Eagle Elite Book 3
by Rachel Van Dyken
I’d always wondered what it would be like — to sacrifice yourself so another person could live. It wasn’t like I was morbid or anything, but in my line of work it was just a daily reality. You don’t work for the mafia and not think about it. Death was at your door constantly. Shit, it practically camped there.
I’d just thought it would come knocking a little bit later in life, you know? Every muscle in my body tensed as the second gunshot rang out.
Funny how at the end of your life you think about the beginning. Even crazier? It was her smile that had first attracted me to her. The way her entire face lit up, the way her eyes said she’d eat me alive if I didn’t watch it. Damn, but so many things changed over the course of a few weeks.
I don’t even know how it happened, how she’d maneuvered her way into my soul, how she’d made it so that I was overcome with madness for her — a type of obsession that I never wanted to be done with. She had destroyed me, and in my destruction, I’d found my salvation.
I touched my chest and examined my fingers. My blood was wet and sticky. Slowly, I fell to my knees, I heard shouting around me. A foreign grunt came from my lips as my body slumped against the ground. Nixon came running, then Trace, and finally her, my tough as shit, Mil.
And now… a widow.
“I’m s-sorry.” My breaths were coming in sharp, as if there was too much pressure on my lungs to breathe. Every gasp hurt like the fires of hell. I was being choked by the pressure in my chest, pushing and tearing, just waiting to pull me into the fiery pit.
“Don’t talk. You’re going to be fine, Chase, you have to be fine!” Mil pressed her hand hard over mine. Tears splashed onto my chest — her tears. “Damn it, Chase! Fight!”
“It’s not cold…” I sighed happily as the pain started to dissipate, leaving me in a state of shock. “It’s so warm.” And it was. Death was warm, not cold as I’d always thought.
Mil slapped me hard across the cheek. “And it’s gonna get hotter than hell if you don’t listen to me. You have to fight, Chase Winter. I refuse to live without you.”
“Okay.” I smiled. I would have probably rolled my eyes too, but moving anything more seemed too much of an effort. She would be fine. She was a fighter, after all. “Love you…” And then I succumbed to the blackness of my warm death. At least I knew, in those last few seconds, that for once in my life, I would have done nothing different.
Because every damn road had eventually led me to her, my wife. Going back? Hell no. Not a chance. Because life is about one thing. Love. And Mil? She was mine.
Entice: To attract or tempt by offering pleasure or advantage. Origin: Middle English, possibly from set on fire.
I looked in the mirror one last time. What the hell was I doing? What deranged lunatic had taken control of my body and said yes to that woman’s proposition? The worst part was I couldn’t even blame my yes on alcohol.
It wasn’t as if Mil, the newest mafia boss for the De Lange family had drugged me. Hell, I wish. Instead, she’d simply asked me a question, albeit a stupid question.
But I’d actually answered her in the affirmative. Stupid mistake number one, followed by number two, which was obviously me keeping my word.
Which meant only one thing.
My broken heart had caused me to lose my mind.
“You ready?” Nixon knocked on the door and let himself in. He was dressed in a nice black Armani suit, looking every inch the mafia boss of the Abandonato family, while I just looked petrified and pissed. My reflection in the mirror was pale. Green eyes stared back at me accusingly, as if to say, you’re the one who got us into this mess. Yeah, thanks. Got it. Fully aware of my many sins. Just add to the naughty list.
You’d think after all the hell Nixon and I had gone through these last few weeks, he would be the last person I wanted at my wedding. But he was family — my best friend. Even though he was with Trace, the love of my life. Shit, that was some messed-up love triangle. He’d gone so far as to fake his own death all in the name of saving our family and now… now, it seemed, was time for my sacrifice, my death. Pretty sure Mil would castrate me if she knew I was comparing marrying her to getting shot at.
“Shit, no.” I pulled a flask out of my pocket and took a shaky swig. “What the hell was I thinking? What’s wrong with me?” The one time I should have said no in my life and I’d said yes. I’d even shrugged and then laughed like it wasn’t a big freaking deal!
Nixon shrugged, the ass, and then took a swig from my flask. “How am I to know the mind of my best friend, hmm? I thought you were joking.”
“Does this look like a joke?” I jerked at my tie and let out a long string of curses that should have gotten me kicked out of the church.
“You can always back out,” Nixon suggested, leaning against the door. The only thing he needed was a giant cigar sticking out of his cocky mouth and the look would be complete. His lip ring looked completely out of place with the black and white tux. Tattoos peeked out from under his collared shirt in a way that said F-off to anyone who stole a glance in his direction.
“And get stabbed in my sleep? Or worse yet? Feel like shit because I’m the only thing keeping Mil from marching down to a money lender — or even another family — and asking a favor.”
Nixon sighed. “You don’t have to sacrifice your own happiness just to keep the peace.”
