Filthy Marcellos: The Complete Collection - Cover and Blurb Reveal!
Last week I shared the cover and blurb for the Legacy prequel, but today ... I'm sharing the cover and the very short blurb for Filthy Marcellos: The Complete Collection. 

As of now, this is scheduled to release in February, 2016. 

It will include Antony, Lucian, Giovanni, Dante, and the Legacy prequel. 

Enjoy the pretties! 


BLURB: 

Filthy Marcellos: La Cosa Nostra is not just a choice of regime and routine, it’s a culture. Born as mafia royalty, the Marcello brothers were raised ingrained with the beliefs and rules of what it meant to be a Mafioso prince. It is for life. Their status is considered a given right. They will always be these people. They will always be Marcellos. 

Family first. God second. 

From bosses and sons, to husbands and lovers. Made men, fathers, and killers. Life is a chess board in Cosa Nostra and these men are the kings. 

You can't be a Marcello if you're not filthy.  


The Complete Collection features the short novel Antony, and the three full length novels Lucian, Giovanni, and Dante. It also includes the 20k prequel to the Legacy series, featuring the Filthy Marcellos next generation. 

Her Christmas Hero by Susanne Matthews @Jandsmatt #Review #ComingSoon


Bethany-Kris's Review of Her Christmas Hero
****Five "Lee" Stars****


Laurie Wilson is a widow and the mother to four children. The only good thing her deceased husband ever did for her was finally die. But that also left her to struggle to support her four children alone. She struggles and budgets, but more often than not, things come up that leave her strapped for cash and trying to find another way out. When Christmas rolls around and her previous landlord steals a check from her, leaving Laurie without money to buy groceries or presents for her children, her boss and unknowing on her part, her Christmas hero steps in to save the day. 

Laurie is the kind of heroine that your heart aches for. She's a victim of domestic abuse, but she's doing absolutely everything she can to give her children a better, happier, and healthier life. Sometimes it often feels like the world is just conspiring against her in every way, and each time she turns around, something new is jumping in to knock her back down. 

Ms. Matthews does an amazing job at not only making you feel for this heroine, but making you cheer her on so that she can finally get her feet on solid ground. 

Leland, Laurie's boss and the brother to her friend from high school, is the kind of hero I want to see more of. He did something to help Laurie just to simply do it. He didn't do it to get her closer, and he didn't even tell her that he had been the one to do it. Not for attention, but rather, simply to be a good guy. 

More heroes need to be like Leland. 

This is a very short tale, about 7500 words in total, but it's well worth the read. It ends off at a sort of cliffhanger point, but I didn't mind. In fact, I look forward to getting my hands on the second part to this sweet Christmas tale. 

Thank you, Susanne, for a light, fun read!







Her Christmas Hero 
by Susanne Matthews
Genre: Romance, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short story
Releases: Nov. 30th, 2015


BLURB:



Windowed mother of four Laurie Wilson, all set to make Christmas special for her children this year, gets a shock when a check that was supposed to have been destroyed is cashed , leaving her in a financial lurch just days before Christmas.

Leland Ostler packed his heart in ice years ago and goes through the Christmas season paying lip-service to the holiday. Running into one of his employees, the girl who fascinated him in high school, may change that. Will discovering Laurie’s plight be enough to allow the true meaning of Christmas and love into his life once more?


Except:
“I have to go over to Caswell’s and pick up the tablets I ordered for the kids. Since the price was so good, they’ll sell like hot cakes, and Mrs. C. promised to set four aside as long as I got in there before five today.”
“That was nice of her. You’re such a good mommy,” Cassie said. “Don’t forget to grab a sandwich or something while you’re out. You’re losing weight again. The one thing those kids of yours don’t need is a sick mother.”
“You’re preaching to the choir. I’ll be fine. Christmas this year is important. It has to be the best one ever, and you know it.”
“Frank was a jerk. I won’t speak ill of the dead, but those kids are better off without a father like that, and a man who beats on his wife, don’t even get me started.”
“He wasn’t always like that,” Laurie said, falling back into her abused wife persona and defending the man. She shook her head. No. Months of counseling had taught her not to make excuses for him. “Be nice; without Frank, I wouldn’t have those kids, and I can’t imagine life without them.”
“Fine. The sperm donor did do something right, even if it was for the wrong reasons since all he wanted to do was keep you under his thumb, but I’ll never forgive the man for treating you and those angels that way. Dying was the best thing he ever did for you guys. You’d better get going. You’ve only got an hour. I’ll cover for you if you’re a few minutes late.”
“Thanks, Cassie. You’re the best.”
Laurie hurried to the closet, took out her cornflower blue coat, slipped it on, tying the hot pink scarf around her neck, and jamming the matching cap down on her head. She rushed down the hall as quickly as the heels on her boots would allow and turned the corner, running right into a solid wall of muscle and fine wool.
“Whoa, there. Where’s the fire?” he asked, holding her upright.
“Sorry, sir,” she said, avoiding eye contact with the man a good six inches taller than her own five-foot eight inch frame. He let go of her arms where the skin burned beneath his touch even through the three layers that separated the flesh. She bent down and grabbed her purse, noting the strap had broken. Damn. Something else that would need to be replaced. Why was it she constantly ran out of money before she ran out of things to spend the money on?
She nodded and mumbled a second apology, escaping into the elevator as soon as the doors opened, making sure to keep her eyes averted. Of all the people to run into: Leland Ostler, the firm’s CEO, and Mrs. Colter, his administrative assistant. No doubt the woman would be clock watching until Laurie was behind her desk once more.
Moving as swiftly as she could along the slush- covered sidewalk, Laurie kept her head down watching for icy spots that could end up in an embarrassing spill. Cassie was right, it was much worse out here than she’d imagined. The possibility school would be over earlier than expected worried her. Mike had a key, but a ten-year-old wasn’t an adequate babysitter for his nine, eight, and six-year-old siblings. It was only for a couple of hours, but who knew how many things could go wrong in that short time period? Marcia, the neighbor’s teenage daughter, usually went into the house and stayed with the children until Laurie got home, but the teen had finished school last week and gone south with her family.
Stop borrowing trouble. It’s Christmas. The sleet will stop. Think positive.
Turning the corner, careful not to run into anyone else, she stepped into the electronics shop. The place was deserted.
“Hi,” she said, walking up to the counter, and forcing the teenaged clerk to set aside her magazine. “I’m Laurie Wilson. I have four tablets to pick up.”
Buying the android tablets for the kids was an extravagant purchase, but most of their friends had electronic toys and computers. She’d love to get them each a laptop, knowing Michael would need something better than the dinosaur PC she had at home, but this was the best she could do.
The girl returned to the counter with the four boxes in her arms. “You’re lucky you came in when you did. These have been flying off the shelves. That’ll be $695.79,” she said, keying the amount into the cash register.
Laurie slipped her bank debit card into the machine and followed the instructions.
Transaction denied.


BUY LINKS: 


Bio and social media links:

Susanne Matthews lives in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada. A dreamer, her stories and novels, whether contemporary romance, suspense, historical, or sci-fi, always lead to a happily ever after. She loves the ins and outs of romance, and the complex journey it takes to get from the first word to the last period of a tale. As she writes, her characters take on a life of their own, leading her and her readers on intricate and rewarding journeys. 

Follow Susanne on her:

Website    Blog    Facebook    Twitter …. Amazon author    and    Goodreads author
Wednesday Quote
Source: Facebook
Original Source: Unknown


A #Teaser of Filthy Marcellos: Legacy #ComingSoon
Since I talked about the Legacy series prequel last week, and I will be sharing the Filthy Marcellos Collection blurb and cover next week, I thought it only fair if I share a teaser of the prequel.

So, are we ready to meet some of the next generation Marcellos?

Yes?

