Kept, Page 3Maya Banks
. . . feminine. Almost as if it had been designed and furnished with a woman in mind. But surely that was impossible. How could they know whether their prospective renter would be male or female?
The bed was positively sumptuous and queen size! She sat on the mattress with a bounce and nearly groaned in pleasure as the softness immediately molded to the contours of her body. It was like sitting on a cloud. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to sleep on.
Her gaze scanned the rest of the furnishings to see a vanity and a wardrobe but also an open closet that was almost large enough to be considered walk-in, another oddity. There was no way she could fill all of the space provided for storage with her meager belongings.
Reluctantly she rose from the decadent mattress and walked toward the bathroom. By now, nothing should surprise her, but despite that thought, she was surprised. There was a claw-foot tub against the far wall as well as a separate shower stall that was huge. There was even a double sink and a tall cabinet against the opposing wall where towels and other necessities could be stored.
It was as if the owner had accounted for every possible need when renovating and furnishing the apartment. Why would he offer such a low rent when he could easily fetch four times as much—and even at four times the current amount, the apartment would be snatched up within hours.
She didn’t have the answer to that question, but she wasn’t about to overlook her sudden good fortune. With only three days until she would be homeless, her circumstances had certainly been dire, and to have this opportunity suddenly land in her lap was truly an answered prayer.
Reluctant to leave the confines of the apartment that was now hers, but knowing she needed to go collect her belongings so she could move in and settle, she walked back toward the living room.
“Thank you for showing me around, but I really need to go now. I need to get my things so I can move in.”
“A driver is waiting outside to take you home. He will help carry your belongings out of your apartment and assist you in bringing them up to your new apartment,” Miles said. “It’s the same driver who took you home the other day.”
Hayley flushed. “I couldn’t possibly accept your offer. It’s too much and I don’t want to be a bother. I don’t have much to move, so it won’t take me long. I’ll just get a taxi.”
As before, Miles said the same thing.
“I insist,” he said. “It’s obvious you have no one to help you, and the owner was very specific that someone help you with your belongings.”
Hayley’s brow furrowed in confusion. Just who was this mysterious benevolent owner whose kindness befuddled her? Why would he care? And why would he insist on giving her a ride home, not once, but twice, the second time with instructions for the driver to help carry out all her things and then help her move them into her new apartment?
She shrugged, because again, she was looking a gift horse in the mouth, and she wasn’t too proud to admit that she did indeed need help. Had needed help. And the mysterious owner had come through for her at a time when her need was at its greatest.
“When you pass along the brownies and my thank-you note, please express my sincerest gratitude for his going out of his way to have someone drive me to and from my apartment. Tell him I’ll never be able to thank him enough.”
“I’ll do that, Hayley. Now come. The driver is waiting out front to take you back to your apartment.”
When Silas’s buzzer sounded, signaling a call from the front desk, his automatic reaction was to scowl over the unwanted intrusion. But once he realized this was the day Hayley Winthrop was to move into her apartment, his scowl disappeared as he strode toward the phone that was a direct line to the front desk or his manager’s office. If there were any complications, he wanted his manager to deal with them. He paid his man quite a large salary to do just that. He didn’t want to reveal himself to Hayley. He was too disoriented by his reaction to her, and he felt a rawness when thinking of her or picturing her that was completely alien to him.
“Yes,” Silas said tersely into the phone.
There was a brief hesitation that annoyed Silas. Then his manager seemed to find his voice, and it was filled with discomfort.
“Mr. Goodnight, sir, uh, I have something for you. Shall I bring it up? I was asked to deliver it to you personally. There’s a note as well,” he added hastily.
Silas’s brow furrowed. How the hell would anyone know to leave anything for him with the manager? It wasn’t public knowledge that he owned the building. It wasn’t even in his name, but rather under the name of one of the numerous dummy corporations he “owned.”
“What is it?” Silas asked in an icy tone.
“It’s a . . . gift,” the manager said shakily.
“Bring it up.”
