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The arrangement 23, p.1

The Arrangement 23, page 1

 part  #23 of  The Arrangement Series

 

The Arrangement 23
 


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The Arrangement 23


  The Arrangement 23

  The Ferro Family

  H.M. Ward

  H.M. Ward Press

  Contents

  The Arrangement

  Author’s Note

  1. CHAPTER 1

  2. CHAPTER 2

  3. CHAPTER 3

  4. CHAPTER 4

  5. CHAPTER 5

  6. CHAPTER 6

  7. CHAPTER 7

  8. CHAPTER 8

  9. CHAPTER 9

  10. CHAPTER 10

  11. CHAPTER 11

  12. CHAPTER 12

  13. CHAPTER 13

  14. CHAPTER 14

  15. CHAPTER 15

  16. CHAPTER 16

  17. CHAPTER 17

  18. CHAPTER 18

  19. CHAPTER 19

  20. CHAPTER 20

  21. CHAPTER 21

  22. CHAPTER 22

  RAPID RELEASES BY H.M. WARD

  THE PROPOSITION

  23. Chapter 1

  24. Chapter 2

  COMPLETED SERIES BY H.M. WARD

  MORE FERRO FAMILY BOOKS

  SUGGESTED FERRO READING ORDER

  MORE BOOKS BY H.M. WARD

  CAN'T WAIT FOR H.M. WARD'S NEXT STEAMY BOOK?

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2017 by H.M. Ward

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form.

  LAREE BAILEY PRESS

  First Edition: March 2017

  ISBN: 9781630351335, 9781630351533 (paperbacks)

  ISBN: 978-1-63035-132-8

  The Arrangement

  Volume 23

  Author’s Note

  Thank you to all the amazing readers who helped shape this series into a worldwide phenomenon. The world fell in love with Sean Ferro and Avery Stanz in 2013.

  This is the conclusion to their story.

  Thank you for reading,

  CHAPTER 1

  The gunshots echo in my mind as I stare out the window, down at the pool. Crimson streamers seep from the two bodies lying face down in the water. I recognize Sean’s form, the sweep of his shoulders and his thick dark hair. The hardened stiffness of his stance, the remorse and grief he bore, is now absent as he floats, listless.

  There’s nothing surrounding me at that moment. There are no towering walls lined with bookcases. The scent of expensive rugs and feather filled furniture alludes me. The voices around me get sucked into the void that holds me firmly at its center. Vic cackles behind me, but it sounds like static in my ears. My body flushes hot before turning to ice.

  All this time, I wanted to be like Sean. I wanted to feel nothing, to have the ability to be a cold, sadistic bastard if required. I wanted to patch myself up and shut the world out, but as I tried to learn those things from Sean—I fell in love with him. It wasn’t supposed to happen. I knew I couldn’t bear to have my heart ripped out again. Now that the moment has come it doesn’t play out the way I’d imagined. I don’t fall to the floor in a hopeless heap, unable to control my tears. No, instead fury races through me, but it’s tempered by something that slithers through my mind—a single thought woven from the last cobwebs of my shattered soul. The delicate nature of it instantly turns to steel.

  The effect is like slamming a door. Staring at Sean’s lifeless body does something to me, and I change. The spider-web-thin cracks that have covered me for so long fracture. The freefall begins and I know I’m about to tumble beneath the surface of my mind, to whatever darkness lies beneath.

  Emotion drains from my body as if poured out hastily. The fear vaporizes and is swept away like a cloud of smoke. There’s nothing left after that point. The voice in my head, the one that tells me to hope and press on no matter what is silent. She’s not screaming at me to run, to fight, or do anything. There’s a void in her absence, an empty black chasm filled with icy darkness. Is this the nightmare I’ve had so many times? I dreamed of getting pulled under and drowning. The water was a noose around my neck, unrelenting, unforgiving. There was no way out, but when Sean was there, the dreams faded. Tonight it feels like that dream is a reality. No one can save me. I may still be among the living, but I’ve already perished. I’m below the surface and breathing water, and the strangest thought occurs—I’m not afraid.

