Blood Money — Chapter 2

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 2

Disclaimer: The following material is copyrighted.

Some men wear their intentions so blatantly. You can look them in the eye and see every thought in their head rattling around, as legible as newspaper headlines.

In my world, the only things that matter are what could make a splashy news story, after all.

People love the sordid nature of my father’s political career—a rags to riches fairy tale and a shining example of hard work. And ambition. Everyone ignores the darker side of his inspiring story, like the supposed cartel ties that catapulted him to power, or the origin of the money that funds his decade-long political run. They love the mystery of who he’s fucking and what business move he might make next. The flashy stuff.

No one cares that he’s a true monster. That he rules the lives of those around him with an iron fist. That he’s cruel and volatile with a temper to match his ambition.

Frankly, those details are boring, the stuff everyone already knows. Men with power have secrets. They live double lives and aren’t nearly as perfect as they want the world to believe.

My life certainly wasn’t perfect. I think all of us knew that there was always a time limit ruthlessly ticking the seconds down until it all fell apart. You can only live on blood money for so long before the lies and secrets start to catch up.

Ours are plenty, locked away in a closet so full of skeletons it might as well be a crypt. My father had a way of justifying it all. For the sake of the family.

For my mother.

For me.

We were tethered to him beyond any familial ties.

He ensured as much. From the age of fifteen, I ceased to be his daughter, Ada-Maria Lucia Pavalos.

I became his accomplice. For years, every sick, sordid undertaking of his has stained my soul. I couldn’t plead ignorance if I tried.

The day he went to federal prison, I wouldn’t be far behind him.

But now, I don’t have to worry about that possibility anymore—I’m dead.

***

As my awareness returns in bits and pieces, my first coherent thought is that I wish my head had been the one blown apart. Not Tristan’s.

I know that for certain—his body was the one lying on the floor. Someone killed him.

Though, hell, maybe I’ve gotten my wish after all—they’re just a poor shot and failed to kill me outright. My skull is on fire, every movement resonating like a kick to the head. I’d scream if I could, but my lips remain frozen, clamped together.

Am I paralyzed?

Or drugged?

I should know the difference…

“…she’s a sexy piece of ass, ain’t she?” The voice drips into my skull, uttered gruffly, but I don’t recognize the speaker. A male. Fear drips through my veins, fighting to wake up my sleeping nerves and lifeless muscles.

Nausea rips through me, and I can feel the impulse to vomit. Purge. Reset.

But I can’t.

“Don’t touch her,” another man replies. His voice is softer, and I strain to make it out more clearly. They sound close, but muffled, as if I’m hearing them from underwater. “Dom said she was his alone. No marks. No injuries. You better pray you didn’t bruise her with that punch—”

“If he wanted her scot-free, then the bastard should have gotten her himself. We did all the fucking work and brought her out here, to the middle of fucking nowhere. Why not have a little taste? If he plans on doing to the little witch what he’s done to the rest, it would be a damn shame to let this sexy bitch go to waste.”

The rest…

“I’ve warned you, Trey,” the second man replies. “He said we can’t touch her.”

My body is moved without any action on my part, and I land heavily on something solid and unyielding. A floor? It’s colder than the tile in my bathroom. Marble?

Not the flooring of the restaurant, I suspect.

Where the hell am I?

Sensation is returning to the rest of my body, at least, in excruciatingly slow increments. The pain in my head is centered along my right temple—but that’s the least of my worries.

Harsh, an unfamiliar touch grazes my thigh, inching beneath the hemline of my dress. Higher. Too high. Boldly, they shove my panties aside, prodding the flesh beneath the lace barrier. Horror rises up so fiercely I can taste it—but I’m paralyzed, unable to control my limbs, even to flinch. My eyelids are too heavy to lift. I can’t even speak.

“Damn,” the gruffer of the two men breathes, sounding sickeningly close. “She’s like a goddamn little furnace—”

“Enough.” That voice is unlike the others. Instantly, I recognize it. The guttural baritone shoots through me, triggering a sensation few men have ever inspired.

It takes a lot to scare the daughter of Roy Pavalos. My childhood was filled with inviting criminals and drug dealers over for dinner. My teenage years were spent in their beds, and all the while my father lorded over every single interaction like a tyrant king.

