“I swear to fucking all that is holy, Spade, if you guys went all out for my birthday, I’m going to stab you, and not in the way you want.”

I frowned at his conniving smile, knowing full well that he was up to something, and that what that something was, was entirely in the realm of all-out because, of course, it was. It was him, after all. 

And he was nothing if not excessive.

Spade did his best impression of Ace’s ‘stern and imposing’ look, but the way his eyes danced ruined the effect completely. Across the table from him, Joker rolled his eyes and sighed into the steam emanating from his coffee cup.

“Just tell her already, you idiot. It’s not like she’s not going to find out. She’s sort of going to be the main attendee.”

Spade shot him a dark and dangerous look that had me reaching for the blade I kept neatly tucked against my thigh now—a requirement when dealing with psychopaths, criminals, and assholes. I didn’t have to use it often, but having it made me feel a little better about the idea as a whole.

“Since this fucker’s eager to ruin your surprise, I suppose I have to tell you,” he groaned, slapping his palms on the table with a resounding thud. “We ordered a cake and a stripper, but I was talked out of buying you a pony.”

“A pony? Why would you get me a pony in the first place? Where the hell would we keep it?” My hands waved around as I gestured to the area around us. “It’s not like we live on a country estate, you moron. We live in a warehouse.” 

A fact that I’d been working hard to change since I realized how much power I held over them.

Don’t get me wrong. I was thankful that I had a home and didn’t have to sleep in the same bed each night if I didn’t want to, but I yearned for something that actually felt like a home. Something real, with walls that weren’t half metal and half plaster. I wanted a yard and a fence and a balcony I could watch birds from. 

Spade shrugged. “They have stall rentals at horse farms out of city limits, you know.”

Ace strolled in, laptop in hand, deep in conversation with BlackJack to his left, who was busy typing away on his phone. The two of them passed by with barely a glance in my direction, heading straight for the coffee pot, and I watched silently as they poured their mugs and sat down across from me.

Still ignoring me.

Of course.

We’d fallen out of sorts last week over something as trivial as wanting my own room. Sure, I was welcome in any of theirs at any given time, but a girl just needs her own space sometimes, and I was hesitant to mess with the vibe of any of their rooms because that was their space. Ace had insisted I was being dramatic when I suggested, since he had a room and an office, that he give the latter up for me to turn into a bedroom for myself, or at least a space I could decorate and make feel like mine.

He hadn’t spoken to me since except to tell me I was being childish.

BlackJack wasn’t ignoring me as much, per se, but he wasn’t going out of his way to be affectionate, either, and every time he did make an overture in my direction, he faced stern looks from Ace and heavy sighs that felt laced with a threat of violence. Spade and Joker did as they pleased, both valiantly ignoring the nonverbal commands Ace felt like dishing out when they got too close. 

Last week, I’d spent more time on one or the other’s arm than in the entire time I’d been their captive. And as much as I adored them both, I was already tired of being their little toy. I ached for the other two men closing themselves off to me.

“Are you guys still not talking to our girl?” Joker teased from his chair, a wry grin splitting his lips. “And I thought I held a grudge.”

Ace’s cold, calculating eyes flicked up to his friend for a moment, then back down to his coffee, avoiding my gaze entirely even though I knew there was no way he didn’t feel it burning into his skin. “I’m just drinking my coffee.”

BlackJack didn’t even speak; he just shot me a guilty look as Ace frowned in his direction and sighed.

Clearly, today’s birthday would be just like all my others: Half-right and half wrong.

Just another year.




The guys had planned to take me out to dinner, but after I begged and pleaded with them, citing my desire to be lazy and the urge to snuggle on the couch and wallow in my own self-pity, they reneged, and Joker threw together a fucking spectacular meal from scratch. Spade brought out a cake that was so decadent I nearly fainted on the first bite, with what looked suspiciously like gold shavings around the base.

Still, I’d learned it was best not to ask questions with Spade, so I dutifully finished a colossal piece, rolling my eyes and moaning orgasmically at every opportunity while making eye contact with the two men who were steadfastly still ignoring my very presence.

The bulge in BlackJack’s pants, though, well, that told a whole different story.

They could only ignore me for so long.

Spade clapped his hands and grinned around the table like a wildman. “Okay, time for the presents!”

Oh, yay, what was I, a kid? Did adults even get presents for their birthdays?

My adult interactions were sadly limited and very lackluster. Not much experience to draw off of there.

