Chapter Two - Second
Six months later
Edward Cullen ignored the many heads that turned his way the second he set foot in his brother's club. A couple brave women waved, leering at him. It earned them a lethal glare, which instantly had them look away. He had no time to deal with their attentions, or anyone's, for that matter. It had become the recent norm. Jasper's aspirations to take over the family business after their father retired disappeared, leaving Edward to pick up the slack.
Emmett stood outside of the VIP section on the second floor over the main dance floor, constantly looking over his shoulder inside the room. He finally spotted Edward, his shoulders relaxing slightly at the sight of his older brother.
"I'm sorry, Bro." Emmett rubbed the back of his neck, somewhat flushed from whatever was going on with their brother, Jasper. "But he's been sniffing shit off some bitches—even started fucking one in the middle of the room until she reminded him her name wasn't Maria. He then pulled a gun on her, but I got her off and outta here before someone called the police. I couldn't get him to go home."
"Fuck." Their father was going to hang Jasper by his balls for that shit. One of the few rules Carlisle instilled in his sons was never to use the drugs they moved. It led to stupid decisions, and it had more control over a person than anything else.
"He's not armed, though. I managed to get the gun away from him."
Emmett led Edward inside the curtained area, a semblance of privacy for some of the shit that went down when they conducted business.
Edward tipped up his chin when he saw Demetri waving a wand along the bottom of one of the tables. Constant surveillance was essential in their line of work. Between law enforcement, federal agencies, and their enemies, they often found bugs in their establishments.
"Hey, boss." Demetri stopped long enough to press a finger to his lips, meaning he found a bug.
"Shit." Emmett growled under his breath, stepping out to call one of their men upstairs to look at the video feed for the room. Someone planted it in the last hour. Security would have to move fast if they wanted to catch them.
The large space had a small bar along the back wall, where two scantily clad waitresses worked hard to serve their guests. Edward had learned long ago not to fuck with any of them. He'd seen the mess his brothers had to deal with whenever one of the women wanted more than the Cullen boys were willing to give.
One long, sleek, dark blue couch sat a few feet in front of the bar—a business acquaintance sat on one end, Jasper on the other.
With his limp dick out.
"You gonna keep looking at my cock like that?" Jasper laughed, watching Edward through squinted eyes. "Never knew you were into incest, little brother."
Jasper loved to remind Edward that he was older.
"I'm never going to live that shit down," Edward muttered, shaking his head. "I was fucking four years old, and I had no idea at the time you don't mess with your cousin. All I did was hold her hand, asshole."
"Tanya loves bringing it up." Jasper snickered, and waved Edward over. "Come here."
"Not until you put your dick away."
Jasper groaned, and did what Edward suggested. "Tell Emmett I want my Sig back."
"Jesus, you had that monster out here in the open?" Edward looked at the other occupants, saluting his Uncle Garrett and Aunt Kate sitting at the bar. The others were mostly random women who had fucked more than a couple members of the family and security team.
"You saw my dick out in the open, why you asking that for?" Jasper tried to sit up, but gave up halfway and leaned back against the couch. "What are you doing here, anyway? Did Emmy snitch on me?"
"You tried to shoot a woman you were fucking." Edward grimaced as Jasper's eyes went glacial, turning to a pale blue that resembled Arctic ice.
"You forget, I already shot a woman I was fucking." Jasper sat up, his hand slipping into his empty jacket pocket. He started to curse out Emmett, even though he had left the room.
"Shut your mouth." Edward looked at Demetri, who motioned that it was clear now. "The room hasn't been cleared, asshole."
"I don't give a fuck." Jasper's hiss was closer, and Edward turned to find him in his space. "I fucking shot my wife! What the fuck do I care if I shoot another gold-digging whore? I'd be doing the world a favor."
Edward moved away from his brother. His kidnapping at ten years old still fucked with his head, if it hadn't been for a contractor his father hired to find Edward, he would be dead. He shook those dark memories away.