But it’s rare to meet someone that truly sends a shiver through my core. In fact, I think only one man has ever fit the bill.

Domino Valenciaga.

He had an accent retained from a past no one knew anything about. Something from Latin America, maybe Portuguese, or Brazilian. The slight inflection turned every word he said into a double-edged sword, musical almost. Lethal in another sense. He was the only person I ever knew to make a death sentence sound beautiful.

For five years, he’s been my father’s righthand man, recruited from only God knows where, standing faithfully by his side ever since.

A funny thought comes to me now, despite the stench of blood in my nostrils and the fear pummeling through my chest like a barrage of blows—I’ve rarely spoken to him directly, apart from the typical greeting.

“Hello,” I’d say.

His reply was always the same. “Ada-Maria.”

It’s a strange admission now, but I used to have nightmares, starring the very specific way he could say my name, mangling the two syllables into one unique utterance. “Nightmares” that left me so wet I had to relieve the ache with my own fingers.

It’s his voice I’m hearing now, though he’s speaking too quickly, and my head hurts too badly to follow. I only catch snippets.

“…blood. You killed him in front of her?” Domino asks. His speech is so flat that one can never get a read on his emotions. I’ve heard him praise my father and curse his enemies, all while sounding no different.

What is he doing here?

“Didn’t have a choice,” the second of the two men explains. “You wanted him dead. The bastard hired elite security. The restaurant was the only way.”

Wanted him dead.

I keep seeing flashes of Tristan. His eyes. His face. His body lying prone on the ground, covered in blood.

A wave of panic drowns me in terror. I don’t know how my body remains so still, each breath slow and heavy. Whatever drug they gave me, it’s damn good.

So good, I almost give in to the mind-numbing calm that smothers most of my thoughts. Why fight? It feels better to be high…

“Still, you killed him in front of her,” Domino says. “That might complicate matters. I aimed to use her ignorance to my advantage. Now she’ll have an idea of the danger she’s in.”

Danger?

“You didn’t say not to fucking kill no one in front of this bitch,” the first speaker interjects, his brashness clashing harshly with Domino’s suave monotone.

The drug in my system is strong—definitely a sedative—but it must be wearing off. All at once, sensation returns to my face, enough that I can flutter my eyelids, gleaning snatches of my surroundings snippets at a time.

I’m in a room, I think. Somewhere with dim lighting. Blinking is a struggle, turning my perception of the world into a disjointed slide show.

I see a shadow. A man? He moves quickly, growing larger by the second.

My heart races as a smell itches my nostrils, mingling with the stench of blood. Spice. Masculine musk. Lethality.

“No,” Domino replies, his voice washing over me as that shadow becomes even larger. Him? “But do you know what I did ask you to do?”

My belly flips, picking up on the slow, subtle inflection that colors his usually emotionless voice.

“I asked you not to touch her.”

“We had to carry her in here,” the man argues. “Didn’t we—”

“That’s not what I meant. Two fingers. That’s how many you shoved inside of her cunt just now, am I correct? Not to mention what you’ve done to her face.”

A whoosh of air breezes past my head, triggering another wave of nausea. I can physically gag—and at the same time, I’m able to keep my eyes open for longer than a second.

The man standing before me is the devil, I’m sure of it. My mother spent enough of my childhood peppering my bedtimes with stories of the creature awaiting me if I dared to sin. The only problem?

I’d been born into sin, committing my first immoral act the second I’d been given the name Pavalos. This family is evil incarnate, my life an endless parade of sin after sin.

But if I ever felt the need to repent, it would be now.

The devil is a cold soul with dark eyes devoid of compassion or warmth. They stare at something beyond me, set in a face so beautiful it could only belong to a fallen angel who dared to forsake God himself.

Dazed, I realize that I’ve seen this face before—every day, in fact, for the past five years. He’s certainly no angel, just a man with the beauty of a divine being.

Domino Valenciaga.

“Apologies, if I didn’t make myself clear, before,” he says, his voice so soft, his demeanor so casual—which makes the fact that he draws a blade from a sheath strapped to his belt all the more terrifying.

