The Sweetest Oblivion - Flip eBook Pages 1-50 (2024)

The Sweetest Oblivion
Copyright 2018 Danielle Lori

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any
form without written consent of the author, except by a reviewer who may quote

brief passages for review purposes only.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are used
fictitiously and are a product of the author’s imagination.

Cover Designer: Okay Creations
Interior Formatting: Champagne Book Design

Editor: Bryony Leah

Table of Contents

Title Page
Copyright
Dedication
Playlist
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Twenty-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One
Chapter Thirty-Two
Chapter Thirty-Three
Chapter Thirty-Four
Chapter Thirty-Five
Chapter Thirty-Six
Chapter Thirty-Seven
Chapter Thirty-Eight
Chapter Thirty-Nine
Chapter Forty
Chapter Forty-One
Chapter Forty-Two
Chapter Forty-Three
Chapter Forty-Four
Chapter Forty-Five
Chapter Forty-Six
Chapter Forty-Seven
Chapter Forty-Eight
Chapter Forty-Nine
Chapter Fifty
Chapter Fifty-One
Chapter Fifty-Two
Acknowledgments
Books by Danielle Lori
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World Gone Mad—Bastille
Rocket Man—Elton John

Human—Aquilo
Waterfalls—Eurielle
Her Life—Two Feet
Like I’m Gonna Lose You—Jasmine Thompson
Madness—Ruelle
Fireworks—First Aid Kit
Seven Nation Army—The White Stripes
Dirty Diana—Shaman’s Harvest
Holocene—Bon Iver
Hurt For Me—SYML

Soldier—Fleurie

“There’s no such thing as good money or bad money.
There’s just money.”

—Lucky Luciano

Long Island, New York

MY HOME WAS PICTURESQUE. A red front door with a golden knocker.

Black and white checkered flooring. A wooden staircase with a
lacquer shine and a sparkling chandelier. However, I’d always
wondered, If I pulled back a corner of the wallpaper . . . would it
bleed red? If this world was as transparent as glass, soft splats
would drip a pool to the marble floors.

I stared at the TV in the corner of the kitchen, hardly processing
the newscaster’s voice, but when murder passed her ruby red lips,
the word resounded in my mind. My throat tightened as I twisted the
ring on my middle finger.

While my home, my life, was built on piles of dirty money, I’d
always been able to say I hadn’t contributed to the balance. Not until
earlier this year, that is. Now, blood was on my hands and guilt
watched me while I slept.

Voices from the foyer drifted to my ears every time the swinging
door opened as our servants came in and out, preparing for lunch.

A feminine trill of a laugh, my cousin Benito’s lively timbre, and a
voice I’d vaguely recognized as I left the church this morning. It was
low, smooth, and indifferent. The hair on the back of my neck rose. I
knew it belonged to my future brother-in-law.

And it was partly—wholly—the reason I was hiding in the kitchen,
though I would never admit it.

“You are too beautiful for that frown, Sweet Abelli,” my mamma
said, as she entered the room with the cacophony of our guests’
conversations following her.

I shifted under the weight of her words. For obvious reasons, I
hadn’t heard that nickname in a while. I’d grown out of the name
some, especially when I realized I was the girl adored for all the
wrong reasons: I wasn’t hard to look at, I was quiet when I should be
and polite when I wasn’t. Like a childhood dress that didn’t fit
anymore, I was stuck in the world’s expectations for me. It took years
of feeling like a pretty bird in a cage until it all became too much . . .
and I escaped.

“I don’t know why you watch this, Elena,” Mamma said, stirring
the sauce on the stove. “All that nonsense is depressing.”

Mamma was married to Salvatore Abelli—a high-profile boss of
one of the biggest organized crime syndicates in the United States.
Sometimes I wondered if the naivety was denial, or if she would truly
rather watch Days of Our Lives than worry about my papà’s affairs.

“I’m not sure who to vote for in the election,” I answered absently.
She shook her head in disbelief, and I guessed it was odd for the
daughter of a mob boss to care about the legalities of the
government.
“Your papà isn’t happy with you,” she said, looking at me under
her dark eyelashes with that pursed-lips-you’re-in-trouble
expression.
“When isn’t Papà unhappy with me lately?”
“What do you expect after what you did?”
Six months had passed, and I swore she brought it up every day.
She was like a dog with a bone, and I honestly thought she enjoyed
the mistake I’d made because she finally had something to chastise
me about.
“Why didn’t you come meet the Russo after church today?” She
pointed her spoon at me. “I’m not buying the act that you forgot and
were waiting innocently in the car.”
I crossed my arms. “I just didn’t want to. He’s . . . rude.”
“Elena,” she scolded. “You don’t even know him.”

“You don’t need to meet someone with his reputation to know his
character, Mamma.”

“Oh, Madonna, salvami,” she muttered.
“And he won’t understand Adriana,” I added tersely.
She snorted. “Not many will understand your sister, figlia mia.”
The gardener did . . . but I wasn’t going to share that with
Mamma, or by the end of the day he’d be at the bottom of the
Hudson.
Earlier this week, Papà had announced that Adriana would be
marrying Nicolas Russo, the don of one of the five families in New
York. My past transgressions were still tender wounds, but with this
news added to the list it was like they’d been cut back open.
I was the eldest sister; therefore, it was my responsibility to marry
first. But because of my mistake, my sister had been thrown under
the bus—and to a man with a reputation. Everyone knew that when
someone had a reputation in this world it meant one thing: stay the
hell away from them.
“Besides, Nico is a perfect gentleman. If you would’ve met him
this morning after church like you were supposed to, you would know
that.”
I’d strode right out of the church doors and to the car before I
could be corralled to meet my future brother-in-law. I was practically
a pariah to my papà, so I was surprised he’d even noticed my
absence. Besides, I was sure Nicolas Russo’s gentleman act was
nothing but smoke and mirrors.
Since Nicolas’s papà had died five years ago, the twenty-nine-
year-old and youngest sitting don had become well-known in the
underworld. Following his father’s footsteps, he was a cheat, had
more blood on his hands than the entirety of the New York State
Penitentiary, and was unremorseful about it all. At least I imagined
he was unapologetic. The newscaster wouldn’t have reported a new
victim with the name “Zanetti” every morning for a year—the family
Nicolas had once feuded with for killing his papà—if he felt at all
guilty. He was going straight to Hell with that attitude if you asked
me.
“I did meet him, Mamma.”
She raised a brow. “You did?”

“Well, no.”
Her expression darkened.
“But I shared a look with him,” I insisted. “And that was all I
needed to see to know he wouldn’t be good for Adriana.”
She rolled her eyes. “Ridicolo.”
A glare and a look were the same things . . . right? It was an
accident, really. It was as I was walking down the church steps that
my gaze caught on the meeting I was supposed to be attending.
Papà and Mamma stood on either side of Adriana and across from
Nicolas Russo—and that was usually how a bride and groom met in
this life. Arranged marriages were par for the course in the Cosa
Nostra.
In annoyance at the entire situation, my eyes had narrowed
slightly before glancing at my future brother-in-law, only to find he
was already looking at me. That was how the glaring occurred—an
accident, you see. But I could hardly convey that to the man, and if I
had smiled it would’ve come off condescending, so I just . . . went
with the glare and hoped it wouldn’t get me killed.
Nicolas’s gaze had hardened a flicker to show he didn’t like it, but
after a second of heavy eye contact, he returned his attention to my
papà like I was nothing but a leaf blowing by. I’d let out the breath I
was holding and went to hide in the car. There was no way I was
meeting him after that exchange. I’d just avoid him until the end of
my days.
“Stop worrying and trust your papà.”
I made a hmm noise because I’d overheard from my cousin
Benito that the alliance was for collaboration on some weapons deal,
nothing more. My sister was a pawn in some large-scale trafficking
agreement. How romantic. Even so, we knew this day would come. I
held no expectations for a marriage of love, and neither did Adriana.
The problem was, my sister believed she was already in love.
With the gardener.
“Elena, go see if Adriana is ready for lunch.”
“She told me last night she wasn’t coming.”
“She’s coming!” Mamma snapped, followed by muttering in
Italian.

With reluctance, I pushed off the counter and headed out of the
kitchen. The newscaster’s voice trailed me out the swinging door,
and, like a warning, that word murder spilled from red lips once
more.

On an Evening in Roma played from the antique record player as
I headed toward the staircase and took in the guests in the foyer. My
papà’s sister and husband, a few male cousins, and my brother
Tony, who was shooting an intense glare in Nicolas’s direction. Tony
leaned against the wall with his hands in his black suit pockets,
alone. His girlfriend wasn’t Italian and was rarely invited over. My
mamma disliked her just because she was dating her son.

