“Oh my God, do you think he’s dead?”
“No he’s not dead you idiot, he’s still breathing.”
“Then why won’t he wake up? Should we call the police?”
Max groaned and rolled over in the bed, dragging the pillow with him to muffle the sounds of the shrill female voices that were painfully loud. As he rolled he felt a breeze along the right side of his body; he wasn’t wearing any clothes. Not only was he not wearing any clothes, he was not laying in his own bed. He sat up too fast and opened his eyes, making the dull pain in his temples sharpen suddenly. His body felt sore and overused, and his mouth was bone dry. He had only had the one drink last night, so he was having a hard time trying to figure out what could possibly have gotten him in such a bad way. He squinted into the brightness and found himself being stared at by the two shrill voiced girls whom he vaguely recognised as part of Ava’s circle.
“Max? Thank God you woke up, you had us scared,” said the flustered blonde.
He winced at the sound. “Ava…” he croaked, “Where is Ava?”
“Is that who you were fucking in my bed?” asked the irritated brunette.
Max shook his head quickly and peered around paranoid that somehow Vince would hear the scandalous accusation and shoot his dick off. “What? I was not fucking anyone and I have no idea why I am in your bed. Where is Ava?” he snapped.
“Last I saw, she left the bar with that red head you were talking to,” said the blonde.
Max furrowed his brow, “What red head?”
“The one from the bar with legs for days…I bet that’s who you were fucking!” the brunette accused again.
“I didn’t fuck anyone!” he growled. If he’d had sex, he’d think he’d remember. It wasn’t like he was getting it in the way he used to before he had to follow Ava up to Excelsior; having sex would have been an acme.
“Then why are your clothes on the floor, and why are you naked in my bed?”
Max recalled wondering the same thing a few seconds ago; it didn’t make sense. He shook his head, “Believe me, I wish I knew.” He swung back the covers and stood up slowly, gritting his teeth to lessen the pain of the headache and his sore muscles. The girls gasped and looked away as his glorious unsheathed form stood brazenly before them. Max simply picked his clothes up and put them back on without another word. He couldn’t remember what had happened between the last time he recalled watching Ava in the student union bar, to him waking up in this poor girl’s bed, sore and naked after supposedly speaking to a leggy red head that Ava had left the bar with. Something had gone horribly wrong, and the fact that he had no idea where the girl he had sworn his life to protect was, made him feel even worse. It wasn’t until he looked at his phone on his way out that he realised the magnitude of the direness of the situation that presented itself in an infinite number of missed calls from Vince. He called him back immediately.
Max swallowed the quivering lump of fear that formed in his throat. “Sir,” he replied firmly, knowing that he was in a shit load of trouble.
For a few seconds Vince remained silent, letting the air hang between them filled with white noise that simmered with tension just so Max could get an idea of how badly he had fucked up. “I’ve been calling you for hours,” he snarled.
“My apologies, sir; it appears that I was unconscious. I have no recollection of the past couple of hours. One minute I’m watching Ava-Marie, and the next I’m waking up naked in some girl’s bed. I don’t know what happened,” he confessed.
“Some punk kidnapped my daughter while she was under your protection, that’s what happened!” Vince bellowed.
Max stopped dead in his tracks; someone had taken Ava. He had to fight not to crumble there and then because if anything happened to her he would never forgive himself…and neither would Vince. “Who?” he asked barely above a whisper, his voice weighed down with guilt as the feeling of failure started to pull him under.
Max stiffened at the sound of his name. “‘Diamond Mafia’, Aiden Michaels?”
“You know him?”
“Not personally, but I’ve heard things. I can’t imagine that there’s a person on the circuit who hasn’t heard of Aiden.”
“What do you know?”
“I know that he’s not to be fucked with. From what I hear, Aiden is just as, if not more cut throat than you, sir. If what you’re saying is true and he has Ava, we may never see her again.”
“Oh yes we will Yang,” Vince hissed, “Because if I never see my daughter again, you will never see daylight again, you incompetent little shit!”
Max jutted out his chin and pursed his lips at the threat that he knew Vince would make good on if he didn’t return his daughter to him. He couldn’t understand how this could have happened; in all his years as Ava’s body guard, she hadn’t gotten so much as a scratch on her pretty skin whilst he was present, so how was it possible that the Diamond Mafia got a hold of her? Maybe it had something to do with the elusive red head Ava’s friends had mentioned. This had always been the downside of protecting Ava, the fact that if something happened to her whilst she was under his protection, he would pay for it with his life. He had known that when he agreed to take on the role, with little hesitation, because he lived for Ava, and if he had to die, he would be honoured to die for her. “Understood, sir,” Max replied bravely. If he had to die as a punishment for her death, he would go quietly because if he was at fault for her being the reason she didn’t exist anymore, he deserved to die.