"I told Father you wouldn't be able to handle it." Edward rolled his head, exhaustion causing a tension headache. "You should've let someone else take care of Maria."
Jasper struck with his heavy fist, but Edward stopped it, catching his brother's wrist and twisting his arm until Jasper was on his knees on the floor.
"You don't get to say her name!" Jasper groaned in pain when Edward drove Jasper's arm higher up his back.
"Fuck you, Jasper. I will do anything to protect this family." It was Edward's turn to invade his brother's space, practically kissing his temple. "If I hadn't exposed her and the man she was fucking as a cop, we would all be in fucking jail."
He released Jasper, who collapsed on the floor, pulled out his trusted weapon of choice, and rested it on his thigh, showing his brother he meant business.
"Now, pull yourself together, Jasper. Dad wants us at home, pronto."
Jasper rose unsteadily to his feet, dusting off his pants, rolling his shoulders. "Let's go."
Their Uncle Garrett, having kept a close eye on the situation, ready to intervene as needed, kissed his wife, Kate, and joined his nephews. Though he looked like their father, his appearance was a lot less clean-cut. Where Carlisle had short hair, Garrett had long. Carlisle would dress in suits, even as casual wear; Garrett preferred worn jeans and a leather jacket. Their uncle was as laid back as Jasper used to be, but lethal with knives. He ran the family's restaurants with an iron fist and a thorough knowledge of all types of cuisine.
"What's the emergency meeting for?" Garrett clapped Jasper's back, smiling at the little bastard. "Glad to see your dick in your pants. Mind keeping it there? You're making everyone jealous."
Jasper shrugged, saying nothing. His lack of clever comeback made Edward aware of how different things had become. Killing Maria had done some serious damage to his brother, and it seemed his father was aware of it.
Edward strode into one of his uncle's many restaurants, ignoring the hostess, walking past her before she had a chance to ask if she could be of assistance. The second she caught a glimpse of Edward's intended destination, and his Uncle Garrett, her dark eyes hastily looked away. Employees knew better than to interfere in family meetings.
Felix, a Cullen guard, waved from the entrance to one of the banquet rooms usually reserved for parties. Edward's father, who had called for the impromptu gathering, had a sick sense of humor, conducting family business at a kid-friendly restaurant, complete with one of those tube gyms Edward favored and conquered as a child.
"Everyone here?" Edward joined Felix, allowing his brothers and uncle to head into the room.
Felix was built like a linebacker with no neck, dark brown hair left crew cut short, and a huge barrel chest. He was his father's bodyguard for the last ten years, and had taken a couple bullets for him. It was something the family would always be grateful for. Felix was as close to family as he could get without being blood.
"They're just waiting for you guys." Felix glanced back to the people gathering inside the room; a nervous tick made his eye twitch. He leaned closer. "Keep an eye out. Word is, some people know about this emergency meeting."
"If that's true…" Edward scrutinized the various family members and their bodyguards. ". . . and they take advantage of the fact we're all here, then we'll know we have a leak, again."
Maria hadn't known much about the business, but knowing the comings and goings of various members of the family explained the threats they'd received before she and the cop she was fucking were disposed of. Constant diligence and a few spies in various places would hopefully flush out any other leaks in the organization.
Felix nodded, gesturing for Edward to get inside. Carlisle sounded impatient and frustrated; a bad combination on a good day, and dangerous on a bad day.
"Let's get started. I'd like to get home before I grow more gray hair." Carlisle unconsciously lifted his hand to his temple, making Garrett laugh.
"You're getting old, Brother!" Garrett pointed like the asshole he was, and promptly landed on his ass when Emmett pulled the chair out from under him.
Carlisle snickered, but the abrupt change in his demeanor was enough to put a stop to the murmurs and laughter around the table. His stone-cold silence had everyone sit back and wait for what he had to say.
The anger had yet to seep from Edward's Uncle Marcus. He usually handled business through several strip and gentlemen's club throughout the city. Something big went down for his father to risk such a meeting with everyone in attendance.