I loved my brother, but he was reckless, impulsive, and lived by
the code, “If I don’t like it then I’ll f*cking shoot it.” And it looked like
he wanted to shoot Nicolas Russo. There was some history between
the two, and it wasn’t the good kind.

My gaze caught on a striking woman with . . . interesting style.
She stood next to a man who I assumed to be her grandfather, but
then he slid a hand onto her ass. She only pursed her lips like it was
an annoyance.

She wore a mink shawl in July, over a thin olive-green dress, and
thigh-high boots. Long dark hair fell in smooth waves, and with her
fake eyelashes and large hoop earrings she was like an ad to the
seventies era. And, as if she wasn’t doing her job well enough, she
blew a pink bubble and popped it, her eyes narrowing on me like I
was the one whose style was four decades too late. If polar
opposites were ever in the same room, it was her and me,
undoubtedly.

Almost home free with one hand on the banister, my father’s
voice sounded behind me. “Elena, come here.”

My stomach dipped and I closed my eyes in defeat, but I only
hesitated for a second because that voice was non-negotiable.

My hands grew clammy as I made my way to where my papà
stood next to Nicolas. When I reached my father’s side, he took my
arm and gave me a smile, but it didn’t reach his eyes. Papà looked
ten years younger than his fifty-five, with small streaks of silver
through his black hair. He was always in a suit, and you’d never find
a wrinkle in it, but that gentleman look was just a façade. I’d first

seen how he’d gotten his reputation when I was seven, through a
crack in his office door.

“Elena, this is Nicolas Russo. Nico, this is Elena, my eldest
daughter.”

I’d done this dance a hundred times, just a different day, a
different man. However, this time my breath was cut short, as though
I was about to be pushed off a plank and into shark-infested water if I
looked up at him. He’s just a man, I reminded myself. A man with the
worst reputation in New York State, easily.

Why did I glare?
Inhaling for courage, I tipped my head, not being able to see him
under the brim of my hat. A warm rush of recognition ran down my
spine as I met his heavy gaze. Light brown eyes, the color of
whiskey on ice, and thick, dark lashes. It gave him a brooding
expression, almost as if he was looking into the sun, yet he was
looking at me as though he was being introduced to one of the
servants and not someone he would call “sister-in-law.”
I stood a few inches taller than Adriana, and even in my heels the
top of my head wouldn’t hit his chin. I had the strong urge to avert
my gaze and focus it eye-level on his black tie, but it felt like he’d be
winning something if I looked away, so I held his stare. My tone was
as polite as it always was in company. “It’s a pleasure—”
“We’ve already met.”
We what?
His indifferent voice ran down my spine, with a strange thrill
following in its wake. He’d hardly said anything, but it now felt like I
was standing on Russo turf instead of Abelli. As if a six-foot diameter
around him was claimed as Russo no matter where he stood.
Papà frowned. “When did you two have the chance to meet?”
I swallowed.
Something amused and dangerous played in Nicolas’s gaze.
“Earlier at church. Remember, Elena?”
My heartbeats collided with a crash. Why had my name rolled off
his tongue like he was more than familiar with it?
My papà stiffened beside me, and I knew why he did: he thought
I’d done something inappropriate with this man, like his tone had
suggested. Heat rushed to my cheeks. All because of one mistake

I’d made six months ago, my papà thought I’d come on to my sister’s
fiancé?

I blinked through my apprehension. This was due to a really
short, not even that hostile glare? This man had found out my
weakness and was now playing with me.

Frustration clawed at my chest. I couldn’t very well go and make
this situation worse by disagreeing with a don my father would most
likely believe over me now. And so, I forced my voice into the lightest
tone I could muster. “Yes, we’ve met, Papà. I forgot my jacket in the
church and ran into him inside.”

I realized my mistake too late. It was July; I hadn’t worn a jacket.
And Nicolas knew that.

He pulled a hand out of his pocket and ran a thumb across his
bottom lip, giving his head a small shake. He looked impressed I had
played along but almost disappointed at what a poor job I’d done.

I did not like this man—not at all.
A cold whisper ran through my blood as my father looked
between us like he was unsure.
“Well, all right,” Papà finally responded, patting my arm. “That’s
good, then. I’m sure Nico might have some questions for you about
Adriana. You know her best.”
My lungs expanded, and I took in a breath. “Yes, of course,
Papà.”
I would rather eat a handful of dirt.
The front door opened and my mamma’s brother and Papà’s
consigliere, Marco, entered with his wife. My father said a parting
word and went to greet them, and just left me with this man, whose
presence was beginning to burn.
He stared down at me.
I stared up at him.
As a corner of his lips lifted, I realized I was amusing him. My
cheeks heated with annoyance. Before, I would have murmured
something sweet and made my leave, but that was before. Now, I
couldn’t keep my expression polite as I met Nicolas’s—Nico’s,
whatever his name was—gaze.
“We have not met,” I said firmly.

He co*cked a brow in a cavalier way. “You sure? Here I was under
the impression you had me all figured out.”

My heart fluttered so fast it couldn’t be healthy. I had no idea
what to say because he was right. This interaction wasn’t doing
anything to prove he wasn’t who I thought he was all along, however.

He smoothed an absent hand down his tie. “Do you know what
assuming gets you?”

“Killed?” I breathed.
His eyes fell to my lips. “Smart girl.” The words were deep and
soft, and a strange part of me felt like I’d done something good.
My breaths turned shallow when he moved to walk past me but
stopped by my side. His arm touched mine and it burned like the
lightest licks of a flame. His voice brushed the side of my neck. “It’s
nice to meet you, Elena.” He said my name like he should have
earlier: without any insinuation. Like I was something he could check
off his list before he walked away.
I stood there, staring ahead, while absently returning a couple
smiles to family members.
So that was my future brother-in-law. The man my sister would
marry.
Maybe I was a horrible person, but some guilt drifted away and
out the door another person just entered.
Because I was suddenly glad it was her and not me.

“Nothing personal, it’s just business.”

—Otto Berman

IT WAS WORSE THAN I’D expected.

Adriana was primly folding a blouse and placing it into a suitcase
on her bed. She wore an oversized Tweety Bird t-shirt and Christmas
socks, and wads of toilet paper lay scattered about the room.

A few years ago, Adriana went through a rebellious stage and
chopped her hair off into a pixie cut. I’d never seen my mother more
horrified. Adriana had lost her credit card, her acting classes at our
all-girls school, and got glowered at every day for a month. It’d grown
into a sleek bob now, but it was then I’d learned that cutting your hair
in this house was worse than murder.

With dark blue walls, white crown molding and golden accents,
Adriana’s room would appear fit for a home staging . . . if it didn’t
look like a costume designer had thrown up in it. Posters from
famous plays like The Great Gatsby hung on the walls. Weird stage
props sat on the vanity: feathers, hats, and masquerade masks.
Things that made your head hurt while trying to figure out their
purpose—like the giant rabbit’s head on the bed.

I didn’t believe Papà knew he was paying for every penny of
Adriana’s dramatic art school’s stage props. But my father didn’t
concern himself with my sister too much. As long as she was where
she was supposed to be, he was happy. He just didn’t understand
her, nor she him.

With a sigh, I grabbed the blouse from her suitcase and went to
the walk-in closet to hang it back up. She ignored my presence,
brushing shoulders with me as she passed with a pair of jeans.

“What’s with all of the toilet paper?” I asked, sliding the shirt onto
a hanger.

She sniffled but didn’t respond.
The last time I’d seen her cry was at our nonno’s funeral when
she was thirteen. My little sister was one of the most unemotional
people I’d ever met. In fact, I thought the idea of emotion repelled
her. My stomach twisted with concern, but I knew Adriana
appreciated pity as much as she loved chick flicks. She hated them.
I grabbed the jeans from the suitcase and headed to the closet.
“So, where are you going?”
She passed me with a yellow polka-dot bikini. “Cuba. Saudi
Arabia. North Korea. Pick one.”
We continued this dance of packing and unpacking like a human
conveyor belt.
My brows knitted. “Well, you didn’t exactly give me a good list.
But Saudi Arabia is out if you’re planning on wearing this bathing
suit.” I folded it and put it away.
“Have you met him?” she asked, walking past me with a zebra-
printed robe.
I knew she meant her future husband.
I hesitated. “Yes. He’s, uh . . . real nice.”
“Where am I going to fit all my props?” She threw her hands on
her hips and stared into her small suitcase like she’d just realized it
wasn’t a Mary Poppins bag.
“I think they’re going to have to stay here.”
Her face scrunched up like she was about to cry. “But I love my
costumes.” Tears were running now. “And what about Mr. Rabbit?”
She grabbed the giant rabbit’s head off the bed and held it next to
her own.
“Well . . . I’m not sure about North Korea’s shipping policies, but
I’m betting Mr. Rabbit won’t pass.”
She threw herself on the bed and whined, “What about Cuba?”
“It’s probably a better possibility.”

