Men say that history is written by the victor. The Conquerors. Kings.
The divine-like men who bend people to their will by their sheer determination alone.
What they don’t say—or are too afraid to say, except in whispered, terrified tones—is that these celebrated men are merely narcissistic sadists, so obsessed with their own self-importance that they’re willing to obliterate anything that threatens their ego.
They don’t conquer. They erase.
That was the first lesson my dear old father had taught me ever since my youth, starting with my mother.
I was nine when my mother disappeared but I still remember her smile. Mostly because she was the only person who ever gifted me with it. She also used to sing me to sleep at night because I was afraid of the dark. And the very night she disappeared, she'd put me to bed that one last time, whispering softly in my ear, ‘just a few more nights, Bourbon, and we’ll be free.’
I never saw her again, and her broken promise still rang in my ears each night as I closed my eyes.
After my mother disappeared, another woman showed up at my house with my half-brother, Coulter, someone I never knew about until then. He was seven and a half. He had his hands shoved in his pockets, holes worn in the knees of his jeans, and his shabby shoes kicked at the immaculate, polished floor.
As soon as I saw him, I swore to protect him. To keep him from disappearing.
From then on, I was stubborn, ruthless, relentless in my pledge that he would never be erased.
Subsequently, months later, Lily showed up, proclaiming that she was the smartest six-year-old in her class. She was the daughter of our new maid and the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. Freckles dotted her nose and long chestnut brown hair fell halfway down her back. Hazel eyes made you believe you were staring across a field of sage every time you looked in them.
Both Coulter and I immediately fell in love with her, and she became the third to our band of brothers, doing everything with us from that moment onward. Racing bikes and horseback riding lessons became shopping on Bond Street in downtown London and yachting vacations in Ibiza.
Anywhere we went, she was right next to us.
We lived and breathed our girl for nine years, until the tragic day when she was shot.
She stopped breathing in my brother’s arms.
And now, we were supposed to move on.
Erase her from our memories.
And yet, we couldn’t.
Until it became too late.
I pounded my fist against the door, annoyed as hell.
"Coulter,” I demanded, slamming my fist onto it one more time. "Time to go."
"One sec, man,” he called out, annoyance in his voice, then I heard him swear under his breath, “asshole."
There was a responding giggle and I rolled my eyes. Turning around, I strode through the hallway and down the stairs. Honestly, I was only warning him because Nero, as I'd taken to calling my father by his first name ever since the night Lily died, would kill Coulter if he was late.
Wasn't my concern. Not any longer. Coulter had been spoiled for way too long.
I strode out of the house and down the long driveway to where my fully restored 1968 Ferrari was parked, along with the fifty or so other cars my family owned. Engine rumbling, I raced out of the garage and down the driveway. Coulter was still shrugging on his tie and jacket as he ran out the front door, waving me down. Lucy, his regular escort, stumbled out after him on her stiletto heels and a barely there, Dsquared2 dress.
I flipped him the bird as I tore down the long driveway, leaving him in the dust, then grinned at his scowling face in the rearview mirror. It wasn't until I was through the front gate and driving towards the busy, downtown Vegas streets that my phone blared through my speakers.
“You asshole,” Coulter's angry voice ricocheted through the car.
"What do you want?”
"What I wanted was to not have to drive there myself."
“You should've been ready on time."
"Just give me the address.”
I heard his own 1964 Shelby Cobra start up. What could I say? The Kings were suckers for the classics.
Then there was Lucy’s annoying whiney voice, who thought it was cute to be pouty. “Hey, wait for me.”
"Get out." Coulter demanded, growling at her, and I sighed, hanging up.
Five minutes later, he called again. "Just give me the fucking address, Bourbon."
“Check your texts.”
“I'm not pulling over to scroll through Benny’s long ass text messages.”
"You could’ve ridden with me if you weren't too busy screwing around with Lucy. You know dad’ll kill us if we fuck this meeting up."
"You're such a prick." Coulter hung up on me, and I couldn't help but give myself a smug look as I turned off the freeway and made my way towards downtown.
