Book 1 in the Bay Ridge Royals
There’s a war brewing, and I’m right in the middle of it ready to crush anyone who gets in my way…
I was born into this world. Power and wealth are the keys to controlling it, but they aren’t everything. They are a means to an end when it comes to protecting the people I care about.
I’ve known my destiny since I was old enough to sit at the table. Everything in my life has been focused on preparing me for the future. Know your enemies, your allies, and the people in the middle you can buy.
When he first appeared in my life, I had no idea who he was, but I never forgot his pretty face. While it’s been years and I barely recognize him, I can’t get enough. He doesn’t belong in my world and he has no idea how truly dangerous it is.
Turns out, I’ll do anything to save my best friend, cross any line, and destroy him if I have to…
SHAMELESSLY LOYAL was released previously as part of the Billionaires and Babes anthology for charity. While you do not have to read the 82nd Street Vandals to read this novella, it will enhance the experience. This novella takes place during books four and five. This novella serves as book one of six but all future books in the series are full-length and will include why choose with multiple new adults exploring and coming to terms with their evolving sexuality, identities, and relationships.
Book 1 in the Bay Ridge Royals
The pair—Rome and Freddie—were equal parts fascinating and frustrating. Both blond, one far more stoic and literal than the other, and utterly different in their mannerisms and how they communicated. Rome said very little but meant every single word. Freddie never shut up and meant maybe one in ten.
They both wanted to help Emersyn. It was all I needed to know. Turning my head to the window, I studied the city we approached. Joining them in their vehicle had been an impulsive decision—one I didn’t usually allow myself. But I was worried about Em. She’d disappeared for months. The whole world hunted for her. Out of the blue, she messaged me for help.
Then, almost as abruptly, seemed to change her mind and stay where she was. Now? Now they said she’d gone home.
To her family.
If that were true, the Sharpes would close ranks, and I’d never get to her. But there was something about these men. Something about the risk they’d taken. I had a gun in my bag, but neither had lied to me. Neither had tried to dismiss my concern.
That worried me even more.
Wherever we were going was where I needed to be.
I wanted answers, and I wanted my best friend back.
I was damn well going to get both.
The drive took longer than I liked, although it passed more swiftly than it seemed.
Once in the city itself, our destination proved to be nearer the ports than the suburbs. Right in the heart of a poorer area littered with condemned buildings, struggling businesses, and the vagaries of slow but steady urban redevelopment. The kind that would gentrify the area.
Most saw that as a boon, but the current populace would be pushed out. The deeper we went, the more obvious it became. Some of these storefronts were decades old. Then we were suddenly pulling up to a warehouse.
They lived in a warehouse?
Surprise fluttered through me even as my curiosity pricked me. Why a warehouse? What were the benefits? The drawbacks? Tactically, was this even safe? The roll-up door confirmed my supposition and then my stoic driver pulled in. Freddie shot a glance over his shoulder.
“Give me five minutes to smooth the way.”
He bounced out of the car before the roll door behind us even closed. I didn’t reach for the door handle. Rome, the driver, had engaged the child-proof locks—like that wasn’t a little humiliating—so I had to wait for him to open the door for me. He didn’t wait five minutes, though.
“Cooperate,” he said, though it sounded more like a suggestion than an order.
“Or?” I challenged him as I stepped out of the car.
“Or this will take longer than it needs, and Starling doesn’t have time for that, correct?”
Rebellion died a swift and silent death. “Correct.”
With a nod, he closed the door and I glanced around the warehouse. “You live here?” Assuming control offered me a measure of comfort. I was here by my choice. Not theirs. I was here as an ally, not to just hand off responsibility. The men who clustered together, and suddenly seemed very focused on me, needed to understand this sooner rather than later.
“Rome?” one of the men asked.
“She’s a friend of Starling’s.” Well, that was succinct. The name Starling seemed almost ethereal and rather precious for Emersyn. However, she was not that fragile.
“Why the fuck is she here?” That voice.
I knew that voice. I searched the faces of the men glowering at me.
“Because I want to be,” I snapped in response, closing the distance between us. Frankly, I needed the walk and the stretch. But I wanted to find him. What the hell was Pretty Boy doing here? “These idiots didn’t tell me we were a two-day drive from where we needed to be. I could have gotten us here a lot faster, not to mention we’ll need to move faster if this is going to work at all.”
I studied each of them in turn, but it wasn’t until I found his face that the recognition not only struck me but truly registered.
What she’d said about the group. What she’d described. The words I’d managed to squeeze out of my escort. Pretty Boy was here. More… “You’re her brother?”’
