Olivier Merlo works for a dangerous man. He does what he’s told without asking questions because he needs to protect his sister and niece. When someone gives his boss trouble, Olivier does what he does best. It’s a routine hit—until the victim’s brother starts poking around.
Cody Anders left his family behind a decade ago—along with their wealth and influence—to live on his own terms. Still, he knows his twin didn’t die of a drug overdose, and he’ll do anything to find the truth. What he uncovers is a conspiracy that will topple his family and leave him staring down the barrel of a gun.
Olivier must decide if he’s going to obey orders or free himself from the curse that has guided his hand for centuries. Cody, who challenges Olivier’s notion that no one can love him, holds the key to breaking his chains. But when the truth finally comes out, it might be more than Cody can accept.
OLIVIER SMOOTHED his hair and knocked on the door. He had the code word. He always had the code word. He knew who was selling what and how much they paid the cops to keep off their back. The place was cop friendly, not that any officer would ever admit to visiting a speakeasy when off duty. He was supposed to set an example.
After dealing with two murders that week he looked forward to a whiskey.
He looked forward to meeting his lover and informant more.
The Anders family was making a name for themselves in all the wrong ways. The two murders Olivier was investigating had practically been signed. But the old man had his hands all over the place and in enough legitimate businesses that he had friends in high places. He never seemed to get his hands dirty, yet the fingerprints of his influence were everywhere.READ MORE
Olivier knew if he even looked in Anders’s direction, he’d have his badge taken away. That’s how high the old man’s connections went. He needed hard proof.
He took his usual seat, to the side, where he could watch the door. Finlay would be there soon. Fergus and Finlay—identical twins who couldn’t be more different in personality. It was Fergus up to his armpits in blood. Finn had confessed his brother’s dark desires one night. Given that they’d been in bed at the time, it was questionable who had the darker desires.
Olivier told himself he was doing it for information, but that was a lie. Most cops wouldn’t sleep with a crime boss’s son for information. It was a dangerous game they played. No matter how much they wanted to be on the same side, they weren’t.
What they were doing would not end well.
He knew that, but he convinced himself that it was worth the risk to get Old Man Anders.
That, and he couldn’t walk away from Finn. Somehow things had gotten twisted, and he’d started to care about him. He didn’t want to care.
His whiskey arrived, and he drank it alone. Finn was late. Not a good sign. The club was busy. Glasses clinked. The woman singing was just loud enough to be heard, not loud enough to be intrusive. He ordered another whiskey.
He’d leave after that one.
He bit back the frustration. Finn had never missed a date… a meeting. If his father had discovered what he was up to, there would be hell to pay. Would Anders feed Finn false information or would he take out the threat? He didn’t want to believe that any man was cold enough to kill his own son. But Olivier knew that some men were broken, deep inside. He dealt with them all the time. Finn was the opposite. Finn’s heart wasn’t a crumpled mess of lies and anger. He believed in doing the right thing and everything would work out. His optimism was one of the reasons Olivier liked him.
Olivier ran his finger around the rim of his glass. He’d have to find someone to carry the blame for the recent deaths if he couldn’t get Anders. No one liked the idea of a killer running around. It made the cops look bad and the criminals too confident.
Finn walked in… except it wasn’t. Olivier knew how his lover walked, and that wasn’t him. Fergus had taken his brother’s place and hoped to fool him. The warmth of the whiskey was swallowed by sharp-edged ice.
Olivier forced a smile. He’d play along for a bit and see what his lover’s twin wanted. “Do you want a drink?”
“No, I don’t have long.” Fergus didn’t sit. His eyes were hard and his lips more inclined to sneer than smile, even though he was clearly trying hard to play his role.
Finn would’ve said that. He said that every time, and then they spent too long together. But he would’ve sat and had the drink anyway.
Olivier looked up at him. It was fascinating how one man could arouse him and the other only created contempt, when they looked so similar. He hadn’t been able to tell them apart at first. Now he wondered how he’d ever gotten them confused.
He made a show of finishing his drink. “How was your week?”
“Good.” Fergus nodded and his fake smile widened. “I couldn’t wait to see you.”
Finn would never have said that. They always danced around the issue, even though they both knew where they would end up. Olivier kept his mask up.
Fergus knew far too much—which meant that Finn had been forced to tell. Was that blood under Fergus’s nails, or dirt?
