In the heart of every man is a darkness. Primal. Instinctive.
At its most basic, it’s a desirous nature—one that covets, demands, takes. Most men brick it up behind a wall of self-control. They invest time and effort in maintaining the separation. These men, good men, control the darkness until it withers away and becomes nothing more than a shadow haunting their innermost thoughts. Something easily forgotten, dismissed, erased.
I’ve never been a good man.
My darkness is neither restrained nor buried. It lives right at the surface. The only thing that hides it is my mask.
My mask is the law, the light, the pursuit of justice. It is forthright and airy. It is the appearance of righteousness in a fallen world.
The mask I wear is purely the act of a predator. Theater. Pageantry. Deceptive and lethal. It allows me to get close and closer still until it is time to strike.
I stalk so near that my prey can feel the tickle of my breath, the coldness of my heart, the depth of my depravity. Only a whisper separates me from what I desire.
Then the mask falls away, and all my victim sees is darkness.
The district attorney sat completely still at the dark, polished table across the courtroom. My father sat in front of me at an identical table, but he was full of nervous energy. He shifted, ran a hand through his silver hair, and leaned over to whisper to his attorney.
I clasped my hands in my lap until the ring on my index finger dug into my flesh. This was the last chance my father had for freedom, the last day he would be able to throw himself on the mercy of the court. My gaze wandered back to the district attorney, the one who had my father arrested. Investigators scrutinized every last cent the old man ever invested or borrowed. And, just like that, my world became a smoldering heap of ashes. All because of one man.
Sinclair Vinemont was unmoving, like a spider poised on a web, waiting for the slightest sensation of movement from a hapless moth. My father was the moth, and Vinemont was about to destroy him. The investigation and prosecution had been the careful work of a master. Vinemont had woven the cocoon tighter and tighter until my father was caught from all sides. He had nowhere to run, nowhere to try and hide from Vinemont’s poison. Dad was being systematically dismantled by the silent monster in a perfect suit.
I wanted to crumble. I couldn’t. Dad needed me. No matter the long list of allegations and the even longer list of evidence against him, he was my father. He had always been there for me. Always protected me, stood by me, and encouraged me. Even after what my mother had done. Even after what I had done.
I would not leave his side. He was staring down a hefty prison sentence. Even if the worst happened, I would visit him, call him, write him, and keep him company until the day he got out. I owed him that and much more.
I stared at Vinemont so hard I hoped he would burst into flames from the sheer heat of my hatred. I’d wished for his demise for so long it had become like second nature to me. I hated him, hated every slick word from his mouth, every breath he took. Vinemont’s downfall was stuck on replay in mind. As I glared at his back, he remained tranquil, completely at ease despite my father coming apart with worry at the table next to him.
I forced myself to drop my gaze, lest anyone see me glaring at him with embittered rage. I couldn’t bear for my father to suffer any further torment, especially not if it was based on any of my actions. My hands were pale in my lap, a white contrast to my dark pinstriped skirt. I took a deep breath and settled myself. It would do no good for me to fall apart now. Not in the face of my father’s sentencing. I let out my breath slowly and looked up.
Something was different. I darted my gaze to the side. Sinclair Vinemont sat just as still, but now his eyes were trained on me. His gaze pierced me, as if he were seeing more than my exterior. I refused to turn away and, instead, gave him a matching stare full of righteous anger. We were locked in a battle, though not a word was said and no one threw a punch. I wouldn’t look away. I wouldn’t let him win even more than he already had. I perused his appearance more fully than I had ever dared. He would have been handsome—dark hair, blue eyes, and a strong jaw. He was tall, broad, fit. The perfect man except for the ice I knew coated his heart.