Wind blew through the open bones of the abandoned construction site.
The project had long since halted. It was to be a mixed-use complex and only got as far as the foundations and the building’s skeleton up to two parking levels. After several stops and starts due to some petitioning the destruction of a wetland ecosystem, the construction hadn’t been active for almost two months.
On the outskirts of town with an unused lot on one side and nothing on the other, I was sure we wouldn’t be disturbed.
Rain tapped against the windshield as I tapped my fingers against the steering wheel.
Nixon would arrive at any minute.
If it’d been anyone else, I’d have opted to finish it at the house. Perhaps in the woods out back, or in the courtyard gardens at the heart of the mansion.
But the thought of allowing Nixon back on the property disgusted me.
I tried to pull it back, but I was too late. Thinking about the mansion and the other people who were allowed intimate access to me and my space, Emily came bursting into focus.
A breath shuttered from my lips.
Tonight, her face in my mind was not going to be motivation.
It would be the distraction Nixon warned me about.
I glanced at the time displayed on the dash. Well past midnight.
He wasn’t yet late. I was just early, and fucking impatient to get this over with.
When I killed Nixon tonight, there would be no one else.
No one who could betray me in a way that would twist in my gut like a knife.
The raindrops on the outside of the car seemed to come down harder, magnifying the sound inside.
I’d pictured his end in so many different ways. Maybe I would show mercy, maybe I would be quick, maybe I would make him suffer, but only one of us was leaving here alive.
Headlights filled the rearview.
Crunching over dirt and gravel at a glacial pace, one of my men chauffeured Nixon to his gravesite, parking opposite me in the rain.
It’d been a bitch to organize, and cost me more in bribes than I cared to share, but I’d seen to Nixon’s release. And then I’d seen to his pick up and the deliverance of a message. One I knew he would not refuse. Not if he still wanted a shot to take what rightfully belonged to me.
I lifted the nondescript black duffel from the seat next to me and pushed out into the cool rain. I heard the doors of the other vehicle open, but didn’t bother to look as I stalked to the half built, sheltering under the ceiling of the first level.
I shook off the rain from my hair and dropped the heavy duffel to the cement floor with a thud.
“This is the place you picked? Really?” Nixon asked, approaching with an easy swagger, my man on his heels placed himself by the exit, hands clasped at his front. He wouldn’t intervene, no matter what. His role was purely an observant one. In the off chance I didn’t leave here alive, he would corroborate Nix’s triumph to the others, helping to facilitate his ascension to the throne.
Not something I intended to allow.
In jeans and a plain collared black shirt, Nixon appeared a little too at ease, his damp hair falling forward into his eyes.
Besides the shadow of a beard growing in and some weight loss, he didn’t look like a man who’d spent the last month in a prison cell.
“Apologies,” I snapped sarcastically. “I should’ve allowed you your choice of grave.”
He smirked, sinking his hands into his pockets and looking around the unfinished building like it was a potential investment rather than a coffin.
Nix wasn’t stupid, he had to know the likelihood of his success here was undeniably slim. I may not have had occasion to get my hands dirty since taking over, but that didn’t mean I didn’t know a hundred different ways to kill a man. And it definitely didn’t fucking mean I would hesitate.
“Someplace with trees might’ve been preferable. Though, what I really want to do is go home and sleep on a real bed,” he said with a hollow laugh.
I flinched, the casual sound of his voice disarming me. Despite everything, I still saw him. The Nixon beneath the greedy bastard who tried to orchestrate my downfall. I shook my head, reminding myself they were one and the same.
Inhaling sharply, I bent to unzip the duffel at my feet and drew my blade.
I kicked the duffel towards Nixon, the remaining collection of blades clattering together before several spilled out over the dirt covered concrete.
He looked over his options with no expression on his face.
As soon as I realized I needed to be the one to do it, I knew it had to be done in this way. Nixon had challenged my reign, if he’d had a fucking spine in his back he’d have challenged me to my goddamn face we’d have settled it like men.
Guns were fast. Efficient. They were also impersonal.
If I was going to end Nixon, it had to match the gravity of what he did to me. Deep, raw, with his blood on my hands.
“Don’t just stand there. I don’t have all night.” I seethed, flipping the blade around in my palm, adjusting my grip on the handle.
He bristled slightly, showing a hint of apprehension for the first time since he showed up.
“So this is what it comes to,” he said on a breath.
I scoffed, digging the balls of my feet into the ground as five and a half inches of steel glistened in the moonlight.
“This is what it comes to,” I confirmed, running my tongue over my teeth, a surge of power awakening in my core, flushing heat out to my extremities.
He bent and pulled out the twin blade from the duffel. He slipped it from its sheath and held it in his hand testing its weight. Looking up at me, he slowly rose to his full height.
The expression on his face made something twist in my gut.
He smiled, but his eyes hardened with pain.
“What are you waiting for?” I yelled, eager now, nearly bouncing on my feet, my skin prickling with unspent energy.
“You wanted a chance, here it is. Take it.”
Nixon bit his lip, looking down at the ground. His stance was uneven, unsure. With any other person, this would have ended already but here I was. Fucking stalling.
