What I #AmReading this week! - @BeckyFlade #FatedHearts @jandsmatt #TheWhiteLily
I've got some romantic suspense on my TBR list this week. Both are ARCs from some fabulous authors and I can't wait to dig in. I've been too sick these last couple of weeks to do much of anything, let alone read. I'm looking forward to these novels. Especially The White Lily as I really enjoyed the first in the series, The White Carnation.

Find on Goodreads
Preorder on Amazon

The Harvester is out there … watching, waiting, biding his time.

FBI cult specialist Lilith Munroe lives in dread that one day the man who tortured her when a case went bad will find her again. So leaving her sanctuary in Quantico to join the Harvester Task Force in Boston is her version of hell. But the Harvester is kidnapping babies, and Lilith’s profiling skills may mean the difference between life and death for the most innocent in society.

Australian millionaire and former member of the New Horizon commune Jacob Andrews returns to the United States searching for his sister. Instead of the happy reunion he expects, he discovers she is dead and his twin brother may be responsible. He agrees to lend his law enforcement skills to help find his former cult leader before the man can implement his plan to kill millions.

Now uneasy partners, Jacob and Lilith must learn to trust each other even as they fight their growing attraction. But when Lilith’s greatest fears materialize, will Jacob be able to set aside his anger and save the woman he loves?

Find on Goodreads
Buy on Amazon

Psychiatrist Henley Elliott fled her quiet life in Cleveland for a gypsy lifestyle, trying to stay one step ahead of her painful memories. When she breaks down in quirky little Trappers' Cove, Minnesota, she meets Sheriff Carter McAlister - a man healing from his own share of hidden heartbreaks.
At the request of a friend, Carter offers Henley a job to help her get back on her feet . . . but soon he can't resist trying to sweep the intriguing woman off them. Breaking through her carefully built shell proves to be a near-impossible task, and to make matters worse, a dangerous new presence in the Cove seems to be targeting Henley. They must learn to trust in each other in order to keep her safe.
Can Henley and Carter leave their secrets and scars in the past to get a second chance at happily ever after?
Sensuality Level: Behind Closed Doors
Signup for Reckless & Ruined's Cover Reveal and Blog Tour is open and TEASERS!
The cover reveal for Reckless & Ruined (The Chicago War, 2) is scheduled for Oct. 16th and the tour runs from release on Nov. 9th to the 20th. Indie Sage was so awesome with the last tour that I had to have them again, so they're the host working with me on this novel's promo. 

You can find the signups for the Reckless events here at Indie Sage's website

I have had a few people ask about ARC copies for Reckless. These will be available for signups around the mid-October time. The signup will be posted in the usual spots (Twitter, here, Facebook, Goodreads) so look for those. 


Filthy Marcellos - Antony & Dante are now on Kindle Unlimited!
My final two novels are now in the Kindle Unlimited subscription program! I had to wait until the contracts with other vendors expired before I could add the final Filthy books, but they're in there now. 

Hugs and happy reading! 


Find Dante here
Find Antony here
New Release: Fated Hearts by @BeckyFlade #Romance @Crimson_Romance
 Fated Hearts
by Becky Flade

Psychiatrist Henley Elliott fled her quiet life in Cleveland for a gypsy lifestyle, trying to stay one step ahead of her painful memories. When she breaks down in quirky little Trappers' Cove, Minnesota, she meets Sheriff Carter McAlister - a man healing from his own share of hidden heartbreaks.

At the request of a friend, Carter offers Henley a job to help her get back on her feet . . . but soon he can't resist trying to sweep the intriguing woman off them. Breaking through her carefully built shell proves to be a near-impossible task, and to make matters worse, a dangerous new presence in the Cove seems to be targeting Henley. They must learn to trust in each other in order to keep her safe.

Can Henley and Carter leave their secrets and scars in the past to get a second chance at happily ever after?

Fated Hearts

About the Author:
Home is where the heart is and I make mine with my very own knight in slightly tarnished armor in southeastern Pennsylvania. When I’m not busy living my own happily ever after, I’m writing about someone else’s.

Contact Details:

Enjoy the following excerpt from Fated Hearts:

“What are we doing, Carter?”
 “Enjoying our evening.”
“You know what I mean.” She shifted her body and lifted her hand as if to touch his face. He tensed in anticipation. She skimmed her fingertips over his jaw, his cheek, featherlight touches that left a trail of fire across his skin. “I think I’m getting used to your touch. To … how you feel.”
“That’s a good thing.”
“Are you going to kiss me again?”
“Would you like me to?” He saw her nod this time and recognized the banked passion in her hooded gaze. He lowered his mouth to hers but pulled back before their lips met. “How much of what you’re feeling is you and how much me? I don’t want to influence you.”
“It’s both. And it astounds me.”
His muscles clenched with desire. He hadn’t intended to seduce her or himself tonight. He had only wanted her to become more comfortable with his company and his touch. They needed to build trust, and he’d wanted to lay that foundation. With a level of restraint he hadn’t thought he possessed he laid his forehead against hers.

“How about you kiss me, Doc?”