She nodded like that was good. “I have an Alice in Wonderland
production coming up.” She wiped her cheeks, already finished
crying.

“Who are you playing?” I knew it wasn’t Alice. My sister didn’t like
anything mainstream or blonde.

“The Cheshire Cat.” She smiled.
“Yeah, that sounds like you.” I went into the closet and found a
thin-strapped black dress she could wear to lunch. It took a moment
to find it because it was squeezed between a Legend of Zelda and
Peter Pan costume.
I set the dress on her bed. “You better get ready. Almost
everyone is here.”
“Ryan broke up with me,” she deadpanned.
My expression softened. “I’m so sorry, Adriana.”
“He doesn’t understand why I’m getting married and doesn’t want
to see me anymore. So, he must not love me very much, right,
Elena?” She looked at me with big brown eyes.
I paused.
Explain rationality to my sister and ease her heartbreak a bit, or
rip the Band-Aid off?
“Right.”
She nodded. “I’ll be down soon.”

I was downstairs, turning a corner in the hall near the library when I
collided with something warm and solid. A breath escaped me as I
was forced a step back. I knew who I’d run into before I had to look.

Russo.
Unease drifted through my body like a kindled flame. We were no
longer in a foyer filled with people, but completely alone. It was so

quiet I could hear my heart beating in my chest.
I took another step back as if to get some footing, but it was

mostly just to put myself out of his reach, some kind of survival
instinct kicking in.

He stood there in a gray suit and a smooth black tie. He was
larger than life in this hallway. Or maybe this hall was just small? No,
it looked like a normal-sized hallway. Ugh, get a grip, Elena.

He regarded me like someone would watch Animal Planet—like I
was another species and possibly dull entertainment. He had a cell
phone in one hand at his side, so I assumed he must have been
making a private call.

This hallway was more of an alcove made of arches behind the
staircase. Some large potted plants blocked our view from the main
hall, and a green glass lamp on a side table cast the area in dim
light. However, it was bright enough to see the flicker of impatience
behind his gaze.

“You going to stand here and stare at me all day, or are you going
to move?”

I blinked.
“And if I say stand here and stare at you?” It was out of my mouth
before I could stop it, and I instantly wished I could reach out and
take my words back. I’d never spoken to someone like that—let
alone a boss—in my life. My stomach dipped like a tilt-a-whirl.
With the phone in his hand, a thumb came up to run across his
jaw. I imagined he did that while thinking of how he was going to kill
a man.
He took a small step forward.
As if we were the same poles of a magnet, I took one back.
He dropped his hand to his side, the slightest bit of amusem*nt
coming to life in his eyes as if I’d just done a trick that entertained
him. I suddenly had the distinct feeling I didn’t want to be his
entertainment. And an even stronger feeling that I already was.
“Thought the Sweet Abelli was sweet.”
How did he know my nickname?
I didn’t know what came over me, but I suddenly felt free of that
name—maybe because he’d never met that girl before. I wanted to

be someone different. Especially to him, for some inexplicable
reason.

“Well, I guess we were both fooled then. Here I was thinking a
gentleman apologized when running into a woman.”

“Sounds like someone’s been making assumptions again,” he
drawled.

An odd thumping began in my chest, and I shook my head. “It
wasn’t an assumption.”

He took a step forward, and once again I took one back.
He slipped his hands into his pockets as his gaze fell down my
body. It was hardly leering and more observant, like I was in fact
another species and he was wondering if I was edible.
His eyes narrowed on my pink heels. “You think you’ve got some
proof, huh?”
I nodded, feeling strangely breathless under his scrutiny. “My
mamma said you acted the perfect gentleman at church.”
“I did act the perfect gentleman.”
“So, it’s a matter of if you want to be one?”
He didn’t say a word, but his neutral expression confirmed it as
his stare traveled back up from my heels.
“And I’m guessing you don’t want to be one right now?” I realized
I shouldn’t have said it as I was saying it.
His heavy gaze reached mine, burning me.
He gave his head a slow shake.
Okay.
I’d stood my ground long enough, much longer than the Sweet
Abelli ever would. But now, I just needed to get the heck out of here.
“Okay, well . . . I’ll see you around.”
I couldn’t think of a less idiotic response, so I only took a step to
go around him—but, before I could, something grabbed my wrist. He
grabbed my wrist. His grip felt like a band of fire; rough, calloused
fire. A cool breath of fear mixed with something boiling hot leaked
into my bloodstream.
He stood a couple feet from me, his grip the only thing
connecting us. “Write up a list of your sister’s hobbies. Likes and
dislikes, shoe size, dress size, and anything else you think will be
useful. Yeah?”

“Yeah,” I breathed. How many men had he killed with the hand
wrapped around my wrist? It wasn’t a hard grip, but it was heavy,
firm, immovable. It made me aware of how much smaller I was, how
unnerved and out of place I felt. How I couldn’t leave unless he
chose to release me.

He watched me with an inquisitive gaze. My heart felt close to
stopping and my skin was burning up. It was inappropriate for him to
touch me, future brother-in-law or not. My papà could come out of
his office any moment, but this man didn’t seem to care. I did,
though, especially after the scene earlier.

“I’ll give the list to you on Friday at the engagement party,” I
managed to say and tried to pull my wrist away.

He didn’t let me go. My pulse fluttered when his thumb brushed
my knuckles. “I was under the impression the Abellis could afford
more than a fifty-cent ring.”

I glanced at the ring on my middle finger. It came from one of
those vending machines and had a purple round-cut jewel in the
center. The thought of it sobered me.

“Sometimes the cheapest things are the most valuable.”
His gaze came back to my face, and we looked at each other for
a moment. His grip slipped down my wrist, palm, fingers. The rough
pads of his fingertips brushed my softer ones, and made my heart
skip a beat.
“I’ll see you at lunch, Elena.”
He left, disappearing into my papà’s office.
Cazzo . . .
Leaning against the wall, the ring was a heavy weight on my
finger. I could take it off, put it somewhere it couldn’t haunt me, but I
knew I never would. Not yet.
His grip still burned like a brand on my wrist as I left the hallway.
Once again, he’d said my name in the most inappropriate way.

“Murders came with smiles, shooting people was no
big deal for us Goodfellas.”

—Henry Hill

BILLIE HOLIDAY PLAYED SOFTLY FROM the old pool radio.

Condensation dripped down crystal glasses, and silverware glinted
in the bright sunlight. It was a hot July afternoon, but the steady
breeze was the perfect interlude.

Lights wound around the wooden slats of the patio cover, and my
mamma’s rose bushes were flourishing. The chairs were soft and the
food was good, but it could only be so comfortable having lunch with
a bunch of strangers. However, the seventies ad sitting across from
me didn’t seem to share the same opinion.

“Anyway, the cop let me go and he didn’t even take my co*ke—”
“Gianna.” The word was a low warning from Nicolas’s spot at the
table.
She rolled her eyes and took a deep drink of wine, but she spoke
no more.
I wondered why Nicolas had chastised her and what their
relationship was. Siblings? They did appear to find each other
annoying, but I was sure I’d heard somewhere that Nicolas was an
only child. Gianna’s senior citizen of a husband sitting next to her
hadn’t said a word, except for some oddly-timed chuckling. I was
beginning to think he was hard of hearing.

Gianna was my polar opposite. Where I was quiet, she spoke
with abandon and laughed loudly. Where I was demure, well . . .
she’d stuck her gum to her cloth napkin before eating her pasta
without twirling it around the fork. I was a little jealous of her carefree
approach to life.

Tony sat on her other side. He leaned back in his chair with his
jacket unbuttoned looking bored, but I knew him better than that. I’d
seen that smug way he scratched the scruff on his jaw like he was
angry and amused at the same time. And that never meant anything
good. He was handsome, but if I wasn’t his sister I wouldn’t touch
him with a ten-foot pole. His recklessness was dangerous for anyone
involved, especially himself. He caught my uneasy look and shot me
a wink.

Low chatter and the scraping of silverware filled the yard, but
beneath that lay a tense air that wouldn’t dissipate, an uncomfortable
vibe the breeze wouldn’t take with it. Everyone seemed to be easily
chatting amongst themselves, so maybe it was just me. I brushed it
off.

