ABOUT CRUEL SAINT
“Remember this moment, Amara. Remember that, just now, I gave you a chance to make this easy for yourself. You can make all the choices you want, but every decision comes with the heavy responsibility of being accountable for the outcomes that follow. This isn’t over. I’ll see you again. Soon.“
Amara is my dark obsession. She was promised to me in a deal she knows nothing about. Four years ago, I sent her away to protect her from the life I live as the son of a crime lord. Now her brother—my best friend—is dead, and though I wasn’t there for him in the end, I intend to look after his little sister. Good girls keep their promises, and it’s time Amara came home—to me—where she belongs.
PROLOGUE: RYDER – FOUR YEARS AGO
“I’m asking you to let her go.” Grayson leans back in his seat with his feet propped against the edge of my bed. He pushes his chair onto its hind legs while repeatedly tossing a baseball toward the ceiling and catching it.
I don’t tell him to elaborate. I know who he’s talking about.
His little sister and my dark obsession.
It’s no secret Amara is mine. Our parents decreed as much when they made the decision to arrange our future marriage.
What no one knows is, with or without their ridiculous blessings, Amara belongs to me.
“What do you know?” I hold my attention on the note I’m writing at my desk, keeping my back turned to him.
Information is power in my world, and Grayson is the best at gathering it for me. At twenty-two years old, we are both often overlooked as children among my father’s associates, and Grayson uses this to his advantage.
“They’re downstairs right now. My mom is speaking to your father. It’s about my dad—and Amara.” The wooden legs of his chair knock against the floor as he shifts in his seat, and I remain in place, staring at the piece of paper that started as a thought and devolved into a series of scribbles as soon as Grayson started talking about his sister.
“What about them?” Her—I want to say “her,” but that would give my intentions away.
Grayson and Amara’s father passed away suddenly a few weeks ago of a heart attack. They took the news as well as can be expected, but that is a testament to their father being a neglectful dick to his kids. You can’t mourn the loss of someone who never made an impact on your life when they were alive. It’s an opinion I’ve never shared with my best friend, but they lost the parent lottery on both counts.
I’m not saying I won. My old man isn’t much different. But my place in life more than makes up for having a hard-as-nails father who works late and cares conditionally—his attention always comes with a price. Unfortunately for Amara and Grayson, their parents never quite landed as high in society, and they lived within lesser means.
“My mom is asking that the arrangement between you and Amara be dissolved without consequence or malice.” I know Grayson’s tone; without turning around, I can tell he’s throwing up air quotes. “That’s what I heard her say on the phone earlier, when she was setting up the meeting. Do you know what it means?”
My attention creeps to the mirror in front of me as I check Grayson’s reflection in the space over my shoulder. Tossing the ball onto my bed, he rises out of the chair to his full six-foot height and walks to the window to watch the rain fall.
The weather has been an accurate reflection of my mood. I almost expect a bolt of lightning to strike us all into oblivion any second now. It still wouldn’t compare to the tempest of emotions brewing inside of my soul at this upsetting turn of events.
“No idea,” I lie.
I do know.
Amara’s mother is downstairs in my father’s office asking that her daughter be released from a marriage both sets of parents agreed to. What Grayson doesn’t know is that the promise of Amara’s hand was bought, not given. It was done without my knowledge at the time. I didn’t find out about it until recently, when my older brother Dagen stumbled on information he shouldn’t have.
Amara’s parents offered her to us for a price, and it was a deal my father jumped at in order to keep me in line and test my loyalty to the family. It was a test I gladly passed. They didn’t know how I already felt about her.
My father thought tying me into an arranged marriage would ensure my obedience. It would give me something I would come to want, something he could hold over my head as a way of keeping me on a short leash. When I accepted the eventual marriage, it was a sign of fealty in his eyes.
No one knew I was already entirely invested in her.
Amara is my sin eater.
She consumes my darkness like it’s her lifeline. What I once thought were my worst parts are made beautiful around her.
No one knows about the things we’ve done, the things I’ve done to her. I’ve pushed her, corrupted her, and molded her into my missing piece. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t drag her down my wicked path on my own—she willingly followed. Little by little, she sought me out, and I didn’t turn her away.
There’s a monster inside of her no one sees.
No one but me.
The sharp look of disgust on my face snaps me out of my rage as I catch my own reflection in the mirror. My lip is curled up in a sneer that rattles me. I look primed to kill. I school my features before Grayson turns his attention back to me, because my anger isn’t meant for him. It’s for his parents, who betrayed Amara when they sold her like cattle.
