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King's Capture
Author: Vivian Wood


Chapter One




In a small, dark room near the Turkmeni shipping docks, I huddle. Dust drifts around the dank space, pervading it as it does every single place I’ve been in this damned country. Eros fidgets and looks toward the back of the room, pulling out his weapon. He’s not especially trigger happy, so I am not particularly concerned. It just tells me that the tension is getting to my brothers too as we stand at the ready.

There is little to do now but wait to see how everything that I have planned plays out.

“Hades…” Ares warns, his voice low. “We shouldn’t wait.”

His Highland Scots accent is as strong as ever. My brothers and I will always sound rough and coarse, as though we were all born in the middle of a Highland winter storm.

I lift a hand in response, watching the video camera intently. Behind me, my two brothers stand and await my orders. They silently sweat in their black suits, Eros clearly the more nervous of the two.

It’s unseasonably hot today, even for a Turkmeni summer. I can feel the perspiration dampening my expensive white button-up shirt on my lower back, sticking it to my skin. The need to take off my black Brioni suit jacket and roll up my sleeves presses down on me.

I dart a glance at Eros. His expression is drawn, his high cheekbones and smattering of freckles across his nose and below his eyes less striking than the grimace on his pouty lips. Eros is the bonniest of the three of us, his dark-haired good looks almost feminine, his striking features carved from the finest marble.

Ares leans forward, his eyes on the video screen. If Eros is a finely carved marble statue, then the same artist surely formed Ares by bluntly bashing a piece of rock until the edges are roughly hewn into shape. He’s all sharp edges and craggy flesh stretched over bone.

And me? I’m somewhere in between.

“Oi.” Eros calls my attention, snapping me out of my thoughts. “There’s movement.”

My eyes travel back to the screen. I need to focus now. This deal has the potential to make me over a hundred million dollars and it will be my largest international arms deal to date.

Assuming that this doesn’t suddenly go very, very wrong.

I tuck one hand under my chin and watch the figures on the dingy little screen in front of me. Two suited men stand on one side, the posture standoffish. Those are the agents I’ve hired to conduct today’s business.

Mateen Abdul and Soban Sadat make perfect straw men. They have immaculate criminal records. They also have a small shipping business that has existed in Turkmenbashi for several years prior.

They are currently squaring off with several men in uniform, members of the police force that watch over the shipping docks. I hold my breath as one of the policemen examines a thick sheaf of papers. He frowns, looking up at Mateen. He asks a pointed question, jabbing his finger to indicate the papers.

I turn my head, looking past my brothers to the local man I’ve hired as an interpreter. He looks to me automatically, even though there has been no explicit mention of which of the brothers Lyon is in power here. I’m the oldest brother. In personality, the natural leader.

Ares is the bravest brother but also the hastiest, prone to bloodthirst.

Eros is smarter than the two of us combined. But he also lets his heart and his libido lead in lieu of his head.

Which leaves only me. I think everything through, seeing everything from multiple angles. I am the most intractable of the three of us, the most decisive.

The interpreter senses that I am the one he needs to please. He scuttles forward, bowing his head.

“What did he say?” I demand.

The man seals his lips and looks at the video camera screen. The policeman asks another question, and I can tell by the anxious look on our interpreter’s face that the answer isn’t good.

“He is saying that the documents are a mess. That…” He pauses, listening. “He asks for identification from both men. And he just told his men to open the first shipping container.”

“That should be fine,” Eros says. “We have made plans for our cargo to be searched.”

Ares shoots him a quelling glance. “We made plans to have it searched by friendly agents that we have paid off. Not by some random police. The cargo is barely hidden by a few inches of rice. It gives way to what’s underneath with a quickness.”

“There is another contingency if the shipment is discovered.” Eros fidgets. “Right, Hades?”

My brothers usually like to argue. But just now, it is raising my blood pressure and making it hard for me to listen to what is going on.

“Haud yer wheesht. Shut the fuck up.”

Ares chafes at my order, his body tensing. But he and Eros both fall silent at once. This is exactly the reason we have a chain of command. At this exact moment, we are arms dealers first, family second.

Looking at the screen again, I watch as the policeman dispatches his associates to look in the container. Few things have the power to enthrall me. But we have spent months putting this deal together. Tens of millions of dollars are riding on this moment.

And the people involved in the deal? They are not the kind of clients that I want to let down. I crack my knuckles as a trickle of sweat slips down the side of my face.

This must go well.

A few seconds later, there is a shout that comes from one of the men.

My whole body tenses up, my eyes narrow, and my jaw juts out. Here it comes.

That’s the moment that Mateen straightens his tie pin, a signal. Mateen is saying that he plans to abort.

“Fuck,” I mutter. I watch, brooding.

Even though I already know what’s going to happen.

The main policeman waves the sheaf of paper in Mateen’s face again and shouts something. A lot of it sounds like gibberish to me. I speak a little Farsi, I’m fairly well-versed in a stilted form of Arabic, and I’m almost conversational in Hebrew. But Turkmenistan has its own language, Turkmen. And I’ll be damned if I can make heads or tails of it.

Out of that, I can make out one two word name. Clear as a bell, I hear it.

Henri Constantine.

My heart starts to beat double time.

“Nae!” I snap, clenching my fists.

As if I, from the safe distance that I’ve chosen to watch, can affect what is about to happen.

The interpreter goes white as a sheet.

“He says that he knows that the men are not legitimate. He says he can tell that their papers are forged. Says that the person they got them from was very sloppy. And now he is going to— “

He’s cut off by a gunshot. The policeman flails and falls backward. It takes me a second to realize that the shot came from Mateen.

That’s when shit really starts going sideways. Granted, the second I heard that name — Constantine — I saw this outcome clearly. He’s been trying to fuck me over from the jump.

Several more shots are fired from the police and my two agents. The straw men are excitedly good shots because they take down the other cops while sustaining no damage themselves.

“Hades!” Ares grabs my arm, shaking me. “The deal is buggered. We must move. We have to start tying up loose ends.”

There is a moment in which the tension in the air escalates. The interpreter suddenly turns to flee the room. Eros pulls out his gun, silencer already attached, and shoots him in the back of the head.

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