The Adler Brothers: The Complete Dark Mafia Series Sample Chapters


The complete mafia romance series full of plot twists, alternative spice, disturbing darkness, and three Happily-Ever-Afters!


She’s my gift. My captive.

My brother finds a woman alone in the woods. A vulnerable, exposed trespasser without any memories. We should kill her, but since I have always wanted to play god, she’s given to me. A sensual offering.

I control her. Manipulate her. Teach her to be my plaything, no matter what torture waits for her in the shadows.

But then I find out who she really is, and it’s too late. It doesn’t matter if I’ve fallen for her; she’s dangerous to my family.

I have to destroy her. 


I’ll keep my future wife in a cage.

I promised my mentor that I’d marry his daughter and protect her from our enemies. But at his funeral, his daughter and I agree to go our separate ways. It’s for the best.

But then she sees me kill an outsider. I have no choice but to keep her in my dungeon, locked in a cage. To force her to watch my sadistic tendencies.

Demi is infuriating, and so damn sure of herself. She has no idea who her father was, but the more I torture her—the more I take care of her—the harder I fall.

Demi is stronger than I ever imagined, and I’ll do whatever it takes to protect her. 

Even if that means destroying our future. 


She’s guilty, but she’s still mine.

I’ve wanted our housekeeper since I first laid eyes on her. She always kept me at a distance, her unknown past a barrier between us. 

But once my father is murdered, I know I need her help. The deeper we go, the darker our desires become, until my belt and boots become her sanctuary. It becomes harder and harder to resist making Maddie mine forever.

Then I find out her truth. 

There’s danger lurking between us. Falling for her will destroy the mafia.

But I need her completely. Her body. Her mind. Her future.

There is no other way.


This content notification may contain spoilers.

This series follows three mafia brothers. In the first book, a self-centered mafia antihero with a god complex manipulates a heroine suffering from severe memory loss. In the second book, an emotionless mafia enforcer captures an innocent heroine. In the third book, a ruthless mafia boss must work together with a traumatized heroine to take down the enemy.

As such, these stories contain intimidation, extreme trauma, sadistic and graphic violence, cult vibes, harmful contact between family members in flashbacks. Furthermore, each of these couples indulges in various dark games, some of which include weapons, nooses, mental trickery, physical torture, cages, weapons, boots, cigars, clamps, and belts. At times, there are situations where permission is debatable.

Reader discretion is advised.

Book 1: Dangerous Deviance



Everything, including the man in front of me, had its own unique attributes. The coward wasn’t a friend, but business. A spineless rat. Target practice.

“I thought we were friends,” the man said. “We are friends, right, bro?”

Friends. The word almost made me laugh. I’m good at making people think that we’re friends. As the networker for my family’s business, I’ve put a lot of time into honing my image, making myself the important connection and face of the family’s crime syndicate. 

But that doesn’t mean I’m anyone’s friend. The man, Brad, flicked his tongue over his lips as he tried to think up an excuse. We had known each other for years, but still, he bailed on me when it came time to pay. After we had taken his two fingers, I had almost expected it, which would make the finality of this interaction all the more satisfying. What a birthday present. 

This is what it meant to be an Adler. Conquer. Annihilate. Rule. Birthday or not, everything was in the name of the family. And if you didn’t have Adler blood? I would cut you in half. And if you hurt my family? Everyone you loved wouldn’t stand a chance.

No one messes with an Adler.

Brad bit his fingers, the ones that were left anyway, the nail beds bloody and torn. He shivered and looked down at his hands again, as if a gun could magically appear in his palms. But he didn’t need magic: Don’t want to die for your bad decisions? Don’t spend money you don’t have. 

Sometimes, I thought of myself as a god. I dealt in chance in the gambling hall, helping men thrive or wash away their lives, and back here, dealing with business matters, I chose between their lives and their deaths. Their fate was up to me.

“Look, man,” Brad mumbled, “I told you, I have the money, I just need time. I was going to get it for you. Just not here. I’ve got an uncle—”

“Word has it that your step-daddy cut you out of the family business,” I said. Brad cowered. “So tell me. Why were you in my gambling hall?”

