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Mine to Take

By:Jackie Ashenden

Mine to Take - Jackie Ashenden
CHAPTER ONE

Gabriel Woolf walked into the quiet of St. Sebastian’s, his mother’s favorite church, and stopped, stamping the snow from his motorcycle boots. He hadn’t been inside the church for over twenty years but he still remembered the smell, of old stone and incense. Candle wax and piety. And guilt. Lots and lots of guilt.

Yet it wasn’t guilt that brought him here. It was a promise of the worst kind. The kind you make to someone on their deathbed. His mother’s deathbed to be exact. And there was no getting out of a promise like that. No fucking way.

So here he was, the day after her funeral, ready to confess his sins like the good Catholic boy he’d never been.

Luckily it wasn’t going to take long. Not because he didn’t have any sins to confess, because he did. Hundreds of sins all swimming around inside him, tainting his blood. Tainting him right down to his bones. No, it was because there was only one sin that mattered to his mother. Only one sin that had ever been important to her.

Gabriel stared around the interior of the church, trying to spot the confessionals. There wasn’t anything special about the place, not even when he’d been a kid coming to Mass with his mother. St. Sebastian’s had been a run-down city church trying to do the best for its dirt-poor parishioners and it looked like nothing had changed. It wore neglect like an old suit, frayed at the cuffs, missing some buttons, hems dirty. Just like the rest of his shitty old neighborhood.

Thank God he was long gone out of it.

Eventually he spotted the confessionals down to the side of the altar, near the sacristy. An elderly woman came out, which clearly meant a priest was there doing his duty.

She gave him a glance as she passed, her expression fearful—no prizes for guessing why. He didn’t exactly look like a typical believer. And even though his tattoos and scars were hidden by his leather jacket and jeans, his clothes wouldn’t hide his identity.

To the world at large he was Gabriel Woolf, construction magnate, but to the people of this neighborhood, he was “Church,” president of the Avenging Angels motorcycle club who owned this little patch of New York. He hadn’t been president for a good many years, but that didn’t matter. People still remembered. People were still afraid. And shit, they had every right to be.

Gabriel ignored the woman. So Church was finally in an actual church. What a fucking joke. The Reverend, his mentor at the motorcycle club and a man fond of biblical aphorisms, though not a believer either, would have laughed himself hoarse.

He made his way down to one of the enclosed confessional boxes and pushed open the door. Man, he remembered waiting outside one of these things for his mom, tracing patterns on the dusty floor with his toes. He’d never managed to work out as a kid why she’d taken so long because she’d been the purest person he knew.

It was only as a teenager he’d understood. Corrine Woolf had always felt dirty.

The space inside the confessional was tiny and as the door shut, a sudden claustrophobic feeling gripped him. Christ, why was he here again? He didn’t believe, not when he’d been a child and not now. His sins were his own, not for God. Not for anyone.

“Promise me, Gabriel,” Corrine had begged him in the hospice, thin and wasted from the cancer that was killing her. “You have to promise.”

They hadn’t gotten on for years, not since he became a club prospect at sixteen and she’d turned to her faith, but she was still his mother, so of course he’d promised. And he was a man who kept his word.

He knelt and tried to remember the right phrase. “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been…” How long had it been? Better round down. “Twenty years since my last confession.”

A silence from behind the grille. Then the priest’s voice. “Twenty years? That’s a long time, my son. What brings you back to us?” He sounded young. A boy.

Gabriel shut his eyes. Why the hell was he thinking about the priest’s age? What did it matter? All that mattered was the promise he’d made to his mother. The only promise to her he’d ever been able to keep.

“I’m not back. I wasn’t ever here in the first place. I’m fulfilling a vow. That’s all.”

“A vow?”

“I have a sin to confess, priest. You wanna hear it or not?”

Another silence, this time an offended one. But something in Gabriel’s tone must have alerted the guy to the fact that Gabriel was not to be screwed with because the priest only said, “Tell me then, my son.”

I am not your son. I am the son of a beast.

“I want to kill my father,” Gabriel said.

