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God of Ruin: Chapter 7

MIA

“Bad girls get punished, and there’s nothing I love more than punishing.”

No.

My feet tremble, and a pebble creaks beneath my foot as I slide one leg back.

I can still hear the creatures of the dark moaning, groaning, and whispering unintelligible words into my ears.

As much as they scare me, as much as my heart shrivels and splinters, that’s nothing compared to the monster that’s standing in plain sight.

Every year I survived up to this point, every illusion I painted about getting over the past shatters into tiny black crystals.

I’m back to being that little girl who ran and fell, then ran again.

And again.

And—

The man in the mask approaches me with steady steps. Calm yet firm.

He’s slim but broad. Silent but lethal.

This is it.

I’ve escaped for so long, but I realize that was only an attempted escape. In reality, I’m stuck in the loop he created for me.

I try to summon the warrior inside me that I’ve been cultivating for over a decade, but there’s no sign of my usual boldness or bravado.

There’s just a girl. Cold, hungry, and absolutely terrified.

My legs aren’t moving anymore. The creatures of the dark have managed to catch me and they’re imprisoning me in place for their lord.

I open my mouth.

Mom.

Dad.

No words come out. Not even a tiny, horrified sound.

With both hands in his pockets, the masked monster eats up the space between us in seconds. Then he’s right in front of me, towering over me, his height invading the horizon and murdering its stars.

Rough shadows fall on the mask, turning darker, nearly black in the dim light. The holes where his eyes should be are hollow, bottomless, even.

Sharp fangs of horror sink into my skin. It doesn’t matter how much I tell myself to move. My mind has already turned against me and there’s no way to undo the spell.

“Have you already come to your senses?”

His voice is deep, distorted notes of destruction, a mythical beast with an agape mouth and shallow breath.

“Strange. I thought I would need to scare you for a bit more. Push you into a tighter corner. Toy with you till you collapse.”

The ringing in my ears heightens until all I can hear is my own heartbeat—high and torn to shreds.

“I love trapping misbehaving little creatures while they beg and cry. I might let them go or drive a sharp knife into their chests and watch them flounder and choke on their own blood. Metaphorically, of course.”

Stop. Stop coming closer, stop…

“Why are you so frozen?” The monster pulls a hand from his pocket and reaches for my face.

My feet tremble, and every particle of my survival instinct demands I bolt out of here, but I can’t.

Not when my mind has already checked out, leaving me as a defenseless eight-year-old. I’m thrown back ten years in time, with only myself as solace and company.

The moment his skin touches mine, I stop breathing altogether. Maybe if I pretend to be dead, he’ll leave.

Maybe this is another nightmare.

Please let it be another nightmare—

He pinches my chin between his thumb and forefinger and tilts his head to the side, watching me closely, explicitly. Intimately, even.

His eyes grow behind the mask, no longer bottomless holes with a direct view of hell. But what greets me is worse.

A dash of sadistic blue stares me down, like my own custom-made curse.

My face doesn’t feel like my own as he rotates it from one side to the other. “You look…positively stunning. A doll. No, a statue.”

The ringing in my ears slowly subsides and reality settles in small but noticeable increments.

It’s not the monster.

At least, not the monster from the past.

Now that I’m out of my self-inflicted panic, I can see the golden details on his Venetian masquerade mask. I can recognize the tall, broad build, the characteristically tailored slacks, and the tucked-in button-down.

I suck in a deep breath, but I only manage to inhale his head-turning masculine cologne.

“Where did you go?” He taps my cheek as if he’s summoning another version of me. “Don’t leave just yet. I haven’t had my fill.”

I finally snap out of it and push his hand away, my breathing shallow and fast.

The man in the mask, the asshole Landon, stares at his hand that I just knocked off with disturbing calm, then directs the same stare at me. He rubs his forefinger against his thumb. Once.

Twice.

As if he’s reliving a dear memory.

“Hey.” He advances all of a sudden, until his marble-like chest crushes my breasts. “Bring back the version from just now. I’m not done.”

