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Stealing Beauty (Stolen #1)
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A Standalone Dark Romance
As the most notorious, sadistic drug lord on the west coast, I thrive on power and control. Valentina loathes me as much as I despise her. That doesn’t stop me from kidnapping her, stealing her away for myself.
Over the years that have separated us, hatred has festered in my heart. The girl I once loved is all woman now, and she thinks she belongs to someone else.
Her defiance tempts and torments me, and I’ll never tire of devising devious punishments to keep her in line. She can’t escape my cruel touch and harsh discipline.
No one will take her from me. I’ll kill anyone who tries.
Valentina was always meant to be mine. Nothing will stop me from possessing her, body and soul.
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Pale green eyes sliced into my chest, their cutting gaze keener than I remembered. They practically glowed as he glowered at me from across the church: a panther deciding whether his prey was worth bothering with the hunt. His full lips curled in a sneer, those beautiful, terrifying eyes scanning my body.
Whatever he saw in me, he decided I wasn’t worth his time. He blinked and looked away, his attention turning back to the stunning blonde draped on his arm.
I sucked in a gasp, remembering how to breathe. My fingers trembled at my sides as a hit of adrenaline surged through my system.
I’d known Adrián would be here. I’d told myself I was ready to face him. I’d told myself that I’d be able to mask my ire and put on the pretty, pleasant smile that was expected of me.
But I hadn’t been prepared for the hatred in his burning stare. Ten long years had passed since I’d last looked into those hypnotic green eyes. Once, they’d shined with devotion when he looked at me.
Now, it seemed he loathed me as much as I despised him.
I collected my wits, clenching my fists at my sides to still my shaking fingers. My perfectly manicured nails bit into my palms, but I welcomed the little flare of pain. It helped ground me. Pain reminded me of my role, my duties.
I’d receive a lot more of it if I didn’t play my part perfectly: devoted wife to Hugo Sánchez, the second most powerful man in Bogotá.
The most powerful man, Vicente Rodríguez, was the reason I was here, participating in this farce.
A visible shiver raced through the young woman—barely more than a girl—who stood at the altar. Camila Gómez had the misfortune of catching Vicente’s eye a year ago. The eighteen-year-old had gotten pregnant, giving him a son. He’d decided to force her into this marriage to ensure the boy’s legitimacy. A secondary heir to his cocaine empire, in case something were to happen to Adrián.
Adrián Rodríguez. I could hardly believe the boy I’d loved all those years ago had turned into the hard, frightening man who’d taken his place in the church pew behind me. I couldn’t see him, but I could feel his cruel glare on my back. It made my skin pebble with a prey’s awareness, my body instinctively sensing the threat.
For the last decade, he’d been in America, consolidating the power of his father’s cartel in California. I’d never expected to see him again, but Vicente’s wedding to poor Camila had brought the prodigal son home to Colombia.
The girl’s petite frame appeared smaller than ever as she shrank in Vicente’s shadow. He’d waited long enough for her slender body to return to its youthful perfection after she’d given birth—no doubt, she was kept on a careful regimen to ensure her beauty for this day.
I was far too familiar with the practice: the restricted diet and proscribed exercise to keep my natural curves just the right size to please my husband. Mercifully, Hugo stood at Vicente’s side rather than mine. As Vicente’s lapdog, Hugo was a natural choice to play the part of best man at this sham wedding.
My husband’s beady black eyes fixed on me, and his thin lips curved into a malicious smile. An involuntary shudder wracked my body. He’d looked at me with the exact same expression ten years ago, when I’d been the one in the pretty white dress, forced to the altar against my will. I was only sixteen at the time, but Hugo hadn’t minded being wedded to a child. He’d waited too long for his turn with me to care.
And as my guardian, Vicente had given me away to his best friend, gifting me to him in exchange for his years of loyalty.
I could hardly bear to look at either of the disgusting, lecherous men. Somehow, I lifted my chin and straightened my spine. I couldn’t allow anyone in the church to sense that my fear-drenched memories of my wedding night were playing through my mind.
Hugo delighted in my fear, but he also expected me to maintain the façade of perfect, loving wife when we were in public. He might be short and stocky, but his rounded belly didn’t diminish his strength. His thinning black hair and ruddy cheeks were showing the signs of his age, but the years hadn’t caused him to grow frail. He was as brutal as he’d been on the day I’d met him, when I was fourteen years old.
I plastered on a beatific smile, meeting my husband’s gaze. To any casual observer, I’d appear to be staring at him with love and devotion, remembering the false joy of our own wedding day.
Camila’s palpable terror made the dark memories I kept locked at the back of my mind push to the forefront. I shoved them away before I gagged. A metallic tang coated my tongue, and I realized I’d bitten the inside of my cheek.