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I will own her completely.

Scarlett thinks she can hide her secrets, but I know better. You don’t play with fire unless you want to get burned, and I intend to burn Scarlett.

I become obsessed with controlling every inch of her. Bending her to my will. Drowning her in my degrading desires. 

Then I learn her truth. She’s an assassin and I’m her target. It’s amusing, but it doesn’t stop me from craving her darkness.

I’ll crush her plans to kill me, and when I’m done, she will be completely mine.

Author’s Note: This dark romance follows a billionaire and an assassin. It contains disturbing content. Reader discretion is advised.

Content Warnings

Triggers & Content: trauma in flashbacks, graphic violence, murder, assassins, sex work, dubious consent

Kinks: dubious consent, fear play, fire play, forced orgasms, restraints, total power exchange, water torture

Interconnected Standalone: The couple gets their HEA, but the secret club plot continues throughout the series. 

Chapter 1
Scarlett

The door to the brick building opened; an older woman with a sleek blond haircut beamed at us with her perfect teeth. Starting a new assignment always made me nervous, but we weren’t here to meet the target—we were here to meet someone who might know him.  

 

“It’s been ages,” the woman said, her voice raspy. She motioned inside. “Come in. Come in.”

 

“Good to see you, Dahlia,” Lizzy said, patting her on the back. I followed behind Lizzy’s tall frame. Dahlia’s on-site office at the Dahlia District wasn’t a traditional office. An office would have a desk and some monitors, a filing cabinet, maybe even a break room, but this ‘office’ opened into a large living room with a modern kitchen, the accent lights dangling above the island, and two rooms, one of which was closed, but the other opened to a master bedroom with a golden headboard. Dahlia lived here, on-site too, like the rest of the servers.

 

“You must be Scarlett,” Dahlia said. I shook her hand, and she held my palm in hers, studying me. “Lizzy has told me so much about you.”

 

“Only the good parts, I hope,” I said. I winked at Dahlia; it was a habit now, even if she wasn’t a target.

 

“Of course,” she said.

 

“Are you going to give us a tour?” Lizzy asked. “I haven’t been here since you first—”

 

“Oh, why bother with a tour?” Dahlia said. “You know the place.”

 

She ushered us to the skinny couch in the living room, then brought us a tray with delicate teacups and mini cucumber sandwiches from the kitchen. 

 

Lizzy leaned back on the couch, her strong shoulders broader than ever. I swear, with each year, her posture got better, as if that’s how aging worked. A long, gray ponytail shimmered down her back. 

 

Lizzy had worked here, at the elite entertainment club, for a while when she was in her forties. Though Dahlia hadn’t originally allowed women to work as servers past their twenty-ninth year, she had made an exception for Lizzy, as Lizzy was tasked with eliminating a target who was a club member at the Dahlia District. The target had been tormenting the servers, so Dahlia didn’t mind bending the rules for someone who was as talented at assassination as she was at entertaining high-end clients. During that time, Dahlia and Lizzy had become good friends, but as Lizzy’s work called her elsewhere, they had lost contact.

 

Lizzy was in her seventies now and had been playing guardian to me for the last decade or so. I was twenty-one and hadn’t technically been her ward for a few years, but we still lived and worked together. I handled the alluring side of the assignments, navigating targets into our traps, and Lizzy did the actual elimination. We had a good system.

 

We were here to see if Dahlia would make that exception again. Except it would be me serving. At least this time, I was within the age range.

 

“Is that still your office?” Lizzy asked, pointing at the closed doors. “Can we see the monitors for the club?”

 

“I’m afraid not.” She sneered at the closed door. “If you need it for your security, then of course, but right now, I’d personally rather not go in there myself.”

 

I wrinkled my brows. Why was she so avoidant of that room? 

 

“You have another company surveilling the place, then?” I asked.

 

“Always,” she said. She lifted her chin. “I’m going to sell this place soon. There’s no point in doing all the work myself.”

