Page 3 of Corrupt Kingdom

“I have it . . .” His voice breaks. “Just not on me.”

“No good.” He shakes his head. “Something else . . .” he leads.

Aldridge Sr. lifts his wrist. Red and flashy. A Richard Mille watch.

“No.” Boris shoots him down again, boredom etching away at his face.

“B-But it’s worth almost six hundred thousand dollars,” he stutters.

If I was a better man, I’d step in and stop this shit. But I’m not, so I nod to Z, allowing it to continue. It’s entertaining me, at least. Plus, this could be what I need on Boris. I’ll see where it goes.

“What else do you have of value . . . because I have watches.”

“My house?”

“I already have a home. I have multiple.” A sinister smirk spreads across his face. “Something of real value . . .” He trails off.

“Cars.”

“You have nothing I want.” The answer is final as he places his hands on the table to pull the pot to him. The game will be over before it’s even started.

“My daughter.”

Fuck. This is not what I want.

Silence descends on the room, hovering over us like a cloudy smog, clinging to everything in its path. I feel as his words enter through my mouth into my lungs.

He would sell his daughter.

To this man.

The man people call The Butcher.

A man known through the underworld to capture and play with his prey. His favorite pastime is carving flesh. Hence the name.

“You would sell your daughter to me?” He’s not surprised. This is what he does. He barters and steals.

“Father . . .” Trent tries desperately to interject.

“Shut up,” the old man shouts at his son, who’s now ghostly white. If possible, Boris’s grin becomes even bigger, spreading farther across his unshaven face. “Yes.” He tries to appear strong, but he’s bluffing. I know this. Trent knows this. To be fucking serious, everyone in the room knows. Except for him. He’s so desperate, he truly believes his lies. I should put my foot down. This is not what I intended when I started this game.

“We don’t trade flesh here.” I step forward, and from the corner of my eye, I see Z shake his head. He doesn’t agree with me intervening. Knowing him, he thinks this is exactly what we need on Boris. But even I have limits, and I won’t condone it. My word is law here, and no one would be dumb enough to cross me.

“Is there something else of value you have?” Boris leads. I don’t listen to them talk anymore. A new deal happens, and the game continues.

It always does.

It’s inevitable. This man will lose, and he will owe the Russian his life.

I raise my hand to Maggie, the woman who owns the company I hire for waitstaff. She knows what I want, so without a word, she scurries off.

The game is back on, and as Maggie rushes up to me, her heels clinking against my marble floor, she hands me my glass of Louis XIII.

I take a swig. It burns as it trails down my throat, scorching old demons that once lay dormant.

They deal.

Words are spoken.

Cards are flipped.

The winner revealed.

I know the victor without looking.

I know the prize too.

A life.

The question is whose?

2

Ivy

It’s an unusually warm day for the end of winter.

Normally, the ground is still frozen and fresh snow covers all the surfaces this time of the year.

But not today.

Today, the sun is out, and I can feel spring in the air.

It invigorates me. Breathes new life into my heart. Something I need right now with everything going on. My mother isn’t getting better, and it’s silently killing me.

It’s a good day, though. She always does better when the outside world is beautiful. It’s as if she is a flower, and when the sun is out, she blooms.

I live with my parents in the brownstone they own in the West Village. I’m twenty-two—old enough to move out and old enough to live on my own—but leaving this place would mean I leave a piece of my heart.

My garden.

Her garden.

I’m the only one who takes care of it now. Like everything else in this house, they would leave it to wilt and die if it weren’t for me. So, instead, I’m on my knees pulling all the weeds and dead plants from the ground.

It’s the reason I stay. My mother lost her will to tend to it years ago, around the same time she lost her will to live. She might still be here with us, but she is a shell of the woman she once was.

So, now I tend to it. Using everything she taught me, I bring it back to life, year after year.

My hands touch the withered stems, then I grab them. The hard ground loosens as I free the dead plants and place them in a garbage bag.


Tags: Ava Harrison Romance
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