Yes! 

Enjoy ...

--Kris


***

“I thought I recognized that face.”
Catherine’s head popped up from her textbook as she withdrew the fork from her mouth. With a mouth full of pasta and wide eyes, she looked in the direction of the familiar voice. Dark, wild hair, broad shoulders, a cocky as fuck smirk, and a lean form waltzed toward Catherine’s direction with a stride that oozed confidence.
Christ.
Cross Donati was sex, sin, and hell on two legs. He was arrogant when he wanted to be, difficult on his good days, and sexy as fuck all the times in between.
Catherine wondered why in the hell Cross was anywhere near a Marcello business. While their families were friendly in the world of Cosa Nostra, territory was still territory. Cross had his own family and territory to be on.
This was not it.
“Catherine,” Cross said, his smirk melting into a sensual smile.
She forced the mouthful of food down her throat just so she could take a breath and speak.
“Cross. What are you doing here?”
Cross shrugged, pulled out the chair across from Catherine, and sat down in a fluid motion. He radiated sexuality and coolness with every movement. “Business, bella. Nothing unusual.”
Beautiful.
Catherine ignored the shiver crawling down her spine.
“It’s always unusual when Cosa Nostra families mingle.”
“And what do you know about that, hmm?”
“I know enough. I was never an idiot, Cross.”
“No, that you were not.”
His assertive posture and easy smile reminded her of what he’d been like back in high school and college as the king of the baseball field and the alpha everywhere else. He was a year older than her, but way back when, the two had been close … So close that he’d been Catherine’s first for a lot of things.
“How have you been, Catherine?” Cross asked.
She didn’t have a proper answer for him.
His question felt laced with a great deal that he hadn’t actually said. Like time was catching up to them with just a few words. Her first kiss was Cross. Her first time with a man was Cross. He’d given her five crazy years full of more memories than she cared to count. Her first love was Cross.
If she had a checklist handy of things she had done so far in her life, Cross’s name would own every mark.
Being good together wasn’t always enough. When they were good, they were so good. But when they were bad, they were downright awful. Sometimes, they spend more time breaking up through high school and into her first year of college than they did being together. Young, stupid love wasn’t enough for it to work.  
Catherine went her way. Cross went his.
Simple as that.

Right? 
What I #amreading this week!
I have an early copy of Susanne Matthews Christmas tale, Her Christmas Hero. I always love whatever Susanne writes, so I'm sure this short Christmas tale will be no different. I need some kind of sweet, happy read to get me ready for Christmas, anyway.

Info about Her Christmas Hero:

Length: Short story
Genre: Holiday, Romance, Contemporary
Releasing: Nov. 30th

Blurb:

Windowed mother of four Laurie Wilson, all set to make Christmas special for her children this year, gets a shock when a check that was supposed to have been destroyed is cashed , leaving her in a financial lurch just days before Christmas.


Leland Ostler packed his heart in ice years ago and goes through the Christmas season paying lip-service to the holiday. Running into one of his employees, the girl who fascinated him in high school, may change that. Will discovering Laurie’s plight be enough to allow the true meaning of Christmas and love into his life once more?



You Can Leave Your Boots On by Irene Preston #Romance #NewRelease
You Can Leave Your Boots On
By Irene Preston
Liberal Meets Conservative in the Heart of Texas

Release Date: Nov. 10, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-9968099-0-0


Blurb

In the heart of Texas...

Liberal Austinite Travis Boyd recycles, shops local, and is partner in a successful green-building company. After his last disastrous relationship, he'll never again date a man who's not out. A little discretion while working for ultra-conservative clients in west Texas is hardly the same as being in the closet. Anyway, the only person he's interested in being indiscreet with is the client's macho son. Not happening, Trav.

Bo Vargas is a cowboy-boot-wearing, meat-eating, truck-driving ode to masculinity. He's not gay. The men he picks up on business trips are just anonymous diversions. Travis isn't anonymous. And there's something about him that makes Bo want to expand his relationship options. Maybe.

When a popular dating app sends Bo and Travis on the same blind date, the night explodes in passion. One night isn't a problem. But what will each man be willing to risk the morning after?


Add to GoodReads

Blurb & Cover Reveal for Filthy Marcellos: Legacy! (Filthy Marcellos, 4)
Before the Filthy Marcellos: The Complete Collection releases in February (cover reveal and blurb is coming soon), Filthy Marcellos: Legacy will release first!

Filthy Marcellos: Legacy is A Legacy Prequel that is a companion to the Filthy Marcellos series, which is why it is being labelled as Filthy Marcellos, Book 4. It's a 20k novella that features four scenes from the next generation of Marcellos, Johnathan, Catherine, Andino, and Lucia.

Is this a typical romance/mafia like the Filthy Marcellos? Not really. It's more of an organized crime/coming of age situation. Each scene gives you a look at who these people are, who their love interest is or will be, and how their stories may shape up. It is not, however, intended to be a full story with a happily ever after and all.

It is a PREQUEL to that.

The Legacy series is tentatively scheduled to be released late 2016, early 2017. A lot has to happen in this "world" and in other series, like the War, and also a standalone I have yet to write, before the Legacy series can be written.

So .... enjoy.

--Kris


BLURB:

filth·y  (fĭl′thē)

adj. filth·i·er, filth·i·est
1. Covered or smeared with filth; disgustingly dirty.
2. Obscene or offensive.
3. Vile; dirty. 

adv. filth·y
1. To an extreme and often disgusting extent. 


Newly released from prison after serving a three-year term, Johnathan Marcello just wants to get his head straight, but he's the only one who believes he can do it. 

Stepping into her mother's shoes is the very last thing on Catherine Marcello's mind, but it's already too late and she's got her own games to play. 

The spotlight wasn't in Andino Marcello's plan, but the Capo might not be given a choice when Cosa Nostra starts looking for la famiglia's next boss. 

Being the baby of the family and a good girl is all Lucia Marcello knows, but a little freedom and space could give her the chance to shed those masks. 


In the Marcellos, being filthy isn't a birthright, it's earned. A new generation is ready to take their thrones, but it's not that simple. 

This family is a legacy and this generation might just be the filthiest yet.

***
PLEASE NOTE: Filthy Marcellos: Legacy is a COMPANION piece to the Marcellos series. It is NOT intended to be a standalone in the series. It is not intended to be a full length story with a formal HEA, but a PREQUEL to a new series featuring the involved characters. 
Announcing the winners of Reckless & Ruined's release week Giveaway!
Congratulations to the winners of Reckless & Ruined's rafflecopter giveaway!

Congrats to:

Betul Erikci from the Netherlands who won the paperback,
and Julia Lis from the US who won the swag!

You have been contacted!

Keep an eye out for another giveaway soon.

Hugs and love,

--Kris


Blurb Reveal for Scarless & Sacred - The Chicago War, 3 #ComingSoon
I'm so excited to share the blurb for Scarless!

I promised that I would share it shortly after Reckless's release, and I'm following through on that. I hope this little taste of Scarless gets you ramped up for Theo and Evelina's book.

Hugs and love,

--Kris


BLURB:


Secrets and wars leave the deepest scars.

Evelina Conti has always worn a mask. She is an Outfit principessa, respected and adored. She wasn’t allowed to be anything else. Her father went from a grieving husband to the Outfit boss, and now that Riley heads the family, Eve is more suffocated than ever. No matter how much she hates it, the Conti princess still has a role to play. A little attention from Theo DeLuca seems innocent enough, but nothing is when it comes to him. And certainly not when everyone believes that Theo is out to kill her.

Theo DeLuca has a target on his back. His biggest problem is figuring out who put it there when everyone is aiming at him. He doesn’t need a woman causing him issues, but the Conti princess keeps showing up at the worst times, and he’s the one left saving her. Between the men surrounding him that Theo can’t trust, and the past he can’t outrun, Evelina might be the one thing he doesn’t have to question. But when Riley decides to use Eve as his next move, even Theo might not be able to save her.

