include_once("common_lab_header.php");
Excerpt for Twisted Emotions by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

This page may contain adult content. If you are under age 18, or you arrived by accident, please do not read further.


Copyright ©2019 Cora Reilly

All Rights Reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, businesses, events and places are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously.


Cover design by Romantic Book Affairs Designs

E-book design by Inktain Book Design


Subscribe to Cora’s newsletter to find out more about her next books, bonus content and giveaways! ( http://corareillyauthor.blogspot.de/p/newsletter.html )


CONTENTS


Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

About the Author


PROLOGUE


KIARA



The Falcones were going to feel cheated. A sacrificial virgin was to be given to the monsters in Las Vegas for a promise of peace. I was never given the chance to be a virgin. That choice had been taken from me. Painfully ripped from me.

Fear, acute and raw, clawed at my chest as my husband led me into our room for the night and closed the door to the grinning faces of his brothers. Nino released me, and I quickly created distance between us, moving toward the bed.

Six years had passed, but the memories still woke me at night. I was scared of being close to a man, to any man, especially this man—my husband.

Standing a few steps in front of the bed, my eyes swept over the white sheets—sheets my family expected to the see stained with my blood in the morning.

Blood that wouldn’t be there.

I crept closer to the bed. There had been blood the first time, the second time, and even the third time. Lots of blood, pain, terror, and begging. There had been no presentation of the sheets back then. Our maid, who had never come to my aid, cleaned them.

I wouldn’t beg tonight. It hadn’t stopped my abuser many years ago.

It wouldn’t stop my husband.

I knew the stories. I had seen him in the cage.

My only consolation was that I doubted he could break me more than I already had been all those years ago.


CHAPTER 1


BEFORE – NINO



You do remember what I told Luca last time I saw him? I doubt he’ll have any kind of interest in working with us after that,” Fabiano muttered, pacing the room. “He will kill me the moment I set foot in his territory, trust me. Fuck, I would kill me if I were him.”

Remo shook his head. “He is angry, but he will see reason.”

I nodded. “He wanted to protect his property, his wife, but he’s still a businessman, and we have good arguments for cooperation. Drugs are still his main business, and our contact in his lab tells us they can’t produce enough for the increasing demand. Luca needs to import drugs, but he can’t because we hold the west and Dante holds the middle. His smugglers lose too much of the shit before it reaches the East Coast. If he works with us, we can guarantee safe transport through our territory and in return he promises us to stay out of our fight with Dante Cavallaro. We don’t even want his help.”

We don’t need it,” Remo insisted, dark eyes hardening. We disagreed on that point; additional help facing an opponent like Dante Cavallaro would have been very appreciated, but like Luca, Remo let emotions get in the way of rational decisions.

Fabiano frowned. “Luca isn’t like you, Nino. Not every single one of his decisions is based on logical reasons. He’s furious because we insulted Aria, and his pride might stop him from making the logical decision. Trust me on that.”

Pride and fury. Neither were useful.

If you tell your sister that you gave Leona that bracelet, she will convince him. She’ll think you are her little brother again. She’ll want to believe it. Take Leona with you. Make it out to be a family visit, for all I care, but convince Aria and Luca to talk to us. Tell him I’m going to meet with him personally,” Remo said.

I gave Remo a slanted look. Last time he talked to Luca hadn’t gone over too well. Years had passed, but if Luca held on to grudges, he’d remember that too. And Remo had a way of provoking people that didn’t go over well with the other Capo.

He won’t believe that we’re trustworthy,” Fabiano said. “And you talking to Luca is the fucking worst thing that could happen. Remo, you are a fucking time bomb. You get a hard-on just imagining how it would feel to bathe in Luca’s blood, damn it. Do you really think you could stop yourself from trying to kill him?”

Remo leaned back with a smile on his face that I’d learned to be wary of. “The Famiglia is all about bonds to ensure peace, aren’t they? We give them what they want, what your sister wanted for you and everyone else.”

He hadn’t answered Fabiano’s question.

Fabiano stopped his pacing and crossed his arms. “And what’s that supposed to be?”

Peace and love.” Remo’s mouth twisted as if he was going to start laughing. “We’ll suggest a marriage between our families. It worked between the Outfit and the Famiglia for a while.”

Remo hadn’t mentioned anything to me. Usually he consulted with me before he made these kinds of decisions. For Remo, it was a surprisingly reasonable plan. Marriages had prevented many wars over the centuries of human history—of course, they’d started just as many as well.

Fabiano laughed but I could tell that he was displeased from the narrowing of his eyes. “For a few years and now they are back to killing each other.”

“A few years is all we require,” I told him. “Luca knows as well as we do that any kind of peace arrangement will always only be for a short period of time.”

You can’t believe that Luca will agree to an arranged marriage.”

Why not?” Remo asked, grinning. “It worked for him and your sister. Look at them, sickly in love. I’m sure he can spare one of his cousins. Didn’t you say his father had three sisters and two brothers? There have to be a few cousins in marrying age, or even a second cousin for all I care.”

One of those sisters was married to a traitor whom our father killed. I doubt she will give her daughters to us,” I reminded Remo.

One of her daughters is the fuck-thing of that bastard Growl. As if I’d accept her or her sister for our family,” Remo spat. I inclined my head in agreement. It would send the wrong message if we allowed the Famiglia to give us the leftovers of our traitorous half-brother.

Luca wouldn’t choose either of them. But who the fuck is supposed to marry a woman from the Famiglia?” Fabiano asked, raising his blond eyebrows at my brother. “Don’t tell me it’s going to be you, Remo, because I won’t make that fucking offer. We all know that you are the last person we can parade around as a husband. You lose your temper all the time. That will end in a fucking bloody wedding and you know it.”

Remo grinned, his eyes shifting to me. That explained why he hadn’t consulted with me. “I won’t marry anyone. Nino will.”