Fated Hearts

What I've written ... this might hurt a little #BeHonest #GetReal
I wrote a hero that used substances and was in the midst of a relationship with addiction - it was immature.
I wrote a mob boss that had feelings - I should be ashamed of myself.
I wrote a hero who trusted the wrong people - he's loyal to no one.
I wrote a heroine who was in a forced abusive relationship while being intimate with another man - she's weak and a whore.
I wrote a heroine that was stubborn and heartbroken - she's a whiny brat.
I wrote a heroine who was strong-willed and didn't need a man - she's too strong, too much woman.
I wrote characters who had an instant connection upon meeting - that's lazy writing.
I wrote a couple that weren't visibly emotional people - they had no real love for one another at all.
I've used plots I don't understand.
I've used other people's plots.
I've written heroes who are pussies.
I've written heroines who are TSTL (too stupid to live).
My sex scenes aren't hot.
I should write more heroines like my other heroine.
I should write more like so-and-so.


As I go over the list above, I actually know this is just a small piece of the criticism I've received for my novels (the whole backlist, not just one title in particular). There are probably harsher pieces I could have used, but these ones stick with me the most for my own reasons.

None are verbatim, as far as that goes, because I didn't write this post to shame reviewers. Reviewers have a right to their opinions. Of course, I might not agree with their opinions and their reviews might hurt me, but once they buy the book and read, I no longer have a say. Their thoughts/feelings/words about my novels are their own. The way I write a character or a plot may be meant to be understood one way, while they take it another.

Again, I don't get a say.

I wrote this post for other authors. The authors I've talked to who ask how I deal with negative or harsh feedback; the ones who questioned how I can work for months on something only to see someone leave nothing but hate for it.

You know, my babies.


I have babies, three boys to be exact. My books aren't my babies even if it feels like they are sometimes. Believe me, there is an entirely different reaction I have when I get a bad review to when I see one of my children being put down or hurt. Once I put a novel out into the world, it's kind of like kicking a grown adult child out of your house. One that's maybe lived off you for too long without paying rent or whatever. They're either going to sink or swim. The world is either going to meet a nice, polite person or a jerk that could use a good smack in the back of the head.

Sometimes that reflects on you and sometimes it doesn't, depending on the situation. Try to keep that in mind the next time a bad review pops up for one of your novels. If you need a place to rant because you feel so unjustly done over a review, then find a safe person/place to do that. I think, no matter how thick an author's skin, they still need to talk their feelings out sometimes.

Because we are humans. We're not machines.

And that's perfectly okay.

So how do I deal with things like the list above? If, and that's a big if because I don't actively seek out negative reviews of my work, I find something that makes my hackles rattle, I find a safe place, safe people, who I trust. I talk to them, they reassure me I'm in the right profession and that I wrote my characters/plots exactly how those characters/plots wanted to be written. I wrote something I enjoyed personally. I wrote things that reflected my own personal experiences and helped me to heal. I'm a good writer--a damn good author.

I don't have to please everyone.

That's an impossible task.

Don't attempt it.


Because by my own admission, everyone can take or read something differently, I feel this bears repeating. Please note, this post is not intended to offend or shame. If you feel like it was directed at you in particular for whatever reason in a negative way, then please read the post again before commenting. If you still feel you need to address me personally for something directly relating to this post, you can contact me. If all else fails, please remember this is my little slice of home on the interwebz and I just invited you in. 
Two more Filthy Marcellos Outtakes released! - Lucian
Here are the next four Filthy Marcellos outtakes to be released. They are the final outtakes for Giovanni and Lucian. I have two more outtakes planned for Dante and possibly one more for Antony, but right now, I'm fighting off the cold from hell and it's making writing anything very, very difficult. 

As always, all formats are available. If you need me to email these to you for whatever reason, I can do that, simply comment with your email and format choice. 

Do enjoy. 



TINY MARKS (Outtake, Lucian)

WAITING GAME (Extended Scene/Outtake, Lucian)

Blurb Reveal and Release Date Announcement for Reckless & Ruined!
I'm sharing the blurb for Reckless & Ruined (The Chicago War, #2) today.
Official Release Date is November 9th, 2015.
Enjoy. :D

Cover Reveal is coming very, very soon! Read on for the blurb.


Play dirty. It’s the only way to win in a war.  

Alessa Trentini follows the rules, or so it seems on the outside. A certain Conti has always been able to sway her inner rebel and keep her out of trouble, but even Adriano won’t be able to get her out of her brother’s mess. In a war, no woman is safe if her hand in marriage can advance her family in the world of the mafia. But mistakes of the past have a way of slipping into the present and Alessa will soon learn that even the most shameful of secrets can get her everything she wants.

Adriano Conti’s loyalties are torn as he’s forced to stand at his father’s side while Riley uses his wife’s murder as a way to get higher. Blood comes first and then the Outfit. The one thing he doesn’t question in the war between the families is Alessa Trentini and even that doesn’t seem possible when he’s forced to watch Alessa be used as another man’s pawn. Adriano has his own role to play to get what he wants.   

The families in the Outfit have never been more divided than they are now. Blood continues to spill as revenge takes center stage and more lives are lost. But every man in the family is fighting for something different and no one’s intentions can be trusted. Playing a dirty game might be the only way to stay alive.

Even if that means ruining it all. 
Filthy Marcellos: Giovanni Outtakes!
Two more outtakes have been released for the Filthy Marcellos series. These two are the last outtakes that will be posted for Giovanni, so read and enjoy. Famous Last Words is a light-hearted, funny piece about Gio, Andino and the rest of the crew. Skip is a more serious piece about Gio and the man he got his namesake from and how that all .. came to an end at one point. 

As always, all formats are available and thanks for reading! 



#Playlist and Musical Inspiration - Deathless & Divided
I hope you enjoy the songs that helped me to find the inspiration to write Deathless. 24 Frames is a particular favorite, being directed toward the relationship Lily has with her brothers, but most importantly, Dino. 

