Art of Loyalty, страница 1часть #4 серии Stern Family Saga
Art of Loyalty
A Stern Family Saga Book 4
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Prologue to Art of Survival
About the Author
Copyright © 2018
All rights reserved.
In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no scanning, uploading, electronic sharing, copying, or reproduction of any part of this book can be done without written permission of the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Characters, names, and incidents came from the author's imagination.
References to real people, organizations, establishments, or locations are only to provide a sense of authenticity, they are used fictitiously. And never in a malicious way.
Formatting and cover art by Erica Alexander @ https://serendipityformats.wixsite.com/formats
I want to thank my family first and foremost, they might complain about not having a home cooked meal every night, while I’m writing, but they make sure to show their support and express their love for me every step of the way. My husband is my life and his love is what allowed me to do this. My two daughters have made me feel as though they are as proud of me as I am of them.
To my sister-in-law, Shawna, thank you for giving me the courage to share my first story with you, then the world. Thank to Dawn Lucous who is my Alpha Reader. She is the one who gets on my case to make sure I get things done to stay on track. Even though she’s bossy sometimes, I wouldn’t trade her for the world. Thank you to my Beta Readers Suzanne McGovern, Chasidy Renee, and Cindy Christensen. You ladies are the best.
To Chantell Reid who does my editing. She’s extremely patient with me and tries her best to make me look good. To Erica Alexander, from Serendipity Formats for all the help. Erica does my beautiful covers and formats.
Thanks to Cindy Christensen and Chris for helping me with all the French translations for this book.
Finally, thank you to my readers. It has been a rollercoaster ride, but with all of the encouragement, I was able to see my dream fulfilled. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I hope you all enjoy my books!
In life there are things that will never leave you and loyalty that can never be broken.
As a boy, Vincent Stern suffered abuse that continues to haunt him long after the physical scars have healed.
His hatred turned into a need for revenge.
That need turned into guilt that would never leave him, creating a darkness in his life, festering and tormenting his mind.
But with all his darkness comes light.
A woman he never even considered, could one day become his home.
Does she possess the ability to save him from himself? Sometimes life makes decisions for you.
Isn’t it funny how things turn out when life forces your hand?
In tragedy you do things you would never see yourself doing.
Choices had to be made, even if she was too young to make them.
She will never regret those decisions, but she will also never allow herself to dream beyond the life that she has already resigned herself to.
Until one night, her life changes and with it, her heart.
Can they save each other and find the love they both deserve?
It’s the most important thing in my business. Hell, it’s the most important thing to me period. I don’t need someone’s love or faithfulness, I need their undying allegiance and obedience.
Without loyalty, I would be nowhere. If I can’t trust the people that work for me or along with me, then I have nothing. But there are only a few, that I know I have one hundred percent loyalty from and they are the ones that scare me the most. If that loyalty is broken, then I can be destroyed from the inside out.
Loyalty is also something I don’t give out freely, it is one of the things I hold sacred. You have to earn my loyalty but once you have it, you have it forever.
William, my husband, father to most of my sons and also my torturer, had my loyalty. I know it’s sick that I could be so loyal to a man that abused me and treated me like I was nothing. And maybe it was, but he was also the one who gave me a chance at my new life and he gave me my sons. If it weren’t for William, I have no idea where I would be or if I would even still be alive. I wasn’t the best wife by any means, but I owed him my loyalty.
Theo, the love of my life, my lover and father of my son, Zander. He earned my loyalty for all the times he saved me from myself. Without him, I would have never found my strength.
My sons, I gave them life but in return, they gave me hope and a future. They are the reasons I have survived.
My girls, my daughters-in-law, have my respect and loyalty. They are the ones that will make sure that my legacy continues long after I am gone.
Then there is the loyalty that is given even when you beg for it not to be. Loyalty that is given at such a tender age out of nothing but pure necessity. We were kindred spirits, the same right from the start. He was my nightmare born to haunt my life, but he became one of my greatest treasures. I tried so hard to save him but in the long run, we saved each other. That is a bond that will never be broken. Loyalty that will never be questioned. Vin might not be of my blood, but he is mine and I will kill the person who tries to come between me and what’s mine.
