Ember, p.1Part #5 of Eagle Elite series by Rachel Van Dyken
Eagle Elite Book 5
Rachel Van Dyken
Copyright © 2015 RACHEL VAN DYKEN
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
Copyright © 2015 RACHEL VAN DYKEN
Cover Art by P.S. Cover Design
Ember: A small piece of burning coal. Origin: Old English, Germanic. Example: All it takes is a one tiny piece of ember to start a flame, one small flame to burst forth into a fire. One spark, and a man’s world may implode from the inside out.
“DO IT,” MY FATHER spat. “Or I will.”
I looked at the girl at my feet and back at my father. “No.”
He lifted his hand above my head; I knew what was coming, knew it would hurt like hell but had no way to fight back — he’d already starved me of my food for the past three days for arguing, for trying to save the girl and her cousin.
His fist hit my temple so hard that I fell to the ground with a cry. The click of his boots against the cement gave me the only warning I’d have as he reared back and kicked me in the ribs; over and over again he kicked. The girl screamed, but I stayed silent. Screaming didn’t help; nothing did.
I waited until he was done — I prayed that he would kill me this time. I prayed so hard that I was convinced God was finally going to hear me and take me away from my hell. Anything was better than living. Anything.
“You worthless—” Another kick to the head. “—piece of shit!” A kick to my gut. “You will never be boss, not if you cry every time you must do the hard thing!” Finally, blessed darkness enveloped my line of vision.
I woke up from the nightmare screaming, not even realizing that I was safe, in my own bed. With a curse I checked the clock.
Well, at least I’d only had one nightmare — that I’d remembered. I’d been living with Sergio for the past week; his house was so big that I’d basically taken the east wing, and he’d taken the West, said he’d hated living alone anyway. I wasn’t stupid; I knew the guy wasn’t exactly a big fan, but it worked. I needed to stay in the States while I figured shit out.
And I wasn’t ready to leave. Not when I needed to learn all I could from Nixon. Not when I had responsibility.
And not when I had those black folders freaking burning a hole in my mind.
Luca hadn’t just left me an empire; he’d left me secrets. I wasn’t sure what was worse, knowing everything there was to know about those I was supposed to be protecting or knowing that at any minute one of them could turn on us.
“Hey!” Bee barged into my room.
“Damn it!” I pulled the blankets over my naked body, my heart picking up speed at her tousled hair and bedroom eyes. Tex’s sister, Tex’s sister. My body wasn’t accepting that — physically it wasn’t accepting any information other than she was beautiful.
And it was dark.
I looked away, scowling.
“I heard screaming.” Bee took a step forward, her perfume floating off her body like an aphrodisiac or drug, making me calm, making me want something I had no business wanting.
“Yeah, well…” I gave her a cold glance. “…clearly I’m fine, so you should go. Actually, why are you here? You know you live with Tex, right?”
She shrugged and sat on my bed. I clenched my fists around the blankets to keep from reaching out to her. It was getting harder and harder to ignore her warmth — when I lived in a constant state of near-death cold.
“He’s with Mo, and they need privacy. I’m not stupid. So I asked Sergio if I could move in for a while.”
“You did what?” I asked in a deadly tone, one I was sure would probably give her nightmares later.
She grinned. “I’m your new roomie!” Bee bounced on the bed and sent me a shy look from beneath her dark lashes. “Admit it, you miss our slumber parties.”
Forget the nightmare — I was looking at it.
Bested by a turtle
IF THAT GIRL TEXTED me one more picture of herself, I was going to lose my damn mind.
I drove like an insane asylum escapee back to Sergio’s then screeched to a stop right in front of the gate, waited impatiently for it to open while tapping my fingers harshly against the leather steering wheel of my Mercedes C class coupe. Another gift from Luca. I would rather have had his life than the new car every guy on the planet was salivating over.
I wanted a lot of things.
But want didn’t really belong in my vocabulary anymore.
The gate opened slower than I would have liked since I was pissed off. I sped through the minute I saw an opening, not caring that I could possibly scratch the ridiculously expensive car, and pulled to a stop right before hitting Bee.
“Damn it!” I threw open the door and slammed it as hard as I could. “What the hell are you doing?”
“You curse more now.” Bee’s eyebrows furrowed. “You know that?”
Yeah, I was picking up bad habits where she was concerned; really, freaking awful bad habits. “What do you want, Bee? And didn’t we talk about the pictures? I don’t have time to respond to pictures of goats and sheep and ugly dogs. I have a business to run, a family to protect…” My voice trailed as her face scrunched up with hurt.
“I just…” She shrugged. “…thought they would cheer you up.”
“How is a turtle making it through traffic and causing a ten-car pileup cheerful?” I challenged.
She smiled wide, hitting me square in the chest. “Because the turtle made it!” She danced around in front of me and clapped, then paused and arched her eyebrows in my direction.
