Andrew is six and is unwanted. He knows because right before he was kicked from the fourth home in as many weeks, his foster sister had yelled that all kids that had no name were named Doe. All unwanted kids were named Doe. All mistakes were named Doe.
Of course, Andrew doesn’t care. He doesn’t care about anything anymore, really. At the tender age of six, all thoughts and abilities to care about anything have been thoroughly beaten from his body. But a Doe is a doe is a deer and Andrew is nothing if not prey, these days. He kicks up as much a fuss as it would take to get him out of one shitty home and on to the next, potentially less shitty home. Sometimes it works, most times it doesn’t.
Andrew is thirteen and has a new name. A.J. Cass calls him that. He hears it in his nightmares. He hears it when the stairs creak and sounds too close to footsteps for Andrew to fall back asleep.
If he was sleeping at all.
He hears the echoes of Andrew Joseph Spear as he sits on the bathroom floor, behind a locked door and staring at the knife he snuck from the kitchen when Cass wasn’t looking. Or wasn’t seeing. Because Andrew is sure she noticed the missing knife from the block.
But Andrew wants to keep Cass—even if she’s not seeing. He brings the knife to his skin.
Andrew is sixteen and isn’t a Spear. He isn’t a Doe anymore, either. He’s a Minyard. Andrew Joseph Minyard. Given to him by a brother he’s only met once and a cousin that meddles too much for his own good. They asked him to join their little family. Asked. Offered. A funny thing for someone like Andrew—to have a choice. It’s a strange feeling.
They didn’t force him to do anything. It was the only reason Andrew took his brother’s name.
Andrew is eighteen and living on the streets of Baltimore. He got Aaron clean, kept him that way and got him and Nicky accepted into some university close to their house in Columbia. But Andrew found his way up north, instead of participating in the nuclear family Nicky so desperately wants for the three of them. If he was able to feel anything anymore, he might have felt guilty for the look of sadness that crossed Nicky’s face when he told them that he wasn’t staying. That there was no point to staying.
Andrew is twenty and has a new name. Monster. The Monster of Maryland. In just two years, he’s gone from petty criminal to gang member to mafia boss. Rich mafia boss. He has all the money, food, alcohol, and clothing he could have ever wanted (back when he knew how to want).
But he’s still empty.
He even has his control now, too. And that’s better—it is—but something is still missing; his new therapist, Bee, has at least gotten him to admit that. (He doesn’t dwell on how ironic it is that The Monster has a therapist.)
Andrew has resigned himself to never find it.
Andrew is twenty-one when he meets Neil Josten. Or Nathaniel, in his father’s presence. The Butcher’s son. The Butcher’s Heir. Wrath and ice and fire wrapped in a deadly package, topped with a lovely bow of spite.
He’s at Eden’s Twilight—a club he’d put in his pocket upon becoming the Monster solely for their impeccably reliable information—when Neil fucking Josten comes crashing through the doors in a swirl of auburn and ice-blue like he has a tail on him (that was, in fact, true, Andrew later learns).
On neutral territory, on Andrew’s turf, Neil Josten cases the place quickly—and a mask of calm slides over his face when he notices Andrew. Well, isn’t that new: someone, albeit a serial killer’s son, looking at Andrew with anything other than fear. Andrew loathes to admit that his interest is slowly waking and blinking its sleepy eyes at this disaster of a human.
And Neil, infuriatingly, goes a step further—he sidles up to Andrew by the bar (not touching, but close enough that Andrew feels the delicious heat of him), orders a Bellini of all things (Andrew almost scoffs when the bartender sets it on the counter) and two fingers worth of the top shelf whiskey that he slides over to Andrew. Andrew raises an eyebrow at that move, but accepts it nonetheless—free, clean alcohol, even coming from his own place, is still free alcohol.
Neil sits so that Andrew is between him and the door, which clues Andrew into the fact that something is wrong—someone as flighty as Neil seems to be would want the quickest way to the nearest exit. Andrew taps his thumb casually—precisely—against his glass and the bartender flicks his wrist in an extra movement as he’s picking up an empty glass down the bar top; the bouncers are on the exits in seconds, scanning the dance floor and VIP upper veranda. Andrew knows his own enforcers are on high alert outside, safeties clicked off on their guns.
Neil notices—Andrew knows he does—but he only slumps a bit on the stool and tosses back his fruity cocktail. He glances at Andrew, an exhausted look breaking the blank mask for a heartbeat. “Thanks.” His voice is barely loud enough to be heard over the pounding base but it somehow strikes Andrew to his core, heady and addicting like goddamn top shelf whiskey.
But Andrew has to file that away for later, because Neil is cracking each knuckle on every finger and glancing between Andrew and the staff door at the back of the club. Andrew can only sigh and knock back his drink before getting up; he tugs on Neil’s sleeve as he passes, a silent order to follow.
He leads Neil to the back rooms, the murmur of music and voices fading behind the two solid inches of reinforced steel. Andrew locks the door to his own office behind them both and leans on the front of his desk, crossing his arms so his knives are in easy reach of his hands; he kicks out the chair beside him. Neil gets the hint—he doesn't look too happy at having his back to the door, but sits nonetheless.
Neil startles at his voice—up until now, not a word has been said, excluding the breathless thanks at the bar. He shifts and fidgets with his sleeves, pulling them down low over his brutally scarred fingers then twisting them back up to his wrists. “I need protection.”
Well. Andrew raises an eyebrow, “From.”
This provokes a new reaction from the redhead: his eyes flash from that dull gray-blue of exhaustion to the lighting-blue of aggravation—dare Andrew say anger. “You know who my fucking father is,” —he spits the word out like it poisons him— “Take a wild guess. He’s pulling too hard on his leash and I’m the one getting punished for it.”
The burst of feeling fades rapidly from those eyes—like it took everything Neil had left to summon the energy. “There won’t be anything left of me when he eventually gets what he wants.” His voice is that quiet, breathless one from the bar; Neil slumps back into the chair and tilts his vulnerable neck back. He’s fucking exposing himself like that—Andrew clamps down on the protective surge and stifles the fury that this goddamn pretty boy knows exactly what he’s doing.
Andrew takes the ensuing silence to study the wreck before him.
There’s not much logistical incentive to help Neil, if he’s being honest. It would just bring Nathan Wesninski’s psychotic attention to Andrew’s business.
It doesn’t really matter. Andrew knows who Wesninski is working for—fucker wouldn’t be able to get away with the shit he does without the backing of the yakuza—but it’s a non-issue. He has his own deal with the Moriyamas—if he pushed, he could probably wiggle Neil out from under Wesninski’s filthy fucking talons.
But there is still the tiny problem of Nathan Wesninski himself. As spitfire as Neil is, he is a dim shadow in his father’s presence.
Andrew sighs. Studies Neil’s rag doll self, marionette strings snapped. He knows Neil is a disaster waiting to happen—damn him, he knows—but he is nothing if not just a little self-destructive. Fucking pretty boys.
Andrew watches as that arched throat snaps up, the face sitting atop alert and predatory. Like a fox, Andrew muses. He can see the resemblance.
“I’ll do it.”
Neil pauses. Then he grins, so widely—with an edge of hysteria and the slightest touch of insane—that Andrew can’t help the way his breath hitches. Fucking pretty boys.