Lifting my eyebrows at him, I asked, “Will I?”

Fabiano sank down onto the sofa, grimacing. “No offense, but Nino isn’t really the right person to play husband either.”

I tilted my head. I’d never considered marriage. It seemed unnecessary. “If you’re referring to my lack of emotions, I can assure you that I can fake them if required.”

Remo shrugged. “It’s not like it’s a marriage for love. Nino doesn’t have to feel anything to marry. He only needs to say yes and fuck his bride, perhaps father a kid or two, and keep his wife alive as long as we want peace with the Famiglia. You can do that, right?”

I narrowed my eyes, not liking his tone. “I can do that.”

Fabiano shook his head. “That’s a fucking bad idea and you know it.”

It’s unconventional,” I conceded, “but it’s a practice that’s been used in our circles for generations. Even before our families came to the US, they arranged marriages to establish bonds between different families. And the Famiglia has old-world values. They are the only family outside Italy that still follows the bloody sheets tradition. I’m certain that Luca’s family will welcome the idea of another arranged marriage between families; Luca needs to keep the traditionalists in the Famiglia happy, especially now that he had to take in some of his relatives from Sicily. And there are still traditionalists in the Camorra who’ll appreciate that kind of agreement.”

Fabiano shook his head again. “I tell you again, Luca won’t agree. He will kill me.”

Remo smirked. “We will see. I hear he needs to protect his children.”

Fabiano jerked. “Aria’s got kids?”

Remo and I had known for a while. One of our contacts told us. Luca made sure to keep Aria and the kids out of the press and even killed a few photographers who didn’t grasp the concept of privacy. Remo hadn’t wanted Fabiano to know because he worried Fabiano would get too emotional during his visit in New York. Apparently, he changed his mind.

A daughter and a son,” I said. “He needs to protect them, and if we offer him peace in the west, that should convince him.”

Fabiano was silent. “How long have you known?”

“Is that important? It’s not like Luca would have let you anywhere near his kids,” Remo said.

Fabiano nodded but his mouth was tight. “You know Dante wasn’t the main force behind the attack on us. It was my father.” He looked at me then at Remo. “Dante might kill my father before we get our hands on him. I don’t want that to happen. Let me go to Chicago and bring him to Las Vegas. We can still ask Luca for peace after that.”

Remo gave me a pointed look, obviously needing me to be the voice of reason as usual.

That seems unwise,” I said. “You are too emotionally invested to lead an attack on Outfit ground, especially on your father. And we don’t know for certain if your father acted without Dante’s direct orders. Dante might not kill him.”

It was my father’s plan. You heard what the Outfit fuckers said when we tore them apart. My father sent those fuckers because he wanted me dead,” Fabiano growled. “And I want to kill him. I want to tear him apart limb by limb.”

And you will,” Remo said firmly, touching Fabiano’s shoulder. He paused. Again with that smile. “But it would be a good wedding gift. If we get our hands on Scuderi, we could have his death as a peace offering for Luca and his clan. After all, the Scuderi sisters don’t hold much love for their father either.”

Of course they don’t. He is a despicable asshole,” Fabiano said.

We can’t waltz into Chicago and drag their Consigliere out. You realize that, right? Dante will have put every possible protection in place.” I had to say it because it was becoming increasingly obvious that neither Remo nor Fabiano would make the wise choice when it came to bringing down the Outfit. “The only logical choice is to send me to New York for the meeting with Luca. I’m not emotionally invested. I will be able to deescalate the situation if required.”

Remo shook his head. “I am Capo. I should be at the front. Only a fucking coward would send his brother out to risk his sorry ass in a situation like this.”

What about my fucking ass?” Fabiano muttered.

Your ass is safe because of your sister. No matter what Luca says, he’ll always think twice before putting a bullet in your head. With Nino, nothing’s holding him back.”

He won’t shoot me. His next delivery will have to pass our borders in the upcoming days … if our informants in Mexico are to be believed. We intercept it, keep hold of his men and his drugs until the meeting, and I’ll give the order to have them released as a peace offering, a sign of goodwill.”

Drugs and expendable soldiers won’t stop Luca from killing you,” Fabiano said.

We will see,” I said. “It’s the only logical choice.”

Your fucking logic is pissing me off,” Remo muttered.

I’m the future husband, so it is the logical choice to send me. We’re doing this on my terms, Remo. I won’t have you two mess this up with your emotions.”

I think he’s pissing me off on purpose,” Remo said to Fabiano.

Fabiano nodded. “I think he is.”

“It doesn’t take much effort to piss you off, Remo.”

Remo narrowed his eyes at me. “The logical choice would be to take someone with you. You shouldn’t go alone. Take Fabiano.”

Fabiano rolled his eyes. “Yeah, take me. Because apparently I’m bulletproof because I’m a fucking Scuderi.”

I regarded the blond man. “Maybe your presence would rip open too many wounds for Luca. We don’t want to start on the wrong foot.”

I think that ship has sailed,” Fabiano said.

Do you want to come with me to New York?” I asked, my expression doubtful.

I’d rather go to Chicago and kill my fucking father, but if an insane marriage between you and some poor Famiglia woman brings me closer to that goal, I’ll go to New York and talk to Luca fucking Vitiello. But I don’t think he’ll be very happy to see me. He won’t believe I’ve changed for one fucking second.”

You haven’t really. Except for your behavior toward Leona. You are still a cruel bastard, so Vitiello shouldn’t trust you,” I said.

Fabiano looked between Remo and me. “Am I going or not? I’ll have to figure out a way to tell Leona about this without freaking her out.”

Remo shook his head. “I should go as Capo.”

We’ll save that reunion for the second meeting when Vitiello is convinced the benefits of a bond outweigh the joy of cutting off your head,” I said.