Vince sighed heavily, torn between anger and a speck of compassion he had for the young man he raised. “If you were any other solider I would have you hunted down and killed right now, but you’re practically my son, so I will give you a chance to make this right. Find Ava, Yang. Find my little girl and bring her back to me -alive.”
“You have my word, sir. I’ll talk to her friends and see if they can give me any more clues as to what happened. They mentioned a red head.”
Vince paused; “A red head?”
“Did you happen to get a look at this red head?”
“No sir. They said that I was speaking to her but I have no recollection of her.”
“Of course you don’t; that was Ashley Garner; she’s who they call ‘The Siren’. Never has a title been so deserved; I hear she’s excellent at what she does. Explains why you woke up naked,” Vince almost laughed.
“I don’t understand.”
“You had sex with The Siren, Yang, and once she had you satisfied she probably drugged you and took Ava right out from under your nose. Idiot! Anyway, I’ve sent some of the others out to dig around Aiden’s neighbourhood and see what they can find.” Max knew what that meant; Vince was about to start a war. There would be blood, that was a given, but with Aiden as his opponent, there was sure to be chaos too. Aiden’s name wasn’t notorious for no reason. Sure Vince had the money and power to go up against him, but Aiden was street smart in a way that Vince was too privileged to comprehend; he played smarter and dirtier than every London mob boss put together, which is why his crew was climbing the ranks so quickly. You couldn’t be any old run of the mill thug to run with the Diamond Mafia, Aiden only took on the very best of what the streets had to offer, his crew was made up of cold blooded criminal with a unique flair for getting the job done, whether it was robbery, kidnap, moving product, or murder. The only good thing Max had heard about Aiden was that he was honourable; he lived by a code of loyalty and respect and he knew the correct protocol to handle a mob issue. For him to do something as foolish as to kidnap Vince Lockewood’s daughter, Vince must have really pissed him off.
“It would help to know why they took Ava, sir,” Max pressed cautiously. He had been told many times not to ask questions about affairs that didn’t directly concern him –Vince had trust issues, so everything in the Syndicate was only learned on a need to know basis, and Vince didn’t believe that everyone needed to know everything.
“How would it help?”
“If I know what his motive is, it will give me a better idea of what I’m dealing with, like if he intends to harm her or not…” he trails off, hoping that his explanation will warrant an explanation from Vince.
“He intends to harm her,” Vince replied bitterly, “He told me he would.”
Max covered the microphone and turned his mouth away from his phone to curse. He couldn’t handle the notion of someone hurting Ava, especially when that someone was the cut throat head of the Diamond Mafia. Now he was even madder at himself for letting someone take Ava from him, but more at Vince for pissing off Aiden in the first place. If he’d handled whatever their issue was in a more diplomatic manner, then maybe Ava wouldn’t be at the mercy of the Diamond Mafia at all, but Vince was arrogant; he knew how much power he had and he wasn’t afraid to abuse it. Usually it didn’t matter because not many people could go up against The Syndicate, but the Diamond Mafia were most definitely not most people. Max spoke in a quiet, controlled voice, “What did you do to him?”
“His brother stole from me, so I stole his brother,” Vince answered justifiably.
“And now he’s stolen Ava. Sir, with all due respect, what the fuck were you thinking?”
“I was thinking that this is my fucking city. You’d be wise to remember that Yang,” Vince warned not liking the way his soldier was addressing him. “I’m done talking -find Ava!”