My father loved that gimmick of his. While his compatriots hired private guards armed with military-grade weapons, his man required only a blade, one that he displayed openly from a battered leather sheath he kept on his belt, no matter the outfit or occasion.

The unique weapon gave him an air of mystery, and made him unpredictable in a world based on surefire odds and getting one over on an opponent.

My father liked to call Domino his wildcard. His ace in the hole. His berserker.

As disoriented as I am, I can see why. He’s riveting as the light reflects off his blade and highlights the lone glint in his eye that proves without a shadow of a doubt… He’s soulless. An animal relying purely on instinct.

The will to kill comes as easy to him as breathing.

“I told you she was mine.” His tone remains so level that the knife in his hand could be as trivial as a cigar. Something held merely to pass the time.

Until he crosses beyond my line of sight with a slow, easy stride.

A noise echoes next, so chilling that it snaps what remnants of the drug are still controlling my ability to move. I flinch, rolling onto my back with a better view of the ceiling above and the room’s layout overall.

It’s spacious, but I don’t recognize the color scheme. Beige walls. A high, white ceiling.

And red liquid spraying in an arch as if by some new age fountain—or in this case, from a man clutching his right arm to his chest as he staggers into my line of view.

I’ve never heard someone scream like this.

Liar. But it’s a sound I’ve tried my damned hardest to suppress.

The cry of a man in pain is so different from any other. So guttural, almost a howl—but it’s the squeal you watch out for. That high-pitched inflection point that heralds true pain.

This man is nowhere near there. Yet. “What the fuck—”

“Raise your hand,” Domino says.

My head lolls toward the sound of his voice and I find him, standing tall just a few steps away. He tosses his knife into the air, catching it by the handle easily. There’s no mark on the blade, but it’s the only weapon capable of causing so much blood…

“Do what he says,” another man warns. He’s too far back for me to see his face. I only catch a shadow from the corner of my eye.

“Your hand,” Domino requests, snapping his fingers. “Lift it.”

Still groaning, the other man complies, revealing fingers streaked in scarlet that tremble with agony. A gash slices into the flesh of his forearm, the source of the bleeding.

I am so high. The lighting plays off my vision, turning every drop of scarlet into a blazing, flickering trail like neon paint. It drips, drips, drips as Domino inspects the limb, his face unreadable from this angle.

Then he moves in a way that resembles some sick, beautiful dance. Without warning, he grabs the man’s arm, ignoring how he whines as a result. Then he brandishes the knife.

The man sputters, “N-No—”

My eyelids fall, drenching me in darkness. I don’t see the action that results in the horrific scream that echoes next, but I can guess. Something to do with the blade hitting a firm surface that gives with a crunching squelch.

The screaming takes on an almost musical quality, building to a high-pitched crescendo. Then, bingo. There it is. That note of true agony.

The one my father taught me how to play.

Disgust rips through my body, crawling up my throat. I gag so hard I lurch onto my stomach, forced to brace my hands against the floor as liquid issues from my lips. Over and over.

I’m still choking on bile when I sense a flicker of movement come from behind.

“Two fingers for the two you used to soil what is mine,” Domino says. “Now get the fuck out. You—” his shift in tone makes me suspect he’s speaking to the other man beyond my view. “Take his share and get him out of here. Now.”

“Yes, sir.”

Footsteps echo off the polished flooring—marble as I suspected, a tan color with white swirls interspersed within the mass—and the screaming grows distant, eventually silenced altogether.

My fear builds unchecked, and I turn my focus inward, fixating on every hair out of place and every throbbing inch of skin.

I think they hit me, whoever they were…

The same men who shot Tristan through the head. A whimpering cry escapes my throat, and I’m startled by the genuine pain in it.

Tristan…

He was a dick, but I’ve never seen someone shot before.

I’ve never smelled so much fresh blood.

I guess this means we won’t be named the city’s “Hottest New Young Couple” in the society pages…

“You’re awake.” That voice.

I didn’t imagine it—or any of this for that matter. It’s real. Even in my imagination, I couldn’t fake the unique way that baritone deepens when it comes to me.

I focus on my breathing as more control of my limbs returns. I have enough strength to lift my head, viewing the strange room from a different angle.

