Sinful Illusions – Chapter One


As far as stupid ideas went, this one definitely took the cake. I crouched next to the stone pillar at the corner of the estate and glanced around one last time before tossing the large stick over the metal fence. I cringed, closing my eyes to narrow slits as I waited for lights to flash, sirens to blast the air, men to come running.

None of those things happened. I cracked open my eyes, and my eyebrows shot toward my hairline. So, maybe tonight was my lucky night. I’d watched the black car pull out of the driveway just over fifteen minutes ago, so I knew he was gone. I was fairly certain the fence surrounding the property had trips of some sort, but maybe he only activated them when he was home. I hoped to God that was the case, considering what I was about to do.

Still, I waited another five minutes. When all remained quiet and tranquil, I rose from my place concealed behind the pillar. The fence encircled the entire five-acre estate, a small fortune in itself. But that didn’t really surprise me. A man like Fox had enough money to buy whatever he wanted—whether it was some material object or someone’s life.

A combination of sadness and anger surged through me at the reminder of my sister’s death. It was a never-ending cycle these days. Cry, rage, cry all over again. The past four months had been exhausting, fueled intermittently by hope and despair. Tomorrow would make one hundred and thirty days since my sister disappeared. No matter how long I lived, I would never forget the sound of my ringing phone piercing the air, the shaky sound of my father’s voice telling me she was gone.

I didn’t know if it was intuition or something else, but I knew the moment I saw Daddy’s name lighting up my screen that something had happened to my sister. Elle had been married for nearly two years, and I hadn’t gotten to see her as often as I would have liked between my schoolwork and her obligations as a senator’s wife. The last time I’d seen her was around Fourth of July, when she and Spencer stopped by my family’s annual party at the lake. They hadn’t stayed long, and I cursed myself for not going out of my way to spend more time with her.

A little over a month later, she’d disappeared. A hiker had discovered her phone first. Thinking nothing of it, he’d pocketed it to turn it in. A few hundred yards later he’d found her. Or, rather, the place she’d died. The authorities found a significant amount of blood and trace evidence at the scene to believe with certainty that she’d been murdered and couldn’t have possibly survived.

Authorities had spent several days scouring the woods, searching for any sign of her. Her purse containing her identity had been found more than a mile from the crime scene, and a knife covered in her DNA was found near the edge of the river just beyond that. They’d searched the riverbank for miles upstream, but her body had never been recovered. I’d held out hope for months that they were wrong; she would come back to us. We would find her. Part of me felt like she was still alive, and I couldn’t possibly let her go until I knew for sure. If she was truly gone, I wanted to find her and put her to rest. I needed the closure—we all did.

Each day that passed without word of her return dug the knife of pain and despair a little deeper. Finally, we could wait no longer. Daddy insisted we move on with our lives—what was left of them. We had finally laid her memory to rest just a couple weeks ago, lowering an empty coffin into the ground two days after Christmas.

I still couldn’t believe she was gone. Or maybe I just refused to accept it. Even though Elle and I had lived apart and were busy with our own lives, she was still my sister, and a part of my heart died with her. Justice needed to be served—and I was going to ensure that happened.

While I’d been staying with my family over the holidays, Elle’s husband, Spencer, stopped by. I’d overhead him speaking with Daddy late one night while I eavesdropped outside his office. Spencer believed a man by the name of Fox was responsible for Elle’s death. For years I’d only heard whispers of the man who lived in the shadows and ran an underground crime organization. Daddy had protected Elle and me from everything growing up, but when Elle was murdered, the rose-colored glasses had been ripped away, revealing the ugly truth of the world around me. Our family had been torn apart, and I’d sworn I would exact revenge on the man who’d done this to us.

I glanced through the bars of the heavy-duty wrought iron fence and glared at the mansion, mentally cursing the man who owned it. A puff of air escaped my lips, curling in front of my face in the frigid evening air. A shiver worked its way down my spine, but I closed my eyes, drawing on my strength and tuning out the cold that penetrated my bones. It was a perfect night. Not too bright, and the snow that we’d gotten around Christmas had melted off several days ago and the cold front that had moved through yesterday had left the ground frozen solid—no chance of footprints.

Spring semester had just started a week ago, and I was back in the apartment I shared with my roommate, Rose. She was headed to the club to relax and unwind with a few of our friends. Though they’d invited me along, I’d declined. My mission tonight was revenge.