Joker handed over a small, rectangular box wrapped in shiny silver paper with a neat little bow on top, a shy grin suffusing his face. “I really hope you like this, beautiful,” he whispered, and I fucking melted as our hands brushed.

He was the fucking sweetest sometimes, I mused as I tugged gently on the ribbon, revealing the blank box beneath.

“Cass,” I warned, preparing myself for whatever lay inside this obviously expensive package–because the fewer labels on a box, typically, the more expensive the product inside.

He beamed at me like it didn’t phase him in the least, “Just shut up and open it, Mallory. I’m anxious enough as it is.”

My eyes flickered back to the box in my hand, and I lifted the lid slowly, my hesitant smile falling as the gift inside was revealed.

“Oh, no, Cassian, I–”

The necklace that lay on the velveteen cloth interior shimmered as it caught the light, solid rose gold contrasting with the rubies and diamonds that littered the metal choker. Half of it was some shiny fabric, probably satin, with a small length of chain to connect it at the ends. 

Etched into the metal were the words Queen of Wildcards, the flowing script dancing over the surface like water. My breath hitched in my throat, and it took a herculean effort not to cry at the gorgeous, heartfelt jewelry he’d gifted me.

Joker tipped his head to the side and looked up at me from beneath his lashes, almost like a child worried his Mother’s Day card wasn’t good enough. “Do you like it, gorgeous?”

I blinked back more burning tears, smiling through the shimmering cloud as I threw my arms around his neck and fell into his embrace. “I love it, Cass. It’s beautiful.”

He tugged the box from my hands and pulled it from the velvet lining, gesturing for me to turn around. “Only the most beautiful things for my beautiful girl.”

Spade leered like a fool before me, a less-than-elegantly wrapped box in his own hands as he stared at me. “Aww, Joker, man, you made her cry. You know I hate to see her cry.” He held out his box as Joker clasped the necklace together and stepped back, admiring how it hung like a collar on my throat. “Though your gift does look pretty on her.”

Across the room, Ace rolled his eyes and smirked at the three of us, which only spurred me on to make sure he knew how much I was enjoying this thing which brought him nothing but irritation. “And what did you get me, Tyson?” I accepted his offering, grasping the slightly-crushed box with more anticipation than I’d had initially. “Is it a fancy knife? Something to stab you with?”

He shook his shaggy mane and smiled at me like I hung the sun and the stars in the skies above. “Nothing so predictable, I’m afraid.”

Inside the box was another box, and then another, until I’d opened four boxes and revealed a tiny box not large enough to hold much at all. And then I opened it, only to find a most unpredictable and surprising item inside.

“Is this the key to your car?”

He nodded aggressively, an ear-to-ear grin on his lips. “The same one you stuffed me in when we first took you.” He flipped open his phone and turned the screen toward me to reveal a strange sight. “But I had it modified for you a bit.”

His car was in the picture, outside of some body shop or another, and it was now repainted–solid gold, from the looks of it. “This is . . . ostentatious. But so sweet.”

“You needed something to get around in, and now every time you get in it, you can remember that time you slipped away from the cops and let me rail you senseless on the hood under the bridge.”

I giggled and slipped the key into my pocket, gently kissing him on the cheek. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

From across the room, BlackJack cleared his throat and stood. “Mal.”

I turned to face him, confused–surely he hadn’t picked now, of all times, to start talking to me again. “BlackJack?”

It’s how he knew I was still mad–I always called him Jonah these days unless we were at odds.

His shoulders sagged momentarily; then he turned to the table, where he’d set a gift bag. “I didn’t get you anything pretty, but I got you something practical.” His eyes held mine as he handed it over, studying me for my response.

As if their gifts were all trying to one-up each other.

I rolled my eyes. Of course, they’d turn it into a pissing match.

Inside the bag wasn’t another piece of jewelry or a set of car keys, but instead, a passport–

“Is this a whole new identity?”

Jonah blushed and nodded, casting his eyes on the floor momentarily. “You need a passport to leave the country, and eventually, you’ll want to go on vacation.” His eyes rose again, and I waited with bated breath. “After all, I do own a villa in Italy.”

“You know, I never really stopped to think about how much money the criminal life has given you assholes,” I chuckled, extending my arms to welcome him in for a hug. “Thank you, Jonah.”

“Forgiven?” he muttered against my hair, breathing in my scent.

“Sure,” I replied smoothly, a lightness to my heart I hadn’t had on a birthday in so many years.

“You’d better go see Ace,” he whispered for my ears only, his lips curling up against the skin of my neck. “He said he had something for you, too.”