It resembles a foyer of some sort. Large and circular with a high ceiling and a rounded archway leading off to a shadowed hall up ahead.

It’s not the foyer of Casa De Mio, my father’s estate. Neither do I recognize the space as belonging to one of his offices or associates. It doesn’t even match the background of the restaurant.

Could this property belong to Domino?

“Look at me, Ada-Maria.”

I shiver, feeling his voice vibrate through my bones. Somehow, I muster up the energy to crane my neck enough to see him standing over me. He retrieved a cloth from somewhere, using it to leisurely clean off his blade. This time it is streaked with red. Blood.

The color plays off the gold in his skin, enhancing the darkness of those piercing eyes that I’ve seen reduce men to quivering puddles in an instant.

Something’s wrong. That inner voice tickles the back of my skull, growing louder as more realizations register on my tired brain. For one, I don’t see my father. I don’t hear his loud, booming voice, tinged with the playful accent that added to his charm.

Attempting to speak is a grueling exercise that seems to take hours to put into fruition. In reality, it must only be seconds. “W-Where…is Papa?”

His eyes cut to mine with a ruthless intensity, so sharp that it’s like another dose of a far different drug. Fear? It seeps through my veins, ten times stronger than the previous times I shared a room with him.

He takes his time cleaning off his blade before re-sheathing it. “We weren’t meant to speak like this,” he says, gesturing with his free hand to the room around us. Then he snaps his fingers.

“Yes, sir?” a new voice calls out. A woman’s, as foreign to me as the two men were.

“Help Ms. Pavalos get ready for dinner, Ines. The dining room, please. Ten minutes.”

“Yes, sir.”

Soft footsteps pad in my direction, and I turn toward the archway to find a woman entering through it. She’s petite, wearing a gray dress, her hair slicked back. Barring the color of her attire, she could be one of the maids from my father’s complex.

She approaches me, stooping to brace her hand against my shoulder. With a surprising amount of strength, she guides me to stand on legs that quiver like jelly.

It hurts to move, even enough to look over my shoulder, but I do, seeking out the figure with his back to me.

I try to speak. “Domino… Domino!”

He retreats through another doorway without a word.

“This way, Miss,” Ines says, urging me forward.

Pain shoots up my spine with every step. My hip feels sore and bruised. Only God knows what happened after the restaurant.

Or how long I was unconscious. Between my legs feels damp, and an acrid stench reaches my nose with horrifying implications. Urine?

“This way.” The woman guides me through a doorway, and I’m brought face to face with a woman so far from the image she spent thousands presenting to the world that I don’t recognize her at first.

It’s me.

It’s funny that despite everything I’ve been through, nothing startles me more than seeing myself look like this. My hair is a rat’s nest. My dress is torn, and blood streaks my thigh, visible through the slit. More dried blood is encrusted over my right temple, and my mascara is running.

My first impulse is to reach for my purse for my makeup pouch. Papa always prided appearance over all else. No matter what hell I’d been through, my foremost duty is to always look like I deserved to uphold the name Pavalos.

“We have ten minutes,” Ines says, tugging at the sleeve of my dress. She has it undone, peeled down to my waist before I remember how to move.

The smell of urine grows stronger, definitely coming from me.

“S-Stop!” I bat her hand away and stagger to the counter, bracing my hands flat against the sturdy surface. “Tristan. I…we need to call the police. Call my father. We need to—”

“We have ten minutes,” the woman insists, but there’s an urgent edge to her voice that wasn’t there before.

Her eyes meet mine over the mirror’s surface, an intense shade of brown that gleams like gold.

When she tugs at my dress again, I just let her, sinking into the fog dulling my thoughts. It’s been days since I’ve been on a high like this. The mind-numbing daze where you can just sit back and lose hours at a time. I used to compare the feeling to that of taking a warm bath as a child, with a caring mother to bathe your limbs and wrap you nice and warm in a towel.

But this high is harsher. A literal experience of being stripped naked and bathed by a stranger, doused in sickly sweet perfume, and dressed in an outfit I don’t recognize.

Domino. I cling to his name like a raft in a flash flood, fighting to stay above the rushing waves. He’s here… For a reason. He brought me here for a reason. But where is my father? And Tristan…

“We return to Mr. Domino now,” Ines says.