“Look, man. I know I can get back into the business.”

“I talked to your family. You’ve been cut off. They’re not willing to help you pay.”

Tears welled in his eyes. The poor asshole. But debts were debts, and if he didn’t have the cash or the capital, then he had to pay in one way or another. We had already taken two of his fingers. It was time to move on.

“Can’t we work this out?” His fishbowl eyes pleaded up at me. “Can’t you take one of my cousins instead? We’ve been friends for a long ass time, man. You’re like a brother to me.”

Brad reached over and slapped my arm, two of his fingers missing. I glared at the touch, then removed his hand as if it were dirty. Axe, my actual brother, was leaning against the door frame, the only exit out of the room. His eyes were blank, staring forward. He had delivered Brad. Now it was up to me to finish the job. 

He knew I liked it too. Playing god. I knew it was a birthday present from him. 

“You’re right,” I said to Brad, my voice low. “We were friends. And if we were in a different line of work, maybe I would let a friend slide.” I shook my head, pretending to be sad. “But you know that what we do here is different. And if I let you slide, then everyone will expect a free pass.” I tossed a hand to the side. “And I can’t let that happen.”

“I’ll do anything, Wil. Anything.”

I took my pistol from the desk and pulled the hammer back. Brad’s eyes widened. Power surged within me. 

“Shit, man,” he stuttered. “Take my hand. Break my knees. Not a fucking gun.”

I aimed at his forehead and he lifted his hands like the flesh and bones of those eight fingers could defend him from a bullet. 

“Please, Wil, I—”

The bullet went straight through his forehead, clean and efficient. His body fell back against the chair in a thud. 

Axe adjusted against the wall, then nodded at me. 

“Where’d you find him again?” I asked.

“In the line for TSA.”

The bastard had almost gotten away. “What’d you tell him?” I asked. Axe had a reputation for getting his point across quickly. I could picture him whispering a thousand nightmares in a few words. 

“That I knew where his wife lived.”

I whistled. That would get a man to move. At least his wife wouldn’t be held back by him anymore. 

“You’ll take care of him for me?” I asked.

Axe nodded, then slipped out through the back hallway, presumably to get his supplies to dismantle the body. While Axe was the main enforcer, the family’s gambling hall was mine. It was a place to network. I was supposed to be an enforcer too, but I had wanted my own branch of the business.

I went out the door to the main banquet hall of Jimmy’s. The atmosphere was full of smoke and wood and alcohol being poured like rain from the sky. Dark-paneled walls surrounded us, without a window in sight. It didn’t matter what time of day it was; it was always night when it came to Jimmy’s. You could get lost in there, and I often did.

There was a restaurant in the front, but this ‘banquet room’ was hidden in the back. There was a bar along the back wall, and the rest of the space was set with various tables: poker, craps, blackjack, roulette, and in the back, another door that led to a luxury theater with plenty of sporting events on display.

An older gentleman smacked my back. He was a regular here who liked to spend his hard-earned retirement funds. Who was I to stop him? 

“I hear it’s your big day,” he said. “Congratulations on making it to the big three-oh, my good friend. Wait until you join me in the over-sixty hall of fame.”

I shook his hand. “You’re telling me you’re not fifty?” The dude was well into his seventies, but I knew how to butter him up. He cackled at the joke.

“I bet you’re making your dad proud,” he said. 

“Yeah! Happy Birthday, Wil!” another man said.

I flicked my finger at the bartender, and she started pouring us a round of shots. 

“What shall we do to celebrate?” I asked.

“Did you want Sarah?” he asked. He winked, then nodded towards a young woman with her legs tucked underneath her to the side of the room, a slim metal collar on her neck. Hearing her name, she sat up, her gaze pegged on me. “She’s been eyeing you for a while now.” The gleam in his eyes was like a lantern in the night. He must have wanted to watch us fuck. Perhaps he couldn’t please her like that anymore? I wasn’t sure. “She’s come prepared. I had her practice last night.”