  Shifting my gaze from Sean’s body below, I glance out of the corner of my eye at the man responsible for my misery. Vic caused all my pain and suffering. He’s too close, grinning at me with that bloated snake of a mouth. His shaved head has a halo from the chandelier above, making him appear as a demented, dark angel. He’s rubbing his palms together slowly, waiting for me to fall apart before his eyes.

  Miss Black, who has been unconcerned so far, unsteeples her fingers and lifts a brow. Lips slightly parted, she leans forward from behind the desk. It’s the equivalent of dancing on a desktop for someone like Black. The woman never moves, never reveals what she’s thinking, but she recognizes the change in me. It takes a woman that devolved into a monster to notice the breaking point. Black remains silent. Her attention cuts to Vic as she sits back again to watch how I play out my hand.

  I’m not a mastermind. My wrath is nothing compared to Sean’s. My vengeance is a basket full of puppies compared to Mel’s. And Henry—who the hell knows why he’s so fucked up, but I can’t blame him anymore. Even for that night when he nearly killed me. It’s impossible to know what’s going on behind their eyes when a person breaks.

  That moment is now. I sense it. Shard by shard, my tattered soul obliterates until nothing remains. The calming silence, the empty echo within, is deafening. There’s no sensation of heat or cold against my flesh, no recognition of the silk fabric caressing my skin. That piece of me broke a moment ago. Cognitively I recognize the fact, but I still can’t process it.

  Instead, I stare at my brother and realize he doesn’t know what just happened. He doesn’t sense the newly formed soulless creature in front of him. He expects me to cry, to lash out in hatred, and fall to the floor in a crumpled mess of sobs. He’s practically giddy as he waits, but the moment never comes.

  Marty clears his throat and tucks his chin at the same time he clicks his heels together. I can think with calculated calmness, which should be frightening. The person who can make calculated moves after having her heart ripped out is not a life worth saving. I make no attempt to clutch the crushed pieces of my spirit. Holding onto the shards will only cut more. I’m done with this. I feel the thoughts snap into place like a plastic puzzle. The path I want to take is clearing, but I need a few moments to put it all together and make sure it works.

  I buy time by turning to Marty and glare into his brown eyes. “You fooled me twice, you sonuvabitch. It won’t happen again.”

  Vic practically squeals with delight and presses his callused fingers to his mouth to contain his excitement. My brother’s mannerisms unnerved me before tonight. That high pitched squeal would send my hair standing on end. Now it does nothing.

  Vic throws his arms to his sides and steps towards us, placing a hand gingerly on my arm as if we are old friends. I don’t shake him off. He catches my eye. “An idea, if you will, little sis. A challenge of sorts. What if I gave you the chance to pay him back for his lies? For his deceit?”

  There’s no way out of this room other than to walk out with them, so that’s what I need to do. It should pain me, and I should feel torn, but I don’t. Betrayal doesn’t strangle me, and there’s no tremor in my fingertips, not anymore.

  I hold M
arty’s gaze while I answer my brother, “How?”

  Vic grins as he glances between us. He retracts his palm from me before he folds his arms across his chest before pacing a slow circle around us. He lifts his fingers and rubs his chin before purring, “An eye for an eye. It’s only fair, and that’s what life is all about, isn’t it, Masterson? Fairness. Nothing else matters because nothing else resonates as deeply as being unjustly mistreated.” He stops behind me and takes a step forward.

  I should want to run, to panic, but I don’t. No emotion is present, and it seems like it doesn’t matter what Vic does, I won’t feel anything.

  Is this how Sean felt all day, every day? It’s like there’s a protective layer surrounding me, boxing me in. This is what I wanted from the moment my parents died. A protective box, a wall around me that no one can penetrate. The only problem is that it’s suffocating me. But it’s not like a lack of air in my lungs. Rather, it’s as if I boxed myself into a coffin and I pulled the lid shut. I should be terrified of that thought, but it doesn’t make my heart race or my skin sweat. The wall around me is what separates the people from the monsters. This is why Sean gave in, why he did what he did with the call girls—why only certain things made him feel again.