The air was thick with tension as we both fell silent. Because we both knew the ugly truth. The one time I had decided not to sacrifice my own happiness, I had made a gargantuan error, a lapse in judgment. I had allowed Trace, the love of my life, to slip through my fingers and land firmly within Nixon’s grasp. Shit, I was still holding onto the idea that it had all been within my control. My fault. It was my fault.
“Nah, man.” I shook my head. “I think I’ll finally choose someone else over me. Besides, she only needs protection and money for a year. I can do anything for a year.” Inebriated, that is.
At that exact moment Mil came storming into the room, color high. She wore a short white cocktail dress and threw her bouquet at my face. “You’re late, jackass.”
I caught the bouquet with a grimace and gently set it on the table next to me, while Mil’s eyes sent a seething glare from me to Nixon and back to me. I itched to run in the opposite direction, those eyes, Mil’s eyes, they saw too much, she knew too much.
Nixon choked out, “Famous last words.”
I was doing the right thing? Wasn’t I?
Not how I pictured my life going.
It was always Trace I’d seen at the end of the aisle — not a sworn enemy — and not the first girl I’d slept with in my entire life. Not my dead best friend’s stepsister.
Not the future I had planned.
Not at all.
I had to hand it to her though, she looked really pretty, the type of pretty that guys like to stare at but are afraid to touch. She was scary pretty, terrifyingly so.
Her pitch-black hair was curled in loose waves around her face, her naturally tan skin brought out her bright blue eyes, and her sharp cheekbones were decorated with something pink and shimmery.
So maybe looking at her wouldn’t be that awful.
But talking to her was a completely different issue. I’d probably end up chopping off my own ears by the time the marriage was annulled. Either that or begging Nixon to shoot me, not that it would be the first time I’d stared down the barrel of a gun with him smiling on the other end.
“Well?” I slowly held out my arm. “I hate to keep my future bride waiting.”
“Did you just hiss?”
“Depends.” Her bright blue eyes met mine. “Did you just call me your future bride?”
“Um, yeah?” What else was I supposed to call her? Satan?
“Then I hissed,” she said, nodding. “It’s a business arrangement, Sleeping Beauty.”
“Am I ever going to live that down?”
“Getting drunk and passing out on your own bed just because a girl rejected you? Probably not. Think of me as the yin to your yang, the ointment to your cut, the—”
“I think I get the picture.” I held up my hand. “Let’s just get this over with.”
Mil gripped my arm. “Ready for the honeymoon, eh?” She slowly licked her lips and winked.
Holy hell, I was going to end up on Dateline. I was going to end up strangling my bride — in bed, and not Fifty Shades-style.
I tried to keep the shaking at a minimum. After all, I was a mafia boss now, and a female one at that. The suits, as I liked to call them, could smell fear from a mile away, and I had a few hundred of them witnessing my death march toward matrimony.
It was the only way.
Chase knew it, I knew it. I would be the first woman to take hold of the De Lange family. One of the only two female bosses, and I was only twenty. Funny, I’d never thought life would end up this way.
My brother, my last remaining family, was dead. All that was left were a few aunts and uncles, who were either in prison or in hiding, and some cousins I hadn’t spoken to in years. It was me. I was left to pick up the pieces of our heritage and I had exactly no money to do it. Which left me with one option.
He probably hated me as much as I hated him, but marriages could be based on a lot worse, and at least I respected him. I’d known it wouldn’t end well when I’d seen the way he looked at Tracey, Nixon’s girlfriend. But you can’t help who you love, right? Years ago, I thought I loved Chase, but I’d also been sporting a side ponytail and thought Twinkies were one of the four basic food groups.
“You sure about this?” Chase whispered in my ear. My grip on his hand tightened. His breath caught against my face, making my knees feel weak. “You can just say no. You don’t have to break off my hand in the process.”
“Sorry.” I cleared my throat and repeated, “Sorry.” Only in a stronger voice the second time. That scared little fourteen-year-old was gone, and in her place, a woman who had been forced to grow up way faster than should have been necessary. A woman who single-handedly had been given the responsibility of redeeming her family name — the same family name she’d helped destroy.
I waited for Mil to say something, but it was like she was in another place. I snapped my fingers in front of her face as she shook her head and then licked her lips.
“Well, as long as you’re fine,” I said dryly.
She turned very slowly to face me. It was one of those moments guys have where you know you’ve pissed the girl off but the damage has already been done, so all you can really do is stand and wait for the damn bomb to go off and pray that the shrapnel doesn’t imbed so deep into your man parts that you can’t produce children later in life.
“Look.” She released my hand and took a step forward. She was only a few inches shorter than me and hot as hell when she was pissed, not that I was going to actually say that out loud, lest she castrate me with one of her razor-sharp nails. “I said I’m fine, and I’m fine. Don’t make this situation worse by being yourself, Chase.”
“Myself?” I asked, momentarily thrown off by the way her lips moved when covered with pale lip gloss.
“She means an ass,” Nixon said, coming up from behind me and slapping me on the back. “So basically, just don’t talk.”
“Noted.” I glared after Nixon and then turned back toward Mil. “And I’m sorry for teasing you. Clearly this isn’t the right sort of…” I searched for a word. “Atmosphere?”