With dark hair and eyes to match, Sarah was gorgeous, and decades younger than her husband. That old man had bought her outright, mail-order-bride shit, but Sarah didn’t care because she would live off of his money until the day she died. The idea of sampling her was a pleasant one, but unlike him, I wasn’t one to share. If a woman was mine, she was mine. And Sarah was far from that.

“I want one for myself,” I winked. The man slapped my back. 

“I can get you the number for Sarah’s house,” he said. “I got her from Brackston.”

Brackston was another big city a few hours away, controlled by the Midnight Miles Corporation, one of our biggest rivals, turned ally and connection. At least, that’s the way we had hoped to push it. The way my father, Gerard, wanted to. 

For a moment, I let the idea roll around in my mind; if I could buy a woman who was mine to take care of, mine to control, mine to play with when I wanted, why not? It made it simple.

But I wanted a woman who would fight me too. Taking control was only satisfying if you could feel the woman relinquishing it. If she gave it freely, like Sarah, then what did it matter? Most of the women from Sarah’s house would probably be obedient to the core. 

But again, it was my birthday. Why the hell not? 

“Sure, give me the number,” I said. “Now, are you going to take a shot with me, or are you too old for that now?”

“Do you know who you’re talking to?”

A cocktail waitress in black booty shorts and a corset brought us the round from the bar. I eyed her round ass, and she winked at me. That was an ass I could use and forget about. The only problem was they always wanted more. I needed someone who I could keep at a distance, someone to keep for myself.

“Get a shot for yourself,” I said to her. She thanked me and slinked away.

“To your big day,” the older man said.

“To thirty more,” another regular said.

“Cheers,” I said, lifting my shot. We clinked glasses, then threw back the alcohol, the liquid numbing my throat. Another day on the job, another shot guzzled down. It was my kind of career. I went to the side of the room, taking my place at my favorite felt-lined table, one with a view where I could watch everything from afar. The gambling. The dealers selling our products. The women strutting around. 

Derek appeared at my side. He was older than me and Axe; he was in his mid-thirties and kept his dark hair styled. His dark brown eyes judged the room, always watching everyone, always ready to fight at a moment’s notice. The man didn’t know how to have a good time; it was business, business, business with him. That’s why I was in charge of the gambling hall, and he wasn’t. Leave him to the leadership crap; give me the pleasure of crime. 

Derek nodded to the different groups, acknowledging the fact that Jimmy’s was in full swing. 

“Are they celebrating your birthday?” he asked.

I shook my head, then shuffled a deck of cards. “Just another day in paradise,” I winked. Derek smirked, then slid into the seat across from me. He hit the table, and I dealt: one card face down and a seven for me, and a king and an eight for him. I peeked at my card, then nodded at him.

“You’ve done good with the place,” Derek said. The truth was that he was supposed to take over Jimmy’s, as well as the rest of the family business, with Axe and I as leading enforcers, but I hadn’t wanted that for myself. I didn’t mind killing; in fact, I enjoyed it. But when it came to the gambling hall, I wanted a piece of the pie for myself. Besides, I was Uncle Jimmy’s namesake. Wilhelm James Adler. What a name.

I didn’t respond to Derek’s comment. He was leading to something. He tapped the table and I dealt another card. A king, an eight, and now, a two. There wasn’t much of a chance of getting better than that. 

I hit as well, then flipped over my second card. A seven and a nine and a face-down mystery. If he was smart, he’d stand.

“You hear anything from Muro’s men?” he asked. He put a hand over his cards. Good man. I showed him my final card: a five. The house won again. I always did.

“You were close that time,” I said. He shook his head, smiling. “And about the Muro’s men, they weren’t giving their share.” 

We had negotiated with Miles Muro of Midnight Miles Corporation a decent, but low cutback, since we had delayed delivering a man who had stolen a rather large diamond from him. Our response, to keep things civil, was to agree to terms in which Muro could spread his drug trade in our region without dealing with a large percentage cut. We each specialized in different substances, so it made sense to work together, and our cut was reasonable, as an apology for the lacking delivery. We were supposed to deliver the diamond stealer and his daughter. But my half-brother had fallen for the woman and ran off with her. So her father was delivered eventually. But not her. 