Lifting my hand to my mouth, I slip my tongue through my lips while keeping my eyes trained on Grayson’s back through the mirror. If he knew what I did to his little sister behind the pool house not even an hour earlier, he would be furious. I still taste her on the salty tips of my fingers. The memory of her contorted face and her feeble whimpers as she wildly bucked her hips against my fingers as I fucked her with them makes me want to find her and punish her for making me feel weak.
But no one can know.
Grayson is as protective of Amara as I am, and it pains me knowing I can’t show it. My secrecy is my way of keeping her safe. While I’m sure that not loving her at all would be the best way to shield her, I can’t do it. I’m a selfish son of a bitch, and I won’t deny myself the pleasure of the one thing in this world that grounds me.
But now, her mother is in my home, asking to take Amara away from me. She wants to keep the money my father gave her, and she wants to be released from the promise both she and her dead husband made.
I can’t tell Grayson any of this.
Knowing would destroy him.
Since becoming an adult, Grayson has distanced himself from his parents in inconspicuous ways. On some level, I think he knows his parents are opportunists. If this came to light, Grayson would be pulled down into his mother’s fall from grace, and I won’t allow anyone to hurt my closest friend.
No. Grayson and his sister both belong to me, and I will always protect what is mine.
I’ve been quiet for too long, and Grayson turns his attention away from the rain tapping against the window. Before his eyes settle on me, I lean over, scribble nothing on my little piece of paper, then slide it into my drawer as though none of this information concerns me.
“The marriage was arranged, and now neither of you needs to go through with it. Maybe this is good news.” Grayson’s tone has changed, and his statement sounds a lot like a question. My silence has fueled his suspicion.
I steady myself with a breath, then stand and turn to face him.
“Maybe it is.” Another lie.
“You know me, man. I am in this with you for the long haul. But a piece of me wonders if Amara is better off away from…you know. What we do.”
What we do.
It’s as though if we don’t label our actions, they can’t be held against us. Once you give something a name, it is classified: good, bad, acceptable, depraved.
At first glance, my family lives up to the sanctity of our surname, but its shiny veneer washes away when you stare a little too long. When the gloves come off, the Saints are not a family to mess with because we mess back ten times as hard.
A knock at the door breaks our silence, and I roll my eyes. If it were one of my three brothers, they would have opened the door and waltzed right in. My father never comes to us—we are always summoned to him—and my mother has taken to texting me ever since I showed her how to use a smartphone.
That leaves those on my father’s payroll, which means I’ve been summoned.
The door opens, and a maid pops her head in, first seeing Grayson, then scanning around until she meets my apathetic glare.
“Mr. Saint wishes to see you in his office.”
“You good?” I nod to Grayson.
“Yeah. I’m meeting up with Sloane in a while. Dinner with her folks.”
I don’t respond. Instead, I turn to follow the woman out of my room as the muscles in my neck tense with envy.
I’m not jealous of Grayson’s relationship with Sloane. I’m envious because I don’t have the luxury of publicly declaring my intentions with Amara.
I follow quietly behind the small woman, my mind drifting to my sinful little flower as it always does.
The door to my father’s office is ajar. Pushing it the rest of the way open, I step in and acknowledge the man who beckoned me: my father, Sebastian Saint. He lifts his chin in my direction, a silent order to close the door behind me, and I comply.
As I take my seat across from him, my eyes fall on a glass half full of amber liquid. My father’s drink of choice, and he’s poured me one as well.
He begins by telling me information I already know. Ms. Scott dropped by to discuss some business, and I shift in my seat, pushing down my restlessness.
“As you know, Harry’s death has been a shock to us all, but more so his wife and kids.” He breaks long enough to take a sip, and I use his pause to ask for the point.
“What does this have to do with me?”
“I’ve asked if there is anything we can do to help, and Amara’s mother has made a request.”
I already know this part, and I clench my teeth, hoping to stop my impatience from manifesting across my face.
“She has asked that you and Amara be released from your future obligations to each other—and I have agreed to allow it.”
“Why would you do that?” My voice cracks, and I recover. “Going back on an agreement is seen as a weakness, and we are not weak men.” I hope my tone is taken as a challenge rather than the plea it is.
“Are you questioning my decision, boy?”
“I’m merely voicing what our adversaries will whisper behind our backs.”
