It also wasn’t the first time I heard someone use a dog reference to make fun of my name. Nobody was original anymore. I blamed the internet. I stepped down the first batch of stairs in front of the bar’s back entrance with both hands held high—a classic robbery move.
“Gee, I’ve never heard that one. I guess after I finish kicking your ass, I’ll have to go yell at my mom for naming me Shiloh.”
Was it smart to use sarcasm on a man who held a gun to me with his finger on the trigger?
But I’d made dumber choices in the past. His finger hovered over the trigger as if he couldn’t wait to shoot me but then realized I was no good to him dead. You can’t ransom a corpse.
At least if I was going to have one hell of a shit day, God put it all on the same day rather than spreading it out over the course of a week.
When life really got down, you had to think positively. However, there weren’t many positive things about being held at gunpoint in the back alley of a bar in Chicago, but I’d keep trying.
I guess all those affirmations I said every morning hadn’t paid off yet.
“What are you smiling at, bitch?” The second attacker, who stood behind the first without a weapon, sneered. For a man not holding a gun, he was rather an asshole in his own right.
“I’m just thinking about what you’ll look like dead.”
What did it say about me as a woman, when being held at gunpoint didn’t make me sweat any longer? The late September humidity caused my curly dark brown hair to frizz, not the stress.
“Are you the Grandmaster’s cousin?”
It was a stupid thing to do, but I popped my hip out after taking one more step down, putting myself closer to the barrel of the gun. Fuck it. If I was going to die, I wasn’t going down begging for mercy.
“Did you come all the way down here to kidnap me and you don’t even know for sure who I’m related to?” I made a tsk sound from between my teeth and shook my head in disapproval. “What will your boss do if I say no?”
Hopefully, he’d take the time to confirm I was indeed the cousin to Westley Richter before he shot me. If he was dumb enough to take sarcasm at face value, I was screwed.
Rainman stood beside his accomplice and held up a full sheet of paper. My image was so large on it you could probably see every pore on my nose. Didn’t the criminals in the underworld have any tact?
The first guy—I was gonna start calling him Tall Asshole since he hadn’t given me his name—used the end of his Glock to tap the printed picture.
How did I know he had a Glock? I lived in Chicago in one of the most notorious crime families in the city. It came with the territory.
He twisted his weapon back in my direction when I stepped to the side.
“Yeah, you’re definitely the Grandmaster’s cousin.”
When my cousin, Westley i.e., the Grandmaster, was tapped to take over the infamous Chicago gang, The Masters, he taught me the ropes. I’d been helping him years as he climbed the ranks, but he stepped up his game as their leader.
Chicago wasn’t normally so full of criminals. The beautiful city generally kept its criminal behavior on the south side, but I’d lived in it my entire life and had no plans to move. Chicago had everything. As long as you owned a big ass puffy coat and could get used to the words “lake effect snow,” you never needed to leave the city. Especially when your cousin practically owned it.
“The bigger question—who is stupid enough to need to ask?”
I took the last step off the stoop, putting myself at the same level as my attackers. The alleyway reeked of pee, filth, and bad life choices. It was one of those things about Chicago you just eventually learned to love.
This close, we had just enough light between us for me to spot the man’s missing side tooth when he grinned as though he was holding some super special secret and couldn’t wait to tell me. That was the other thing about criminals. They could not keep a secret.
“Haven’t you heard? The Grandmaster isn’t the only big player anymore. There are new guys in town. The Masters aren’t big enough to take on all the competition.”
I rolled my eyes dramatically and used the maneuver to check the end of the alley. It was a hundred feet away or more, but judging distance wasn’t my best skill. I could, however, mix a dirty martini in under thirty seconds. Something told me these guys weren’t interested in my bartending skills, though.
No way would I make it to the ends of the alleyway. Not alive, at least. I should have worn the stilettos. Then I’d have tall heels to blame for my lack of a getaway. Without them, I only had my poor running skills to trip myself up.
“What is it with you guys and your stereotypes.? This is America. We don’t discriminate here.”
It was obvious that Tall Asshole had been born in America but watched too many mob movies. His accent was Chicago and not the Chicago mob.
Growing up around the Grandmaster after he joined The Masters, I learned almost everything about mob life. Many people thought they were classic mob. The Masters’ gang was more a collection of evildoers than your traditional syndicate, though they were run much the same way.
Westley shielded me from many of the worst parts of gang life. That didn’t mean he didn’t make sure I knew how to fire a gun and defend myself. His bar was also the location of my current kidnapping.
I didn’t know every single thing about the inner workings of the empire, but the one thing Westley never hid from me was his overt annoyance at mob stereotypes. He said everybody always asked him which family he associated with as he climbed the ranks of the criminal empire.
We weren’t part of any family. The Richters were a conglomerate, mix-matched American family who had been here for generations. It wasn’t like learning how to be a criminal was something they only taught in Italy.
Westly hated that The Masters were considered part of the mob because he considered himself more of a pioneer—someone who bucked the trends and carved his own path. When he took over the gang, they were a ragged group of thugs, but he turned it into a gang to be rivaled by no other.
It sounded like a lot of bullshit to say he created a new mob family. Which was kind of right. Westley considered himself a new-age friendlier criminal, but since I was staring at the business end of a gun, he might be slightly delusional about the friendlier part.
Westley paid for my college and gave me a job at one of his bars to help me with spending money while I worked on my MBA at Northwestern. There was more than enough money to go around, but I wanted to pull my weight. Until these assholes showed up at the bar, I’d skated by without seeing actual violence.