So listen and enjoy. 


Deathless & Divided is now in Paperback!

Deathless & Divided is now in Paperback! You can purchase your copy at Amazon or the Createspace store. It will be available on Barnes & Noble soon!

Author Elodie Parkes talks Surprising the Alpha #paranormal #romance
Thank you for inviting me to your lovely blog today to talk about my new release with Siren Publishing, ‘Surprising the Alpha’, an erotic, paranormal romance.

The town is dying after a new highway takes its previous through traffic and custom away from shops, cafes, the bars and tourist attractions. The Venn wolf-shifter pack and alpha, Joshua Venn, are suffering. They’ve lived happily in the town as humans and like it, but now they’re threatened with slinking back to a woodland den with their tails between their legs.
One day Dani Cruz and her brother Jason hit town. They’re entrepreneurs whose business is urban regeneration and they intend to save this town. Only one person resents their arrival, alpha wolf-shifter Joshua. Will his determination to be the only one who saves his pack drive the town to ruin? Or will something happen that changes his life forever?
Joshua Venn is looking for answers. It’s one hot summer and someone hides a secret.
This alpha is in for more than one surprise.

About the story:
Surprising the Alpha was originally written for an anthology, but then ultimately developed into a full-length story, and the first in ‘The Venn Pack in Love’ series.
Joshua Venn is particularly dear to me as a character. He’s sexy, an alpha, but vulnerable, and as he falls in love with Dani Cruz, the heroine, he has to accept he’s not the big bad alpha he hoped to be.
We get a glimpse of the whole Venn pack and meet the character who features in the second Venn Pack story, an erotic paranormal suspense, ‘Wolf Bond’.
I wanted this wolf-shifter pack to be different and have none of the sometimes hackneyed
wolf-lore found in this type of story. The series has a third story already in the pipeline and each story features one of the pack, in love, of course. (Smiles)

Read an excerpt:
Her feminine perfume surrounded him. Her heartbeat echoed in his ears. Her golden-green eyes flashed as she spoke. Her long hair flicked around her shoulders and swept the tops of her pretty arms as she spoke. Her mouth enticed him. The way her bottom lip stuck out as she stared up at him bravely sent lust speeding through him. Hardly knowing what he was doing, he grabbed her face and sank his mouth on hers. The second he kissed her every muscle in his tightly strung body relaxed.
Soft lips parted under his. Her delicate hands slipped across his chest to hold him tight.
He floated in sensation. His cock hardened deliciously. With a low growl, he let her go and stepped away, shocked not only at his needs, but also at her passionate response.
With a soft sound, Dani followed to be close to him again. “What did you think of my offer to you?”
Joshua’s hackles rose. He pushed her away, saw her unbalance, and caught her. He crushed her to his body.
She molded to him and tilted her face to his.
Joshua gazed into her eyes and saw desire, pure sexual need. His mind emptied of everything but the softness of her ass cupped in his hand. He rammed his erection against her, a low growl escaping before he kissed her so hard she whimpered. Joshua tore her shirt off, sucking her neck hungrily.

Copyright Elodie Parkes 2015 Siren Publishing August 11, 2015 release on Siren September on other eBook sites.
Surprising the Alpha is on special price until August 18 only. Buy now from Siren and get the file that suits your e-Reader

About Elodie:
Elodie Parkes writes romance, erotic, contemporary, and often with a twist of mystery, paranormal, fantasy, or suspense. Her books are always steamy. Her tag is, “Cool stories: Hot love scenes.”
Elodie currently lives in rural Canterbury with her two dogs. She works in an antique shop by day and writes at night, loving the cloak of silent darkness that descends on the rural countryside around her home.
Elodie only ever wears boots (yes, even in summer). She has three bachelor degrees because she couldn’t make up her mind what she wanted to do, and even then, she got two Grad Dips in different subjects, naughty Elodie. Elodie loves: music (her nickname at work is Melody Elodie because she’s often singing), the countryside, animals, gorgeous men, technology, art, garter belts and stockings, and potatoes—in any order.

Musical Inspiration #highbythebeach #LanaDelRey
Filthy Marcellos Outtakes, Free Reads & Extended Scenes
I released four Outtakes/Extended Scenes/Free reads for the Marcello lovers last week. And now I'm sharing them here on the blog, too. There's one for each brother and one for their father. Wonder who killed Kate? You'll find that out. Wonder what happened when Jordyn met her father again after all those years? You'll fine out. Why Gio only had one child, that's there too. :D And of course, Dante going kind of crazy when he catches Cat doing business during her pregnancy after he forbid her from doing so. 

Do enjoy the outtakes. Unless you have the dropbox app installed, you probably won;t be able to download them from your phone. You can get them off a computer. All formats are there for you to choose from. 

Will there be more? 

Yes, I'm planning on it. 


Hugs and love to everyone!


NEW WALLS (Lucian Outtake)

WINNING (Dante Outtake)

ONE AND DONE (Giovanni Outtake)

KILLING (Antony Extended Scene)
Deathless & Divided is LIVE!!! #Mafia #Romance - "Good men do bad things."


Yay! I'm so excited (and a little nervous) to put this book out into the world. It's an entirely different look of the mafia than what I have given before. Gone are the days of family being strong together and loyalty being everything. These people are underhanded, sneaky as shit, and not looking for any redemption for their actions. 

I hope you enjoy this new series! For anyone who is curious, the cover was designed by the wonderful Jay Aheer. She's amazing and she provided me with something unique and awesome. 