He hung up, glaring at the phone, irritated that his solitude was being disrupted. He would reprimand his manager, who damn well knew Silas’s order for him not to be interrupted unless under dire circumstances. Someone sending him a gift hardly constituted an emergency situation.
Still, his curiosity piqued, he waited impatiently for his manager to arrive. Then realization struck him. It was likely from Evangeline. She was forever doing nice things for him and Drake’s other men. Then he frowned. Surely she hadn’t dropped it by herself. No, if she had she would have come up herself. Besides, he would certainly have been apprised if Evangeline had planned an outing. She was under heavy guard, well into her pregnancy, not far from her due date. Her outings were few and far between these days because of Drake’s paralyzing fear of something happening to her.
Drake had good reason, given the fact that his wife had been abducted just after New Year’s when she was already two-plus months pregnant and no one had even known she was carrying a child. Drake had come perilously close to losing both the woman he loved and their child.
Perhaps she had merely arranged to have the gift delivered to him, which would explain why it had been left with his manager and not brought directly up to him.
When a knock sounded, Silas unlocked a series of deadbolts and then opened the door to see his manager, pale and sweaty, fear in his eyes. What the fuck? The man was holding a plastic container and he acted like it had a bomb inside it.
Mr. Carver thrust the container at him and then placed a folded piece of paper atop it.
“I’ll just be getting back downstairs,” he mumbled. “Have a good day, sir. If there is anything you require, just let me know.”
Then he all but ran back to the elevator as if the hounds of hell were nipping at his ankles. Silas shook his head. Was he that much of an ogre that his own manager had been nearly paralyzed with fear over breaching Silas’s privacy?
He smiled ruefully. He had been rather adamant in his demand for privacy. He shouldn’t be surprised over his manager’s fear. Silas had always instilled a healthy dose of fear in anyone he had any regular dealings with. He cultivated that fear and respect, found it useful, and it suited his purposes. If people feared him, then they tended to give him a wide berth so he never had to worry about anyone getting too close.
The only people who meant anything to him were his brothers and Evangeline. The wife of the man Silas had pledged his allegiance to. Silas was Drake’s enforcer. He would die for all of them. Drake. Evangeline. His brothers. They were his . . . family. Evangeline had done that for them. Made them all see that they were more than a group of men who had sworn loyalty to one another and worked together under Drake.
He stared suspiciously at the container he held in his hand and at the note on top of the lid. Setting it aside, he carefully put every lock back into place and then went from bottom to top, unlocking and relocking, and then top to bottom once more as was his habit of ensuring the locks were all set and no mistake had been made.
The ritual set his mind at ease. It was a compulsion, just as was his carefully arranged and obsessively tidy apartment and his absolute adherence to his strict routine. Control was e
ssential to him. No, not just essential. It was everything. He controlled every aspect of his life. He controlled those around him. Everything had to be in perfect accord or he didn’t sleep.
He glanced at the container he’d laid aside and opted to open the note first. When he realized who it was from, his heart jumped and sped up, an uncharacteristic event to say the least. He glanced over the elegant, feminine cursive, even brushing over the words with the tip of his finger as if to absorb them into his skin.
Something deep inside him began to thaw and warm as he took in the sweetly worded thank-you from Hayley Winthrop. Reverently he folded the paper back as it had been and then folded it over one more time so it would fit into his pocket. Then he slid it inside his jeans where it would be safe from damage and so it wouldn’t be lost.
Then he opened the container and the aroma of rich chocolate wafted to him. He sniffed appreciatively and to his consternation, his hand trembled as he reached to pick up one of the neatly cut squares of the decadent-looking confection.
It was my father’s favorite dessert.
One of the lines of her note came back to him as he bit into the brownie and savored the burst of flavor on his tongue. She’d referred to her father in the past tense. Was he no longer alive, then? Remembering that she’d listed no one on her application under the emergency contact section, he wondered if she was truly alone in the world. Like him.
But no, he wasn’t completely alone. He had his family. Even if he preferred solitude most of the time. He could no longer get away with appearing when he was needed and then disappearing, staying away for days at a time. Evangeline would have none of that. In addition to their weekly takeout date, she insisted he and the others come to dinner, lunch, sometimes breakfast. Basically any time she deemed it was “family” time, they all gathered at Drake’s apartment to be spoiled and pampered by Drake’s wife.
