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Kingdom Come (Underworld Kings)
Author: Aleatha Romig






Eight months ago



On the sidewalk outside of one of New York City’s best restaurants, I stilled before going through the door. My reflection in the darkened window showed a confident and more-than-competent man. At just over six feet tall, I carried myself well. There was a time that I was the man on the inside, the one with the ability to grant life, love, and power.

That was years ago in another life.

I’d heard of the five stages of loss—now I’ve experienced them.

The first was denial.

Denial was a stage I wasn’t granted. There was no denying my fate or that I’d put faith in the wrong person and harmed those I loved in the process. At the moment it all went down, I was unable to fully comprehend my fall from grace. It happened in the blink of an eye, or more accurately, in the time it takes a bullet to travel across a room.

The second stage was anger.

I’d had that emotion in spades since my world crumbled. Anger circulated through my bloodstream in equal part to oxygen. Breathing meant fury because breathing meant I was alive while others weren’t...and still others were. My jaw ached from the way it clenched whether I was consciously thinking about everything or if I were simply sleeping. Anger didn’t let up, my constant companion, as I forged ahead in yet another quest to make a new life. At nearly thirty years of age, that had been my second about-face. That either made me fortunate or a fucking loser.

And yet, three years later, I was still breathing. I felt the sunshine making its way between the tall buildings. I tasted the fine cognac that I’d soon be offered. My life had taken more twists and turns than a damn roller coaster, and I was still here.

That didn’t make me a loser.

It made me a winner.

As I straightened my neck and tugged on the hem of the suit coat, I gave myself that pep talk, the one that would allow me to face one of the most powerful people in New York City. A city this size wasn’t like that of New Orleans. One man would never control the sheer magnitude and diversity of a city this size. The city of New York had over twenty times the population contained within fewer square miles.

New Orleans was no longer an option. It was my past, and to survive, I needed to keep it in my rearview mirror.

The third stage of loss was bargaining.

Had I done that?

I didn’t recall or I didn’t want to recall.

There’s nothing more defeating than to become less. I didn’t want to admit that becoming less had happened, but I had come to terms with it. That’s an ironic thought for someone who was about to come face-to-face with Lorenzo Dellinger and present himself as an able and willing apprentice.

The days and nights over the last three years, swimming in cheap gin, bathing in vodka, and suckling the mouth of every bottle of liquor equated to my fourth stage of the loss of everything I’d wanted—depression. It wasn’t until I pulled myself out of the funk and made a life-changing decision that I could truly face my own reflection.

Once that occurred, I made it to where I was now, to the final stage, to acceptance.

To accept, by definition, meant the action of consenting to receive or undertake something that was offered. In my case, nothing was offered. To accept my situation meant I had to consent to nothing, to the loss of everyone and everything.

That was not what I accepted.

I accepted that my roller coaster of lives had taken an unseen spiral. It was up to me to decide if that spiral would take me into the pits of hell or if it would spring me from my funk and propel me forward.

No one else deserved credit for my epiphany.

No one placed choices on a silver platter.

No one offered me a hand or a word of encouragement.

That too was part of my acceptance. I accepted the reality that to turn the spiral upward, to accomplish more than I’d lost, and to see success ahead on the long road, it wasn’t up to anyone else. It wasn’t up to anyone but me.

That’s what brought me to New York.

My knowledge of the underworld in New Orleans wasn’t limited to what could be found in the city limits. No, I’d been taught well and paid attention. I knew that to move beyond the bayou, I had to go where the big boys played, where deals were made, where the darkness met the darker.

I arrived at Desolation, New York, with knowledge—albeit limited—of the workings of The Ruin, the nickname for all things illegal within this area. Given its geographic location, it’s the hub for imports and exports, illegal drugs, and sex trafficking. It’s where families meet and rats die.

That knowledge kept me breathing.

It had now landed me a meeting with Lorenzo Dellinger, the boss of the Dellinger Empire. On the surface the Dellinger family was known as one of the largest hotel moguls in the world. Under the surface, they were fierce, deadly, and corrupt. They were known for meetings that ended with a bullet between the eyes. They were also known for their support of those who offer the same.

I wasn’t confident about my long-term affiliation with the Dellinger family. I knew that in order to succeed in New York, California, or anywhere in between, I wanted to be on good terms with the Dellingers.

“Greyson Ingalls,” I said to the hostess at the front desk.

The young blond nodded. “Yes, Mr. Ingalls, you are expected.” She spoke as she pivoted. “Please follow me.”

In another time, my thoughts would be filled with the petite blond, the way her ass swayed in the tight little dress or the way her long straight hair swung against her back. Back then, I would have allowed my thoughts to continue, perhaps even offered her a proposal for a drink or something blunter. I was no longer that man.

I didn’t have time to be.

The young woman led me through a filled dining room and up a modern staircase. It was the kind where the stairs appeared suspended, curving toward a landing as a floating rail offered the only visible boundary. Finally, my shoes landed on the floor above and more diners came into view.

The hostess didn’t pause as she took me deeper into the dining area until she came to closed large double doors, the doors mostly filled with glass that was both opaque and tempered with an illusionist quality. From this side, I could see moving people, but nothing was clear.

The hostess knocked.

A large man appeared, so large that he dwarfed the blond, even giving me a sense of smallness despite my height and girth.

“Mr. Ingalls,” the young woman said, craning her neck upward.

The large man didn’t speak. Instead, his dark eyes scanned me up and down before he nodded and opened the doors wider. I stepped inside to the ring of laughter.

A table seating twelve was covered in drinks and dishes. All of the chairs were filled as I scanned the mostly unfamiliar faces. My entry had halted the conversation of what seemed to be a friendly gathering.

My gaze met that of a woman seated across the table, and my heart skipped a beat.

I knew her identity, not personally. Cecilia Abernathy was a modern-day American princess, a celebrity not of her own accord. My first means of comparison to those older than me would be domestically to think Kennedys. Internationally, think real royalty such as the Windsors.

For most of her life, Cecilia’s photos had graced magazine covers and tabloids alike. She was center stage when she broke curfew and was brought home by her bodyguards. The world judged her prom attire. The comments weren’t always positive as everything about her was critiqued. She disappeared for a few years while we were told she was attending Columbia University and asking for privacy. That reprieve ended when she turned twenty-one and the media labeled her fair game.

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