There’s two sides to every story...
And ours? Isn't pretty...
Then again, what's pretty about the mafia?
Trace Rooks, that’s what.
But she only wants one of us, and I'll kill him before I let him have her.
The only problem?
And she may just be our long lost enemy.
Whoever said college was hard, clearly didn't attend Eagle Elite University.
Welcome to hell also known as the Mafia where blood is thicker than life, and to keep yours? Well, keep your friends close, and your enemies?
I watched as the parade of cars made their way through the black iron gates, as if somehow those gates would protect them if the country went to war. Funny, they had no clue that the war—Lucifer himself, was already parading around inside, safe from the police- the feds- anyone who would be a threat.
Safe from everyone but me.
My eyes flickered to Phoenix on my right, he grinned as a new girl walked up to him and gave him a flirty wave.
I elbowed him hard in the ribs.
His grin turned sour as he glared at the girl and flipped her off.
Remember your place.
I’d said it once, twice, a million times to the guys, and they were still struggling with the idea that they weren’t here to go to school, they weren’t here to make friends. We weren’t at peace. We were in a freaking war zone.
And Phoenix’s family was our only key to redemption.
“That seems to be the last of them.” Chase’s cool gaze surveyed the main road that led into campus. It was easier on security to have one road in and one road out. Too bad life wasn’t that convenient.
If someone didn’t belong—it would take us minutes, scratch that, seconds to eliminate them, their family, all while making it look like a very unfortunate accident.
“Wait,” Tex squinted towards the iron gates, “I think there’s one more car.”
“The hell there is.” I muttered, “I counted the cars, I’ve looked at the lists, we aren’t missing anyone.”
Chase yanked the list out of my hand and started reading through the names of all the freshman enrollees. His grin made me about lose my shit as he lifted his head and handed back the paper.
“I hear Wyoming’s beautiful this time of year.”
“What?” I jerked the list away and started greedily reading through the names.
One stood out.
Trace Rooks, Female, 18, Casper, Wyoming.
“Great.” I dropped the list onto the ground and smirked, “A girl who probably smells like cow shit. What’s her background?”
I said it louder, this time grinding my teeth together.
Tex was the first to answer, “We couldn’t really find any.”
“Couldn’t. Really. Find. Any.” I repeated. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Look,” Tex shook his head, “We have Sergio on it, but the girl doesn’t really have a lot of information about her. Parents dead, Grandma dead, Grandpa her only living relative and somehow her social as well as her birth certificate were both lost.”
“Lost.” I licked my lips. I told my head not to go there, told my heart to stay in my damn chest and stop hoping as images flooded my mind. Dark hair, dark eyes, “Nixon, I’ll save you.”
“Dude, you okay?” Chase elbowed me.
“Let’s go welcome her to Eagle Elite.”
“I said,” I started marching towards the girls dorms, “Let’s go welcome her.”
“Why do I have a feeling this is a really bad idea?” Tex said under his breath.
“For once, Tex, keep your mouth shut and stay in the background, paste a shit eating grin on your face and let me and Chase deal with this. Do you think you can do that? Hmm?”
“Take a Xanax.” Phoenix grumbled.
I sent a seething glare in his direction.
He mumbled a curse and walked off with Tex to wait by the tree while we continued the next few feet to the girls dorms.
The car was a rental.
The grandpa was ancient.
The girl was…young.
And she had shit as belongings. Her suitcase was covered with stickers, her grandpa handed her a small box, and I could have sworn I saw a tear escape her eye and roll down her smooth cheek.
“Hell no.” I grumbled, “She’ll be destroyed here.”
“Won’t last five minutes.” Chase agreed.
“Tears.” I wiped my face with my hands, “Tell me I’m not seeing tears.”
“Girls don’t cry here.”
“They don’t.” I agreed.
“She isn’t like them.”
“We need Mo.”
I laughed at that, “We need a miracle.” With a curse, I quickly dialed the number for orientation and made arrangements for the New Girl to be moved to the United States room. Mo was supposed to be on that same floor. I figured she needed all the help she could get. No way would little Wyoming survive the year with anyone else, not that I was happy about it. I mean in hindsight that was probably my first mistake.
I’d officially invited her into my life—by way of my sister.
“New girls here.” I said loud enough for Tracey to turn around and gape. So squeaky clean and innocent. Like a little lamb, right, Chase?” I tilted my head and offered her a smirk.
The old man reached in his jacket. It was a move I knew well. Another clue. He wasn’t what he said he was. He wasn’t who he said he was. As if noticing my calculating glare, he removed his hand and offered a forced smile, “A welcoming committee? This place sure is nice.”
I had to respect his control. The way he protectively stood in front of Tracey as if he was the only thing standing in the way of my devouring her.
“Is there a problem?” He scratched his head, causing his shirt sleeve to fall, revealing a small tattoo. One I’d seen as a child but couldn’t place.
“Do I know you?” I blurted.
He laughed, “Know any farmers out in Wyoming?”
It was his tone that convinced me, the way his shook his head slightly, waiting for my challenge. It was the same look my Uncle gave me when he wanted me to stop pushing.
It was the look that my dad taught me when I was ten and witnessed my first torture.
The girl was still staring at us. Easy target. I’d leave the old man alone, he reminded me too much of mine. And I didn’t need that reminder, not now.
I lifted my arms and stretched lazily.
The girls eyes went wide as she stared at my body.
Chase hit me in the stomach.