When I finally pulled into the parking lot, Nero was just getting out of his car, passing his keys off to the valet. I came to a short stop next to him and jumped out, throwing my keys to the man who'd run so fast to meet me, that he was heaving loudly. He swallowed it down when I met his gaze, his throat bobbing as he gave me a respectful nod. "I'll keep it out front, sir."
I didn’t respond, turning my back on him to match Nero’s stride towards the front door.
"Where's your brother?” His demanding voice cut through the thick Nevada heat like a sharp knife. His face was a mask of cold but his eyes blazed with anger. Our father hated it when we were late, and he even hated it even more when he had to wait.
Today, especially, because we had to walk into the meeting together as a united front. No matter how much we fought and bickered behind closed doors, when we were in front of others, the Kings always presented a united front.
As much as I was annoyed by Coulter's constant disregard for his responsibilities, I still couldn't bring myself to feed him to the wolves.
"He got caught up in the Mueller meeting but he'll be here in a minute."
My father frowned. "Did he at least bend the bastards over?"
I nodded. "He closed the deal."
I was lying my ass off. I was the one who'd closed the deal with the Muellers. Then I'd gone all the way home to change into a fresh suit and to pick up Coulter's lazy ass, the ungrateful prick.
This meeting was one of the most important meetings of the year, possibly even my lifetime, and I’d been working on it for several months.
We were meeting with the Bratvas, who had been our enemies for several generations.
Then they started producing ozone, the hottest new drug to hit the streets. It was a party drug, and users were going crazy for the stuff.
We'd been losing business because our dealers couldn't get their hands on it, not without a negotiation between us and the Bratvas.
In return, the Bratvas were also motivated to broker a deal with us, because we owned the most strip clubs and bars in Vegas, and working with us would add millions to their business portfolio each month.
Today, we were sitting down for a truce.
Everyone wanted this deal, but working with the Russians was a pain in the ass. I swear, I didn’t know why they had such a ruthless reputation because they were the biggest prima donnas I'd ever met. I'd finally worked out all the details over the phone, and tonight was only a formality. We were to break bread with them, a hard rule they had, before a handshake on the deal.
After waiting for two minutes, Coulter finally pulled up into the parking lot, his car screeching to a stop next to us. He jumped out, flinging his keys to the valet and racing to meet us at the door.
He'd managed to get himself together in the car, his shirt tucked in tight, and his tie perfectly knotted at his throat. He looked so slick and put together, you wouldn’t know he had just been fucking his whore only minutes before.
"You're late!" my father barked out, and Coulter's angry gaze burned into me for a brief second before he turned to my father.
“I'm sorry, sir." He steeled himself, preparing to be berated in front of the guards and hotel staff surrounding us, knowing he would also receive a punishment in the privacy of our home.
"Don't do it again.” Nero’s deep scowl smoothed out, and I caught the surprise in Coulter's eyes before giving Nero a curt nod.
"Bourbon told me you met with the Muellers. You got them to agree to the lower price?"
Coulter nodded, and his hand went to his pocket, where I was sure he was playing with his lighter, something he always did when he was nervous. One day he was going to set his pants on fire.
"Good.” Nero turned, striding through the front doors and leaving us behind. It was high praise from him, especially when it came to Coulter.
Coulter's hand snapped out, gripping my arm tight before I could follow my father.
We waited until the doors shut before Coulter ground out. "You could've just told me it was at the Palms."
I raised a shoulder before shrugging out of his grip. "You're not my responsibility, Coulter. Either be ready, or pay attention to the damn texts.”
"Or you could've just stopped the damn car. I was right there."
"You're welcome for saving your ass with dad,” I grumbled as I opened the door.
"I don't need you to save me anymore," he grunted in response, though I could tell by his tone that he was grateful for it.
"Clearly," I bit out sarcastically before walking through the door, shutting it in his face as I entered the hotel.
Flinging the door back open after Bourbon slammed it in my face, I strode into the foyer and followed him towards the elevators.
I should've been relaxed, considering the fact that Lucy just sucked me off, but I wasn't relaxed. In fact, I was pissed as hell.
I was getting ready for the meeting, for once wanting to be on time because I knew that this was not only important to our empire but, more importantly, to Bourbon. He'd been working on this truce for months, and all I had to do was show up on time and keep my mouth shut.
