Tuesday, July 30, 2013

An extract from BEHIND THE LENS: Chapters 1-4.

Only for readers aged 18 and over.
This book contains sexually explicit content, both M/F and M/M. (The first 4 chapters only contain M/F content). The cover picture is of Dante Rata.

Kara pressed the gate’s intercom buzzer once again, wondering whether Craven was purposely tormenting her. She’d been sitting in her car for over ten minutes, waiting for the seven-foot wrought-iron gate to open sesame, and going over all the possibilities why she’d been ordered to come to her boss’s estate at such short notice.
1) He wanted payment. She owed Craven thirty grand, a debt she’d accrued from borrowing money to send back to her family in Croatia.
2) He wanted sex, although he’d always gone to the studio for that, which he’d stopped doing eight months ago, right before marrying.
3) He had another video surveillance job, the type that required her becoming an attractive man’s girlfriend, then secretly installing cameras in their bedroom, the sex tapes becoming entertainment for wealthy clients who were members of an exclusive porn club.
Her hands shook as she pressed the buzzer again, praying it wasn’t number one, although she had a feeling it was, the warning she’d received a few days ago still colouring her ribs with a patchwork of bruises.
A deep voice rumbled through the intercom, making her jump. “Sorry for keeping you waiting,” the man said. “Please drive through.”
Kara looked up as the gates opened soundlessly, assessing whether it was too late to take off. She exhaled loudly, knowing she couldn’t run, because the bastard would hurt her family, his connections stretching across the world to Croatia.
She drove through the gates, steering her old sedan under a willow canopy, their drooping leaves waving her by as though she was driving to her own funeral. Beyond the trees, a tennis court, stables and an equestrian field broke up the manicured lawns, while straight ahead a white two-storey mansion stood proud on the horizon. She’d always felt like she was on a film set when she visited Craven, because his home looked like a larger version of Scarlett O’Hara’s house from Gone with the Wind, something that Kara had watched over and over again as a teenager. It was just one of the many American films that had helped her learn English, although her Croatian accent still remained strong, her time in New Zealand having little or no affect on it.
Kara turned right at the end of the driveway, and parked next to an old Rolls Royce. She got out of her car and pulled down her leopard-print work dress, which had ridden up to her backside. Once decent, or at least semi-decent, the tight little number far from business attire, she headed for the entrance, her stilettos click-clacking across the concrete, announcing her arrival. The front door opened before she reached it, revealing Talia, an old workmate and the boss’s wife. Dressed in a pale-yellow sundress and with a blonde halo of hair, the woman looked the picture perfect housewife, her angelic face adding to the illusion. But Kara knew better, her first memory of Talia still seared in her mind. Naked and kneeling under a table, Talia had been blowing men for fifty dollars a load as they played poker.
“The Devil was once an angel,” Kara said, voicing her thoughts, something she had a bad habit of doing.
“I could never understand you, and I’m not referring to your accent,” Talia said, tucking her hair behind her ears, which was probably to show off the sparkling earrings adorning them, something that Talia would’ve stolen in the past to own, her fingers always too free with things that didn’t belong to her—men included.
“Can’t change a prostitutka no matter what she wears,” Kara added.
“Did you just call me a prostitute?”
Kara smiled. “No, it’s Croatian for angel.”
“You’re a liar,” Talia snapped. “And unlike you, I don’t sell my body anymore.”
“Craven is more of a client to you than a husband,” Kara indicated to Talia’s earrings, then to the Rolls Royce parked next to a black Maserati, “and those are part of your payment.”
Talia glared at Kara. “Jealousy fits you tighter than that slip of a dress, which tells me that you’re still shopping at Whores ’R’ Us.”
Kara tugged the hem down.
Talia crossed her arms over her chest. “You better not be here to fuck my husband or Saul. You can do the others, but those two are off limits.”
Kara let go of her dress. “You have a thing for Saul?”
Talia spun around and walked inside, confirming what Kara had asked. Kara followed the woman, impressed as usual as she stepped into the grand entrance. The interior had been upgraded since she’d last been here, the new chandelier above her head grander, along with the plush red carpet on the staircase, reminding her of something from a 1930s stage set, polished and primped to perfection.
Talia indicated for Kara to follow her down a passageway, their heels clacking across the marble floor like castanets. “If you value your life,” Talia said, stopping in front of the last room, “keep your acid tongue to yourself, and do whatever Nigel asks without answering back.” She then left like she couldn’t get away fast enough, Kara wishing that she could do the same.
Sending a quick prayer up to God, Kara kissed the rosary tattoo wrapped around her right forearm and hand, then pushed open the door to Nigel Craven’s sanctum. The room was elegant: white walls, red curtains and carpets, along with an old painting of hounds and their gun-wielding owners. Behind a large mahogany desk, Talia’s husband was sitting staring at a computer, his fingers doing a tap dance across its keyboard. Kara said hello, but Craven continued typing without lifting his head. She stood there awkwardly, waiting for him to finish whatever he was doing. After what seemed like an eternity, he finally looked up. Fifty-something with a bald spot and spectacles, Talia’s husband gave the appearance of a mild-mannered accountant. He got to his feet, his wicked smile saying he was anything but. He walked around the desk and hugged Kara like she was a long lost daughter, someone he cared for and wouldn’t hurt, but she knew better, the man always reminding her of the saying: A wolf in sheep’s clothing.
“How are you today, my dear?” Craven said, pulling back to give her a good peruse.
“I’m fine th-thank you, Nigel,” Kara answered, fear making her trip over her tongue.
Craven indicated for Kara to take a seat, then returned to his own. “You’re probably wondering why you’re here?” he said, loosening his tie. He was impeccably dressed, his crisp white button-down shirt and tailored pants perfectly fitting his slim physique. She knew he was all wiry muscle underneath, much stronger than he looked, a body that didn’t match his ordinary face, his smile the only thing betraying his sinister nature.
Painting on a smile, she unzipped the front of her dress, getting the required reaction, Craven’s eyes instantly going to her greatest assets and giving her hope that she could pull through this meeting without bodily harm. “I know why you would call someone like me in,” she said, unclipping her bra at the front.
His smile widened, like he could eat her whole. “I didn’t bring you here for my entertainment, although I must say, you’re looking quite tempting today, my dear.”
“Tempting is good, da?” she replied, the Croatian word for yes slipping out, or what many people had called Serbo-Croatian before the war had split Yugoslavia apart, making her childhood a living hell, her old home in Bosnia long destroyed. Kara refrained from going to that place in her mind, where she’d watched her father and older sister herded into a line and shot down.
“Yes, tempting is very good,” Craven said, ogling her naked breasts, “which is why my men haven’t taken away your looks, because you have proven a very useful woman—up until now, that is.”
She pushed her breasts together. “But I’m still useful, and will do anything to pay back the money I owe you.”
He looked up at her face. “DDs are not the currency I’m after, so put your clothes back on.”
“Are you sure about that?” she said, easing back in the chair and parting her legs, her crotchless panties showing him everything on offer.
“Yes!” he shouted, making her jolt. “And don’t make me say it again.”
She quickly clipped her bra back together. “Please forgive me, I didn’t mean to offend, and the only reason I couldn’t pay on time was b-because I had to send money to my mother.”
“I don’t care why you couldn’t pay, just that you haven’t.”
“But I will pay, I promise, all I need is a little more time.”
“You shouldn’t have interrupted me, I wasn’t finished speaking.”
“I’m sorry.”
“I’m not interested in your apologies, nor the money you owe me; instead I brought you here to say that I’m quite happy to wipe your debt.”
Kara stopped zipping up her dress, his words taking her by surprise. “Truly?”
“Yes, but I want one little thing in return.”
Kara’s hopes came crashing down. She was stupid for believing the wolf for even a second, because Craven never did anything for free and nothing was ever ‘little’ with him.
“What do you want me to do?” she asked, willing herself to look at this as a reprieve, not her funeral.
He smiled wickedly, his eyes amused. “I want you to do Dante Rata.”
Kara stared at him, the name stunning her. Although it had reached her ears, she couldn’t process that it had been uttered. “Did you say Dante?” she finally asked, rolling the name around on her tongue, tasting it like she wanted to taste the man himself. Dante had been the only man she’d ever fallen in love with, but he belonged to her past, someone she never thought she would be allowed to see again.
“Yes,” Craven answered, looking pleased with himself. “I’m finally granting your wish: I’m allowing you to go back to him.”
“But why? You’ve never allowed me to return to past surveillance jobs before, and you said you’d kill my family if I went anywhere near him.”
“No harm will come to your family, and you’re the only person who can do this job.”
“Then what do you want me to do with him?” or to him, because, God, she would do so much.
“I want you to become his girlfriend again.”
“I would love to,” intensely, “but I highly doubt he’d take me back after what I said to him.”
“Yes, I saw that video,” he said, his smile widening. “From memory you called him a prostitute and said some other rather nasty things. His reaction was most entertaining. He destroyed his room right after you left, tore it apart to the point that his brothers and cousin had to restrain him. He totally broke down, sobbed like a baby.”
Kara stared at him in shock, his words slashing her heart to threads. She hadn’t considered what Dante might have gone through after she’d walked out, was too caught up with her own sorrow at being ordered to leave him. And she’d been told by Craven’s whores that he’d moved on from her like she’d meant nothing, taking another woman into his bed within days, then another and another, his exploits now legendary.
“Are you crying?” Craven asked.
She scrubbed at her eyes. “How do you expect me to be his girlfriend again after what I said to him?” You heartless bastard! She wanted to slit his throat, to shoot him in the head, to kick him in the nuts, to totally and utterly destroy him like he’d done to her.
“You’re a talented woman, Kara,” Craven said, “so I’m sure you’ll win him back.”
“But for how long? Because I can’t face it if you make me leave him again.”
“If you achieve what I want, you can have him for however long you want.”
“Which is forever.”
Craven laughed. “Okay, forever it is. So, will you accept?”
Da. But why do you want me back with him?”
“The Ratas are leaving my employ and moving away, which will lose me considerable revenue, their monetary offer to cut ties a pittance in comparison. I found out today that their cousin lied to them about why they are tied to me: That he owes me three-hundred thousand dollars—”
“He doesn’t?” Kara said, remembering the reason Dante had given her for why the Ratas sold drugs: that they were paying off their cousin’s debt, something that never seemed to diminish, Dante’s gambling habit exacerbating the problem.
“Oh, Hunter does owe me, but only fifty grand, which he could pay back easily if he sold his house, but I’m not interested in obtaining that money, if anything, I wrote it off a long time ago, Hunter’s loyalty to me more than enough payment, especially since he did time on my behalf.”
“Did you tell Ash and Dante this?”
“No. I allowed then to believe Hunter’s exaggeration.”
“But you can’t take their money, it’ll ruin them, and you don’t need it.”
Craven smiled at her. “There’s no need to get worked up, because I have no intention of taking it. I only allowed them to believe I would, but that’s because I need to stall. They have to sell their home before they can pay me, and selling property doesn’t happen overnight and especially not in their rundown neighbourhood. And since they’ve agreed to work for me until it’s sold, I have time for you to change their minds, which you will do through Dante. But if you fail in doing that, then as a backup I need you to stay with them, Dante in particular so we can continue to film him, because that boy has no idea how much money he’s worth.”
“Why don’t you just threaten them, like the last time Dante’s brother tried to quit? Ash caved in quick after you kidnapped his child.”
“Threats won’t work this time,” Craven said. “Ash has changed. He wasn’t the same person when he came to see me today. Normally he’s controlled, but when I tried to talk him out of quitting, he started ranting at me that if I didn’t take the money he would shoot me. Shoot me! I’m the one who threatens, not a lowly drug runner, but I’m a logical man, so I agreed to it, although he deserved a bullet through his head for what he said.”
Kara frowned, not understanding any of this. “Then why didn’t you? I’ve heard you’ve killed people for less.”
“Haven’t you been listening? The Ratas are worth more money to me alive than dead—or more specifically Dante is, and I don’t think he would appreciate me ordering a hit on his brother, because after today, he would know it was me. Normally, I wouldn’t allow people to leave my employ, but in the Ratas’ case, I will make an exception just as long as you make sure we can continue filming Dante, and if you succeed, your debt will be wiped clean and your family will be safe.”