I blink, faced with another stranger, the polar opposite to the creature I found in the mirror. It’s a second before I even realize that this woman is also me. I’m as unrecognizable as before but in a very different way.

I don’t dress like this—Papa would never allow it. The dress is too thin, a gauzy white material through which the dark flesh around my nipples is visible. The fabric sparkles, beaming in the harsh lighting until it hurts to stare at myself head-on.

I look away, feeling my stomach lurch as the room starts to sway beneath my feet. My eyes latch onto a nearby object that glows like a beacon, and I lurch for it. “I’m gonna be sick—”

This time I let the vomit flow freely. Before I know it, I have two of my own fingers jabbing down my tender throat to bring up more. Everything I have so that I can reset my body. Start over fresh.

Then purge again once it all feels too much.

No amount of vomit could ease the worries bearing down on me, one after the other, however. I know that. I’d have to claw out my insides to feel lighter. Rip them right out…

“Miss?” A warm hand taps my shoulder. “We return to Mr. Domino now—”

“Leave me alone!” I cling to the basin of the toilet, watching multi-colored liquid swirl in the bowl. Tan. Brown. Yellow.

I don’t even know what the liquid is a remnant of. I haven’t eaten. Maybe it’s my soul coming up in vile-colored pieces, the last thing of value my body has left to expel.

My therapist tells me that I’ve been lying to myself when I claim that purging makes me feel better. Lighter, more grounded.

You’re deluding yourself, Ada, she would quip. You tell yourself that to justify the self-harm. You know what would make you feel better? Honesty. Trusting the process of therapy. Getting to the root of the issues between you and your parents. We can start with your father…

One good thing to come out of this nightmare is that I finally have proof that all those expensive sessions were bullshit. I had the right idea all along. With emptiness comes clarity.

Finally, I can think, despite my pounding head and the fear waiting to descend the second the drug fully wears off.

Tristan is dead. My father isn’t here.

I’m alone in a strange place with Domino Valenciaga.

He’s protecting me, of course. From something. Those men? He hurt one of them for touching me. I remember that much, at least. But the harder I try to think, the less logical thoughts I can grasp. It’s like my mind is a sieve, filtering out everything but panic and paranoia.

Something is wrong.

And my first impulse has been the one ingrained into me since childhood. Wait for orders. Papa will handle it.

He always has.

I don’t know how much time passes before I finally manage to stand, leaning against the toilet for stability. For the first time, I take in my surroundings fully.

Wherever we are, it’s beautiful. This bathroom is the peak of luxury with golden fixtures and the same tanned marble from the circular foyer. A long counter lines one wall, with a full-length mirror behind it, displaying my body in stark relief.

God, I look so…sickly. So weak. A shivering waif barely able to stand on her own. As I turn to inspect the rest of the room, I realize that Ines is gone. Her insistence on a particular timeline rings in my ears like an ominous warning.

Mr. Domino said ten minutes.

Mr. Domino… I never knew he had his own house, let alone his own staff. I don’t even know how much he made working for my family. Could he afford a place like this on his salary? My father paid well, I’m sure. But I don’t think he would pay this well, not even to a man whose job was to guard his secrets with his life.

More panic starts to creep in as my memories return in full. Those men brought me here for a reason. Take his share, Domino told one of them. His share of what?

I push those thoughts out of my head and focus on returning to the sink. I wet my fingers and work them through my hair, trying to scrub away the dry blood there. I discover a scratch, but nothing deep enough to scar—one small consolation.

I’m shallow enough to sigh in relief. For now, I’m still Ada Pavalos, blessed with the face my father staked his entire reputation on. How could a man with such a beautiful, loving family be capable of any of the atrocities the rumors circling around the city claimed?

He’s an intelligent man, but his greatest asset was always his ability to subvert expectations. No one would ever expect that Roy Pavalos, with his genuine, charming grin, would ever be capable of any of the things he stood accused of.

An impending indictment would have robbed him of that trick for good. The world would have seen firsthand the evil a man like him could sow, murder being the least of his crimes. But does that make me any better?

Willing or not, I was still always an accomplice.

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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