The note I’d left for Rose said that I was staying with my parents tonight. If tomorrow rolled around and I was still gone, I knew she’d reach out to my parents, who would then contact the authorities. Not that I would allow that to happen. I would be in and out before anyone was the wiser—just as soon as I found what I was looking for. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t know exactly what I was looking for until I saw it.

What was his weakness? I needed to find whatever it was that would hurt him the worst and exploit it. So far, though, I hadn’t been able to dig up much on the mysterious man everyone called Fox—due, no doubt, to his cunning and ruthless nature. His business was never mentioned directly, though he moved in the upper echelons of society. The information on Fox was infuriatingly scarce, but I’d never been a quitter, and I wasn’t going to start now.

My plan was to get into the house, find any information that would help me formulate a strategy, then get back out. What I really needed to do was find his office, his private domain. I assumed that he, like all men, would keep any pertinent documents safely tucked away on computers or—better yet—filing cabinets. Unfortunately, that meant I would have to search the whole damn house to find the right room before I could even start. But that was fine with me. Gauging from his recent activity, Fox wouldn’t be back for hours yet.

I’d spent the previous three nights parked one street over, watching the house, studying his routine. Each evening, Fox had stepped out the front doors of the mansion, then climbed into the back of the black Mercedes. Though I’d continued to watch the premises, he still hadn’t returned by the time I left around one. Tonight would be the same. The car had pulled out of the garage just over twenty minutes ago now, so I was safe for several hours, at least.

During my time watching the house, I’d seen only the same two men: the driver who never returned without Fox, and the second man who remained at the house, occasionally stepping outside for a smoke. I wasn’t naïve enough to believe those were the only guards he had, but I was confident that I could elude the others once I was inside.

From the position of the thin crescent moon high above me, I judged it to be about ten o’clock. That meant I would have about three hours to get what I needed and get out. I’d be home right around the same time as Rose. No harm done. Now, I just needed to get inside. I didn’t know how to pick locks—not well, anyway. I’d researched it but had quickly given up. With a house like this, Fox surely had higher end security, including more advanced locking mechanisms that couldn’t be easily breached. I could break a window, but I really didn’t want to leave any evidence of my brief foray into his home. My plan was to create some kind of diversion the next time the guard stepped outside for his break. I would slip inside undetected so I wouldn’t have to worry about the alarm system or missing my window of opportunity.

Tonight, I’d left my car behind and instead taken the bus to Oakmont Street. From there, I’d walked the rest of the way. Though I hadn’t encountered anyone on my previous trips, I couldn’t risk anyone discovering my empty car while I was gone and calling it in. Once I’d gotten into the house and retrieved what I needed, I would walk to the gas station a mile down the road and contact an Uber to pick me up. Worst case, I could hike over to the L and ride the subway home. In the middle of the night, it wasn’t safe or smart, so I sincerely hoped a driver would be available. I’d have made arrangements earlier, but I wasn’t sure how long I would be. I needed to get moving.

Looking around the darkened grounds again, I took a deep breath. Grasping the top rail, I braced my feet against the smooth iron and scaled the fence. Cautiously avoiding the spindles at the top, I hoisted myself up. The spiky point of one caught the back of my thigh as I swung it over, and I grimaced as my leggings ripped and the sharp metal cut into my skin. Shoving the pain away, I balanced my weight and swung my other leg over, then dropped to the ground on the other side.

Crouched low, I took a moment to inspect my leg. I couldn’t see it in the near-dark, but it didn’t appear to be too bad. I pressed against the wound, rubbing away the slight stinging sensation as I climbed to my feet and gazed around. Still nothing. Moving quickly, I ran to the copse of trees on the east side of the yard, taking care to stay low. Blending from shadow to shadow, I crept closer to the house. From my spot concealed behind a thick tree trunk, I eyed the well-manicured landscaping surrounding the house. There were plenty of places to hide within the bushes and topiary trees spaced around the mammoth brick home. To get there, though, I’d have to cut across the open lawn, up the slight knoll at an angle away from the front door.

Glancing up through the mostly bare limbs, I glanced at the sky. Wispy clouds dotted the navy expanse, and I prayed one would cover the moon, temporarily blotting out the light. Turning my attention back to the house, I withdrew further into the trees. A twig snapped quietly beneath my feet, and I froze, the hairs on the back of my neck lifting as a second sound reached my ears.

My breath caught in my chest as I spun around, and my gaze collided with the form of the hulking man standing only a few feet away. I had no idea how he’d crept up on me, but suddenly he was there, his dark pupils standing out against the whites of his eyes. A chill raced over my skin, and my heart slammed against my ribcage, stealing my breath.

Oh, God. It was him.



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