“I still don’t think Dante will let me back into his life, but I will certainly try.”
“Beautiful,” Craven drawled, using the word as a name. “He will let you back in, it’s just a matter of whether you can change from being a charity case to a lover.”
“What do you mean by a charity case?”
“You’ll find out soon enough.” Craven pressed a buzzer on his desk. “Please come to my office, Saul,” he said into the intercom.
A few seconds later, Craven’s right-hand man entered the room, an extremely attractive Samoan packed with muscle. Saul’s impressive frame towered over Kara, his dark face unhappy, the only expression she’d ever seen him have. One of Craven’s henchmen stepped out from behind Saul, the leather-skinned sadist who’d beaten her up for not paying on time.
Kara’s terrified gaze flicked back to Craven. “Why is he here?”
Craven opened a desk drawer. “Big Mack needs to do a bit of work on your face, and once he’s finished you will go to the Ratas and tell them your fictional husband beat you up,” he said, referring to Dante believing she was married.
Kara pushed out of her chair. “You can’t do this to me!”
Craven removed a knife from the drawer, which he held out for Mack to take. “And to spice things up, if you fail completely in your task, Big Mack will carve your face up like he did to Cindy, which means you’ll be working under tables again.”
“I will succeed, I’ll get Dante, I will,” Kara babbled.
“Good girl. Now go get your makeup done without causing problems.” He smiled, the expression a mixture of wickedness and amusement, then he redirected his gaze to his right-hand man. “Saul, tell that new guard I want him full-time.”
Saul nodded, then pushed Kara through the doorway, herding her down the passage and outside, with the sadist following. Her heels sunk into the manicured lawn as she was directed past the swimming pool and through a cluster of trees, which hid a quaint stone cottage. Saul unlocked the door, then shoved her inside, making Kara trip over her heels and crash to the hardwood floor. She let out a yelp as her knees took most of the impact, but flung herself around before the rest of the pain could register, knowing that she had little time to defend herself. Mack pushed past Saul, the goon licking the knife Craven had given him.
Kara grabbed a stiletto and scrambled to her feet, kicking the other one off. “Stay back or I’ll put this through your eye!”
Mack pointed the knife at her, making Kara back up into the couch. “I don’t have any intention of cutting your pretty face,” he said, “but you better put down that stiletto or Saul will shoot it out of your hand.”
“No! I still have bruises because of you! That’s enough to convince Dante!”
Mack leered at her. “Then unzip your dress and lemme be the judge.”
“No! You stay away from me!”
“You don’t have to make this harder than it already is.”
“The only thing that’s hard is your small dick, you sadist freak! You get off on hurting people, but I won’t let you touch me again!”
“I say Saul’s tool begs to differ...” He stepped aside, causing Kara to inhale sharply at the sight of Saul’s gun pointed at her, “...and if you give us too much trouble—”
“I won’t, just put that thing away,” she said, dropping the stiletto.
Mack’s leer widened. “Now drop the dress.”
“Mack,” Saul said, in a warning tone, “do what you’re paid for and not what you have to pay for.”
“Cock-blocking bastard,” Mack grumbled, pocketing the knife.
“Look,” Kara said, unzipping her dress enough to display her ribs, now willing to do anything to prove that he didn’t need to hurt her, “I’ve got enough bruises, you can just let me go to Dante like this.”
“They’ve faded,” Mack said, his eyes running down her body, then back up to her face, a self-satisfied smirk replacing his leer. “Plus, you’ve got no bruises on your face.”
A jagged breath left Kara’s lips, knowing he was going to attack her no matter what, and that she couldn’t do a thing about it, Saul’s gun stopping her from defending herself. But instead of screaming and yelling at him, like she wanted to, she lifted her chin, determined to take the punches the same way her sister and father took the bullets: Standing strong and proud. Mack shook his head, clearly amused, then before she could flinch, his fist barrelled into her cheek, knocking her onto the couch. Stunned, she lay over it, the pain not fully registering, although she could feel it like a heartbeat throbbing beneath her skin. Mack grabbed her by the hair and yanked her head around, making her cry out. Another punch slammed into her face, this one splitting her lip, then he raised his fist again.
“That’s enough, Mack!” Saul hollered.
Mack dropped Kara to the floor. His eyes glazed over as he climbed onto her, his pupils dilated as if he was high. Kara covered her face, expecting more punches to rain down on her. Mack batted her hands away, then grabbed her by the ears and yanked her head back, banging it against the floor. “Why aren’t you crying, bitch?” he said, glaring down at her like she’d affronted him. “I hit you hard.”
Although it hurt every pore in her face, she smiled up at him, feeling her lip split more. “Because I am grateful to you.”
“Why?” he asked, looking confused.
“For getting me Dante back.” She spat in his face, his next punch taking away her consciousness—but not her dreams.

Ash had been standing outside the psyche unit, talking on his damn phone for the past twenty minutes, no doubt using it as an excuse so he didn’t have to visit their cousin Hunter. But they had to, because tomorrow they were planning on telling the twins they were adopted and that Hunter was their real father.
“Get off the phone?” Dante snapped. “You can talk to Tiana when we get home.”
Ash gave Dante a dirty look, then said bye to Tiana. Hanging up, his gaze moved to the psyche unit, the lights inside the small building breaking through the darkness surrounding them. “Looks like visiting hours are over, but we can come back another day.”
“Like hell,” Dante said. “You’re backing out on telling Hunter about the twins, aren’t cha?”
“No I’m not, and it’s not my fault—Tiana called me.”
“Bullshit, you phoned her. I saw you hit those keys.”
Ash pulled a face, then looked over at the door again, his tortured expression making Dante feel like crap for snapping at him. The past week had been a hellish nightmare for Ash after their stepfather had kidnapped and held him for two days; chaining him to a bed and making him think he was never going to escape.
“You’re right, I’m not sure I can tell Hunter,” Ash finally said, referring to the man he loved like a father.
“Then we can’t tell the twins they’re adopted.”
“But we have to, they needa know.”
“Which means Hunter needs to be warned, cos what happens if one of the twins decides to visit him, angry that he pretended he wuzn’t their father?”
“I ... I just don’t want him gettin’ upset,” Ash said, pushing back his messy black hair, revealing the bruise on his forehead, a reminder of how he’d tried to kill himself during his captivity. “I made a promise to him that I wouldn’t tell the twins, now I’m breaking it.”
“I promised him too,” Dante said, “but since no one believes the shit that comes outta my mouth, I might as well be the one to spill the beans, so go wait in the car.”
Ash exhaled. “No, this is my responsibility, plus it wuz my idea.”
“Maybe, but it’s both of our responsibilities; so if you’re not backing out, we’ll do it together.”
Ash looked over at the psyche unit again. “But it’s past visiting hours.”
“The receptionist is sweet on me; she’ll let us in.”
Ash sighed. “You ain’t gonna make this easy on me, are ya?”
“I already gave you an out, not my fault your conscience won’t let ya take it, and anyway, you should be more like me and tell your conscience to suck eggs.”
“You don’t have a conscience,” Ash said, cracking a smile for the first time in a while.
“Nah, I’m just a sensitive soul who knows how to hide my feelings well, which is why I write romance stories in my spare time. You should read my last one; it’s a fanfic of Debbie Does Dallas. I’m calling it Freya Fucks Frankfurt. Do ya think anyone will know it’s plagiarised?”
Ash laughed. “Thanks, bro.”
“For what?”
“For making me laugh, didn’t think that wuz possible after this week.” Ash indicated with his head to the psyche unit. “Let’s get this over and done with before I change my mind.”
“Better sprint then, cos you’re worse than a woman.” Dante moved behind Ash and gave him a shove.
Ash backed up quickly, stepping on Dante’s toes and making him yelp, then headed through the sliding door sniggering.
“You bastard, I’ll get ya back for that,” Dante said, following him into the air-conditioned foyer and past a security guard. The cream-coloured room was dotted with pretty prints of New Zealand landscapes, made up of varying tones of blues and greens. On their left, a different receptionist from the one he’d expected to see was sitting behind the desk, the girl barely out of her teens. She looked up as they stopped in front of her counter, a noticeable jerk vibrating through her body. Dante knew what she was thinking, that their leathers and tattoos equated to them being gang-members, although she was wrong, but telling her that they were drug dealers instead wouldn’t exactly alleviate her fears.
What looked like a practiced smile formed across her face, only her eyes betraying her worry as they flicked to the security guard, who was watching them from the doorway.
“How may I help you?” she said, focusing on Ash.
Ash stepped back, an invitation for Dante to take over. Although he had no interest in her, Dante leaned on the counter and put on an award-winning smile, knowing he had to work his charms since he didn’t know this chick. “We’re here to see Hunter Rata, ma’am.”
She touched her hair, the dark curls the only thing pretty about her, the rest of her features plain and forgettable. “What are your names?” she asked.
“I’m Dante Rata and tall, dark and glum is my bro Ash. So, can we see our cuz?”
“Do you have an appointment?” she asked, continuing to play with her hair.
“No, we don’t normally need one,” Dante replied, wishing the other receptionist had been on.
“It’s after hours.”
“I know.” He leaned forward. “But the other receptionist always gives us passes.”
She stared at Dante for a moment, then craned her head to look at Ash, who Dante hoped wasn’t glaring at her, his brother’s patience usually short, but then again Ash might be doing it on purpose, so he could have a valid excuse for not seeing Hunter.
Dante reached out and touched the receptionist’s cheek, directing her gaze back to him. “Don’t pay any attention to him, gorgeous, he’s just trying to psyche you out so you’ll send us away. He doesn’t wanna be here, but I do, and I’ll be really grateful if you can help me out.”
She touched her cheek with a giggle. “I’ll just call the Charge Nurse to see if she can let you in.” She picked up the phone.
Straightening, Dante looked over at the security guard, who was glaring at him, the guy’s dark features either Samoan or Tongan. Wondering what the prick’s problem was, Dante waggled his tongue at him, getting a whack across the back of the head from Ash, and a “Stoppit.”
“What cha do that for?” Dante grumbled, rubbing where Ash had hit him.
“Cos I can’t take you anywhere without you embarrassing me, you’re worse than a kid.”
Dante poked his tongue at Ash, eliciting a grin from his brother, then refocused on the receptionist, who was smiling wide at him, her expression amused.
“The Charge Nurse said that it would be alright,” she told him, looking proud of herself. “She’ll be with you in a few minutes. You can take a seat over there.” She indicated to a blue vinyl couch behind a small table stacked with magazines.
“Thank you,” Dante said, turning to sit down.
“Oh, Dante...”
He turned back. “Yeah?”
“Here,” she said, quickly scribbling her name and number on a piece of paper. She held it out for him to take, a blush colouring her face. “If you’re free sometime, call me.”
“I’ve got a girlfriend.”
Her face fell. “Oh.” Then a smile reformed. “For when you don’t have one then.”
“’Kay.” He took the paper and glanced at the name. “Donna, I’ll be happy to.”
Her smile widened. “That’ll be great.”
He nodded then followed Ash to the couch.
“Why ja do that for?” Ash said, plonking himself down on the cushions.
“Do what?”
“Take that chick’s number; I thought you were head over heels in love with Beth.”
Dante breathed out at the mention of his girlfriend—and Ash’s ex. “I am in love with her, but it would’ve been rude not to take the chick’s number, and it’s not like I’m gonna call it,” he said, placing the note in his pocket.
“And why were you annoying that guard?” Ash added.
“The prick wuz giving me the evils.” Dante looked over at the guard, who was still burning holes through his head. He blew him a kiss, making the guy’s eyes go wide.
Ash punched Dante’s arm. “Stoppit, before you get us thrown out.”
Dante grabbed his arm, now getting pissed off. “Stop bloody whacking me; and it’s not like you care if we get chucked out.”
“I’ve changed my mind.”
Again, you’re worse than a woman.”
“I’m not the one hitting on a bloke.”
“I don’t hit on dudes, and it’s his fault for perving at me.”
“You think everyone pervs at you.”
“That’s cos they do, and you’re just jealous, cos I’m gorgeous and you’re not,” Dante sniggered.
“We look the same.”
“Nope, you look like an axe murderer while I look like everyone’s wet dream.”
Ash shook his head, but still smiled.
“Two smiles in one day, whoo-hoo, I’ve broken the world record,” Dante said happily, then looked up as the guard headed their way. “What do ya want, perv?”