I place my hands on his shoulders and push, but I might as well be facing a wall. The power with which he preoccupies my space is nothing short of a barbaric invasion.

What in the ever-loving hell is this bastard’s problem?

He wraps his fingers around my throat and squeezes hard enough to force all my movements to a halt.

My windpipe closes and all I can see is the shadowy side of his mask. “I said. Bring it back. Now.”

My survival instinct kicks in again, and I claw and hit his arm with everything I have.

I can’t breathe.

I can’t…breathe.

I slap a hand against his mask in an attempt to deter his attention, even if momentarily.

“Don’t be shy. Come out.” His fingers tighten further until I think I’m dying.

No. I most definitely am dying.

I go still, my hands falling to either side of me, and I attempt to go into last-resort survival mode.

His grip slowly loosens and a wolfish grin lifts his lips and a striking light twinkles the deep blue of his eyes. It’s like when the sun is kissing the surface of an ocean, light on the surface but will never reach any of the darkness beneath.

I slowly suck in a fractured breath but remain still so as not to encourage his choke-happy fingers.

“There,” he marvels, his thumb stroking the pulse point in my neck. “Perfectly statuesque. Absolutely stunning.”

There’s something seriously wrong with this guy and he could use urgent professional help.

I don’t like the shivers that cover my skin at his touch or the sensual intimacy in every stroke.

My body temperature rises and that can only be because I want to kick him in the nuts.

I contemplate doing that. I just need to push back—

“Don’t even think about it.” The rare light slowly fades from his eyes. “I’m on a high and that means I will react drastically to any provocation. Chivalry and I don’t coexist and, therefore, I don’t give two flying fucks that you’re a woman. If you attack me, I’ll choke the fuck out of you.”

I try to reach for my phone so I can type a few choice words for the asshole despite being deeply disturbed and slightly terrified.

Okay, maybe more than slightly.

He shakes his head again. “I mean it, Mia. Stay like a statue before I snuff out your life.”

“You need help, you sick psycho bastard. Go fuck yourself,” I sign, even though he doesn’t understand a thing. I just needed to get that off my chest.

He releases my throat, grabs both my arms and glues them to either side of me, then squeezes my wrists. “A statue doesn’t move, now, does it?”

Then he steps back and removes his mask.

I nearly forgot how attractive Landon is. Probably because, weirdly, I don’t see Bran as attractive. Well, he is, but I view it in a detached sense.

Landon, on the other hand, drips with charm and beauty. Both are muddied by his beastly nature.

He’s definitely on the spectrum of either a sociopath or, worse, a psychopath.

My cousin Kill has antisocial tendencies as well, and if he’s anything to go by, then Landon is a worse menace than I predicted.

I realize now that he’s never really shown me his monstrous side before. Now that I’ve gotten a mere glimpse at it, I can’t help feeling the need to turn around and run.

But I don’t.

I really don’t want to risk being strangled to death right now. Not when I’m still reeling from the earlier panic attack.

He throws his mask to the ground and takes a few more steps back, then tilts his head to the side.

A slow smirk lifts the corner of his lips. “I can make a brilliant masterpiece out of you. I can freeze you and sculpt you from the finest stone that ever existed. What do you think? But then again, a statue doesn’t think.”

I need out.

Now.

I don’t ponder it as I calculate the distance to the car and run at full speed. I don’t stop until I’m inside and the door is locked.

A bang sounds on my window and I gasp as I slowly glance at it.

Landon appears on the other side, tall and intimidating as he mouths, “We’re not done.”

I hit the engine with a shaky finger, and it takes me two tries for the damn thing to work.

Another bang. This time a fist against the glass.

I can hear the scream building at the back of my throat, but I press the accelerator all the way down.

The car revs forward, but as I speed out of the parking spot, I catch a glimpse of Landon in my rearview mirror doing the ‘I’m watching you’ sign.

Or maybe now, it’s ‘I have my eyes on you.’