Who did Hayley have? Did she have anyone at all to look out for her and watch over her? He had the sinking feeling that she didn’t, and why that should bother him, he didn’t know. He only knew it bothered him a hell of a lot. A girl like her alone in the city? A woman whose goodness and innocence shone from her eyes like a beacon? It might as well be a welcome sign for every predator within a ten-mile radius.
He cursed savagely. He was not taking her under his wing, damn it. But even as he made the fervent vow, he knew that he could no more turn away from her than he could ever turn away from Evangeline or any of his brothers. He didn’t have to be close to her in order to protect her. Didn’t have to be within touching distance.
Even if every part of him ached to be just that.
Silas opened his bedroom window as had become his habit during the last week and then settled onto his bed in a comfortable position, his gaze fixed to the ceiling as he waited.
And then it began. He closed his eyes as the first beautiful, heart-rending strains of the violin spilled into the night and slid into his bedroom, wrapping around him, capturing him in their sensuous web.
Hayley was extremely talented for one so young. He was well acquainted with fine music, and he knew talent when he heard it. This woman was destined for greatness, of that he was certain.
Every night since the night she’d first slept in the apartment next to his, she’d played her violin, her window open to allow the music to blend with the sounds of the city and the night. Before, Silas would have only heard the sounds of traffic, only slightly quieter this late at night, but now he only heard the exquisite melodies she played and the poignancy with which she captured every note.
He wondered if like him she seldom slept. She was rarely at home and only late at night, and then she spent hours practicing, her music soaring in power the longer she practiced. Some nights she didn’t sleep at all because she played until the first streams of light bathed the sky and then he saw her leave the apartment building on the surveillance cameras he had installed when he’d first purchased the property.
He knew she only attended classes part-time. The rest of the time, it appeared she worked. He frowned at the unwanted distraction from the peace that had descended the moment she’d begun to play. She was always either attending class, working or practicing her violin. When did she sleep? When did she simply take time off to enjoy life? It didn’t appear as though she had any sort of life beyond work, school and practice.
Yet she’d found the time to make him homemade brownies. Her father’s favorite.
A peculiar sensation settled into the region of his heart, and it was habit to reach for the note she’d written him, one he’d taken out many times in the week since he’d received it. He handled it with utmost care, reading again her written words, tracing every line and curve of her letters with his fingers as if he were in some way touching her. Even now he simply rubbed the thin paper between his thumb and fingers. He found comfort in it and he was at a loss as to why.
No one had ever done something so unselfish for him. Except Evangeline, who was forever going out of her way to spoil all of Drake’s men rotten. But apart from her, no one had ever made anything for him.
But this . . . from Hayley. It was different. He loved Evangeline like the sister he’d never had. Yes, he’d warned Drake that if he fucked up things with Evangeline again, he’d step in, take care of Evangeline and ensure that she never lacked for anything the rest of her life, but he hadn’t meant in a romantic sense. And Evangeline’s kindness, as well as her homemade gifts and her cooking, were for all of Drake’s men. She didn’t grant preferential treatment, though Silas knew that he and Maddox had a closer friendship with Evangeline than the rest of Drake’s men did.
Hayley’s gift was solely for him. Not something she’d done for others. And somehow he knew that it wasn’t something she did often. It was an arrogant assumption but he clung to it, needing it to be true whether it was or wasn’t. That she’d taken the time to make him something she’d said was her father’s favorite, to write her sincere thank-you and to share something so special and intimate with him, made him feel . . . worthy?
Even as the thought crossed his mind, he shook his head. He wasn’t worthy. That was something that could ever be said of him. His soul had been damned when he was a mere child. A child who’d for all practical purposes died when he was but eleven years old, and from the ashes had arisen a monster, far older than his eleven years, with knowledge of evil no child should ever have. But when had he ever been just a child, innocent and filled with the knowledge that he was safe, cherished and loved?
