Merciless Kings by Becca Steele

1

“Yes. I have it all here, look.” I opened the flap of my messenger bag, angling it so he could see inside. “Class schedules, student ID, reading list, everything I need.”

My uncle eyed me from behind his reading glasses, placing his arms on his huge desk. “Good. It’s your junior year of college. Make it a good one.” His stern expression softened somewhat then. “I’m just looking out for you, Everly. It’s my responsibility as your guardian.”

“I know.” I aimed a smile at the man that reminded me so much of my dad in his appearance, although his personality couldn’t have been more different. Where my dad had been warm and easygoing, my uncle was serious and, dare I say, a little uptight. Not that I could blame him. Being the dean of Blackstone University was a huge responsibility, and not only that, we'd also both been thrown into the deep end with our situation. A situation we still struggled to navigate at times.

He returned my smile briefly, before standing. “I’ll see you on Thursday for dinner. Seven p.m., don’t be late.”

“I won’t.” Gathering up my bag and phone, I rose to my feet and made my way to his office door. I paused in the doorway and turned back to him. “Goodbye, Uncle.”

“It’s Dean Walker while we’re on university grounds,” he reminded me with a small smile.

“Sorry. I forgot.” Not wanting to get dragged into another lecture about being professional on campus and not showing favoritism, or whatever, I escaped as quickly as I could, giving him a wave as I left.

The semester hadn’t officially started yet, but the Blackstone University campus was buzzing—with excited freshmen piling out of cars, ready to move into dorms, trailed by anxious-looking parents carrying boxes and bags.

So unlike my first day here.

The rain was pouring down, soaking through my thin hoodie, as I stared up at the dull gray stone building, framed by the darkened skies. This was it. My home for the next four years.

As I entered through the doors, I sidestepped a family who were having a tearful goodbye. “I’ll call you every day,” the girl was promising the woman who I assumed was her mother. The sight made tears gather in my own eyes, and I bit down on my lip, blinking hard to stop them from escaping. I’d done too much crying already.

Moving farther into the building, more and more scenes assaulted me. Everywhere I looked, families were helping their loved ones settle in.

By the time I got to my room, I could barely see through my tears. I unlocked the door with a trembling hand, and once I was inside, I threw myself on my bed, the tears falling in earnest.

I missed my parents so much. The emptiness inside me, that gaping loss that had been there ever since they’d gone… I didn’t think it would ever go away.

Why did they have to be taken from me?

Their car had aquaplaned on England’s busiest motorway and gone straight into the side of a bridge. They’d died on impact. I should have been there too, but instead, I’d been having a sleepover at a friend’s house. I’d never forget the look in the policeman’s eyes when he’d given me the news.

They were gone, and I didn’t even get to say goodbye.

My dad was American, but my mum was English, and we’d lived in England all my life. It had been my dad’s dream for me to attend the university in the USA that he’d gone to—the university that my uncle was now the dean of. As it was, I’d been seventeen when my parents had passed away, so my uncle had become my legal guardian as my only remaining relative. I’d finished up the few remaining months of my school year so that I could complete my final exams, temporarily staying with a friend. Then I’d left everything I knew behind to move across the world and live in Blackstone, a town I’d only visited once in my life, with an uncle I barely knew.

He tried, but he wasn’t used to having another person underfoot, despite the size of his mansion. Especially not an eighteen-year-old girl, who was grieving for the loss of her parents. Almost as soon as I’d arrived, he’d sat me down for a long talk. By the end of it, he’d come to the decision that I needed my own space, and he made arrangements for me to move into university accommodation. He only lived twenty minutes away from the campus, and he’d assured me that I could visit whenever I wanted, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was an inconvenience for him.

Despite the fact that I was well and truly alone, living on campus suited me. Especially since one of the perks of him being the dean was that I got a private room. Somewhere I could be alone, to lose myself, where no one could see the tears I shed every night.

That first day in my new room, when my tears eventually stopped, I sat up, wiping my eyes and looked around me. The room was small, but functional. A bed lay under the window, and against the opposite wall that was painted a creamy white, was a desk and shelves. There was built-in storage for clothes next to a door that I assumed led to my bathroom (another perk of the private room), and a small blue armchair was placed in the corner. My boxes had been brought up by my uncle already, not that I had much to unpack.

The first thing I did was find the framed photo of my parents and place it on my desk. That done, I headed into the tiny bathroom to splash cold water on my face.

I left everything else as it was for now, unable to face it, and flopped back on my bed.

My first year as a college student had begun.