He takes a long pause to scrutinize my reaction before responding. “This was a widow’s wish, and it has been granted.”
His answer is final.
Any further push to hold on to our union will damn me and Amara both.
“I have one condition.”
His eyebrows shoot up at my audacity. “You? You have a condition for me?” His laughter holds no humor.
“You forget, I was a part of this arranged marriage without my own wishes being heard. I stepped forward and took the place you wanted me to. And it is I who is also losing face in the termination of this agreement. One that was decided without my own reservations being heard.”
The next minute ticks by in uncomfortable silence as I watch him assess my words before one corner of his mouth curves just enough to expose one of his tells.
My father wants nothing more than four versions of him taking over the family business: my three brothers and myself. I know, if he were in my situation, he would use this as an opportunity to take something for himself.
“Spit it out. What do you want?”
Leaning forward, I lift the glass off the desk before taking it back into the chair with me as I make myself comfortable.
“I’m off the table.”
“I can no longer be used as a bargaining chip in any type of arranged union. You want someone to offer up? You have three other sons. My choice is my own, when and if I ever decide, and it is no one else’s business. I’ve done my time.” My words are cold, harsh. There is no hint of the fire raging inside of my soul.
If I can’t have Amara, I want no one.
I down the drink in one go before setting it back on the desk while he considers my demand. When he’s drained the contents of his own glass, he slams it down.
“Very well, son.” My lips twitch at the term. We are only his sons when he is proud of us.
Losing Amara now is a setback in my plans. I’ve earned my freedom, and, as far as my father is concerned, I’ve chosen my family yet again.
Amara isn’t going anywhere. She’s still mine, and I will have her back with me soon enough.
“Is there anything else?” I brush a nonexistent piece of fluff off my pants and wait for him to dismiss me.
“We’ll just go and wish them a safe trip.”
I don’t dare look up.
This is information I wasn’t aware of, and I can’t ask for clarification. Amara is supposed to be of no concern to me.
I stand and wait for my father to walk past me before I allow the uncertainty to appear on my face as I follow him out the door.
Where are they going that I would need to wish them a safe trip? And why didn’t Grayson mention this to me earlier?
The walk down the hall to the sitting area is shorter than I remember, and I catch the look of surprise on Grayson’s face as I watch him release Amara from an embrace. Tears are running down her face.
Grayson didn’t know.
His own mother didn’t tell him she was leaving. He’s old enough, and she’s cutting him loose. But Amara is just shy of her twentieth birthday. While she’s an adult and can do what she wants, she’s as much a prisoner to her family as I am to my own. She’s still in school, living at home and under her mother’s thumb.
Amara follows Grayson’s stare to me, and she takes an instinctive step in my direction, only stopping when she remembers we are not alone.
“She’s moving me away.” Her words crack on a sob as she takes a half step toward me and lowers her voice to a whisper. “Don’t let me go.”
She fights to hold back her sobs as I see a glimmer of hope fill her golden-brown eyes. I want to brush my fingers into her chestnut waves, cup the back of her head, and pull her into me. I shove my hands into the front pockets of my pants to stop myself.
She’s too good for this place.
She’s too good for me.
I’m not strong enough to protect her yet, and claiming her now will damn her. Even if I spoke up and fought for her, my father would most likely send her away to punish me for keeping something like this from him.
At this moment, at my very core, I understand what sacrifice means. There is only one option left to me, and I need to let her go.
“There’s nothing for you here, Amara.” My words slice my own heart open.
I promised I would never hurt her. Her parents used her for their own gain. Only Grayson wanted what was best for her. It was going to be me who gave her everything she deserved. But instead, it’s me who is setting her hopes ablaze as she watches, helpless to fix the hell I’ve cast her into.
“But you promised me—” Tears fall freely down her round face, which is now patchy with heartache. My father crosses his arms, catching her attention, and she doesn’t finish her thought. When her eyes return to my own, I know.
This is breaking her.
Her lips pinch together, and her open palm swings back before it happens. I remain unmoved. I don’t block the slap. I welcome it.
As my head snaps to the side, I allow her to replace our love with hate. She’ll need it to carry her away from here until I am strong enough to protect her properly.
My father clears his throat, a sign we are done.
As I step back to allow them to leave, I realize this, too, was a test—and I passed.
But I also failed.
I don’t deserve Amara; I’m not sure I ever have. But one day I will, and when I do, no one will stop me from taking what’s mine.