“Why not Sam Brennan?”
Sam was Sailor’s older brother and, as far as I was aware, a good friend of Cillian’s. The reigning king of Boston’s underground. A dashing psychopath with a peculiar taste for violence and pockets as deep as his soulless gray eyes.
“Mixing up with Brennan to try to pay back a street loan shark is like cutting off your arm because you broke your nail,” I said quietly.
“You think I’m less dangerous than Brennan?” A ghost of a smile passed his lips.
“No.” I tilted my head up. “But I think you’d be entertained by watching me squirm as I pay you back, and therefore more likely to give me the money.”
His smirk was cocked and charged, like a loaded gun.
I was right. He was enjoying this.
“Where’s that useless husband of yours now?”
“I don’t know. Trust me, if I did, I’d have chased him to the end of earth and back.” Made him pay for what he did.
“How are you planning to pay this loan back?” Kill ran the back of his hand over his sharp jawline.
“Slowly.” The truth tasted bitter in my mouth. “I’m a pre-K teacher, but I moonlight as a babysitter and tutor first and second graders. I’ll work tirelessly until I pay you back every penny. You have my word.”
“Your word doesn’t mean anything. I don’t know you. Which brings me to my final question—why should I help you?”
What kind of question was that? Why did normal people usually help others? Because it was the decent thing to do. But Cillian Fitzpatrick wasn’t normal nor decent. He didn’t play by the rules.
I opened my mouth, searching my brain for a good answer.
“Thirty seconds, Persephone.” He tapped the hourglass, watching me.
“Because you can?”
“The number of things I can do with my money is infinite.” He yawned.
“Because it’s the right thing to do!” I cried out.
He picked up one of the brochures on his desk, flipping through it.
“I’m a nihilist.”
“I don’t know what that means.” I felt the tips of my ears reddening in shame.
“Right or wrong are the same side of the coin for me, presented differently,” he said impassively. “I have no morals or principles.”
“That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Really?” He looked up from the brochure, his face a stone mask of cruelty. “The saddest thing I’ve heard recently is a woman who got screwed over by her no-show husband and was about to get trafficked, murdered, or both.”
“Exactly!” I exhaled, pointing at him. “Yes! See? If something happens to me, it will be on your conscience.”
My lower lip trembled. As always, I kept my tears at bay.
He tossed the brochure across his desk.
“First of all, as I mentioned not two seconds ago, I have no conscience. Second, whatever happens to you is on you and the complete and utter buffoon you married. I’m not another item on your pile of bad decisions.”
“Marrying Paxton wasn’t a bad decision. I married for love.”
This sounded pathetic, even to my own ears, but I wanted him to know. To know I hadn’t been twiddling my thumbs, pining for him all those years.
“All middle-class girls do.” He checked the time on the hourglass. “Very uninspiring.”
“Cillian,” I said softly. “You’re my only hope.”
Other than him, my only option was to disappear. Run away from my family and friends, from everything I knew, loved, and cherished.
From the life I’d built for the past twenty-six years.
He adjusted the tie clasped under his waistcoat.
“Here’s the thing, Persephone. As a matter of principle, I do not give anything away without getting something back. The only thing separating myself and that loan shark who’s after you is a privileged upbringing and opportunity. I, too, am not in the business of handing out free favors. So unless you tell me what, exactly, I could gain for the one hundred thousand dollars you’re asking me to kiss goodbye, I’m going to turn you down. You have ten seconds, by the way.”
I stood there, cheeks ablaze, eyes burning, every muscle in my body taut as a bowstring. A cold shiver ran down my back.
I wanted to scream. To lash out. To collapse on the floor in cinders. To claw his eyes out and bite and wrestle him and…and do things I never wanted to do to anyone, my enemies included.
“Five seconds.” He tapped the hourglass. His snake-like eyes sparkled in amusement. He was enjoying this. “Give me your best offer, Penrose.”
Did he want me to give him my body?
I wouldn’t do that. Not for Byrne. Not for him. Not for anyone.
The remaining seconds dripped like life leaving Auntie Tilda’s body.
His finger hit a red button on the side of his desk.
“Have a nice life, Flower Girl. Whatever’s left of it, anyway.”
He swung his chair to the window, documents in hand, ready to return to his work. The glass door behind me burst open, and two brawny men in suits stomped in, each grabbing me by an arm to drag me outside.
Casey waited by the elevator bank with her arms crossed and shoulder propped over the wall, her cheeks flushed with humiliation.
“It’s not every day security takes out the trash. Guess there’s a first time for everything.” She flipped her hair, cackling like a hyena.
I spent the entire bike ride to North End fighting back the tears.
My last and only chance just went up in flames.
Hunter made the announcement at the dinner table. I wanted to wipe his shit-eating grin with a disinfectant.
Or my fist.
Or a bullet.
Breathe, Kill. Breathe.
His wife, Sailor, rubbed her flat stomach. Generally speaking, she was about as maternal as a chewable thong, so I wasn’t quite sure any of these idiots were capable of taking care of anything more complex than a goldfish.
“Eight weeks in. Still early, but we wanted to let you know.”
I kept my expression blank, cracking my knuckles under the table.
Their timing couldn’t have been worse.
Mother darted from her seat with an ear-piercing squeak, throwing her arms over the happy couple to smother them with kisses, hugs, and praises.