I take it that means I’m going.” Fabiano got up. “I really hope this fucking ordeal allows me to kill my father, or you two will have a lot to make up to me.”

I still wasn’t convinced that Fabiano’s presence would improve our situation. He was Aria’s brother, true, but even that wouldn’t protect him forever. Taking Remo was out of the question. I’d have to make sure Luca and Fabiano would follow my reasoning and not let their unpredictable emotions run the show.




Kiara

I stood off to the side as usual, far enough away from the dance floor so no one would feel obligated to ask me to a dance. My eyes followed Giulia as she danced with her husband, Cassio. Her eyes caught mine briefly, and she smiled. She had already moved out when I had to move in with Aunt Egidia and Uncle Felix six years ago, but she and I had become close friends nevertheless, closer than anyone else, especially my older brothers. They were allowed to stay in Atlanta after our father was killed by my cousin Luca. I shivered at the memory.

Giulia was one of the few who looked at me with kindness and not a superior sneer. I resisted the urge to rub my arms; it seemed like I was always cold. Even the music failed to set me at ease. I couldn’t wait to be back home and feel the keys of my piano under my fingertips.

My spine stiffened when Luca headed toward me. His wife, Aria, probably took pity on me and told him to ask me to a dance. I really wished he wouldn’t.

Would you like to dance?” he asked, holding out his hand. Since I’d turned eighteen last year, I was expected to attend social events. Even Aunt Egidia and Uncle Felix couldn’t find excuses to keep me away anymore. I was still shunned by many, not openly, but I caught their looks when they thought I wasn’t paying attention.

It’s an honor,” I said quietly and took his hand. My body revolted at the physical contact, but I forced it into submission and followed Luca toward the dance floor. He was my cousin and I’d known him all my life, not that I knew him very well. We had too many cousins in our family to allow a closer bond.

I tried to brace myself for the next step, for his hand on my waist, tried to prepare so I wouldn’t flinch, but the moment his palm touched my hip, my entire body seized. Luca regarded me but didn’t pull back. He was probably used to that kind of reaction from people. His reputation and size would have sent even a normal woman running. I tried to soften my body in his hold as we danced, but it was a losing battle and eventually I gave up.

“Your father was a traitor, Kiara. I had to kill him.”

I’d never held it against him. My father knew the consequences of betrayal, yet Luca seemed to think that was the reason I couldn’t stand his touch. I wished it were that. God, how I wished it were only that, wished it was only Luca’s touch that brought me close to panic. I swallowed the memories of the nights that had broken me.

You had to,” I agreed. “And I don’t miss him. He wasn’t a good father. I miss my mother, but you didn’t kill her. That was my father.”

In my head I began playing the melody I’d been working on over the last few weeks, hoping it would calm me. It didn’t.

Luca nodded. “I talked to Aunt Egidia and Felix. They are concerned that you aren’t married yet.”

I was nineteen and hadn’t been promised to anyone yet. “Who wants to marry the daughter of a traitor?” I muttered. Deep down I was relieved. Marriage would reveal a secret I needed to hold on to, a secret that would turn me into a pariah in our circles.

“You did nothing wrong. Your father’s actions don’t define you.”

People were watching me. “Why don’t you tell them,” I spat, looking around at our audience. I cringed at my tone. “I’m sorry.” Luca was Capo. I needed to show respect.

He regarded me, wearing a blank mask. “I don’t want to promise you to a soldier. You are a Vitiello and should be married to one of my Captains or Underbosses.”

It’s okay. I have time,” I said quietly, my cheeks flushing in shame. I didn’t really have time. I was getting older and being unmarried and a traitor’s daughter would only make people talk more.

The dance was finally over, and I gave Luca a quick, forced smile before I made my way back to the side. After that, I did what I could do best—had learned to do best—I pretended I wasn’t there. My aunt choosing modest dresses in subdued colors from last year’s collection definitely helped with that. I couldn’t wait for the Vitiello Christmas party to be over. Christmastime was connected to too many horrible memories.


ChristmasTime seven years ago

I couldn’t sleep. No matter how I twisted and turned, I always managed to lie on the bruises. Father had been in a horrible mood today. Mother said it had something to do with us being in New York. Tomorrow, we’d finally return to Atlanta, and then his mood would be better. Soon, everything would be better. Soon, Father would have solved all of his problems and we’d finally be happy. I knew it wasn’t true. He would never be happy, never stop hitting us. Father enjoyed his unhappiness and he enjoyed making us suffer.

Something clanged downstairs. I got out of bed and stretched, trying to get rid of the soreness in my limbs from the beating I endured this morning. A sound in the corridor drew me toward the door, and I carefully opened it, peering out the crack. A tall man lunged at me. Something over my head gleamed in the light, and then a knife was wedged into the wooden doorframe. I opened my mouth to scream, but the man clamped his hand over my mouth. I struggled, terrified of the huge stranger.

Not a sound. Nothing will happen to you, Kiara.” I froze and took a closer look at the man. It was my cousin Luca, my father’s Capo. “Where is your father?”

I pointed toward the door at the end of the corridor, my parents’ bedroom. He released me and handed me over to Matteo, my other cousin. I wasn’t sure what was going on. Why were they here in the middle of the night?

Matteo began to lead me away when my mother stepped out of the bedroom. Her terrified eyes landed on me a moment before she jerked and fell to the ground.

Luca threw himself to the ground as a bullet hit the wall behind him. Matteo shoved me away and darted forward, but another man gripped me in an unrelenting hold. My gaze froze on my mother, who stared at me with lifeless eyes.

Only Father had been in the bedroom with her, and he had killed her.

Dead. Just like that. One tiny bullet and she was gone.

