Shielded Wrongs (Bellandi Crime Syndicate # 4) - Adelaide Forrest



Winter brought with it the stench of death, lingering in the air like something palpable. Like corpses lying just out of sight beyond the horizon, a warning of blood on frost-covered and wilted grass that we couldn’t yet see.

But war had come, and all I could do was wait in the calm before the tides tore the city to shreds. Not really one of them, not really not. I’d become a halfway girl to a family I’d never asked for but couldn’t turn my back on either.

Shaking off the chill to the air and the way it clung to my skin with warning, in the dim light of dawn I hurried down the exterior steps on the side of the building. Even though the weather had been unseasonable as of late, the tiny commute down the stairs and around to the front of the gym still filled me with dread. Before my best friend Ivory’s, involvement with the Bellandi family, I’d been secure in my little corner of Chicago. Having met just a sample of the monsters that lurked within the city, I knew there were fates worse than death, and all that stood between them and the greater population was a group of men nobody would call heroes.

In common terms, the city as I knew it never existed. Lost to a world of crime most of us never dreamed of.

I’d take the cold over the uncharacteristic warmth if it meant returning to the peace of relative ignorance. Usually this time of year made my nose want to fall off and my dark hair freeze to my head before I could get inside the gym. Instead, I barely shivered in my jacket, but I still hated the fucking cold and everything that came with it.

When I rounded the bottom of my steps, my spine prickled with unease. With all the training, all the survivors I’d worked with over the years, I learned to trust those instincts, even if my paranoia amplified them. I quickened my pace as I made my way around the front of the building. Pulling keys out of my pocket, I positioned one between my fingers into a makeshift weapon as I got ready to get the door open.

At the front door, I maneuvered the keys until I unlocked the first deadbolt.

Then the second.

When I finally made it to the third, I prepared myself with a large breath in. Stilling as I listened to the rustling movement of someone coming up behind me. Waiting until the slow ease of quiet breath fanned against the back of my neck, I forced myself to pull the key from the lock slowly and slip it between my fingers once more.

Erupting into sudden motion, I spun in place, widening my stance and preparing to fight whoever would attack me in an empty lot at six o’clock in the morning.

“You asshole!” I growled, shoving Patrick’s chest when he raised two arms like he’d meant no harm. Sneaking up on your ex-girlfriend in the dark was not an acceptable pastime.

The man needed to move on and develop a better understanding of what it meant to be a woman. Even in times of peace, the world was full of regular creeps waiting to take advantage.

“I’m sorry!” he blurted. “I didn’t mean to scare you. Who would want to hurt you?” Never mind that men often took what they wanted, or at least tried, I couldn’t mention my connection to the Bellandis. I could tell no one that there was the slight potential Bellandi enemies might target me for that connection. None of them seemed to consider that I might be at risk, since I was not a Bellandi woman.

And I never would be.

I wanted it to stay that way, living on the fringes of their world and only popping my head in for a peek when I went to visit with Ivory and her daughter, Luna. “You don’t sneak up on a woman like that. Just call my name or something so I know you aren’t a serial killer, you ding dong. I could have emasculated you.”

He swallowed, visibly taking a step back. He damn well knew I could and would.

I should.

“I just wanted to talk to you,” he said.

“We have nothing to talk about,” I reminded him with a bite to my tone as I spun back to the front door.

“Come on, Sade. Just talk to me. We can work through the problem. I miss you.” I ground my teeth together at the sound