Then, Lucy’d showed up at the house, out of the motherfucking blue. She strode right into my room like she owned the damn place and then wouldn't get the fuck out until she'd sucked my cock. The woman was becoming clingy, and if she didn’t give such damn good head, I'd have fired her weeks ago.
And now, Bourbon had the wrong impression that I didn’t care about this meeting.
Fuck Lucy and her damn good dick sucking skills. She didn't seem to understand the concept that I paid to have her come when I wanted, not the other way around. It was something I was going to remedy with Madam Dupree as soon as this meeting was over.
Lucy wasn't my girlfriend. Wasn’t even on my radar, except for the way her mouth pulled on my dick like a goddamn vacuum. They may have a fancy name for her job but she was just a hooker, my hooker, and the woman needed to learn her place.
There was, however, another reason I kept her around. She was willing to do all the dark and depraved things I wanted her to do. In the quiet moments when she wasn't moaning or screaming, I could pretend that she was Lily.
Yes, motherfucker, even after all these years, no one held a candle to how I felt about Lily, my childhood sweetheart.
I met her when she was six, only a year younger than me. Even though she was the maid’s daughter, she never acted like it, and kept up with Bourbon’s and my antics like she was one of the guys.
When we were kids, she would run away from our guards with us and hide in the woods; sneak out onto the roof at night to stare at the stars. Create a blanket fort in Bourbon’s room and spend hours there, just the three of us.
As a teenager, she was wild and crazy. She’d jump off cliffs and into the dark abyss of the ocean below without a second thought. Sandboarding, snowboarding, and river boarding, were all words in her vocabulary.
I knew the night she came into my room, large tears dripping down her face and her voice muted and soft, that I was in love with her.
She never did tell me what made her cry, even though I'd insisted, but instead, let me hold her until she fell asleep in my arms.
She was my childhood friend, turned woman of my dreams, and it haunted me every day that I hadn’t been able to protect her.
And now, she was dead and I’d fucked my way through all of Las Vegas and even New York, trying to banish her from my mind.
Until, finally, I gave up.
True love was only found once in this world. I could only be grateful that I'd had a taste of it before that love had been violently ripped from my grasp.
The ding of the elevator brought me out of my dark thoughts and I followed Bourbon inside. The way he firmly pressed the button let me know he’d already forgotten our argument outside. His eyes were staring without seeing; he was completely focused on the next few hours. I wanted to say something to him, tell him that things would work out. That we were the Kings, and the Bratvas would kneel to our demands. That all his hard work would pay off.
Instead I kept quiet, letting the silence settle between us, like always.
Growing up, Bourbon had always shielded me from the stark realities of our world. Protected me from our father as best as he could.
But that night, everything changed.
Now, we barely spoke to each other. We lived in the same house, the King Estate, but scarcely crossed paths. We were brothers in word only and there was no way to change that now.
When the doors to the elevator opened, my father was waiting for us.
My father brought us with him to show off the fact that he had not one, but two sons ready to take the throne when he 'retired.’ He also had two more at home, twins that came along after my mom and I moved in.
Everyone knew you earned your way through this life through blood. You never escaped an early grave but having four sons ensured that any enemy thought twice about taking you out, because that meant quadruple the power behind their revenge.
As soon as we stepped out, he turned, grunting for us to keep up. He brought relatively few men to guard him, only three, his most trusted. It was a signal that he wasn’t worried about the Bratvas.
Dimitri answered the door himself, surprising me. If we'd come in hostile, we’d have put a gun to his head and shot him dead.
Instead, he answered the door like the motherfucking steel balls that he had, a cigar smashed between thick, rubbery lips and icy, cold blue eyes.
"Welcome," his voice gruff and eyes sharp taking the three of us in. He quickly but efficiently looked us over, noting the location of each of our guns first before taking in our faces.
"Thank you for the invitation." My father held out his hand, and Dimitri shook it.
Usually my father wasn't so polite but I guess today he was minding his Ps and Qs.
As they shook hands, Dimitri made a cursory glance at our guards, then his own guards came out. They didn't touch us but pat down our men, not taking away their weapons but taking note of each one they had.
Finally, Dimitri stepped back, inviting us inside.
The room was decorated in cool, masculine colors, with a large window overlooking the city. Dimitri usually stayed on his side of the world, the icy man ruling an icy continent, but he came to Vegas to specifically finalize this deal.