I was dragged downstairs and out of the house, pushed into the backseat of a car. Then I was alone with the sound of my shallow breathing. I wrapped my arms around my chest, wincing as my fingers touched the bruises on my upper arms caused by my father’s outburst this morning. I began rocking back and forth, humming a melody my piano teacher had taught me a few weeks ago. It was getting cold in the car, but I didn’t mind. The cold felt good, soothing.

Someone opened the door, and I shied away in fear, pulling my legs up to my chest. Luca poked his head in. There was blood on his throat. Not much but I couldn’t look away. Blood. My father’s?

“How old are you?” he asked.

I didn’t say anything.

“Twelve?”

I tensed, and he closed the door and sat in the front beside his brother, Matteo. They assured me I was safe. Safe? I had never felt safe. Mother always said the only safety in our world was death. She found it.

My cousins took me to an older woman called Marianna, whom I’d never met before. She was kind and loving, but I couldn’t stay with her. As honor dictated, I had to stay with family, so I was sent to Baltimore to live with my Aunt Egidia and her husband, Felix, who was Underboss in the city like my father had been Underboss in Atlanta.

I had met her only during family festivities because she and my father hated each other. Luca took me to them a couple of days after my mother’s funeral. I was silent beside him, and he didn’t try to make conversation. He looked angry and tense.

I’m sorry,” I whispered when we came to a stop in front of a large villa in Baltimore. Over the years, I’d learned to apologize even if I didn’t know what I’d done wrong.

Luca frowned at me. “What for?”

For what my father did.” Honor and loyalty were the most important things in our world, and Father had broken his oath and betrayed Luca.

That’s not your fault, so it’s nothing you should apologize for,” he said, and for a little while I believed it to be true. Until I saw Aunt Egidia’s disapproving face and heard Felix say to Luca that it would reflect badly on them if they took me in. Luca wouldn’t hear it, so I stayed with them, and eventually they learned to tolerate me, and yet not a day passed when I wasn’t acutely aware that I was seen as a traitor’s daughter. I didn’t blame them. From a young age, I’d learned that there was no greater crime than betrayal. Father had tainted our family name, had tainted my brothers and me, and we’d always carry the blemish. My brothers, at least, could try to make a name for themselves if they became brave Made Men, but I was a girl. All I could hope for was mercy.


Today

Being regarded as a traitor’s daughter, facing the pitying or disgusted expressions wasn’t the worst part about these gatherings. Not even close. He was. He caught my eyes from across the room, and his face held the knowledge of what he had done, the triumph over what he had taken. He stood beside my aunt—his wife—beside his children—my cousins—and was regarded with respect. His eyes on me made my skin crawl. He didn’t approach me, but his leering was enough. His gaze was just like his touch; it was humiliation and pain, and I could not stand it. Cold sweat covered my skin, and my stomach churned. I turned around and hurried toward the women’s restroom. I’d hide there for the rest of the night, until it was time to leave with my Aunt Egidia and Uncle Felix.

I splashed my face with water, ignoring the minimal makeup I wore. Luckily it was waterproof mascara and a hint of concealer to cover the shadows under my eyes, so I didn’t do much damage. I needed the cold of the water to help me get a grip on my rising panic.

The door opened and Giulia slipped in. She was beautiful in her bold violet dress with her light brown hair. She carried herself with confidence and had for as long as I could remember. That was probably how she had managed to make her marriage with Cassio work despite their age difference.

She came toward me and touched my shoulder, her brows drawing together. “Are you okay? You left the party.”

“I’m not feeling well. You know I’m not good around so many people.”

Her eyes softened further, and I knew what was coming. “Luca would kill him if you told him what he’s done.”

No,” I croaked, my eyes darting to the door, afraid someone would come in and overhear us. I often regretted that I’d confided in Giulia shortly after it had happened, but I had been broken and confused, and she was always kind. “You swore not to tell anyone. You swore it, Giulia.”

She nodded, but I could tell that she didn’t like it. “I did, and I won’t tell anyone. It’s your decision, but I think Uncle Durant needs to pay for what he did.”

I shuddered, hearing his name. Turning my back on her, I washed my hands again. “You know that I will be the one to pay, Giulia. This world isn’t kind, least of all to a woman like me. I can’t go through this. I will be worse off than I am now. Your parents already have trouble finding a husband for me. If the truth got out, I’d die a spinster. They would never forgive me.”

Her lips formed a thin line. “My parents never treated you the way they should have. I’m sorry.”

I shook my head. “It’s okay. They took me in. They never hit me, never punished me harshly. It could have been worse.”

I could ask Cassio if one of his men would be a good match for you. There are many decent men in his ranks.”

Decent. Cassio ruled over Philadelphia with an iron fist. What he considered decent probably didn’t qualify as decent for other people, but I had no right to be choosy or judge others.

No. That would offend your parents. You know how they are.”

Yeah, I know …” Her brows tightened.

Don’t worry about me. I’m in no hurry to marry,” I said. Marriage would be my final ruin.


CHAPTER 2


NINO



I assume you will hold back during our meeting and not offend Vitiello,” I said as Fabiano and I boarded the plane.

I’m not a genius like you, but I’m no imbecile either. Don’t worry, I know when to shut up.”

I nodded as I sank down into one of the comfortable leather seats. Fabiano usually had a good handle on his emotions, unlike my brother. “That Luca even agreed to meet us at all is a good sign.”

Fabiano sat in the seat across from me. “It might be, yes, or Luca wants to put a bullet in our heads.”

No,” I said. “He won’t risk war with the Camorra. Remo would attack, and he wouldn’t do it with subtle tactics like Dante Cavallaro. He’d go to New York and go on a killing spree they haven’t seen in the Famiglia before.”

Fabiano smirked. “Yeah, he’d do that. But I hear Luca has gone on a few impressive killing sprees in the last few years to get the Famiglia under control and shut up the Bratva. He and Remo are pretty similar when it comes down to it.”

To some extent, but Remo doesn’t have wife and children he needs to protect.”