We needed to smooth things out with Miles Muro. That was part of my job.

“They didn’t pay?” Derek asked. “What’d you do?” 

I nodded towards the back doors. “Let them out.” I shrugged. Gerard, our mob boss and my father, insisted that we kept things civil. The Adler family had networked with other syndicates for ages; we had to keep that reputation. “Didn’t kill them. Just told them to get their shit and leave.”

“Have you talked to Muro about it?”

I shook my head. “I was waiting for you.”

I was good with networking and making connections, but Derek was still the next-in-line for the throne, which meant everything had to go through him. I could respect that. He had proven, repeatedly, that being a leader is what he had been raised to do. But it was all boring bureaucratic shit if you asked me. I’d rather deal with the connections and numbers behind the scenes, with the drug fiends and the gambling addicts without a home to keep them in line.

“You want to set up a meeting then?” I asked. Derek nodded. “I’ll make the call.”

“Good,” he said. He nodded towards the exit. “We got you a present, by the way.” Then he shook his head, smiling to himself. “Axe got you a present,” he corrected. 

“It better not be—”

He smirked. “Not this time,” he said. He tilted his head. “Let’s go.”

I shrugged. What did I have to lose? 

After I left a few of my men in charge, we drove back to my place in a high-rise in the middle of Sage City. My home was on the thirty-sixth floor, a penthouse with the rooftop patio all to myself. Axe stood up from the kitchen island, his clothes as clean as ever. Had he already taken care of Brad, or was the body still in his car downstairs? 

“I hear you got me a present,” I said. 

He gestured towards the guest bedroom door. “She’s inside.”

She?” I asked. He nodded. “Who is she?”

“Don’t know,” Derek said. “She could barely utter a sentence.” 

“Doesn’t remember where she came from,” Axe said. 

“It’s perfect,” Derek said. “You’re always talking about wanting to play god, right? This is it. This is playing god.”

“I never—”

But then I thought about it. Really thought about it. If she didn’t remember where she came from, and therefore, didn’t have a past, then who was I, but a god, to her? To mold and change and shape her life. To make her fit to serve me.

And if not, I would move on. She would be killed. Like any angry god would do.

Intrigued, I opened the door. On the bed, sitting on the edge of the bed, was a woman with light brown hair. Full pink lips. A toned, muscular body, but softness there too. Her breasts hanging and bare.

“Found her naked in the woods,” Axe said.

Her back was uneven, marked with patches of pink and white, like a rash or a scar that had healed over repeatedly. Glazing over, my eyes focused on the blush of her cheeks, the scratches of red across her stomach. She must have been running from something. From someone. But Axe had caught her.

And now? She was mine.

I stepped into the bedroom, closing the door behind me, coming towards her. She stiffened. As soon as I was close enough to touch her, she grabbed my shoulders, pulling me down with a hard crack, bringing a knee to my chest. Hard. I grunted.

A literal fighter, huh?

I grinned, then grabbed her leg and pulled through until she crumpled onto her back. I pulled out my gun, aiming it at her head. She didn’t move, her face stoic. She stared into the barrel, then shifted her eyes to me. Those blue gems pierced through me and saw to that spark within. 

I could kill her right then, and it wouldn’t make a difference. 

Or I could let her live and explore that passion within her.

I took a step back, then headed to the door. I closed it behind me.

“Did you have to lift a hand when you were in the woods?” I asked. 

Axe shook his head. “She came willingly.”

“Well, I had to lay her flat just now,” I said, smirking. 

Derek laughed. “She’s perfect for you then.”

The passion of a caged lioness with blue eyes and light brown hair, and no expectations beyond being mine, was, in fact, perfect. She was simply a gift.

Yeah, birthdays didn’t get much better than this.



You aren’t safe here.