This is the second time I’ve been this terrified in my life.


“Baby? What are you doing up so late?”

I stare at my mother’s face on my tablet’s screen and physically force myself to hold in the tears.

Rai Sokolov is not only my mother, the most beautiful woman inside and out, but also my role model.

Maya and I have her same shade of blonde hair and a carbon copy of her eyes, nose, and lips.

She and Aunt Reina—Mom’s identical twin and Kill and Gareth’s mother—used to joke by saying we’re their mini-mes.

I’ve always known my mom to be a strong woman, undeterred and ruthless. Right now, however, there’s a furrow between her brows.

It’s late evening in New York, and I’ve caught her sitting at her vanity just after she’s finished her workday as a leader in the New York Bratva. That’s right. My mom is the only woman who’s climbed the ranks within a male-dominated organization and snatched a chair at the decision-making table.

She’s no less than my father in any way and made sure to teach us that being a woman isn’t a weakness—it should be a strength.

I used to think I was as assertive and powerful as she is, but after tonight’s incident, my confidence has taken a major hit.

Ever since I came back to the apartment I share with Maya, I’ve been blazing the lights in my room on the highest setting and lying in a fetal position on the bed, waiting for my parents to finish working.

My encounter with the new monster in my life has left a ball in my throat and a fire in my chest.

“What is it, baby?” Mom’s voice softens. “Is something wrong?”

Everything is wrong, Mom. The fear, the strange arousal, and my heart that won’t stop beating so fast.

Everything.

But I don’t say that and, instead, sign, “I just wanted to see your face and hear your voice.”

“Oh, baby.” She smiles, but it’s a tad forced. “I’m over the moon about being able to see your face after a long day.”

I let my lips curve the slightest bit. Most of my smiles are either forced or fake. The day I lost my voice, I also lost my smile.

“Has Aunt Reina been watering and taking care of Amun, Iris, and their family?” I sign.

“I don’t know what’s weirder. The fact that you name your plants or that the head of the family has a demon name. Besides, your Aunt Reina doesn’t need to come all the way here just to water them. The gardener or I could do it.”

“Don’t touch them, Mom. I don’t want them to catch a case of early death.”

“That’s rude.”

“Well, you really kill most plants you touch.”

“I’m sorry I don’t have the green thumb gene.” She smiles and leans closer to her phone. “What’s really wrong, Mia? Is there anything I can help with?”

Of course she’d know something is wrong. She always does.

“I feel a bit down,” I sign.

“Is there a reason behind this?”

“I had a panic attack in a dark place. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t,” I sign, then hang my head.

There’s no way I can tell her about Landon. If I do, she’ll come here herself and rip off his dick, and then she might get in trouble with his influential family.

Besides, if she fixes my problems for me again, doesn’t that mean I will forever be weak?

“I’m so sorry, baby.” Her face, tone, and demeanor drip with love. “I wish I were there so I could give you a mama bear hug.”

“I’m fine.” Lie. “I’ll forget all about it in the morning.” More lies.

“It’s okay if you can’t forget about it, Mia.” She scoots closer. “Listen, I’ve been planning to broach this subject when you come back for a visit, but how about you give therapy another go?”

I link and interlink my fingers, then shake my head. “Therapy doesn’t work. I can’t speak.”

“Of course you can, baby. You just have to find the will to do it again.”

No, I can’t.

That part of me is trapped in an unremarkable capsule that’s hidden deep in the forest.

I’ve forgotten what my voice sounded like. But even if I do speak, puberty has already changed it. Sometimes, I think it’s probably like Maya’s, but deep inside me, a distant memory of it tells me there were some differences.

“We don’t want to push you,” Mom continues. “But have you considered that maybe you gave up on therapy way too soon?”

“We talked about this. Therapy was doing nothing for me and I hated it there. I hated dissecting myself in front of strangers and not getting any results.” My movements are jerkier, angrier, and more disturbed.

Like everything inside me tonight.

