t you even pretend to give two fucks as to what I’m talking about. You’ve had your chance to help the family, and now you’re going to have to figure out another way to prove your worth. In the meantime, you can get your boney ass back to work.” Then he added, “You are my least favorite child.”

I recoiled slightly from the harshness of his last statement, but it wasn’t as if I didn’t already know that to be a fact. Still, he’d given me a small ray of hope, and I felt that begin to radiate through the holes he’d poked in me. “Go back to work?”

Snarling at me, he said, “Don’t go getting too excited. Your firm handles the Petrovs’ business. I need some information.”

All of the light I’d felt a moment ago dissolved. He just needed me for some new errand. “That would be a breach of ethics, Father. I could lose my job, my chance at ever becoming a lawyer.”

His hand shot up so fast, I couldn’t track it as he took hold of my jaw and began to squeeze. “You listen to me, cunt. I’m tired of your backtalk, of your refusal to follow directions. You have no say in this, and the quicker you get that through your thick skull, the better it will be for all of us.”

Tears filled my eyes as pain radiated through my chin. I managed to nod, so he pushed me backward, letting go. I stumbled a few steps and caught myself, but I didn’t dare lift a hand to rub my smarting jaw.

Walking away from me, he began to pace. “Daemon has some secret property deal he’s working on. Black Rabbit. I need to know what it is. What is he up to? What is he trying to buy? If that firm has a file, I want to see it.” He turned and peered through my eyes, right into my soul.

What choice did I have but to nod?

“It’s just intel. Daemon will never need to know, so I’ve arranged for you to go back to your old life, your old apartment, your old job, got it?”

“Yes, Father.” The prospect of getting out from under his thumb was enough to make me agree to anything at the moment.

“Good. Now, get the fuck out of here. Some of us have work to do.”

With another nod, I turned and headed out of his office as fast as I could go. I didn’t care if I had to walk all the way to the apartment I shared with Sara, I was getting out of there. Once again, the idea of running away came to mind, but the bastard would find me.

Thankfully, he had a car waiting for me in the drive. I got in, not saying a word to the driver, and the car took off, headed to my apartment, I had no doubt.

Thoughts of seeing my friend, of finally being back in my own bed made me relax only slightly. I had a job to do again, and this time, my father was pitting me against Daemon.

God, how I wished I could ask Daemon to kill my father. Daemon was so strong, he could take him out. But this wasn’t the time for that. The hate I held in my heart for the man seethed within me. Why did I have to be such a miserable weakling? Why couldn’t I just kill him myself?

My mind went to how it had been living with Daemon. Locked up in a room, locked up in a cage. I was his prisoner—but then, was it any different than how I was living now? I would be back in my own apartment, but my father was still pulling the strings. I was on a different leash with a different master, but I was still a miserable dog.

“Daemon.” His name left my lips, just a whisper, just a cry for him to hear me, to know that I still wanted him, despite all that had happened between us. Whether I was a fool for doing so, I didn’t know, but I would rather be with my dark angel than lower myself to the status of being a groveling dog for Alexander La Rosa.

I wondered what Daemon was doing right then and if he was thinking about me.

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