 

“Selling?” Lizzy asked. “Really?”

 

“The place doesn’t sit well with me anymore. It’s time I retire.” She tilted her head. “You ought to retire soon too, right, Lizzy?”

 

Lizzy shrugged. “When the work stops coming, I suppose. But that’s why we’re here.” She pulled out her tablet and flipped to the picture of our next target, facing the picture towards Dahlia. 

 

Light brown hair in short, soft curls on his head, his eyes a bright green, dressed in a dark suit. A strong jaw and nose. Big shoulders and arms, a tight frame, even buried underneath the suit. You could tell he worked out. According to our records, he was about six feet two. 

 

These were the things I had to remind myself to make seducing a target that much more tolerable. To pretend that his past decisions didn’t make him disgusting. Besides, he would be eliminated soon anyway.

 

“Cormac Stone, the pharmaceutical mogul,” Lizzy said. “We have sources that say that he attends the Dahlia District regularly.”

 

Dahlia studied the tablet, eyeing it over her crossed arms, not bothering to pick it up herself. “Yes, Mr. Stone attends my establishment.”

“And he has for many years?”

She jerked her head. “I’ll have to ask where your sources are getting their information. But yes. I recognize him. He frequents my club.”

 

“Does he have any regular servers?”

 

“Not that I’m aware of.” Dahlia narrowed her eyes. “I’m afraid he tends to stress them out with his requirements.”

 

Requirements?

 

“One of those, huh?” Lizzy asked. She raised an eyebrow at me as if to say, You sure you can take care of him?

 

I shrugged. I could figure it out. “I can handle him,” I said.

 

“Scarlett will be going undercover,” Lizzy said. She put a hand on my shoulder. “She hasn’t worked at an entertainment club, but she understands the way it works.”

 

“What she really means is that I know how to seduce a man,” I said dryly.

 

Dahlia stifled a chuckle. “And how did you learn how to do that?”

 

“From the best.” I threw a thumb in Lizzy’s direction. “She says she used to get more requests than some of the twenty-year-olds here.”

 

“She was one of our best.” Dahlia looked around the room, then settled on me again. “Do you have any talents, Miss…” Her eyes scanned me.

 

“Hayes,” I said. “Scarlett Hayes. But you can call me Scarlett.”

 

“Do you have any talents, then, Miss Scarlett?”

 

I raised an eyebrow at Lizzy. “Remember I told you about the entertainment aspect of the club?” Lizzy said.

 

Right. That. Lizzy had showcased her strength training skills back when she worked here. 

 

“I can spin fire,” I offered. “That’s kind of unique.”

 

Dahlia shifted in her seat. “You can spin fire?”

 

“Like flow arts,” I said. “It’s a type of performance art.”

 

“Do you mean like fire dancing?” Dahlia leaned back and crossed her legs. “I’ve always wanted a fire dancer at our club. Scarlett, the fire dancer. It has a certain ring to it.” She touched her chin. “And you can do it professionally?”

 

Was I able to pass it off with the barest amount of knowledge, so that the people who had never performed with fire before, would be too distracted by the pretty flames to know what was going on? Yes. Would it look professional? To the unknowing eye, yes. 

 

“I tried it a few times,” I said. “I’m not perfect, but I can do it well enough.”

 

“And that’s good enough for me,” Dahlia said. She sat up straight. “When can you begin?”

 

Lizzy locked eyes with me and I gave her a slight nod, showing that I accepted the assignment. 

 

“She can start tomorrow,” Lizzy said. “And she’ll be doing the job solo.”

 

My jaw dropped. What the hell? “Solo?” I asked.

 

“Oh?” Dahlia asked. “Solo?”

 

“Usually, I would take care of the final task, but Scarlett here,” Lizzy patted me on the shoulder, “is ready for her own job.”

 

“If you trust her, I trust her,” Dahlia said to Lizzy, then looked at me slowly. “You can handle entertaining club members?”