The war in Chicago is not even close to being over. This game is deadly. Each hand played cuts another mark into someone else. The Outfit boss is struggling while the men around him are rallying. As the body count continues to rise, the families keep losing.


Sacrifices are a part of war. No one will walk away from this without scars.

***
PLEASE NOTE: Scarless & Sacred is not intended to be read as a standalone in this series. It is the third book in the series and should be read after the first two books. Trigger Warning: Scarless features graphic violence and scenes of past abuse. 
She's Got It All by @JewelQuinlan #Romance #NewRelease
ipadlt_823x978

She’s living her dream, not knowing she’s stolen someone else’s…

For Kayla Cross, getting a job as a DJ at legendary club Grace in Ibiza is a dream come true. It’s what she has worked for her entire life. Even if she had to do it behind her parents’ back, like a dirty secret—then and now. She left everything behind in order to give it her all, and she finds it’s going to take far more than the level of confidence she has in order to pull it off.

Lex Granger thought the job was his. But it wasn’t. And not getting the DJ job means another season of bartending, and watching longingly as others play on stage. When his boss orders him to make Kayla feel at home, he almost rebels. But his need to pay bills wins over his emotions. He resents his competition but can’t help being affected by her sunny disposition, talent, and long, lean form. Walking the line between admiration and envy can be agony...

Now available for just 0.99!
Or add it to your shelf on Goodreads

Enjoy this excerpt from She's Got It All:

Kayla had seamlessly taken control of the sound system a few minutes ago and the stuff she had been playing was good, better than the typical pre-recorded shit. But what caught his attention now was the sound of her voice. She was singing into the mic on her headset. Not lyrics but a beautiful stream of notes that seemed to flutter from her gut up to her vocal cords in a lilting sound that was captivating.

The notes she sang rose and fell, exotic and mysterious with the intriguing underlying beat. Her voice called, it drew…and soon women rose from their seats to the small dance area to move and sway with the music, and the men followed them. The same people who had been oblivious of the music a moment before as they’d smoked and talked were now giving their full attention to Kayla.

It wasn’t just the music that mesmerized them; it was Kayla herself. She was a vision. Her blonde hair gleamed under the lights, and her shoulders and hips writhed in a sexy dance, and all the while she continued to turn knobs and flip switches to make the music she sang to. She was absorbed in it and having a great time. Sometimes her hair flicked when she gyrated, as if in punctuation to her movements. Combined with the sound of her voice, she was like a beacon—the song of an angel caressing and drawing everyone in. It was like nothing he’d ever heard before.

Hola!” said a man in an aggressive tone, waving a one hundred Euro bill. “Can we get ten shots of Patrón?”

“Of course. Right away, friend.” Lex focused back in on his job.

It was awhile before he could come back up for air. But when he did, he noticed that the space was packed with bodies dancing to the music Kayla played. And, although she was keeping it mellow as instructed, it was the biggest crowd he’d ever seen on the terrace during the day. Security continuously went through, trying to keep key paths clear.

Hands holding cell phones were up in the air, outstretched toward her, as they took pictures and videos. Through it all, she wore the brightest smile he’d ever seen, occasionally lifting one hand to press the earphones closer. She changed the tempo to a faster beat and the crowd responded with cheers. She bounced up and down in joy, hand waving above her head with exhilaration, and the people lifted and pumped their fists in mimicry.
She was every bit as good as any DJ they’d had before and more. She was the embodiment of everything he thought he would have experienced and felt had it been him on the stage. Somehow, she caught him watching, and gave him a cheery wave. Embarrassed, he waved awkwardly back, and then pulled his eyes back down to the bar. And, even though he could acknowledge that Rick had been right, that she was good, he couldn’t help feeling the tiny nugget of palpable distaste lodged deep in his chest.


cropped-banner.jpg

About the author, Jewel Quinlan:

Restless by nature, Jewel Quinlan is an avid traveler and has visited 16 countries so far. Lover of ice cream, beer and red wine she tries to stay fit when she’s not typing madly on her computer concocting another tale. In her spare time she likes to do yoga, hike, learn German and play with her spoiled Chihuahua; Penny. It is Penny’s mission in life to keep Jewel from the keyboard. But, with the help of dog-chew-making-companies, Jewel has been able to distract her canine companion and continues to get thousands of words on the page for your enjoyment.

For more information about Jewel Quinlan
Or subscribe to Jewel’s newsletter if you just want to get the most important updates
Teaser of Scarless & Sacred! #Mafia #Romance - The Chicago War, 3
For Reckless's release week, I figured sharing a teaser of the next book in the series was a nice way to tease you all of what's going to happen and how it's just about ready to blow up in a big way in this War.

Everybody thinks Theo is rash and brash, and a little too careless for his own good.

They don't really know him all that well.

Enjoy!

--Kris


***


“There’s a difference between grief and anger,” Damian said.
Theo leaned back in his chair. “Oh?”
“Yes, but it’s a very fine line.”
“So I’m learning.”
“Have you learned yet that they often walk hand in hand?”
Theo chuckled dryly. “What are you, the resident therapist, Ghost?”
Damian smirked. “No, just your brother-in-law.”
It was automatic. Theo couldn’t stop it. He flinched at the word brother, but Damian didn’t say a thing. Theo wanted to get the hell of his topic and fast.
“How’s the Rossi crew coming?”
“Tedious,” Damian replied.
That was life as a Capo.
Damian had finally gotten a crew to control when his cousin Tommas stepped up as the front boss for the operation. With nobody else knowledgeable enough to run the Rossi side of things in the Outfit as a proper Capo, Damian was the first nomination to get the seat.
“And as much as I thought I might like being a Capo, I don’t,” Damian said, shrugging. “Someone always fucking needs something. Someone else is whining about this or that. And then you’ve got all the little pricks on the streets testing your patience at every turn.”
“Take a few out,” Theo suggested.
“Out?”
“Yeah, whack them, D. Clean it up and spill some blood. Make them afraid. Scare them into compliance. You know this game. Killing is your thing, isn’t it? So go on out and do what you do. Trust me, they’ll catch on quick enough and cull the nonsense.”
Damian’s cool expression didn’t change. “Taking a few men out isn’t likely to do me any good when I want a strong crew, Theo. Unless, of course, you think dropping my numbers is a good thing to do when there’s still a lot of unrest between the families.”
It was a valid concern. There was little to no love between the three highest men in the Outfit currently. Joel Trentini faced off with Tommas Rossi at every chance he could. Tommas brushed Joel off with his usual nonchalance and disinterest. Riley Conti, on the other hand, couldn’t get his two hands to work together.
That made for a bad boss.
“Bad apples will infect the rest,” Theo warned.
“There is no such thing as a bad apple. By nature’s course, something will come along and pick up the discarded ones.”
“True.”
“Have you picked up a few of your own along the way?” Damian asked.
“What is that supposed to mean, D?”
“I think you know, Theo.”
“Let’s say fuck the runaround and get straight to the dirty point if it all, huh? Besides, I didn’t come over there to play word games with you, Damian. I came over here to have dinner with my sister.”
Damian chuckled. “Then why aren’t you eating?”
Before Theo could answer, Lily slipped back into the dining room with two bottles of beer in hand. She set one in front of Theo before giving her husband the other and then taking her seat.
“As you were saying,” Theo said, waving at Damian.
“Maybe you’ve let a few of the bad apples bleed their way into your good ones.”  
“I’m not an idiot. There are a hell of a lot of rumors about Dino’s death. And I certainly haven’t hidden my blame and contempt for Riley where that is concerned.”
“But you can’t deny the whispers of other men’s involvement, either.”  
Men like Joel Trentini. 
Release Giveaway for Reckless & Ruined!
With Reckless releasing yesterday, I thought it would be great to do a giveaway to last the week. There is a paperback of Deathless & Divided up for grabs and a swag pack themed around The Chicago War.

