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** Please note this is unedited **

Chapter One


Unsettled tension grips my throat as I stare at the rice-size tracking device in Rocco’s hand. It’s coated in as much blood as Rocco’s hair, revealing the men who took Roxanne didn’t just remove the device from her arm, they cut it out.

If the anxiety plaguing me is anything to go by, that’s only the start of the torture they’ll put her through. This is about more than money. Fien’s low-ball ransoms already disclose this. If it were solely about the coin, as Roxanne said months ago, my daughter’s ransoms would have been as extravagant as the one I placed on the table to keep Roxanne safe. They’re playing me, and for once, I’m about ready to play back.

We play to play.

We kill to kill.

And we take down any fucker stupid enough to get in our way.

After licking my dry lips, I get down to business. Annoyance is bubbling under the surface of my skin. It’s heard in my low tone when my snapped command leaves my mouth with a roar. “Send details of the van Roxanne was placed in to the teams located around Dr. Bates’s practice. If they spot it, have them relay the information directly to me but maintain a safe distance. We don’t want to spook them into doing something stupid.”

The shit I’m spurting isn’t anything new. This is how we planned to run our ruse. I’m merely implemented extra steps to ensure I reach Roxanne before any of the horrid thoughts in my head come true.

“Once that’s done, bring up surveillance before the blackout. I want to know the position of everyone in the clinic and a block each side of it before we were kicked in the guts.” When Smith jerks up his chin, I lower my eyes to Rocco, who’s peering up at the camera in the alleyway as if he can see me as clearly as I can him. “Anything?”

He reads the unease in my one word like no one else can. “I’m sorry, D, I had to take him down. He had a gun to my head, and no intention of letting me leave the pharmacy once the command to move left your mouth.”

He stuffs Roxanne’s microchip into his pocket before dragging a man who’d weigh at least three hundred pounds into the frame. Since he’s as worked up as me, he doesn’t pay the massive graze down one side of his skull I assume is the flesh wound of the bullet that was supposed to kill him while propping the man in front of the camera so Smith can log his face into facial recognition software. The reason for the man’s three bullet wounds to the chest makes sense when Smith gets an unhindered snapshot of his face. If Rocco had gone for a straight-up mafia kill, it would have made identification hard in this technology-dependent world.

With that in mind, I bring some old-school gangster tricks into play. Remembering where I came from and how I got here might finally have me one step ahead of my enemies. “Check his pockets. His tats reveal he’s a bottom dweller, so he may have been stupid enough to carry ID with him.”

After pulling a face, disappointed he hadn’t considered that, Rocco commences checking the buzz-cut man’s pockets. A few seconds later, he pulls out a retro Velcro wallet. “Who the fuck carries around a tri-fold wallet these days?”

He answers his own question when he rips open the over-used Velcro with force to discover nothing but receipt after receipt after receipt. “Fuckers with no money, that’s who.”

My jaw has only worked through half a grind when Smith asks, “Do any of the receipts have payment details on them? Or was everything paid for with cash?” After raising his eyes to mine, he explains, “He might be lax on ID but that doesn’t mean we can’t find out who he is quicker than facial recognition.”

“Bing-Fucking-O.” After holding up a receipt for a purchase at a computer store in Ravenshoe to the camera for Smith to zoom in on, Rocco pops another bullet into the man who tried to kill him. This time, his bullet pierces his brain via a hole between his dark brows. He isn’t just displaying he is pissed the wannabe gangster got a jump on him. He’s sending a message. The cartel is in town, and we want you to know it.

“Where am I going, Smith?” Rocco asks, eager to move onto his next victim.

His hankering for a rampage hasn’t been this perverse since a handful of my father’s associates decided to test the authenticity of my threat. We went in hard and fast and without mercy. No one was spared.

As they won’t be today, either.

“Give me a sec…” Smith punishes his keyboard as badly as I want to punish someone’s face, pissed as fuck I made him work from Roxanne’s family’s ranch. Roxanne wasn’t lying when she said the cell phone service here was shit.

My wish to kill is the highest it’s ever been, it is brewing inside of me, warning that when it’s finally unleashed, it will be explosive. I honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to control it. It has been building for years, so shouldn’t it take just as long to dispel?

As the thirst for a bloodbath dries my mouth, another disturbing thought enters my mind. “How did they know Roxanne was wearing a tracker? No one knew she was wearing one. We kept it between the three of us…” My words trail off as pure rage takes their place. Although I have all my men on this case, one outsider was brought in. She left a couple of hours ago. “You fuckin’ little snitch.”

Smith appears lost to who I mean, but Rocco clicks on remarkably quick. While dragging his hand over his clipped hair, he growls out, “She’s been under our nose the entire time.”

“Don’t remind me just how long or I’ll kill her before we get any information out of her.” The roughness of my voice exposes I’m not joking. I am about to kill a friend I’ve known for years, and although her daughter’s baby daddy isn’t dead, the three consecutive life sentences he was handed down two years ago will make it seem as if she’s an orphan. That messes with my head even more than wondering what’s happening to Roxanne at this very moment. She’s unconscious, naked, and in the back of a van with a doctor who sells babies for a living and a goon with an unrecognizable face. I could already be too late.

Rocco’s deep timbre draws me from my dark thoughts. “Where am I meeting you, D? Harbortown Penitentiary or are we going directly to the source?”

My smirk tells him everything he needs to know.

“Directly to the source. I’ll wait out back. Make sure the pool house is empty.”

He waits for me to lift my chin in thanks before he hotfoots it to his ride. Not before laying the boot into the man now-housing four of his personally selected bullets, though. He’s pissed he got the jump on him. Not as much as me, but for now, I’ll let it slide.

Time is critical in these matters. The verdict of me waiting until the deadline for Audrey’s ransom exposes how dire things become when you leave them to chance. I took a risk my family’s reputation would pull me out of the wreckage unscathed twenty-two months ago. I refuse to make the same mistake today. This entire operation falls on my shoulders. If I fail, it fails. I can’t explain it any simpler than that.

“Have Rico keep a watch on my father. Until we find out exactly who has taken Roxanne, we can’t assume anything. This could still be about the bounty on her head.”

I know it isn’t, but I’d rather be cautious, especially if it comes with less bloodshed on my side of the field. There can’t be change without chaos, but can there be chaos without bloodshed? Up until a couple of weeks ago, I would have said there was no chance in hell, you can’t have one without the other. Now I’m not so sure.

I will protect Roxanne and Fien no matter what, I just don’t want my victory to come at the ultimate price.


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