Nixon winced ahead of me and shook his head, a smirk forming on his lips. Yeah, jackass, laugh it up.
“For, uh…” I cleared my throat and tried to fix it, tried to make her feel better. “That sort of… banter.”
“Banter?” Nixon mouthed in disbelief.
I flipped him the bird behind Mil’s back so she wouldn’t see. Didn’t he realize how freaking hard this was for me? Not helping. Nothing he was doing was helping.
“It’s fine,” she said for the third or fourth time. By then I’d lost count.
Why was I always the guy that had to give the tough love? Was that my lot in life? To constantly be the bad guy who told someone to buck up, come hell or high water.
I held up my hand to Nixon. “Five minutes.”
Mil’s nostrils flared as I grabbed her forcefully by the elbow and led her toward the closest door, the bathroom to be exact.
When I locked the door and turned, I half-expected her to assault me with toothbrushes and toilet paper, but all she did was back away and sit on the floor, holding her hands to her chest while she took in deep breaths.
I sat down on the cold tile next to her and offered my hand.
She took it without reservation. Her skin was smooth but clammy. She shivered, her grip tightening in my hand each time her body gave an involuntary shudder.
We sat like that for a few minutes, neither of us really saying anything.
A knock came at the door. “You guys ready?” It was Nixon. He sounded anxious. It wasn’t as if he was the one getting married.
“Honest.” I licked my lips and gripped Mil’s hand harder. “I won’t let you down. I may be a lot of things, and I may be a terrible husband, since I’m still nursing a broken heart and all that, but I’ll be loyal. I’ll help you. I’ll protect you. That’s what family does. Broken heart or no broken heart.”
“I don’t need your heart,” Mil whispered. “Just your gun, maybe some of your millions, and your balls — preferably both of them.”
“Well, it may just be your lucky day!” I slapped my thighs with my hands and winked. “I’m in full possession of two.”
“Lucky me.” She laughed.
And suddenly, whatever humor had invaded my body left me to be replaced with absolute obsession at the way her laugh echoed across the bathroom. It was like hearing a symphony for the first time, all the moving parts of the instruments playing together yet separate to create such a haunting melody that a person was left speechless. Mil’s laugh reminded me of that. It was deep, throaty, and when she let go, her face erupted from a pinched look to a dazzling smile that had me staring at her damn mouth like I’d never seen one before. I swallowed the dryness in my throat and kept watching — hell, as long as she didn’t catch me staring, I’d stare all morning.
“Let’s go.” She stood and held her hand out to me. I took it, and tried not to look affected. It was probably all the whiskey I had snuck in before the ceremony. Sure, I had two balls, but really that was all I could offer.
The whole heart issue?
Well, let’s just say, my heart had broken into a million pieces a few weeks ago, and I was still trying to decide if it was worth finding them again. After all, some things are better left broken.
“You look pale.” I touched my girlfriend’s face and noticed that she had dark circles under her eyes. I knew that she hadn’t been sleeping for the past few weeks, ever since I’d miraculously come back to life. Things hadn’t been easy for her.
Damn, but there had been a lot of loss, and now Chase and Mil getting married was just one more thing causing her stress. She’d never come out and said it — but when you’re in crazy, obsessive, I-will-die-for-you love, you know those things.
I noticed everything.
Like the way she tapped her foot when she was annoyed with me, or the soft moans that escaped her lips when I kissed her just below her neck, or the way she’d roll her eyes when she thought I wasn’t looking — or even just the way her breathing would change depending on her mood.
“It’s just weird.”
Thank God, at least she was talking.
“What is?” I played dumb. Hell, I knew exactly what was going on in that pretty little head of hers, damn it, and I didn’t like it. Freaking hated it.
Her eyes darted to her hands, and she shrugged and said, “Chase.”
Hearing his name on her lips still made me want to commit murder. I hated to admit how many times I’d imagined his face on the other side of my gun in the past few weeks. He still longed for her. I’d even told him to cut it out with the puppy dog eyes. I knew it wasn’t on purpose, but it was still irritating as hell. Up until Mil asked him for a favor, he’d been planning on leaving. Things were just easier without him being part of our weird triangle. And it wasn’t as if he was leaving the family, just moving to the other side of town so he didn’t have to see me and Trace go into the same bedroom at night, or eat breakfast across from us when her face was flush with pleasure.
If the positions had been switched, I probably would have run myself over with my car by now.
Either that or sailed to Europe and drowned my sorrows in enough wine to kill anyone who wasn’t Sicilian.
“What about him?” I kept my voice from sounding angry, though it came out as more of a hoarse whisper than anything. I fought like hell to keep my hand from squeezing the life out of hers — I was a great actor when it came to the job, but when it came to Trace? I struggled. I was weak. Her love made me both weak and strong.
“He’s getting married.” The way Tracey said married made my entire body tense, as if she was going to be that one psycho who stood up in the middle of the ceremony and yelled, “I object!”