Be sure to enter!





GIVEAWAY:

Reckless & Ruined is LIVE!! #Mafia #Romance - The War is here ...
I am so excited to put this couple out into the world today!

Read on for the Prologue and Chapter One of Reckless.

Hugs and love,

--Kris



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.

**Please Note: Reckless should not be read before Deathless & Divided. This novel is NOT considered a standalone in the series as part of the timeline runs concurrent with the first book in the series, Deathless & Divided.
*Reckless will release on all other vendors in Feb, 2016. 

***


PROLOGUE

“You’re only young and stupid once.”
Alessa thought that had to be the dumbest thing she’d ever heard. “Exactly. You’re only stupid once, Dean. In my family, that means you only get one chance not to mess it up. Because if you do, you’re screwed.”
Dean laughed, taking another step toward Alessa. She backed further under the willow tree, keeping a safe distance between her and Dean. The guy was cute, as far as that went. It was just about the only thing he had going for him and cute didn’t add up to a whole hell of a lot when your personality was seriously lacking. Dean didn’t seem to understand the word ‘no’ when Alessa said it.
It was just too damn bad his father was a Capo in la famiglia. For Alessa, that put her in a bad situation whenever Dean showed up. Terrance, Alessa’s grandfather and the boss of the Outfit, didn’t mind Dean or the guy’s father. 
Dean screamed bad news in the worst way.
She didn’t care that he was affiliated with the Chicago mob at only eighteen-years-old or that he was as arrogant as they came. No, that wasn’t it at all. Alessa’s biggest issue with Dean was that his interest in her only went as far as her position as Terrance Trentini’s granddaughter. Dean didn’t like Alessa because of who she was as a person, but rather, he liked the people she came from. The guy just wanted to situate himself with a pretty face, a good last name, and a piece of ass to get him higher in the mob.
Alessa wasn’t going to be that girl.
“Come on, Alessa,” Dean said, grinning as he took another step toward her. “Go out with me and have some fun tonight.”
“Like how you took my sister out last month?” Alessa asked.
Dean’s jaw tightened. “We’re just friends.”
Right.
Alessa loved her sister Abriella, as far as that went. But Abriella was a little on the wild side and didn’t know how to follow the rules. If she went out with Dean, it wasn’t because the two were friends. And if Abriella didn’t take Dean out again, he definitely wasn’t worth Alessa’s time.
“I didn’t realize I had the word idiot stamped on my forehead,” Alessa said, smiling as sweetly as she could manage. “Let me go wash that off for you so there’s no confusion the next time we meet.”
Using her sarcasm as an easy and obvious way out of the conversation, Alessa ducked under the low lying branch of the willow tree and headed back toward the Trentini mansion. She didn’t make it very far. Dean caught up to her before she could get out of the privacy of the tree, grabbed her around the waist, and pulled her back into his chest.
“Hey, let me go,” Alessa barked, jerking away from Dean.
Dean held tight. “Come on, Alessa. Don’t be like that. We both know—”
“—That you’re a fucking tool,” Alessa interrupted hatefully.
Dean grabbed even harder, squeezing the air right out of her lungs. Panic saturated Alessa’s insides, freezing her in place as Dean grabbed the ends of her wavy brown hair and tugged firmly enough for it to really hurt. All of the air in Alessa’s lungs rushed out in a whoosh.
“Be nice and stop acting like such a spoiled little bitch,” Dean said in her ear.
Alessa shivered, the disgust rolling thick. “Let me go, Dean.”
“No, I think we’re good here. First time I’ve actually been able to get you alone. I think you’re one of those girls that likes to tease and fuck around with a guy until he can’t take it anymore and just snaps. Then you get it rough just like you like, right?”
“No,” Alessa whispered.
She didn’t know what he was talking about, but she didn’t like it. Fear compounded in her heart. She was too far away from the back of Trentini mansion to be heard even if she yelled at the top of her lungs for help.
Alessa felt stupid for having left the afternoon party without taking someone with her, but everyone else was busy doing their own thing. She had just wanted to get the hell away from Dean and his constant badgering. When she thought Dean wouldn’t notice her missing, Alessa took the chance to slip out of the back of the house and take a walk on the large property. She needed the breather. Dean followed her like the creep he was.
Dean’s hand drove down Alessa’s back to her ass where he grabbed her through her summer dress. When he tried to stick his hand under her dress, Alessa yelped and pulled away from him fast enough to take him off guard. Spinning in her ballet flats, she struck him on the cheek with her open palm. The sound of the slap reverberated through the quiet hush of the wind whistling through the tree leaves.
“You bastard,” Alessa hissed, readying to hit him again if he came near her. “I am not some piece of ass for you to handle however you want. Don’t you understand that I don’t want you? I have never wanted you, Dean! You’re a self-righteous, entitled, disgusting little prick. And you’ll be lucky if I don’t tell my father and grandfather what you just tried to do to me!”
Dean laughed a dark sound. “Your father? You mean the guy who isn’t even good enough to be in with the Outfit, but just a used up lawyer for your grandfather? Get real, Alessa. What is he going to do to me, huh?”
“Terrance—”
“Your grandfather thinks I’m made of gold,” Dean interrupted with a cruel smile. “Go on ahead and whine to him all you want, but he isn’t going to believe you. In fact, if my father gets his way, I’ll be standing there to meet you at the end of an aisle while you wear a white dress. Keep holding onto your skirt like that’s going to protect you, Alessa. I’ll get it one way or the other.”
Alessa felt sick. “Fuck you.”
Like hell and over her dead body. She would never marry this man.
“That’s the plan, babe,” Dean said, smirking wickedly. “Even if it takes me a little while to get you there. You’re sixteen now, but eighteen is just around the corner. How long do you think you’ll last after that before your grandfather marries you off to the best man he can find in the Outfit? Right now, I’m looking mighty fucking good to him.”
Alessa barely held back the vomit. She trembled from her head to her toes as her hands balled into tight fists at her sides. “I’d slit my throat first.”
“So dramatic. I like a crazy girl. They’re always fun.”
What was wrong with this guy?
“Plus, you know Ben will make it happen,” Dean added with a wink. “He’s best friends with your grandfather and all. My uncle wouldn’t mind getting me a little closer to the top. You have to admit, we’d make a damn good pair.”
At Ben DeLuca’s name, Alessa barely managed to supress her shudder. Ben happened to be the right-hand man to Alessa’s grandfather and Dean’s uncle. Dean, being the son of Walter and Patricia Artino who were both thoroughly integrated with the DeLuca side of the Outfit, had a great deal of power behind him. Maybe even as much as Alessa had behind her. Patricia, Ben DeLuca’s younger sister, was also close to Alessa’s mother.
A marriage between her and Dean would put the Artino family front row and center for once. They were usually overshadowed by the DeLuca side of their family when it came to the mob. Alessa would not be that family’s way to the top, regardless of whatever plans Dean and his father might have for her.
“Keep dreaming,” Alessa said, refusing to show Dean how his words affected her. Trentinis didn’t show fear, ever. Her grandfather wouldn’t marry her off to a man like Dean, right? “Because that’s all you’re ever going to get from me.”
