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Hearts on Fire 6: Healing Sophia

By:Dixie Lynn Dwyer


Prologue




Eight Months Earlier



“You want to leave me? You want to toss away all our plans and the money, the status?” Mateo yelled at Sophia.

“What status? From who, Mateo? Your gang-banging buddies? Your fellow business friends, corrupt cops, politicians, attorney friends who work the system and screw over the laws they are supposed to uphold? What status do you mean?” she yelled at him.

The backhand came out of nowhere. It was so sudden and precise it sent her into the table. She grabbed onto the edge, stopping herself from falling.

She tasted the blood by her lip, and anger boiled in her belly.

She looked at his friends. They weren’t any better than him. The power, the money, all went to their heads, too. The other people pretended not to notice him striking her. She was tired of this shit. Tired of being treated like a piece of property and tired of the way other men looked at her, touched her shoulder, or hugged her and sniffed her hair. Mateo did nothing to stop them. In fact, it was almost as though it turned him on, seeing other men want her. Deavan, his right-hand man, his partner, was no different. When he looked at her she felt nothing but trepidation and intense concern. God help her. She needed out of this relationship. She needed her life back.

Now he’d caused a scene. His little celebratory party had turned into a show for his peeps, as he liked to jokingly call them. He was supposed to be a good guy, a higher-up in the correctional facility, a man who kept bad guys behind bars, but instead, he used his badge, his prison connections, and his old neighborhood connections to gain money and power on the streets. She had been so stupid to believe he was making good money working at the correctional facility doing overtime and assisting the warden. He was working the system, and so were his friends. They had connections to drugs, prostitutes, and money. He was more than a bookie and a loan shark. He was capable of so much more, and she had seen him push the limit. He was a lunatic, and he believed that he could get away with anything. She’d had enough.

She watched two of the women next to one of his friends stare at Mateo. Mateo looked at them with hunger in his eyes, and she knew he was cheating on her. Why was she here still? What was it he wanted from her? She should call him out on his indiscretions. She should tell him to go to hell and take the whores with him, but how could she? She was nothing now and had nothing but her small bank account and her little secretary job working part time for someone he knew and trusted. He didn’t even want her working at the larger real estate offices downtown. He’d made her quit her job, and she’d fallen for his possessive, controlling behavior coated with kisses, finger fucks, and the techniques he used to play her body like a professional. But even that had started to feel wrong. She couldn’t stay with a man who didn’t love her, who didn’t put her first and who could smack her in front of a crowd of friends and whores.

Her temper flared.

“I’m finished.” The tears rolled down her cheeks, and she used the back of her hand to wipe the blood from her lip. She was shaking. She knew the consequences of talking back. She didn’t care so much, not with those women checking out the man who was supposed to be hers and hers only. Funny thing was she didn’t want anything to do with him. She didn’t want to be in his bed, under him, or on top of him. She wanted to be loved and cherished. He wanted a servant, a member of his new team and group of criminal minds, and a pretty face and sexy body by his side that other men drooled over and wanted.

She needed to be more than that.

She slowly walked toward the door, and then Deavan stood in front of it. He was one of Mateo’s right-hand men. A big guy who stood over six feet tall and weighted over two hundred pounds. He was a combination of fat and muscle, a bouncer type, but was quick and capable.

She saw his expression. She wouldn’t be allowed to leave unless Mateo gave the okay. She wouldn’t make complete eye contact with Devan. He might think it was an invitation to touch her more and take a taste of her. At this rate, the way Mateo had been acting, he could let Deavan or even Jeremy have her, too. She felt sick.

She glanced back at Mateo. A quick look told her he had dismissed the other people from the room, and she was left with Mateo, Deavan, and Jeremy.

Mateo lit the candle on his desk. He stared at the flame.

“Let me go, Mateo. I want to leave.”

He ignored her request, and she swallowed hard. Mateo pulled out a black case. She gasped.

No. Oh God no.

Mateo smirked at her. Her expression acknowledged what was in that case and what it meant. She knew what he intended to do, but why her? Why would he want to make her his possession when he’d obviously cheated on her?

He’s going to brand me. Force me to be his woman forever. He’s staking a claim.

“Come to me, Sophia.”

She shook her head.

