Home > Bad Men

Bad Men
Author: Airicka Phoenix



To everyone who had to hear me yell:

I’m almost done! Five million times.

Thank you for pretending to believe me.



Chapter One — Mia



“Please tell me you’re not standing at the window like some creep.”

I let the dark green drapes slip back over the front windows, relieved that Liana couldn’t see me.

“Of course not,” I lied, turning away for good measure. “I told you, I don’t care.”

Another lie.

I cared. I cared a lot. I cared so much, I hadn’t slept the night before, my anticipation a palpable force scuttling beneath my skin, making me anxious and excited. The first of every month had that power over me and my brat of a cousin knew it.

“Uh huh.” Liana chuckled quietly. “You are the worst liar.”

I didn’t make it a habit of lying to the people I cared about. In twenty-two years, I’d only ever kept one secret, but it was the kind that could destroy my life, my family, my reputation if anyone ever found out. Even the two involved had no idea it had been me that night five years ago, and I wanted to keep it that way.

“I didn’t call you to mock me,” I grumbled, wedging the phone between my ear and shoulder, freeing up my hands to fasten the button barely containing the full weight of my breasts beneath the confines of my dress. The flimsy bit of thread protested the attempt. It was one deep inhale away from popping free and blinding someone.

“I can do both,” Liana teased. “So, what are you wearing?”

The cruel mockery pooled heat in my cheeks. I dropped my hands to scowl, a scowl she couldn’t even see. “Why does that matter? You’re supposed to help me stay focused, not—”

Finding herself apparently hilarious, Liana hummed softly in feigned contemplation. “Not tempt you into submitting to your dirty fantasies?”

I gasped, horrified by my sweet, shy cousin. “Liana!”

Her giggle made my lips twitch. “I’m sorry, but it’s been seven years, Mimi. How much longer do you plan on playing this game?”

“It’s not a game, Lili!” I cried, hurt by the implication. “You know I can’t…” I let my words trail into a whisper, careful not to let my voice carry up the stairs where my dad was counting money. “Give in.”

“But you can’t go on like this either,” she argued. “You need to let them go.”

She was right, of course. I was behaving like some desperate teenager with her first crush. Only, I couldn’t be with them, not without devastating my family, but I couldn’t let them go because I was selfish. I was at an impasse, teetering between a fantasy and a cold reality with nowhere to go.

“I know you’re right,” I whispered at last, resigning to a reality without them. “I’m being ridiculous and stupid.”

“That is not what I said!” Liana protested. “This obsession you have with Nero and Davien is unhealthy and dangerous. They’re not good people. They will hurt you and I don’t want that.”

They could hurt me.

Both were so big and strong. Men with bad reputations and no remorse.


They could destroy me with just a word, and I knew I couldn’t survive that. I couldn’t handle being rejected by the two men I’d been in love with since I was sixteen. How was I supposed to just let that go? How did I move on?


I sucked in a shaky breath and focused on my cousin’s hesitant voice. “Yeah, I’m here “

“Are you angry with me?”

I shook my head. “Never.”

“You know I love you.”

My heart wasn’t in it, but I willed a smile into my voice. “I love you, too, prima.”

Liana sighed. “Promise me you’ll forget about them.”

I knew she meant well. She had my best interest at heart but what she was asking for was impossible. It was something I’d tried and failed for seven years. I even tried dating other men. I tried throwing myself fully into every relationship in hopes of sparking life into it, but at the back of my mind, I’d known it would never last. They weren’t Davien or Nero. They didn’t make my knees weak or my skin hyper aware of them whenever they got close. They didn’t make me wet. They didn’t make me want to do something risky and dangerous just to feel how it would be to be with them even once. Nero and Davien may not have known it was me that night, but I would remember it forever and no one could replace that.


“I should let you go.” I rubbed at the spot between my tired eyes with the tips of four fingers. “Talk later?”

“Of course. You okay?”

“Yeah, fine. I have laundry to finish anyway.”

We both knew that was a lie, but Liana didn’t push me on it. We promised to text before bed and hung up.

I tossed the phone down on the coffee table and moved to peek through the crack in the blinds. The heavy fabric — a handmade gift from my grandma — was perfect for days when the radio warned everyone to stay indoors and to stay hydrated. It blocked the light, keeping the house almost bearable. It was still a thousand degrees, but at least ripples of heat weren’t coming off the ground.

Outside, asphalt was melting under parked cars, leaving grooves where the tires had sunk into the ground. In several places, fires had broken out, causing chaos for miles.

Inside, we were in a slow roasting oven. The humidity alone was enough to make me want to strip naked and lie spread eagle across the kitchen linoleum. My thin, white dress clung to me, becoming a fine, restricting layer of second skin rubbing against me. I had opted against undergarments, the sweat and discomfort driving me to put as little on as possible. Still, stray strands of hair was plastered to my temples and the back of my neck. My spine felt sticky and hot. My inner thighs sweltered. The strip of skin under my boobs … I couldn’t even.

Six feet away, my reflection blinked at me from the round mirror fixed in the tiny foyer at the bottom of the stairs. From my spot in the sitting room, I could just see my flushed face staring back at me, miserable, tired, and covered in a fine sheen of sweat. My thick riot of curls was partially still up in a messy bun at the top of head. A few strands had slipped free to tangle with my gold hoops and tickle my shoulders, but the majority stayed in place. I had decided against makeup that morning and it had been the right decision. Last thing I needed was to have mascara streaking down my face with the sweat, especially on that day of all days.

It was payday … and not the good kind. Today was the day we had to pay for our lives, for living in our homes, in our community. It was a chunk of money most of us didn’t have but to not pay meant becoming an example of what happened to people who didn’t pay.

Eduardo Bernardo wasn’t a merciful man. He didn’t care that my parents worked two jobs each or that I gave up on my life to help them make ends meet. He only understood money. The thugs and criminals that worked for him were worse.

But we got lucky. Nero and Davien were never as bad as the ones who ran the other blocks. They weren’t fuzzy bunnies by any accounts, but they protected us. They kept the other collectors from our doors, kept the soldiers from our schools and children. We’d heard stories of the other blocks and their collectors, vicious, rabid monsters who took whatever they wanted, especially the girls. Neither Davien nor Nero had ever taken more than the money owed to Eduardo. Not that that made them saints, but it made them decent, in my books.

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