“Fine, I understand. I just want you to know that the option is always on the table.”

She’s about to say something else when a tall figure appears behind her and says in a soothing British accent, “What’s taking you so long, princess?”

My father’s face comes on the screen and I’m struck by how much I miss them both. I’m eighteen going on nineteen, but I still want to hug my parents for comfort.

Kyle Hunter is tall, dark, and classically handsome. Where Maya and I take after Mom and Aunt Reina, Nikolai resembles him. But while Dad appears sophisticated and elegant but is secretly a menace, Nikolai is openly a menace. He’s rougher around the edges and definitely doesn’t have Dad’s discreet modus operandi.

A wide grin illuminates his features when he sees me and speaks in a subtle British accent. “Mia, is that you?”

I wave.

“What a fantastic surprise. Wait. Isn’t it late over there?”

“Yeah, but I just miss you guys,” I sign.

“Which is why you should’ve stayed here instead of flying to the other side of the ocean,” he says for the thousandth time since we got here. “Now I can’t hug my baby girl whenever I want to.”

“I’ll have Niko hug me on your behalf,” I sign.

“Doesn’t count.”

“Leave her alone.” Mom swats him teasingly. “She’s old enough to decide where she wants to be.”

“Which should be beside me. Just saying.” Dad leans forward. “Is there anyone bothering my little Mia? Should I go there and perhaps erase them from the records?”

“Kyle!” Mom protests.

“What? That’s the least I can do to whoever is causing the perturbed look in my little girl’s eyes.”

He knows, too.

Of course he does.

My parents have always been the best and have made me feel loved from a very young age, but ever since that incident a decade ago, they’ve become more attuned to me.

To the point of overprotection.

That’s part of the reason why I wanted to leave New York and join Nikolai here. Maya also needed to do her thing without being supervised every step of the way.

“I’m fine, Dad. I’m feeling so much better now that I’ve talked to you guys.”

“We love you, Mia,” Mom says.

“I love you, too,” I sign, and as I hang up, I catch a glimpse of my father kissing the top of her head.

I’ve always admired the fierce way they love and protect each other. They’re a power couple and clash sometimes, but they still have each other’s backs. Their relationship is one of my favorite memories from home.

As the screen goes black, the sense of safety that I got from talking to my parents vanishes.

The lights in the room are still on, but I can feel the darkness creeping in from the corners, about to suffocate me.

I grab my pillow and phone and sprint to my sister’s room.

I fling her door open and flick on the light.

“Ugh, what?” Maya groans from the bed and covers her head.

I go to her side and she removes her glittery eye mask, grumbling. “Don’t mess with my beauty sleep or I will cut a bitch…” she trails off upon seeing what must look like terror on my face.

She doesn’t probe or push. She doesn’t even ask.

Maya and I share a special relationship and she must feel the unease that’s gripping me by the throat.

My sister pulls the cover back and taps the spot beside her. I don’t think twice as I dive in next to her.

“Thank you,” I sign.

“There’s no thanks needed between us, idiot. Go to sleep. I’m here.”

She pats my shoulder in a soothing rhythm like a mother who’s putting her child to sleep. When I close my eyes, I can feel her sliding her sleep mask back on.

Unlike me, Maya can only sleep when it’s pitch-black, but she doesn’t comment on the strong light I blazed in her room or how I invaded her space.

Whenever I need an anchor, she’s there for me without question.

I’m drifting to sleep myself when my phone vibrates.

After making sure Maya is out, I pull it out and stare at the text.

Unknown Number: Asleep?

Who…?

My phone vibrates again.

Unknown Number: You can’t be asleep after you woke this thing in me. Come out. I need to recreate the scene from tonight.

My fingers shake around the phone. Landon?

How did he get my number? More importantly, what the hell is he still doing up past two in the morning?

My phone vibrates again and I nearly jump out of my skin.

Unknown Number: On second thought, sleep while you can. You have a very chaotic life ahead of you and you need all the energy you can get, muse.


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