I give you my hugs and my love. Read below for the Prologue and Chapter One. :D 


Lies and love. This is how a war starts. 

A life for a life. That’s the mafia way. Damian Rossi owes his life to a man who is ready to collect. That payment comes in the form of an arranged marriage to the daughter of another leading family in the Chicago Outfit. He’s ready to follow through, even if that means making sure Lily knows she’s his. 

Lily DeLuca isn’t being given a choice. Forced home to marry a man she doesn’t know and back into a life she’d rather forget, her world is full of half-truths, buried pain, and uncertainty. But Damian is nothing like she expects. His motives aren’t clear. Her beliefs are being tested. 

When it comes to this world, no man can be trusted. Someone is ready to flip the Chicago Outfit on its side all for the promise of something better. But no one runs a clean game and these men play for keeps. When blood begins to paint Chicago red, four families will be divided by loyalty, hatred, and revenge. There is no hiding. There is no safety. 

No one is deathless. 
No one.



Lily DeLuca felt like stone as she stared at the two-storey yellow home from where she sat across the road on the sidewalk. Immovable and cold. Someone must have resided in the house—new people—because it used to be a pale blue. A sidewalk of colorful stones now led up to the walkway of the front entrance as well. 
Time changed everything.
Everything but Lily.
Well, she knew she was different, of course. Older. A woman now and not a child anymore. She knew homes didn’t keep dreams and love protected and safe within their four walls, but instead, only gave the semblance of those things. She was no longer naive and stupid to the things and people around her.
No one was deathless in their world.
Even the innocents couldn’t be saved.
Blowing out a puff of air, Lily tilted her head up again and blinked at the home. She swore she could still hear her older brothers’ encouragement and hollering as she finally learned to ride her bike without training wheels. At four-years-old, they got her stuck in a tree in the backyard the first time they taught her how to climb it. She kicked her oldest brother Dino in the balls just after her fifth birthday in the front driveway when he let her spider out of its jar.
Dino and Theo DeLuca always let her tag along back then. They never acted like she was some annoying little sister out to ruin their fun.
Lily glanced down the quiet street, wondering if anyone recognized her. Melrose Park had long been home to a large American Italian community as well as the Chicago Outfit. A lot of people in the area probably knew who she was, but if they didn’t, they would surely recognize her name.
Maybe she shouldn’t have come here at all.
“Miss,” the cab driver called, chomping loudly on his wad of gum. “You almost done or what?”
“Is the meter still running?” Lily asked back, not even bothering to look at the man parked beside where she sat.
“Is my credit card still good?”
Lily shrugged. “Then no, I’m not done.”
“Whatever, kid,” the guy muttered.
The cell phone in Lily’s pocket rang for the fifth time since she left Dino’s place a couple of hours earlier. Dino had gave the damn thing to her and took the one she had away, saying something about burner phones.
Lily figured that was just one more way for Dino to keep an eye on her.
She ignored the call.
The two-storey house, however, couldn’t be ignored at all.
An ache stabbed in Lily’s chest, spreading outward. It only continued to grow in intensity. The longer she stared and thought about the day her so-called family took away what that house was supposed to mean and murdered the dreams it held, the more she hurt.
Oh, she hurt all over.
“Time to stop running, Lily.”
The words Dino spoke to Lily when he ordered her to leave Europe and travel back to the States plagued her mind.
He was right.
She ran.
Lily still wanted to. Coming back to Chicago felt like a death sentence.
What did this place want from her?
God knew she didn’t have much left to give.
She could finally start college, maybe, but she didn’t even know what she wanted to study. Her brothers owned a dozen and one different businesses around Chicago to keep her busy working, but how long would that keep her interested?
She couldn’t be just Lily DeLuca in Chicago, Illinois. She couldn’t be just anyone here. Not a tourist or a traveler, not a pretty face in a crowd of people. No, she was Lily fucking DeLuca; the daughter of a turncoat, dead father and mother; a sister to rival Capos in the Chicago Mob. And while she didn’t want to think about it, her age made her a prime target for the Outfit to look at her for other reasons, too.
Christ, she should have fought Dino harder.
How long would it take before the Outfit took something else away from Lily that she loved?
“What is this place, anyway?” the cab driver called out the driver’s window. “S’not anything special to look at, girl.”
To him, it wouldn’t be.
To Lily …
It didn’t even matter.
She pushed up from the sidewalk, brushing off the legs of her skinny jeans.
“Nothing,” Lily said. “It’s nothing.”


