Kill by Tana Rose

Chapter 1

Emmy

I’ve lost track of how long I’ve been here. Too long. Though any amount of time is too long to be with Matello Magri. I split my time between a windowless room in a basement and my old bedroom that looks as though he hasn’t changed a single thing since I left.

This combination makes it impossible to know exactly how much time has passed. But it must be at least a month, if not more.

If I paid more attention to Matello, if I asked him, I might be able to figure it out, but if I’m honest, I have a hard time focusing on the shit Matello says and does to me. My brain is fixated on the three men I left behind.

I keep seeing Ares falling after being shot, blood blooming on his chest. I keep seeing Soran on the ground, a boot against his head. Vulc stabbed and bleeding out, but still demanding I run.

I don’t know if any of them are alive. I don’t know if they know where I am. I don’t fucking know anything, and that makes me so angry. So goddamn angry.

It’s good. I need that rage to survive what’s happening to me. Sometimes it’s the only thing that gets me through.

This time is different from when I was with Matello before. This time I have a strength that I didn’t know I possessed, that I hadn’t realized until Ares, Vulc and Soran helped me see it, see how my experiences have honed me into something unbreakable.

God, I hope I’m fucking unbreakable. So far I have been. There're fractures in my heart where my ignorance is gnawing, but Matello hasn’t broken me. Not yet. Hopefully, never.

Not by bruising and cutting me. Not by letting Francisco watch as he trains me. Not by electrocuting me. Not by withholding food and water.

Not even the first time he sat me in front of a piano and demanded that I play. I waited for that old familiar anxiety and fear to press in, to make my hands shake, but instead I’d lifted my right hand to show him the damage he’d wrought and said calmly, “I can’t play anymore, if I try it will be imperfect. Would you still like me to?”

He’d glared at me, unhappy with my lack of reaction, but eventually grudgingly nodded. That was when the nerves had set in, because I hadn’t played in years and the memories of my last time playing suddenly overwhelmed me, when he shattered my hand.

I forced those thoughts away and instead focused on other memories, happier memories that centered on a piano, like Vulc laying me out on top of one and worshiping my body.

Holding that image in my head, I played, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d thought it would be, even though my fingers couldn’t stretch like normal, even though they ached when I’d finished worse than they have recently.

I still fucking did it.

The sound of a camera going off makes my head jerk up. Matello’s in front of me, an actual camera in his hands. He takes another as my eyes focus on the lens. “That’s a good one, darling. You’re so photogenic. You could have been a model.”

My lip curls in a sneer and I shift, trying to relieve the pressure in my shoulders, but there is none to be had. I’m hanging by my wrists, my arms spread just slightly. My bare toes just barely brush the ground and the strain on my joints is beyond painful. My hands are numb. If I could tip my head back far enough, I’m pretty sure I would see my fingers have turned blue. But the rest of my body is on fire, burning with welts from the riding crop Matello has just finished using on me.

He tsks at the look on my face. “Darling, I thought we were over this. You know you need to be punished for what you’ve done.”

I don’t bother replying. Don’t bother arguing with him, telling him he’s the one that needs to be punished. Because it’ll only make him angrier and I’d like to be let down from my position sometime soon.

“You shouldn’t have led Ares Sarkellis on, Mary Elise. You know you belong to me. It was wrong of you to do that to him.”

When I first woke up in my living nightmare, I decided I would not utter a single word to him. I won’t give him the satisfaction of a reaction. But since he mentioned Ares, I can help but ask, “is he alive?” before immediately cursing myself.

Matello’s eyes lift to mine. I can tell he thinks he’s won something by getting me to talk. He hasn’t. I don’t care if he thinks he has. I’ll give just about anything for news of Ares.

He regards me for a little while longer and then he gives me a small smile. “If he was, don’t you think he would have come for you by now?”