The guard stopped in front of him. He was a big bloke in his early twenties with a closely shaved head and a cleft pallet. “You’re Dante Rata.”
“Yeah, what’s it to ya?”
“It’s a sin what you do.”
“Blow me,” Dante said, wondering whether the guy knew they were drug dealers.
Dante jumped to his feet. “What the fuck didja just call me?”
“A whore.”
Ash grabbed Dante from behind before Dante could launch himself at the guard. “Don’t,” Ash snapped. “Not here, not now.”
The guard lifted his chin. “You will burn in hell for what you do.”
“How would you know what I do, you self-righteous prick?” Dante growled, aching to rip the guard apart. “I don’t even know you.”
“But I know you, and how you have sex with everything in sight.”
Dante’s lip curled. “I wouldn’t fuck your arsehole, so piss off.”
The guy’s eyes flashed with anger. “You will pay for your debauchery,” he said, then headed back to the door, his glare returning to Dante as he settled next to it.
Dante glared back, wishing he could shoot real daggers.
“Sit down, bro,” Ash said, still holding onto him.
“That fucker deserves to be bashed for saying that shit to me.”
“You still can’t attack him here.”
Here. Yeah, he’d bash the ugly cunt somewhere else, because the sonofabitch was going down—and not on his dick. Dante settled back on the couch. “I’m sick of people calling me a whore.”
“Which is why I’m surprised you forgave Beth for causing it.”
Dante looked down at the floor, still bothered over finding out that Beth had texted a naked picture of him to half the neighbourhood before they’d gotten together, all because she’d been jealous when he’d slept with someone else. He frowned. “People still called me names before that, just not as much.”
“That comes with the territory of fucking everything in sight.”
“I only do females.”
“Sorry, I’ll rephrase that: everything with a pussy.”
“Pretty pussies, and I haven’t been fucking around since me and Beth got together.”
“Which hasn’t even been a week,” Ash said, his gaze moving to the door on his right as it slid open.
A forty-something nurse headed for them with a smile. She was dressed in cream-coloured clothing that hung off her stick-thin frame. “Hello, Ash and Dante, it’s good to see you again. Sorry for the hold up, the receptionist is new. Please come through,” she said, handing over passes with straps on, which they hooked around their necks.
Dante flicked the security guard the finger, then followed Ash and the nurse through some sliding doors that led into a lounge, where people were watching TV, playing card games or chatting.
The nurse stopped behind a couch. “Hunter,” she said, to a man who was watching a telly programme.
Hunter glanced over his shoulder, then jumped to his feet with a look of delight. He shot around the couch and grabbed Ash into a bear-hug, saying, “Hello, son.” Dante stared at Hunter, shocked at how much weight his cousin had lost since he’d last visited, which had only been a few weeks ago. Minus his trademark beard and a good ten kilos, Hunter now looked like an older version of Ash and Dante’s younger brother Sledge, just without the muscles.
Ash patted Hunter’s back, the tension in his body betraying his apprehension. Hunter pulled backed, his smile dropping as his eyes landed on Ash’s forehead. He brushed Ash’s fringe aside, examining the bruise like Ash was a small kid and not a man who’d just turned twenty-six.
“What happened to your head, Ash?” Hunter asked.
Ash shifted about. “Banged it.”
“Wuzn’t lookin’ where I wuz goin’.”
Hunter scowled. “You’re lying. What really happened?”
Ash put a hand on Hunter’s back and steered him towards an empty couch in the far corner.
“You’re making me nervous, son,” Hunter said, sitting down.
Ash frowned. “I’m not your son, Sledge is.”
“You’re a son to me, and I didn’t bring up your brother.”
“You should’ve.”
Hunter’s brows pulled together. “What’s this about?”
“Me and Dante wanna tell Sledge and Juliet they’re adopted, and that you’re their father.”
“No!” Hunter yelled, then lowered his voice as everyone in the room turned to look at him. “Don’t you dare,” he growled.
“They have every right to know, and it’s wrong that you call me son and ignore your real one.”
Hunter pointed a finger at Ash. “I don’t give a damn whether it’s biological or not, you’re my son, and I’ve never connected with the twins, Sledge especially. He’s a harsh kid, who hardly ever talks to me.”
“Cos he doesn’t know you’re his father.”
“And I want it to stay that way.”
“You have no right to steal his heritage. Both him and Juliet don’t even realise they have Italian and Tongan blood. Christ, they speak Croatian better than I do. How do ya think they’ll feel when they find out they’ve been brought up in the wrong culture?”
“Devastated. Which is why you need to keep your big mouth shut. Have you even considered the consequences of what will happen when the twins find out your grandparents aren’t theirs, especially after they were raised by them?”
“It still has to be done.”
“Says you. And you promised to keep this a secret. You know how I feel about them.”
“It’s not their fault your woman died.”
“No, it’s mine for gettin’ her pregnant, and if I hadn’t done that, she would still be alive—”
“—and the twins wouldn’t exist,” Ash snapped. “I’m sorry Joanna died after giving birth, but you should stop punishing Sledge and Juliet for sumpthin’ they had no control over.”
Hunter shook his head. “It’s too late now. What’s the point of dredging up the past? And if you did, you won’t come out of this unscathed either. How do ya think the twins will react when they realise you knew all along?”
“Upset, but I ain’t backing down, it’s happening whether you’re on board or not.”
Hunter leaned forward, his eyes flashing with anger. “Then why didja even bother to tell me? Cos ya don’t give a shit ’bout what I think.”
“I do care; I just wish you’d accept that it’s the right thing to do.”
“I fed and clothed you, looked after you when you were suicidal, and yet you can’t even gimme this one thing?”
Ash’s face hardened. “I’m giving up the house for you.”
“It’s being sold to pay off the three-hundred grand you owe Craven, so we don’t hafta work for him anymore.”
Fear filled Hunter’s eyes. “You can’t quit.”
“Too late, it’s done.”
Hunter shook his head. “No, you’re putting everyone in danger.”
“No I’m not; he’s agreed to take the money.”
“Like hell he did!” Hunter yelled, again grabbing the attention of the other occupants in the room. “He’s lying, he won’t let you free. Ever.”
“Then why did he accept my offer?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t owe that bastard nowhere near that amount, fifty grand at tops, and he said I didn’t hafta pay it back, and I only told ja that BS ’bout the three-hundred grand to stop ya from quitting, cos the only way people leave his employment is through a coffin.”
Ash shook his head. “You’re lying, my mate quit chauffeuring for him, and he’s still alive.”
“When did he quit?”
“Just over three months back.”
“When wuz the last time you saw him?”
“A few days after he quit.”
“Have ya seen him recently?”
“No, he moved overseas.”
“Have ya phoned him, spoken to him at all since then?”
“Then he’s dead.”
Ash leaned closer to Hunter. “He is not dead.”
“I’d bet three-hundred grand he is.”
Ash got to his feet, shaking with anger. “He is not dead, you psychotic bastard.”
Hunter reared up on Ash, making Dante push in between them. “Calm down both of you.”
Hunter glared past him at Ash, looking like he wanted to yell, but instead his voice came out dangerously low. “I may be psychotic, but you, Ash, live in a fantasy world more than I do. You’ve worked for Craven for ten years, yet you don’t even know the shit you’ve gotten yourself into. Craven has a name for employees who quit: Liabilities. He knows you don’t like him, so what assurances does he have once you’re out from under his hand? None, cos you’re a witness in waiting in his mind.”
“I wouldn’t rat.”
“You might say that now, but what happens when the cops turn up at your doorstep, putting bogus charges on you to get at Craven? It’s happened to me, that year in prison all trumped up BS to get me to nark.”
“That wuz a real charge.”
“It may have been, but the coppers were after Craven, not me. They tried to make me nark on him, said they’d let me walk if I did, but I refused, cos he would’ve killed me, or if not me, you or Dante or maybe one of the twins. I know that, but you, you think you’re safe, and cos of it you’ll nark on him to stay outta prison. That, son, makes you a liability who needs to be taken out.”
“I don’t believe you, cos he could’ve easily threatened my family, like the last time I tried to quit, but he didn’t. He wants the money, and if I wuz him, I’d let us go for three-hundred grand too.”
“Three-hundred grand is Monopoly money to him. He has his finger in every illegal pie there is. Now, if you gave him three million, then yeah, he might consider it.”
Ash stepped away from Hunter, his expression disgusted. “I know why you’re doin’ this. You want us to keep working for that bastard so you get to keep your ready supply of drugs.”
“Keep your voice down,” Hunter hissed. “And you’re wrong, I’m clean.”
“You’re a drug addict for life whether you’re clean or not. One shot of coke and it’ll be all on again.”
Hunter raised a finger. “I am clean, and you, boy, are delusional if you think Craven will sit back and do nuthin’.”
Ash’s lip curled. “I ain’t a boy anymore; I’m the head of the family.”
“No, I am, and you have no right to sell my house.”
“Not my fault you were stupid enough to put it under my name, now suffer the consequences for gettin’ me tied in with Craven.”
“I never pushed you into working for Craven, I wuz dead against it, so don’t you mouth off at me, boy.”
Ash threw his hands up in the air. “Believe what ya want, it’ll change nuthin’. We’re free from Craven, and I’ve done my duty telling you. See ya when you get out, cos I ain’t discussing this again.” He turned to leave.
“You ain’t goin’ nowhere.” Hunter bashed into Ash from behind, ramming him into a wall.
Dante launched himself at Hunter, grabbing him around the neck. “Let him go!”
“Not until he agrees to ask Craven for your job back!” Hunter yelled.
Ash flung his head back, butting Hunter in the face, then rammed his forehead into the wall. Hunter let go and grabbed his bloodied nose, looking stunned. Guards rushed at him, taking hold of his arms. Hunter let them as he stared at Ash, who slumped onto the floor, cradling his forehead. Dante dropped down in front of Ash, removing his brother’s hands to see the damage. Blood leaked from the bruises that were already there, the rest of the skin reddening to match it. A nurse ran over to help.
Hunter called out, “Is Ash alright?”
Dante jump to his feet as the guards pulled Hunter away. He followed them, one of the guards yelling at him to back off. “I’m not gonna retaliate,” Dante said, making the guards stop. “My brother hit his head on purpose.”
“Why did he do that?” Hunter asked, the blood from his nose dripping onto his sweatshirt.
“You shouldn’t have rammed him into the wall, he’s been abused.”
“I know, but that happened ten years ago.”
Dante shook his head. “It happened again this week.”
“What do ya mean?” Hunter said, looking confused.
“Chaz escaped prison and kidnapped him. You can take an educated guess on what went down.”
Hunter’s face fell. “Oh God, no.” He looked over at Ash, who was being tended to by a nurse. “I’m sorry, Ash, I didn’t know!”
Ash glanced up, his eyes haunted as the nurse wound gauze around his head.
“Lemme go!” Hunter yelled at the guards. “He’s my son! I wanna go to my son!”
Dante shook his head. “Not today, wait until he’s stable.”
“But he won’t come back.” Hunter looked at Ash. “I love you, son, I didn’t meana hurt you, you must know that.”
Without responding, Ash got to his feet and went for the door, asking the nurse to let him out.
“Don’t walk away from me!” Hunter yelled. “You’re everything to me.”
Ash turned, his eyes flashing. “Sledge and Juliet should be everything to you, not me! How can you ignore your own flesh and blood?”
“You’re my flesh and blood, you’re my soul.”
Ash shook his head, then turned to the door.
Hunter looked like he was about to cry. “Everything I’ve done is to protect you and this family. Please go back to Craven or it’ll all be for nuthin’.”
Ash yelled at the nurse, “Lemme out!” The nurse swiped her card over the monitor.
“I hafta go,” Dante said to Hunter.
“First tell me you believe me ’bout Craven.”
“I believe you,” Dante said, just saying it to calm Hunter down. “And I promise I’ll sort this mess out with him.”
“Thanks, and make sure that Ash knows I didn’t meana hurt him. I would never hurt him on purpose.”
“’Kay.” Dante patted Hunter’s arm, then strode to the door, indicating for the nurse to let him out. He exited both doorways, relieved to find that Ash was waiting for him in the reception area.