The weight of a debt could crush a man. It was one of those things a person knew always followed close behind. It never really left, even if it seemed like it was gone.
Damian Rossi lived for a decade waiting to finally pay for the debt he owed. Dino DeLuca never once mentioned when Damian would be required to step up and answer for the dues he owed, but it still hung there … waiting like the anvil ready to fall.
“Come on over. It’s time to talk about paying up, Damian.”
Eleven words had never felt quite as heavy as those did.
For Damian, life was dominated by the mafia. Or rather, The Chicago Outfit. Being only twenty-seven-years-old meant Damian answered to everyone else before he ever got to give himself what he wanted. It didn’t matter that he had finally received his button—his in to the family—a little over a year ago. Nobody cared that Damian was just as made as they were in the Outfit. No, because he was still a fucking young gun to them.
If an older Capo needed an extra pair of hands and called on him, Damian had to go. If the boss wanted something from him, regardless of how seemingly unimportant it was, Damian needed to find it. It didn’t matter if he was running on four hours of sleep in three days, Damian didn’t get to make his own choices when it came to the Outfit.
The Outfit made those goddamn choices for him.
Most times, Damian didn’t mind. He chose the life, and he was good at it. But he also didn’t know anything different. After his mother and father died in an automobile accident when he was five, the only thing he had left was the Outfit and the people inside who raised him when his drunk aunt and uncle couldn’t.
“You owe me, D.”
Debts never went away in the mafia. They could disappear for a short time but someone always came back to collect, eventually. Damian supposed it was just his time to pay up. He didn’t exactly like that Dino hadn’t given him much of a reason why now was the time or how he could pay it back, but it just was.
That was how it worked.
Dino DeLuca’s home rested on a large estate of thirty well-protected acres outside of the city limits. After he’d been let in through the gate and parked his car, Damian pulled out a cigarette and lit up. He still had twenty-minutes before he needed to meet the Capo, after all.
“It’s windy for such a nice day.”
The voice came from the line of trees to Damian’s left. He turned on his heel in just enough time to see Dino emerge. The man swung a set of keys around his index finger and held a manila file with his other.
“Shit, make some noise, Dino.”
Dino chuckled. The sound surprised Damian considering Dino was serious in all things—business, family, and life. Lightheartedness and nonsense wasn’t in his game. Damian supposed he could understand that. He’d never been one for whims and fantasy, either.
“Aren’t you supposed to be the ghost?” Dino asked, his teeth flashing as he grinned.
“Wish they’d forget that name.”
“You earned it, D.”
Damian shrugged. “Whatever. That doesn’t mean I like it.”
Growing up without his parents meant Damian spent a lot of time under the feet of others. He’d been a small, scrawny kid. Instantly forgettable. The only thing that made living in his aunt and uncle’s house bearable was his cousins; Tommas, Lea, and Cara. Not that they had it any better. Laurent and Serena Rossi hadn’t been made to have kids. The four kids spent more time moving from family to family than they spent actually living with their guardians.
Yeah, easily overlooked.
A little ghost.
Damian ended up being raised by several people instead of the ones delegated to the task. When he should have been focusing on school, he’d been shoved knee-deep into the mafia and that lifestyle. Looking back on it all, he knew the reality was simple. He’d been groomed for the life. Numbed to violence and business. Accepting of the expectations and rules of their family and ways. He liked it, though.
Damian supposed that worked out well for him. Being forgettable as a kid ended up carrying over to his adulthood and his career in the Outfit. Not every man was cut out to be a killer. No one ever saw him coming. They didn’t get the chance to see him leave. Rarely was he suspected when a body showed up. He simply took the call, did the job, and moved on. No questions ever got asked.
“Figured you would be inside filling your face with food,” Damian said.
Dino eyed his large home. “Enjoying the outside while I can.”
“Trial is coming up, right?”
“A little over two months,” Dino said under his breath.
Getting in some kind of trouble was unavoidable when it came to the mafia. Dino refused to take a deal on the racketeering, laundering, and fraud charges that had been plaguing him for a couple of years. He wouldn’t plead guilty, either. The man had a damn good lawyer though, but everybody knew what he was looking at.
Twenty years max when totaled up.
Damian knew the bastards wanted the maximum and were going for it, too.
“Do you ever wonder why I liked you so damned much way back when you were a kid?” Dino asked.
Damian laughed. “No.”
“Life hasn’t treated either one of us very fairly, I suppose. I probably saw a lot of me in you when you were just a punk-ass kid following us around.”
“You’re not that much older than me.”
“Five years.”
“What is your point, Dino?”
“You never sat around waiting for your pity party, D. When your parents died, you got shuffled around from place to place. When my parents died, we had to pretend like they didn’t even exist. You just accepted the hand dealt to you; we were forced to. So, I guess I liked that about you and the fact we had a common loss helped, too. Made me sympathetic, if anything. Rarely does someone get that from me. Hell, even Theo doesn’t get a goddamn Christmas card from me anymore. You got an invite to the dinner table.”
Damian hid his surprise with a cough. Dino rarely spoke of his siblings. Even when Dino and his younger brother Theo needed to spend time in the same room together, the rival Capos acted like strangers instead of brothers. A five-year age gap separated the two men. Dino’s sister, on the other hand, had been MIA from the DeLuca family for a few years.
If Damian thought about it hard enough, he was pretty sure he could remember a blonde-haired, brown-eyed girl following Dino and Theo around way back when. Apparently, the majority of the girl’s teen years were spent at a private boarding school. Dino didn’t talk much about her. An even bigger age gap separated them, as far as Damian understood.
