The skyline punctured the wide-open sky; not a single cloud drifted above Manhattan. The city bloomed into a fresh season, but Isla stood outside and inhaled the whiff of car exhaust and karma. People weaved around her along the sidewalk. She tipped her head back and followed the tower of granite and glass. Straight from the airport, her leather tote was packed for a quick jaunt to Sutton territory. Martin insisted on privacy, but the bosses disagreed and chose Isla to plant a little birdie. She suspected Martin's disloyalty to the families the moment she met him.
Isla pushed through the revolving door, entering a lobby with the modern sophistication of white walls, abstract art, and handblown, colored sconces. Behind a stainless-steel desk was stationed a uniformed guard. He backed up against an encased wall of cascading, vibrant-turquoise water.
She approached the man who reminded her of a retired bodybuilder. “I’m here to see Martin Sutton.”
“Isla Pierce. What happened to Donovan?”
He handed her a small key, ignored her question, and instructed her to enter the elevator on the left and insert the key above the number pad in the elevator. Not her first rodeo, she thought, though the penthouse visit was new.
“No funny business. I’ll be watching you. Give the key back to Mr. Sutton.”
Isla winked. “Got it, Mr. T.”
“You know, The A-Team . . . ‘I pity the fool.’ You have the mohawk, and—and the chains.”
With a grunt, he pointed over his shoulder.
“All right, I’m going.” She turned her back. “Donovan had a sense of humor,” Isla spoke under her breath.
The glass lobby swarmed with suits. A handful of men and women stepped on and off the elevators. In the corner, a tall brunette spit obscenities into her phone while her heel tapped against the marble.
Midtown was all business, as was she.
Isla stepped onto the elevator, along with two others. She cleared her throat and inserted the key. A bell chimed, but a number never lit up. Isla removed the key, held it tight in her fist, and glanced at the man and lady.
Their eyes averted hers. Isla gathered her curtain of thick, dark golden-brown hair and twisted it up on the top of her head. It was lovingly named the “bitch bun” by her friends. She checked out the perfectly put-together woman. Isla was never a pencil skirt, silk blouse type of girl. Only when forced she slipped on heels and her mother’s diamond earrings.
The gears whined after each floor; the woman was the first to scurry out. The man remained silent and stared at his shoes until the elevator slowed and stopped on his floor. Gripping his briefcase against his chest like a shield, he sidestepped off. The corners of her lips lifted. She punched a guy in the gut for accidentally touching her backside in the elevator, and now the entire building was afraid of her.
The cables tugged higher; a dash flashed on the panel. Martin had been holed up in his office for weeks, or so he had city officials believe. His family was in shambles, and he was stirring the Amaranthine pot, upsetting investors and shareholders. Martin—the loose cannon—needed to stop taking pages from his spoiled daughter’s book.
The elevator dipped and halted. With a loud clang, the doors slid open. Isla cringed and stood transfixed on the row of buck, elk, and wolf heads mounted above a gathering of rich leather club chairs. The soles of her boots left the confines of the elevator and stepped into an urban hunting lodge. The woodsy aroma flowed about the room with notes of patchouli and cedar as the masculine bouquet clung to Isla’s skin.
Typically when she met Martin, it was in his office fourteen floors below. It was sparse in contrast. A filing cabinet here and there, it was filled with standard office furniture, dark rugs, and a coffee maker in the corner near the receptionist desk. How many knew of his secret penthouse lodge? Probably not many, including the officials who would love nothing more than to toss him in prison for numerous allegations the state’s attorney couldn’t back up.
The windows were covered with sliding wood panels. The room of stone and varnish was illuminated by a chandelier of antlers and shaded lamps. Isla stepped closer to his animal trophies; she saw her distorted reflection in their black eyes.
“Breathtaking, are they not?”
She whirled around. “Not the word I would choose.”
“I hunted each one of these beauties.”
“Not an honorary member of PETA?”
Martin took the key from her. “No, but I’m sensing you must be.”
Isla looked over at the stuffed and displayed animals. “I enjoy a juicy steak like any other carnivore. I’m just not particular to mounting The Jungle Book on my walls.”
Martin laughed, his tenor deep and hearty. If Isla closed her eyes, she’d envision a man with a heftier waist and double chin, not who stood before her. Well-groomed in a black suit, Martin’s crown of ash, combed to perfection. He flashed his gleaming veneers at her and motioned to the closest chair. Isla sank into the cool leather cushion and lowered her tote beside her feet. Martin unbuttoned his suit jacket and sat down across from her.
“What happened to Donovan?”
“I fired him after your little altercation in the elevator. He smashed in Mr. Gibbs’s rear window with a fire extinguisher.”
“Too bad. I liked him.”
“How rude of me. Would you care for coffee or tea, Isla?”
“No, thank you. Why are you making threats against the families?”
“Skipping the pleasantries? I like that.”
Isla raised her eyebrow. “You aren’t going to like this.”
“No. Why are you stirring up problems?”