Ash got up from the couch and headed for the exit, punching the security guard in the face. The man crumpled to the floor. “That’s for insulting my bro!” Ash yelled at him, then headed for Dante’s Holden, parked on the other side of the darkened car park.
Covering his nose, the guard pushed to his feet. “You won’t be allowed in here again!” he shouted, his voice partially muffled by his hand
“That’s what he wants,” Dante said as he walked past, feeling no satisfaction over the guard getting hurt.
Dante turned off the main road and drove past Claydon Primary School, the night tucking a dark blanket over the buildings. “I think we should ask Craven for our jobs back,” he said, hoping Ash didn’t bite his head off for saying it, but he knew he had to, because it had been bothering him the whole ride back, Hunter’s words now getting to him. “I can do the work for both of us, so Craven doesn’t needa know you’re out.”
Ash shook his head. “You can’t carry the business on your own, and if this is ’bout what Hunter said, ignore him, he’s full of shit.”
“I thought so at first too, but ... I don’t think he would’ve barrelled into you like that over drugs, he loves you, bro, and he did look scared.”
“Then why did Craven accept our offer?”
“Cos you threatened to kill him if he didn’t,” Dante said, turning onto their road, the streetlamps few and far between.
“He could’ve threatened us back, used our family against us like the last time, but he didn’t, and anyway, who in their right mind would turn down three-hundred grand?”
“Three-hundred grand that Hunter may not owe him.”
“I told ja not to believe Hunter, he’s nuts, he attacked me.”
“No, he wuz tryna stop ya from leaving.”
“Bullshit. He rammed me into that wall hard. He’s loco.”
“Maybe,” Dante steered the Holden onto their driveway, parking behind Ash’s Chevy, “but you’re just as nuts, cos he wuzn’t the one who hurt your head. You bashed it into that wall like some psychotic looney tune. No sane person would do that.”
“You said it: I’m not sane.” Ash jumped out of the car and headed for their home.
Dante locked up and followed Ash up the front steps, wishing he could rewind today and start over again, because this wasn’t what he wanted. He’d thought he had, but now, the reality was setting in: He was going to be jobless soon, with debts coming out of his arse. He glanced back at his car, wondering how the hell he was going to pay it off, and not only that, but he couldn’t even put a dent in his credit card bills, let alone pay for food, booze or ANYTHING! He was so fucked it wasn’t funny.
He kicked off his boots, not caring as they hit the wall, smearing the paintwork with mud, because he wasn’t getting a cent from the sale of the house anyway, Craven bleeding him dry.
Ash said something, probably telling him off. Ignoring his brother, Dante stepped inside, then froze, his eyes locked on the couch. Seated next to Ash’s girlfriend, Kara stared back at him, her blonde wavy hair framing a black-eye, bruised skin and a split lip. Dante barely noticed as Ash took off down the passage with his girlfriend racing after him, Tiana asking Ash what had happened to his forehead.
Kako si, Dante?” Kara said, placing an icepack on the coffee table.
“You’re asking me how I am, lookin’ like that?” He gestured to her face. “What the hell happened to you?”
Her tongue flicked out to dab her split lip. “My husband beat me up,” she replied, her Croatian accent thicker than normal, telling Dante she was nervous.
Dante’s jaw hardened. “Gimme your address,” he said, walking towards her, “I’m gonna kill the bastard.”
She shook her head, then winced at what she’d done. “No, you can’t.”
“Why the fuck not? He needs to pay for what he did to you.”
“What’s done is done, and I don’t want you getting into trouble on my behalf, I’ve caused you enough grief.” She removed the pink cardigan from around her shoulders, one that belonged to Ash’s girlfriend, revealing a tight leopard-print dress with a long zip down the front. A pale bruise coloured her chest, suggesting that Kara’s husband had hurt her before today.
Dante sat down on the coffee table in front of her. “This isn’t the first time he’s hurt you, is it?”
“No, he beat me a few days ago.” She dropped her gaze for a second, then looked back up, her pale blue eyes almost colourless in the light. He looked into them, mesmerised. Ash had said that eyes were windows to a person’s soul, but hers were the windows to his.
She smiled at him, although it came out as a wince, then she lowered her gaze again, but this time focusing on his mouth. Her pupils dilated, her lust unmistakable.
Taken aback, Dante stood up quickly, not expecting her reaction—nor his. She was battered and bruised, yet he was getting turned-on, but not from her damaged state, because for those few seconds her bruises had faded and all he saw was the woman he’d fallen in love with—was still in love with, that revelation hitting him hard. He’d thought he was over her, especially with Beth now in his life, someone who he also loved, but one look at Kara and his heart broke all over again.
“You should go to the police,” he finally said, feeling awkward standing in front of her, fidgeting like an addict.
She shook her head. “No, my husband is too good a lawyer; he’ll make me out as the villain.”
“Unless he’s covered in bruises, I don’t think so.”
“It doesn’t matter, plus I brought this upon myself.”
Anger seared through him. “Like hell you did! No man should raise a hand to a woman.”
“I hit him too.”
“I don’t care, and he pro’bly deserved it.”
Her lip pulled up. “My knight in shining leather.”
He shoved his hands into his pockets, not knowing what to say to that.
She patted the cushion next to her. “Sit with me.”
Dante remained where he was. “Why did he hit you?” he asked, saying the first thing that came to mind, because there was no way he was getting close to her again.
“Because I told him I should’ve married you.”
Dante’s mouth went dry. “Što?” he croaked out, the Croatian word for what slipping through.
“You heard me,” she said, her gaze unflinching.
Dante opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He’d dreamt of this moment for so long, played it over and over again in his mind’s eye, where Kara would return to him, saying she’d made a mistake, but it had just been a fantasy, because he never thought it would actually happen, especially after the cruel names she’d called him before walking out.
Kara brushed her soft curls aside. “Aren’t you going to say anything?”
He frowned. “What do ya expect me to say? I haven’t seen you in three years, yet you walk in here telling me we should’ve gotten married, like that last day between us never happened?”
“That was one day out of a year and a half of us being together, and one day I wish I could take back.”
“Why? Unless you missed your favourite whipping boy.”
“I understand you’re upset, and I’m sorry for that, but if you would allow me, I would very much like to make things up to you.”
He sniffed. “You have a nerve saying that.”
“Cos you can’t take back what you said, what you did. You called me a whore and walked out on me like I wuzn’t worth your time, like our relationship meant nuthin’.”
“I called you a prostitutka—
“It’s the same thing!”
“You didn’t let me finish. I meant to say, I called you a prostitutka out of anger, not because you were one, but because I was in pain. I knew my time with you was coming to an end, so I lashed out at the one person who didn’t deserve it.”
“What are you on about?” Dante said, totally confused, her words not making sense.
“You’re a beautiful and sensuous man, Dante; you weren’t made for one woman, but many, even though I wish you were mine alone, because you’re everything I want in a man.”
“You’re sounding like you think I cheated. I told ja then and I’m telling ya now, I never did. All I wanted wuz you.”
She smiled. “You mean that?”
“I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t.”
She dropped her gaze for a moment, then looked back up at him, her soulful eyes reaching inside of him and twisting his gut. “Please forgive me,” she said.
He shifted about, both wanting and not wanting to, then finally breathed out, realising that this wasn’t right, that he shouldn’t be arguing with her when she had been viciously beaten. “No, I’m the one who should apologise, you’re all bashed up and I’m yelling at you, it ain’t right.”
“No, you have a right to be mad at me. And don’t worry about how I look, because the bruises will fade...” She pointed at his chest, “...but I can see that the scars I put on your heart haven’t. I did you wrong, and I am truly sorry for that, and if I can, I want to help heal those scars, because I love you, Dante, always have.”
“Jesus,” Dante said, running a hand over his face, the woman absolutely flooring him.
“Still taking the Lord’s name in vain?” she said with a sad smile.
“What do ya expect me to say?”
“I know it’s too much to ask, but I prayed all the way here that you would say you loved me too.”
“I can’t.”
“Because you don’t?”
He turned his back on her, not willing to admit anything. She stood up, moving around to his front. Although the woman was a head shorter than him, she made him feel so small.
“I know I am a selfish woman,” she said, “but to be selfish, a person must want something—or someone so bad that they are willing to fight and scream, and to walk over others to get it, even if they don’t deserve that precious prize. And I’m willing to do that for you, Dante.”
“I’m not a prize.”
“I didn’t mean it like that, all I meant to say is that you’re precious to me, and I know I shouldn’t be asking this, but please allow me to be with you again, for us to have what I stupidly lost.”
“You can’t be serious?”
“I am very serious, and this time I won’t walk away from you, because I want to live with you forever.”
“Well, you can’t,” he said, not believing her nerve—or the strange words leaving her mouth.
“Please, Dante, don’t make me leave.”
“No, you’re the one who left—”
“—and now I’ve returned.”
“There’s no room for you here.”
“Not even in your bed?” she said, running her fingers down his chest.
Shaking his head, he took a step back. This wasn’t happening, this was all a dream. He ran a hand roughly over his face, but she was still standing there, her soulful eyes filled with longing. Longing? Jesus, he was turning into a sap, and a delusional one at that, because she didn’t really want him, other than to use him for a place to stay.
“Find someone else to leech off,” he said.
“I have nowhere else to go.”
He sneered, her words confirming his thoughts. “You can’t stay here. I have a woman now, and she’s the jealous type.”
Kara stared at him, then her face cracked, her pale eyes glossing over with unshed tears. “Oprosti mi,” she apologised, “Of course you’ve moved on.”
Dante’s sneer dropped, guilt replacing it. “Don’t cry.”
“No! I deserve all of this.” She snatched her bag off the coffee table and rushed for the door.
Dante grabbed her arm. “Where will you go?”
She wrenched it free. “Home; where I belong.”
“You can’t go back there.”
“What choice do I have? I have nowhere else to go!” she yelled, her face so vulnerable, making him want to wrap his arms around her and say everything was going to be alright, but it wasn’t, because he was with Beth now, and even if he wasn’t, he couldn’t return to the way things were between him and Kara, because she was too dominant, too demanding, and their time apart had made him realise that. He didn’t like being dominated, hated being made to feel small, to be her whipping boy again. He wasn’t like that before he’d met her, nor now, but he would fall into that trap again if he took her back—which he knew without a doubt.
She went to leave again, but he pulled her into his arms, silently cursing himself for doing it. “You can stay in my room,” he said, sure that she could feel his heart hammering against her cheek. “I’ll take the couch. And I’ll make sure my woman understands. She’s coming over tomorrow. I can stay with her for a few days, give you some time to find someplace else.”
She looked up at him. “But I don’t want to run you out of your own home.”
“It doesn’t matter; it’s being sold anyway, so it won’t be my home for much longer.”
“Where are you moving to?” she asked, her hands lowering to his arse.
“Howick,” he said, letting go of her, knowing this was all wrong, that he couldn’t even hug her without it turning sexual.
“But you’re a South Aucklander through and through, so why would you move out east?” she asked, looking like she hadn’t just felt him up. Maybe she hadn’t done it on purpose, because she was short, but even the most innocent of things between them always turned sexual: A hug was never just a hug, while a smile always had underlying currents flowing beneath it, which all led to the bedroom.
“Dante?” she said. “Are you going to answer me?”
“Sorry,” he replied, trying to remember what she’d asked—and failing. “What didja say?”
“Why are you moving out east?”
“Cos Ash thinks it’ll be safer for his family, plus he wants to cut ties with Craven, so we hafta sell the house.”
She frowned. “Why would you do that for? From memory, Craven pays well.”
Dante exhaled, his fears returning. Again, he wondered how he could stay working for Craven without upsetting Ash. “I don’t wanna quit,” he finally said, “but I hafta support Ash.”
“But, you love your job.”
“I don’t love it, and if I did, my bro means more to me.” Yes, Ash did, which meant he should quit feeling sorry for himself and start looking for labouring jobs, because he couldn’t work in retail with his facial tattoo, plus he kind of had a police record. Shit, who would employ him with that?
“But you’ll have nothing left if you hand everything over to Craven,” she said. “How will you support yourself without a job or a home?”
“I’d rather lose all of that than Ash.”
“Aren’t you both moving?”
“Then why did you say you’ll lose him?”