  All this time, I thought Sean could be redeemed, but I can see things from this side of hell. There’s no way out. No wonder he fought so fiercely to keep me from becoming like him. All this time, he knew there was no life after breaking like this.

  Vic’s hands land softly on my shoulders, his pinky moving in circles on my bare skin. He purrs next to my ear, “And seriously, Avery—how many times can the same man lie to you without consequences?”

  I don’t shake him off. I don’t feel sickened by his touch even though I know I should. Instead, it’s just there, another dead sensation. Miss Black continues watching in silence as Vic stands behind me.

  I stare at Marty while he holds my gaze, expressionless. “It’s been too many times.”

  Marty flinches slightly at my icy undertones. It seems like his eyes are trying to speak, but they fall on deaf ears. A storm is building inside of me. Pieces of incomplete thoughts swirl like dust rising from the ground, obscuring the full picture. I let the segmented thoughts twirl and float.

  All this time, Marty has played both sides. That’s the object in the center of my mental dust storm. Marty killed Sean. He wasn’t the one to fire the gun, but his betrayal is the reason Sean’s dead. Marty’s loyalty has never been to me. I see that now. Every calculated move he made was to lure me closer and drop my guard. I leaned on him, cried in his arms, and slept in his bed. Every step of the way was a path paved with lies.

  Vic steps back and strides behind Marty. He rolls the black bead between his thumb and forefinger before pocketing the bracelets. Tipping his head to the side, he sneers at Marty. “Are you ready to prove where your loyalty lies once and for all?”

  CHAPTER 2

  Marty’s voice is clear and unwavering. “My loyalty has always been with you.”

  “Sometimes I’m not so sure and this little task will prove your allegiance once and for all.” Vic glances at the men behind Marty. “Give me that crazy woman’s knives. Do you know how many she had on her?” He says it to me as if I knew where Mel stashed blades on her person.

  I don’t but play along, allowing my mind to turn my plan over again and again. Poking holes in it, and patching it back together. I mutter, “She probably has more.”

  Vic shakes his head as he folds his arms across his chest tightly. “Not a chance. We checked every inch of that whore’s body.”

  A tall, wide man nods and retreats out the door at the far end of the massive room. His footfalls disappear, but I count them before they vanish. Mel is close by, but I can’t hear her. She’s either dead, or they’re holding her somewhere.

  Vic flips a grin my way. “Well, not me personally, but my men are thorough. Maybe we should pat you down, little sis.” He arches a brow at me.

  I stare at him with no expression and lift my arms at the same time I spread my legs. “Go ahead.”

  The sparkle in Vic’s eyes burns out. He frowns and swats a hand at me. “You’re no fun when you’re like this. I expected you to be bawling your eyes out on the floor.” He stares at the rug and pouts. “You have no idea how much I’ve wanted to slam my foot into your ribs and feel them crack.” When Vic glances up, he adds with a smirk, “I guess that I’ll have to save that for later.”

  The threat rolls off me. I wonder if I’ll feel pain. Right now, I’m pretty sure I could rest my hand on a stove and not feel my flesh burning. While that sense appears to have perished, I notice other things, minutia. They’re the kind of things that usually don’t matter. No one examines every grain of sand on a beach, but for some reason, that’s how I see things now.

  Black is still pristine, sitting fully erect, and her fingers curled as her hands are clasped calmly in front of her—except her ring finger. The nail touches the desk, ticking off the seconds, scraping into the wood. I don’t look directly at her, but I can see her out of the corner of my eye. There’s hardly a sound from that movement. Her red nails disguise a trickle of blood from her nailbed and across her pale fingertip. She pushes on that sharp splinter again, making no other movement, no indication that she cares about anything. There’s another bead of blood. I thought she was neurotic before today, but now—I’m not so sure. Pain increases focus and she’d need it if she’s swimming in a sea of apathy. There are monsters at the bottom of the ocean. Now that I’m down here, they aren’t scary.