“It’s not a request. I think you need a reminder about who you belong to.” Mateo pulled out the small metal branding stick. It was a six-inch, flat metal iron prod, a circle with the letter M in the center. The sick bastard had branded his closest friends, his peeps, as he liked to call them. It was part of an initiation and bond. Mateo owned them, and he’d wanted to own her since day one over a year ago. She had been so stupid.

She gasped as the hands landed on her waist from behind.

Deavan pressed close to her.

“Go to him, Sophia. He’s been more than patient.” He squeezed her hips as if he had every right to do so and to touch her like that. When he pushed her closer to the table where Mateo was, she tried planting her feet and Deavan’s arm came around her waist, his hand right below her breast.

“Hold her tight,” Mateo stated firmly. His dark brown eyes remained transfixed to the branding tool as he held it over the flame.

“No, Mateo, please don’t do this. I don’t want this.”

“You have no choice. You belong to me. To us,” he said, and her eyes widened as she glanced toward Jeremy, who moved closer.

“What?”

Jeremy just stared at her. She thought he looked upset, maybe like he didn’t agree with this, as his eyes widened and he took several uneasy breaths. It was just a feeling, but she didn’t think he condoned this one bit.

“Why are you doing this? It’s obvious you’ve cheated on me, God knows how many times. Brand one of your whores who will bow down at your command. I don’t want this, and I don’t want you.”

The forearm came down hard to the back of her neck. She cried out as Deavan slammed her against the desk.

She struggled to get free. His teeth nipped her neck, making her shudder and freeze.

“Ours. We’re brothers, branded as one,” Deavan told her, whispering into her ear.

She panicked and kicked her legs. They hit the table, and she pushed with all her might against the wood. Deavan stepped back, losing his balance momentarily, and then he slammed her forward. Her chest and face hit the table. Deavan pressed over her from behind. Mateo gripped her hands and held them down against the wood.

“No. Stop please. Please don’t do this to me,” she cried out, but they didn’t listen. Instead, hands lifted her dress and unzipped the back, exposing her bare back.

Deavan squeezed her ass cheeks.

“Fuck, Mateo, you lucky bastard. She’s got a great ass. Should we brand her there?” he asked as he manipulated his fingers along her curves.

Mateo held her wrists with one large, strong hand and caressed down her back to her ass then back up again.

“How about here, on her shoulder, so when she wears one of those strapless dresses everyone will know she belongs to you?”

“Or right here, above her ass, on her lower back? What a sight to see while we’re fucking her,” Deavan suggested.

She was crying and shaking with terror. Why was this happening to her?

Mateo stood up. “I like your thinking, Deavan. Hold her down.”

He gripped her hair and turned her head upward in an awkward position.

“Ouch. Oh God, Mateo, please don’t hurt me. Please. I won’t leave. I’ll stay, I promise.”

He leaned down close to her lips. “You will stay. You belong to me, to us. We’re your family now, Sophia. No others exist but us. When I do this, it means you’re mine forever.”

He plunged his tongue into her mouth kissing her brutally hard.

As he released her lips, he pulled back, pressed his palm over her back as Deavan gripped her tighter.

Then came the excruciating pain.

She cried out until she had no voice, and then suddenly she passed out.



* * * *



“This is a fucking serious situation. Scaggs wants a piece of the action,” Jeremy whispered to Mateo as he caressed Sophia’s hip and ass in bed. The place where Mateo branded her was enflamed, raw looking, and painful. Jeremy knew first-hand how it felt, and he was three times her size. He wished there had been something he could have done about it, but blowing his cover wasn’t an option. Not now. Not after two full years working undercover, one year prior getting the connections to finally hook up with Mateo, and gaining this asshole’s trust. Mateo Ruiz was going down.

“He’ll have to wait in line like the others,” Deavan contributed to the conversation as he stood by the doorway watching. He wanted Sophia, too. It was sick.

When Mateo had found her, working in a club part time while trying to earn her real estate license, trying to make ends meet on her own, he’d wined and dined her, winning over her heart like some prince in shining armor. She was virginal, twenty-two, all alone, and Mateo took advantage of all of it. He told her he was a correctional officer, a man who helped ensure that bad men who committed crimes were kept behind bars. He made it seem glamorous, impressive, and noble. Mateo was already working the system and gaining the trust of some big-time assholes. Coming across Mateo’s involvement in illegal criminal activity had been like hitting a gold mine for the federal agents.

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