Ava stirred, finally awakening from the sleep that was forced upon her, in a bed that did not feel like her own. She opened her eyes to see only darkness; there were no windows in the room or electronics that even so much as flashed from a corner of the endless black. Ava’s first instinct was to lift her hand to wipe the sleep from her eyes, only to find that she could not move; her whole body was being restrained by something. Panicking, she jerked only to find that all of her limbs had been tethered to the four corners of the foreign bed frame. “What the hell?” she croaked with a raspy effect on her vocal chords, her throat dry from lack of use and fluids. She tugged at the restraints, twisting her wrist, straightening her fingers and bringing them all together as tightly as she could, in an attempt to make the shape of her hand slim enough to stand a chance to slip through the expertly tied knots. I didn’t work. “What’s going on? Where am I?” She tugged harder. The rope tightened, cutting into her skin and cutting off her circulation, and the more she pulled, the tighter it got. Her body flayed in the bed as her heartbeat climbed to drastic levels, trembling in her chest as the realisation that she was well and truly trapped sunk in. “MAX!” she howled in vain for her protector, “MAX, WHERE ARE YOU? HELP! HELP ME!” Hot, salty tears began to rain from her eyes as the tips of her fingers turned blue and sore, faint red rings formed around her joints from where the rope rubbed against her flawless cinnamon skin. “HELP! SOMEBODY HELP ME, PLEASE! HELP ME!”
She quieted at the heavy sound of slow, steady footsteps beating along the corridor, getting louder the closer they came to the pitch black room that she was tied up in. Ava whimpered and tugged at the ropes even more; she knew that the more she pulled, the worse it would be, but she was scared for her life, and doing nothing seemed like an even worse fate than trying to break free did. A key slid into the lock, the deadbolt clicked open with a dull clunking sound, and a strip of light sliced into the dark room, growing wider the farther the door opened. Standing with a halo of light around him, looking like a dark saviour, was a man that Ava didn’t recognise. His back was to the light so she couldn’t make out his features, but his stature was impressive; big, broad and bound with menacing muscles, giving him the almighty silhouette of a Spartan. He took a step into the room and Ava shrunk herself against the mattress as best as she could, her hazel eyes wide and watering with more tears of fear. The man reached to his left and flipped the light switch. Ava squinted against the brightness, turning her face towards the wall to lessen the strain on her pupils. She heard the huge man advance in her direction so she forced her eyes to adjust so that she could look upon him. He was blurry at first, still big and bulging, but as he came closer his details formed into a legible person with skin as dark as cocoa, eyes the deepest shade of night framed by long, thick lashes that softened his ruggedly handsome features. She couldn’t help but notice that the black Spartan was topless; all abs and intricate tattoos than spanned from his neck, fanned across his sturdy shoulders, down both of his intimidatingly cut arms, and across his swollen pectoral muscles. A pair of baggy leather trousers, reminiscent of the New Jack Swing era of the early 90s, hung from his sculpted hips, with the button meant to fasten it, undone, revealing the top of the intimate area where his soft pubic hair blossomed from. Tiny rivulets of water dripped down his torso, flowing between the defined creases between his muscles, and he smelt like Molten Brown shower gel. As scared as she was, she had to admit, he was something.
The man knelt at her bedside, staring down at her in silence as she whimpered quietly, the urge to scream now subdued to pitiful, panicky pants and squeaks.
“I’ve been looking forward to meeting you, Ava-Marie,” his voice was alluring; heavy and soft at the same time; almost soothing, but with an edge that warned Ava that she was not safe. “Do you know who I am?”
“No,” she whispered.
“I’m Aiden Michaels,” he replied simply as if his name should mean something to her.
He waited for some recognition to cross over her pretty face, but there was none, instead Ava trembled and replied, “Aiden, please let me go.” She had heard that if you addressed your attacker using their name that it was easier to reason with them.
He shook his head. “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Ava-Marie” he said, drawing her name out like smoke, letting his dark eyes roam over her, taking her in -Mighty was right, she was fucking hot. Tied to the bed, wrapped in her cinnamon skin, with her fitted jeans, manicured toes, tight white vest top, her micro-braids piled high on her head, and large, striking eyes the colour of early autumn, Aiden thought she was one of those rare beauties that you could confidently say was a ten out of ten. It was a shame they had to meet under such unfortunate circumstances.
“Please,” she sobbed “I haven’t done anything.”
“I know you haven’t, but your father has.”
“My father?” she furrowed her eyebrows, “What did he do that would warrant this?” she tugged on her restraints.
Aiden saw that the restraints were cutting into her; he intended to cause her pain, but not like this. He stood up and reached for her wrist closest to him, ignoring the way she flinched and yelped when his fingers made contact with her skin. “He kidnapped my little brother and had his men beat him until he was unable to speak,” he told her as he shifted down her quaking body and loosened the binds around each of her ankles before he moved back up and leant over her to get the last one on her other wrist, “So until I get him back,” he brought his face to hers, stared penetratingly into her October eyes and said, “You belong to me.”