 

I shrugged. “Well, I can sweet talk my way into almost anything,” I said.

 

“Such confidence,” Dahlia said. She jerked her chin. “Fix that sentence. Cut the ‘almost.’ You can talk your way into anything. That way, child, it’s not simply a question of what, but of motivation.”

 

“Child?” I asked.

 

“You understand, yes? It’s a matter of if you do not want to, or want to.”

 

Being called a child at twenty-one was annoying, but once I got past that and actually listened to her words, I liked what she was saying. I hadn’t thought of it that way. That it should be a question of motivation and not skill. There were ways I had learned to be careful with my words, but as I had only been working in elimination for a few years, I was still learning. 

 

“I want to,” I said.

 

“You’ll live on-site, then?” Dahlia asked. 

 

“We can drop off her belongings tomorrow,” Lizzy said. 

 

“Good.” Dahlia stood, and Lizzy grabbed a cucumber sandwich before standing too. But my appetite was shot. I still couldn’t get over the fact that I was doing this job solo. Without Lizzy.  It’s not like I expected her to work with me inside of the actual club, but finishing the job by myself? That meant I had to kill someone.

 

I had to kill Cormac Stone. 

 

Correction: I was going to kill Cormac Stone. A billionaire. A pharmaceutical mogul. A damn good-looking one too. 

 

What a job.

 

“Send me a list of items you need for the performance, and I’ll have them ready for you,” Dahlia said.

 

“We’ll give you a call,” Lizzy said. 

 

We left the building. Our steps interrupted the lush noises of the birds chirping and the wind through the pine trees surrounding the perimeter. The Dahlia District was set in the woods of a small town called Cresting Heights. It was close to Sage City, the capital and mega center of our state, but far enough away that the wealthy had discreet access to an exclusive entertainment club. I had been to Cresting Heights only one other time, when Lizzy was debating putting me in a private all-girls preparatory academy, back when she first took custody of me at ten years old. She had ultimately decided against it. She realized she could teach me more herself than any academy could.

 

Lizzy stopped and looked around. “You know,” she started. A roof covered the walkway to the parking lot, with columns covered in vines and orange flowers. It was mid-morning. The sunlight was soft behind the hazy clouds, the temperature warm. The club was a night venue, which meant that it was unlikely that any of the servers or staff would be awake right then. We were alone. “It’s important that you do this job on your own.”

 

“I wish you would have told me before we met with her.”

 

“Then you would have convinced me not to.”

 

That was true. The last time Lizzy had even hinted at giving me a solo job, I had basically pretended like she hadn’t said anything and acted confused when she brought it up again. It wasn’t that I was scared to eliminate a target by myself. It was that doing it on my own meant that soon, Lizzy would leave for good. So I did what she taught me. Acted. Played pretend. Lied until it felt like the truth, until I seemed to believe it too. Of course, Lizzy had seen through those games. 

 

“I’m getting older,” she said. She leaned down, making us eye to eye. They say you shrink as you get older; for Lizzy, it was the opposite. She grew in grandeur with every year that went by. It seemed impossible for her to be getting older. Frailer. Weaker. Though I knew it was true. “You need to be able to handle any assignment. And besides,” she stood straighter, “This is a simple one. It’ll be a piece of cake.”

 

Right. Because convincing a billionaire to like me, so that I could eventually get him alone and kill him, was easy. Men like that might be careless sometimes, but that didn’t mean they weren’t openly trusting. 

 

But it’s not like I was trusting either. 

 

“You expect me to kill him?” I asked.

 

“Scarlett,” she locked eyes with me, “It’s just a target. You can still keep to your code. I won’t judge you for that.”

 

I had one rule; I only went after people who were undeniably malicious. The world was built in blocks of good or bad, and I intended to figure out the targets before I took their life, or gave Lizzy the chance. Would the world be a better place without this person? Would I ever regret eliminating this target? Would completing this assignment prevent more harm to others?