“I’m not clapping.”
“It’s worth clapping for.”
“Turtle power,” I said through clenched teeth. “Now, was there anything else? You said something about an emergency?”
“Oh…” She waved me off. “…I need help picking out my first-day-of-school outfit.”
“Call a girl,” I snapped, walking past her.
I felt warm fingers on my arm, and before I could jerk away, I was rendered completely paralyzed by her tender grasp. Shaking, I swallowed the terror and gave her a pointed look.
Her face fell, but she didn’t remove her hand. “I just… I heard they wear uniforms at Elite, and I just don’t want to look stupid. I only have a few choices… I mean it’s not a big deal, I just…”
Well, damn me to Hell. I sighed and hung my head. “Fine.” I’d just try to ignore the way that the clothes hugged her body, and then when she was done twirling in front of me, I’d go puke in the bathroom and run ten miles to get the image out of my head. Sounded like the time of my life. Bring it on. After all, I deserved that type of torture, didn’t I?
“Yay!” She clapped again then looped her arm in mine. “Thanks, Phoenix. I knew I could count on you.”
Funny she should say that. After all, I wasn’t that guy. The trustworthy one, the accountable one, the mature one. I might as well be a body without a soul. It’s what I felt like most days, and she did nothing but remind me that I’d once had it all and lost it.
“Hey...” Bee nudged me. “…you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Every day in the mirror, Bee, every day.”
“What?” Her bright smile fell.
I forced my own. “Nothing. Let’s go pick out shoes.”
How much can she torture me? Let me count the ways.
HE HATED ME. I knew it. Everyone knew it. I tried everything I could to get him to open up — to smile. But it was like he’d forgotten how. When I asked Tex why Phoenix was so… cold and indifferent to me, my brother had laughed and said to be thankful.
Thankful? That the man was an ass? Thankful that my only friend couldn’t even look at me? And that was the pathetic part, wasn’t it? He was truly my only friend, my first friend. The first person who had stayed next to me when I’d cried myself to sleep. The first person who had threatened to kill someone on my behalf, and the first person to genuinely protect me with his life — with no regard for his own safety.
How was I supposed to get past that? How was I supposed to move on from Phoenix when he was literally the only familiar thing I had? The only one I truly knew.
Ever since moving to Chicago, things had been different. I was given freedom I’d never had before, but I couldn’t take it. I didn’t even know how to use it. Sure, I was given my own car, compliments of my mafia boss brother along with a credit card that I’m pretty sure had no limit. But money didn’t buy happiness — that much I knew.
I’d grown up with a cold-hearted father who’d wanted nothing to do with me.
And then been given to a cold-hearted uncle who’d leered at me every chance he’d gotten.
Both had been wealthy.
Both had been powerful.
Both were dead.
Just another gift from my long-lost brother.
“Bee?” Phoenix said from behind me. “You okay? You stopped walking up the stairs.”
“Yeah, well…” I kept my voice light. “I was hoping you’d run into me and accidentally cop a feel.”
Phoenix snorted. “Keep dreaming.”
“Every night,” I sang. But his words hurt. They hurt so bad, he had no idea how much. The sad part? I lived for his reactions — even when ninety-nine percent of them were negative, I still held out hope for that one percent. Maybe it was my innocence talking, maybe it was just the need to hold on to one tiny thread of hope that my life would be more than getting passed between family members. I was still waiting for the gauntlet to fall. For Tex to get rid of me, pass me off to another associate or worse, just forget I was his family.
The only constant in my life had been Phoenix De Lange.
And he wanted nothing to do with me.
I shivered, out of loneliness, rejection, then I lifted my chin. I was a Campisi; I was made of tougher stuff. I just wished I felt that way rather than acted that way.
“So…” I made my way into my room and pointed to the three outfits. “Which one for my first day at Eagle Elite?”
Phoenix moved from behind me and stood in front of my bed, his hands on his hips. From this viewpoint I could stare at him without looking like a complete lunatic. His stance was always rigid, like he was just waiting for someone to pull a gun on him or attack. Every muscle taut. My eyes roamed over his muscular back and tight black T-shirt. Muscles protruded everywhere. He wasn’t huge, but he wasn’t small by any means either. Around six foot two, he wasn’t the type of guy you’d mess with, especially with the way he always looked so pissed off. Dark circles almost always framed his eyes. His lips were pulled tight across straight white teeth that I never saw unless he smiled by accident — which was rare.
Phoenix sighed loudly, his dark head bobbing up and down once before he turned and stared straight through me, his dark blue eyes clouding over. “Does it really matter that much, Bee? The reason Elite has uniforms is to make you look like everyone else.”
I flinched. I didn’t want to look like everyone else — I wanted to look pretty, for him.
Phoenix swore under his breath and pinched his nose.
“Well, how about this one?” I stepped up next to him, my arm brushing his. He jerked away and clenched his jaw tightly.