Gianna didn’t stay quiet for long, though she no longer spoke
about 8-balls of co*ke. She changed the subject to horse racing. That
was an acceptable conversation many joined in on. It wasn’t like this
was a drug-free zone—in fact, many people came through this
house on a daily basis with drugs on them—but out in the open, it
was Cosa Nostra etiquette to pretend we were the classic example
of a white-picket-fence family. Even if our homes were surrounded
by an iron gate and security instead.

I was happy to see that Adriana had shown up instead of
boarding a plane to Cuba. She sat next to her fiancé and Papà at the
other end of table.

Maybe I was a coward, but I was glad I didn’t have to sit near
Nicolas. I was the perfect hostess and had a polite response for
anything—as inappropriate as the comments could sometimes be
when people were drinking—but with him, words were at a loss for
me. I felt tongue-tied around him, tilted off my point of gravity, and
truthfully just hot, as though a blush permanently warmed my skin.

It might be unpleasant speaking to him, but it was too easy to
look in his direction. If not for his size, he could easily fit Adriana’s

pretty-boy preferences when he had a sober expression on his face.
He was tan, his hair was almost black, and I couldn’t help but notice
that his biceps were defined through his shirt. My future brother-in-
law was even more handsome beneath bright sun. It was
unfortunate his personality didn’t match.

What I found the most intriguing about his appearance, however,
was the dark ink that showed through his white dress shirt. It was
vague, but I thought it went all the way from his shoulder to the gold
watch on his wrist. Nicolas Russo had a full sleeve. I knew that
gentleman look was all smoke and mirrors.

He glanced over and met my gaze as if he’d felt me observing
him. From five chairs down, the impact of an indifferent stare still
found a way to touch my skin. The way he shouldn’t have said my
name played on a loop, deep and suggestive, in my head. Just so I
didn’t look like a coward, I held his gaze for a breathless second
before looking away. I had the sudden feeling that for my future
health . . . I shouldn’t interact with this man anymore.

“I hear you have a recital coming up, Elena,” my uncle Manuel
said from a few seats down. His voice had become nothing but a
memory of bloodshed due to the part he played six months ago. I
drank a sip of wine, tasting nothing but guilt and resentment.

Every pair of eyes shifted to me, all twenty of them, but I was only
aware of one of them.

“Yes.” I forced a smile. “Saturday.”
“You dance?” Gianna asked. “How fun! I’ve done some dancing
but”—her voice lowered—“we’re probably talking about two different
things.”
My eyes twinkled. “Tap, you mean?”
Her laugh was light and airy. “Yes, definitely tap. Have you
always danced?”
“Yes, since I was a child.”
“Are you any good?”
I laughed at the forward question. “Truthfully, no.”
My mamma muttered something in disagreement from down the
table. She had to disagree—it was part of being a mother—but I was
mediocre at dance and I didn’t have a problem acknowledging it. It
was something to do. Something to fill the monotonous time. I used

to love it as a child, but now it was just a sleeve of the dress that
didn’t fit.

Conversation quieted, and Gianna pushed her broccoli around on
her plate like she was seven and didn’t like vegetables. Her husband
chuckled at absolutely nothing. She rolled her eyes and took a large
gulp of wine.

Lunch continued with meaningless chatter, good food and drink,
but the tension never dissipated. It sat there, uninterrupted. Like an
echo before the words were even spoken.

My brother leaned back in his chair, a ring sounding as he ran his
finger around his wine glass. Adriana ate as though a large man she
didn’t know and was marrying in three weeks wasn’t sitting next to
her.

Papà mentioned he’d bought an old shooting range, and
conversation on that drifted down the table like a domino effect.
They’d just served tiramisu for dessert, and I was ready for this lunch
to end. But unfortunately, that uncomfortable tension was about to
twist its way out of the inevitable.

It began with an innocent suggestion between the men to visit the
range. And then I watched it play out like a bad dream. The Russo
sitting to the left of me grunted sardonically. I’d learned his name
was Stefan, though he’d hardly said more than a word.

The ring from my brother’s wine glass faded off. Tony’s dark gaze
centered on the man. “Don’t think I caught the joke, Russo.”

Stefan shook his head. “Just got better things to do than watch a
bunch of Abellis miss targets.”

“Uh-oh,” Gianna said under her breath.
I closed my eyes. The day my brother let this go without a fight
would be the day the sky fell.
“Tony, don’t . . .” Benito warned from his seat beside my brother.
He was always the voice of reason in that duo. But Tony didn’t even
glance at his cousin—instead, he smiled at Stefan Russo and it
wasn’t nice at all.
My chest tightened, and I looked down the table to get Papà’s
attention, but he was in conversation with Nicolas and my uncles.
“Not sure what you’re talking about,” Tony drawled. “I didn’t miss
—what was his name? Ah, yes, Piero . . .?” My brother’s eyes

flickered with dark enjoyment. “Hit the bullseye on that one.”
Tony’s amusem*nt faded into a deathly quiet that even the family

and guests at the head of the table noticed. Everything went static,
like a still-shot in a magazine.

I never saw it coming.
My pulse leapt into my throat as an arm clamped around my
waist, pulling me to my feet. My head was forced to the side as a
cold barrel pressed against my temple.
Shouting rang out in Italian. Chairs fell backward to the patio as
everyone jumped to their feet. Guns rose in every direction.
I heard my papà ordering commands, but my heart drowned out
his voice. Bu-bum. Bu-bum. Bu-bum. The beat resounded beneath a
cold sheen of fear.
I hadn’t lived a picturesque life, no matter what my red front door
and golden knocker conveyed. I’d seen my papà cut off a man’s
finger when I was seven. I’d watched my uncle shoot a man in the
head, his face sideways on the bloodstained carpet, eyes open. I’d
seen knife wounds, bullet wounds, so much red. But through all that,
I’d never had a gun pressed to my head. Never felt cold metal
against my temple. Never felt as if my life could be gone, just like
that.
The cold in my veins froze to ice.
Nicolas’s voice cut through the drumming of blood in my ears. It
was low and smooth, and I grabbed onto it like a life raft. “Put it
down, Stefan.”
“He was the one who killed Piero!” The barrel shook against my
head, and my lungs constricted, but I didn’t move a muscle as I
stared at the hedges lining the iron fence.
“Tony!” my papà snapped. “Don’t.”
I glanced at my brother, only to stare at the end of a barrel. He
was going to shoot the Russo behind me, but with my heels on the
man didn’t have much height on me.
“You’re a poor f*cking shot, Tony. We all know you’ll hit the
favored little Abelli!” Stefan’s heated voice vibrated against my back.
“Put. It. Down.” Nicolas’s words carried a calmness with a hint of
animosity, like the ocean before a storm.
One second, two seconds. Stefan was hesitating—

Bang.
Something warm and wet hit my face. My ears rang as the voices
around me sank underwater. The man’s arm fell from me, and a dull
thunk sounded as he hit the ground.
The newscaster’s voice replayed in my mind, murder spilling from
red lips, again, and again. Numbness flooded me. Sounds rushed in,
pulled out of water with heavy chains, dripping wet.
“Sit the f*ck down! Now!” my father’s voice rang out. “We’re
going to finish this lunch, goddammit!”
It took a moment for his words to process and to realize that
everyone sat stiffly in their chairs but him and Nicolas. My future
brother-in-law’s heavy, unreadable gaze touched my skin as I stared
at the gun in one of his hands.
“Elena! Sit!” Papà snapped.
I dropped into my chair.
The warmth of blood dripped down my cheek. Red had splattered
across my chair and part of the white tablecloth. A dead Russo’s feet
touched my own.
I sat there, pulling my gaze from a staring Gianna to Tony, who
ate his dessert with relish.
“Elena.” The small warning came from my papà, and because I
was told to, I put a forkful of tiramisu in my mouth and chewed.
Placing my hand on the back of my hat, I glanced up at the clear
blue sky.
Circ*mstances aside, it really was a beautiful day.

“This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.”

—William Shakespeare

THE GUNSHOT ECHOED IN THE air, and the tension was louder than

silverware against porcelain plates. The Abellis cast me cautious
glances, while my family kept their eyes downcast on their desserts,
stiffer than the chairs they sat on.

Leaning back, I rested a forearm on the table and focused my
gaze on the cigarette I rolled between my fingers. The anger was
strong enough I had to choke it down. It burned in my throat, in my
chest, and marred my vision with a red mist.

My eyes skimmed up an inch to find Luca, my underboss and
only reliable cousin, wiping a hand across his mouth in a poor
attempt to hide his amusem*nt. My gaze darkened, conveying I
might just go for shooting two cousins today. He sat back in his chair,
his humor fading.