No one said a word, yet the man smoking a cigarette cut his gaze past me and the “brother” I stared at. “Freddie, what the fuck did you two do?”
“We’re working on getting Boo-Boo back. She has information. She’s kind of bitchy if you interrupt her, so just let her talk.”
“Freddie,” Pretty Boy snapped. “We don’t kidnap women.”
“No, we just kidnap Boo-Boo.”
That was almost entertaining.
“We didn’t kidnap her.” The stoic one only parted with a few words at a time.
“They didn’t kidnap me.” We really didn’t have time for this, or my shock. How and why Pretty Boy was here would have to wait for later. If he was her brother, his presence in Florida years earlier made sense. But still…
A door slammed, and a carbon copy of the stoic one strode across the intervening distance at a ground-eating pace that promised death and destruction were riding in with him. I’d seen that kind of expression before.
While Pretty Boy looked like he planned to intervene, the newcomer wasn’t remotely interested. Nevertheless, the closer he came, the more familiar he looked. He was Rome’s twin, so that made sense. The familiarity was annoying, as were the interruptions. There were too many people here to wrangle.
What had Em been thinking?
“What the hell did you do, Rome? Why would you bring Elaine Benedict here of all places?” the newcomer demanded.
How nice, he knew exactly who I was. Fine, I could work with that. “Great, is there anyone else coming who is going to be shocked and awed by my presence that we’ll need to stop to explain it all?” I demanded. “If so, would it be possible to use the restroom now? I’d rather discuss Emersyn’s problems instead of this, but we don’t have all day.”
“She can help,” Rome said after I finished. “Come on, I’ll show you to the bathroom.”
“Wait,” his snarling brother said before we even went two steps. “Having her here is dangerous.”
“Why?” the smoker demanded.
“Fuck this,” one of the men stated. “Rome – take her to the bathroom. Everyone else, shut up and let Freddie explain. All of you, be quick. We’ll do this inside— Vaughn, call Doc and get him over here. Then we won’t have to have them explain everything twice.”
Rome dipped his head to the door, and I didn’t waste time on listening to their debate. I needed to do more than just empty my bladder. He guided me upstairs, then through a bedroom to another room. “This is Starling’s,” he said. “The bathroom is clean.”
Honestly, I’d take it. “Thank you.”
Once in the bathroom with the door closed, I leaned back against it. Steadying my breathing and my pulse took some significant focus. Starling’s room—Em’s. This had been her room. Her bathroom.
A scant investigation didn’t turn up anything familiar. I made use of the toilet, then washed up. I needed a real shower and change, but that would have to wait. As it was, I made do with freshening up and then checked my cosmetics. Despite the nearly two days in the back of the car, I was only slightly rumpled.
Ten minutes later, I had my heart rate steady and my breathing even. The touch-up smoothed out my expression, and when I opened the door to the bathroom. I was ready to deal with these strangers. They cared about Emersyn. That was a huge mark in their favor. Danger radiated from every single one. Danger and suspicion.
I didn’t care about that, not as long as it meant they’d do anything to get Emersyn back. Downstairs, the silence crackled with all the things they weren’t saying. Freddie had fixed sandwiches, a lot of sandwiches. He offered them to me like they were hors d’oeuvre and I debated declining.
However, my stomach cramped in protest, so I selected one of the ham and cheese sandwiches with a nod. The sincerity in his grin was kind of painful. Everything about him screamed youth and pain, yet he was genuinely trying. More than once, I caught the men staring at me, studying me, weighing me. I kept my expression under control.
Grandfather often said that when you can control your body language, you can control a room. Always leave them wanting more and needing to understand. Here, that seemed prescient advice.
I had taken a seat while we waited, not because I wanted to surrender any control in letting them tower over me but because I needed them to calm down. As it was, the twin’s brother vibrated with barely leashed rage and kept glaring at the door more than me. So, whoever we were waiting on—the elusive Doc—was definitely the subject of his ire. When the door opened, admitting the older man with the hollow eyes and the tight expression, the angry twin snapped his glare to me.
“Charming, I’d know you two were brothers without the looks.” Personally, I preferred stoicism and minimal use of words to testosterone-fueled anger. Uneasy humor rippled through the others, but to be fair, we didn’t have time to linger on this. I looked at Freddie. So far, he’d been the most bluntly honest with me. “Everyone here is trustworthy?”
“Yes,” he answered without equivocation.
“Good, because I’m going to need all of you to help.” Now, however, I rose from my seat and moved to stand in front of the dark television. It allowed me to control where they directed their attention and gave me a clear line of sight to all of them. “Emersyn’s in trouble.”