  How far gone is Miss Black? That’s the question. I can recognize my own kind, and there’s no doubt about Vic—but Black is still a question mark.

  A thought sears through my mind, flashing brightly. Sean. He did what he did—he manipulated dread and power to feel. He'd been so disconnected from his body that he used sex and terror to channel his emotions, to cause a burst of light in the darkness. It’s not as terrifying to have done those things with him now. Back then it was, but I was afraid.

  What happens when there is no fear? If fear is dead, what am I capable of? If nothing burns inside my chest—not vengeance, compassion, or kindness—what compels me to act? I don’t know. But from the swirling thoughts in my mind, the only thing that I’m certain of is that I want to get to Sean’s body and take him far away from here. I want to hold him one last time and say everything I never said—I want to tell him about the baby. It doesn’t matter that he’s already gone, that he’ll never really know. My thoughts latch onto an image of me holding his lifeless body in my lap, telling him about our daughter and planning a future that we’ll never have.

  Three lives were stolen today. There’s no way to save her, to keep the baby within me safe. That thought rings clearly, with utter certainty. Even if I could escape, I’m not running from this anymore. There will not be a third generation of Stanz women who spend their lives running and hiding. I’ve already accepted that. If I could feel, I’d keep fighting for her—I’d hope my way into delusions that would never come to pass. There’s no way to protect this child from the monsters in this room, which only leaves us with one exit.

  Vic cackles as he tells me the rules and places his sweaty palm on the center of my back, pressing his flesh against my bare skin in a way that’s not brotherly. Leaning in close he growls, “This is your chance to show me what you’re made of, little sis. If there’s any trace of the family blood running through your veins, it better pop up now. You never know, it could change my mind. I could make different plans for you.” His eyes slither over my body as he says the last sentence.

  I remain stiff and don’t reply. With a shove, Vic pushes me into the corridor. Black rises and trails behind, walking next to Marty, eyeing him as if she hasn’t sized him up properly. We walk down the carpeted hallway with Vic’s men in tow. As we pass quietly by paintings and priceless art, I catch sight of a white animal at the end of the passage—it has huge white furry haunches, massive paw
s, and a very round rump. From a distance, I recognize the beast. Vic really has a bear, and it’s roaming the hallways of his house. No one comments on the animal or acts like they’re worried about it. The beast is walking away from us, which is fine by me. Who the hell owns a pet bear?

  Golden light flickers from antique looking gas lamps lining the walls every few feet. The flame is housed behind glass and perched on a bronze fixture within. The chandeliers in the alcoves are electric and throw off more light. Then, we’re back to gas lamps with red walls that illuminate the space in warm hues that seem to dance as we pass. I wonder if those fixtures run through the entire house.

  Before I have time to consider it, Vic shoves us through a pair of glass doors that lead to the back lawn. “Loyalty is something that is defined by actions, not words.” Sprawling green goes all the way back to the shadows at the edge of the property where the tall trees jut up into the inky night sky.

  Black and Marty follow us, with the muscle bringing up the rear. Once we are all outside and standing in a patch of slate by the back of the mansion, I glance at Marty. The muscle in his jaw twitches. Whether it’s from uncertainty or having his loyalty questioned, I don’t know.

  Vic steps in close to Marty. The Adam’s apple in Marty’s neck bobs as the men stand eye to eye. Marty’s back is rigid and his stare stoic which stands in contrast to Vic’s lithe body and sleek movements.

  Vic holds Marty’s gaze as he slips a hand to Marty’s waist. The touch is too intimate, too telling. Marty doesn’t move as Vic’s fingers linger before plucking the gun from the holster at Marty’s waist. He hands it to one of his thugs before reaching for Marty again, this time provocatively undoing the belt at Marty’s waist and then tossing it the other guard.

 
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