He’d just won a bet that we couldn’t get away without any
altercations today. And won double because anything involving the
Sweet Abelli had been a bonus. My family gambled on everything—
everything. Any possible chance to gain a buck, they exploited it.

I owed him five f*cking grand. And I was putting the blame on a
little black-haired prima donna, because if I thought about her
brother right now I’d end up putting a bullet in his goddamn head.

There are some relatives you don’t like—ones you might shoot
on your own terms if given the chance. But being forced into it . . .

that rubbed me the wrong way, like the lash of a horsewhip. My jaw
tightened as venom crawled through my veins.

My papà had a fondness for kicking me in the ribs when I acted
without thinking.

My mamma used to smoke at the kitchen table in her nightgown
after she and my father would scream the house down.

With my ribs burning and the cigarette in my hand, it wasn’t lost
on me that the apple really doesn’t fall that f*cking far from the tree.
And I’d guess that those who’d known Antonio Russo—even my own
family—would be hesitant to think of that as anything but
unfortunate.

I was a mold my father and the Cosa Nostra created. As bad a
combo as a barrel of gunpowder and a little flame. Where my papà
had lacked in my rearing, my mamma tried to fill in the cracks. She
tried, through dilated pupils and frequent bloody noses. The late
Caterina Russo did her best to teach her only child to respect
women. Truthfully, it had never really stuck. It was hard to respect a
mamma you had to pick up off the floor some nights. Not to mention,
I’d had most things I’d wanted handed to me since I was old enough
to ask for them. I didn’t need charm and respect to get women—my
impending wealth and position had done that for me since I was
thirteen years old.

Luca’s mamma was the first to man up and shoot me the tiniest
scowl. My family could be as pissed as they wanted, but I’d
appreciate at least one f*cking thank-you for stopping a bloodbath
from ruining a perfectly good Sunday.

Jesus. It was just Stefan anyway.
Nobody liked Stefan.
The truth was, not every man could handle being a Russo. My
nonna used to say our blood ran hotter than most. Though maybe
that had just been an excuse to justify why all of her male offspring
were entitled, greedy, and possessive of things that weren’t theirs. A
Russo wanted what he wanted, and once he did it was practically
his. Most likely through a variety of illegal ventures. But maybe she
was onto something, because it f*cking felt hotter than it should.
I’ll Be Seeing You by Billie Holiday filled the spacious backyard,
the soft piano notes invading a tense atmosphere full of clearing

throats and shifting gazes. I rolled the cigarette between my fingers,
trying to quell the itch. I only smoked when I was too pissed off to
see straight, or the rare occasion—unsettled.

Salvatore left the table to send the servants home. They all knew
who employed them and were connected to the Cosa Nostra in
some way—but it was a sure bet the dead man lying on the patio, his
blood running through the divots in the bricks, was too much for
some of them.

I’d only caught part of the conversation that set this in motion, but
it was clear Tony had been gloating over killing Piero, another idiotic
cousin of mine. I hadn’t known Tony was the one to do it, but I was
hardly surprised. Hardly moved either. I’d addressed Piero’s death
like I would a Zanetti’s: with two fingers of whiskey. You do stupid
sh*t, you get killed. That’s how the world works, and my cousin had
done more than enough.

In all honesty, I thought Stefan was going to put the gun down.
But at that point I hadn’t cared. A flash of anger had pulsed in my
chest from my cousin’s disrespect, and, oddly enough, burned even
hotter at the fact he was threatening the Sweet Abelli. The annoying
feeling rushed over me that only I could threaten her—so I f*cking
shot him and watched the blood splatter against Elena’s white dress.

Tony had had a hard-on for seeing me dead ever since his friend
Joe Zanetti saw the end of my .45 enough years ago I thought it was
irrelevant now. I’d assumed Tony and I would have some issues, but
I’d underestimated what a f*cking idiot he was and that he’d bring
them to lunch. I guessed the idea that I’d be f*cking his sister was
chafing him a bit more than my usual presence would.

I tapped my cigarette on the table, and before I could stop myself
I glanced to where the Sweet Abelli sat. My eyes narrowed. I’d only
owe Luca twenty-five if it weren’t for her.

Blood dripped down her olive skin, yet she ate her dessert
because her papà had told her to. I wasn’t usually a sad*st, but
Jesus, it was kind of hot. A reluctant rush of heat ran to my groin.

Talking about sad*sts, my gaze found my cousin Lorenzo a
couple seats down. He was staring at the girl like it was his job. And
not any job I’d given him—because he was good at turning those to
sh*t—but like a vocation or something. You’d never know looking at

the man nor talking to him, but the bastard had an inclination for
S&M. Knowing that and watching him stare at Elena Abelli, a sliver
of irritation ran through me.

She probably liked it sweet and vanilla.
Probably preferred the man to get on his knees and beg a bit.
Lorenzo would.
I’d rather shut my dick in a car door.
She’d glared at me at church today, and I’d wondered what the
Sweet Abelli could have against me. I’d known the nickname before I
even met the girl. It was an innocent pet name that became well-
known—well, among men—because not only was she sweet, she
had the sweetest body around.
I’d heard more about this girl’s ass in the past couple years than I
ever needed to. And truthfully, I’d grown sick of it. When something
was overhyped, it was always a letdown. I guessed the joke was on
me because this was not one of those times.
I had always tuned out of conversation when she came up. I’d
never seen her, but when my idiot cousins would waste time talking
about the same puss* like it was what I paid them to do, it was an
annoyance. Her name had become an irritation, like some kind of
Pavlovian conditioning. So, when her papà had told me she was unfit
for marriage, I hadn’t even asked why. I’d signed the contract for the
other one.
Then I saw her at church.
Son of a bitch.
My cousins would check out any woman under fifty. Any woman if
she had just one decent attribute, so of course I had never believed
the hype.
Talk about a man’s wet dream.
Her body . . . f*cking centerfold-worthy. Her hair was a weakness
of mine: black, silky, and long enough I could wrap it around my fist
twice. The thought had flitted through my mind unwillingly. And at
church. Jesus.
It was the soft, innocent expression of hers, though, that seemed
to burn through my skin and straight to my dick. It was so damn
sweet, and I knew that’s where her little nickname had come from.
Couldn’t be from Little Miss Glare’s personality.

I’d observed her from the back of the church for far longer than I
should have. I’d watched as she gave the same smile to every man
in the congregation who came up to her, like it was a queue to see
Her Majesty.

I was six-foot-three—hardly inconspicuous—but she wouldn’t
notice me for another thirty minutes, at which time she would glare at
me.

The Sweet Abelli was sweet to everyone but me. I could have
laughed, if for reasons unknown to me, it didn’t piss me off. It was
the first time since I’d become Boss that anyone had blatantly
disrespected me. Maybe it was juvenile, but I wanted Elena Abelli to
know I didn’t care for her much either.

No woman with that much male attention could ever be anything
but stuck-up and shallow. By her pink designer heels, I could see
she liked to spend her papà’s money. Her sister was wearing flip-
flops. I’d probably save millions of dollars by marrying her instead.

Adriana was a little strange, but attractive. If you took her away
from her sister, she was stunning; if she stood next to Elena, she’d
blend into the wallpaper. This scenario worked for me just fine. I’d
rather not have a wife all my cousins were jerking off to.

It wasn’t like I cared much about who I married. It was time to
take a wife, and in my world that meant profits. Salvatore had a little
dispute with some Mexicans that was starting to grow into a problem.
He’d grown soft in his old age. After the wedding, I’d help him find
the root of the issue and deal with it the way I’d been taught: with a
bullet through the head. This alliance was making me millions richer,
not to mention would allow me control of most of the city.

A wave of awareness ran down my spine when Elena’s gaze
settled on me from across the table. It was a warm and annoying
consciousness on the side of my face. I was going to ignore it, but I
found myself glancing at her anyway. The back of my neck itched,
but I held her stare until she looked away.

After her glare at church, I’d taken it upon myself to find out why
she was unfit for marriage. Turns out the Sweet Abelli ran away, got
sweet with some man.

I knew her lack of virginity wasn’t the reason Salvatore hadn’t
offered her to me. It was only an excuse. Salvatore didn’t want me to

have her, though I could hardly blame him. If I were him, I wouldn’t
give my daughter to me either. It was easy to understand why
Salvatore had little trouble offering his other one.

Adriana sat beside me in a black dress, one leg crossed over the
other. Her brown shoulder-length hair covered her face as she
leaned forward and doodled something on her palm with a pen.

I hadn’t said a word to her since she’d shown up to the table late.
To be honest, I’d almost forgotten she was sitting here. I guessed it
was time to get to know my future wife.

