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By: Mimi Jean Pamfiloff


“If you kill me, you’ll never see your one hundred thousand dollars again. But if I’m right, and they come looking for me, then you can force one of them to take you back to the island. You can make them show you where all of their money is and tell you everything you need to know about the place. What have you got to lose?” Obviously, not much, though even if Warner agreed, there was nothing to stop him from killing me once he got what he wanted. My only goal was to live another day. Somehow. Someway.

Warner’s greedy eyes flickered with intrigue. This island was the key to his illegal operations making a lot of money, but only if they could keep the island off the grid. That meant knowing whom Rook paid off. Having Rook’s money wouldn’t hurt either. But now that Rook had broken his vow, he was aging fast. So was his aunt. If they didn’t come for me soon, they likely never would.

Unless Rook takes his vows again. But would he? Maybe that was why his aunt had tried to grab me. I was leverage to force Rook to bring the lagoon back.

“They pull in over five million dollars a week,” I added. “That’s twenty million a month, at least.”

“I can count, you little bitch,” Warner snapped. “And I’ll give you a week—that’s seven days in case you were wondering when we’ll be slitting your throat if they don’t come lookin’.”

“You’ll probably slit it either way. But at least you’ll be richer.”

“You’re not as dumb as you look.”

I wasn’t so sure about that. I was, after all, sitting inside the trunk of Warner’s car, hoping to live long enough to see Rook pay for hurting Cici and breaking my heart.

“The only catch is you have to make sure they know where to find me,” I said.

Warner shook his head. “I ain’t gonna leave a business card at your house.”

“You’re going to call my father. Tell him I took money from you and now you want it back with interest. Tell him you’ll kill me if he goes to the police, and be sure to give him your name.”

“Why would I do that?”

Because after Cici died, Rook went to see my father. He offered to help in any way possible, including money. “My father knows Rook. He’ll have nowhere to go for that much cash. And once my dad tells Rook your name, Rook will find you.”

“How?”

Because Rook’s clientele were some of the wealthiest, most powerful people in the world. Especially the ones who’d paid a million dollars to swim in the lagoon. “He knows people. A lot of people. Rook will find you.”

If he didn’t, then I would simply die without justice for Cici.





CHAPTER THREE





Rook


“James, come on. You’ve been in bed for three days. You can’t do this.”

I looked away from Luke and gazed out the window toward the billowing white clouds. To most, having such a view would seem like a small thing. For me, this was the sort of luxury I’d been deprived of most of my life. This two-story mansion, with its well-appointed kitchen, large master suite, and pristine antique furniture, had always been for show—just another prop on an island built around creating illusions to conceal the truth. The truth was that monks took vows of poverty, which was why my real home for the last fifty years had been a modest, windowless room next to our underground archives. Before that, a leaky wooden shack filled with mosquitos and no running water or electricity. Brutal in the summer. This was my island, yes, as were the millions of dollars in the bank. And, yes, during the day I wore fine suits and played a role to protect it all. But at night, when the guests retired to their five-star bungalows to sip chilled champagne, I retreated to my real life and paid penance for every sinful thought, every lie, and every rule I broke out of necessity. An hour of prayer followed by hours of self-flagellation, per Father Rook’s scriptures. Most nights I whipped my back down to the bone, which forced me to swim, heal myself, and repeat the cycle the next day.

Anyone telling me to return to that loveless life of self-sacrifice, obedience, and denial can go fuck themselves. I might not have Stephanie, the woman who lit up my entire world the moment I laid eyes on her, but at least I was finally free, and this lagoon would never be a threat to her or anyone again. I had to find peace in that, even if I would die never knowing where she went or why she left. She’d been consumed by our connection just as I had.

“You’re aging faster than you should. You need to get outside and breathe fresh air. You need to eat.” Luke crossed his arms over his chest. I noticed he had on his board shorts and a T-shirt.

What the hell do you know? You’ve been surfing all morning. But that was how this all worked: I paid and they lived.

“Leave. I do not wish to speak.” I rolled over, giving Luke my back. Like the others, he only wished to persuade me to retake my vows—something I would never do in a thousand years, if a thousand lives were at stake. I had done my part for the world. “I don’t wish to live any longer. Accept it. Make your peace with your demons and leave me alone.”

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