Dark Ruler (The Bennett Duet #1) by Xavier Neal

Chapter 1

“The label of which something is a blessing or a curse is based on nothing more than perspective, Miko.” I move my skeptical stare away from the, apparently, defective watch my father gave me earlier this year for my birthday to where my cousin, my second in command, my security protection, my voice of reason or trouble depending on the conversation, is lingering near the closed door. “It would be wise of you to remember that going forward.”

Miko’s blue eyes roll much like they always do when a statement is more profound than perfunctory. “Need I remind you that you’re the philosofucker, not me?”

His teasing tone alongside his word choice threaten to make me smile.

He’s always been one of the few people in this callous court we have to call life who possesses that power.

Perhaps it’s because he wasn’t raised to censor himself or his thoughts.

Or maybe it’s because rather than being forced to spend his time perfecting an accent, infliction, and elocution to mimic that of his father, he was allowed to develop a personality all his own. One in which he learned that words could provide more than threats and pain.

They could be used for humor.

And, dare I say, happiness.

Sometimes I wonder, is the king of the jungle allowed to be happy or only feared?

Is it possible to be both?

Miko shoves his tan hands into his black slacks pockets and cocks his head to one side. “Stai davvero facendo il broncio per questa merda?”

You're really sulking about this shit?

“No.” I casually rise out of my leather chair during my argument, “I’m not sulking. I do not sulk. I do not possess the capability to sulk.”

“Mm…You look like you’re sulking.”

“For fucks sake, Miko, I do not sulk, nor do I like to repeat myself.”

“Fine. You’re pouting then.”


“You know I’m allergic to cinnamon.”

His continued juvenile taunting successfully receives a smile as well as a shake of the head. “Sei un dolore nel culo.”

You’re a pain in the ass.

“Saying it in Italian doesn’t make it any more true than saying it in English, Beni.”

“Pain. In. The. Ass.”

“Thought you didn’t like to repeat yourself?”

“You, dolore nel culo, seem to always make it necessary.”

“It’s a gift.”

“And it seems as though we’ve arrived back at the blessing or curse conversation.” I point to the object on my wrist. “Another example of a gift that I’m not sure is the blessing it was intended to be – an expensive item to remember my father by – or a curse considering the fucking thing just stopped working and I can’t simply replace it due to its hypothetical sentimental value.”

Miko arrogantly snickers and offers a small shrug of his wide shoulders. “I stand by the perspective that I’m a blessing.”

“Of course, you do.”

“Your biggest blessing.”

My face scrunches in disagreement at the same time my hand waves side to side.

We instantly laugh together over my retort, an action that I’ve been doing less and less of lately.

It’s only been a year – a year to the day – since I’ve become head of the Bennett family, which essentially makes me a dark duke in the underworld I have been bred to rule from the position, while answering to the higher syndicates, and I already understand why it is my father rarely seemed to smile about anything other than food and why it is my mother chose to leave the goddamn continent the first moment she was allowed.

The chomping at your feet and testing of your patience by those beneath are endless.

“It’s good that you’re not sulking,” Miko begins again upon my approaching where he’s stationed, “because it would be ridiculous. Because it would be fucking ridiculous to be pouting over the fact that five beautiful women are arriving to compete over one another for your attention for the next fourteen days.”