“What are you drawing?”
Adriana hesitated, but then turned her little palm around and
showed me.
“A rabbit.” It wasn’t a question because that’s what it f*cking was.
She pursed her lips and pulled her hand away to continue. “Mr.
Rabbit,” she corrected in a tone that would have normally pissed me
off. But I was already at my limit, so I shrugged it off and planned
exactly what I was going to do to her brother.

“Right or left?”
Tony’s jaw ticked but he didn’t say a word, just sat in the chair

across from his papà’s desk like he was at a board meeting. Blood
dripped from his lip onto his white dress shirt, though he still wore a
darkly entertained expression.

So I hit him. Again.
A burn traveled through my cracked knuckles.
His teeth clenched, but he took it without a sound. Tony was one
of those men who were so high on their own sh*t they couldn’t feel
pain. He’d f*cking feel something before I left this room.

Rays of sun shone through the blinds into Salvatore’s office,
lighting dust particles in the air. All the guests had filed out, and it
was safe to say this lunch was a failure. Which only meant more
lunches and parties I’d have to attend. None of the families wanted
to risk acquainting everyone at such a large event, because sh*t like
today could happen, before escalating into a bloodbath with women
and children present.

Luca stood in front of the door, his cold eyes focused on the back
of Tony’s head. Benito and another of his younger cousins, who was
close to Adriana’s age, leaned against the wall with their arms
crossed, while Salvatore sat behind his desk with a contrite
expression.

I could start a war for Piero’s death if I wanted, which was
probably why Salvatore was going along with this. That, and the fact
that his daughter’s life had been threatened due to his son’s
stupidity.

“You f*cked up, son,” Salvatore said, clasping his hands on the
wooden desk. “I warned you and you went and caused trouble
anyway. If something would’ve happened to Elena, you’d be floating
in the Hudson. You should feel lucky.”

“Lucky,” Tony mocked. He ran a hand across his jaw before
saying, “Left.”

Satisfaction filled my chest.
Right, it is.

“There are three sides to every story. Mine, yours
and the truth.”

—Joe Massino

I PADDED DOWN THE CARPETED hall to the distant beat of the Misfits

leaking from under my sister’s door. As soon as I entered my room, I
left a trail of clothes to the bathroom. Bypassing the mirror, I turned
the shower on hot and climbed in.

It burned.
Something had to wash this memory away. Today took me back
to six months ago. It was the last day I’d had someone else’s blood
splattered against my face.
The hot water spilled from the faucet, matting my hair to my face
and shoulders. I imagined it was paint—the red running down my
body and swirling into the drain. If only guilt was so easy to get rid of.
I closed my eyes.
Shouting. Cold barrel against my temple. One second, two
seconds. Hesitation—
Bang.
My eyes flew open.
That gunshot hadn’t been in my mind.
The back of my neck prickled. Hopefully it was only Tony
shooting another one of Nonna’s vases. But until now, I hadn’t
thought of the consequences Tony might face after the trouble he
caused . . .

I hopped out of the shower and dried off as fast as I could.
Leaving my hair wet and uncombed, I threw on a t-shirt and shorts
before running down the stairs. The marble floor was cold against
my feet as I took the turn toward my papà’s office, and once again, I
collided with something solid.

A lungful of air escaped me. I’d been going so fast I would have
fallen to my butt on the floor, but an arm wrapped around my waist
as I teetered backward and steadied me. It was an incredibly warm
and heavy arm.

“Jesus,” Nicolas muttered with annoyance.
My stomach tightened as it pressed against his. The contact
made me tingle everywhere, but I didn’t have time to analyze the
feeling more. I was spun out of his way and left to watch Nicolas’s
back as he continued down the hall.
His underboss’s cold indifference touched me as he passed, and
I was suddenly and surprisingly glad I’d run into Nicolas instead.
A burning sensation remained around my waist, and my
heartbeat fluttered from the impact and the worry creeping in. “Did
you kill my brother?”
“Should have,” was all Nicolas said before the front door shut
behind the two men.
I inhaled in relief, but it was short-lived when Tony left my papà’s
office and swayed down the hall like he was drunk. He was bare-
chested and his dress shirt was wrapped around his hand. Blood
dripped bright red to the marble floors.
My brother was tall, slightly brawny, and covered in scars. From
the two bullet wounds to an innumerable amount of others that I
could only guess the cause. Probably from the illegal fights I knew
he participated in.
Tony didn’t say a word as he passed, but I followed him into the
kitchen. With the swinging door pressed against my back, I watched
him grab a bottle of whiskey from the cupboard and struggle to open
it with one hand. He eventually managed by holding it against his
chest and twisting. He took a long pull before sitting at the island.
“Go away, Elena.”
“You need to see Vito.” He was the vicar at church, but also had
medical experience to patch up wounds. It was the Lord’s work, after

all.
“I’m fine.” He took another pull on the bottle, spilling some down

his bare chest.
He wasn’t fine. He was smearing blood across the countertop.

And he’d appeared drunk before he started drinking like someone
had just broken his heart.

“I’ll call Vito.” I went for the cordless phone near the fridge.
Tony glanced at me with a remorseful expression. “I’m sorry,
Elena. Didn’t know it’d go that way. Honest.”
My heart squeezed. “I forgive you.”
He laughed weakly. “You shouldn’t.”
Tony usually had a smug look on his face, but when he smiled—a
real smile—it drifted away and he became pretty charming. This was
the brother I loved, even if I didn’t get to see him often. Sometimes it
felt like you needed to be the worst you could be to survive in this
world.
I didn’t know why he’d killed whoever Piero was, but I would
pretend it was self-defense. Tony had been thrown into this life as a
young man, and while my chains were tight, so were his in a sense.
“Can’t help it,” I replied.
He shook his head when I began dialing. “Don’t call Vito. I’m
fine.”
“You’re not fine. Tony, you really don’t look so good.” His tanned
complexion was sweaty and pale.
“I’m fine, Elena.”
I sighed. It was just like Papà to leave Tony bleeding without
calling for help. I hung the phone back on the hook because my
brother had said it in that voice. Even if Vito came, Tony wouldn’t
have anything to do with him. Too stubborn.
I crossed my arms and leaned against the counter with my hair
still dripping water to the floor. “Why don’t you like Nicolas?”
He snorted and took another drink. “Lots of reasons.”
“Well, what’s the number one?”
“He f*cked my girlfriend.”
My eyes widened. “Jenny?”
Another pull.
“Did she tell you?” I asked.

He shook his head. “He sent me a picture.”
Ouch.
“Are you sure it was her?”
“Butterfly. Lower back.”
“Oh . . . well, that was rude of him.”
Honestly, it was hard to feel sorry for Tony. He’d cheated on
Jenny with that servant Gabriella and I wouldn’t doubt others. I didn’t
take Nicolas as a man to sleep with other men’s girlfriends for the
hell of it, though, and I had a feeling . . . “What did you do to him?”
A not-so-nice smile tugged at Tony’s lips.
And there it was. There were always two sides to every story.
He took another pull, and with a frown I watched the blood drip
down the side of the island and collect into a small pool. Drinking
was only going to make him bleed more. I pushed off the counter
and pulled the bottle straight from his lips. Whiskey splashed down
his chin and chest.
His eyes narrowed, but his next words were slurred. “Jesus,
Elena.” He looked wasted, or really close to passing out.
I unwound the shirt from his hand and recoiled. “Oh my god! You
have to go to the hospital, Tony!”
A bullet-shaped hole went straight through his hand like the
barrel had been placed directly to it. I covered my mouth, the urge to
gag rising in my throat. As I backed up to find Benito, Tony passed
out. He fell sideways out of his chair, leaving a smear of red across
the counter, and landed with a heavy thunk on the kitchen floor.
Crap, crap, crap.
“Benito!” I yelled.
“Why are you shouting?” Adriana asked as she breezed into the
kitchen in galaxy leggings and a sports bra.
“Your fiancé shot Tony!”
“Dead?” She raised a brow, focused on picking the best apple out
of the bowl on the counter.
“Where’s Mamma?” I asked.
She shrugged, peeling the sticker off a green apple.
I sighed. Fine. If they want to play this game . . . I nudged open
the swinging door and shouted into the hallway, “I’m calling 911!”

On cue, Benito, Dominic, and my papà pushed their way into the
kitchen.

Papà narrowed his eyes on me, but then noticed his only son
lying on his back in a lot of red. He spoke quietly to Benito—he
always spoke quietly unless he was mad—and then my cousins
hauled Tony up, one under his arms and one by his ankles, and
carried him out of the kitchen.