Thirty-Four Months Earlier
Screaming wakes me from my sleep. Screaming and more screaming, as he curses, calling her names. I crawl to my closet like she always tells me to do, covering my ears with my hands, shaking my head back and forth, begging some higher power to make it stop. “Stop, Stop, Stop!” With my eyes shut tight, I yell but it can’t be heard over her screams. “Please make him stop!” With every punch, she screams, and I can even hear the sounds of her body hitting the walls. He’s going to kill her! She tells me to stay locked in my closet until I’m sure he is gone, but I can’t take the screams anymore.
I slowly sit up, removing my hands from my ears, using them to wipe my tears away.
Gradually I stand, gaining whatever courage I can within my small body to make him stop. I push the door to my closet open and step by step make it to my bedroom door. I second guess myself when I hear nothing; no screams, no crying, no yelling. Why isn’t she screaming anymore?
I turn the door handle and run out of my room. When I make it to the living room, I see blood splattered on the walls; her blood. I look down and
I’m shaking her body as she moans out in pain.
“She’s alive boy, get off of her.” His voice is filled with so much anger.
I turn and look at the devil himself. I hate him, I hate him with everything in me. He starts laughing then tells me,
“You want to kill me, don’t you boy?”
I don’t answer him. I just stare, readying myself to strike.
“Come on boy, you think you can take me? Kill me? Then try it.”
I get up as fast as I can, running, throwing every ounce of energy and strength I have into trying to hurt him. “I hate you! I hate you!”
He laughs even louder, “That’s all you got? You get that from her. Weak just like your bitch mother.” He grabs me and throws me around the room until I can’t open my eyes anymore, blackness surrounds me.
I hear the cries of my mother as I try to open my eyes. She’s begging, not for me to wake up, but for him to stay. This is how it always ends, with her crying and pleading her tormentor to love her and stay.
I wake in a sweat, gasping for air. Another nightmare keeping me from a peaceful sleep. Ha! Peaceful sleep, what the hell is that? I don’t even think I’ve ever had one. I sit up, throwing my legs over the side of my bed, laying my elbows on my knees as I dig my face into my hands. Why won’t these nightmares stop? I can’t take this shit anymore. If it’s not this one, it’s the others. I thought the older I got, maybe they would just go away. But fuck, they continue to return over and over.
I stand, stretching my sore body. There’s been so much damage over the years, causing some nasty tightening from scar tissue. Looking in the mirror on my dresser, I see all my scars, some caused by him and some I proudly wear from years of defending my country and her.
Shit, I glance at the alarm clock on my nightstand. I need to hurry, she doesn’t like tardiness. I grab my clothes from my oversized closet and stroll into the bathroom to shower and dress for the day.
Walking down the hall, I look at all the family pictures hanging on display. As a child, I hated seeing them. They were filled with all their happy faces. Filled with lies, covering all the truths she tried to hide from everyone.
Memories surface of when there were no pictures of me on this wall. She tried to put one of me up once and he hit her so hard, he busted her lip, then he shattered the frame. When he left her alone, I walked up to her picking up the shards of cut glass. She wiped the blood from her lip and said, “One-day Vin. One day.”
I knew what she had meant. She meant, one day we would be free of him, but it wasn’t time. I always understood her. We never needed words, just silent nods or shakes to get our messages across.
Shaking my head from the memories, I straighten my picture on the wall. It might have taken years but now my pictures line up right next to the rest of them. A family I was never meant to be a part of, but none the less here I am; family.
Walking into her office, I walk around her desk to give her a kiss on the cheek, “Good morning Catherine.”
She eyes me then says, “You look like hell.” I sit down saying, “Well you look lovely like always. What are your plans for me today?”
“Don’t change the subject, Vincent. You still aren’t sleeping well? Maybe I should call the doctor in and see if there is anything we can do.”
“No, you know I can’t.”
“Vincent, there has to be something that can help.”
I know without a shadow of a doubt she loves me and is just worried, so I try to put her mind at ease. “Mom, I’m fine. I just had a bad night. I can handle a little restless night here and there.”