“Lily is your sister’s name, right?” Damian asked.
Dino cocked a brow. “Why?”
“It is. She’s twenty-one, almost twenty-two. Her birthday is coming right up.  She spent the last three years after she graduated gallivanting across Europe. Backpacking, mostly.”
“Kept out of trouble?”
“Yes, which I appreciate. Well, as far as I know. Lily isn’t … fond of me. She checked in once a month. It was my only demand.”
Damian was beginning to feel like this conversation might turn into some kind of therapy session. Nobody wanted that shit.
“What did you need me for today, anyway?”
Dino smirked, but it faded fast. “I wasn’t the only one who took a liking to you, was I?”
Damian didn’t know what the hell his friend was getting at. “Pardon?”
The Outfit’s boss.
“I do okay with him, if that’s what you’re dancing around,” Damian replied.
“Just okay. Right, Damian.”
“You don’t even realize it, do you?”
Obviously not.
Damian was too tired to play word games. “I do what the boss wants, Dino.”
“Christ, Damian. If you spent the same amount of time paying attention to your surroundings as you do working to blend in, you would have it made.”
“It’s not killed me yet,” Damian said, grinning.
“Good thing.” Dino shoved his hands in his pockets. “Joel’s never gonna make it as boss, not under Terrance’s watch.”
“He’s his grandson. It would make sense for Joel to take over when it’s time.”
“So? Like I said, Terrance knows better. A good boss is partly made, but mostly born, Damian. Joel doesn’t have it. Terrance knows it. Hell, the Outfit knows it. What nobody really knows, is who will take it.” Dino barked out a laugh, adding, “Well, I think I know who Terrance is looking at for it.”
“Yeah, I’m looking at him.”
Damian turned to ice in the June air. “You’re fuckin’ kidding me.”
“That’s not even funny, Dino. I’ve never wanted that or even suggested that I did.”
“I’m aware,” his friend murmured.
“So what the hell?”
“I didn’t say you did want it, Damian. That knack of yours, being invisible, wouldn’t work very well if you’re the boss.”
“Exactly,” Damian said. “And I like being able to come and go as I please.”
“But you don’t, not really.”
Damian didn’t challenge Dino on that because he knew it was true.
“Terrance has never mentioned anything of the sort to me,” Damian said, wanting to get Dino’s mind away from that.
Whatever plans the Capo was scheming up, Damian didn’t want to be a part of them. If someone got wind of that shit, he’d be six-feet under in a makeshift grave before he even got the chance to apologize for anything.
Damian liked being alive.
“He wouldn’t. You’re still young to him, but he’s looking at you. He’s watching you, D. Because to him, you’ve got it. You fucking listen instead of running off at the goddamn mouth. You follow the rules, take his calls, and do what he asks. Haven’t you wondered why you don’t have a crew of your own, yet?”
Damian avoided Dino’s heady gaze. “Sometimes.”
“Because you’re too busy with him. Why would he give you more than you’ve already got with everybody else and the boss put together? That would mean you would have less time for his bullshit. And he likes having you close. How many times do the guys call you for the boss, anyway?”
“A few.”
times a day, Damian held back from adding.
“You know what I heard Ben say to Riley when he called for the boss the other day?” Dino asked.
Ben DeLuca was Dino’s older uncle and the right-hand man to Terrance. Damian didn’t particularly like the guy, but he gave him the respect he was owed.
“What did Ben say?” Damian asked.
Dino nodded at Damian. “Said the guy might as well call you on whatever it was first.”
Damian shifted on his feet, uncomfortable. “So?”
“So, Ben is Terrance’s main guy—always has been. The underboss, that’s important. Like how Riley is important as the front boss on the streets and to the feds. Terrance takes Ben and Riley to the Commission meetings, runs shit past them for a second and third voice, and all that other good nonsense.”
“Why do I hear a but in there?”
“But … he kind of does that with you, too, huh?”
“I haven’t noticed,” Damian said quietly.
“I think you have. You went along with them to the last Commission, didn’t you?”
“How was that?” Dino asked.
Interesting and enlightening.
Damian had done passing business with the major families in New York, including the biggest and dominating Marcello clan, but that was his first time seeing them all together. He supposed he now understood why the families talked about the Marcellos like they were untouchable. They kind of were. Damian held a great deal of respect for the Marcello family. After all, it was better to know who your biggest rival was and admire their ability to be a challenge at all.
“Figured out Terrance isn’t fond of the Marcellos,” Damian said.
Dino shrugged like that didn’t make a difference. “We’re big time in Chicago. They’re big time in New York. Keeping the peace is better than starting a war with another family. Terrance knows that. Nonetheless, he invited you along. You’re the first person he’s done that for aside from Ben and Riley, of course.”
“It would make sense for Ben and Riley to go, Dino. Underboss and front boss, man.”
“But not you.”
“There were other lower associates at the meeting for the bosses.”
“Capos, likely,” Dino said. “Probably men who had a stake with one of the other families. Something to gain for their bosses. You, on the other hand, went there to learn. Terrance just didn’t tell you.”
Damian swallowed hard, feeling an invisible weight bearing down on his shoulders like never before. “I don’t want to be a boss.”
That was not one of his life goals. Being a boss meant constantly being watched. From officials, from your own men, and from the public. It never fucking ended. It also meant being one huge target for anyone that had eyes for your position. Damian liked being invisible when he wanted.
He liked being him, for fuck’s sake.
“Not even ten, fifteen years from now?” Dino asked.
“Funny, Ben thinks you’re up to taking on the role, Damian. I wonder what gave him that impression.”
“Not me.”
“He doesn’t like it at all,” Dino added like it was an afterthought.
Well, that really caught Damian’s attention.
“Ben?” Damian asked.
Dino nodded once. “That’s what I said. Seems my uncle thinks you’re too independent for the job—you’ve got your own mind, you know.”
