Some things in nature are impossible to explain. I have lived my entire life hiding what I am, watching my family and friends being fatally wounded while I escape with sometimes a scar to mark the tragedy. I know of only one other man like me. We both use what we are to serve and protect. I have no need now to come out of the shadows, except for the firebrand Cassandra Kelly. She is more than a man like me deserves: beautiful, intelligent, and funny as hell. Despite knowing that she is far out of my league, I can’t help wanting the bliss her sweetness promises. I have to ask myself whether she will survive when others close to me haven’t.
I’m not in her country in a professional capacity, but I have to rely on all of my resources to keep her safe from a determined stalker. Now that he knows that I am a part of her life he will stop at nothing to eradicate me from the picture. Many have tried to kill me, but I appear to be indestructible. We are under constant threat, and it will be impossible for Cassandra to ignore what a freak of nature I am.
I don’t need or want a man in my life. I’ve got too many things left to do, not the least of which are getting myself drafted into the WNBA and making sure my youngest brother gets into college. No one warned me about men like Xavier Bautista. He is the most beautiful soul I have ever encountered. He is gentle and protective, making me feel like the most cherished woman on the planet. Against what is best for my future, I want him, despite the scars and despite what he considers freakish.
Now I find that I have a sadist stalking me. Why me, why now? Xavier hasn’t admitted who he is, but one has only to look at him to know that he’s a defender. I should be worried about the man following my every move, but Xavier proves time and again he can be relied upon to shield me.
“Where is Cameron?” Cassandra Kelly asked Duane, her oldest brother. She had just finished her shower after returning from basketball practice. At eight o’clock in the evening, she’d expected Cameron, her eighteen-year-old brother in his last year of high school, would still be in his room studying for the national high school final exams.
“Cameron doesn’t need a damn babysitter,” Duane snarled. “You ain’t here most of the time anyway. Why you trippin’?” He stared at her with a piercing brown gaze. The vicious knife scar above his right eye was the only mark on his toffee-colored face. All of them had that smooth toffee complexion, light brown eyes, and curly raven hair. Cassandra often thought that they got away with half the shit they did because no one expected such beautiful people to be so evil. Sons of Lucifer, she often called them.
There were five boys and three girls among them. At twenty-one, Cassandra was the second youngest of the eight children, and her brother Cameron was the youngest at eighteen. The other siblings—Duane, Tyrone, Anton, Dylan, Keisha, and Monique—were all older and took part in varying degrees of criminal endeavors. Keisha and Monique, at twenty-nine and twenty-eight respectively, already had four children each with eight different men. Duane and the other brothers, all one year apart from thirty-five to thirty-two, ran a lucrative business dealing drugs and guns. Keisha and Monique had no problem being drug mules whenever they supplied cocaine to their customers in North or South America.
They lived in a massive twelve-bedroom house with almost an acre of land for the backyard. On such a small island, this was generous, expensive real estate. Life should be good, right? For Cassandra, the answer was no. She had been fighting her entire life to get out from under the specter of her family’s criminal lifestyle. She wanted to make it without aid from her brothers or sisters. Now Cameron was being groomed to enter the family business.
“It was just a question, Duane. And I would have expected him to be studying. He has biology and math tests tomorrow.”
Duane laughed. “What dat boy need with biology and math? We are millionaires without even finishing high school. Ain’t all of us want to be like you, you lil’ shit. What? You think because you gat a college degree you better than us?”
Cassandra knew there was no point in arguing with her brother. He hated everything she stood for and often tried to stop her from training. She had long gotten used to her siblings’ taunting and discouraging attitude to her wanting a college degree and playing basketball.
Cassandra was incredibly tired. In the three weeks she had been home from college, she had maintained a grueling schedule. Now in her senior year, with a major in
sports broadcasting and having a full athletic scholarship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), Cassandra knew she had to keep her shit together. With seven unsupportive siblings and a mother who had overdosed on cocaine, this was proving to be a difficult and lonely task.
“Cameron has a chance to get a scholarship and get into college. He’s a phenomenal basketball player. Why can’t you see that?”
“He is needed here. The more of us in the business, the less we have to depend on outside help. Do you think it’s an accident no police has taken us down yet? We don’t trust anyone but each other, not even our lazy-ass cousins. Everyone want some of this, but mudderfuckers can’t mess with us because our loyalty to each other is tight. The business is growing, and we need all hands in. You could be useful too. Just take some of the merchandise with you when you go to school. You think those fancy students in North Carolina ain’t using drugs?”
“I’m not wasting my breath telling you the same thing I’ve been saying for the past three years,” Cassandra muttered. There was no way she was going to help them by selling drugs at school. “Where is Cameron? What have you guys done?”
Duane laughed. “Go to bed, little girl. You ain’t run shit around here. Stay out of my fuckin’ business, and maybe you’ll remain healthy for your final school year.”
“I’m not afraid of you, Duane. I just want you to leave Cameron alone. Now, where the hell is he?”
Duane advanced on her with his gun aimed toward her head. He stopped inches away and glared down at her. “See, you have a fuckin’ hard head. Stay out of our mudderfuckin’ business! Dis the las time I tellin’ you dis shit. Leave Cameron be,” Duane roared.
Cassandra was so pissed she threw caution to the wind and closed the distance between them. “No, you’re the hardhead,” she shouted at him, ignoring the lethal weapon pointed at her. “I won’t let you turn Cam into a degenerate like you. You hate who you are and want to drag everyone else down to your level so you can feel better about your fucked-up life. No, Duane. You better shoot me now, asshole, because I’m not letting you do this to Cam.”