Her words didn’t seem to faze Dean a bit. As he spoke, he moved toward her again. Slowly, one step after another, he came closer to Alessa like she was a mouse and he was a snake ready to swallow her whole. She felt cemented to the ground, unable to move or run.
“Think about it, Alessa. Your grandfather needs to set something up for when he’s good and done running the Outfit. Your father isn’t in with the family.”
“My brother—”
Dean barked out a laugh that chilled Alessa to the core. “Joel? He’s such a fuck up. Get your pretty little head out of the clouds, girl. He’s not going anywhere. Terrance is going to go for the next best thing—marrying his granddaughters off to the strongest and best families he can find. Look no further, Alessa. I’m exactly where you’re heading in the foreseeable future.”
Dean was close enough to reach out and grab her again if he wanted. She refused to give him that chance. Alessa’s legs finally decided to catch up with her screaming mind and pounding heart. She turned to bolt out of the cover the willow tree provided and ran straight into something hard.
The strong arms of Adriano Conti caught Alessa before she hit the ground. Something akin to a sob caught in her chest as Adriano righted her without a word and moved her slightly behind him. Alessa fisted her hands into the back of Adriano’s T-shirt like it was the only lifeline she had left.
“You all right?” Adriano asked, never taking his glare off Dean for a second.
“Yeah,” Alessa mumbled. “I’m okay, Adriano.”
“Good.”
Alessa felt Adriano’s hand reach back and cover hers. He squeezed her hand and then let it go. Adriano Conti was the same age as Alessa. They even went to the same private school. His father was heavily involved with her grandfather and the Chicago mob, seeing as how Riley Conti was the Outfit’s front boss.
What Adriano had never done, was pay Alessa very much attention. He stuck to his side of the Outfit, and Alessa stuck to hers. They passed one another by from time to time at family dinners and parties, but they didn’t make an effort to be friends. Adriano was the high school football star, a mob principe for the Outfit, and a player on and off the field. Every single girl Alessa knew had tried to get a piece of this guy—her not included.
That didn’t mean she never wanted to, though. Alessa would be a damned liar if she ever said Adriano wasn’t gorgeous and interesting to her.
The contrast between Dean and Adriano under the willow tree as they had a stare down was visible to Alessa. Adriano might have been two years younger than Dean, but he towered over the man by at least six inches. Dean was tall and lean, but Adriano was built like the linebacker he was. He had broad shoulders, thick arms, and a stance that screamed for someone to back off.
Alessa could feel the muscles in Adriano’s back tighten like coils ready to spring. He practically vibrated under her touch. His teeth bared as he sneered in Dean’s direction like the guy was nothing more than a worm to be crushed under his shoe.
“Artino,” Adriano said, tipping his chin in Dean’s direction. “I thought that was you I saw following Alessa out here earlier.”
Dean scowled. “What about it?”
Adriano shrugged. “Nothing. But when a girl says back off, it means get the fuck away before she decides to hand you over your balls.”
“We were just having some innocent fun. Right, Alessa?” Dean asked.
Alessa glowered at him. “Sticking your hand up my dress is supposed to be fun for me?”
At that admission, Adriano lurched forward, going straight for Dean with a fist raised. Because Alessa was still holding onto Adriano’s shirt, she went with him. Luckily, Alessa managed to catch herself and let go of Adriano. Dean flew backward, his hands raised high in the air.
“Whoa, careful there, Adriano,” Dean said, grinning like an idiot. “You wouldn’t want to piss your father off by messing with someone affiliated.”
“Not made,” Adriano said through clenched teeth.
“What is that?”
Adriano flicked his hand in Dean’s direction like he was dismissing him and his warning. “You’re not made which means, you’re not important. I don’t give a fuck about you or your father.”
Dean scoffed. “We both know that isn’t true.”
“Wrong. Your first mistake was fucking around with a Trentini, but your second was assuming you know a goddamn thing about me.” Adriano looked like he was ready and revving for a fight with Dean. Alessa didn’t want to get Adriano in trouble, but she didn’t think speaking up would stop him from kicking Dean’s ass. “I suggest you make your way back to the house before you end up eating your teeth and you’re stuck with sucking your food through a straw for the rest of your life.”
“I—”
“Fuck with someone else,” Adriano interrupted coolly. “She’s not your toy.”
Alessa watched in fascination and confusion as Dean turned around and stalked off. Once she knew he was out of hearing range, Alessa finally relaxed enough to step away from the safety Adriano had provided her.
“Thank you,” Alessa said.
Adriano sighed, crossing his arms as he stared in the direction Dean had disappeared. “He’s something else.”
“A jerk.”
“I was going to say something worse, but that works, too,” Adriano muttered. “Don’t thank me for getting you out of that, but where in the hell is your brother?”
“Joel?”
Adriano nodded. “He’s the only brother you’ve got, right?”
“Somewhere. I just wanted to get away from the party.”
Adriano didn’t look like he believed a word coming out of her mouth. “Actually, you were trying to get away from that fucking piece of shit. I saw how he was following you around and pestering you. Speak the hell up, Alessa. Nobody will stand for his bullshit if you say something about it.”
“He’s never done anything like this before,” Alessa said.
She wasn’t trying to defend Dean. His actions were beyond contempt. But he had never once gone as far as he had today.
“Right, whatever,” Adriano said, shaking his head. “What was he going on about before I stepped in, anyway?”
Alessa cringed, not wanting to go into that. Knowing Adriano, he probably wouldn’t care about Alessa’s fears of being married off. “Nothing.”
“Hey.”
“Yeah?” Alessa asked.
Adriano took a step closer to Alessa. Unlike before with Dean, she wasn’t bothered by his close proximity. He reached out and tipped her chin up by using two of his fingers. She was at least a foot shorter than him and looking up made her feel incredibly small.
“Speak up, Alessa,” Adriano repeated softly.
“Nobody around here cares what a girl has to say, Adriano. You know that.”
“I care.”
Did he?
Alessa blinked, surprised. She didn’t know what else to say, but she wanted to get as far away from the topic of the Outfit as she could. “How’s football?”
Adriano cocked a brow, smirking. He watched her with his green eyes like she was the most important thing to grace his presence for the moment. The guy had skills. Alessa had to give him that.
“Boring,” he finally replied. “Football is boring.”
“Really? You seem to like it a lot.”
“I like a lot of things.”
“I noticed,” Alessa said before she could stop herself.
“Did you?”
Alessa’s cheeks heated under his heavy regard. She dropped his stare. “I just … never mind.”
“Hey, don’t do that,” he said, ticking his fingers under her chin again. Alessa couldn’t help but look at him. “Never do that, Alessa.”
“I’m not doing anything.”
Adriano laughed deeply. “Sure you’re not. Don’t be embarrassed, Lissa.”
No one called her that except her close friends at school and her family. 
“I notice a lot of things about you, too,” Adriano added.
Oh.
“Did you?” Alessa asked.
“Mmhmm. You don’t like football all that much, do you? I never see you hanging around the team spots or showing up at games and whatever.”
Alessa wondered why he had looked for her at all.
“No, I don’t like it all that much,” she replied. “The football players at our school have big heads and little brains.”
“All of us?” 
Alessa smiled at his question. “Some of you. Maybe you could convince me otherwise.”
“Maybe,” he echoed.
“Are you interested in trying?”
Adriano flashed his white teeth in a sensual grin. “Very.”