“No.” He bit down on his lower lip, turning it white before he swore again. “Don’t wear the skirt.”
“Okay…” I drew out the word and looked back at my two remaining options. “I guess I could wear the khaki pants? But pants always look stupid on me.”
“As opposed to what?” Phoenix scowled. “Pants are clothes. In order to go to class, you need to wear clothes. I really don’t see a problem. Wear the khaki pants, white pullover, and pair it with one of the sweaters. You can’t go wrong. We done here?”
I nodded, words getting caught in my throat. I didn’t find my voice until he was halfway out my door. Running away. Again. “Thanks,” I called.
A grunt was his response.
Defeated, I crumpled onto the bed.
Maybe I should move on. But I had no one to move on to and nowhere to go. My brother and his new wife were living in marital bliss, and I got the hint early on that they needed that alone time, what with him being the new Cappo to all the families and nearly dying.
Drama. That’s what the mafia brought my life. Drama and loneliness. I had no place to fit. I didn’t fit with my brother in his home, and I didn’t fit with Phoenix at the giant house that felt more like a mausoleum than anything.
Bored out of my mind, I lay back on the bed and tried to think of something else.
I could focus on school. Focus on getting my degree. And maybe, just maybe, if I focused hard enough. I wouldn’t cry myself to sleep — like I’d done every night since I was old enough to know what tears were.
Breathing is necessary in order to survive — right?
I STORMED THROUGH THE house, ran down the stairs, and damn near collided with Sergio when I entered the kitchen.
“Where’s the fire?” He scowled, arching a brow in my direction before opening the fridge and pulling out a bottle of water.
I didn’t trust my voice not to shake, didn’t trust myself to hold the scream in. I couldn’t deal with her, I seriously couldn’t. Her smell, the way she smiled, her body heat. Damn, I couldn’t even breathe the same air as her without suffocating with want.
“A man of so many words.” Sergio smirked and tossed me a bottle of water. “Tex is on his way.”
“His way?” I croaked. “Where?”
Sergio rolled his eyes. “Do I look like Gossip Girl? I didn’t ask, and frankly I don’t care.”
Clearly Sergio was still bitter that he’d been on the losing end of that love triangle. Mo Abandonato had chosen Tex early on — there was nothing Sergio could do; hell, the man wasn’t even on the same playing field. Not that I was going to be the bearer of such chipper news. Like I should talk. I couldn’t even look at a girl without getting sick — without wanting to vomit. Without remembering the way I’d treated them in the past.
Without remembering how I’d treated Trace, Nixon’s wife.
I clenched the water bottle tighter in my hand.
The doorbell rang.
Sergio didn’t move.
I stared at the wall.
Screwed up, that’s what we were.
“I’ll get it.” Bee’s voice carried through the house.
I ignored the way it made me feel, ignored the goose bumps, ignored the desire flaring inside. I would not, could not go there. Ever.
“Honey, I’m home!” Tex’s booming voice elicited a groan from Sergio and a half-smirk from me.
One thing I could count on? Tex’s ability to piss Sergio off just by breathing the same air. Kind of made my constant darkness not feel so dark when someone else was suffering worse.
“In here.” I took another drink of water and waited.
Heavy footsteps pounded against the wood floor, drifting in from the foyer. When they appeared in the doorway, Tex had his
“So…” Tex popped his knuckles and took a seat at the barstool in front of me. “How goes life, Phoenix?”
“Why…” I set the water bottle down calmly. “…do I get the sudden feeling that you’re going to ask me to do something I really don’t want to do?”
Sergio moved to the opposite end of the table and watched. That was what he did best, watched and waited to make his move.
Tex smirked. I ground my teeth together. This couldn’t be good. A personal visit?
“You could have texted.” I sniffed, looking down at my hands.
“I text you about this, you read said text, throw your phone against the wall, grab your passport, and hightail your ass out of the country.”
“That bad, huh?” I tried to keep my tone light — tried and failed if Tex’s sudden dark scowl was any indicator.
“I know you have your own shit going on with the Nicolasi family.”
Great, that was just great. Remind me that my mentor was dead, and I was in charge of a multi-million dollar crime family that wanted nothing to do with me. And the coals just keep getting heaped. Oh look, Hell.
“But, I don’t feel comfortable about this and neither does Nixon… Chase doesn’t get a vote because Chase doesn’t feel comfortable about anything these days when it comes to you… no offense.”
“None taken.” Kinda hard not to be offended when Chase still hated me, but whatever. I couldn’t fix it. It was my fault in the first place. I was surprised that Nixon still spoke to me and that Trace looked at me in the eye and had the nerve to invite me to Sunday dinners. I refused all her mass invitations on account that I was pretty confident God would strike me dead for walking on holy ground. Didn’t want to test it. Not yet at least.
Ember by Rachel Van Dyken / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes