Blood Money — Chapter 1

Blood Money (Dinero de Sangre Book 1)

Blurb:

In this twisted dark cartel romance, revenge and hate collide with the past…

Ten years after a devastating betrayal, revenge has come back to bite Ada Pavalos.

Literally.

Once her family’s trusted bodyguard, Domino Valenciaga is out for blood.

Or her heart.

Whichever goal takes more violence to achieve…

Chapter 1

Disclaimer: The following material is copyrighted.

He’s late.

I try not to dwell on the potential explanations, or the fact that every passing second he delays risks us losing the reservation it took months to secure. It’s just ten minutes past our scheduled meeting time of six. So what if he hasn’t been answering his phone since then, either?

I know what—he has his dick in someone else.

Though, I shouldn’t dwell on that. Utilize your coping mechanisms more, my therapist liked to harp. The main one she touted was counting to five whenever the anxiety started to build. Ground yourself, Ava. Think of one positive to go along with every breath.

One.

I’m wearing the new Alexander Marenti summer design from his exclusive collection, and it shows off my body well.

Two.

I hate this stupid dress.

Three.

Daddy got it only as a pity offering for missing my birthday dinner—and only on the say-so of that cunt bitch secretary of his who handled all of his afterthought social obligations these days.

Four.

Tristan’s fucking Alexi again.

Five.

He’s balls deep within that whore, and that’s why he’s late. If he shows up now, it will only prove me right. Again. The bastard can only last exactly six-point-seven minutes with an extra wasted to button-up his shitty chinos—

“Hey, baby!”

Someone grabs me from behind, sliding their hands along my hips, and I smother a hiss of disgust. Tristan. His cloying cologne gives him away, and I force my lips into a smile. “Hey, baby.”

My nostrils flare as I spin to face him, and I nearly choke. He reeks of that signature cologne—more so than usual. As if he dumped half the bottle over himself to disguise the stench of Alexi’s shitty perfume and their eight-minute sex session.

I note that his pink lips are unusually wet as well, his dark hair playfully tousled.

Fuck him.

He’s smiling, but it’s strained around the edges. Alexi was always a biter from what I’ve heard, prone to leaving marks that made him wince for days whenever we kissed. It was one of his telltale signs.

I promised not to take him back after the first time.

It’s the tenth. Maybe eleventh, but I’m still here, letting him plant a chaste peck on my lips. The way he kisses me when Alexi’s taste is on his tongue, and he hasn’t popped a breath mint yet.

Fuck. I cross over to the bubbling fountain near the restaurant’s entrance. Overall, the courtyard attached to the venue is beautiful enough to justify its long waitlist and hefty prices, with a Spanish design and a manicured garden. The fountain itself is large enough to swim in, sporting a statue of an angel in the center. Briefly, I consider what might happen if I sank to my knees and dunked my head beneath the water’s surface. Perhaps for “five minutes” of calm.

Then I imagine how better it would feel to hold Tristan’s head down instead.

Objectively, I know how it looks from the outside. For the daughter of Roy Pavalos to chase after some bottom-feeding lawyer who can’t keep his dick in his pants where the town whore is concerned.

It’s pathetic.

It’s strategic. Said bottom-feeding lawyer just so happens to be the one pawn standing in between my father and a potential federal indictment.

I don’t love Tristan. He’s merely an assignment. My duty to the family.

Fucking me gives him a reason to drag his heels, greasing up the wheels of justice just long enough for Roy Pavalos to find a way out of the mess he created for himself. As thanks, Daddy keeps my debit cards well-funded and pays my car note. Though hell, it’s not like I have a choice.

I’m not allowed to seek out my own employment.

I’m not even allowed to book a gyno appointment without his say-so.

Why? Because we are Pavalos. Pavalos. Pavalos…

From the day I was born with that goddamn last name, I’ve been cursed. My life has never been my own. Everything I do, down to the clothing I wear, is with my father’s approval. So is the responsibility of being born a Pavalos. At least with a mother like mine who lacked the will to divorce my father for the sake of her children like his prior two wives did. We’re both no better than dolls, placed beautifully on a shelf for the world to admire.

“Ada? You okay, baby?”

Tristan slides his hands around my ribcage, ghosting my breasts. It takes everything I have not to cringe from him.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” he says, flashing a smile that displays the mouth of beautiful teeth he bought last year with one of my father’s bribe payments. “I got held up by work. You ready for dinner? I know this is important to you.”

Important. As if he would ever know what truly matters in my world. I don’t even have that privilege.

Still, I smile and preen the way I’ve been taught my whole life. If I’m a marionette on strings, my mother, Lia Pavalos, is the expert porcelain doll. By the time she married my father, the woman had refined how to present a vision of perfection to the public. How to lie. How to sleep with a man who regularly fucks another and how to look amazing while doing so.

“I’m fine,” I say. In fact, I never stopped smiling. “Let’s go eat,” I add, linking my arm through his. “I’m starving.”

In reality, I haven’t eaten a solid meal since Monday. It’s Friday. That’s nearly a full week, but nowhere near close to my record. The hunger gnawing at my stomach is a constant distraction, battling with everything else fighting for my attention at the present—and ignoring it might be the one damn thing I’m allowed to do without input from anyone else. I can pick when to silence my twisting, growling stomach, and when not to.

Tonight, I’ll make myself try some crackers, at least. Maybe some fish.

I’m fine.

In a place so beautiful, how could I not be?

The restaurant’s interior is lavishly furnished with walls an emerald-green and black marble floors. I forget the establishment’s name, but it’s something gloriously Spanish, and it’s a perfect setting to serve as the stage upon which I’ll play my role in the Pavalos family tonight.

That as the perfect daughter with the perfect boyfriend, on a perfect evening without a care in the world; it doesn’t matter that every damn aspect of it is a lie.

“You’ve barely eaten your food,” Tristan says once we’ve been seated and served. It all passed in a blur; I don’t even remember what I ordered.

Soup, it seems, a nice contrast to Tristan’s perfectly seared steak.

“What do you mean? It’s delicious!” I make a show of prodding at the dish before me, composed of chunks of carrots and potato—Porrusalda, I think it’s called—but I’m too preoccupied to even put on a convincing act. The press and the paparazzi are watching. After all, tonight’s guest list has been coincidentally tailored so that everyone in this city who matters happens to be dining right here and right now. My father planned it this way, I’m sure. Even something as simple as a date has been carefully crafted to his benefit.

And that’s the catch.

By tomorrow he will be arrested for murder, and no fancy dinner will be able to change that narrative. What a way for it all to end. For decades he spent his life playing the city as a chessboard, but this is one game that he won’t dominate. We’re already in checkmate.

“I know I haven’t been the best lately,” Tristan declares, reaching over to grab my hand. “I can tell you’re upset.”

I force a laugh. “I’m fine, really.” Inside, I’m shaking, wondering what gave me away. I’ve spent six months of this relationship faking and faking and faking. I don’t think he’s ever caught on once, or maybe I’ve just been too wrapped up in myself to notice.

Now, he’s eyeing me in a way he hasn’t before, with his blue eyes narrowed over my face. Ironically, he looks like a lawyer, and I guess he must be a damn good one considering how badly my father wanted to extend his influence over him.

“I know I fucked up.” The intensity in his voice catches me off guard. “I know I did. I promise that next time I’ll be better. I won’t let it happen again.”

“You mean you won’t fall into Alexi’s bed again,” I say, snatching a piece of bread from the customary basket resting between us. It’s some fancy, flaky artisan style, and it tastes like ashes as I choke down a bite.

“Ada…” Tristan’s cheeks flush, eyes widening with guilt, but I don’t feel like having this conversation right now. In the grand scheme, I’m not even that upset. I was never invested in this relationship. Tristan isn’t my type, but there’s still the principle of the matter. The man is lucky enough to date the daughter of Roy Pavalos, and yet he still can’t stop sleeping with a trailer trash whore.

“You should eat,” I say, smiling wider. “I’m sure you can’t stay long, what with your busy schedule.”

“You always do this,” Tristan says, setting his silverware down noisily.

I raise an eyebrow, and he continues, “Shut me down. You never talk about anything, not even yourself. Sometimes it’s like dating the wall.”

A wall or maybe a doll? It’s simply the way I was raised to be. To always perform my pretty perfect role.

Until now. I could blame the wine, or the fact that I’m drinking on an empty stomach. Regardless, words bubble up before I can hold them at bay. “I’m not quite as stupid as I look, you do realize.” I don’t recognize the hard tone—or maybe I do, just in a very different pitch. My father speaks this way. Bluntly and cold. “I know you’ve been fucking her. Frankly, I haven’t cared, but if you could be a little more discreet about it, I’d appreciate that.”

He blinks. “Baby, I—”

“I think I want the flan for dessert,” I say with my best smile, snatching a leather-bound menu. “We can pose for a picture of you feeding me a bite—”

“This is something we should talk about, Ada. You know, like a real couple?”

He has the nerve to sound so earnest. As if he doesn’t know damn well what this really is. Not a relationship, but a business transaction.

“You were promoted to partner a month after dating me,” I point out absently. “Don’t tell me you believe that was solely on your merits as an amazing lawyer.”

He frowns. I’ve insulted him. Good.

Wadding up my napkin, I set it aside and make eye contact with a passing waiter. “More wine,” I tell him.

“Baby, I think you’ve had enough.”

“I’ll tell you when I’ve had enough,” I say, grabbing my near-empty glass. I drain it with one hard pull and relish the liquid dripping down my throat.

My father enjoys the same vices. In reality, we’re far more alike than either of us would care to admit. It’s why he kept me close, long after he’s shoved Pablo and Demelio—his two sons from a previous marriage—from his life. They challenged him. They took offense to his vicious actions and tyrannical ways with money. They had morals.

Souls.

They also had two different mothers from mine. Mine, Lia, is Roy’s third wife and least impressive. The modest, religious daughter of a judge, she gave Roy a softer public edge than his previous debutante bride or the beauty queen with a penchant for charity he left her for.