I blinked. That voice sounded familiar. Male. With the authority of a father figure, but not quite family. I couldn’t place it. A dim light came from the windows. Steel-gray clouds covered the sky, the sun shining behind them, reflecting across their backs. The cityscape stretched far and wide to the coastline in the distance. The echo of a lighthouse. Traffic lights. Mist hovering over the woods near the coast. 

Here? I thought. Where are we?

You aren’t safe here. You need to be careful, Ellie. They’re watching you.


Where are we? 


I looked around, but there was no one there. It was a voice inside of my mind, like a detached part of me, always there, always filling in the blanks. What was going on? I touched my face, as if I could find the voice there. But my skin was cold. It felt strange, like I was touching myself for the first time. My head was filled with fog, like I had awoken from a deep, deep sleep. I closed my eyes tight, until tears started forming in the crevices, then opened them wide, staring out. Four posts at the corners of the bed. A large window. A closet to the side. A full-length mirror. An attached bathroom. 

I looked down; the blankets and comforters in shades of gray layered underneath me. So soft it almost hurt.

A bedroom. I was in someone’s bedroom.

You need to be careful, Ellie. They’re watching you, the voice said. A male voice. A familiar one. Like a father. Like a friend I trusted. Someone I knew.

That’s right. That was my name. Ellie. 

The bedroom door opened; a tall man with dark hair entered the room, his eyes shadowed. A navy blue suit jacket fit his arms, a red tie in the middle like a stripe of blood. His jaw was angular and tight, his muscles stretching the suit’s sleeves. His brown eyes lingered over my breasts, my waist, my hips, between my thighs. I touched my face again, suddenly hot, wanting to make sure that I was awake. That this wasn’t a dream. As the man’s eyes met mine, his face darkened, and it was as if I could feel his thoughts. What he wanted to do to me. What he would do, if I wasn’t careful. A shudder ran through me. 

Who was he?

The man came closer, and it took everything I had to hold still, to let him think that I wasn’t ready. 

Kill him, the voice said. Kill him now! 

Not yet. Not until he was closer.

As soon as he lifted a hand to touch me, I grabbed his shoulders, pulling him down until I kneed his stomach, but then he grabbed my leg and threw me back onto the bed, immediately pointing a gun at my forehead. 

So that hadn’t worked. 

I waited for him to shoot. 

But he backed away, closing the door behind him, and I was left alone once again.

I sat up, pressing my thighs together. A red and gold sash, tied into a bow, lay on the bed. I remembered it: a man had given that to me, asked me to wear it. For my brother, the man had said. He’ll take care of you.

But he won’t take care of you, the voice argued. He won’t take care of anyone. You need to get out, Ellie. Figure out where you are. Then find her.

Find her.

Who was she?

And who was that voice?

Sliding off of the bed, my bare feet clicked on the wooden floors. I went to the window and stared out. From the height alone, I could tell we were in a tall building, possibly near the top. Only one building off in the distance looked as if it might be taller, a round disk high in the sky, futuristic in its design. I knew that building. It was a landmark. I had been there before. Back when I was younger. Still a kid. When we were kids.

We. Who were we?

The door opened again, the airflow brushing against my bare skin. I looked down. I was naked, with my bare ass to whoever had just opened the door. I covered my breasts, crossing my arms in the front, and turned around. Act helpless, the voice said. The less they know about your capabilities, the better your chances are. 

It was the man from before, the one who had put me on my back. His eyes landed on me, his gaze hot. 

He sat on the bed as if it were his place. His lair.

“Let’s not fight this time, ” he said. “Come sit.” He patted the bed, waiting for me to come, like his pet.

No way. I didn’t obey anyone like that. 

Do it, the voice urged, You might not like it, but you need to play. Play his game. Figure out his motive. Then get out

It was the only conscience inside of me, so I listened to the voice, not the man in front of me. I sat on the bed, beside him, keeping my eyes cast off, not wanting to meet his gaze when I didn’t know where either of us stood. What was I doing here? Why was I obviously in his home? What did he want with me?

“I’m Wil,” he said, his voice smooth and deep. “Let’s start with your name.”