Ruined.
That was exactly how the Outfit felt to Adriano Conti.
The Chicago mob had always been the one thing Adriano trusted to never let him down. The Outfit—la famiglia—was supposed to be based on a strong foundation of beliefs, loyalty, and unity between men. It was supposed to be home.
It didn’t feel anything like home to Adriano anymore.
“My condolences,” one person said, squeezing Adriano’s hands.
“You’re in our prayers, son,” said another.
Adriano said nothing.
He had nothing to say.
The people kept their voices low and their eyes down. Someone had killed Adriano’s mother. As she stood at a table, defending her nephew against her own sister, Mia was shot in the side of the head by a drive-by shooter.
No one knew why. No one had any answers.
Instead, Adriano’s father Riley was going after the next best thing for revenge, which was someone to blame. The boss didn’t need to apologize for his non-involvement in the shooting. Terrance had been sitting at the table when the shooting happened. He could have just as easily been shot and killed, too. Riley needed to feed his anger and his grief. He needed to feel better. Adriano was sure his father would end up ruining the Outfit in the process.
Mia Conti’s casket lowered into the ground. Adriano had already said goodbye to his mother. Her blood had coated his hands when he tried to save her life. Those visuals plagued him day and night. Whenever things got too quiet or his grief caught up with him, Mia’s memories took him to a calmer place.
Mia had always been like that. For a woman involved with the Outfit, a woman who had married a made man in the mafia simply because her father told her to, Mia Conti had been a gentle soul. Adriano remembered his father adoring his mother. Their marriage had been a close one, but one with struggles, like Riley’s infidelity. Adriano wondered how his father could be so in love with his mother, but still have women on the side.
He wasn’t angry like his father was. He was heartbroken. He didn’t blame the Outfit, but he did hurt.
“To the car, son,” Riley said gruffly.
Adriano jolted from his thoughts at his father’s order. “What?”
“The car, let’s go.”
The final moments of the funeral and burial had passed him by. Most of the guests were slowly making their way out of the cemetery. Adriano’s sister, Evelina, tossed a single white rose into the grave before she blew a kiss at her mother’s casket and then turned away from the grave. Evelina was taking their mother’s death hard. She didn’t know how to deal. Adriano didn’t know how to help.
A splinter of pain settled in his chest. Two men, groundskeepers for the cemetery, picked up shovels and uncovered the mound of dirt. Adriano thought his mother was far too good to be covered with mud.
Adriano still wasn’t ready to leave. “Give me a few. I’ll meet you at the car, Dad.”
“All right.”
Adriano watched the men begin to fill in his mother’s grave. By the time he turned to leave the gravesite, the rest of the mourners had all gone. The overcast, windy Chicago day felt appropriate for the July funeral. Adriano walked along the pathway in silence, making his way toward the road where his father had parked the Mercedes.
“Adriano …”
The whisper of his name made Adriano come to an abrupt stop on the path. He looked around but saw nothing.
“Over here,” came the familiar voice.
Adriano couldn’t help but smile as he caught sight of Alessa Trentini under the birch trees lining the edge of the cemetery. She wore the same black dress from earlier in the day when her family arrived at the funeral, ready to give their condolences for Mia’s death. Riley kicked them out, demanding Alessa’s grandfather leave immediately.
The Outfit’s boss barely blinked at Riley’s show of rage. Terrance gave his front boss what he wanted without question and left.
Adriano hadn’t gotten the chance to speak to Alessa. He’d been more concerned with getting his father calmed down so the funeral could start and finish peacefully. By that time, Alessa had left with her family.
Just seeing her standing under the trees made Adriano feel better for the moment.
Regardless, Alessa still showed up at the burial after the church fiasco. That made all the difference to Adriano. She’d probably defied her grandfather’s wishes and somehow snuck out to get to the burial site. It gave Adriano a little bit of hope that maybe, despite the fact that everyone around them seemed to hate one another, there was still a chance some didn’t. There was a chance that she didn’t hate him.
Adriano didn’t want Alessa to get in shit for coming to him. If his father noticed her there, he would probably give Terrance another warning about keeping his family far the fuck away from the Contis.
Every inch of Adriano screamed to go—to move—to Alessa’s side.
He’d felt like that about her for as long as he could remember. Their friendship had started when they were teens, but it didn’t stay innocent for long. Adriano knew every inch of Alessa Trentini. He knew what she felt like, her tastes and all her sounds.
Alessa was kept in a bubble wrap of protection by her family. The boss made his granddaughters seem like they were above all reproach, like they were some kind of fucking angels. Adriano knew the risks he took messing around with Alessa at times, but he couldn’t find it in himself to give a goddamn.
She always kept him at a safe distance. He figured she did that for her heart.
Fuck.
She didn’t realize that he didn’t know how to hurt her even if he tried.
Adriano stayed frozen on the walk, not wanting his father to notice their unwanted guest. Well, she was only unwanted to Riley.
Raising his hand high enough for her to see, Adriano mouthed, “Hey.”
Alessa flashed him a small smile. “Hey.”
Her hand raised up and she touched her lips with two fingers, as if to tell him to be quiet.
“I’ll see you soon,” Alessa said quietly, her words traveling with the breeze.
He hoped so.