"Someone is killing our girls at the clubs." Carlisle looked from Marcus to his guard, Demetri, then back to the rest of them. "When we lost Becky and Michelle, we were under the impression they moved on; it happens in their line of work. But their bodies have been found, and someone left a message."
Carlisle tossed a photo of a clear evidence bag onto the table. Edward picked it up and examined it closely. Inside the bag was a bloody card from a poker deck, the Ace of Spades. Alec Rossi, the second son of Aro Rossi, was a well-known card shark and local champion. Ace was Alec's call name underground.
The Rossi Family had been trying to take over Cullen territory in vengeance for years, for something the Cullens had nothing to do with, despite rumors. A bloodbath during a botched police raid of one of the Rossi warehouses killed the eldest son, Marco. Alec believed a Cullen sent the police to the warehouse.
Since then, Alec had made it his mission to destroy the Cullen Empire.
"Enough is enough, Carlisle." Marcus pounded his fist on the table. "Becky was a good girl, almost finished with law school. What he did to her body. . ." Edward's uncle seemed to have aged ten years overnight; Becky must've been special to him. "We can't let that happen again. Not just because we take care of our own, but one more body and the police will take notice."
"If we make it a family hit, it will mean war." Carlisle only stated a fact, and with the Valdez and Gutierrez shipments coming up, there was no way they could handle all-out war right now.
Edward tapped his fingers on the table, asking for attention. "We could make it look like an accident."
Marcus snarled, glaring at his nephew. "That monster deserves to suffer, not a quick death."
Edward knew his uncle was right, but there were ways to get both. He looked to his father, who cocked an eyebrow. "Are they still in town?"
"They left for Texas to take care of a problem with a greedy border patrol asshole." Carlisle clasped his hands and nodded. "Call and get them to come back, and Edward, ask for the special."
Edward returned his attention to his Uncle Marcus. "Consider it done. It will look like an accident, but he will suffer. One of our usual and very trustworthy contractors specializes in accidents and fire."
Marcus seemed satisfied. "Tell them to cut off his dick before he dies."
"Done." Edward would take care of the call before night's end. He never needed to meet the contractors personally; he admired their level of expertise and imagination when it came to their work. Plus, they were very particular about their anonymity.
Marcus was impatient, desperate to get back to one of the clubs for some tits and ass, no doubt. "Anything else?"
Edward looked to his father for confirmation, unaware his father's gaze was on him.
"It has come to my attention that many of you are worried about the future when I'm ready to step down."
"What's going on?" From the corner of Edward's eye, he noticed Jasper's hands clenched into fists. "Who's questioning the future?" Edward wanted to know.
"I am." Garrett stood, his eyes on Jasper. "Jasper, you have become a liability—not merely to yourself, but to the family."
"Don't do this," Edward hissed, rising to his feet. Though on some level he agreed with his uncle, calling attention to the issue in a meeting like that meant only one thing.
His father had come to a decision. One he had failed to discuss with Edward.
"Felix." Carlisle waved him closer, another guard taking Felix's post by the door. "Tell them what you told me."
"I had to take Jasper to the Doc when he OD'd last week."
Edward's body and mind went absolutely still, his blood turning to ice. "No, fuck no. Goddamnit, Jay."
"I relinquish my position as Father's second." Jasper stood, hands braced on the table, and took a long look at his father and uncles. "It is for the best. I'm leaving for a rehab center in Washington."
Without another word, and not even a glance at his brothers, Jasper turned and left the room with two men.
Edward felt numb.
"Who have you chosen as your second, Edward or Emmett?" Marcus asked, looking at the others around the table.
Garrett and Marcus refused to become seconds; neither of them had the head for the family business like their brother, Carlisle. They'd respect whomever he chose to succeed.
Carlisle only had eyes for his second son, at that moment. Edward, brilliant and cunning when a situation called for it, had just lost his big brother. Though they all should've seen it coming, Jasper had been on a downward spiral since he shot his wife for her betrayal.
Edward hadn't said a word since his brother left, unaware all eyes were on him.