Fabiano raised an eyebrow. “Remo protects Savio and Adamo, and even you and me by some degree.”

“That’s different,” I said.

Fabiano regarded me carefully. “You really think marrying is a good idea?”

It’s—”

Don’t say it’s the logical choice,” Fabiano muttered. “I want to know if you really think you can be with a woman like that. You are messed up, Nino. Not in the same way Remo is messed up, but still fucking messed up. Fuck, even I’m messed up, and it almost cost me Leona. And it’s still fucking difficult sometimes to make this relationship work because I keep saying or doing things that unsettle her. And let’s be real: I’m the fucking epitome of normalcy compared to you. Women aren’t like us. They want their fucking knight in shining armor. They want roses and all that emotional shit. They want declarations of love. That’s not something you’re going to give your future wife. To be honest, I think most women would kill themselves within a few weeks of marrying you rather than live under a roof with all you Falcone fuckers.”

From what I know, arranged marriages aren’t based on emotions. They are based on tradition and rationality. A woman who’s given to me in marriage knows what’s expected. She’ll know it’s business. She’s a chess piece. And I can assure you, I will prevent her from ending her life for as long as her survival is required for peace.”

Fabiano sighed, touching his temple. “Maybe you should keep your thoughts to yourself as well. Most of the shit coming out of your mouth won’t set anyone at ease, least of all a woman.”



My muscles tensed when I pulled our rental car up in front of the abandoned Yonkers power plant. After we landed in New York, Romero had sent me a text saying that was where Luca would meet with us. The building was decrepit, and the area was deserted. A good place to torture and kill, I had to give that to Luca.

“This is fucking great,” Fabiano said, his lips curling. “I’m not in the mood to die today.”

Neither of us will die today,” I said, pushing open the car door and getting out. My eyes searched the area. On the roof of the building, two snipers were lying in wait. The moment Fabiano stepped up beside me, a gate in the old factory building swung open and three men emerged. I recognized them as Luca, Matteo, and Romero.

I assume you saw the snipers pointing their guns at our heads,” Fabiano murmured. Despite his words, he appeared relaxed from the outside.

I inclined my head in confirmation.

The three men stopped about two car lengths away from us. Luca evaluated me for a moment before he narrowed his eyes at Fabiano. “Do you remember what I told you last time you were in New York?”

Matteo and Romero held their guns, the former particularly looking like he’d gladly put a bullet in Fabiano’s head. I could tell that the feeling was mutual.

Fabiano nodded. “You told me I was a dead man if I returned to New York.”

Luca nodded. “And here you are asking for death.”

We are here to offer truce, Luca.” I interrupted what would have surely soon turned into a less than pleasant argument. “As Consigliere of the Camorra, I hold the power to negotiate a peace treaty between our two families.”

Matteo snorted and exchanged a look with Romero.

Luca took a step forward. “You really think I’m going to work together with the Camorra after the message Remo sent me through Fabiano last time, after you threatened my wife years ago.”

Remo wanted to size you up. He didn’t mean to insult you or harm your wife.” That was only a half-truth, but there was no point in revealing it to Luca.

Luca sneered. “Every word out of your mouth is a lie. I know you caught one of my drug deliveries. You’re probably having my soldiers dismembered as we speak. I have absolutely no reason to trust you.”

I don’t trust anyone, Luca, and trust isn’t required for truce.”

Luca and I whirled around toward the voice. Remo sauntered in our direction, completely naked except for black briefs. “I’m not armed as you can see.” My brother was even barefoot. I narrowed my eyes at him. This was insanity. I wasn’t sure why I still bothered making plans if Remo always acted on his own accord.

One day, I’m going to kill the crazy fucker,” Fabiano muttered. “He just signed our fucking death warrant.”

Remo gave me his twisted grin as he clapped my shoulder then Fabiano’s before walking closer to Luca and the others. “I thought it would be good to talk face to face, Luca. From one man of honor to the other. From Capo to Capo.”

Luca’s face reflected hatred, but there was also respect present. “And I thought you were a coward who sent out his Enforcer and his brother to fight his battles.”

I’m many things, Luca. A coward isn’t one of them,” Remo said.

You know what, why don’t we put a bullet in your head and help Las Vegas to a new Capo. Someone less fucked-up,” Matteo said, aiming his gun at Remo. Romero pointed his gun at me.

Fabiano pulled out his own gun, but Remo shook his head. I walked to his side. “Killing us wouldn’t serve any purpose,” I said calmly. “Savio will contact Cavallaro the moment we’re dead and offer them cooperation, and even you can’t fight both the Camorra and the Outfit.”

Your brother Savio is only sixteen. He won’t be able to control the Camorra.”

I was only seventeen when I began my fight to win my territory back. You were only seventeen when you crushed a man’s throat. Savio is a Falcone. He is a born killer, Luca. He can control the Camorra. The name Falcone holds power in Las Vegas and beyond,” Remo said.

Luca narrowed his eyes, but I took it as a good sign that he hadn’t killed us yet. “Do you want to risk cooperation between the Outfit and the Camorra? You can’t have peace with Dante Cavallaro unless you send him your sister-in-law and your Captain.” I nodded toward Romero.

Luca still didn’t say anything. He was probably trying to decide if he should just end us. My finger rested loosely on my trigger, but with the snipers on the roof, even my skills wouldn’t save us.

Remo moved even closer to Luca until they stood at arm’s length. Luca was about an inch taller than Remo, but that didn’t come as a surprise.

What is there to talk about, Remo? And this time I know your brother Nino isn’t aiming at my wife, so there’s nothing stopping me from bathing in your fucking Falcone blood.”

Remo grinned. “The Camorra doesn’t have any interest in hurting your family, Luca. Not your wife nor your children.”