Olivier stood. He straightened his jacket. The familiar weight of his pistol reassured him, but he could imagine the furor that would follow if he killed Fergus Anders. Best not kill him, then—something nonfatal, if it came to that.
From the gleam in Fergus’s eyes, it was going to come to that.
He could walk away. Leave by the secret exit that was only used during a prearranged raid. But if he ran, he’d never see Finn again. Was Finn already dead?
Olivier ignored the stab of pain the idea caused. He refused to believe that Anders would hurt one of his sons, but he knew too well what Anders was capable of. If Olivier wasn’t going to run, he was going to have to fight. Olivier needed Finn to testify against his father. Maybe this would be enough to get him to agree. He hoped so, even though Finn had sworn that he’d never testify against his family.
Loyalty—it was a rare and valuable thing. In this case it was hampering his investigation. If Finn agreed to testify he could be protected. Instead he was in trouble. Loyal but foolish.
Olivier was just a little taller than Fergus, and he used every part of that inch. He put his hands on his hips, and stared at Fergus. He wouldn’t walk away without finding out what was going on. If Finn was dead, there’d be hell to pay. “Where’s your brother?”
“You aren’t as dumb as you look.”
And you aren’t as charming as you think you are.
“I’ll ask again. Where is he?” Olivier was aware that people were looking. Did he risk making a scene? This was his only chance to get Finn… and then what?
“Come with me and you’ll find out.” The smile was gone, along with the rest of the act. Fergus was a shark in human skin.
It was a trap, maybe. Or was it personal? Finn had avoided doing anything but paperwork for his father. Fergus had no head for numbers, poor dear. He probably needed both hands to count to ten, but he was obedient and didn’t ask questions.
Olivier followed Fergus out to the street. It was cold and dark. The club had been warm and full of potential. His night had broken apart. “Did it not bother you, hurting your brother?”
“He deserved it. Talking to a cop,” Fergus spat.
“There wasn’t much talking.” Lies. They talked business before they indulged.
Fergus spat again.
Cold spread through Olivier’s gut. It wasn’t too late to walk away. If Finn was still alive, he was as good as dead anyway. But if he did nothing, what kind of a cop was he?
A live one.
For a moment he was tempted to save himself, but a white-hot rage flared, and the need to end Fergus’s life and stop him from causing anyone any more pain was all-consuming. He drew his pistol. He wanted to pull the trigger so badly, but he needed to know where Finn was. Then he could fill Fergus full of holes. That promise almost warmed him. “Why don’t you tell me where he is, and we all go home and have a nice quiet night and pretend this didn’t happen?”
Fergus laughed. “You don’t get it. You’re both dead.”
Not yet, he wasn’t. He pressed the muzzle of his pistol to Fergus’s back. His right kidney would be ruined with a twitch of Olivier’s finger. Need pulsed through him. A part of his mind knew it wasn’t right. He wasn’t the kind of cop who fired first. But he pushed it aside. He was worried about Finn. “As I was saying. I’ll get your brother, and you’ll never see him again.” You’ll never hurt anyone again. “I’ll even overlook the threats you’ve made to a police officer.”
He needed backup, but he wouldn’t get it. He had stuck his nose too deep into the Anders family again. It was probably a good thing that his boss didn’t know what else he’d been sticking into Finn Anders.
Maybe the whiskey had made him overconfident, or maybe Fergus didn’t value his own life, but he fought back. Olivier fired one shot. It tore through Fergus’s arm, but didn’t stop him, and Olivier ended up with a knife pressed to his throat and his back hard against Fergus’s chest. The blade bit a little deeper into his flesh with each breath. Blood trickled down his skin and stained the white of his shirt. He needed to stop breathing.
“Like I said, keep walking, dead man.”
Olivier walked. He should’ve run from the club. Finn would soon be dead, but Olivier didn’t have to die too. Though he knew how thorough the Anders family was. There was probably a man waiting for him on his walk home, or at his home. His fate was sealed the moment he entered the club for their weekly date.
Olivier had been dying from the moment Fergus suspected his brother and started to bleed the truth out of him. He’d gone through the routines of living without realizing that it was over. He should have enjoyed that whiskey a little more, taken his time over lunch, instead of wolfing it down to get back to work.
Perhaps it was one of his fellow cops who told Anders that Olivier was still watching and poking and looking for weakness. The old man had found Olivier’s.
