Lover Unveiled (Black Dagger Brotherhood #19) - J.R. Ward

Trade Street and 30th Avenue

Downtown Caldwell, New York

Forty-eight minutes before Ralphie DeMellio got murdered, he was living the life.

“You got this,” his buddy was saying as he rubbed Ralphie’s bare shoulders. “You fucking got this, you’re a monster, you’re a motherfucking monster!”

Ralphie and his crew were on the sixth level of a parking garage that was all about the oil stains and litter, rather than any Oldsmobiles and Lincolns. The abandoned facility was just a fucking concrete bureau with nothing in its drawers, and in this part of Caldie, any kind of structural on-its-lonesome didn’t last long. Hello, BKC. Bare Knuckle Conquests was the only legit underground fighting circuit in the southern part of New York State, and the bout held tonight was the reason why he, his bros, and five hundred clout-chasing Insta-famers were here.

Any more selfies and it’d be the driver’s license lane at the DMV.

BKC was big-ass business, and Ralphie, as the reigning champ, was making big-ass fucking bank—provided none of these dumbasses with the camera phones gave their location away. And like, what were the chances of that.

“Where’s the coke.”

He put his hand out, and when the brown vial was slapped into his palm like a surgical instrument, he went to town. As he honked two kilos of powder deep into his sinuses, his eyes went jumping bean over the crowd. Down at the other end of the level, they were antsy, drugging, and putting their bets in with the organizer’s bookies. Nothing but three rounds of bare-knuckle minutes between them and the killing they expected to make.

Ralphie was a very good bet.

He hadn’t lost a fight yet, even though he had Slim Jim muscles and smoked a lot of weed. But here was the fucking thing. The bouncer-types with the boulder biceps and the jelly bellies were only impressive when they were standing still. Get them moving and they had no balance, no speed, and follow-throughs like they had double vision. Long as Ralphie kept buzzing around like a fly on shit, he was unhittable as his right hook went to work.

“You good, Ralphie. You fucking good!”

“Yeah, that’s right, Ralphie, you the best!”

His crew was five guys from the neighborhood. They’d grown up together and were all related, their families having come over on the boat to Ellis Island a couple generations ago and gotten out of Hell’s Kitchen soon as they could afford it. Little Italy in Caldie was little different than the one in Manhattan, and as his father always said, don’t trust someone you don’t know and don’t know someone if you can’t walk to their house.

And there was one other person on Ralphie’s team.

“Where is she.” Ralphie looked around. “Where is—”

Chelle was back by the G Wagon, posed like a Pirelli girl, her elbows on the hood, one heel stabbed into a tire rim. Her head was back, the purple ends of her black hair licking the metallic paint, her pink lips parted as she stared up at nothing. The night was chilly because April was still a bitch in this zip code, but she didn’t give a fuck. Her bustier was all she had on up top, and the bottom half of her wasn’t covered much better.

Fuuuuuuck. Those tattoos on her upper thighs were showing. And the ones on the swells of her breasts. And the sleeve on her left arm.

She’d always refused to get one of his initials.

She was like that.

As if she caught his drift, Chelle slowly turned her head. Then she licked her lips with the tip of her tongue.

Ralphie’s hand went to the front of his jeans. She was not the kind of woman you brought home to mother, and at first, that was the reason he’d fucked her. But she was smart and she had her own hair salon. She didn’t check his phone. She didn’t care if he went out with the boys. She had her own money, she never asked him for a goddamn thing, and she had options, lotta options.

Men wanted her.

She was with him, though. And no matter what she looked like, she didn’t come on to his crew. She was not a pass-around, and anybody rubbed up on her? She was one slap away from knocking their fucking teeth out.

So yeah, after a year, Ralphie was way into her.

To the point where he didn’t care about what anyone else thought, including his traditional Italian mother. As far as he was concerned, Chelle was wifey material and that was all that fucking