He started reluctantly. “Yes, I’m waiting for you to deal with your father. Yes, it’s the last thing I want to do here, but we have to. I just, haven’t been able to force it to happen.”
A lump sat in the back of my throat. “You said you wanted to replace me at my father’s company. Do you need him alive to do that?”
He stared at me a full long minute, his tortured look never wavering. “I’ve already started that process.”
He didn’t answer my question.
“Do you need him alive to do that?”
He wrenched his gaze away, sitting in the chair next to me, but angling his body away. As he rested his arms on his legs, his back and shoulders grew rigid. “No. Your father is free to die whenever you want him killed.”
I hadn’t expected that.
“Hey.” I sat forward. “What’s going on here? What are you scared about?”
He whipped his head to mine, his gaze searing me. “You hating me one more goddamn time.”
“What?” I couldn’t have heard him correctly. I blinked, confused. “What are you talking about?”
“Your father has to die.” He was cold now. “His body will be found. He’ll be declared dead. His company will call an emergency board meeting. In the interim, you’ll be declared alive. At that board meeting, you’ll share with them the news of your resurrection.” His tone was biting. “After that, we’ll declare a hostile takeover of your father’s company.”
He kept on. “There will be resistance from four members on the board. The other three have already been turned. They will feign surprise, but joy at your appearance, and one of them will bring a motion to appoint you in your father’s place.”
He looked away, his head down, his eyes closed. “I have everything in place, ready to move, but after this, after what you’ll have to do—there’s no going back.” His words were soft, making me ache. “You can’t go back in the shadows after this.”
“And you’re worried about me?”
“I’m worried you’ll hate it. I’m worried you’ll resent me because I fucking yanked you out of where you were content, and I’m not allowing you to go back there.” He shoved to his feet. “Me. I am destroying the safe world you had erected, and you’re letting me do it.” He stopped, breathing harshly. “I am fucking terrified that you will hate me at the end of all this.”
I moved in a flash, going to him.
He flinched, moving away.
“Kai.” Pain wracked through me. I reached for him again.
“No!” He moved farther away, glaring at me. “Stop it. Stop acting like you’re okay with all this. I am yanking you into this prison I live in. You’re letting me! Stop accepting everything I’m doing to you.”
He paused, bit out a curse, and in a second was in front of me. His hands cupped my head, his fingers sliding through my hair, and he tilted me back to look at him as he gazed down. He closed his eyes for a moment, seeming to gather strength, and then he began to speak.
“As soon as Brooke went to you, I started planning. I knew I would kill your father. I knew I would replace him with you. I knew I would wipe out half the council. I knew I would kill Barnes. I have moved on his family. This morning, the FBI will arrest half of his family. My men will kill the other half. In the chaos and sudden absence of the Barnes family, my men will move in and take hold of their assets. There is another mafia family in Milwaukee, and they will receive a bribe from the Bennett family. Tanner is here, heading everything up. Tanner will inform this other family that we’ve moved in, that we have holdings in the Bello Company—a company they have wanted to push in on for the last thirty years. They’ll also be offered a guest sitting position at the next council meeting. Do you know what that means?”
His nostrils flared on the last question.
I could barely process everything he was telling me.
I shook my head. “No.”
“That means they’ll have a chance at tripling their financial assets. I am creating one entire hold over Canada and over half the Midwest in the States, and I will keep expanding, because that’s how my mind works. In seven years, I will eliminate three of those council members and replace them with my siblings, giving us almost an entire monopoly over the council. I know my enemies. I know my obstacles, and I am already making moves to take on or move with the families in Chicago, then Pittsburgh, Boston, and New York. Once I have a firm hold on the East Coast, I will begin looking to the West Coast. Are you understanding what I’m telling you?”
“Yes,” I grated out, feeling an inordinate amount of pressure building in my head and chest. My heartbeat was pounding. “You’re a calculating bastard. That’s nothing new to me.”
“My plan was always to seduce you.”
He said those words so softly and suddenly. Then he waited, stepping back, watching for my reaction.
“What?” I choked out. He couldn’t have said those words.
But he had, and he repeated them, a wall over his face. “My plan was to seduce you. Make you fall in love with me. Use you to insert my position in your father’s company. And it worked perfectly.”
I couldn’t process that. He was saying— “This was all a lie?”
But no. It couldn’t have been.
No, no, no. Panic rose up in me.
How he’d been kind to me. How he held me. How he touched me.
How he’d seduced me.
I couldn’t breathe.
My chest constricted inside of me.
My heart squeezed. I was having a heart attack.
I crumbled, bending over and pressing my forehead to my knees. Breathe in. Breathe out. I kept trying to repeat to myself, but it wasn’t working. Everything swirled into a mess in my head. Pain laced through me, all the way to my fingertips and toes.
“You can’t do this. I—was it all a lie?!”
Fuck it. I shoved to my feet, advancing on him.
He watched me come, not moving, not saying a word.
His jaw clenched. “You should hate me.”
“That’s for me to decide. And anyway, I can change my mind. I can go back. I can hide, you fucking asshole!”
“You can’t, actually.”
“I’ve already sent paperwork and proof of life to the courts. In two hours, you will be declared alive. If you leave and try to hide again, I’ll declare an international manhunt for you. I will find you, no matter where you go.”
He would. He could. He was the only one.
A new feeling of helplessness and powerlessness flooded in, making the room spin around me.
“I have to be there. I have to go to court for that…” Right?
“You don’t. I have your double going to court in your place—the one we used when Blade tried to get you back. She’ll have an imprint of your prints on her fingers, and I’ve already had blood tests done.” A small hesitation. “I’m sorry for that. If you’d like, I can have her attend the Bello emergency board meeting, if you decide to fight me on this.”
“Why?” I shook my head. “Why are you doing this? Saying this? Being like this?”
He was so fucking cold. A stranger. He was the Kai he’d been when I first met him.
He didn’t answer. I saw a flicker in his eyes, but it was gone. He hardened again. “Because it’s time this charade ends.”
“I don’t want you anymore,” he added, finishing me.
I couldn’t breathe.
Sliding to the ground, I gasped for air. My lungs had closed in on themselves, like my whole world.
“You are free to leave here, but you cannot leave Milwaukee,” Kai said, his voice coming from farther away. “A car will be downstairs for you. It’ll take you to your father’s estate. There’s staff there waiting for you, a Claude, if memory serves me correctly.”
The door opened. “If you try to defy me and disappear or return to the 411 Network, I will kill your previous two roommates. If you wish to speak to your father before he dies, you have the next hour to do that. The guards will show you the way.”
And with that, the door shut, and I was left alone. Destroyed.
I don’t know how I got here.
Thinking back, I don’t know how I did a lot of things after what Kai said to me. But somehow, I found myself in a room. My father was tied to a chair, waiting for me to come to him. He had a bandage wrapped around his waist, duct tape over his mouth. If his ass itched, he couldn’t have scratched it.
Five days ago, I might’ve been scared of him. I could feel the loathing coming off him in waves. If he could’ve killed me, he would’ve. I knew that without a doubt. Tough luck for him, though, because he couldn’t touch me, scare me, or hurt me now. Kai had done all of that for him.
I had a brief thought to turn and leave. He would die regardless. Kai had taken a spoon to my insides, gutting everything out of me until I was hollow. The experience had left me with nothing to say to my father, who was my biological father, despite what he said.