Here and there, what a joke. She knows it too, but she’ll let it go for now. She has bigger things to worry about, namely the girl upstairs. Fallon. I’ve been watching over her for almost three years. But then two months ago, we finally brought her home. Catherine has been on edge ever since. She has given her plans for the girl some serious thought and now she’s scared it won’t work. I don’t understand why this girl is so important to her, but for some reason she is. So much so that she has me watching over her. That’s how I know it’s big. Catherine always has me working right beside her; Catherine is my job, period. And of course, anything else that she needs permanently taken care of. But for the last three years, my job has been Fallon. She wouldn’t have put me in charge of her if she wasn’t scared that something could happen to this girl or afraid of people finding out about her. I am Catherine’s most trusted person. I am her protection. But she handed me to this girl. I don’t ever doubt her or question her wishes, but this time I feel I need a reason.
“When are you going to tell me why Fallon is so important? I should be with you.”
“I told you, Vincent, Fallon is more important than I am right now. She will always need you, just like I have.”
I go to say something else, but she stops me. “I arranged a dinner date with Fallon and Ms. Brittany Duplantis.”
“You what!? Why?”
“Because Fallon is curious about certain things and I am hoping Brittany can fill her in on what she needs to know.”
“So, you think it’s a wise idea to introduce Fallon to Gabriel’s regular prostitute?”
“She’s an escort, not a regular prostitute.”
“You and your proper names. It doesn’t matter what you call her, she’s still a prostitute. Better yet, she’s Gabriel’s prostitute. I don’t see how this will help Fallon. What do you want Brittany to tell her, how he likes it?”
“Don’t be so damn crass. I think a woman can learn a lot about a man from the other women he spends time with.”
I laugh at that, “I guess, but I don’t know how the man in question will feel about it.”
“Well, like always, he will never find out.”
She eyes me for a minute, trying to decipher if I am really alright. “Stop worrying, I’m fine. Now, do you have anything else for me before I escort Fallon to dinner?”
“No, I will call you when it’s time.”
Leaving her office, I head straight to the kitchen. On my way, I hear a ruckus coming from the swimming pool. Looking out, I see Fallon, Zander, and Liam all having fun swimming. Happy to keep to myself, I continue to the kitchen to fix me something to eat. I know I don’t have to worry about watching her when she’s with my brothers.
An hour has gone by when I hear Catherine and Gabriel arguing. I get up to watch from a distance. Anyone confronting Catherine has me instantly on guard, but I know Gabriel would never overstep with his mother. Once I’m up, the yelling has stopped and Gabriel storms past me to get out of the house, not even acknowledging me. Prick! It makes me smirk, no matter what Gabriel thinks he’s trying to do by pushing Fallon away, we can all tell it won’t work. Fallon was made for him, Catherine made sure of it.
Standing just outside the front door, I hear the click of Fallon’s heels on the stairs as I glance at my watch. I turn to see her take her last step off the staircase. Gabriel is one lucky man; she is a beauty. I hope one day he will appreciate her like she deserves. Over the years, I have enjoyed watching her grow into this beautiful, intelligent woman. I’ve grown very fond of her and no, not that kind of fond. She’s Gabriel’s and always will be. I know where the boundaries lie, I always have. Besides, she might be beautiful but she’s not my type. I like them with…fuck I don’t really know. I guess, I mean I know what I like to fuck, but as far as a woman to love and settle down with, I never gave it much thought. Don’t ever plan on going down that road.
“You look beautiful Fallon, as always.”
I might be quiet but I’m very observant. Just like Catherine always taught us, I make sure to give her the compliment she deserves. She leans in and kisses me on my cheek. “Thank you, Vin, are we ready?” I nod my head and escort her to my car.
The hostess eyes me first, looking me up and down with appreciation. Fallon notices and turns smiling at me like the cat that ate the canary. I shift uncomfortably and ask Fallon. “What?”
“Oh, nothing Vin.” She lets out a small giggle then starts to follow the hostess as she shows us to our separate tables. I watch as Fallon walks over to her table where Brittany Duplantis is already waiting. I can’t believe Catherine set this up, this has to be a fucking joke. I mean, what woman wants to talk to the woman her man is sleeping with?
I unbutton my suit jacket to sit, positioning myself where I can watch Brittany. It’s not important for me to watch Fallon’s reactions, but Brittany’s expressions are. I need to remain on guard. If this woman is jealous of Fallon and Gabriel’s relationship, I will see it on her face. A woman scorned is not to be messed with.