Some people may have considered Westley a nuisance relative, but in reality, he wasn’t such a bad guy.
Rainman reached his hand out and stuck his disgusting fingers around my arm, giving me a jerk. There’s only one place they’d try to take me, the big black van at the end of the alleyway. If I went in, I’d probably never come out. At least not alive.
“No way, fucker. I’m not getting in your van.” Did they think I was stupid? No way did he have any puppies or candies in his vehicle.
I jerked my arm from his grasp and tried to form an escape route. The alleyway dead ended at the back of the tattoo parlor, which closed at nine. They were not any help. It had an opening at the other direction, but then I’d be running right toward a getaway vehicle. I’d locked the door to the bar. Otherwise, I’d escape that way and make a run to the front door or at least to the silent alarm. Standing in the empty alley, I was screwed.
And all of us saw it.
Still, I wasn’t out of options completely. If I made it far enough down the alley, I might scream loudly enough that someone else closing another bar might hear me. It was the only hope I had left.
I wasn’t a track star in high school because I was too busy running numbers for Westley to devote more time to after-school activities. But I had a feeling when it came to running for my life, I’d be able to gain more speed. Hopefully.
I stepped to my left, hoping the two men in front of me continued arguing over the best way to get me in the van and didn’t notice. Just as I turned my body in that direction, two more men slipped out of the van. They’d left the back door open. I didn’t know how many seats were in the vehicle, but I had a rough estimation there were now more men than seatbelts. They probably wouldn’t let me ride shotgun.
“This is really going to piss off the Grandmaster,” I said. I hated calling him the Grandmaster. It was such a stupid and pretentious name. The organization called themselves The Masters as a ploy on master criminals. So dumb. Men. But I needed to invoke fear, and if they were dumb enough to fear someone with the name the Grandmaster, it wasn’t my fault for using it against them.
“If you just get in the van, we won’t hurt you.”
I laughed, but it sounded pretty humorless. Nothing was funny about getting kidnapped. “You might not hurt me, but the Grandmaster is definitely going to kill you.”
Rainman reached for me again and I jerked back before they grabbed hold.
Couldn’t a girl just enjoy a late-night shift where the tips were amazing despite working with the shadiest manager in the company? Plus, I just found out I had a paper due by the end of next week. I had enough problems on my plate at the current moment. I didn’t need to add kidnapping to the list. I didn’t have time to be kidnapped. I had deadlines.
And to make the day worse, I passed on the tetanus shot at my last doctor’s appointment. I mean, honestly, how often did a girl come into contact with a rusty nail or something? But now all I could think about was a dirty, dark dungeon where they’d put me in with all the creepy crawly things. In my mind, they were ancient vampire kidnappers who had a castle dungeon buried deep somewhere beneath the city. Chains were definitely involved and not the fun kind.
Fuck, I was under a lot of stress. You can’t blame a girl for her active imagination.
“All right, we’ve heard enough of your bullshit. Let’s go,” Tall Asshole said and charged at me with the gun held out. I braced for impact, but rather than shoot me or knock me to the ground, he wrapped his long arms around my middle and started dragging me toward the van. I kicked and squirmed, but his accomplice helped by taking my other side, and there wasn’t much I could do.
So I screamed.
The short one hit me in the back of the head. “Scream again and he’ll shoot you for real.”
They said no screaming, but no one mentioned kicking. I also dropped my weight, trying to make myself as heavy as possible. Three more steps away from the van and the two men who stood on either side of it looked at me hungrily when a new player entered the field.
A sleek black Hummer came to a squealing stop directly in the middle of the alleyway’s entry, affectively blocking us all in.
“What in the mother fuck now?” Rainman asked, but no one answered him. It seemed the newcomer in the environment wasn’t playing for the same team.
He had to be sent from my cousin.
In my moment of distraction, they lifted me up and shoved me into the back of the van. The door shut behind me and I screamed again because I was pretty sure a bullet couldn’t make it through the metal frame. My scream cut off as the car doors closed on the other side followed by gunshots.
Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.
I dropped to the floor, trying to make myself as small as possible as they pinged around the outside of the van. The gunfire sounded like someone lit a firecracker in the alleyway, and then it stopped and everything grew super quiet.
I braced, ready to fight against whoever opened the door and make my getaway, but as the handle turned and the door slowly opened, it wasn’t one of the four men who tried to kidnap me. A gorgeously handsome face smiled at me from the opening.
This was a pure gentleman—tall with dark brown hair swept back and put perfectly in place. He didn’t look as if he had been in a gun to fight with anyone in the last thirty seconds. His smile radiated happiness and his teeth were all perfectly white and straight. It was a weird thing to notice, but it was like how they say when you witness a crime, you fixate on the perpetrator’s weapons. I just couldn’t look away from that perfect smile. It took me at least ten seconds before I realized he was also holding a gun in his other hand, but he wasn’t pointing it at me.
Had my cousin hired one of the hottest hitmen bodyguards in Chicago? I was thankful for the save, but if he had me followed, we were going to have a serious talk.
After I told him thank you for saving my life.
“Shiloh Richter, would you like help out of this disgusting van?” he spoke, and it was like angels sang. Okay, that might have been too much, but he was seriously hot.
The unknown man held out his hand, and I placed mine in it, letting him help me step to the ground with him while maintaining my balance. Like a true gentleman.