Luca lunged, his fingers clamping down around Remo’s throat. My brother made no move to defend himself. He didn’t take his eyes off the Famiglia Capo as he rasped, “We aren’t the only ones who know about your children. The Outfit does and so does the Bratva. The Outfit attacked my territory when they thought I was vulnerable. Who do you think they will attack to hurt you, Luca? Scuderi tried to get rid of Fabiano, his own son, his heir. What will he do to the daughters who disappointed him so greatly, who ruined peace between the Outfit and the Famiglia?”

The Famiglia Capo looked like he wanted to crush Remo’s throat, and I knew he could have done it. Remo was one of the most vicious fighters, brutal to the very core, but a fight with Luca would probably kill them both. Even Fabiano and I couldn’t prevent that, not with Matteo and Romero and the snipers.

Remo’s face turned red, but he kept talking. “Dante Cavallaro is our enemy, and I’m going to walk into Chicago and show him what it means to be at war with the Camorra, show him why we are despised even among our own. I will make him pay, and it won’t be quick or fair. As for Scuderi, Fabiano is going to kill him very slowly, and if you want, we can send you the video footage so you can share it with the Scuderi sisters. You want Cavallaro’s death as much as we do.”

Luca released Remo. “Don’t underestimate Cavallaro. He is a cold fish on the outside, but he is a cruel fucker like you and I. And Scuderi is a nasty piece of shit but a strategic genius. That’s why he remained Consigliere under Dante’s rule.”

Fabiano made a low growl but otherwise remained silent.

Remo nodded, rubbing his throat. “I know what kind of man Cavallaro is. And I don’t doubt that Scuderi is a mastermind of twisted plans, but I will attack where he and Cavallaro don’t expect it. I will beat them at their own game. And I will enjoy every fucking minute of it.”

Luca narrowed his eyes. “I’m not going to join you in your crusade. I have a feeling I won’t like your plan. You are fucking insane.”

I’m not asking you to join me. I’m asking you to stay out of my fight. In the past, the Camorra and the Famiglia worked together. Peace in our territories can lead to peace between our families in Italy as well.”

My territory is my only concern.”

Remo shrugged. “We can both profit from a union. I can offer you safe delivery routes for your drugs through my territory. You lose more than half of your deliveries because either my men or Outfit soldiers intercept them. Peace means you won’t have to worry about it anymore. You can double your profits. And I will keep Dante busy with attacks so you can focus on the Bratva and not worry about your family so much.”

And all you want in turn is for me stay out of your war with the Outfit?” Luca sounded suspicious.

I spoke up. “Dante might approach you after we start our attacks. We want to make sure he doesn’t manage to convince you to help him.”

Luca smiled coldly. “I have no intention of working with the Outfit. I want Dante Cavallaro dead, trust me.” He narrowed his eyes. “So how do you want to go about peace?”

First, we will release your soldiers and your drugs,” Remo said with a smile. He motioned at me, and I reached for my phone, causing all guns to swivel in my direction.

I sent a quick message to Savio so he’d arrange the release of the Famiglia men. I nodded. “Your men are being released as we speak, and your drugs will arrive safely in your territory.”

Why don’t you just spill it?” Matteo muttered. “There’s more to this. I’m running out of patience over here.”

I tossed Remo a look. Matteo sounded just like him.

We want to show you that the Camorra is willing to allow change,” I said calmly. “Fabiano is allowed to be with an outsider. He gave her that bracelet your wife gifted him.”

“I don’t give a fuck about any of that,” Luca growled. “I don’t care if Fabiano’s found a whore to fuck.”

Careful, Luca,” Fabiano hissed, taking a step forward.

Luca raised his eyebrows.

Why don’t we get back to business,” I suggested. “You need peace. We need peace. You want Cavallaro and Scuderi dead. We will kill them.”

Remo opened his arms. “And to show you that we are very serious about truce with you and the Famiglia, I want us to arrange a marriage between one of yours and one of mine.”

Matteo chuckled. “Oh, this is getting good.”

We’re being serious,” I said because Remo’s expression worried me. I could tell that Matteo was starting to seriously piss him off. “Arranged marriages between Famiglias have ensured peace for centuries, and your Famiglia has always upheld the tradition. You and Aria are proof that it’s the perfect solution.”

Luca’s mouth tightened when I mentioned Fabiano’s sister. “It was supposed to bring peace with the Outfit and now there’s war.”

Well,” Remo said, gesturing at Matteo and Romero, “that was your Famiglia’s doing. I can assure you we will uphold our part of the deal.”

If I gave one of our women to the Camorra, who would guarantee she was safe?” Luca asked.

Our women are as safe as your women, trust me. They have nothing to fear in our territory,” I said. Nothing that they wouldn’t have to fear in every marriage in our circles, at least.

Luca’s mouth curled in distaste as he regarded my brother. “I won’t give a woman to you in marriage, Remo. I don’t trust you one bit. You are too fucking crazy for my taste.”

I’m not the one who will marry. It’s my brother Nino, and you will find that he’s absolutely in control of himself. Look at him. Doesn’t he look like every mother-in-law’s dream?”

I gave my brother a warning look before I turned to Luca. “It’s a good deal for the Famiglia and the Camorra. Don’t let old grudges or feuds ruin your chances of optimizing the Famiglia’s profits and securing your territory.”

This is ridiculous,” Matteo said, but Luca was silent. He was a businessman. He knew what safe delivery routes through our territory could mean for him. Luca motioned for his brother and Romero to follow him. They walked out of earshot.

Remo smiled.

I don’t know what you’re smiling about. This isn’t Texas Hold ’em. Going all in isn’t the way to go,” Fabiano murmured. “This is a fucking train wreck.”

“Luca will agree,” I said firmly.

My brother and Fabiano looked at me curiously.

“Are you sure?” Remo asked.

Luca isn’t the man he used to be before he had his wife and children. He won’t risk open war with the Outfit, but he wants Dante dead and he prefers us on his side. If you have something to lose like he does, you choose the safe option.”