***

“What should we do about it?”
“We wait it out, of course,” Riley replied.
“Wait it out?” Kolin asked.
“Absolutely.” Riley sipped from his rum and coke. He waved at the server as the young woman walked by and said, “Get me another one of these, honey.”
Adriano rolled his eyes, frustrated with the entire meeting. His father had gathered his most trusted men in the Conti family and crew together to discuss the recent shooting. Someone driving Serena Rossi’s car—they all suspected it was Laurent—had shot up Riley’s new bar. The shooting of the Conti business by the Rossi family had been a troublesome thing to wake up to. Riley was pissed, but he brushed it off.
Adriano did, too.
Laurent Rossi’s alcoholism was seriously starting to show if his rationale was so gone that he couldn’t understand what it would mean to shoot up a fellow family’s bar. Laurent was struggling to keep Terrance Trentini’s respect and friendship. In his failed attempt to show where his loyalties truly were, he had done nothing more than dig his own hole deeper.
“It’s like this, I have no issue to take with the Rossi family,” Riley said, waving at the ten men sitting around the booths. “Laurent has had his problems for years. His wife likely pushed him to do it—the idiot always did pant after her ass like a dog in heat. The statement he made by shooting up my business does not reflect on the rest of his family. Believe that.”
“Can you be sure?” Adriano asked his father.
“I’m inclined to side with the men who have reached out to me with an apology.”
“Who?” Kolin asked.
Kolin Bastoni was a close Capo and friend to the Conti family. He also happened to be Riley’s first cousin. He ran a good portion of the Conti territory under Riley’s watch. Adriano had worked under the man for a long time—since his sixteenth birthday, actually.
Loyalty was everything to a man like Kolin. And he was incredibly loyal to the Conti family. His first reaction was to retaliate on anyone who hurt Riley or the man’s family. A lot like the rest of the men in the Conti crew.
“DeLuca,” Riley finally replied.
“Ha, which one?” Kolin asked.
Riley smiled a cold sight. “That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?”
“As long as it isn’t Theo,” another one of Adriano’s father’s men put in. “You know how close he is to the Trentini crew, boss.”
Riley didn’t even blink at that title. In fact, he acted like the man hadn’t even graced him with it. Adriano didn’t like his father’s reaction to being called the boss at all. There was only one boss in the Outfit—Terrance Trentini. Adriano’s father might be the front boss to the public, the men on the streets, and to the FBI, but everyone who was anyone in the Chicago mob knew who the real boss was.
Claiming a title that wasn’t reserved for you only spoke of two things. One, you either had a big enough ego that you believed you were eligible to fit the title. Or two, you were ready to go after the position to wear the title properly.
Adriano didn’t know which one his father fell under. Neither would lead to anything good.
“Well, we can safely say one of the men who reached out isn’t Ben DeLuca, anyway,” Riley said, shrugging. “Being Terrance’s underboss, old Ben wouldn’t wipe his own ass without his boss’s approval.”
“That only leaves one with any worth behind his name,” Kolin noted.
“It does,” Johnnie, another close friend to Adriano’s father, agreed. “Dino DeLuca. What’d he say?”
“That he understands and sympathizes with my frustrations,” Riley said as he accepted a glass of rum and coke from the server. “Thank you, honey.”
Adriano didn’t bother to hide his glare. Just like how his father didn’t bother to hide the way he watched the server’s ass sway back and forth as she walked away. Adriano didn’t understand Riley for a minute. One day, he was entirely overtaken with his grief over the loss of his wife, and the next, he was acting like an asshole.
It wasn’t unusual behavior for his father, as far as that went. Riley never hid his interest in women other than his wife as Adriano grew up, but it was still a dick move. They just buried Mia a week before.
“Dad,” Adriano snapped.
Riley cleared his throat, waving off the warning in his son’s tone. His attention was back on the conversation at hand in a blink. “Dino is a good ally to have, as are his men.”
“Dino’s looking at prison time soon,” Adriano said.
“Still, his men are of a similar opinion.”
Adriano sighed. “Some.”
“Some are better than none, son. You will do well to learn that. And we have more than you think.”
“So, we wait this out,” Kolin said.
“Wait it out,” Riley echoed. “Terrance has more than enough issues to deal with right now with all of his men divided between the families. Laurent’s actions against me only pushed some along further in that. This is good. We can use this to our advantage.”
“What, we just let them fight amongst themselves for a while?” Adriano asked.
“Yes,” Riley replied.
Why would his father want to do that? If a reconciliation was what Riley might be looking at, letting the feud continue wouldn’t lead to anything good.
“In a way,” Riley said. “I’d prefer to hit him when he is weak, you know.”
“Good plan,” Kolin replied.
That had to be the most ridiculous thing Adriano ever heard. Adriano was not in agreement with his father about whatever plans he might have had for the Outfit’s boss. It was dangerous and the feud was getting more volatile every day. Riley was obviously taking some kind of joy in that.
In fact, Adriano was starting to wonder if his father even gave a damn about Mia’s death. Riley acted like his retaliation was for his wife, but his actions spoke of something different. Like maybe Adriano’s father was more interested in the boss’s seat but was using his wife’s death as a reason to get there.
It was fucking sickening.
“No, it isn’t a good idea,” Adriano snapped, never taking his eyes off his father. “You’re planning to go after—”
“Enough, Adriano,” Riley said, cutting his son off. “Your opinion is not important.”
Adriano felt like he was being torn in two different directions. One was his father, the other, the Outfit. If Riley kept feeding the issues until they were big problems that nobody could fix, that would only mean one thing: War.
“What are you trying to do here, Dad?” Adriano asked, ignoring the curious gazes of the other men in the restaurant.
“Exactly what I set out to do, son.”
Which was what?
Adriano couldn’t figure that out. How long had his father been thinking about taking control of the Outfit? How many people were going to be divided and torn apart because Riley was greedy?
Without a doubt, Adriano understood loyalty. He was devout to his family, but his family had always been more than just his mother and father. Riley raised him that way. He raised Adriano to trust and protect the Outfit. His father’s plans wouldn’t protect anything if revenge was what it was all about. No, there was no protection here, not for the Outfit. It would downright ruin it.
A pretty brunette with blue eyes filled Adriano’s mind. He’d always protected Alessa Trentini, too. He couldn’t do that when his own father could be the one to hurt her.
Riley smiled, setting his drink to the table. “Everything will work out. To our favor, that is.”
Adriano didn’t believe his father for a second. “What if this blows out of control?”
“Feed the flames, of course,” Riley replied.
“Mom wouldn’t want that,” Adriano pointed out.
“Women and children are supposed to be untouchable,” Riley murmured.
Adriano frowned. “I’m aware.”
“Your mother wasn’t included, Adriano. You will do well to remember that, son.”
“I—”
“You will do well to remember that, son,” Riley repeated firmly, his tone offering no room for argument. “And because you are my son, I don’t have to tell you again how important blood is to us. I have repeated these things to you ever since you were a young boy. It has always been an eye for an eye. You need to learn how to curb what you want from the things that are more important. We are more important than your wants, Adriano.”
Adriano’s gaze narrowed. “Stop dancing around whatever you want to say and spit it out.”
“You know what I’m saying, Adriano. You’re thinking with the wrong head again, aren’t you?”
Alessa.
Adriano didn’t even blink. “No.”
“You always were a terrible liar, son.”

***

“Take a walk with me, Adriano.” Riley tipped his head in the direction he wanted to go. “How does a cup of something sweet sound to you?”
Adriano nodded, not wanting to aggravate his father any more than he already had that morning. Despite not agreeing with his father on a lot of things, he did love his father. They had always been close and even now, just a few months shy of his twenty-first birthday, Adriano looked up to his father.
“Sure, Dad.”
Riley waved down the street. “There’s a little sidewalk vendor right down the street with the best chocolate gelato.”
Ice-cream.
Adriano chuckled. “What am I, five?”
“You always liked gelato,” Riley said quietly. “Do you want the gelato or not? Because I’m going to get myself some whether you do or don’t, but you will be following me either way. We’re due for a good talk without others listening in.”
“I don’t like chocolate.” Adriano was more likely to enjoy a cold beer on a hot day than eat a bowl of chocolate flavored ice-cream. “But if you’re paying, I’ll have some.”
Riley smirked. “Figures. The have that strawberry flavor you like, too. Let’s go.”
Adriano followed alongside his father. The quiet street was devoid of traffic for the most part, but it was still early. After a good ten-minute trek, Riley stopped at the vendor with the brightly colored sign advertising gelato and the favors offered. Once his father had ordered the two cups and the creamy treat had been paid for, Adriano let Riley find them a bench to sit on further down the street.
“Eat,” Riley demanded.
Adriano glanced down at the cup of strawberry gelato. He wasn’t interested in food, but clearly his father had a motive behind this little … whatever it was. Sticking the tiny spoon into the gelato, Adriano took a decent sized bite and waited his father out.
Sometimes, with Riley Conti, it was all about the wait.
“Three cars down across the street, left side,” Riley said.
Adriano followed his father’s gaze to find a cobalt blue Porsche with windows tinted dark. “I know that car.”
“You should. It belongs to Damian Rossi.”
Ah.
Tommas Rossi’s cousin and right-hand man for his portion of the Rossi crew.
Everyone suspected Damian’s role in the Chicago mob had everything to do with helping to run a crew, but Adriano knew better. Damian was nobody’s man except for the boss’s. Terrance never outright said it; he didn’t have to. Damian did all the dirty work that Terrance didn’t want to, like the killing.
Quiet men were dangerous men, after all.
Damian was certainly a quiet man.
“What is he doing around here?” Adriano asked.
“Business, probably,” Riley replied. “He might be marrying a DeLuca, but he’s got no allies to speak of. Damian never was any good at picking sides in a fight. He only ever picks his side, but that’s a good way to be, too. You see, that way, he doesn’t lose.”
Point taken.
“Aren’t you worried that Terrance might have sent him around to spy on you?”
Riley laughed. “No. Believe me, if that were the case, I wouldn’t have seen Damian at all. There is a reason why we call him Ghost, Adriano.”
“I’m aware of his skills, Dad.” Adriano stuck another spoonful of gelato in his mouth before saying, “You know, stuffing my mouth full of food won’t stop me from arguing with you.”
Riley eyed his son, smiling. “You’re too perceptive for your own good, Adriano.”
“No, I just know you.”
“Truth. We’re very much alike, son.”
“And entirely different,” Adriano muttered.
“That we are,” Riley agreed quietly. “You’re angry with me.”
“Figured that out, did you?”
“There’s no need for your mouth to make an appearance, son. But yes, I’m very aware of your feelings. You’ve made them clear more than once.” Riley made a disapproving sound under his breath, adding, “And you know better than to do that, Adriano. Challenging me like you have been, it’s ridiculous. I won’t stand for it. Family is most important. You know that. I expect you to be loyal to me at all times, son.”
“I thought the Outfit was the family. That’s what you always said.”
“It is,” Riley replied.
“Family forgives, Dad.”
“Not this one, Adriano.”
“Mom’s body isn’t even cold yet,” Adriano said.
“Your point?”
“You’re already looking for the next hole to fill, Dad.”
Riley scowled. “Adriano—”
“I can’t help but wonder if you’re just using her death as an excuse to get something else that you want. And if that’s the case, you’re just an asshole.”
“Watch yourself, son. You’re treading a very thin line.” Riley stood from the bench and dropped his full cup of gelato into the trash can. “I think we’ve talked enough.”
“I think we haven’t said nearly enough,” Adriano replied, unfazed at his father’s anger. “The least you could do is tell me the truth. Is this about Mom’s death or is it about what you can gain from it, Dad?”
“It’s about the family—la famiglia.”
Adriano wasn’t sure his father knew what that was anymore.
“Your mother would understand,” Riley added.
“I doubt it.”