“It’s complicated and I really don’t wanna go into it, plus it’s late. Let’s get you settled into my room.” He turned and headed down the passage, conscious that Kara was right behind him. He didn’t want her in his room, especially since it made him think about what they used to do in there: On the bed, up against the wall, on the floor, over the cabinet, even in the bloody wardrobe... Fuck, he couldn’t deal with this. He pushed his clothes off the bed, grabbed a blanket, then turned to leave.
Kara blocked his way, the look in her eyes telling him she was remembering the same things. “You don’t have to leave,” she said, her eyes flicking to the bed. “Really, we can share.”
He snorted. “Yeah, and I know where that would lead.”
“Is that so wrong?”
“Yes, I’ve already told ja I have a girlfriend, and unlike what you believe, I’m not a cheat.”
“I told you, I don’t think you’re a cheat.”
Then why do people treat me like one? Because, unlike Beth, he’d never cheated on a partner. The women he’d slept with, excluding Kara and Beth, were nothing more than one night stands and flings.
Kara said something, but he didn’t catch it.
Što?” he said.
“I asked how long have you been with this Beth?”
“A few days,” he mumbled, wondering how she’d gotten onto that topic.
She frowned. “So, you hardly know her?”
He shook his head, feeling ashamed. “She used to be Ash’s partner. He dumped her last Saturday,” because I fucked her.
Kara looked confused. “But Ash is with Tiana, and if he wasn’t, why would you take his lover?”
“Ash got back with Tiana after dumping Beth, and I didn’t mean for things to happen between me and Beth.”
“But, that’s not fair on Ash, and regardless, you shouldn’t be with her; blood is thicker than any woman.”
“He understands.”
She started walking towards him. “Do you love her?”
Dante stepped backwards, knocking into the bed. “Yes.”
“As much as you used to love me?”
He lifted his chin. “More,” he lied.
She flinched. “Really?”
“Yes,” he said softly. Yesterday he’d been a hundred percent sure Beth was all he needed, but seeing Kara in the flesh made him question himself. She had meant everything to him for the time they’d been together, and had still meant so much for a long time afterwards. But when Beth had walked into his life, he’d stopped thinking about Kara, Beth taking up residence in his mind. It had been both a curse and a blessing, because at that stage Beth hadn’t been his either, but now... shit, how could he still love Kara when he loved Beth?
“I’m sorry to hear that you no longer care for me,” Kara said.
I never said that. But there was no way he would admit it to her, especially after the way she’d treated him so badly. He didn’t want that again. I don’t want that! He just had to keep repeating it over and over again, because otherwise he would go back to the way things were, running around to please her erratic moods, feeling pussy-whipped and emasculated. Shit, he also felt like that with Beth sometimes. What the fuck had he turned into?
Kara ran a hand over her breasts. His gaze dropped to them. The zip up the middle of her dress was sitting below the bottom of her bra, showing her heavenly cleavage. He didn’t remember the zip being that low before they’d walked into the room, but he didn’t recall seeing her moving it down either. He bit his lip, feeling guilty for looking at her tits, the bruise on the left one yellowing her pale skin, but they still looked so damn good. He imagined unzipping the dress completely, then ripping the bra’s flimsy material, because it was a fucking travesty to cover those beauties. She had the biggest nipples, which were poking out from beneath the material, which he used to love to bite, her screams always going straight to his cock. And he also loved burying his cock between her tits, using them to sandwich it as he rubbed himself to orgasm, giving her the only pearl necklace he could afford.
“Oh God, Dante,” she gasped, making him look back up at her face. Her eyes were huge as she gaped down at his cock, all but opening her mouth to welcome it inside that warm, wet opening. His hand went to it, then jerked back, shocked to find the bastard poking out the top of his leathers, the tip already weeping pre-cum. Shit! Maybe she was right about him, that he was a prostitutka, someone born to fuck, but he didn’t want to be, and especially not if it meant hurting Beth.
He shoved his cock back into his pants roughly, using the pain to focus himself, then rushed past Kara with the blanket, heading for the lounge. He closed the door behind him and leaned against it, praying that she didn’t follow, because there was no fucking way he was cheating on Beth.
When Kara didn’t try to open the door, he settled on the couch and covered himself with the blanket, knowing he wasn’t going to get any sleep tonight, his painful hard-on proof of that. Making sure his body was hidden, he unzipped his pants and brought up an image of Beth, her long black hair so different from Kara’s blonde. He started moving his hand up and down his shaft, his mind flicking between the two women, their bodies both beautiful in their differences, one slim while the other all curves. He groaned, thinking about how much he loved touching both of them, how he wanted to be sandwiched between their breasts, their mouths kissing him all over, their hands touching him everywhere. He came quickly, biting his lip to stop from groaning, then froze as someone cleared their throat. He kicked his head back and looked across the room at the passage doorway. Kara was leaning against the frame, the woman always too sneaky for his good.
She smiled at him, her gaze filled both with amusement and lust. “You should have let me do that, dragi.
“I am not your darling,” he said, breathing heavily, his mind still fogged with the orgasm.
“You’ll always be my dragi,” she said, taking a step closer.
He spun around, making sure his lower half was still covered. “Go back to my room now.”
She rolled her tongue in her mouth, then flicked it out, the Devil’s fire igniting in her eyes. “Not before I clean you up,” she said, the old Kara finally baring her teeth.
“I’ll clean myself.” With the blanket still covering him, he pushed off the couch and stormed past her and into the bathroom. He locked the door before Kara could follow him inside. The handle turned, making him take a step back, even though he knew she couldn’t enter. “If you don’t back off,” he said, “you can’t stay here.”
“I’m not going anywhere, Dante,” she said, on the other side. “Especially now I know you still want me.”
“You’re married.”
“I’ll be getting a divorce.”
“I’m with Beth.”
“Not for long.” The floorboards creaked as she walked down the passage, then what sounded like his bedroom door closed.
He dropped his head for a moment, not believing her nerve. No, he did, she’d always been like that, taking what she wanted regardless of whether he was willing to give it to her or not. The first night he’d met her, she shoved a female off his lap at a party, then without so much as a ‘Hello’ or ‘What’s your name?’ she’d sat on his lap and shoved her tongue into his mouth, which was quickly followed by Dante carrying her to a bedroom.
He stripped off his clothing, wishing he didn’t want her, then got into the shower, turning it to cold and forcing himself to stay under. When he felt like a block of ice, he turned the water off, wrapped a towel around his hips and headed for his room. He went to knock, wanting to get some clean clothes, but instead turned to Ash’s door, knowing it was the safer option, because there was no way that Kara would allow him to leave the room a second time, and he wasn’t sure he had the strength to either.
His brother poked his head out. “What?”
“Can Angelo sleep in your room tonight? Kara’s in mine.”
“No worries.” Ash went to his son’s room, gently picked up the sleeping nine-year-old boy and returned to his own room.
Dante settled himself on Angelo’s bed, although he knew he wasn’t going to get any sleep knowing that Kara was on the other side of the wall, leaving her scent on his sheets, her body naked, hot... He closed his eyes, remembering how she used to twist into his side, pressing her tits up against him, encouraging him to fuck her one more time before they fell asleep.
Kara’s face filled his head, but without the bruises, only lust colouring her features. “Go away,” he whispered, wishing she’d never returned. He rolled onto his side and focused on the wall, imagining that Kara was looking at the same spot. He frowned, annoyed that he was thinking about her like that, mooning like some love-struck git. His mind went to Beth, feeling like he was betraying her with his juvenile thoughts. He wished she was lying next to him, pressing her body against his, writhing in pleasure, her black hair blanketing him instead of Kara’s blonde waves. Yeah, he wanted to wrap his arms around Beth, not Kara.
You’re a liar.
No, I’m not, because I do want Beth—
—AND Kara.
He focused on the Croatian words tattooed on his left arm, something he should’ve gotten rid of when Kara had left him. He ran a finger over the black writing, the same words tattooed over Kara’s heart:
“We are one,” he whispered, wishing he still didn’t believe it.

Beth parked her Volkswagen behind the silver sedan sitting in front of Dante’s place, then got out, her nerves being played like a string quartet. She wanted to see Dante—but didn’t want to see Ash. Although Ash had been polite on the car ride back from Dargaville, it had still been incredibly awkward, and it wasn’t just over her cheating on him with Dante. He’d looked like a scared boy in desperate need of a cuddle, something she ached to give him, but she knew he would’ve misunderstood the gesture, so she’d kept her hands to herself. And it wasn’t like she wanted to get back with him. She didn’t. Although she knew she would always love Ash, she loved Dante more, but she still didn’t like seeing her ex so broken.
She pushed open the gate and headed up the footpath. She was a bit early, the time just before nine in the morning, but she was aching to find out how everything had gone with Craven and Hunter the day before.
She knocked on the front door. A few seconds later it pulled open. She looked down at Angelo, Ash’s nine-year-old son, the boy a smaller and darker replica of Ash.
“Hello, Angelo,” she said, hoping his mother wasn’t up yet. She didn’t want to see Ash’s girlfriend either, the woman he’d gotten back together with so fast after he’d left Beth, which made her feel even worse, knowing that she could be so easily replaced. But she didn’t want to be with him either, so why was she so upset over it. Pride, yeah, it was just pride, not some latent longing.
Angelo pulled a face at her. “My mum said you’re a nasty cow who beat up my dad.”
“I didn’t beat him up.”
“You slapped him.”
“That’s not beating him up.”
He poked his tongue out at her then ran off, disappearing out the back of the house.
Closing the door behind her, Beth called out Dante’s name. When no one answered, she headed down the passage towards his bedroom. Her gaze brushed Ash’s closed door as she passed by, hoping that he didn’t emerge from it—or worse: Tiana. She heard a shower turn off on the opposite side of the passage, so she quickly scurried to Dante’s room, letting herself in without knocking. She closed the door behind her, then froze, doing a double take. A woman’s head was poking out the top of Dante’s duvet, with her wavy blonde hair fanning in all directions.
“What the hell?!” Beth screamed.
The woman shot up straight. The duvet fell from her body, revealing large, bruised breasts and inked skin. A rosary was tattooed around her right hand and forearm, while roses twisted up the other side of her torso, but what caught Beth’s attention the most was the words inked over the woman’s heart: the same text that was on Dante’s arm.
Beth rushed forward and grabbed the woman by her hair, not giving a stuff that the bitch was battered and bruised. The woman screamed as Beth yanked her out of the bed. “Get outta here!” Beth yelled, shoving her towards the door.
The woman banged into the wooden frame, then before Beth could blink, the banshee rushed at her, screaming words she didn’t understand. Beth yelled out as she was pushed onto the bed. The woman climbed on top of her and slapped Beth hard across her face, the sting of her nails raking Beth’s flesh. Beth hollered and lashed out, knocking the woman onto the floor, then launched herself on top of the bitch, screaming at the top of her lungs, “You’re dead!”
Both of them froze, their eyes darting to the doorway, where Dante stood dripping wet and shivering, with a towel wrapped around his hips.
“Get offa her!” he said again, his glare on Beth like she was the one in the wrong.
Anger rose through Beth, making her jump up and rush at him. He stumbled into the passage as she ploughed into him. “You cheating bastard!” she screamed, shoving him back further.
He held out his hands, looking stunned, like he didn’t understand why she was angry. She shoved him again, ignoring Ash and Tiana as they looked out of their bedroom. “You said you loved me!” she shouted at Dante. “But you’re barely a day away from me and you’re already sleeping around.”
That seemed to snap him out of his daze. “I didn’t sleep with her.”
Beth flung an arm backwards, pointing at his room. “How can you say that with that naked bitch standing there?”
“I didn’t sleep with her. That’s Kara.”
“Kara? As in your ex?”
The image of the text filled her mind, it’s placement over Kara’s heart making Beth scream louder: “Do you think that makes it alright? That you can fuck her cos she’s your ex?”
“I didn’t fuck her!”
“How can you lie to my face when I caught you red-handed?”
“I’m not lying! I slept in Angelo’s room. She needed a place to stay after her husband beat her up.”
“Do you think I’m stupid?”
“No, I’m stupid for thinking you trusted me.”
Beth spat out the first thing that came to mind, instantly regretting it, “I could never trust you!”
Dante flinched, his expression telling her she’d hurt him.
“I didn’t mean that,” she quickly said, although she did, the man so impulsive it made her want to scream, so unpredictable that she never knew what was up or down.