“Not Vito,” I told my papà. “The hospital.”
“Yeah, yeah, Elena. They’re taking him,” he said dismissively, his
gaze coasting over the blood on the floor.
I eyed him, wondering if he was telling me the truth. My papà
never took any of us to the hospital without a fight.
He glanced at me, noting my suspicious gaze. “It’s just as good
as a hospital,” he snapped.
Ugh. I had no idea where they were taking my brother. Most likely
a doctor Papà had on his payroll.
“Hey, has anyone seen my drawing pencils?” Adriana interrupted.

“Behind every great fortune, there is a crime.”

—Lucky Luciano

I MIGHT NOT HAVE HAD a good reason to dislike Nicolas Russo in the

beginning, but after meeting him, after he shot too close to my head,
and after he put a bullet through my brother’s hand, I now had
substantial motive to immensely dislike him.

The whys of it all didn’t matter.
Tony had been gone all night. It wasn’t until I’d gotten back from
dance practice twenty minutes ago that I learned he was going to be
okay. He was given a 75 percent chance of having full function of his
hand again.
Apparently, Jenny had volunteered to move into his apartment
and help him out. My mamma told me this with a roll of her eyes.
She really didn’t like Jenny. And after hearing she’d cheated on Tony
with Nicolas, I wasn’t sure what to think about her either. Granted, I
would have dumped Tony years ago if I was her, but I didn’t
understand sticking around if you weren’t going to be faithful. It made
me believe she was only around for one thing.
I sat cross-legged on the couch, watching a documentary on
recent humanitarian crises, still dressed in my sweaty leggings and
an off-the-shoulder top. It was one of the hottest days of the summer
so far, and Benito had left the windows down the entire drive home.
He’d said the wind did great things for his hair, and so I never got to
cool off. I pressed a cold water bottle to my face.

The front door opened and my papà’s voice filled the foyer. A
rush of awareness ran from my nape down the length of my spine. I
realized Nicolas was here before I even heard his voice, deep and
indifferent. A strange dance began in my stomach.

Even though I stared at the TV, I had no idea what was
happening because I was hyperaware of every noise coming from
the foyer.

As their steps went by the living room’s double doors, a cell
phone rang.

“Take it,” Papà said. “I’ll be in my office.”
Since it was silent, I imagined a nod from Nicolas. My papà’s
footsteps drifted down the hall.
“Yeah?” Nicolas drawled. A couple of seconds passed before,
“Motherf*cker.”
I tensed. It sounded like he was going to kill someone, and his
steps were coming straight for me. Before I knew it, he reached over
my shoulder and stole my remote.
“Hey,” I protested.
He didn’t respond; he only changed the channel. Breaking News
flashed on the bottom half of the screen, and the blonde newscaster
went over the details of a large drug bust at the border.
Nicolas stood behind me, close enough my ponytail brushed his
stomach. His hands gripped the back of the couch on either side of
me as he leaned slightly over my head, his attention on the TV like I
wasn’t even here. It was invasive and rude.
My pulse drummed in my ears as my heart tripped up in what
could only be called anticipation. My body’s unwilling reaction
brought a rush of annoyance in. I didn’t like this man—heart fluttering
or not—and I suddenly didn’t care how inappropriate it would be to
talk back to him.
“Yours?” I asked smoothly. “Bummer.”
A tug on my ponytail. “Watch it.” His words were low and
distracted.
Warmth spilled into my chest, like I’d just gotten away with
playing with fire. I wanted to do it again. Was this how people
became addicts?
“There are seven other televisions in this house, Russo.”

Another tug on my ponytail, but this time he pulled it all the way
back so I was looking at him upside down. His eyes narrowed. “I’m
beginning to wonder if this Sweet Abelli even exists.”

I swallowed. “You shot my brother.”
Was his fist . . .? It was wrapping around my ponytail. Once.
Twice.
His gaze flicked to the TV. “He deserved worse.”
This man was going to watch the news with a fistful of my hair?
My God. Maybe it was due to my head being at an awkward angle
and my blood not circulating as well, but my brain wasn’t getting
enough oxygen. And the fact that he smelled so good, like clean
soap and man, made the corners of my vision hazy.
“You’re not a judge and jury,” I breathed.
His gaze came down to me. “He almost got you killed, yet you
stick up for him?”
“He’s my brother.”
His expression hardened. “He’s an idiot.”
My mamma’s voice filtered into the room from down the hall, and
slowly, he unwound his fist from my hair and took a step back.
A moment later, she entered the room.
“Nico, I didn’t know you were coming today.” Mamma’s tone was
tight. She didn’t like that he’d shot Tony either, but she must have
known it was coming and hid in her room all night. “Will you be
staying for lunch?”
“I’m sure he’s got plenty of stuff to do, Mam—”
“That sounds great, Celia.”
“Great.” Mamma sounded like she meant the opposite. I was so
glad to have her back on my side. “I’ll prepare a spot for you then.”
“Thank you.”
Her steps grew faint as she left the room.
“You know what pisses me off?” His tone was dark, but somehow
it only awoke a thrill beneath my skin.
I knew the answer to this question.
“Assuming?”
I focused on the TV, pretending not to care about what he was
doing, but my heart faltered when he moved close behind me. I held

my breath as he slowly set the remote back in my lap, and then right
at the hollow behind my ear, he whispered, “Smart girl.”

A shiver ran down my neck, but then he left with a parting word.
“Don’t f*cking do it again.”

The sun burned hot and heavy. I imagined if I lay on the brick patio, I
would be as well-done as my steak.

“Really, Celia,” Nonna complained. “It’s hotter than blue blazes
out here and I can still see a bloodstain on the patio.”

I’d changed into high-waisted shorts and a short top that bared a
sliver of my midriff, and a drop of sweat still ran down my back.

“Some fresh air is good for you,” Mamma replied.
“So is edible food,” Nonna muttered, pushing shrimp around with
her fork like they were still alive.
I kept my eyes on my plate as I ate, mostly because Nicolas sat
directly across from me. He wore no jacket, and he’d rolled up his
white dress shirt. I was right. Black ink started at his wrist and
disappeared into his shirt. It wasn’t often I’d met men with tattoos—at
least, not ones so obvious. The only thing I could make out was the
ace of spades tattooed on the inside of his forearm. I guessed he
accepted the nickname “Ace,” which I’d heard he was called. I might
have read a few articles on him myself.
He sat next to Adriana, and they both seemed like they’d always
done it. She’d even given him a look because his leg was touching
hers. It was strange to imagine them as a couple, yet I’d seen them
exchange words, which I’d believed would be a difficult feat in itself. I
thought Mr. Rabbit had even been brought up. I’d assumed they
wouldn’t be good for each other at all, but I was beginning to wonder
if I’d been wrong all along.

Papà and Mamma were discussing something between
themselves and Nonna was picking at her food, when Adriana
suddenly said, “It’s called manspreading.”

Nicolas’s gaze flicked to my sister. “What?”
“Manspreading. How you’re sitting.”
He didn’t respond, only sat back, rested his arm behind Adriana’s
chair, and then, like he was merely getting comfortable, stretched his
legs out a little further.
My sister’s expression hardened.
All right, maybe I spoke too soon about them working well
together.
“You know, Nico,” Nonna started, “I don’t blame you at all for
shooting Tony. He’s had it a long time coming and his papà hasn’t
done a thing.” Papà grunted, apparently now listening to the
conversation. “That boy has shot four of my vases. Don’t know what
I’d do if he ruined another.” She sounded like it was the most
grievous thing Tony had ever done.
“Glad to hear it,” Nicolas drawled.
Mamma shot her a dark look, and my nonna smiled triumphantly
at her plate. These two were all I needed to see to know I would
never live with my mother-in-law.
I chewed my lip, hesitating. I’d been waiting for the right moment
to ask Papà something and now seemed like the best time. He was
always easier persuaded around other people, most likely because
he didn’t want to come off as a controlling jerk.
I’d hardly left the house for anything but dance in six months.
Surely he couldn’t punish me forever?
“Papà,” I started, “one of the dancers is having a pool party on
Sunday in celebration of the Summer Recital. And I was wondering if
I could go . . . ?”
“Which girl is this?” he asked.
I shifted under his eagle-eye stare. “Well, actually . . . his name is
Tyler.”
Nonna harrumphed. “Since when are you into beta males,
Elena?”
I shot her a look for giving Papà the wrong idea.
She pursed her lips and focused on poking at her food.

The table went quiet while he gave it some thought. I swallowed
as Nicolas’s gaze warmed the side of my face.

Papà took a drink and set his glass down. “I want the address
and the owner’s information. And you’ll take Benito.”