He’d seen more as a child than most people ever saw in a lifetime. And since then he’d killed when necessary, never suffering a useless emotion such as remorse when the men he’d executed deserved far worse than his swift mercy. He did his job coldly and without emotion, knowing it was kill or be killed, knowing he must protect those he’d sworn to protect and also knowing that while his actions could hardly be justified and he would never receive absolution for his sins, the men who’d died by his hand deserved far, far worse than quick death.
They were animals. Undeserving of life and of the power they so carelessly and brutally wielded. They rose to power on the backs of countless men and women and on the suffering they so casually inflicted. The rare times Silas slept, he could hear their screams. The victims all crying for justice. They preyed on his mind and his consciousness, at night in the dreams that would forever torment him, but also during the day, always there, a weight he couldn’t get rid of.
It was as though they were solidly ingrained in his psyche and silently judging his every action, holding him accountable for the deeds he’d done and the sins he’d committed in the name of brotherhood, loyalty and justice. No, his wasn’t the kind of justice held up by polite society. He had his own brand of justice, a code he adhered to and never deviated from. He’d lived by his own set of rules ever since gaining freedom from the horrible slavery that was his childhood and from his very earliest memories of his life. Never again would he be in su
bjugation to another. Never would another wield such power over him. He was his own man first. Drake’s enforcer second. Of all Drake’s men—brothers—Silas was the only one Drake never gave orders to. He knew well the folly of doing so. Silas offered his loyalty and protection to Drake freely, and Drake knew that. He also knew that if at any time Silas was no longer content to remain in the shadows, an instrument for the kind of justice he and his brothers believed in, there was nothing Drake could or would do to stop him.
Silas’s thoughts stilled and he tuned back in to the notes that flowed from the violin. She was playing something new. Not a melody he’d heard until now. A cold shiver slid down Silas’s spine at the sheer, haunting ache that seemed instilled in every note. It wasn’t a selection that was light and airy or even melancholy, as some of her choices were. What music poured through his window each night seemed to be a reflection of her current mood.
He sat up, drawn to the grief that almost seemed tangible in the air. The melody reverberated over the walls, over him, leaving him awash in the innate sadness the tune was heavy with. And yet it was the most beautiful song he’d ever heard. Nothing she’d played until now even compared, and everything she played was perfection. But this . . . this was so much more . . . personal. Yes, that was what he’d been grasping for, an explanation or rather description of what the music sounded—felt—like to him.
The grief and sadness embedded within each individual stroke of the bow were heavy and suffocating, blanketing his entire bedroom with the forlorn sound. Chill bumps erupted and prickled a path across his skin. Was she, like him, all alone in this world? Did she have no one to share her grief with? And who or what was she grieving for?
True, the song could be nothing more than a new song added to her repertoire, one assigned to her by one of her teachers. And yet he discounted that notion as soon as it crossed his mind. There wasn’t a single mistake in its performance. No jarring notes to indicate a miscue. It was simply too smooth and too practiced, unlike the other songs she often played when practicing, when she’d sometimes miss a note or simply stop in the middle, only to begin again until it was perfected to her liking. He admired her for that. She was obsessively a perfectionist, never settling for simply good. She strove to be flawless.
But tonight’s choice held no mistakes. The song seemed to pour from her very soul as if she’d practiced it a million times before and had memorized every single note, needing no sheet music before her. He imagined her sitting close to her window, violin up, resting against her cheek, her eyes closed as she played with all of the passion for music—and life—she seemed to possess.
It was deeply personal to her. He knew that like he knew so many of the other things he couldn’t possibly be so certain of. He didn’t know her. Had never even seen her face-to-face. It was ridiculous of him to think he knew anything at all about her, and yet his instincts never guided him wrong and he knew all of his assumptions about her were not assumptions at all. They were fact.
What pain did she hide from the world only to be released in the predawn hours of the night when no one was around her, when there was no one to hear her or see her? He knew if she realized that he could hear her playing, that he listened to her practice every night, she’d likely be appalled and embarrassed, and worse, she’d likely shut her window, never to open it again when she played. And he couldn’t bear the thought of that.