Don’t tell him. Don’t tell him anything.

I shook my head. “I- I-” I stammered, “I don’t—” I shook my head frantically, the voice getting louder in my mind: Don’t tell him. You can’t trust him. You can’t trust anyone.

“My brothers said you don’t remember much. Do you remember your name?” he asked. 

A sheen of sweat broke out over my body. Chills ran through me, my body shaking uncontrollably. He reached over to hold my hand. I froze at the touch. 

“It’s okay,” he said, “We can figure this out together.” His words were kind, but I pulled away. Then the voice grew louder: It’s a lie. You can’t trust him. You can’t trust anyone. You need to get out. Find her. He put a hand on my thigh.

“Let me go,” I whispered. He didn’t hear me. He nodded at the door frame. A woman with dark red hair emerged. “Let me go!” I said louder, pulling my leg out of his grip. I bared my teeth, shifting back onto my haunches, ready to strike. 

He cocked his chin at me, as if he was amused.

“You were on our property,” Wil said slowly. “I hate to break it to you, princess, but we’re not letting you go. Not until we find out how you got there. What you were sent to do. You’re lucky it’s my birthday.” He smirked. “Think of me as your god. You’re going to abide by my rules until we figure out what to do with you.” 

Lucky? What was he going to do with me? 

A god? What an arrogant sonofa— 

They’ll kill you, the voice said, just like they would kill her.

I balled my fists. 

“I’m not—”

His hand curled around my fingers, crushing my knuckles, twisting them in pain, and he leaned in close to me. The smell of smoke and old leather surrounded me. Like he spent his days between walls with men who had far too much power, far too much money, and if I closed my eyes too much, I would fall deep within the rabbit hole, until I couldn’t see the sky anymore.

“If it were up to my brother, you’d be in a cage right now. But you’re not,” he said in a low voice. “You were gifted to me. Like an offering to a god,” he said. The man was obsessed, idealized himself in a way that made me sick. “Don’t forget, I want to be nice to you.” His eyes stared deep into my soul, and it felt like his fingers were wrapping around my heart, squeezing it until the muscle palpitated in my chest, making my breath catch in my throat. He wants to be nice to you because he’s filled with cruelty, the voice said. He wants what he can’t have. You can’t fight him, not yet. It will end badly for you. 

Unless I played by his rules. Let him play god.

“Don’t make me the bad guy, princess.”

The bad guy? Princess?

He is the bad guy, the voice said. He captured you. And he would do the same thing to her.

He tilted his head back, glancing behind us, and the woman with mahogany hair came forward again. “This is Maddie. She’s going to take care of you for a while.”

“Take care of me?” I asked.

“All right. Out of here. My turn,” Maddie said. Wil got off of the bed and whispered in her ear. “Of course,” she said. Then she sat on the bed next to me, placing a plastic grocery bag full of clothes on the comforter. She leafed through it. “Tell me your size and I’ll bring you better stuff tomorrow. These will do for now. They’ll either be too big for you or just about right,” she said. She glanced at my body, then turned back to the bag. “I think my hips are bigger. Do you work out?”

Work out? Why was she asking me about exercising when I had been ripped from my life and dropped into this one? A life where I didn’t even know where I was. All I had was my name. 

I couldn’t figure out what to say. I could hardly remember anything, and that was terrifying. 

I was a walking joke.

“Hey,” Maddie said, stroking my arm. I stilled, waiting to see what she did, trying to calculate how far away the nearest weapon was. A pen on the desk. A letter opener. A pair of scissors. I could break a glass and use the shards to stun her. Run away as fast as I could. “It’s okay,” she whispered. “You’re okay. You’re alive.” Because death was my only other option. She stared at me, her eyes softening, realizing how deep the fear ran inside of me. “What’s your name?”

Don’t think for a second that you can trust her. You can’t trust anyone.

But I wanted to. I needed to hold onto something to pull myself out. And she hadn’t tried to hurt me yet. 

Maybe she would know how to help me. 

“Ellie,” I whispered.

“Ellie,” Maddie said. “That’s a pretty name. Is it short for anything?”