He was alive. There was still a chance. But if he killed Fergus, he’d never find Finn.
Go quietly with Fergus. Find Finn and escape.
He was deluded. He knew what was coming. Adrenaline pumped hard through his veins, and it felt good. He was as calm as though he were still in control.
Fergus hadn’t taken the gun off him. He had a few more bullets, but he couldn’t fire when all Fergus had to do was shove the blade deeper to kill him.
They stopped at a warehouse. One Olivier hadn’t known the Anders family owned. He’d have to add that to the file. Fergus eased his hold and knocked. That was all the distraction Olivier needed. He turned and shot Fergus in the chest.
Fergus’s face went slack, and for a moment as he fell, he did look like Finn. Innocent. Then his head bounced on the sidewalk, his eyes rolled back, and blood bubbled from his lips.
Olivier’s need to kill hadn’t been sated, though. It surged and demanded more.
The door opened. Olivier was ready. He killed two more—men who worked for Anders but who weren’t related by blood. None of them had ever talked, even when charged and offered a deal. Anders knew how to keep his people silent.
Finn was in the middle of the room. He was naked, tied to a chair, and looked like he’d been trampled by a herd of cattle. He lifted his head. His face was undamaged. His eyes widened.
Olivier didn’t hear the footsteps as they approached, but he heard the click of the gun behind his ear. Felt the cold metal against his skin.
“You corrupted my boy, you piece of filth.” Old Man Anders gave Olivier a nudge forward. “You killed two good men.” He paused. “And I assume you killed Fergus, since he isn’t here. Fergus was a good boy.”
Olivier gave a tiny shake of his head, his gaze on Finn—who would be no help at all. Blood dripped on the floor beneath his chair. If Olivier hadn’t followed Fergus, would they have left Finn there to die alone… or would they have made it quick with a bullet?
“Finn’s a good man. There’s no need for him to die.” Maybe they didn’t both have to die, but death was all he could think about.
“I’m teaching you a lesson about staying out of my business.” Old Man Anders lifted Olivier’s hand—the one holding the gun. “You get to choose who dies first. You or him. Who dies slow? You or him?”
“Finn is your son.” How could Anders talk about killing him? But judging from the blood pool under the chair, Finn was already dying. It was just a matter of when.
“He betrayed me.” The pistol slammed into the base of Olivier’s skull, and for a moment, all he could see was black filled with stars. It was almost pretty. “If you kill Finlay, you can make it quick. Otherwise he stays where he is until death comes.”
“I will shoot you in the gut and leave you here, or you can have the shot to the head. You choose.” Anders made it sound like there was a choice and that he should be grateful.
Olivier didn’t move. His pistol was getting heavy, even though Anders was holding his arm. Could he fight back? How many others were around? He didn’t want to die.
It was Finn’s fault. If he’d agreed to testify months ago or had kept his mouth shut…. The white-hot anger was back. How could Finn be loyal to that monster but betray him?
Olivier took several breaths. He needed to buy some time so he could think—so he could find a way to walk out alive. “I didn’t think you did your own killing.”
“I needed to make sure this was done right. Finn understands.”
Olivier doubted that very much. Despite the gag Finn groaned in pain. His skin was ashen. How long had he been there? The blood continued to splash on the floor beneath his seat.
“I have other things to do tonight. Maybe you should both die slowly. That would be fitting. Though it still wouldn’t make up for all the trouble you’ve caused me.” Anders released Olivier’s arm.
Anders had caused Olivier all kinds of trouble at work. He’d had official warnings and been denied a promotion, all because he wanted the guilty to be punished. Other cops just took the bribes and looked the other way.
Olivier looked at Finn. Better to kill him fast. Then he wouldn’t have to worry about him as he made his escape. He mouthed, “I’m sorry.” Then he fired one clean shot. Finn’s head rolled back. Gone. Something twisted deep in his chest. Not love, or hurt, but rightness. Finn needed to die. Finn had betrayed him.
After the echo of the gunshot faded, the warehouse was silent except for the pounding of Olivier’s blood. He wouldn’t wait for death. Olivier turned to fight Old Man Anders. He was in his fifties. His blond hair was neat, his suit uncrumpled, and his face unbothered. It was just another day for him.
