Home > Bane (Sinners of Saint #4)(12)

Bane (Sinners of Saint #4)(12)
Author: L.J. Shen

No, she wasn’t a snowflake.

She was a snowstorm.

The secret to being an asshole was to not be an asshole.

This probably warranted some kind of explanation. Sure, there were people like Vicious. They were outwardly crass. But people like him were born with the world at their feet. It wasn’t so simple for people like me. I had to worm my way into people’s good graces and hearts when I needed something. Winning people over became sort of an art. I had to compete for affection, be it from my colleagues, my enemies, my one-night stands. Hell, even from my mom.

Freeze frame.

Rewind: I was born in St. Petersburg twenty-five years ago to Sonya, daughter of a semi-aristocratic family that fell from grace along with the Soviet Union and lost most of its wealth. My sperm donor was a Bratva soldier. If you ask yourself what a good girl like Mom wanted with a bad boy, the answer is—nothing. My mother had been raped. That’s how I came into this world, and that was my disadvantage in winning her over. My mom decided to flee the country and study in the US. She wasn’t considered rich anymore by any stretch of the imagination, but she had enough for the both of us to stay afloat and to put herself through school. Barely. She became a child therapist. I always half-wondered if it was about me, if she wanted to make sure I wouldn’t turn out like my dad, so she studied how to defuse fucked-up kids. Maybe I overthought it. My guess was, the truth lay somewhere in the middle.

We’d come to the States when I was three, so I didn’t really remember much from Russia. My mom barely had money to buy a pair of sensible shoes, but she did have a fancy plan for out-of-country calls, and she talked to her family every day, twirling the curly phone cord, gossiping in Russian. Her face would light up like Christmas every time she’d hear a piece of hot gossip about her friends Luba or Sveta. For the longest time, I wondered what the fuck had made her move in the first place, since she was still so hung up on Saint Petersburg. But it was clear as fucking day.

Me. I was the reason. She wanted something good for me.

I may not have remembered Russia vividly, but I did remember America. Every piece of it. I remembered the looks, the glares, and the wrinkled noses whenever my mom opened her mouth in a new room for the first time. She would stutter, blush, and apologize for her heavy accent, which watered down with every passing year of living here.

I never forgot the way people’s smiles dropped every time she struggled with explaining herself to customer service and at job interviews. So, I vowed to be charming, and sweet, and good-natured. To be nice, and respectful, and too alluring to resist. I might have been fearsome to men, but women were a different story. You see, I had a bit of a mommy-issue, and putting women under my spell was a compulsion I did on autopilot.

Come. See. Conquer (then come again, but in a completely different way).

Unfreeze frame.

I silently locked the door to the store behind me then sauntered over to the counter, my hand already brushing the shit on the display shelf. What were they selling, anyway? It looked like a souvenir place. Todos Santos snowballs and pens. Who needed that kind of stuff? It wasn’t goddamn New York. Just a beach town in the anus of California. I dumped my ball cap on the counter and smirked.

“Nice place.”

“Thank you.” A woman—late twenties?—rose up from a chair behind the counter. A little stocky, with red-dyed hair and brown eyes. “Are you looking for something specific today, sir?”

“Yeah. My protection money.”

“Excuse me?”

“Protection. Money,” I said, loud and slow, like the entire issue was her hearing and not what came out of my mouth. “Twenty percent of your rent, to be exact. Which, I believe, is twelve hundred bucks. We only take cash at this time.” I let loose a wolfish grin. “I’m Bane, by the way.”

She gasped, slapping a hand over her chest and twisting a necklace back and forth. “I…I don’t get it. Who do I need to be protected from?”


“B-but, why?”

“Because you’re in my zone, and therefore play by my rules.” I loved giving that speech. It was very Scarface. “This is my beach. I brought the pro surfers here. I brought the annual competitions, the capital, and the tourists. The skaters outside your store? I brought them, too. I’m the reason why you wanted to open a shop here in the first place, so consider me a silent landlord. I have a business partner, Hale Rourke, and we alternate between months, just to keep things fresh and make sure you miss me.”

She nodded jerkily, taking it all in. The look on her face was anger flirting with horror. But I was casual, smiling, and nice. So, so nice. For now.

She gulped. “What if I don’t pay?”

I parked my elbows on her counter. She didn’t lean back, because she was attracted. I looked intimidating, but the kind you should be wary of in bed, not in an alleyway. “Accidents will happen. You’ve no idea how clumsy I can be.”