No. Don’t tell her. It’s too much. Too much.

She put a hand on my arm and I froze again. “My name is Maddie. I’m here to help you.” 

“Who are you?” I asked.

“The housemaid,” she smiled. I glanced her over; jeans were tight over her thick thighs, a loose purple top on her busty chest. Makeup decorated her face, subtle but complimenting her. She didn’t look like a housemaid to me. “Wil hired me, but I work with all of them. Mostly just Wil and Derek though. Axe on occasion.” She shrugged. “Their parents once or twice too.”

Too many names. Wil? Derek? Axe? Who the hell were they?

Ask her, the voice said. Ask her who they are. She knows more than she’s letting on.

“Who are they?” I asked. 

“They’re brothers,” she said, nodding at the door, where I assumed they were waiting on the other side. “They’re here to help you. Wil is, anyway. I think Axe and Derek would have had other plans for you, but Wil’s got a soft spot for women like you.”

“Women like me?” I asked. What was that supposed to mean?

It means he thinks you’re weak. You’re helpless. And he’ll prey on you like he preyed on her.

“Vulnerable,” Maddie said. “And feisty,” she laughed. “I can’t believe you attacked him.”

It’s not like I had gotten that far. But the way she spoke about him made me stop; she was fond of him. They must have been close. 

“Are you married to him?” I asked.

“God, no,” she cackled. “Don’t get me wrong. They’re all gorgeous. But Wil? He’s like a brother to me. I’ve been his cleaner for a long time now. Become a friend of family lately.”

“They’re a family?”

“Brothers,” she said. 

Your sister. Where is she? the voice asked.

“My sister,” I whispered. “Where is she?”

It was weird to hear a voice, then repeat what it said, letting it control me. But it was all I had in a world of emptiness. And with those words, I knew. I was looking for my sister.

“Where’s who?” Maddie furrowed her brows. “Your sister? I—”

“I will cut anyone who hurts my sister.”

Maddie and I stared at each other, each of us waiting for the other to speak.

“Did you hurt my sister?” I asked. 

“Slow down, tiger,” Maddie said, raising her hands, putting them up. “No one is hurting anyone.”

“Did you hurt my sister?” 

She shook her head, her eyes cast down. I exhaled, letting my shoulders relax.

“Do you know where your sister is?” she asked.

“No.” My heart burned in my chest. Longing swept through me; I had been looking for her for a very, very long time. And now, I knew I was close, but I was far away too. I needed a glimmer of light to help me see through the tunnel. 

“No one is going to hurt your sister,” Maddie said. “We’re here to help you. I am. Wil is. But you have to be smart about it.” She narrowed her eyes at me. “To think in terms like Wil, you need to play your cards right. If you act too quickly, they’ll kill you. Because at the end of the day, you were trespassing. If it weren’t Wil’s birthday, you probably would be dead by now.”

“Wil’s birthday?”

“You were a gift to him,” she said, nodding. “Wil’s birthday present.”

“How can a person be a birthday present?” I asked. 

Because the birthday man doesn’t have a soul.

“When you’re the youngest son in a crime family, your birthday gifts get a little more elaborate each year.” She shrugged, her lips flat. “Trust me; you’re lucky.”

There was no way that being a man’s gift made me lucky. 

“I’m telling you the truth, Ellie. They will kill you if you’re not careful.”

She’s right, the voice said. Play the game. Figure out the players. She’s not your friend, but she’s not your enemy either. He is. He knows where she is. 

Your sister.

Footsteps passed in front of the room, going down the hallway, casting shadows from the crack underneath the door. Their presence seemed larger than life. 

Like a god.

“Who are they?” I whispered again. 

“Think of them as a family. It’s easier that way,” she said. She forced a smile. “Close brothers. Best friends.” She pushed the bag towards me, offering the extra clothes. She nodded in the brothers’ direction. “They’ll help you, but you have to give to them too, especially Wil.”

Listen to her. Play the game, the voice said. You always knew you would be subjected to this

I nodded. “Okay.”