Book 2 in the Bay Ridge Royals
Violence chose me a long time ago…
Survival isn’t everything. I’ve fought to protect my family. I’ve bled for them, killed for them, and gone to jail for them. There is no fight I will not take on for them…
I’ve been waging this war since I was seven years old. The only thing that’s changed is the battlefield itself.
For Mayhem, I’ll trade in the grime of the streets for the illusions of her shimmering world. Only all that glitter is hiding a well of sin and corruption that leaves blood in its wake. This isn’t my world, but I won’t be defeated by it.
I may have lost battles before, but I won’t lose this one. If that means I have to drown in darkness, then it’s a price I’m willing to pay.
BATTLE LINES is a full-length mature dark, new adult romance with enemies-to-lovers/love-hate themes. Please be aware some situations may be uncomfortable for readers. Trigger warnings can be found in the foreword should you require them. This is book two in a six book series that is a why choose with multiple new adults exploring and coming to terms with their evolving sexuality, identities, and relationships.
Book 2 in the Bay Ridge Royals
In a world consumed by shadows, Elaine Benedict—my mayhem—was a single spark of defiance. Her presence could ignite a war. Tracking more than one gaze fixed on her, I had a feeling it already had.
“Relax,” Mayhem said, resting a hand against my arm as she leaned in to whisper. This close, the light floral of her perfume beckoned to me. If we were somewhere more private, I’d pin her against the wall…
“Miss Benedict.” The intrusion of the smooth Italian voice had me shifting my weight and straightening. Mayhem didn’t move away as we turned to face the new arrival together. “Bella, it is always such a pleasure to see you.”
He extended both of his hands as though to grip Mayhem’s shoulders. If she hadn’t been digging her nails into my forearm, I would have shoved this asshole backwards. Well, that and the fact he didn’t actually make contact with her skin.
“Mr. Sivan,” she said, offering her cheeks as he kissed the air just above them. “I did not expect you to be here tonight.” Her tone was soft, effervescent and downright flirtatious.
Sivan, all six feet of him, was definitely intrigued as he smiled at Mayhem. He didn’t give me a second glance, but I was all too aware of him.
“No?” He closed his hand over her free one. “Well, then I hope this is a pleasant surprise.”
She giggled. The sound set my teeth on edge. It wasn’t my mayhem but the person she’d donned the moment we arrived at this party. I was ready to get rid of my tux and get her out of that silky dress.
That was a plan for later. For now, we were here to get information.
“Definitely a surprise I appreciate,” Mayhem teased him. The guy couldn’t take his eyes off of her. Of course he couldn’t, she was sensuality incarnate, but I had to keep my temper in check.
There was a plan.
This asshole was why we were here.
“Wonderful, may I steal you away for a dance?”
“Hmm,” she hummed the sound, head tilted as if thinking it over. “I might be persuaded to let you borrow me, but for one dance only. I can’t be seen showing any kind of favor.”
Sivan smiled, his dark eyes danced. While he wasn’t quite drooling, he couldn’t contain his excitement. “Then I shall have to make the most of my dance.”
Mayhem stroked her hand down my arm as she smiled up at me. “I’ll be back. Get us drinks?”
“Of course,” I murmured, then flicked my gaze up to Sivan’s. Surprise flickered over his face. “One dance,” I reminded him. “I’ll be watching.”
And I’d interrupt if necessary.
Mayhem didn’t correct me, but she did give me a faintly exasperated look even as she laughed. Then she was heading out to the dance floor with Sivan.
The song had just begun. I didn’t move away, taking my position right there at the edge of the dance floor. Waiters made their way through the crowd, delivering glasses of champagne and white wine. I’d take two just before the song ended.
In the meanwhile, I kept an eye on Mayhem and Sivan. His hand drifted from her hip more than once, but she corrected him with a gentle verbal reprimand.
I’d rather have broken his fingers.
As they turned in a slow waltz, I caught her gaze. She smiled then returned her attention to her dance partner. They still had at least two more minutes to go. Movement in my periphery alerted me to a new arrival.
“Son,” Julius King said by way of greeting. Also known as Jeff Hardigan, the wealthy bastard was my sperm donor. Mine and Ivy’s, my sister. “You should be careful of that one. He enjoys pursuing women he considers unobtainable.”
I didn’t respond. Tonight wasn’t about King or Hardigan or whatever he wanted to call himself. I kept my attention on Mayhem as she entertained whatever it was Sivan was saying.
When a waiter paused, I accepted two glasses and continued to ignore King as he took his own. “If you are after his shipping contracts,” King commented. “You need to deal with the sister and not him. She has more sway with their board and he spends more time in the bedroom than the office.”
The song came to a close and there was polite clapping as Mayhem took a step back from Sivan. She gave him a smile he definitely didn’t deserve before she inclined her head. Then she was strolling across the dance floor toward me.
A definite sway to her hips drew the attention of more than just the asshole she’d been dancing with, and as attractive as she was, I watched the people around her until she was back in my orbit.
Her gaze flicked from me to King then back. The question was clear. What did I want to do?
I handed her the wine. “Shall we walk? You mentioned something about the new arrivals…”
“Oh,” she said with a soft laugh. “I did.” She accepted the glass then nodded to King. “Mr. King.”
I put a hand against Mayhem’s lower back.
I ignored him, focusing on maneuvering Mayhem through the others at this vapid party and into one of the wings of the museum. There we could take a break from the crowd and maybe I could persuade her to go.
“You’re not going to like this,” Mayhem said softly. “And I am sorry, I’ll explain more later.” Then with that as her warning, she pivoted and tossed her drink in my face.