“A man with his own mind is a problem for him?”
“It is when he can’t manipulate the boss,” Dino said, chuckling. “God knows he’s tried for years to manipulate Terrance to his bidding and sometimes, he has succeeded. Most times, Terrance already has his decisions cemented before Ben DeLuca even gets thought about. Ben could be a boss if given the chance, but he prefers to sit on the sidelines and have others do the work, not actually be front and center doing it himself. That’s a problem.”
“Good bosses do their own work.”
“Ben just likes to manipulate,” Dino said, sighing. “Getting it, yet?”
Damian wished he wasn’t, but reality was starting to sink in, and fast. When a man was headed to somewhere another man didn’t want him to be in the mafia hierarchy, the best way to fix that situation was by ending the problem.
“Ben is going to come after me,” Damian said.
Dino’s quiet, cold stare didn’t waver as he replied, “It’s a good possibility. He only needs a reason to explain the hit away to Terrance. Something that would justify it in Terrance’s mind. Ben did it to my parents; you’re not even family to him.”
Damian wasn’t hearing Dino, not really.
“Because Terrance likes me.”
“Shitty world we live in when being liked gets you killed, huh?” Dino asked, humor coloring his tone.
Damian found nothing about this funny. Mostly, it bothered the fuck out of him. He wasn’t frightened of Ben, as far as that went, but it was something he’d have to deal with in one way or another. That wouldn’t be particularly easy considering Terrance held a fondness for old DeLuca.
There was also the little matter of Dino. The guy was Ben’s nephew, but he was giving Damian a major heads-up about his uncle’s possible plans. Dino had no reason to be doing that unless he was looking for something, or rather, wanting something from Damian.
Somebody always fucking wanted something.
“But what Ben wants with you isn’t important. He’s not on that path quite yet.” Dino sucked in a deep breath, glancing up at the cloudy sky. “I’ve had enough fresh air for the day. Let’s go inside and get some coffee.”
“We’re done talking about it? Just like that?”
“Oh, no. There’s a lot more left to discuss yet, Damian.”
Yeah, Damian figured that.
* * *
 “Drink,” Dino ordered.
Damian tossed back the remainder of his coffee, still as silent and stoic as he’d been an hour ago when he entered Dino’s home. Dino sat across from Damian behind his large desk, drinking his own coffee. By the smell wafting from the drink, Dino had doused it with a good shot or two of whiskey.
“Why tell me?” Damian asked.
“About my uncle?”
What else was there?
Dino shrugged. “I’ve got to get things in order around here before I can’t anymore.”
“Twenty years isn’t that long, Dino.”
“In a cell with bars for windows, cement walls for art, and God knows who for a bunkmate? It’s Hell.”
 True enough.
“And I’m not planning on making it that far,” Dino said lower.
Damian passed a look Dino’s way. “I beg your pardon?”
Dino waved it off. “Nothing.”
“You still didn’t answer my question about why, man.”
“No, I suppose I didn’t.” Dino placed his cup to the desk before tapping one finger on the manila file he had with him earlier when Damian first arrived. “Family is important to me. Despite what the Outfit tries to project about la famiglia and all that bullshit, it means little to me. Because that’s all it is—bullshit. Every man in the Outfit is in it for him and he always has been. We’re greedy, we’re excessive, and we know it. Everybody is jealous of somebody else, Damian. You’re lucky you don’t give a damn enough to notice.”
Dino smirked, shaking his head as he added, “It wouldn’t take much at all for the Outfit to crumble in around itself, not with the way its run and all. My father, back when he was still alive, used to say the Outfit was better when they ran it with the old school rules.”
“Cosa Nostra rules, you mean.”
“Sure. Men didn’t steal from one another. Honor was held to a higher standard. Making money wasn’t the only important thing.”
Dino had a point. Even Damian had to admit the Outfit’s main focus was money, making it, and who had the most of it. But wasn’t that the mafia way?
“You can’t call something a family if we’re all enemies making nice at a dinner table,” Dino said.
Damian laughed. “Sounds exactly like my family.”
“Mine, too, as awful as that is. We put on a good show, of course, but we barely manage that.” Dino slid the file closer to Damian before he rested back in his chair and picked the cup again for another long swig. “Open it.”
Plucking the file off the desk, Damian flipped over the top and came face-to-face with the picture of a beautiful young blonde with brown eyes and a teasing smile. Underneath the picture rested papers filled with information on the smiling, carefree girl. Damian felt like he was intruding on the life of a woman he didn’t know, so instead of going through the rest of the documents, his attention was taken back to the picture on the top of the pile. The small photograph had been printed on what looked to be a postcard. Flipping it over, Damian read the words written in a messy scrawl on the back.
Wales, England.
The beer could be better. I’m loving the accents, though.
Checking in a different way this time.
Miss you, D.
Damian took note of the full date written in the left hand corner under Lily’s name.
“Pretty, isn’t she?” Dino asked.
The question seemed innocent enough.
It rarely ever was where Dino was concerned.
“Sure,” Damian admitted.
Lily was beautiful. Wide, clear brown eyes with flecks of green and gold in her irises. Pretty pink lips curved high with her genuine happiness. Her blonde hair, waved and long, framed her features.
Damian looked away from the picture.
“She looks like our mother. Especially in that one there. Like nothing in the world could ever hurt her as long as she smiled back. I always remember that first about my mother. I’m glad Lily was able to carry it on even if she doesn’t talk much to me anymore.”
“Was this when she first started backpacking?” Damian asked.
“A couple of months into it,” Dino answered. “That is the only full-frontal picture I have of her that could be considered even remotely recent. She sent a few more after that one, but someone else was always in the picture and you couldn’t see all of her features. I wanted you to see who she was. She doesn’t look all that different, really, but I didn’t think asking her if I could take a picture after I forced her home would do me much good. She’s pissed off enough as it is.”