Martin rose from his seat and crossed the room to an alcove of vintage booze and crystal. Ice cubes clanked inside the glass. “I attempted to contact you a few weeks ago, but you were nowhere to be found. I don’t think Reed knew your whereabouts.”
“I didn’t realize you cared. I’m touched.”
Martin poured the liquor into his glass. “I care for my family, especially my daughter, and I found her arrest coincidental. Curiosity struck me. Would Isla know anything about it, and, if so, could she and I come to some type of an agreement?”
“She pleads the fifth.”
“Is that how we’re going to play this? You started this tit-for-tat game.”
Fire licked Isla’s veins. “Are you five? Do you need a timeout like Mia?”
Martin’s face flushed red, and she didn’t care. His tantrums annoyed her, and they had been at each other for some time, but in the end, Isla would win. “I came here to discuss the territories—”
“Ellis sent you to do his bidding. How noble. Or perhaps you volunteered to impress your displeased husband. Is that it?”
She shot up from the chair, ignoring his jab. “What do you want with the Jupiter territory?”
Martin tipped his drink back and lowered the empty glass. “I have every right to a piece. I’m an investor in multiple properties—”
“Properties which were foreclosed. Properties you were unable to unload. Properties you invested in without the vote. Sounds like a personal problem to me.”
“My name is just as important as Ellis’s or any of the families,” he said with a snarl.
“Maybe a decade ago, but the DA is on a mission to desecrate the Suttons, and, at last check, you’re untrustworthy. Zagotta over in Detroit wants you dead, as do a few others, I’m sure.” Isla stuck her bottom lip out. “Sad for you.”
“You will make Ellis see. You will convince him of my loyalty and my justification. Besides, he’s incorporating a new city. I know the area. I can return to Florida.”
Martin’s voice shook a bit. Giovanni “Vinny” Zagotta’s name did that to people. He wasn’t like the white collars; he was straight-on street thug who was a phantom to law enforcement. Cross Vinny and a person’s days were numbered.
Isla barked out a laugh. “Why in the world would I help you? You got in bed with the wrong guy. The drug trade isn’t for everyone, and now your daughter is a coke-head spending some quality time with Big Mavis.”
“I’ll expose you, your clientele, and the millions you’ve stolen. Do you know what torture techniques the Columbians would use on you? I know all about Ellis’s pet.”
Her pulse tightened. “Traipsing down the blackmail road, are we?” Isla knelt to pick up her bag but was met by polished leather shoes. “Get off.” She yanked on the strap, tipping Martin off balance, and hoisted herself up. He intimidated most of humanity or those without spines. Isla wasn’t one of them. Not anymore.
“You aren’t some badass hacker chick.”
“You’re right. I’m worse.” Her jaw tensed. “What pisses you off more? Ellis trusting me more than your incarcerated, cocaine-addicted daughter, or the possibility of Reed gaining a controlling interest in the company and being appointed to the Jupiter territory?”
Martin leaned closer to her with a smirk. “You’re damaged goods. I know it, and you know it. You’re out of your depth, little girl. Your time is thinning within the family.”
Isla’s heart roared in her ears. She wanted more than anything to knock Martin’s teeth down his throat, but it wasn’t her purpose for visiting. Not this time, anyway. She walked away and pressed the metallic button. His threats didn’t scare her; they infused her blood with conviction.
“War and death will come to your city. I am not one to trifle with,” he yelled from behind her.
“Neither am I,” she said through her teeth.
Martin’s cold glare ground a hole into the back of her head, his evil, dark presence hovering around her. It was a presence she knew well. If Martin knew of her past, Isla would eliminate him eventually, but she had a purpose. A goal. Destroy the man who stole her innocence (and those complacent), her grandmother’s husband, Ronan Walker. In the depths of her mourning, Ronan took advantage of a teenage girl. She had escaped his sick, radical lunacy with the taste of blood still in her mouth.
* * *
In a heap, her clothes laid next to his feet.
Quivered limbs lifted Isla. Satin sheets slipped beneath her, and her elbows and knees sank into the mattress. The snap of leather stole the breath from Isla’s lungs. She squeezed her eyes shut.
His warning reverberated the bedroom. Isla braced for the first lash.
Isla prayed for it to be over. Begged God to make it quick.
It never was.
The sting lasted for hours, sometimes days. Ronan preached to her about obedience; choking her with scripture and shouting Delilah as he disciplined her. Isla loathed herself.
How could she allow her grandmother’s husband to abuse her over and over again? It wasn’t her. She was strong and resilient, but Ronan had a perverse power over her.
Leather sliced her flesh.
She bit down hard on her bottom lip. Tears and saliva dripped onto the sheets. Her punishment carried on. Isla’s muscles weakened with each lashing. Isla smelled blood thick in the air, and she tasted it in the back of her throat.
She screamed. Her spine curved at the new wounds. The mattress dipped. Isla sobbed as he ran his stubble over the gashes. Her fingers dug into the sheets. Death, come to me.