“What accidents?”

“If I knew, they wouldn’t be accidents. You feelin’ me?”

“Will you…will you hurt me?”

I clutched the fabric of my tattered, abused-by-bad-laundry Billabong shirt. “I will never lay a finger on a woman if the end game is not making her come. The only thing that concerns me is your business, ma’am. Or, lack of it, if you’re late on rent.”

“Do you ask everyone on the promenade for a cut?”

“Baby.” I lifted her chin with my index finger, locking my gaze on hers and throwing away the fucking key for good measure. “Don’t think for a second that you’re singled out because you’re new here. Everyone pays the same dues.”

Maybe it’s the Marxist in me, but I always liked the idea of true equality. I just never thought it was plausible. It’s like loving the idea of coming for three hours straight—it sounds great, but it also sounds fucking impossible. Still, I wasn’t lying. I charged protection from every single fucker on the promenade, save for Edie Rexroth. I liked Edie, but my not charging protection of her wasn’t personal or anything. She was great, but she was business like everyone else. I chose to ignore Breakline because I didn’t want to mess with her husband and his three friends. They had too much power over this town, and I was smarter than my ego.

Red blinked at me, finally coming to her senses. She stepped away from the counter, her quivering hand reaching for her cell phone. I cocked my head and tsked, making a show of sighing at her theatrics.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. I’ve made some real good friends at the local police station. Comes with the territory of getting arrested twice a month between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one.” Before I was Bane: Business Owner, I was Bane: Unhinged Asshole. Red got the diluted me. The post-probation dude who just came for what was his. This beach was dead before I stepped into it. Fact.

“Who are you?”

I usually made a habit of never repeating myself, but for the sake of being polite, and only because I’d come there out of the blue demanding shit, I indulged her.

“My name is Roman ‘Bane’ Protsenko, and I run this town. You pay up, or you get shut down. These are your only options. There is no secret, third alternative. There is no way out. Don’t worry. I got your back. I’ll send people your way, spread the word, and keep your shop safe and thriving. First payment is the second day of every month.” I knocked my knuckles on her counter, winking as her mouth slowly fell open in what must’ve been the first enthralled scowl. “Nice doing business with you.”

When I walked out, I found Jesse sitting on the step, right where I’d left her. She looked up from a book, and I immediately realized two things:

She was supposedly reading a red hardcopy of something. Something classic, by its cover.

She had another book tucked inside. And my eyes landed on a paragraph I was pretty sure I had no business seeing.

He slid his big palms down her thighs and spread them wide, pressing his hot tongue to her mound. “I hope you like it rough, my darling, because you’re about to get pounded like the pavement.”

EVEN THOUGH THE OLD JESSE had died the night of The Incident, the leftovers of her were still in my system. Mainly, her carnal need to feel. That was one of the reasons I wasn’t suicidal, I guess. I was never numb or anything. I was angry, and sad, and desperate, but I felt. Most of all, I was needy.

I’d always been needy for affection—wasn’t that the entire point of hanging out with Emery’s stupid crew, even though I’d known they hadn’t cared about me? I just made sure I kept it to myself.

My needs were mine. No one was supposed to know about them. Least of all him.

“She was about to get pounded like the pavement? Like. The. Pavement?” Bane light-jogged behind me, the chuckle in his voice vibrating inside my chest for some reason. My ears were on fire. What was I thinking, reading smut in public? I was thinking no one was going to notice, since the book I was reading was tucked inside a perfectly respectable classic. I wasn’t counting on Bane to reappear five minutes after he’d entered the shop. Hadn’t he said ten? How good was he at extortion?

Pretty freaking amazing. You’re here, aren’t you?

“Shut up!” I covered my face with my palms. “God, this is so humiliating. Just let me go home, please.”

He sprinted ahead, swiveled to face me, and walked backward with his arms open, his smile so cocky, I wanted it to tear it off his brutally handsome face.

“What about the smoothie I promised you?”

“That was before you made fun of my literary preferences.”

“Stop talking like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like an eighty-year-old. What do you like in your smoothie?”

My knee-jerk reaction was to tell him I liked solitude in my smoothie, turn around and walk away. Immature, I know, but I was so rusty when it came to socializing. Especially with boys. Especially with boys who looked like Bane— inked savages with quick wit and foreign beauty.

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