Nicholi, Dimitri’s second in command, was waiting for us in the living room area. He ushered us to sit, offering us each a cigar. I hated cigars but it wouldn’t look good if I turned it down, so we all lit up, making small talk for too long to be normal. Dimitri kept glancing towards the bedroom, and his demeanor slowly began to shift from the polite hostess to a man maintaining a simmering rage under the surface.
Bourbon and I exchanged looks when he finally stood, abruptly cutting my father off to invite us to begin eating. Scowling but deciding to ignore the rude behavior, my father agreed, and we all moved towards the dining room.
Dimitri sat at the head of the large table with my father at the opposite end, both equal in their positions of power. Even though the table was large, there were only a few chairs, with just enough to seat Bourbon and I next to my father, with Nicholi on Dimitri’s right-hand side.
There was one empty chair, on the left-hand side of Dimitri, and he kept glancing at it disapprovingly.
A couple of servants appeared out of nowhere, offering us drinks in crystal glasses and dinner from the hotel blue, monogrammed plates. After a few minutes of eating, there was a sound at the other side of the hotel suite.
A woman emerged from the furthest room and the minute I saw her, I froze.
My fork was midway to my mouth, my food delicately balanced on it. I was unable to move it the few inches required to either my plate or my mouth. Even though my body was frozen, my heart was beating a million miles a moment. My lungs were so strained, I thought they might rip from my chest and splatter all over my plate.
She was a vision in white, innocent and pure. Her figure was the perfect hourglass, and a curtain of chestnut brown hair hid her face. When she tilted her head, she revealed full lips, stark cheekbones, and smart, knowing eyes.
Bourbon noticed me staring first, his hand moving to his mouth to drink his tumbler of vodka.
Intrigued by my demeanor, his eyes traced from me to the direction I was looking. He immediately choked on his vodka, which had made it to his lips. Liquid sprayed everywhere as he coughed at the sight of her.
I didn’t have time to react before Dimitri stood up. All eyes, which were staring at Bourbon as he tried to clear his throat, moved to Dimitri.
"Ah, here she is." He reached his hand out to catch around her waist, pulling her possessively to his side. “Gentlemen, I would like you to meet Rose. She is my newest acquisition. When I saw her for the first time, I just had to have her.”
Fury billowed in my chest.
He talked about her like she was a yacht or a car, an item to own and possess, not an actual human being. Admittedly, I was used to this type of attitude. In my world, women were property, an asset to buy or trade. But still, I hated the way it came out of his mouth.
Out of my periphery, I took in the outline of my father. His shoulders were relaxed, his gaze shrewd as he provided introductions around the table. The only time he ever looked so laid back was when he was ten steps ahead of everyone in the room.
He knew this was going to happen.
He knew about Rose, Dimitri’s new acquisition and, by the smirk at the edge of his lips, knew how we would respond to her presence.
Dimitri’s fat fingers squeezed Rose's side tighter and she winced. It was a small motion, one most people wouldn't notice. But, by the time it had taken her to move from the back hallway to our table, I was so in tune with her that I knew every single thing she did.
Dimitri continued, condescension dripping from his voice as his pulled back her chair. “You know women, they take forever to prepare their beautiful faces."
The smile on her face froze but she nodded, looking slightly to the side, unable to meet our eyes. “I'm sorry I was late.” Her false grin grew wider. “I must admit, I do love my beauty routines.”
She sat, and in the light of the chandelier overhead, I could now fully take in her face. Her eyes and the tip of her nose were reddened, as if she'd just been crying. She had a hollowed out bruise under her right eye, something she'd clearly been trying to cover with make up. It was still a little puffy, as if she hadn't quite had the time to get the swelling down.
I gripped my fork in anger, slowly lowering it to my plate, and ground my teeth. My eyes went to Dimitri’s newly abandoned plate and took careful note that his fork was on the left side of his plate.
So, he was left handed.
I glanced over at Bourbon and his eyes met mine. In that look, I knew he was thinking the exact same thing I was.
Firstly, that with the exception of eye color, Rose was the spitting image of Lily.
And secondly, we both wanted to kill Dimitri.