That part seemed easy in comparison to the rest. “I just don’t like thinking of a life beyond us being partners,” I said. 

 

“Partners?” Lizzy raised an eyebrow, a grin gleaming on her face.

 

“We make a good team,” I offered.

 

Lizzy smiled to herself. She had started the Silent Network Consulting decades ago and had been the leader for that entire time. It was a joke to say that we were partners, or even a team. Lizzy carried the weight. Even if she couldn’t do as much as she used to, when it came to the two of us, she was the number one assassin. In some ways, I was still the sniveling kid she had adopted when my parents died. 

 

I was older now, though. And I knew I was capable enough to do a job completely on my own.

 

“Think of how much you’ve accomplished,” Lizzy said. “You don’t need me at this point. I’m holding you back.”

 

“You’re a badass and you know it,” I said, narrowing my eyes. She cracked a smile.

 

“I might be, but I’m not going to be around forever.”

 

It was hard to think of a life without Lizzy. She had been there for me since birth, and after my parents died, she was the only one who was there for me, who was willing to drop everything to make sure I was cared for. Even if it meant putting her work on hold for a year while she figured everything out. Even if it meant putting a pause to Silent Network Consulting while we tried, and failed, to figure out what had happened to my parents.

 

I didn’t want her to be alone, as much as I was afraid of being alone myself.

 

“Nothing is ever stable, is it?” I muttered. My parents had worked for Silent Network Consulting and had been on an assignment outside of the SNC’s approval when they died. At first, the blank spaces had been unnerving for us to deal with. But Lizzy helped me move forward. She had taught me that I couldn’t wait around wondering about the what-ifs, because that’s not what was happening now. I had to stay present and experience the world for what it was. If my parents were gone, then they were gone. I couldn’t let that kind of thinking hold me back. It’s what my parents would have wanted. 

 

At least, that’s what I told myself, anyway. 

 

“When I’m gone, you’ll find a new home with someone else easily,” Lizzy said. She squeezed my shoulder and we walked towards the car. 

 

“But I don’t trust anyone else.” A few months earlier, a secret bodyguard had ambushed me and was about to kill me when Lizzy put a bullet in the guard’s—and the target’s—head. That didn’t help with my trust issues. My parents’ suspicious deaths didn’t either. I opened the car door and slumped into the passenger seat. 

 

“There are plenty of options,” she said. “People you can trust. I trust Dahlia.”

 

“You probably shouldn’t,” I said.

 

“I trust you.”

 

“And I trust you, but that’s not the point.” I shook my head. “I could die tomorrow on an assignment and be done with it. Maybe there’s no point in trusting anyone if you know you’ll die soon anyway.”

 

“Or,” she started the engine, “you can live until you’re seventy-eight goddamn years old, no matter how hard you try to die in the action.” 

 

I rolled my eyes. “You’re not seventy-eight,” I said. She snickered. “You’re eighty-seven.”

She smacked me on the arm. “Shut your mouth.”

 

“Can you believe Dahlia called me a ‘child?’” I asked. 

 

Lizzy laughed. “Scarlett, you’re less than half of our ages. In our eyes, yes, you’re still a child.”

Whatever. “How old is the target again?”

 

“Cormac is thirty-six, I believe,” she said. She kept her eyes focused on the road. “A bit older than you, but not by much.”

 

“Still a child, then?” I asked.

 

She shrugged. “More or less.”

 

Lizzy handed me her tablet and I flipped through the pictures. There were laugh lines around his eyes showing his age, but he didn’t seem like the kind of person that would laugh often. There was pain in the way he held his mouth, as if he was always one step away from releasing it all. Letting it go. Crushing the world with his anger and hatred.

 

These were the kinds of things I had to use to my advantage. All people, even good-looking billionaires, had weaknesses. Cormac had anger built up inside of him, anger I could use to draw him out.

 

Cormac Stone had weaknesses. It was my job to find them.

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