I needed him to make the first move. To wave the red flag for the charge.
“What are you waiting for?”
My muscles tensed, on high alert, watching him for sudden movements. My teeth gritted with annoyance, frustration scratching up my back like rats.
Fuck him for getting us to this point.
Fuck him for making me do this.
Nixon’s lips pulled over his teeth, finally showing me his fangs.
I poised for the attack, ready to parry, and strike.
Instead of advancing, Nix growled, hot air lifting from his mouth as he dropped his blade.
“I’m not going to fight you,” he shouted. “So, if you’re going to kill me, get it over with.”
Frost bloomed in my core, a cold sweat slicked over my chest, making the blade slippery in my palm.
“Fight back, you fucking coward!”
He stood, his hands in fists at his sides, his jaw set.
“Fine,” I hissed.
He wanted an execution, I’d give it to him.
I charged and he ducked to the ground, drawing an evil grin to my lips.
Fight, you fucker.
Anticipating his next move, I jerked back when he arced back up, fast enough to get out of the way of the blade he’d picked back up from the ground.
He wanted to fight dirty? Fine.
Nix aimed his next attack for my arm, trying to fuck up my grip.
He swung wildly, driven by the instinctive need for survival.
I dodged the attack, parrying to the right to drive my knife downward into his extended shoulder. He threw himself out of the way, stumbling, but not before I could carve a deep gash into the muscle and flesh just below his shoulder.
Blood soaked his dark shirt, running in rivulets down his arm to coat his hand, making his grip on the blade there slippery at best.
He bared his teeth at me, a mutt in a fight meant for wolves.
“Fucking bastard,” he hissed, charging me again, his arm raised, chest puffed out, shoulders broad.
I waited, widening my stance, ready for the impact.
His blade glanced off mine, deflected as I bent low, ramming my shoulder into his middle to heave him over my back. He rolled awkwardly from my spine, landing in a coughing heap on the concrete.
Nix spit into the dirt, pale from the blood loss. I caught my breath, blood pounding in my ears. I wasn’t ready for him to lurch up without warning, flying at me like a bat out of fucking hell.
A sting of pain bloomed on my face as he slashed his blade over my cheekbone, opening a long cut that leaked warmth down to my chin.
His eyes went wild with bloodlust as he recovered from the inertia of the attack and pivoted, coming at me again, mouth pulled in a grimace.
“Come on!” he yelled, his voice strained with manic desperation. “Stop fucking holding back.”
“Have you always been so eager to die?”
I stepped to the left and him to the right, parroting each other’s movements in a slow circle as we both searched for weak points, biding time for the next blow.
Truthfully, I was hemming. Stalling the inevitable. Even after everything, it turned out I wasn’t exactly who I thought myself to be.
He should be dead at my feet by now.
“Come on, Ruarc. Don’t you need to get back to your little whore?”
Whatever small thread of hope I’d been carrying that Nixon might repent his sins, admit his mistake, own up to his greed, and beg my forgiveness, snapped. Cold settled in my chest. My hand tightened on the knife.
Thunder roared above us, distant but resonant, an echo of the growl rumbling in my chest.
“That bitch was always going to be your downfall. You’ll see. She’s your greatest weakness. I should’ve killed her when I had the chance.”
A curse roared from my chest and I was on top of him. He crashed to the ground, his knife knocked from his grip as I sunk mine smoothly between two ribs.
His eyes widened, mouth opening in a silent gasp.
Emily didn’t make me weak. She wouldn’t be my end. She made me strong. She would be my new beginning. My salvation. The light in my darkness. The thread of purity woven into my ugliness.
My reason for existing.
Hands on the blade, I watched him through the static of my red-tinted rage. He grabbed for me, clumsily groping until he gripped my shoulder. He choked, unable to speak for the blood filling his mouth and sloshing down his cheek.
“And I should’ve killed you the instant you laid a hand on her.”
His hand loosened and his eyes lost focus. As the red pool beneath him grew, his body sagged. I twisted the knife, drawing one last weak croak from his lips before he was gone.
I didn’t stand until every ounce of life left his eyes.
My head spun as I pushed to my feet on unsteady legs, looking down at my handiwork.
I hurled the knife across the ground, pushing my hair back from my face with blood soaked hands, breathing in the crisp air as I looked up through the dripping planks of the ceiling to the slivers of moonlights between.
Pain slowly began to register; Nixon got me in the chest and face with his blind strikes.
I did a mental check, assessing the damages, finding more blood than I’d anticipated.
His? Mine? Both, most likely.
I’d killed Nixon in every way that mattered before coming here tonight, but still his lifeless corpse drew pity from my core like poison from a wound.
“Sir?” my man by the wall spoke, reminding me of his presence. “Shall I load the body into the Lincoln?”
I closed my eyes, sighing as the tightness in my lungs relented.
“Shall I handle the disposal, sir?”
I shook my head, rolling his offer around in my mouth before replying.
“No,” I said finally, my jaw tight as I realized what an absolute fool I’d been. “I’ll handle it myself.”