I could only imagine what the asshole got me–probably a new pair of shoes, or a pretty dress, something he could take me out and ogle me in. I stomped a bit petulantly over to his side, letting out a squeak of surprise when he pulled me into his lap and turned me to face the table.

“Open the laptop, Miss Stanton,” he commanded roughly.

The sound of his voice giving me commands still managed to get me wet even though we were currently at each other’s throats, and I scowled at my body’s reaction, trying not to squirm atop his lap. Instead, I distracted myself by reaching forward to lift the screen and turn on the display.

There, dead center of the screen, in live and living color, was the listing for a house. Not just any house, though–it was one we passed quite frequently on our sojourns to the Kings’ for weekly meetings. And it was one I’d jokingly said met all of my requirements when I looked it up online the first time I’d seen the for sale sign in the yard.

I turned my head to face him, finding his leering grin unsettling. “It’s my dream house.” At his slow nod, I struggled to find words. “You’re showing me the listing to my dream house.”

“Not just the listing,” he muttered, a hand reaching up to turn my face back to the screen. “Look at the listing details.”

There, at the bottom, were the words just sold, with a price tag that would make any normal person faint. And there was a second tab open–his email–so I flipped over before he could stop me, gasping when I found it open to an email with the listing agent of the house on the other page.

“You bought me a house?”

His low chuckle did things to my insides, rubbing along my skin like some sensual caress. “Better than a fucking pony.”

Across the table, Joker and Spade collectively groaned. “Great, the one time we don’t set a fucking limit, and this asshole one-ups us with a house.”

I was too shocked to respond, still trying to wrap my head around the idea that this was real.

I mean, who the hell buys someone a house for their birthday?

BlackJack leaned over the back of Ace’s chair and captured my lips in a kiss that left me reeling. When he pulled back, his grin outpaced my own, as the realization that I’d gotten what I wanted finally sank in.

“Looks like you’ll be needing someone’s credit card to furnish that fucking mansion, Mal.” His eyes danced as those lips pressed against mine again. “Might I suggest Joker’s?”

Ace brought his lips to the shell of my ear, his hot breath fanning the sensitive skin there. “I’m not giving up my office, but I thought perhaps it was time to upgrade the living arrangements, all things considered.”

“All things considered?” I panted back as his hand snuck into my shirt from below, trailing along my ribs as it burned a path to the underside of my breasts. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

BlackJack, over my other shoulder, simply chuckled, but Ace wasn’t one to mince words. “Well, with the frequency that you fuck all of us, it’s only a matter of time before someone puts a baby inside you. And kids need space. Not warehouse space,” he added, a slight grin curling his lips as he nuzzled into my throat.

I momentarily went stock-still in his arms before spinning to straddle him in his chair. I studied his face for a long moment, my eyes no doubt wide as saucers, before finally, something clicked. 

“And you want that?”

His left brow quirked above those impossibly unreadable eyes. “Kids? Or more space?”

Spade had circled the table now, looking absolutely feral as he eyed me atop Ace’s lap. “Fuck, I hope it’s mine she ends up with first. God, that would be wonderful–seeing our girl pregnant with my child–fuck, I’m hard just thinking about it.”

As if to punctuate his words, he rubbed the front of his pants blatantly, palming his ever-present erection in full view as I licked my lips.

BlackJack leaned in again, gripping my chin to force eye contact. “I think the better question is, do you want that?”

I nodded emphatically, the familiar burn of tears edging into the corners of my eyes. “Kids are . . . not something I ever thought I’d be considering, but–”

Ace growled possessively and lifted me to sit on the table, shoving his laptop carelessly out of the way with a free hand. “I find myself wanting more and more with you I never planned for. What’s one more surprise?”

The boys laid me out on the table like a feast, the gifts forgotten in the wake of this new idea planted in their brain–me, fat, pregnant, and helpless, growing one of their future progeny inside me. In no time at all, I found my clothing removed and a man at each corner of the table, a feral look dancing in all their gazes. 

“Well, this isn’t how I expected my birthday to go,” I teased as hands moved expertly over me, already drawing out moans and sighs as they played me like a violin, “but as far as birthdays go, it’s the best one I’ve ever had.”

Joker caressed my cheek as he stared adoringly down at the feast before him. “And there’s many more where this came from.”

I shuddered at the thought. “I hope they all end with me naked.”

The resounding sound of agreement around the table was the only reassurance I needed as the night slowly devolved into debauchery atop the pristine kitchen table and would eventually migrate to other places.

Many other places.