My heart crumbles in my chest. Tears spring to my eyes and fall down my cheeks. He’s said the one thing that would break me. Because he’s right. If Ares was alive, Matello would be under constant attack. And from what I can tell, he’s not.

He moves closer to me, his fingers moving up to my cheek, spreading the moisture around, rubbing it into my skin. “You’re so pretty when you cry, Mary Elise.”

Then he hands off his camera to Francisco and steps behind me. There’s the cold press of metal on my skin, just under the strap of the black lace bra on my chest. A moment later, the bra is falling away.

I hardly feel it, hardly register the click of the camera, can hardly bring myself to care. I’m too busy spiraling down into depression, into grief. Ares is dead. Ares, my husband, the man who owns one third of my heart, is dead. That third is breaking, shriveling, becoming a broken thing.

Matello’s mouth caresses my ear. “Do you want to know about the other two, Mary Elise? Do you want to know if they’re still breathing?”

I fucking do, but also I don’t. Because chances are that Vulc bled out on the street and Soran’s head was bashed in. If they’re gone too, I will be really and truly broken. I will cease to exist. I need to hang on to the hope that they are out there and coming for me. That they got out of that impossible situation somehow and are grieving Ares and making a plan to save me.

I shake my head and focus on breathing in and out. That’s all I can do. Focus on breathing. On staying alive.

Matello’s hands slide up my body, up to my messy hair, pulling it into a bun that he secures with an elastic that he’s found from somewhere. A disapproving noise leaves his mouth when he takes in my tattoo at the crest of my spine, between my shoulders.

Soran gave it to me on my wedding day, a symbol of my life forever being entwined with theirs. I’d been resistant at first, maybe a little resentful that I needed to be marked at all, but after each of them have kissed it so reverently. I love it.

Now, Matello runs a finger over the moon at the top of it, caressing the crescent shape and then down to the symbol of The Pantheon under it. “You should know better than to let them mark your skin, Mary Elise. Every inch of this flesh is mine to mark as I see fit. This will have to go.”

I tense because I know he’s not talking about laser removal. Seconds later, I feel the drag of the tip of his knife tracing the outline of the tattoo. Not enough to cut me, but enough to let me know what he plans.

“Please, Matello. Don’t…”

“Don’t what, darling?”

I can’t bring myself to say the actual words of what I think he’s going to do. “Just don’t. Just leave it, please.” When I first came here, I promised myself that I wouldn’t beg him for anything. I told myself I would be stronger this time around. That I could withstand anything he could throw at me. Oh, how quickly those beliefs crumble when faced with this. Faced with losing something that means so much to me.

I should have seen this coming. The knife presses in deeper. It’s so sharp that I hardly feel more than a brief sting of pain. But I do feel the blood bead up and roll down my spine. I try to jerk away from him, but Francisco is in front of me, his mangled hand gripping my shoulders to hold me in place. Not that I can really go anywhere anyway, not when I’m strung up by my wrists.

“Don’t move, Mary Elise, you might make me mess up.” The knife drags over my skin in a rough circle, slicing around the ink. I can’t help the whimpers that explode from my throat. I sag when he’s finished with this portion of the torture, but I know he’s not done. It’s going to get so much worse.

“Please, Matello.” I try again. “You have me. You proved I belong to you by making me come with you. It’s just a tattoo. It doesn’t mean anything now.”

It’s a lie, and he knows it.

Matello sighs and I feel his breath on the back of my neck, over my shoulders. “I wish I could believe that, but I know you better than you know yourself, darling. As long as this mark is on your skin, you’ll be partly theirs. We need to root out their claim on you.”

His lips push tenderly into the back of my head. “And really, you brought this on yourself, Mary Elise. You know better than to let another man mark your body.”

He straightens. The flat of the knife slides over my shoulder blade. The honed edge reaches my tattoo and the circle he’s cut around it. He presses down, catching the edge of skin.

Francisco leers at me as I jerk again.

And then I’m screaming.