Lia humbled me, he likes to say. Humbled him the way fire humbled the Devil. She merely gave credence to his more self-deprecating attributes. Before her, he blamed his problems on liquor and cocaine. Now? He blames God, disguising his viler acts behind a repentant sinner’s façade.

“…don’t know what’s gotten into you,” Tristan is murmuring, once I bother to pay attention to him again.

Into me. How would he know? He’s never known the real me. I’ve always been a grinning puppet on his arm, or a perky sex doll.

The reality of who I am is a mash of far different descriptors. Liquor, cocaine, and laxatives. My vice arsenal.

In this moment, I crave all three. I’m not upset about Tristan—I’m not. It’s how damn hot it is in this supposedly grand establishment. It’s how bright the lights are. It’s the fact that my arraignment outfit is already picked out.

The fact that I’ve been practicing my lines in the mirror for the moment I’m inevitably interviewed by the police. The fact that I’ve already programmed the state penitentiary number into my cell phone with the understanding that soon enough, calls from that building will dictate my entire life.

I might as well be imprisoned there, too, though the thought is far more appealing than I suppose it should be. Ironically, I’d have far more freedom behind bars.

“Ada? I think we really need to talk. There’s something—”

“I need to use the bathroom,” I say, rising to my feet. That piece of bread weighs on my stomach. I feel too heavy. Dirty. Unclean. My mother instructs the maids to clean the floors seven times a day.

Is this really so different?

“Ada, wait.” He grabs my hand, and I just eye it, feeling detached from the slim, manicured fingers in his grasp. These hands have done things my mind can never comprehend. Vicious, vile, disgusting things.

All in the name of family.

“Ada? Fine, if you want to do this now, I’ll come clean. I know about the indictment.”

Blood rushes through my ears in a torrent of deafening noise. When I blink, Tristan’s lips are still moving, forcing my brain to play catch up to understand.

“W-What?”

“I know, baby,” he says gently. “Why do you think I was really late? I was busting my ass to make sure the goddamn reporters wouldn’t try to catch you here alone. I know you’re worried. And I could lose my job for this, but…it’s been squashed. I don’t know how, but according to my contacts at the precinct, the warrant to arrest your father has been put on indefinite hold. I can’t get any answers as to why. Maybe they jumped the gun—”

“What do you mean?”

“Your father won’t be arrested tomorrow, baby.” He rises to his feet, pulling me into his arms. I think he’s genuinely surprised when I wrench away. “What’s wrong?”

My smile is gone, replaced by a look that haunts me in the polished reflective wall across from our table—one of abject horror.

Daddy won’t be hauled off to jail tomorrow, plunging our family into international public scandal and turmoil.

I won’t have to wear my chosen black dress or practice my “sad face” in the mirror for hours before facing the press.

I won’t have to fear getting a call from the state pen every day.

Roy Pavalos will stay in my home. In my life.

Controlling my world with an iron fist.

“I need to use the bathroom.” I twist out of Tristan’s reach, staggering in the direction of the restrooms.

“Wait—” he grabs my arm, displaying a persistence he rarely has. “There’s something else. I want you to come away with me. Tonight. I’ve already made the arrangements, and we can—”

“What?” I’m barely listening to him.

A flicker of movement catches my eye from across the room near the window. Or where the window once was. A hole is there now. Before it, a dance of swirling glass floats through the air, suspended for a second that seems frozen in time. Then an explosion of noise sends everything moving again. Boom! People start screaming. Running. Dazed, I look back at Tristan, but he’s not there anymore…

Or at least he’s not on his feet.

My brain takes ages to connect the dots with the red liquid splattered all over the floor and the body lying nearby. Except it’s not right. Can’t be Tristan—the proportions are all wrong. There are two arms, two legs, a torso, but no head…

I’m aware that my mouth is open, but no words come out.

All I can do is stare.

Then run. It’s an instinctive motion, pivoting on my heel, to join the press of people racing for the nearest exit. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. No thinking.

I make it so easy for the man who must have been standing behind me all along, waiting to attack.

I see his fist come from nowhere and realize that nothing I can do will stop it from colliding with my skull.

The sickening thud that comes next, somehow sounds more violent than the previous noise that shattered the quiet atmosphere.

And the world goes black.

In this twisted dark cartel romance, revenge and hate collide with the past…

Ten years after a devastating betrayal, revenge has come back to bite Ada Pavalos.

Literally.

Once her family’s trusted bodyguard, Domino Valenciaga is out for blood.

Or her heart.

Whichever goal takes more violence to achieve…

In this twisted dark cartel romance, revenge and hate collide with the past…

As Ada adjusts to the hellish predicament she finds herself in, one thing becomes painfully clear—Domino isn’t the only monster with her life in his hands.

And by no means is he the most dangerous.

Jaguar brings with him a wealth of mystery—and violence—that threatens to rock what little ground with Domino she’s managed to gain.

In the end, Ada will have to make a choice with both her life and her body on the line.

Only one man can offer her mercy should he choose to.

The other…

Doom. 

If only she knew which fate would hurt less—losing her freedom, or losing her heart?

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