My Cruel Salvation (Fallen Saint # 3) by J. Kenner


Chapter One





Before…

Alejandro Lopez held the gunmetal black Glock in his hand as he stood on the range beside his father, the desert sun beating down on them. He was ten years old and tall for his age, lanky and thin. He came up almost to his father’s shoulder. Soon, he’d probably be taller than the man. Stronger, too.

That would be good. Maybe then he could stop being scared. Maybe then he could tell his father that he wanted to be called Alex again, just like his mom had called him when they were alone. Back when they were safe. Back before she’d died.

He could barely remember her now, but every night he made himself think about her hugs and bedtime stories. The ones where he was Alex, and he was brave, and he was fighting the bad guys.

She never told him who the bad guys were, but he knew the answer now. They were these men he lived with. All of the men, but his father most of all. The Wolf.

He swallowed the lump in his throat, forcing his shoulders not to shake and his face to stay expressionless. Showing emotion wasn’t allowed around The Wolf. No exceptions and no excuses.

Alex had the bruises to prove that rule.

He needed to work hard. To get better. To bury everything he felt deep inside so that his father would never, ever see the hate. Or, worse, the fear.

He had to make a life here. Had to figure out a way to belong even while honing that deep and secret hate. Even while planning his revenge.

He had to, because that was the only way that Alex knew he’d be safe. The only way he could be certain that his father wouldn’t decide to get rid of him, too, the same way he’d gotten rid of his mother.

Not that The Wolf had ever admitted that to him, but Alex learned a long time ago that it was better to listen than talk. He’d heard things over the years. And even though he’d only been a little kid when his father had dragged him back here to the desert, he remembered things. Things he made sure The Wolf never knew about.

The Wolf.

That’s what his father liked to call himself. It’s what he made everyone at the compound call him when they talked about him.

The Wolf called a meeting; you need to report to the office.

The Wolf is angry today. The Phoenix operation went tits up. Steer clear.

The Wolf has his eye on Frank. Poor bastard.

And then Frank wasn’t ever seen again. It sucked, because Alex had always liked Frank. The gray-haired man used to sneak him butterscotch candies wrapped in yellow cellophane. But Frank talked to someone he wasn’t supposed to, and The Wolf found out. And that was the end of Frank.

Beside him, The Wolf shifted, his own weapon held casually at his side. “You have been practicing, Alejandro?”

Alex nodded.

“Yes, Father.” His father made everyone call him The Wolf; everyone except Alex. The Wolf wanted Alex to know who he belonged to. Alex was careful to call the man Father when he spoke. But in his head, he mostly thought of his father as The Wolf. Because that man wasn’t a father. Not really. Not like the men he remembered from Los Angeles. The kind and loving fathers that his friends called Pop or Daddy, and who they’d run to with outstretched arms to receive hugs and praise.

Alex had wanted that, too. But as he felt the weight of the gun in his hand, he knew he’d never have it.

“Let’s see it then.” The Wolf nodded across the stretch of parched Nevada desert. In the distance, several bushels of hay had been set up, white paper targets attached to them with outlines of men in solid black. On each face, someone had painted two red eyes.

“That man is your enemy. He has wronged you. He thinks that you are less than him because of what you are and what you do. Is that man right?”

“No, Father.” Alex worked to make his voice not tremble. His father scared him when he was in this mood. Alex once saw him crack the skull of a man who didn’t answer a question exactly the way The Wolf wanted. The man had been named Michael, and he used to tell Alex funny stories about the time that he had visited Paris. Now, Michael couldn’t remember that time.

Most days, he couldn’t even remember his name.

“What do we do with men who have wronged us?” The Wolf asked.

“We teach them a lesson, Father.” Alex’s voice sounded dull to his own ears. He hoped his father couldn’t hear the fear that he was trying so hard to bury. Fear and loathing. He hated this man. But he knew that he couldn’t let it show.

“Yes. Yes.” Alex could hear the pride. It made him feel sick. “That’s my son. Now you show me how to teach that lesson. The man who wronged you is right there, looking at you across this field. Are you going to let him diminish you?”