Somehow, in the mere week since she’d taken up residence next door to him and had begun her nightly serenade, it had become necessary to him. Vital even that he be here each night at two in the morning when she began to play. Some days she practiced a few hours only, and then silence descended and Silas imagined them both drifting into sleep together and yet separated by one wall between them. Other nights she played well past dawn, only to hurriedly leave her apartment a few minutes later to either attend class or go to work.
When she played, he remained awake and listened. When she slept, he slept. Unwittingly, he’d fallen into her routine and kept it as his own, even going so far as to arrange his business obligations and priorities around the times he knew she would be playing.
He knew he wouldn’t be able to do so forever. Inevitably something would crop up that prevented him from being just a few feet away from her while she sent her soul soaring into the night. There were always things that demanded his attention. The safety of his brothers, and especially Evangeline, superseded all else. And as long as evil existed, and it would never truly be eradicated, the people he cared about would always be in danger. The threat to them all existed everywhere and came from all directions.
Neither he nor his brothers were saints. Silas knew there was a thin line between his self-imposed code of justice and the very evil he kept his brothers safe from. At times the line seemed to disappear altogether, and it was at those times that Silas was more aware than ever that he was just as much of a monster as the ones he hunted down and meted out retribution on. It was senseless to grieve the fact that he wasn’t in the least sorry for removing such vileness from the streets and the city he now called home. He knew what he was and what his job was, and he faced both with calm acceptance. The world was a better place without men like the Vanuccis, a crime family that had perpetuated so much violence against innocents that the very foundation of their homes must groan with the weight of so much blood.
Women, children, nothing held any regard or compassion in the Vanuccis’ eyes, and they’d proven that over and over. It might take him a lifetime, but Silas was determined to bring every single one of them to justice, along with those who allied themselves with the Vanuccis. His justice, the permanent kind. He would be judge and juror and sentence them to death, where all the power, connections and money in the world held no sway or importance. After death, only your deeds and actions over your lifetime held any merit or weight.
He rubbed his head tiredly, uncharacteristic fatigue making his bones ache. Even the beautiful song of grief pouring into the night next door could no longer offer him solace. Not when he’d brought so much to the surface when it remained buried most of the time. Ridding the world of the Vanuccis wouldn’t even put a dent in the threats to what he considered his own. His family. There was always someone else. Evil was pervasive, insidious. There was no cure for it. No way to ever destroy it permanently. The Vanuccis weren’t the only murdering, raping sons of bitches in the city. They just happened to be the ones most prevalent in Silas’s mind as he sought every day to keep his brothers, Drake and Evangeline safe. They were all targets. The Vanuccis had even placed a bounty on Drake and Evangeline. They were furious when Drake, in a very unexpected turn of events, had thrown his support and muscle behind the Luconis and had backed them as they prepared to dismantle the Vanucci family.
But Silas didn’t fool himself. He was a realist. A cynic. Cold, harsh and unfeeling. He knew that getting rid of the Vanuccis would pave the way for more organized crime to grow and prosper, and indeed, it would become more prevalent than ever. The Vanuccis were worthless pieces of shit, the entire lot of them, but at least they were powerful enough to squelch and force down anyone else seeking to set up shop in the city. The only other factions with as much power as the Vanuccis, or more, were the Luconis and . . . Drake Donovan. And now that Drake had allied with the Luconis, the Vanuccis were more desperate and unpredictable than ever.
With a heavy sigh, he closed his eyes and reached for the soothing balm of what he was certain was another’s grief. She might be mourning the loss of something dear and her music was an outlet for that grief, but for him the song touched the deepest, darkest recesses of his being. Just for the span of a few moments, he knew peace, even as the song whispered to him of love and loss. For once he wanted to drift to sleep with her music still echoing in his ears, her presence here in his bedroom despite the distance separating them. Tonight he didn’t feel quite so alone. Because she was here, sharing her grief and sharing her gift, providing comfort though she would never know that she had. Even a
s he allowed himself to drift away, held in the warm embrace of pure beauty, he wondered if Hayley felt as alone as he, and if she, like him, had nothing but her