Wait, what?
“You asked Lily to come home?”
“Demanded, actually,” Dino replied. “Then, when she refused, I threatened to send someone after her. She chose not to challenge me, thankfully. I wanted her to make the choice.”
Damian snorted. “Doesn’t sound like much of a choice, Dino.”
“Lily’s twenty-one. I’ve let her have her fun. She’s gone and done all the exploring and learning she felt she needed to do before life came around to kick her in the ass and settle her down. I didn’t hold her back. At first, she’d call me once a week and send me a postcard whenever she hit a new place. I figured her doing the traveling thing, learning how to live off what she made by working small jobs and the goodness of other people was a good life lesson. Something to better her.”
Damian didn’t see anything wrong with Dino’s reasoning. “I get that.”
Hell, he would have killed to do something like that. Instead, he’d only left the state of Illinois a handful of times and always for business.
“It was more than Theo and I ever got,” Dino said, a hint of bitterness twisting his words dark. “Ben made sure my brother and I knew exactly what we were headed for. The Outfit was our destiny—in our blood, don’t you know?”
Damian wasn’t sure how to respond to that, so he stayed quiet.
Dino didn’t seem to mind. “My father wanted out. Did you know that?”
“No. I thought he was forced into working with the officials, not that he wanted to.”
“Yeah, he wanted out and he tried. Worked with the officials on the low for a while, recorded some things for them with a wire, and got caught in the process. Ben found out my father was working with the FBI and took both my parents out. Anyway,” Dino muttered, rapping his fingers to the desk. “I never could figure out why Ben killed my mother, but the older I got, the more sense it made. She would have taken us kids and ran, I bet. Ben couldn’t have that.”
“He doesn’t have any of his own, yeah?”
“None. Good thing, because he’d probably sell off every daughter his wife gave him and manipulate his sons right into a grave.” Dino made a dismissive sound under his breath, but it felt laced with something Damian couldn’t understand. “Look at how well he’s separated my brother and me. We let him do it, too, not even realizing it.”
Damian was learning a lot of things he hadn’t known before. “It might not be too late to fix that, Dino.”
“Trust me, those bridges are good and burned. Nonetheless, I was old enough to be the one who looked out for my sister. Ben always tried stepping in at times. He wanted her in schools he picked; I let her choose her own. He wanted her back in Chicago the moment she graduated; I let her go on to do whatever the hell she wanted.”
That didn’t sound like a bad thing, necessarily.
“I had to keep my distance, though,” Dino continued, rubbing at his forehead. “Ben’s a nasty fucker when he wants to be. I let him believe my choices with Lily were about controlling my family how I saw fit. That, when I was ready, I would bring my sister home and do what he deemed appropriate for a girl of her status and name.”
“Which is what?”
“Marry her off to get her and us higher,” Dino said.
Damian wished he could be surprised. It wouldn’t be the first time the daughter of a made man was forced into a marriage she didn’t want because of her family’s ambitions.
“If Ben thought for one second I was letting her live the life she wanted because he took away everything else she had, my sister would have buried me, too,” Dino said. “When it comes to us DeLuca siblings, Theo’s the only smart one because he did everything Ben wanted and didn’t question it. I did, too, but I always had some underlying goal.”
It wasn’t like Dino to be open about his personal shit, but Damian was getting it from the man in the tenfold tonight.
“So?” Damian asked.
“Lily was the only one of us three with her head stuck in the clouds. I just yanked her back down to earth recently. Keep that in mind when you meet her.”
“Meet her?”
Dino grinned a wicked sight. “You owe me.”
Damian froze in the chair. For the majority of a decade, the non-monetary debt Damian owed Dino DeLuca hung over his head, ready to fall at any moment. As a younger man, Damian had been rash and reckless. He’d made more than one bad decision. A particularly stupid one where he took the life of a made man in the Outfit could have cost Damian his life.
Dino stepped in, gave an excuse to the boss, took the blame for the death, and then proceeded to make Damian an understudy of sorts. Mistakes like Damian had made were enough to put a man six feet under. It had, essentially, been Damian’s first real in to the Trentini crime family. Being close to Dino put Damian straight in Terrance Trentini’s path and got him noticed.
It also meant Damian was indebted to Dino for saving his life, even if that meant years of waiting to finally give his dues.
“You owe me,” Dino repeated as if he knew exactly what Damian was thinking.
“What do you expect me to do?”
Dino pointed at the folder. “Lily.”
“Lily,” Damian echoed, more uncertain than ever.
“I liked something about you back then, Damian. Time to pay up.”
Dino smiled a cold sight. “I have to protect what is important to me, Damian. My sister and my brother, they’re important. Theo will do okay, no matter what. He’s fucking resilient like that—as long as he keeps his heart out of the game. Lily though, she’s not the same. She’s too stubborn for her own good and I don’t want to think about somebody taking that from her. When I’m not here, somebody else needs to be watching over her. And it can’t be Ben DeLuca.”
Christ. Dino made prison sound like a death sentence.
Maybe it was to the man. Damian didn’t know.
“And I come into this how?” Damian asked.
“You’re going to marry my sister.”
Damian’s thought process dropped off the radar.
Surely he was too tired and hadn’t heard Dino correctly.
Damian’s jaw fell slack. “What?”
“A life for a life, D. That’s how it works in this life. Besides, this’ll work out to your favor, too. We both know you’re a happy little fucker in your spot doing what you do, Damian. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“I don’t understand,” Damian muttered.
Well, he got the marriage deal.
Yeah, he fucking got that shit.
Dino just smiled. “Like I said, you’re going to marry my sister. Sounds pretty simple to me.”