He bared his teeth, signalled his rising anger, which looked ready to bubble over and burn her. “You’re the liar, not me,” he snarled. “I knew you would eventually say what you really thought, cos no one trusts me. No one! All I am is a lying, cheating slut, who doesn’t know how to be faithful.” He sneered. “Ironic that it wuz you who cheated on my bro by sleeping with me. Guess we’re both sluts.”
“I’m not a slut!” she snapped back, aching to slap him for the comment. “What do you expect me to think when I find some woman sleeping in your bed?” She looked back at Kara, who now had a blanket wrapped around her body, the woman’s eyes fixed on Dante. Kara’s gaze flicked to Beth, then she stepped back into Dante’s room, closing the door behind her. Oh, no she didn’t! Beth went for the door, because there was still no way she was allowing that bitch to stay here.
Dante grabbed her arm and wrenched her around. “Leave her alone!”
Beth pulled free. “Why? Or are you more concerned about her than me?”
“Don’t you dare try to manipulate me.”
“You have a nerve saying that, sleeping behind my back with that inked-up tramp.”
“I did nuthin’ with her! For Christ’s sake, I already told ja that.”
She poked his arm, pointing at one of his tattoos. “That tramp has the same writing. What does it mean?”
He took a step back, practically squirming. “That doesn’t concern you.”
“Yes it does! So what does it mean?”
We are one.”
Beth felt her heart skip, her chest ache, those words telling her that she was just a fill-in for another woman, like she had been for Ash. “You still love her?”
Dante grimaced. “I love you more.”
“Which means you still love her.”
“What I had with Kara is in the past.”
“I would believe that if she wuzn’t here in the present.”
“You calling me a liar again?”
“Yes, cos you’re lying ’bout your feelings for her, and you pro’bly agreed to have her here so you could be near her again.”
“I didn’t lie, I told ja the truth, and I have no wish for her to be here.”
Beth grabbed his arm. “Then why didn’t you get this tattoo removed.”
“It’s just words.”
“No it’s not! Cos you still love her.”
“Stop saying that!” He pulled his arm free. “I’ve had enough of this shit. Just fuck off.”
“No, she has to leave, not me!”
“She’s got nowhere else to go.”
“That bitch leaves now or I will.”
His face hardened. “’Kay, go then, and when you walk out that door, don’t come back.”
Beth shook her head, now panicking, his words not what she’d expected, and most definitely not what she wanted, far from it. Instead, she wanted him to kick the bitch out and to tell Beth he loved her and that he was sorry, and that this would never happen again.
“No, you don’t mean that,” she finally said, his harsh gaze making her want to yell at him that he was the one in the wrong, not her, but she couldn’t, because that would push him over the edge, and she didn’t want to experience that again, because the last time he’d had a bipolar episode it had scared the hell out of her.
“Why not?” Dante snapped. “You already think I cheated on you, which means it’s over.”
No, this wasn’t happening, not again! “But you said you loved me.”
“I do, but if you don’t trust me, you’ll end up leaving me like Kara did all those years ago. She did the exact same thing to me, telling me I wuz a lying, cheating whore when I did nuthin’ wrong, and I’m not goin’ through that again. I’m sick of jealous women making my life hell!”
He turned to leave. Panicked, she grabbed his arm again. He yanked free and headed for the bathroom. Now desperate, she ran after him, trying to stop him.
He turned on her and swatted her hands away. “Don’t touch me!”
“No, Dante, please don’t do this, I love you so much.”
“You have a shit way of showing it.”
“This isn’t my fault.”
“No, you think it’s mine.”
“Why are you doin’ this to me? I should be the one angry, not you, I didn’t cause this; you did by letting that woman back into your life—our lives.”
“I didn’t cause this! You did with your distrust. Ironic since I’ve never cheated on anyone—unlike you.”
His words slapped Beth in the face again. “I would never cheat on you.”
“So, I’m s’posed to believe you, when you don’t believe me?”
“You gotta understand how all this looks to me.”
“No I bloody don’t. You jumped to your own conclusions. Now, if I wuz on top of Kara, fucking her, then yeah, I’d understand all this shit being piled on me, but the only thing I’d been pumping for the past hour wuz the weights in the garage.”
“It didn’t look like that to me with you wearing only a towel.”
“I had a shower after my bloody workout.”
“You could’ve been washing off the sex.”
He pointed a finger at her, his face vicious. “Keep your shit opinions to yourself, cos you caused this problem—like all the other ones. We’ve barely been together a week, and we’ve already had loads of arguments, and every chance you get, you insult me. I don’t even know why you’re with me.”
“I don’t insult you all the time; and I’m with you cos I love you.”
“You don’t love me, love involves trust.”
“I did trust you until I saw that woman in your bed, and you’ve gotta see it from my point of view.”
“No I don’t!” He put his hands to his head. “Why do I even bother with relationships, cos it always ends like this, tearing my fuckin’ heart out, it’s not worth it, it hurts too much. I should be like my old man, a hermit. He’s got the right idea, cos at least he doesn’t get his heart stomped on at every turn. I’m not made for relationships! So. Leave. Me. The. Fuck. Alone!” He entered the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.
She tried to push it open, but he’d locked it. She started banging on the door. “Dante, open up! I’m sorry!”
“Go away!”
“No, we hafta talk this through.”
“Talking’s over, we’re done!”
“Don’t say that! We love each other, we can sort things out.”
“What’s the fuck for? Cos you’d do the same to me again. No, it’s over, leave.”
“But I love you!”
“No one loves me!” he hollered, then kicked the door, making Beth jump back. A crash on his side followed, making Beth’s heart beat faster, Dante no doubt destroying the bathroom.
“Beth! Leave now!” Tiana shouted behind her.
Beth glanced over her shoulder at Tiana. Dressed in a crimson dressing-gown, Ash’s girlfriend was glaring at Beth like she was the root of all evil.
“I’ll call the police if you don’t leave,” Tiana added, her wavy brown hair a mess, sleep her stylist.
Beth shook her head. “No, this is just a misunderstanding.”
“No it’s not, Dante doesn’t want you here, so leave and don’t come back.”
Beth glanced over Tiana’s shoulder at Ash, who was standing in his doorway, looking like a replica of Dante, just without the facial tattoo, his neck tat noticeable above his T-shirt. He turned around, heading back into the room she’d once shared with him.
“Don’t you dare look at Ash,” Tiana snapped. “He’s finished with you, like Dante is too, and ’bout time they came to their senses.”
Beth refocused on Tiana. “I wuzn’t lookin’ at Ash inappropriately, and I hafta sort this mess out with Dante, I love him,” she said, wanting Tiana to understand that she wasn’t in anyway a threat to the woman’s relationship.
“No!” Tiana yelled. “Dante deserves better than you. He’s told me all about how you insult him. That man is like a brother to me, and I won’t allow you to hurt him or my man any more. So get out!”
Beth couldn’t believe this was happening, that she was being punished for finding another woman in Dante’s bed. And regardless of whether he’d cheated, she knew she’d forgive him, because she couldn’t lose him, not after what they’d found together, his passion reaching deep inside of her, making her think she was just as crazy as he was, but with love. She knew it was sappy, but she couldn’t help it.
Tiana’s face hardened with hatred. “Get out of this house before I slap you like you slapped my man,” she hissed.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for that to happen, it wuz a misunderstanding. I’ve already apologised to Ash. Please, just lemme talk to Dante and everything will be sorted—” Her head whipped to the side, Tiana’s slap silencing her.
Bursting into tears, Tiana took off into her bedroom, closing the door behind her. Beth brought a hand to her cheek and stared at the door, not understanding why on earth Tiana was crying over hitting her, or maybe she’d walked into the Twilight Zone, where everything was up the wop and totally insane—like this whole family.
The shower started, making her turn back to the bathroom and bang on the door, pleading for Dante to come out. He swore, telling her to leave. She leaned against the door and slid down it, planning on waiting him out. A shadow loomed over her. Dante’s ex was now dressed in one of his singlets, and wasn’t that a kick to the guts. Because...
Beth jumped to her feet, wanting to punch the bitch’s smirk off her face.
Kara cocked her head to the side. “If you strike me it’ll only make him angrier.”
Beth lowered her fist. “Get out,” she ground out, digging her nails into her palms, the pain stopping her from going postal on the bitch.
Smiling, Kara leaned forward and whispered in Beth’s ear, “By the way, he was fucking great last night. Thanks for looking after him, but now I’m back: bye-d-bye.”
“I’m not leaving! You are!”
“In your dreams, because I’m going back to Dante’s bed, where the covers smell of his cum. I knew I should’ve washed, but oh, I do like to keep him inside of me for as long as possible. Dribble, dribble, dribble.”
Beth stared at her, totally shocked by the woman’s crassness, and worse, the confirmation that Dante had cheated—and lied to her about it.
Smiling, Kara spun around and headed for Dante’s room.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Beth shouted, snapping out of her shock. She stormed after Kara, but got the door slammed in her face. The lock clicked followed by a laugh, making Beth yell out in fury. “You bitch! Get out now!”
Beth turned as Ash stepped out from his bedroom. God, it was like everyone in the house was working against her, one person after another making her run the gauntlet of emotions.
“Please leave, you’re upsetting everyone,” Ash said, the look on his face making her cringe, his features full of sorrow. She didn’t want to upset him, hated what he’d been through, so she did the only thing she knew how to: She left.
Unable to hold back the tears, she headed outside, but even as she got into her car, she knew this was far from over. She was going to get Dante back if it meant killing that bitch, because there was no way on God’s green earth that she was losing another Rata brother.
No Way!

Kara was sitting on the bed, staring at the door, willing Dante to walk through it. He’d been in the bathroom for well over an hour, doing God only knew what, which hopefully didn’t involve a razor and his wrists. The thought almost made her spring off the bed, but she quickly dismissed it, because there was no way Dante would commit suicide over a woman of little worth such as Beth, plus he was the one who’d broken up with the witch, not the other way round, which pleased Kara no end.
A door banged down the passage, making Kara’s hopes rise. Dante had to come to his bedroom to get some clean clothes—unless he borrowed Ash’s. She got to her feet, nervous that he could be doing that, then leaving without telling her, which made sense considering he hadn’t come into his room earlier to get his work-out clothes. But maybe he’d used some dirty ones from the bathroom, which was a distinct possibility since he could be a dirty, dirty boy sometimes.
Her fears evaporated as the door-handle turned. She quickly sat back down on the bed, suppressing a sigh of relief when Dante stepped inside. He had a towel wrapped around his hips, his expression shell-shocked as though he’d witnessed a horrific crime. She wondered whether he’d taken a hit of drugs, because his eyes were unfocused. He touched under his nose then sniffed, like he was getting rid of the remnants of a powder, most likely coke, something he’d taken when she’d been with him. Yeah, he was high alright, because his muscles were twitching. For a second Kara felt guilty, knowing she’d caused this, then she pushed it to the back of her mind. She was here for a purpose, not to be his guardian angel.
Oprosti mi, Dante,” she apologised, making him jump as though he hadn’t realised she was in the room.
He looked at her, his expression confused, then he shook his head, his drug addled mind probably piecing together why she was half-naked and on his bed. “It’s not your fault,” he finally said. He slumped down on the bed, getting the covers wet, the sheen of water making his tattoos glisten. Her mouth went dry for a second, wishing she could moisten it by licking the water off him. Da, she would, but not before warming him up.
She got up and closed the door, then bobbed down in front of him, purposely giving him a view of her breasts. His eyes did what she wanted, fixing on her fabulous twins.
“I should apologise to Beth,” he said to her breasts. “It did look bad, you in my bed, me in a towel.”
She took a hold of his hands. “No, Dante, this is her fault, not yours. I even told her you didn’t do anything with me, but she wouldn’t listen.”
He pulled a face, then looked at the door as though he expected Beth to burst through it, which Kara could believe, the woman a bulldozer, someone who ripped through barriers without giving a person the chance to defend themselves.
“But I love her,” Dante said.
“And if she loved you back, dragi, she wouldn’t have treated you so badly.”
He pulled his hands free. “You used to treat me the same way, draga,” he said, putting emphasis on the feminine version for darling.