Olivier’s pistol connected with Anders’s face. The old man stumbled back and then shot Olivier in the stomach. Pain burned through him. Olivier fired as Anders fled, but he missed. He tossed aside his empty gun and gripped his stomach. He needed to get onto the street where he could get help.
Other men came out of the shadows.
It was then he knew he would never leave the warehouse.
He couldn’t fight all three of them, even though he tried. His ribs broke as they kicked him. He couldn’t feel his legs when someone stamped on his shin and broke it.
The men stepped back, and Anders returned, leaned over him, and leered. “You stole two sons of mine today. Your life for Finn, but Fergus… now I will have to kill your sister.”
Olivier tried to speak, but no words formed. Blood trickled out of his mouth, and the taste made him gag. The retching tore at his stomach. He needed to get out, but he couldn’t even crawl to the door. His back was broken—an odd blessing that had stolen some of the pain he should have felt.
The door slammed closed and he was alone except for the rats that scuttled closer.
As his breathing became shallower, he realized someone was there, watching from the shadows. He tried to call out for help, but no words came out.
A man in a cloak drifted closer. Death?
No, this man was worse. He was the wizard who’d promised hope and delivered only torment. Lives filled with killing flickered through his mind like a silent movie running backward. Until he reached the start.
“Sign your name here and join my army.”
Olivier looked at the man who promised riches and power if Olivier helped him claim the throne. It seemed like too good a deal.
His father had been far too fond of gambling, and the merchant’s sons had played that flaw for everything it was worth. The loans had piled up until there was nothing. His father had a title, but a title meant nothing without gold. The king didn’t care. Olivier petitioned him to help his sisters marry, to declare his father mad—anything so he could put the family back together and keep his sisters safe.
He failed. One was now the king’s mistress. The other was forced to marry one of the merchant’s sons. She should’ve married a lord. Someone with status. But he pulled out when he realized there was no dowry. Meanwhile the merchant’s sons were allowed to continue their games. Because of them he signed over his soul to a wizard.
A wizard or the devil? He was sure a priest would tell him to forgive his enemies and accept his lot. A priest who probably pardoned the brothers when they went to confession. The anger simmered in his veins and made his blood hot and his temper rise. His father always said he was rash. Yet it was his father who had let his pride get in the way.
“And my sisters?”
“Will be given a dowry suiting their station.”
“Previous station—before my father was revealed for a fool.” He wanted the deal to be clear. He was angry, not stupid. “They have to marry well.” And be looked after.
The man smiled, and it did nothing to soften the harsh hook of his nose or the lines around his eyes. “Of course.” He inclined his head. “I will ensure that their previous marriage contracts are fulfilled.”
Olivier nodded. They would be safe. All he had to do was help the wizard become king. At least he was willing to help his subjects, unlike the current king.
Olivier read the document. He’d been taught by monks. When his father broke the news of their destitution, the assumption was that Olivier and his sisters would go to the church. Olivier couldn’t think of a more boring way to live. He liked the weight of a sword in his hand. He enjoyed a good hunt. He did not enjoy prayer.
“And what is this clause?” Olivier pointed to one small line.
“Forgiving your enemy will break the contract. It is the same for every Knight.”
“I have only two enemies.” But there were other knights sworn to fight for the wizard.
The wizard grinned. “I know all about the wool merchant’s sons. They are unpopular, but you need only forgive one, not both. It wouldn’t be fair to change the agreement and make it more difficult for you to leave my service.”
The wizard was a fair man. Olivier nodded, but it would be a cold day in hell before Olivier forgave either of them for what they had done to his family. “Where is the ink?”
“Sign it in blood.”
Olivier studied the wizard for a few heartbeats and then used the quill to score the skin beneath his collarbone. With his blood as the ink, he signed his name with a flourish.
The wizard rolled up the paper. “Now about those brothers… that can be your first job. Enjoy your revenge.”
Olivier’s mouth filled with blood. He should be in agony, but he was numb. His jaw was broken, so he couldn’t speak. Anders would get away with it. No one would stop him, and he would send someone to kill Olivier’s sister. He had failed to protect those he loved. Again.
The wizard nodded. “Yes, you have failed again. All you had to do was to forgive one brother to be free.” He pointed at Finn. “And you were so close this time, but in the end you blamed him.”
The wizard touched Olivier’s forehead, and everything stopped.COLLAPSE