I shook off the memories, focusing on staying positive. I twisted the ring I always wore on my right ring finger—slightly tarnished bands of silver, twining around each other with a circular piece of onyx inlaid in the center, and a butterfly made of tiny diamonds and pearls inlaid in the black stone. It had belonged to my mum, and it was my most precious possession, other than my car. My car was a blue 1969 Chevrolet Camaro that had belonged to my dad back when he lived here in the US, and it had been sitting in my uncle’s garage for years until I’d taken it. My uncle thankfully hadn’t been interested and had let me have it without question. It wasn’t in the best shape, and he had offered to buy me something much newer, but I loved it because it had belonged to my dad.

“Oof!”

All the air was knocked out of me as I rounded a corner, crashing straight into a wall.

No, not a wall. A man.

And not just any man.

Saint Devin.

Tall, tanned, broad shouldered, with dark blond hair and gorgeous green eyes, he should’ve been the poster boy for all-American good looks.

Except he wasn’t.

There was something dark lurking behind those eyes. Something that sent shivers down my spine.

Thankfully, he was here alone, his two equally intimidating friends nowhere to be seen. Despite having the least money out of any of the students at this exclusive university, as far as I knew, and all three here on scholarships, Saint Devin, Mateo Soto, and Callum Connelly commanded a position of authority and were feared on campus, thanks to their reputation. Saint and Mateo were juniors, like me, and Callum was a senior. Boys either loathed them for their power or wanted to be them, and girls wanted to fuck them. I’d always steered clear of them, although Saint was in some of my classes.

He gave me an unamused look, but after a momentary pause, he stepped around me to continue on his way. I breathed out a sigh of relief that he was letting this go. You didn’t want to get on the bad side of the Boneyard Kings.

Everyone knew their reputation.

The town of Blackstone was split in half by a long road that divided the rich north side—where my uncle lived, and the university campus was—from the south side. The Boneyard Kings ruled the south side of town, and you couldn’t even step foot in their territory without them knowing it. Then there were the rumors. Stories passed around, whispered in the dark. That maybe the boneyard—the car junkyard where they lived and worked—didn't just have that nickname for the fact that it was essentially a car graveyard. That maybe someone… or more than someone had died there, their bodies left to decompose among the car wreckage, to never be seen again.

A chill went through me, despite the warmth of the sun. Before I had a chance to take another breath, Saint gripped my arm and spun me to face him.

“Everly Walker, right?”

I nodded. It was clear he already knew the answer.

My heart rate kicked up as he drew closer, right up in my personal space. He lifted a piece of my hair, letting it fall through his fingers, his eyes intent on the movement of his hand. What was he doing? On instinct, I backed up until I was against the wall, but he came with me, his hard chest pressed against mine.

Lowering his head, he put his mouth to my ear, and I shivered involuntarily as his warm breath caressed my skin. “Everrrrrly.” He drew out my name with about a million extra syllables. “I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other this year.” When he straightened up, he grinned at me, showing his dimples.

Then, he was gone, disappearing off around the corner and leaving me slumped against the stone wall with a pounding heart.

What the fuck was all that about?

Brushing off the weird moment, I unlocked my phone, scrolling through the contacts before hitting the Call button.

“Ev!”

My mood instantly lightened at my friend’s enthusiastic greeting. “Mia! Are you back in town?”

“Got back yesterday. Ugh, I’m so jet-lagged,” she huffed loudly, pulling a smile out of me.

“Don’t expect any sympathy from me after you spent the summer hanging out with all those sexy Spanish men.”

“I tried to bring one back for you, but he wouldn’t fit in my suitcase.”

Moving to the left, I stepped around another family who was taking up the entire walkway with a huge collection of suitcases. “I guess I’ll forgive you. When are you coming back to campus?”

“Friday. Got to drive down to visit my mom for a few days, but I’ll be there as soon as I can. Party Friday night? Someone has to be having one.”

“I’ll see if I can find out. It’s mostly freshmen here right now.” Pausing for a second, I sucked in a breath, then added, “Oh, except I ran into Saint a minute ago.”

Predictably, she gave a dreamy sigh. “God, he’s hot.”

“Yeah… Not my type,” I said unconvincingly. Reaching the campus library, I pinned my phone between my ear and shoulder as I pulled my student ID from my bag to swipe myself in to the building. “Anyway, gotta go, but I’ll see if I can find out about anything happening Friday night.”

“Okay, babe. Speak soon.”

“See ya.” Ending the call, I entered the library.