“Which I truly regret. I was young and stupid, and crazy with jealousy,” she said, recounting the lines she’d formulated while he was in the bathroom. “And if I was thinking logically, I wouldn’t have ruined our relationship.”
He frowned. “I’m not used to you apologising; I wuz the one who always had to grovel.”
She took his hands again, wishing she could kiss his scowl away. “Which is why I have a lot to make up for, and I’ve grown since we’ve been apart—for the better.” She hid the lie with a kiss to his hand, wishing she’d grown into someone he could be proud of—no, someone her family could be proud of, because Dante never judged her, unlike her older sister. No doubt her overly religious sister would be horrified with what Kara had become: a whore to the very men Marina would kill without remorse.
Dante’s frown deepened. “I’m the same as when you left me. No, I’m worse.”
Oh, no, you’re definitely better. Her eyes wondered down to his six-pack, then to his new tattoos, her gaze almost glazing over with lust. God, the man was pure sex, his tattoos again making her want to lick them. “You seem fine by me,” she said. Real fine. Letting go of one of his hands, she reached for the tattoo around his left eye, the curving Māori design so intriguing. She’d originally thought it had been black, but up close she saw that it was a dark green, the colour of the forests at night where she used to play hide and seek with her sister.
He moved his head to avoid her touch.
“I like your new tattoos.” She lowered her hand to his right arm, tracing the colourful designs, a mixture of Māori and Croatian imagery, representing his cultural heritage. He’d only had tattoos on his left arm when she’d left, but now he had them covering both arms and a canoe tattoo on his back, which resembled what the Māori people called a waka. Her eyes flicked back up to the facial design, her favourite one, apart from the We Are One tattoo connecting them together.
“What are you staring at?” he said, his muscles still twitching.
“Your tattoos, dragi.”
“I told ja to stop calling me that. I’m not your darling.”
“I know,” but I wish you were. “It’s just hard to lose endearments,” but even harder losing you. She refocused on one of the tattoos on his arm, tracing the koru with a fingertip. The black curvature design weaved itself through the checked Croatian crest, almost violent in its penetration, something she would normally have considered a travesty. But she understood what it represented, the combination of two cultures. And she wanted him to penetrate her too, to combine their cultures completely, making them one again.
He flinched but let her continue touching the tattoo, his dark eyes watching her face, intense and voracious. She’d always loved that about him, still did, because he was looking at her like he wanted to eat her up, but not in the same way as Craven, because unlike the wolf, Dante’s expression was erotic, filled with promises of pleasure. Da, both of them could feast on each other, ending this famine she’d been forced to bear.
“Why are you still staring at me?” Dante asked, breaking through her thoughts.
“Because you are beautiful—and you are staring at me also. Do you think I’m beautiful too?”
“A woman is beautiful, not a man, and I’m not stroking your ego.”
“Beauty can be masculine just as much as feminine, and I’d love you to stroke my ego. By the way, my ego is here,” she said, reaching between her legs.
His lip twitched, telling her he was irritated, but he said nothing. She wondered whether his irritation was with her, or more likely himself, because he wasn’t moving, the desire she saw keeping him chained to the bed. She smiled, imagining him chained to it literally—and what she’d do to him while he was helpless. Oh dear Lord, that was a dangerous thought.
Unable to help herself, and not wanting to either, she leaned forward to kiss him, barely brushing his lips before he shot up off the bed, making her fall onto the floor.
“I’m not having sex with you, so don’t try it on,” he said, moving to the cabinet behind her.
She got to her feet, incensed he’d turned her down, and a little worried too, because no doubt Craven would be expecting her to put on a show for the hidden cameras, and in all truth she wanted to give it to him—and to his audience, because if she did a good job he might honour his word. She frowned, knowing damn well Craven’s promise that she could keep Dante was empty, just a ploy to get her to do what he wanted.
Her eyes flicked up to the tiny camera hidden in the clock above Dante’s head as he searched through a drawer. Her gaze shifted to the other ones hidden in the light fixture, the framed drawing of Jimmy Hendrix overlooking the bed, an alarm clock and a Māori wall sculpture with curved pieces of wood and metal, the only thing that Dante was proud of making in high school.
Dante pulled out some underwear, then jumped as Kara ran her fingernails up his back. She knew she was pushing him too fast, that she should take things slower, but she was never one to wait for what she wanted, patience definitely not one of her virtues, if indeed she had any virtues.
He turned around, still looking angry, although he’d told her a long time ago that he got off on her being pushy and aggressive, like the first time she’d met him. Her pussy clenched at the memory of the sex that had followed, the man so damn talented.
“Stop lookin’ at me like that,” he snapped, bringing her back to the present. “I told ja, I’m not having sex with you.”
Kara looked up at him, the top of her head reaching his chin. “I don’t want to just have sex with you; I want you to fuck me raw.”
He shook his head, the curl of his lip making him appear as though he was going to snarl. “It ain’t gonna happen. You left me, and now you expect me to forget everything you did, the way you walked out, all the insults you threw at me. Well, I don’t forgive so easy. So stop bloody coming onto me, cos you don’t give a shit ‘bout me, just want me to service you like a fucking prostitutka.”
“You’re wrong; I want you to service me as a lover.”
“I’m not your lover, and now I’m not even Beth’s, no thanks to you.”
“You can’t blame me for what happened. She jumped to conclusions.”
“Not hard to do with you lying naked in my bed. I should’ve been the one apologising to her, not the other way round.”
“No, you should’ve given her a real reason to be angry.” Kara slipped his singlet over her shoulders and dropped it to the floor, leaving herself completely naked.
“What’re ya doin’?!” he said, his eyes going huge.
“Hopefully you.” She grabbed his towel, whipping it away before he realised what she’d done, then shoved him into the cabinet, making him fall back against it, his body sticking out at an angle, his hardening cock putting a smile on her face. Before he could right himself, she climbed on him, using the drawer he’d opened as a step, then started kissing and biting his lips. He remained stiff underneath her, like he was petrified of what she was doing, something she wasn’t used to with him, because he never had self-control, her come-ons always ending in him pushing her back hard, and fucking her even harder.
She grabbed his cock, readying to penetrate herself with it, not willing to wait for a condom, and if anything, she wanted him to get her pregnant, then there would be no way Craven or Beth could separate them.
He tore his head to the side and grabbed her wrist, his features pained as he growled, “Let go.”
She gripped tighter, using her nails just enough to let him know she’d hurt him if he took away her prize. “Fuck me like I know you want to,” she growled back, then bit his jaw, causing him to shiver.
“I don’t wanna fuck you,” he said, his voice croaky, his dark eyes even more dilated, like he was fighting with himself, both wanting and not wanting her.
“Liar.” She loosened one finger and scratched his cock, making him wince, although she knew he liked it. “And I won’t let your cock go unless you put it inside of me.” She moved her nail up to his slit, penetrating it oh ever so slightly and causing his eyes to widen. “I bet Beth doesn’t know how much you like being hurt, how you prefer to be dominated, which is why I bet you dominate that witch, when all you want is for her to do it back to you. Has she ever played with you like I used to, tied you up, returned your vicious bites or used clamps on your nipples, making you scream like a pussy? I love seeing you defenceless, your eyes panicked as I use your body to pleasure myself. You like that, don’t you? Being used, made to feel like you’re the most desired thing. And you are. I’ll stake my life that no one else has done that for you.”
He glared at her, again the conflict she felt within him making her pray he’d lose his self-control. “Please, get offa me,” he finally said, looking like it pained him, his voice so soft, as though he didn’t want her to hear it.
“When do you ever say please?”
“Just get the fuck off!”
Zašto?” she asked why in their shared language. “Because I know you want me, like I want you.”
“No, I want Beth, so let go,” he said, squeezing her wrist so tight she thought he was going to snap it. But regardless of the pain, she still held onto him, because now it had turned into a battle, and she wasn’t one to submit so easily, unless it was in bed, although she always did prefer to dominate, especially since there was no greater high than getting a strong man to beg and writhe underneath her.
She pressed her fingernails into the flesh of his cock, returning pain for pain. “I’ll hurt you more than you can ever hurt me.”
He brought his other hand up to her neck, the pain in his eyes telling her he was close to snapping. “Let go!”
She swallowed against his grip, but definitely not from fear. “You know what you’re doing is only turning me on more, and I can see it’s turning you on too.”
“I’ll snap your fuckin’ neck before I fuck you.”
“Do it then?”
“You’re fuckin’ crazy.”
“Things will get crazier than this, cos this is only foreplay, dragi.
“If ya don’t let me go, I’ll personally hand you back to that husband of yours,” he said, his eyes more angry than horny now.
His cock grew softer in her hand, making her swear. She gave it an extra squeeze, annoyed with him, then climbed off, not caring about his yelp.
“You’re a complete bitch,” he said massaging his cock, his expression pained. “I help you out and all you do is gimme shit and a sore dick.”
“I would’ve given you pleasure if you weren’t so infuriatingly stubborn,” she snapped.
“You’re unbelievable.”
“The fucking would have been unbelievable.”
Shaking his head, he snatched up some underwear out of the drawer without turning his back on her, his actions weary, like he expected her to jump him again. “Put on some clothes,” he said, his voice harsh.
Zašto? You like the sight.”
“Jesus, you’re arrogant.”
“I’m not arrogant, it’s a fact, and if you weren’t so interested in what I offer, then your cock wouldn’t have wept for me,” she said, licking her fingers.
He sneered at her. “It leaks for anyone, even trannies if they suck well enough.”
She smiled maliciously, wanting to goad him into grabbing and throwing her onto the bed. “I love the way you talk, your mouth is dirtier than a prostitutka. Maybe I was right to call you one, plus you love being used like a dirty whore.”
He thrust a finger at her, his dark eyes dangerous. “Watch your fuckin’ mouth before I toss you out.”
“If you didn’t truly want me here then you would’ve done that already. So, Dante, pick me up and toss me.”
“You talk more like a prostitutka than I do.”
“You really don’t like that word, do you? Why is that?”
“Cos I’m sick of people treating me like one! You, Beth, as well as people I don’t even know.” His face reddened. “What is it about me that makes everyone think I can’t be faithful? Well, I can be, but no one stays long enough to gimme a chance! Like you didn’t. Go on, you’re not shy, tell me what’s so bloody wrong with me that people treat me like all I’m good for is this?” He smacked his cock, making himself wince.
“You’re not the measure of your cock, it’s the whole package people want,” she said, now feeling guilty for pushing him too hard, the devastation in his eyes not what she wanted or expected. She wanted to hurt him for his physical pleasure, not to cause him emotional pain.
He threw his underwear at her. “If they wanted the whole package then they would stay with me, but they don’t, so don’t gimme that shit.”
She wondered whether she’d caused his low opinion of himself. No, she couldn’t be the only reason, because he’d said that others didn’t want to stay either, and if anything, it was probably the porn stars behind it, or more specifically Craven, the wolf having paid them to have one-night-stands with Dante. She’d spoken to a few of them, the women telling her that they would’ve loved to have stayed with him, but they had been expressly forbidden, and if they had continued to see Dante they would have gotten their faces carved up—like Candy had, the woman used as an example.
Kara breathed out, trying to think of anything but the truth to tell him, anything to make him feel better. “You shouldn’t be so harsh on yourself,” she finally said. “And the women who didn’t stay with you were probably married or had partners; otherwise you would have them now, that is, if you wanted to.”
“You’re married, so why don’t you piss off and leave me alone too.”
“I don’t want my marriage, it’s toxic.”
“Like our relationship wuz—and still is.”
“No it wasn’t—isn’t, you never hurt me.”
“I threatened to snap your neck only a minute ago.”
“An empty threat.”
“How would you know? You know nuthin’ ’bout me.”
“I know more than you think.”
“Bullshit, and I’m sick of you standing there like that,” he waved a hand at her body, “so fuckin’ confident that I would cheat on Beth.”
“Again, you cannot cheat when you aren’t with the woman, and if you go back to her, she’ll hurt you again.”
“You hurt me more than she ever did.”
“I didn’t mean to.”
“Yes, you did, you walked out, and now you’re walking right back in, thinking that you can do anything you want. Well, you can’t!”
“I’m only trying to take back what I lost all those years ago, and don’t tell me you aren’t turned-on, because I know you like forceful women. I’m guessing that’s why you ended up with Beth. She does have bite, like me.”
“She’s nuthin’ like you.”