“And you know this—” Dammit, the raw growl of anger in his voice should not be remotely compelling.
Still, I cut her brother off with a slice of my hand. “Pretty Boy, this will go much faster if you let me talk and save the questions until after the presentation.”
Shock punched the silence and his jaw snapped closed with an audible click and the grind of teeth. It really should make him less attractive. The darkness clinging to my pretty boy disturbed me a hell of a lot more than I wanted to admit—to anyone.
“So, a little more this,” I continued, holding my thumb and fingers together like a closed mouth. “Instead of this.” I mimed yapping with my hand. His eyes went flat and dark. His eyes. This close, there was no mistaking Emersyn’s eyes glaring out at me. Only the storm and fury in them had never been directed at me. “Good. Emersyn contacted me a few days ago because of a reward that was put out by my family and friends of ours. I knew she was okay, but my grandfather offered the reward at my request. We were hoping someone would try to collect from us before the Sharpes, and that would let me know if anyone had found her before they could sell her out.”
I needed to tell them everything. Even revealing the gaps in what I knew. Holding back now wouldn’t help her. That wasn’t an option.
Folding my arms, I pressed on. “I promised her I would help in any way. I would also warn her if we heard anything. That was our last conversation. Then I heard she’d been found and was coming home.”
Revulsion slid through me. The few scant images I’d seen of her at the airport had terrified me. Her uncle was—revolting. Going home was not what she wanted. Ever.
“That was the last thing she wanted.”
“Told you,” Freddie said, though his tone was far from smug.
“You sound certain,” Pretty Boy said, though there was less challenge in his tone now.
“That’s because I am, I’ve known Emersyn since we were five. Granted—we haven’t always been in the same places, and we had a hard time keeping in touch sometimes. Nonetheless, we never gave up on each other, and I’m not giving up on her now. As much as I hated not knowing exactly where she was, I was happy knowing she was safe.”
And I had wanted to press her a dozen times, but she’d seemed so sure…
“She never told me why you took her, and I don’t care right now. I’m just glad you did. Her going back was never the plan.”
“The fake IDs,” Liam said abruptly. “You got them for her.”
“Yes, a new identity, cash, anything she needed to not be Emersyn Sharpe anymore and disappear.” I’d gone straight to Fletcher. Adam’s cousin was much more laid back than he was, yet he was also clever as Hell and had access to everything I needed. He hadn’t even asked me a lot of questions, when I would have paid the full price he insisted on the friends and family discount.
It was for Emersyn, so honestly, I’d have paid it in blood.
“Where is she now?” one of them asked. “Where is she that you’re so damn worried about?”
The ice in my veins chilled even further. “If he’s done what I think he has, and if the rumors are true, he’s sent her back to Pinetree.”
“What the hell is Pinetree?” the newcomer demanded.
“It’s a psychiatric facility,” Liam answered, a muscle ticking in his jaw. “A very exclusive one.”
“You’ve heard of it?” That was useful, because I wasn’t sure how to explain the nightmare fuel that place provided to the children and black sheeps of the wealthy circles I traveled in. “All I know is that if she’s there, we need to get her out. I have the money and the connections, but I have no way to get in, and I don’t think I could anyway—the last two times he sent her to that place—she was different when she came out.”
“Different, how?” Pretty Boy invaded my space. Worry, not an ounce of threat stamped on his face. It wrenched at my heart. “There was never anything about her being in a facility.”
“Of course not, it wouldn’t reflect well on the family. But I knew. Some of us knew, because we saw what happened after. The only reason they sent her there was to control her—to take away who she was, and I couldn’t stop it before. I can do something now.”
“That’s where we come in,” the big guy said. Like the doctor, he’d said almost nothing.
“Exactly. I just—I just don’t know how to make it happen, and I need help to get her out.” If I thought for a second Adam would back my play, I’d have gone to him. Our parents’ affair and subsequent marriage aside, we had Andrea in common.
Sometimes I thought she might be all we had; only he wasn’t a monster. His concern for Emersyn when we were kids had never been feigned. Nor his concern about my friendship with her. I’d have begged if I had to, but he’d all but disappeared over the recent weeks. The one person who might know where he was, wasn’t speaking to me. It didn’t help either that my last conversation with Ezra had been a drunken rant that still stung.
“Tell them,” Rome said, cutting across the sea of debate and argument. He wasn’t looking at me or talking to me, for that matter. He was looking at his brother. “It’s time, tell them.”
I just needed them to help me help her. Their reaching out when they did? It was a lifeline I’d grasped and then dove into the dark water after. Maybe I’d drown, but not before I got her help.
I could do this much.