I sauntered forward and tilted her chin towards me, closing her mouth in the process. “Much better,” I licked my lips and fought the urge to kiss her. Yeah, I was losing my shit. “We’d hate for our charity case to choke on an insect on her first day.” Her lips trembled as she looked from me to her Grandpa. I released her before she could do anything, and walked past, with Chase in tow.
I needed to talk to the girl at registration anyways. We disappeared behind the building, but I’d be back. I just needed the Grandpa to leave.
Within seconds the rental car was driving away. And the girl as all mine. My heart thudded against my chest, and for a second, I regretted what I was about to do.
But every possible outcome ended with either her death, or her in danger. And for some reason, I didn’t want someone like her at Eagle Elite. She didn’t belong in my world.
She deserved a picket fence.
A good college experience without classmates who’d rather see her commit suicide then survive the next four years.
They would destroy her.
And she would make it so damn easy to do so.
The only way—was to beat them to it. To be the first, marking her as our target, our play-thing.
Nobody messed with what was mine.
And in the end, nobody would mess with her. They’d allow me to entertain them with her innocence. I’d dangle her in front of them like a carrot, and at the end of the day, she’d be untouchable.
I sighed as she looked up at the building gaping like someone who’d been homeschooled and never seen a sky scraper before.
She was too skinny.
I made a mental note to get her one of my access cards—she didn’t need to know how much they cost—or that every single student at EE would kill to have one. Mo would take care of the rest.
She’d eat with us.
She’d want for nothing.
It was the least I could do after what I was about to make her endure.
Licking my lips I approached her again, this time, damning myself to hell with each step I took. “Are you lost?”
“Nope.” She grinned, damn it made her prettier. “Apparently I live in the United States.” With a shrug she tried and failed to lift her heavy suitcase and nearly toppled over onto her cute ass.
I muffled a laugh, knowing that Chase was doing the exact same thing. Being mean to her would be like kicking a puppy. But the world was ugly. I just hated that I would be her tutor in the ways of reality—her prince of darkness.
Damn, I would have done anything to be the hero.
“I’m Nixon.” I stood directly in front of her, shifting my eyes from her poorly fitting clothes to her ugly shoes.
“Tracey, but everyone calls me Trace.” She held out her hand.
I itched to touch it.
To touch her skin.
Instead, I scowled, shook her hand, then wiped that same hand on my jeans as if she was diseased.
“What?” She took a step back.
Chase moved past me, “He’s right. As cute as you are, Farm Girl, someone needs to tell you the rules.”
Her gaze narrowed, “Can it be fast?”
Yeah, again, I almost lost my mind. Chase was probably ready to shit his pants. The last person that talked back to him was Phoenix and that ended with a few broken bones and a trip to the dentist.
“You hear that Chase?” I said amused, “She likes it fast.”
“Pity,” Chase took a step closer, nearly touching her with his body, “I’d like to give it to her slow.” His eyes raked her in, as if she was the first girl he’d ever seen in his entire existence. Jealousy surged through me. What he hell? She wasn’t’ his. Not that she was mine, but still. He was standing too close, too close.
“The rules.” He stepped back. My heart beat returned to normal, “No speaking to the Elect, unless you’ve been asked to speak to them.” He circled around her staring a little long at her ass before he continued.
“Who are the--“
“—Nope. You’ve already broken a rule. I’m speaking New Girl.” Chase smirked. “Geez, Nixon, this one’s going to be hard to break in.”
“They always are.” I said without taking my eyes from her, “But I think I’ll enjoy this one.” The first true thing I’d said. I would enjoy it too much. I’d enjoy her too much, because she reminded me of someone I used to know. Someone who offered to save me, when I was already past saving, someone who wiped my tears, and cried as if they were her own.
Chase continued with the rules. Making me sicker as her face continued to fall.
Finally she asked, “Is that all?”
“No.” Raw desire pulsed through me as I approached her, needing to touch her, needing to make sure she was real even though I knew I was acting like a complete and utter lunatic. Chase and I would have words later. He knew me better than I knew myself sometimes. I was going too far, pushing myself, pushing him.
My hand caressed her face, then moved down her smooth neck to her shoulder. I wanted to claim her, to possess her, to make her scream—but not with fear, with utter ecstasy. I had no idea who she was, but she made me want. And that was the problem.
For the first time in years. I wanted.
I wasn’t allowed to want.
I had to die to myself.
Because in the grand scheme of things? It wasn’t about me. It was about blood, family, protection. Blood in, blood out.
Her eyes dilated. Furious that she’d reacted so easily, upset with myself for making my own body suffer, I snapped.
“You feel this? Memorize it now, because as of this moment, you can’t touch us. We are untouchable. If you as much as sneeze in our direction, if you as much breathe the same air in my atmosphere. I will make your life hell. This touch, what you feel against your skin, will be the only time you feel another human being as powerful as me near you. So like I said, feel it, remember it, and maybe one day, your brain will do you the supreme favor of forgetting what it felt like to have someone like me touching you. Then, and only then, will you be able to be happy with some mediocre boyfriend and pathetic life.” Away from me. Away from it all. Safe.
A few more tears escaped down her cheek.
And I knew in that moment. It was the beginning of the end.
Rachel Van Dyken is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling author of regency and contemporary romances. When she's not writing you can find her drinking coffee at Starbucks and plotting her next book while watching The Bachelor.
She keeps her home in Idaho with her Husband and their snoring Boxer, Sir Winston Churchill. She loves to hear from readers! You can follow her writing journey at www.rachelvandykenauthor.com