Romero walked toward us.

He’s the one who broke truce with the Outfit by popping your sister’s cherry, right?” Remo whispered.

Fabiano grimaced. “He did, and I let them fucking shoot me so they could escape. I was a fucking idiot.”

Romero regarded us with open distrust. “Luca will consider your offer. We have another drug delivery in three days. If it reaches our territory safely, we can discuss a truce in more detail.”

“It will arrive safely, don’t worry,” Remo muttered.

Romero nodded. “Luca wants you to leave New York now. We will contact you in a few days if everything goes as planned.”

Everything will go as planned,” Remo said, grinning widely. “Luca better start looking for a wife for my brother. We’re looking forward to meeting her.”


CHAPTER 3


KIARA



Despite the warmer temperatures that March brought, I was glad for my thick wool sweater. I’d never grown used to the colder climate of Baltimore. The weather in Atlanta had been so much warmer. My fingers were stiff as I settled them on the piano keys and began to play. Melancholic low notes of music filled the room, a reflection of my current emotions. I had started fiddling with the composition a couple of days ago, but it was still far from good.

When my aunt stepped into the living room, perfectly styled—as always—in a beige cashmere dress, her dark hair piled on top of her head, I lifted my hands off the keys and the sound died off in a soft exhale.

Uncle Felix entered behind her. He was a tall man, heavy around the middle, with a mustache that twitched when he talked. They exchanged a look and something heavy settled in my stomach.

“We need to have a word with you,” Felix said.

I got up from the bench and followed them toward the seating area. They sat on the couch, and I took the armchair across from them. It felt like I was facing a tribunal.

It hasn’t been easy on us, taking you in,” Felix began, and I curled my fingers into the leather of the armchair. It wasn’t the first time I heard it, but it still stung. “But we did what we could. We gave you what we could to raise you.”

They had given me shelter and education, but affection or even protection from the harsh whispers of society … No. Never that. I was grateful anyway. I knew how important outward appearances were, and they had risked their reputation by taking in a traitor’s daughter.

But you are a grown woman now and it’s time for you to have your own home, to be a wife and mother.”

My insides tightened, but I kept my face blank. Over the years I’d learned to hide my emotions. “You found a husband for me?”

Who would have agreed to marry me? Perhaps they had settled on a soldier after all. It was for the best. If I married down, the wedding and marriage would be a low-key affair, no attention, little potential for scandal. A soldier might see me as a way to improve his position, because despite being a traitor’s daughter, I was the Capo’s cousin. Maybe that would make him overlook my defect.

Aunt Egidia smiled but her eyes showed guilt, perhaps even shame. Felix cleared his throat. “I know you aren’t aware of the details of my business, but the Famiglia is at war.”

As if anyone didn’t know that. Even small children were brought up with the knowledge that we had to be vigilant because the Outfit might attack, or heaven forbid, the Camorra.

“I know, Uncle Felix,” I said quietly.

But Luca was approached with an offer of peace. You don’t need to bother with the details, but it might be the final step to destroy the Outfit.”

My breath stuck in my throat. What was he talking about? If the offer didn’t come from the Outfit, who else was willing to agree on a truce?

It’s an honor, Kiara. After what your father did, we thought we would have to give you to a soldier or never find a husband at all.”

Who is it I am going to marry?” I forced the words out, but they sounded strangled.

You will marry up,” Aunt Egidia assured me with a tense smile, but her eyes … her eyes still held pity, and deep down I knew that whatever horrors my past held, they would soon be accompanied by new horrors.

“Who?” I rasped.

Nino Falcone, second in command to his brother Remo Falcone, the Capo of the Camorra,” Felix said, avoiding my eyes.

I heard nothing after that, rising without a word and walking out. I went upstairs, continued into my bedroom, and sank down on the chaise longue, staring blankly at my bed. It was neatly made. I didn’t let the maids make it, hadn’t let them make it in years. Every night I took my pillow and blanket and curled up on my chaise longue to sleep, and in the morning I returned everything and made my bed so no one found out that I didn’t use the bed and hadn’t in six years.

Six years. I was only thirteen.

As I stared at my bed, the horrors of the past took shape again like they did every night when I closed my eyes.


SIX YEARS AGO


It was dark in my room when footsteps woke me. I turned around and recognized my Uncle Durant under the gleam of moonlight. He had come to Baltimore with his wife, Aunt Criminella, to visit Aunt Egidia and Uncle Felix for a few days.

Confused by his presence, I sat up. His breathing was loud, and he was dressed in a bathrobe. “Shh,” he said as he leaned over me, his body forcing me down.

Fear shot through me. I wasn’t supposed to be alone with men in my bedroom. That was a rule I had learned from an early age. Stiff with terror, I watched as he removed his bathrobe; he was naked beneath. I had never seen a naked man. His hand grabbed my shoulder, and his other hand pressed down on my mouth. I was supposed to show respect to my elders, to men in particular, but I knew this wasn’t right. I began struggling.

He tore at my clothes. He was too strong. He tugged and pinched. His hands hurt between my legs. I cried, but he didn’t stop. He moved on top of me, between my legs.

“This is your punishment for being a dirty traitor.”

I wanted to say I didn’t betray anyone, but pain robbed me of my words. It felt like being torn apart, like breaking and falling and shattering. His breath was hot on my face, and I cried, whimpered, and begged. His hand only clamped down harder around my mouth, and he grunted as he shoved himself into me again and again. I cried harder because it hurt so much.

I hurt all over, my whole body and deep in my chest.

He kept grunting above me. I stopped struggling, breathed through my clogged nose. In and out. In and out. His sweat dripped down on my forehead. He shuddered and slumped down on top of me. His hand slipped off my mouth.

I didn’t scream. I was quiet, motionless.

