The Sinners by Ruby Vincent

Prologue





What happened?

I cringed. Thinking made the pounding in my skull worse.

What was going on? I was with Hiro. Then... we went to Caesar’s Garage and... and...

Slowly, I peeled my eyes open. The light was a sharp spike to my foggy brain. Through the pain, I made out multiple blurred figures.

“Ember?” One of the figures moved, coming toward me. “You’re awake. Let me apologize for the rough treatment.”

Rio materialized before me—agreeable smile nowhere to be found. His apology poured from bloodless lips and nothing reflected in his eyes but coldness.

“It’s abhorrent to handle a young lady in this manner but circumstances have brought us to this.”

I blinked at him, not comprehending what he was saying. Movement flickered out of the corner of my eye. I looked away from him and choked on a gasp.

Cassius and Clay had been taken down and tossed on the office’s threadbare couch. Hiro was placed between them and all three had been beat to shit. Blood wept from cuts on their faces and Hiro cradled an arm that was surely broken. They might have gotten up and done something about this if the three men with Rio weren’t standing before them, guns trained on their forehead.

Cold seeped into my back. I was sitting on a metal chair and—

Cloth bit into my wrist as I strained against my bindings.

—and I wasn’t going anywhere.

“Relax, my dear.”

Rio shifted to the side, giving me a view of Royal a few feet behind him—unscathed, unrestrained, and unthreatened by the men and their guns. He looked at his friends bleeding on the couch, face unreadable.

We were in a small room with nothing to say for itself but a desk, couch, file cabinets, and hooks on the ceiling.

Rio followed my gaze up. “Things get much more civilized from here,” Rio said. “As long as you cooperate.”

I just looked at him, feeling the wetness running down my temple and dripping off my chin.

Rio motioned to the couch. “While you were out, my men here were explaining their well-intentioned but misguided attempt to reward your saving their sister by claiming your debt and paying it off with my own money—”

Clay opened his swollen mouth. “Rio—”

His assigned brute backhanded him with the gun, startling a scream out of me. Clay’s head snapped to the side. He swung back, lips peeled back as he glared unyielding defiance.

“As I was saying,” Rio continued, “I understand their gratitude, but I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way. My son plead on your behalf when you did not have my mother’s money by the deadline. He assured me you’d make regular on-time payments and the matter would be settled. Instead, Cassius brings an envelope filled with the bills I marked for him and his brother, and he claims it’s from you.”

Rio stepped away. My attention glued to him as he walked over to Royal. “How this happened under my son’s watch is a question for another day.” Rio circled his blank-faced son like a hawk does its prey. “He assured me he had this under control, but here I am, forced to deal with the matter in person. At this point, my patience is at an end.”

“I can still take care of this, Dad,” Royal said, voice placid. “If you had let me know about the payment, I would have taken care of the triplets and made sure the next was—”

“Shh, shh, shh,” Rio crooned. He clasped the back of his neck, bringing their foreheads together. “It’s okay, my boy.”

Despite his words, Royal visibly tensed. Seeing the two of them together, their resemblance was obvious. I should have known the moment Rio stepped out from behind the tires. The raven locks, the strong jaw, the air of promised danger.

“Even the strongest of leaders face betrayal,” he said, “but the most important lesson we must learn is”—Rio withdrew a gun from his overcoat—“there are no second chances.”

He punctuated each word with a tap of the gun on Royal’s chest.

I bit through my lip, keeping in another scream. It leaked through my teeth as Rio turned on me.

Pull yourself together, Ember. Don’t give the shadow man the fucking satisfaction of seeing you cry! This man has proven himself to be exactly what you thought he was and you will see him carried off in handcuffs if it’s the last thing you do.

Sucking in a breath, I held it long, willing my galloping heart to slow. I would get out of this. That morning would not be the last time I saw my brother.