“Which is probably why you look so sexually frustrated. She’s not giving you what you need. Does she know how you like to be forced to do things—”
“I didn’t want half the shit you did to me! You were the one wanting that, not me, but you never listened. I only did those things cos I wuz afraid to lose you, but no matter what, you still went hot and cold on me, liking things one day then yelling at me the next, confusing the shit outta me. You’re bloody more bipolar than I am.”
“Don’t kid yourself, Dante. You’re a deviant, you just won’t admit it.” His jaw clenched, his eyes again flashing, but his silence told her what she’d said was true. She smiled. “Can’t deny it, can you?”
“You warped me.”
“You’re wrong, dragi¸ I just gave you what you wanted, because I know you so well.”
“You do not.”
“Then tell me that you don’t imitate our love life with your lovers, just with you causing the pain rather than the women.”
He stared at her, his expression stunned, like he didn’t understand how she knew, but she knew alright, again, Craven’s whores giving her all the information she craved about Dante.
“I know you better than yourself, Dante,” she said. “And way more than this Beth can ever know. Our minds think alike: Mi Smo Jedan—We Are One.
He shook his head. “You ruined that, and I don’t know you at all, haven’t known you for the past three years. Unlike Beth.”
“Beth is gone,” she breathed out. “You dumped her.”
“All cos you made it look like I’d cheated on her.”
“We’ve already been over this. And what would she have said if she’d burst through the door a few minutes ago? Your cock was in my hand while our naked bodies were pushed up against each other.”
“I didn’t reciprocate!”
“Your cock did. It was hard for me—not Beth.”
“I didn’t stick it in you.”
“You wanted to though.”
“I didn’t!”
“Don’t lie.” She walked towards him, making him move to the side fast. “There’s no use denying what you want, and since you’re now a free man, you can do it without guilt.” She brought her hands to her breasts, pushing them together. His focus sharpened, the look on his face telling her he was thinking about pushing his cock between them. She groaned just thinking about it, making him look up, his expression now conflicted, like he didn’t know what he should do. And she was aching to make the decision for him.
“Fuck me,” she said.
He stared at her for what seemed like ages as though he had a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, both whispering into his ears, confusing him, making him go between the two, then without a word, he turned to the wardrobe and pulled out a pair of leather pants, tugging them on commando. “I’ll find someplace else to stay,” he said.
She let go of her breasts. “But this is your home, you shouldn’t have to leave.”
“I’m goin’ to Beth’s.”
“You can’t, you broke up with her.”
“Then I’ll unbreak up with her, and apologise.”
“That’s not even a word, and you can’t, that woman is horrible.”
“You don’t know her, so you can’t comment.”
“What a load of nonsense. I saw how horrible she was to you. You shouldn’t have to apologise, she should.”
“She did, but I wuz too mad to listen to her.”
“And rightfully so, which means it’s better you’re rid of that witch.”
“No, it isn’t, I love her, and don’t call her names.”
Kara grimaced. “I hope you’re not like this with her normally, because I didn’t take you for a pussy who rolled over so easily. You used to argue like crazy with me, even when I whipped you—literally.”
“I still argue, today proof, but in Beth’s case I wuz wrong, and you were a bitch when you did that, I didn’t like the whipping at all.”
“That’s not true—for both. One, you came when I whipped you, and two, I saw the whole argument between you and Beth.” Kara lifted her chin. “That woman was damn nasty to you and you didn’t deserve it.”
“She’s normally nice,” he said, pulling on a black T-shirt.
Kara wanted to rip it off him, but instead crossed her arms over her chest, incensed he was defending the horrible woman after Beth had mistreated him—as well as herself. She narrowed her eyes. “Beth didn’t look so nice when she was attacking me. Twice in two days I’ve been attacked. So, do you think my husband is nice too, because he attacked me like your girlfriend?” Ex girlfriend, and it was going to stay that way.
“No, and she wuz upset. It’s not the same.”
“It is the same. And go speak to Tiana. Beth upset her too, made her run into her bedroom crying.”
His face fell. “What? Why?”
“Tiana told her to leave, but she wouldn’t. Next thing I hear is a slapping sound, then Tiana ran into her bedroom crying and Ash came out, telling Beth to leave. Beth is a bully, like my husband, and you, like me, need to realise this before it gets more people hurt.”
He rushed for the door, heading for Ash and Tiana’s room. Kara quickly pulled on her dress, wondering whether she’d gone too far this time, because she knew it was Tiana who’d done the slapping. But she’d backed herself up, saying that she’d only heard the slap, so if it backfired, she was untouchable. Plus, he would naturally think it was Beth, because Tiana was a creampuff.
Dante knocked on the door, calling out Tiana’s name, while Kara pulled on one of his shirts over her skimpy dress. She rushed into the passage just as Ash poked his head out of his bedroom.
“Not now, Dante,” Ash said. “Tiana’s upset.”
“Shit, I’m so sorry,” Dante replied. “I had no idea Beth wuz coming over so early. Please lemme apologise to Tiana.”
“Don’t worry, it’s not your fault, just go to the lounge, the twins will be here soon.”
Dante nodded, then called out, “I’m sorry, T!”
Kara followed him to the lounge, relieved she’d pulled that off. Dante slumped down on the couch and ran a hand over his wet hair. She sat next to him and placed a hand on his lap, frowning when he shifted over. Again, she knew she needed to slow down, to control herself, but Dante always made her feel like she was on fast forward, wanting to get to the good parts without waiting.
Kara put her hand between her legs, aching to put it between his. “Are you still going to contact that woman after she accosted me and your brother’s girlfriend?”
He shook his head. “No. She even slapped Ash last week.”
“That’s horrible! Why’d she do that for?” Kara said, playing up her shock, although she didn’t understand why he was getting upset over the woman slapping someone. Kara had done a lot worse: Pushing women away from him, punching a couple, and even flashing a knife once, which thankfully he hadn’t seen. And da, she’d also hit Dante, but then again, spanking couldn’t be counted as violence. Hmmm, she’d liked doing that to him, although he wasn’t so amused, but what did he expect? After all, it was his own fault for allowing her to tie him up while he was lying on his stomach, and she could’ve done so much worse. She refrained from smirking at the thought, because he would have ripped the bedposts off and tossed her out on her arse faster than she could say ‘strap-on’.
“It doesn’t matter why she hit Ash or Tiana,” Dante said, snapping Kara out of her fantasy. “It matters that she’s become violent since she’s been with me—like you did.”
Kara knew she was violent well before she’d met him, and she would never apologise for that, because the meek didn’t inherit the earth, they fucking perished. “I fight for what I want,” she said, “always have had to. You try living through a war without it affecting you. Does Beth have the same excuse?”
“Yes. Me. I bring out the worst in women.”
“I don’t think so; you’ve just got bad taste in them.” She smiled at him. “Me included.”
He glanced sideways at her, a slight smile pulling at the corner of his lips. God, she could murder Craven for forcing her to leave him, had even considered it—seriously, but the devil had too many minions protecting him, too much power. She was just a slingshot in comparison to his nuclear bomb, but at least he’d given her a second chance now, and she wasn’t going to allow anything to come between her and Dante this time.
“I don’t think I have bad taste in chicks,” Dante said. “It’s the chicks who go with me that have bad taste. You included.”
“That is true, because I really do have atrocious taste in men.” She grinned at his raised eyebrow. “But you’re the exception to the rule.”
He shook his head, but still smiled, the fissure between them shrinking a little. A knock came from the front door, shattering the moment. He got up and opened it, saying the Māori greeting for hello.
Kia ora,” a male and female voice replied back, the man’s one deep and sexy as hell. She watched with curiosity, wondering who it was, then her eyes widened as a tall man, or more precisely a boy, stepped inside, someone who had changed dramatically over the past three years. No, Sledge wasn’t a boy anymore, because Dante’s younger brother looked every bit a man, muscular and hard, his appearance defying his eighteen years.
Kara got to her feet. “You’ve grown huge, Tyson. What are you on? Steroids?”
Dante’s brother’s harsh gaze fell on her. “You know everyone calls me Sledge. And why you here?”
Kara could tell by the distasteful curl of his lip that he wanted to add bitch to the end of his question. “I’m staying for a bit,” she answered him. “And I like your birth name much better than that silly nickname.”
“It’s not a silly nickname,” he snapped. “And what happened to your face?”
Kara touched her black-eye. “My husband got a bit fist happy, which is why I’m staying with your brothers.”
Sledge’s twin sister squeezed past him. Juliet was a smaller version of Sledge, just not attractive, because no female could pull off that face. Kara always felt like Juliet had gotten short-changed in the looks’ department. On Sledge the rough angles of his face came across as hot, on Juliet... Poor girl, she was never going to get a boyfriend looking like that, plastic surgery her only hope.
Kara shifted down the couch as the twins went to take a seat, both of them ignoring her, Juliet not even saying hello, but that was to be expected, considering Juliet hated her for... How did the English say it? ...putting her foot in her mouth. Da, that was what Kara had done when she’d first met Dante’s sister. Dante hadn’t introduced them, so Kara had asked him who the ružna djevojka was, not realising that Juliet knew it meant ugly girl. But Juliet was an ugly girl, so it wasn’t intended as an insult, just a description, because Juliet had been standing next to Tiana at the time, and Kara had referred to Ash’s woman as the pretty girl.
Dante took off down the passage, then came back with Ash, both of them looking like someone had died. Kara moved to another seat as Ash indicated for her to shift. He sat next to Juliet and put an arm around his sister’s shoulders, then started talking, something that went along the lines of... She knew it! His words finally confirmed what Kara had always thought: That Sledge and Juliet were adopted. They looked too much like Hunter, their supposed cousin, for them to not have come from his seed.
Ash continued talking to the twins, “I’m sorry, we should’ve told you sooner, but Hunter didn’t want you to know.”
Sledge spoke up first, his face shocked. “Is that why we look like him and not you?”
Kara rolled her eyes. God, Sledge had always been dumb. Looks like only his appearance had changed, not his brain matter.
Ash answered Sledge’s question. “Yes. Hunter wuz sixteen when you were born, your mother the same age. She died after childbirth, which caused Hunter to go off the rails. Mum and Father had to admit him into the psyche ward, cos he wuz a high risk for committing suicide, and when he came out, he still couldn’t handle having children, so he made everyone promise to keep your adoption a secret.”
Sledge got to his feet, looking like he wanted to rip someone apart. “You lied to us for eighteen years!”
“We wanted to tell you,” Ash said. “But Hunter wuz too erratic, I didn’t wanna risk it.”
“Then why the fuck are ya spilling your guts now? He’s in the bloody looney bin.”
“Don’t call it that.”
“Just answer my fuckin’ question!”
“I want to do right by you.”
Sledge shook his head. “Then you should’ve told us sooner.”
“I know, and I’m sorry, I wuz a weak bastard who did what other people wanted, but I’m not letting that happen again. You and Juliet are too important to me,” he said, pulling his crying sister/cousin closer. “And no matter what our genetics are, you are still my brother, and Juliet is still my sister.”
“No we’re not! We’re not even first cousins!” Sledge headed for the door, disappearing out of it. Dante jumped up and ran after him, while Ash turned to Juliet. He smoothed a hand down Juliet’s thick hair and started talking softly to her, reassuring the girl he still loved her like a sister, and that she would always be his number one sibling.
Kara ducked her head and quickly wiped her eyes, Ash’s obvious love and concern for Juliet making her feel guilty that she was witnessing something so personal—and also jealous. She wished she could share loving moments with her own sister, but knew that was impossible. Marina’s forced stay at the mental institute back in Croatia was for life, because unlike Hunter, Marina wasn’t a danger to herself—just to everyone else.

Kara stood up and headed for Dante’s room. She closed the door and lay down on his bed, wishing that she could become a part of this family too, to start afresh with Dante. She touched her heart, running her hand over the material covering her tattoo, the one she’d gotten the night she’d married Dante, something he’d been too drunk to remember. She wished she could tell him the truth, and to show him the documents she’d hidden—from both him and Craven. She looked up at the camera fixed into the ceiling light and gave it the finger, then turned over and closed her eyes, her dreams the only means of escape from Craven.

To continue reading Behind the Lens you will need to purchase it via Amazon.
Warning: Chapter 5 has a male on male sex scene.