The act caught a great deal of attention and I used a hand to wipe the drink away from my eyes.
“I think I’ll do as I please,” she informed me, her voice rising just enough to carry.
“You do,” I said slowly. “Do you?” Apparently, the antagonist was my role tonight.
“Yes,” she said, then gave me a dismissive look. “You should go clean up.” Then without another word, she turned her back on me and made her way across the room. Not to Sivan. I didn’t quite see who her target was, but Sivan was tracking her.
King held out a handkerchief and I stared at it a beat before glancing at him.
“What the hell do you want?” I told myself I wouldn’t give him the time of day, but this was ridiculous.
“I thought I’d help you clean that up,” King said with a hint of amusement. “I’m rather glad that they aren’t serving red wine.”
Pulling out my own handkerchief, I wiped my face and set the wine glass on a waiter’s passing tray before I tracked Mayhem again.
“I don’t need your help,” I informed King.
“You don’t want to need my help,” King countered. “There’s a difference. In this case, however, you will get a lot farther with it than without.”
Mayhem was speaking to another woman. No, not to just another woman, she was speaking to a couple.
“Excuse me,” I said to King and let him to do whatever the fuck it was he was here to do tonight. Mayhem wanted a few minutes and a scene to get some attention or take attention off of her.
I’d given it to her. There were more than a few eyes on me as it was.
“Mr. Hardigan,” a woman said, pulling my attention as I circled the dance floor in pursuit of Mayhem. I paused, facing the speaker. She was an older woman with the perfect snowy white hair and laughing blue eyes.
I did not know her.
But she knew my name…
“Ma’am,” I said, politely and shifted to keep Mayhem in my periphery.
“I’m not one to ask a man to dance,” the woman said. “But would you mind taking me around the dance floor once or twice?”
“Oh, don’t look so broken up about it. I saw your young lady throw a drink in your face. Best thing to do to shake it off is to dance like you don’t have a care in the world.” Then she reached up and fixed my tie before she smoothed down the lapels. “You are a big boy. What do you say?”
“Forgive me,” I said slowly, cobbling together my manners. “Do I know you?”
She chuckled. “No, Mr. Hardigan,” she told me as she held out a hand. “You do not know me. Not yet. But I know you—all of us know you. Now, dance?”
Who were all of us? I couldn’t ignore the proffered hand unless I planned on being exceptionally rude. “What should I call you?”
I took her hand. She placed her free hand on my shoulder and I rested mine on her waist and kept a respectable distance between us.
“For now, I like ma’am. You say it very respectfully, almost like you mean it.” She smiled. I didn’t know the music or the dance, but I managed a semi-decent shuffle step.
This was not my speed. I maneuvered her carefully, so I could keep an eye on Mayhem.
“I apologize then, ma’am, because this type of waltzing is not something I’ve done often.”
“Not to worry,” she informed me. “It’s a simple box step. Left, right, left, right. One, two, three, four.”
She recited out the instructions again and I followed her steps.
“Very good,” she told me. “Now you continue in that simple step, avoid the other dancers, while pretending to be interested in what I have to say, and you can keep an eye on the young lady who threw a drink in your face.”
There was something almost aristocratic in her bearing and her voice, but there was also a kind of warmth I didn’t expect. She actually sounded like she was giving me shit.
“Pretending I’m interested won’t take that much effort,” I informed her. “But you will have to tell me more than how to dance.”
“Touché, Mr. Hardigan. Touché.”
We paused as the music ended and I clapped politely. When it began again, she raised her eyebrows at me. Mayhem was still caught up in conversation with the couple, and my shirt was still damp and smelling of wine.
“Ma’am?” I asked, offering my hand.
“I would be honored.” My dance partner was absolutely laughing at me, but she also gave me a nod of approval. After she glided into my arms, she tilted her head. “Box step will work with this one,” she said after a moment. “It’s a solid move and you handle it well.”
“I have a very good teacher.” And a sister who would give me so much shit. The corners of my mouth twitched upward. I should ask Ivy to teach me to dance. She would get so much entertainment out of it.
Fuck knew she deserved to smile.
“Now that look,” my partner said, reminding me I wasn’t alone. “What put that look on your face?”
Mayhem actually glanced at me, there was a flicker of apology on her face but it smoothed away and then Ezra fucking Graham walked over to take her arm.
When the hell did he get back?
“Oh, now I am definitely intrigued,” she said. “You have to tell me…”
“It’s not polite to gossip,” I informed her as I fought the need to glare. Why the fuck was Ezra here? We hadn’t even mentioned this event. The last time I checked, he was still recovering from his wounds.
Not that it shut him up any.
“Oh, my dear, Mr. Hardigan, the first rule of business you should learn is that gossip is currency. It’s not just who you know, but what you know about them…”
“Really?” I said. “That seems—a little more street than I would have expected.”
We moved in the simple box step and she let me lead. Mayhem didn’t look any happier about Ezra’s arrival than I was. When he slid his arm around her waist, I fought the need to grind my teeth.
“What is the difference between an executive and a gang member?”
That pulled my attention. I focused on her. The measured intelligence in her eyes dared me to really listen. “Money?”
The song drew to a close and we paused to applaud again. “Only sometimes?”
“Yes, Mr. Hardigan. Only sometimes. Now, you should go and fetch your young lady before her latest suitor decides to steal away with her.”
Yes, I really should and at the same time. “It’s been a pleasure, ma’am.”
She chuckled as I offered her a hand and she shook it once. “Until next time.” Then without another glance in my direction she was walking away. “Gerard, darling…”
I glanced after her for a moment, then shook my head as I left the dance floor and headed for Mayhem.