Nobody will believe you if you tell them about this, Kiara. And even if they do, they will blame you and nobody will want you anymore. You are dirty now, Kiara, you hear me? Worthless.”

He pulled out and I cried from the sharp pain. He slapped me. “Be quiet.”

I pressed my lips together, watching him get up and put on his bathrobe. “Have you had your period yet?”

I shook my head because I couldn’t speak.

Good. Wouldn’t want you to have a bastard, right?” He leaned over me again, and I flinched. “I will make sure the maids know you got your period, don’t worry. I won’t let anyone find out that you are a worthless little whore. I will protect you.” He stroked my cheek before he pulled back, and I didn’t move until he was outside. When his steps had faded, I pushed up and managed to stand despite the pain.

Something warm trickled down my legs. I stumbled forward, grabbed my discarded panties, and pressed them between my legs, crying out again. Shaking, I curled up on the chaise longue, staring into the darkness at the bed.

Before sunrise, the door opened again, and I pressed against the backrest, making myself small. One of the maids, Dorma, stepped into my room. She was one of the younger ones who looked at me like I was a bother. Her eyes moved over me. “Get up,” she said sharply. “We need to clean you up before the others wake up.”

I stood, wincing from the soreness between my legs. I looked down at myself. There was blood on my legs and something else that made my stomach pinch sharply. Dorma began gathering the sheets. They, too, were covered in blood. “You better keep this quiet,” she muttered. “Your uncle is an important man and you are only a traitor. You are lucky they didn’t kill you as well.”

I waited quietly as she bunched up the sheets and set them down on the ground. Then she began tugging at my clothes, ignoring my flinching, until I stood naked. I felt dirty, worthless, and broken under her cruel eyes.

She added my nightgown to the bloody heap on the ground then helped me into a bathrobe. “We’ll go to the bathroom now, and if anyone asks, you got your period, right?”

I nodded. I didn’t ask why. I didn’t fight it.

That night, Uncle Durant came into my room again, and again the night after, and again until he finally had to leave for Atlanta. Every morning Dorma cleaned the sheets and me. A few days after he’d left, she wore an expensive necklace. The price for her silence.


TODAY


A knock sounded, tearing me out of the painful memories. I took a deep breath and willed my voice to be strong. “Come in.”

Aunt Egidia opened the door, but she didn’t enter. Worry tightened her mouth. “Kiara, that was very rude,” she said. She regarded me then averted her gaze, and again it was filled with a hint of guilt. “You should be honored to be given to someone of importance. With your background, it’s a blessing. Your wedding will be a spectacle. It’ll bring honor to your name.”

And yours,” I said quietly.

She stiffened, and I instantly regretted my words. I had no right to criticize her or my uncle. “We braved a lot of unpleasantness because we took you in. You can hardly hold it against us that we are happy to have found such a honorable match for you.”

“Has it been decided?” I asked quietly.

She frowned. “As good as. The Falcones insist on Luca’s relative for the marriage, naturally, so Felix suggested you. Luca would like a word with you before he makes the offer, which isn’t how it used to be done, but if he insists on your consent, we can hardly refuse him. We invited him and his wife over for dinner.” Her eyes met mine, finally. “You will tell him you are delighted by the honor, Kiara, won’t you? This is your chance to redeem your family and yourself. Maybe your brothers will even be allowed to become Captains if you marry someone like Nino Falcone.”

My throat closed tightly, and my gaze found the bed again.

Kiara, you will tell him you agree, won’t you? Your uncle already told Luca you would. It will lead to rumors if you refuse.”

I looked back at my aunt, who looked worried.

I will agree,” I whispered, because what else was there left to do?



That evening before dinner, Luca pulled me aside to talk to me without my aunt and uncle, which displeased them greatly, made plainly clear by the scowls on their faces.

I’m not going to force you to marry if you refuse,” he said. His presence made me nervous.

I’ll be twenty this fall. I need to marry.”

That’s true,” Luca conceded. His gray eyes regarded me as if he thought he could pull any truth out of me with just his watchful gaze, but I had learned to hold on to my secrets. “But you could marry someone else.”

I could, but if I refused to marry Nino Falcone, I’d be even more of a pariah in our circles. Uncle Felix and Aunt Egidia would be disappointed, and they would have an even harder time finding someone else. And how would I justify my refusal? In our world, you married the man your parents chose for you, no matter how bad the choice. “Who would marry Nino Falcone in my stead?”

Most of my cousins are promised or married. I’d have to choose one of the daughters of my Captains. A few of them will be turning of age this year and aren’t engaged.”

Another girl given to the monsters in Las Vegas. A girl more innocent than me. A girl who deserved a chance at happiness no matter how small it would be in our world.

Nobody had protected me all those years ago, but I could spare another girl this fate. “I will marry him. You don’t have to choose anyone else.” My voice didn’t betray my terror. It was firm and determined, and I forced myself to meet Luca’s gaze for the first time this evening.

Luca stared at me a moment longer, but I could tell he approved of my decision. Duty and honor were the pillars of our world. Each of us had to do what was expected. It would have made him and the Famiglia look bad if he couldn’t have offered one of his cousins to the Camorra. These were the rules we lived by, and his own wife had been given to him for peace. This was how it was done, how it would always be done.

After dinner, it was Aria who approached me. She smiled kindly and touched my arm while the men drank their scotch in the smoking lounge and Aunt Egidia got espresso ready for us. “Nobody would blame you if you refused,” Aria said.

“You married Luca. You did what was expected, what honor dictated, and I know the same is expected of me,” I said with a smile.

She frowned. “Yes, but—”

It’s not like this has ever been my home. Even if I wasn’t the one who broke his oath, I’m paying for my father’s mistake. I want to move on from it. This is my chance to redeem myself. Las Vegas can be a new start for me.”


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-42 show above.)