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She’s my gift. My captive.

My brother finds her 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. 

Author’s Note: Dangerous Deviance is the first interconnected standalone in the dark mafia series, The Adler Brothers. The couple has an HEA, but the mafia plot continues. This book contains dark and disturbing content. Reader discretion is advised.

Content Warnings

Triggers: assassin, brain washing, cult vibes, physical and sexual abuse (of the heroine by a secondary character), trauma, sibling death, grief, memory loss, dubious consent

Kinks: breath play, dubious consent, impact play, knife play, restraints, sensory deprivation

Interconnected Standalone: The couple gets their HEA, but the mafia plot throughout the series.

Chapter 1

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. 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. 

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