Edward's eyes closed at the sound and stern tone of his father's voice. He reined in his pain over Jasper, gathered all his control, gazing at his father with neutral expression. "Yes, Father."
"Will you accept your rightful position as my second?"
There was little choice in the matter—with Jasper gone and Emmett too young and inexperienced to handle the business, it had to be him. His uncles never aspired, therefore would never agree, to become head of the family, leaving only Edward and his cousin Junior, who was still in college.
Carlisle nodded, keeping his features as neutral as Edward. "Due to the circumstances, I have decided to postpone stepping down for another year, and will assess again then to determine if you are ready, Edward."
A year? A year before Edward had to wheel and deal with assholes, coordinate hundreds of people who ran different aspects of the business, become judge and executioner for anyone who dared betray the family.
"Are all the same rules going to apply to Edward?" Garrett slapped Edward's back, trying to be jovial, having sensed Edward's tension.
"What rules?" Edward knew what was coming before he even asked the question.
"The no drugs rule still applies, and must be strictly enforced after Jasper." Carlisle looked down to Emmett, who wouldn't meet his father's eyes. He pounded the table. "Look at me, Emmett."
"Sorry, Dad." Emmett looked up and tried to smile. "I'll slow down on the drinking."
"Good, and keep your fucking dick wrapped. One more pregnancy or STD scare from one of your bitches, and I'll have you fucking circumcised again as punishment."
Every man in the room groaned, a few even cupped themselves.
Emmett blushed like a kid, laughing nervously. "I'll keep it wrapped; I swear."
Edward barely followed the conversation, lost in thought. There were rules to ensure everyone's safety; the same ones applied to the head of the family. But one rule in particular was not forced on everyone.
His father and uncles went over the rest of the finer details; all agreeing Edward would have to comply for his protection. It wouldn't be long before their enemies would find out Jasper was no longer his father's second, putting an extra big bullseye on Edward.
"Edward." His father's voice had risen, indicating he'd been trying to capture Edward's attention. "Do you remember the new rule we implemented after your uncle died?"
"Please remind me." As if he needed a reminder, the words were echoing in his mind.
"You are to be, at the very least, engaged before you take my place."
Edward turned to look at the others, wondering how they felt about the ridiculous, medieval rule. Emmett looked amused as fuck, snickering under his breath. Garrett was a bit subtler, only waggling his brows. Marcus kept his eyes neutral, but the slight curl of disgust on his lips indicated he would not like to be in Edward's position.
"Are you suggesting I find a wife in a year?" Edward kept his voice level; though, his father didn't miss the underlying anger in his tone.
"I'm not suggesting it, Edward. It's a fucking order." Carlisle waited after delivering his demand, wondering how his son would handle it.
"I see. Does this mean you have women lined up for my approval? That's how it was usually done back in the damn stone ages."
Emmett snorted. "All pure and shit, too."
Carlisle's lips twitched, but he managed to compose himself. "I thought it would be best to give you a chance to find a wife on your own."
Edward narrowed his eyes, not finding the situation funny at all.
Marcus looked at his nephew. "You are being rather testy. Is there something you want to tell us? You fancy dicks instead of chicks?"
"Jesus." Edward pinched the bridge of his nose, his migraine hitting full force after all the revelations. "I'm not gay, and you know it. I'm simply pointing out how fucking idiotic it is to impose this rule on me. I've been working as your second for the last six months. When am I supposed to find the time? You're asking for a miracle; a year is not enough time to find a suitable woman who can accept this life."
"That is more than enough time to find the right woman for the job." Carlisle rolled his eyes at his son's antics. Edward knew how to manipulate a situation in his favor, and the tactic had served him well over the last several years. But Carlisle knew all of Edward's tricks.
"Give me two years."
"One year, Edward, and that is final." Carlisle really wished he had a gavel to emphasize his demand, because his son asked for a vote.
In the end, it didn't matter. Edward had become his second, and therefore, he would be engaged or married within a year.