I let out a small breath. Was I being forgiven? Guilt pierced
through my chest because I knew I didn’t deserve it. “Thanks, Papà.”

“I’m going inside before I melt,” Nonna said, getting to her feet.
“This was the worst day to eat outside, Celia. Don’t know what you
were thinking.”

“We don’t break our captains. We kill them.”

—Vincent Gigante

“MERCY.” MAMMA GRIMACED, AS I’D just explained the plot of her

book club novel. “I don’t even feel bad for not reading that one.”
She hadn’t read a single one of them—I had.
“Okay, I have to go,” she said, putting a heel on with one hand

and an earring in with the other. “Your papà and Benito are out, but
Dominic is in the basem*nt. Oh, and help your sister pick out her
cake flavor. Tua zia Liza needs to know today. Please, Elena!”

I sighed and climbed off my parents’ bed.
“Leaving!” Mamma’s voice drifted out of the room.
I heard a faint “Finally” from my nonna as she passed the
doorway with her servant Gabriella in tow. She’d gone on her
afternoon walk, or, more likely, sat on the patio for five minutes of
fresh air while gossiping.
A couple of moments later, I pushed the kitchen door open.
Adriana sat cross-legged on the counter with two plates of cake
before her. Her elbows rested on her knees and her fists were under
her chin, while only wearing her yellow polka-dot bikini.
“What are the flavors?” I asked, coming to stand before the
island. The sun was the only light in the room, casting the
windowpane reflection across the counter.
“Pink Champagne and Luscious Lemon.” She said it like the
options were really Tasty Garbage and Rotten Apricot. She was

going to drag this out for as long as she could. Asking my sister to
make a decision was like requesting her to write out the equation for
time travel.

I tried both by scooping some up with my fingers. “Definitely the
lemon,” I said, opening the cupboard for a glass.

I didn’t normally have dance practice on Tuesdays, but with the
recital coming up we’d had it every day. My thighs burned as I stood
on my tiptoes to get a cup from the top shelf. Benito and my other
male cousins were all taller, yet they always took the glasses from
the bottom shelf just to annoy the girls in the family.

“I was leaning toward Pink Champagne,” Adriana groaned.
“Then Pink Champagne it is,” I said as I filled my glass from the
fridge water dispenser.
She shook her head. “No, now it doesn’t seem right.”
“The lemon, then.”
“That one doesn’t seem right either.”
I sighed. My sister could drive a saint to curse. I leaned against
the fridge and eyed her over my glass. “Why are you in your
swimsuit?”
“Was on my way to the pool, but Mamma stopped me and said I
can’t leave the kitchen until I decide.”
After a moment of thought, a smile pulled on my lips. “Mamma
left.”
Adriana’s gaze, warm and hopeful, popped up from the plates.
An hour later, with the cake flavor still undecided, Don’t Stop
Believin’ played on the pool radio. The sun was hot, sparkling off the
blue water as my head emerged from beneath. The cool liquid ran
down my shoulders as I waded to my sister, who wore sunglasses
and lay still on a floaty. She was a diva in the pool. In other words:
boring. I tipped her.
She came up sputtering, pulling her sunglasses off and pushing
the dark hair from her face. “I don’t know why you can’t just let me
. . .” she trailed off.
The pool sat at the side of the house, allowing a view to the front
gates. My gaze followed hers to see a lawn care truck coming down
the drive. Oh no. Before I could say a word, she pulled herself out of
the pool.

“Adriana, don’t,” I warned. My stomach twisted. I wasn’t sure how
she’d seen Ryan this long without Papà finding out. She’d falsified
her class schedule, putting an extra time slot down that she could
spend with him, but seeing him at the house was too risky.

She turned to me, her gaze soft and pleading. “I just want to talk
to him.”

“And say what? That you’re still getting married in three weeks?”
“And whose fault is that?” she snapped.
Ouch.
She was never abrupt with me like this. We might not have talked
much lately—because what would we talk about? Her wedding?—
but she’d never been hostile with me.
“I haven’t done anything you haven’t done,” I told her.
“I know. I just need to talk to him. You would want to talk to—”
she glanced toward the ring on my finger under the water, “—him if
you could, wouldn’t you?”
Would I? I didn’t know. Maybe that was the reason guilt felt like a
heavy weight I carried around daily. It’d all been meaningless. It
wasn’t even for love. And I was the only one who’d gotten out alive.
“The cameras,” I warned her. There was a security system
downstairs that Dominic only had to glance at to see what was going
on outside the home. I took a deep breath and tried to ignore the
unease that swam in my veins. “The living room. Talk to him in there
so you can see if anyone comes down the drive.”
The gardener came on Tuesdays and Fridays for lawn care and
to clean the pool, so the truck wouldn’t raise Dominic’s suspicion.
Let’s just hope my cousin was immersed in Skyrim like he usually
was and wouldn’t show his face upstairs. Thankfully, Benito wasn’t
here; he had a sharper eye.
My gaze found Ryan, who stood next to his truck, looking in our
direction. He wasn’t even wearing his lawn care t-shirt, but a button-
up and jeans. I groaned. What the hell is he thinking?
Adriana beamed. “Thank you, Elena!”
Then she was running toward him.
As I lay on my back, arms out, the sun warmed my front while the
cool water licked at my sides. My eyes closed. I wondered what it
would be like living here without my sister. How long I would coast

through the halls until I got the same fate as her. I wondered if my
papà would let me take classes this upcoming semester, though I
was sure I’d blown that for myself.

I’d been pulled from all writing and political classes six months
ago. I was free from a job, all responsibilities if I wanted, but even as
the water held me up, slowly turned me in a circle, I might as well be
drowning. Drowning in a past mistake I could never fix, but one I
could try to make amends for. One I would amend, in the only way I
could.

The quiet purr of an engine broke through my thoughts.
My eyes flew open.
Swimming toward the side, I grasped the edge of the pool and
watched a shiny black car park next to Ryan’s truck. I didn’t know
who it belonged to, but soon enough the door opened and the worst
person who could show up stepped out.
A cold sweat drifted through me. Disaster loomed in the distance.
More blood. Young, lifeless eyes. No. It wasn’t going to happen
again.
I pulled myself out of the pool and headed toward the front of the
house, ignoring the itch to go in the opposite direction. Nicolas held a
manila envelope in one hand and shut the car door with his other. My
skin buzzed with a cool sensation, and my bare feet paused at the
end of the walkway.
I stood there in a white bikini, soaking wet, while my heart beat a
mile a minute.
When his gaze finally came up to me, he stopped in his tracks.
We stared at each other. He was only wearing black dress pants and
a white short-sleeve shirt. I swallowed. It felt like he was more
underdressed than me. Black ink covered one arm, while the other
was smooth tanned muscle. Warmth rushed to the pit of my stomach
and spread through me like fire.
My breathing shallowed as his gaze trailed the drips of water
running down my body. Each drop that hit the concrete was another
match lit in the short space between us. His attention settled on my
face, his gaze narrowing.
“Is this how you welcome all your guests?”

I blinked at his rude tone. I couldn’t exactly say I’d ever stood
half-naked in front of an unrelated man and had him angry with me
for it.

“Some.” I tried for nonchalance, but it sounded more breathless
than anything.

He gave his head a shake, letting out a small breath of
amusem*nt. He wasn’t amused at all, though, that much was clear
by the way a muscle in his jaw ticked. It wasn’t often I was an
irritation, and I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not.

When he headed for the front door, ice crept through me. I took a
step forward. “Nicolas, wait.”

He stopped, glancing at me sideways.
“Papà isn’t here,” I rushed out.
“Aware,” was all he said while heading for the door again.
My stomach dipped.
Without thinking about it—because I would’ve chickened out—I
hurried and stepped in front of him. He stopped short and glared at
me.
My heartbeat wavered like a plucked string. Without my heels on,
his presence was larger, more intimidating. “You can’t go in. It’s not
. . . proper without my papà home.” There wasn’t a chance my father
had invited this man over while he was away. How did he even get
past the community gates? But I already knew Nicolas did what he
wanted regardless of rules, and my papà must have realized that
before the marriage contract was signed.
His gaze sparked. “You have a second to move before I do it for
you.”
“Be my guest. You’ll get all wet.”
Somehow, I thought that was a great comeback, but it only made
us both aware I was half-naked and soaked. The breeze grew hotter,
the air denser.
His jaw tightened as he took a step forward. I didn’t move. His
white shirt almost brushed my white bikini top. My breasts tingled in
anticipation and drops of water tickled as they dripped down my
midsection. His body heat was a living thing, sinking into my skin and
urging me to step closer, to press my body against his.

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