***

Adriano rushed through the office door leading into his father’s private space without even knocking. He knew better, but he just didn’t give a damn. The phone in his hand buzzed with yet another text, someone else confirming what he already knew.
Riley glanced up at his son’s entrance, but continued on with the conversation he was having on the phone. “Yes, well, sad thing … I’m aware. Let him believe that, I don’t care.”
“Dad,” Adriano growled.
“I absolutely did not!” Riley blew out a heavy breath, rubbing at his temples. “As I said, let him believe that. When I make my move on behalf of my wife, Terrance will damn well know it. Trust that.”
Riley slammed the phone down without another word.
Adriano clenched his hand around the cell phone he held, a pressure growing in his chest. “Tell me you didn’t do that.”
“Ah, you know about the shooting,” Riley murmured.
Another shooting.
More people were killed.
This time, the attack had happened at the Trentini mansion. From the information Adriano had been able to gather, a drive-by shooting after one of Terrance’s usual dinners had taken the life of one Rossi and nearly killed the Outfit’s underboss, Ben DeLuca. The man would be lucky to make it through the night with his life, actually.
Adriano hadn’t expected to get that frantic, frightened call from Alessa Trentini. He’d missed her call because he’d been collecting payments from guys on the streets for his father. But the voicemail from Alessa … it’d scared him. He tried calling her back, but Alessa wasn’t answering his attempts.
“Things had calmed down,” Adriano said, his hands shaking in his rage.
“Not entirely.” Riley shrugged like it didn’t make a difference. “And regardless of what I say, you have clearly settled yourself on the idea that this shooting was ordered by me.”
“Wasn’t it?”
Adriano wouldn’t be surprised.
“No,” Riley replied. “I don’t know who did it. It wasn’t me or my men.”
“I want to believe you.”
“But you don’t.”
“No,” Adriano said.
Adriano didn’t take his eyes off his father for a second. Without knowing it, Riley had hurt Adriano in the worst way. Not with the act itself, but because of who had been the one to call and tell Adriano it happened.
Alessa.
She was there.
There might as well have been a giant, invisible wall building higher and higher between Adriano and his father. Riley was doing it all. Adriano’s growing resentment was nothing more than a by-product.
“You’re taking this too far,” Adriano told his father.
Riley frowned. “I didn’t do the shooting.”
“You don’t have to pull the trigger, remember? That’s what you said about Mom.”
“I didn’t order it, either,” Riley said shortly.
Adriano scoffed. “I still don’t believe you.”

 ***

“How dare you?” Riley shouted.
Adriano stepped into the living room of his family home just in enough time to see his father grab his sister by the arm. Riley shook Evelina fiercely.
“Stop,” Evelina whimpered. “I’m sorry!”
Pain and fear washed over her features as tears streaked down her cheeks. Adriano’s anger bubbled up to the surface fast and harsh. Never had he witnessed his father use any kind of violence against Evelina.
Evelina wasn’t perfect, as far as that went. She liked to push against the rules their father set out for her, but Adriano didn’t blame her.
“Hey, back off,” Adriano warned, stepping closer to his father and sister.
He hoped his presence was enough to force his father to let go of Evelina without Adriano actually needing to step in. Adriano had a good four inches of height and fifty pounds of muscle on Riley. When that didn’t work, Adriano jumped in between his father and sister. He shoved his sister back before giving his father one hard push. Riley smacked the wall with a thud but bounced right back like he was going to come at Evelina again.
Evelina, like the smart girl she was, stayed behind Adriano’s large form.
“Back off, Dad.”
“I’m sorry,” Evelina repeated in a whisper.
Riley glared at his son, waving at Evelina. “Do you know what she did? Do you know?”
“I just got here to have dinner like you wanted, Dad,” Adriano said through clenched teeth. “I’ve been running around for you all fucking day. No, I don’t know what she did.”
But with the way Riley had been going on lately, like he was five seconds away from losing his shit, Evelina could have breathed wrong and she’d be in crap.
“She went there,” Riley barked.
“I just wanted to see—”
“You shut up, you little bitch.”
Adriano took a step toward his father, zoning in on the man like he was prey. “That’s enough, Dad.”
Riley scoffed. “Oh, Adriano. You have not yet reached an age where you scare me, son.”
“Do you want to test that theory out?” Adriano asked.
Adriano didn’t move a muscle. Neither did Riley.
“I’m sorry,” Evelina repeated softly.
“What happened?” Adriano asked.
“She went to that fucking wedding,” Riley muttered, his voice full of hate and disgust. “After I told her not to, she still went. She, like you, clearly doesn’t understand what loyalty means.”
“I do!” Evelina cried. “But Lily is—”
“Nothing to us,” Riley interjected cruelly. “A Rossi now—nothing.”
Adriano felt for his sister. Evelina and Lily DeLuca—although she’d married a Rossi today—had been friends ever since they were just kids. Evelina was supposed to be in the wedding but the war between the families forced her to drop out of the party. Or rather, Riley demanded it of her.
“And who took you?” Riley asked.
Eve glanced away. “I went myself.”
“You’re lying.”
“I am not!”
“You are,” Riley ground out. “I will find out who took you, Eve.”
“What does it matter?” Adriano asked. “She went and she’s home. Nothing happened.”
“I don’t expect you to understand, Adriano,” Riley spat.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Don’t act stupid. You couldn’t even follow through with the one thing I asked of you to do, son.”
Adriano sighed, more frustrated than ever. Two weeks earlier, after the mess of the Trentini shooting had calmed down, Riley went after the Rossi crew. Despite acting like Laurent’s attack on a Conti business hadn’t mattered to him, Riley still went after the men of the Rossi crew. Adriano was starting to get whiplash with the games his father was playing.
“You retaliated like you wanted to. I didn’t have to be a part of it. Have you got what you wanted yet, Dad?”
Riley smirked. “Not even close.”
“Keep spilling blood and you’ll eventually drown in it,” Adriano bit out.
“Then I’ll die a happy man,” Riley said unaffected. His attention turned back on Evelina in a blink. It spoke volumes about how Riley felt toward his only son in that moment—an afterthought and entirely unimportant. “If you can’t follow my rules, Evelina, I will not give you another chance to break them. Your dorm is gone. I will have two enforcers follow you to your dorm tomorrow. I want it emptied and your keys handed over. Welcome home, sweetheart.”
Eve nodded. “Okay.”
With another dismissive wave of his hand, Riley left his children. Adriano turned on his sister, wondering why she had defied their father when Riley was in the state he was.
“Why would you do that, Eve?”
Eve sniffed, wiping at her tears. “I wanted to wish her luck before she walked down the aisle. That was all.”
Shit.
Adriano hated it when his sister cried. “Why didn’t you tell Dad who took you?”
“That would have just set him off even more,” Evelina said.
“Because it was someone from another family.”
“Yeah.”
“Who?” Adriano asked.
“Theo,” Evelina whispered.
“DeLuca?”
“Yes.”
Fucking hell