Her family thought that because they lived in one of the largest houses on the Eastern Road of New Providence in the Bahamas, drove fancy cars, and wore designer clothes that they had made it. The material strapping of wealth was their measure of success. Cassandra hated that they had destroyed so many lives in order to achieve even that small measure. They considered her a threat to their lifestyle because she refused to fall in line. She knew that her brothers would have killed her by now to maintain their lifestyle if she didn’t have some leverage over them. Seeing the look in her brother’s eyes now, she knew he suddenly remembered that fact.
Duane lowered his gun and glared at her. “Get your bougie ass out of my face. Step up to me again and I’ll put a bullet in your ass, sister or not!”
Cassandra didn’t press her luck. She spun around, ran up the stairs to her bedroom for her pocketbook and keys, headed back down the stairs, and then exited the house.
When she was home, she always drove her mother’s grey Honda Civic. Her mother, Roberta, had died about two years ago. When she had been alive, she had been so drugged out most of the time that she hadn’t often been lucid enough to drive. The car was relatively a new model because of it.
Knowing her brothers, she knew they did most of their work on Paradise Island. They had a firm hold on the local market; however, they were now putting more resources in dealing to tourists at the various properties on the private resort island. In their stylish designer clothes, jewelry and shoes, they blended in well with the tourists. Security guards and resort employees were well paid to ensure their unrestricted access to the properties.
Cassandra drove along the Eastern Road trying to decide how to handle her brothers. Duane was violent and abusive, but Tyrone, Anton, and Dylan were even more so. They would think nothing of slapping her around. I’m prepared for their asses. I didn’t get through living in a house with four violent brothers without learning a thing or two, and I’ve learned even more on the basketball court.
Cassandra arrived at the Atlantis Hotel parking lot about twenty minutes later. Dressed in her sneakers and dri-FIT workout clothes, which seemed to be the only clothes she owned lately, she jogged to the marina less than a quarter of a mile away. It took her less than five minutes to find her brothers in the outdoor pizzeria talking to a few American teenagers. The security guards littered throughout the property conveniently looked the other way. Cassandra shook her head in disgust. The guys seemed to be joking around with the tourists, but just then, Cameron reached into his pocket.
Cassandra took off in a full sprint, running to intercept him, almost toppling him to the ground when she embraced him. “Cameron, hey,” she shouted breathlessly. “I have something to tell you,” she continued in the same loud voice.
“Get the hell out of here,” Anton growled. The fierce scowl on his face would have frightened anyone. It certainly frightened the teenagers, who immediately turned and stumbled away from them.
Dylan grabbed a fistful of her thick black hair and pulled her away from Cameron. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
“Told you we should have kicked her ass out of our house weeks ago,” Tyrone muttered.
The security guards, who, only moments ago, had been diligently minding their business, surrounded them. “Hey, not around the tourists, man. Y’all take that shit home,” one of the guards demanded.
Dylan loosened her hair and stepped back.
Cassandra drew back and socked Dylan as hard as she could with a closed fist in his eye.
Dylan roared in pain.
“Don’t touch me again, you lil’ punk,” Cassandra yelled so she could be heard above him, “or I’ll gouge your damn eyes out next time.”
Cameron wrapped his muscular arms around her and pulled her away from a furiously advancing Dylan, Tyrone, and Anton.
Cassandra knew it was stupid to antagonize her brothers when she still had to live with them, but she also knew that if she showed an ounce of weakness, their treatment toward her would be even more violent. She had learned at an early age that if she didn’t fight back, they would just keep attacking and tormenting her. They were all bullies, quick to pounce on any sign of weakness. But they were also all very big men at over six feet tall and very fit. They competed aggressively among themselves on who had the fittest bodies, resulting in them spending a lot of hours in the gym on a daily basis. So a five-foot-ten basketball point guard wasn’t going to intimidate them.
However, a pissed-off sister, who had always given as good as she got, certainly made them think twice about taking her on individually. To her advantage, Cassandra was quick, knew how to street fight with the best of them, and was very unpredictable. But she also knew that if they ever closed rank and attacked her together, she would be significantly outnumbered, overpowered, and probably decimated. Thank God they’re too dumb and too egotistical to ever think like that.
The security guards surrounded them then and coaxed her brothers out of the Marina Village. Once they were outside the resort, they all walked toward the parking lot with her brothers leveling all manners of threats at her.
“You gonna be sorry you ever did that, bitch!” Anton scowled.
“Somehow I doubt that.” Cassandra, staying well out of their physical reach, continued taunting them. She grabbed Cameron’s hand, ensuring that he remained close to her and wasn’t going anywhere with their brothers.
They had just gotten into the almost deserted parking lot where she had parked. It was a relatively well-lit lot with security within shouting distance. At this time at night, the lot was essentially used by the employees and a few locals visiting the resort. There weren’t many people mulling about, mostly locals with a few tourists in the mix. The locals all knew who the Kelly brothers were, and none of them would dare challenge them.
Dylan advanced on her, got in her face, and glared down at her. “You hit me,” Dylan said through clenched teeth. “I’m going to beat the shit out of you! I don’t give a fuck who you are!” He grabbed her by the throat.
“Man, don’t do dis, Dylan,” Cameron pleaded. “Y’all know how much Cass don’t like the family business.” Cameron moved closer to his brother and sister, grabbing Dylan’s arm.