The priest perhaps had heard this kind of thing before because he didn’t sound the least bit surprised. “And will you act on these thoughts?”

“No. I’ve decided on another plan of action.”

“Forgiveness perhaps?”

Forgiveness. Such a weak, paltry thing. His mother had tried that method and look what had happened. Her death at the age of fifty-one. The doctors had said cancer but he knew the truth. It hadn’t been cancer that killed her. It had been shame. Guilt. And loss.

The loss of a future she should have had. A future his father had taken from her.

A future that you took from her.

Gabriel bared his teeth in a smile that had nothing to do with amusement.

Yeah, he was as bad as the asshole who’d fathered him.

Rotten to the core …

“Not forgiveness,” Gabriel said, still smiling. “I’ve decided on vengeance.”

* * *

The others were late. Either that or he was early.

Gabriel shifted in the high-backed wing chair he was sitting in, fingers of one hand firmly wrapped around a glass of rare, sixty-year-old Scotch whisky, the fingers of the other jammed in the pocket of his jeans. Just touching the beads of his mother’s antique rosary.

After his confession, the priest had given him some crap about Hail Marys and Our Fathers and looking to his conscience, but it wasn’t like he’d ever do that shit. His mother had her beliefs and they’d given her comfort but they weren’t for him. So why the hell he was still carrying the thing, he didn’t know.

You know.

Gabriel took a sip of the scotch. One glass alone cost hundreds but he wasn’t aware of the taste.

Yeah, he knew why he was carrying the rosary. It was a reminder.

Like the check for a million bucks in his wallet was a reminder.

Like the handgun he’d kept from his MC days in the drawer beside his bed was a reminder.

Shit, his whole life was a reminder.

He put his head back on the chair, took another sip of the scotch. Tried to calm his mind before the others turned up, staring around the room belligerently.

Christ, he hated this place. The Second Circle, New York’s most exclusive private members’ club, was his friend Alex’s baby and one of nine other “Circles” scattered throughout the world. Alex had named them after the club he’d begun with Gabriel and seven other friends one night after too many shots. The Nine Circles, from Dante’s Inferno, a favorite of Alex’s. Appropriate for a group of damaged people who just happened to have a ton of money. People who’d committed so many sins between them, even the devil wouldn’t know where to put them.

Over the years the nine had become four and since then, Gabriel had preferred Alex’s more informal name for them—the “fucked-up billionaires.” Since that’s what they all were.

He scowled. Alex had given them their usual private room, the one with its echoes of an English gentlemen’s club. It had a high, vaulted ceiling, exposed brick walls, library bookshelves, and high-backed wing chairs. A fire burned in a huge fireplace, warming the room against New York’s icy February chill.

But all the fires, library bookshelves, and expensive scotch weren’t going to change Gabriel’s opinion. He still hated it.

The atmosphere reminded him of everything he despised. The world of the uber-rich, the famous, the entitled. The world of money where anything could be bought, anything sold. Yeah, it could be said that he was part of that world, especially considering that Woolf Construction, the business he owned, was one of the most successful in the States.

But Gabriel didn’t consider himself part of it. Like the rest of them in Alex’s club, he didn’t fit into that particular world, no matter the size of his own personal fortune. A fact he was glad of. Money corrupted and he was living proof.

Losing patience, Gabriel downed the rest of the hideously expensive scotch like it was cheap bourbon and put the glass down on the table beside the chair with a click.

He didn’t have time to wait around here for the rest of them. He had things to do. Things such as planning a bit of personal justice.

He was half out of the chair as the door opened and Alex came striding in, a tall, icy-looking blond woman in a black suit trailing behind him. Gabriel eyed the woman. Lovers weren’t allowed at club gatherings and Alex knew that. Except the woman didn’t look like one of his lovers. Although Alex was partial to blondes, they usually wore a hell of a lot less than the one standing behind him now.

“What’s she doing here?” Gabriel demanded. He didn’t bother with the, “Hi, how are yous,” despite not having seen his closest friend since the last gathering a couple of months ago.

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