Chapter One: Thin Lines (Donati Bloodlines, 2) #MafiaRomance - Now Live!
Last week, I accidentally released Thin Lines 2 weeks early. And in the whole rush of realizing what I had done and informing readers of the new release, I forgot to do my normal Chapter One post. ;) 

So, today is the day for that. 

Happy reading, loves. 

***

Buy Thin Lines on AMAZON

BLURB: 

Calisto Donati 

Calisto had never been a fan of pain, but he found it provided a certain relief. 
It was a high that couldn’t compete with anything else he experienced. That was why he fought bare-knuckled, why he drove fast, despite knowing he might crash, and why he still enjoyed looking at Emma Donati—no matter her current status. 
Pain felt good. 
He might have been a fool for doing so, but as long as he got what he wanted from it, he didn’t really care. 
When he fought, he was given release. When he drove, he was given freedom. When he looked at Emma, he was given memories. 
All of them brought a certain level of pain. All three might kill him someday. 
Calisto glanced at Emma, taking her in again when she didn’t know he was looking. 
He realized then that only one might actually be worth dying for. 


Emma Donati 

Emma kept her gaze on the book in her lap, pretending like there wasn’t an argument going on across the room. She had become terribly good at acting like she didn’t hear. 
Calisto watched her out of the corner of his eye while he argued on with Affonso. 
She was too focused on Calisto to care about their fight. 
His anger. The tightness of his jaw. Searing soul-black eyes. 
The two men were not the same. They might have shared blood, but their hearts were entirely different. One man never let her out of his sight when he was nearby. The other acted like she didn’t exist. 
This was what it was like, she realized, to be in love with someone she couldn’t have. 
Calisto Donati would never be hers. 
This wasn’t a fairy tale that would end happily. 
They weren’t star-crossed. They were impossible. 

***

CHAPTER ONE 

Calisto

There was something to be said for the sting of pain. It provided a heavy rush of adrenaline. It swept through the bloodstream like a drug, fast in some spots, slower in others.

Pain was a reminder of life.

It couldn’t be felt after death.

Maybe that’s why Calisto enjoyed the brutality of fighting. The satisfying contact of fists to skin, followed by the sharp gasp of pain from the bastard taking the hits. A crisscross patchwork of scars on the knuckles that only healed long enough to close before they were opened in yet another match. The ache in his kidneys that stayed for days after a match was over, and the yellow tint to his skin where bruises were fading.

The violence.

The blood.

Maneuvering, avoiding, and yet the pain still came.

It was almost like dancing, but better.

Far better.

Smack, duck, block, throw, smack.

The routine of fighting was always the same. Make the right moves. Throw out the right punches. Get the fuck out of the way.

Calisto’s only bad habit when fighting was keeping his face protected more than the rest of his body. To his own detriment, he kept his face safe from bruises and broken bones while suffering from body blow after body blow.

A bell rang, and Calisto let out a hard breath as he ripped the mouth guard out and tossed it into a trash bin that was in the corner of the cage.

“What’d I fucking tell you two, huh?” came a shout from outside the mesh.

Calisto ignored the fool and grabbed the bar of chalk that was passed to him from a fellow gym member. He rolled it in between his hands, letting the powdery block soak up what blood seeped from his cut knuckles and the sweat inside his palms.

“Protective gear needs to be worn at all times,” the owner said, waving wildly at Calisto.

“So?” Calisto asked. “He didn’t mind.”

“Nope, I didn’t.”

Calisto tossed his opponent a grin, and jerked a thumb in the younger man’s direction. “See?”

“Not the fucking point.”

“Come on, JD, we’re just sparring.”

“Gio’s got a bloody mouth,” JD barked. “And your knuckles need ice. You two don’t seem to understand the concept of following the fucking rules.”

Calisto leaned against the mesh of the cage, unaffected. “And what about them?”

“I—”

“You know, we could always take our business elsewhere,” Gio said, resting against the cage like Calisto was. He’d interrupted JD with a smooth drawl and a blank stare that spoke of boredom and little else. Gio sported a cut lip, but the bleeding wasn’t that bad. “I know how much you would hate to lose out on the bets the guys get going when we’re up here fighting, man.”

“Truth,” Calisto said, tipping his head toward Gio.

JD gritted his teeth, clearly struggling with a response. “Could you at least tape your hands next time?”

No.

Gio smirked. “We’ll think about it.”

Huffing, the owner walked away. Most of the other watchers had already fled from the cage. Sighing, Calisto pushed away from the wall and tossed the chalk bar over the edge where it landed in a pile of hand towels on the table.

“You need to stop covering your face so much when I come at you,” Gio said offhandedly. “It’s not like I’m going to knock out all of your teeth, if that’s what you’re worried about. Maybe just a couple.”

“You’re fucking hilarious. Really.” Calisto pressed his fingertips around his right kidney, wincing at the shot of pain blooming in his side. “Still would have kicked your ass, had JD not hit the buzzer.”

Cazzo. Bullshit, stolto.”

“Next week, same time. We’ll see who the fool is then, huh?”

Gio chuckled. “You’re still going to protect your face, man. I’m still going to give your body one hell of a beating while you do it.”

Calisto grinned. “Hey, if your face looked like mine does, you’d protect it, too.”

“Bastard.”

“Tell me something I don’t already know, Marcello.”

Two towels were tossed over the cage wall. Calisto caught them both and tossed one over to Gio before wiping himself down. He ignored the sting in his knuckles and the aches in his lower half, knowing he’d earned them and it was just another reminder that he was still breathing.

“Heard your uncle was having trouble with the Irish in Jersey,” Gio said.

Calisto shrugged. “Nothing serious.”

“Territory disputes?”

“Basically.”

Gio hummed under his breath. “Be careful with them. The O’Neils can be vicious.”

Calisto didn’t respond, because he didn’t have to. He’d been keeping an eye on the small Irish family trying to bleed their way into New York territory from their roots in New Jersey. The best thing to do was avoid any street wars, but sometimes that shit just couldn’t be helped.

“Next week, you said?” Gio asked.

Calisto nodded. “Yeah. I need something to do on Thursday nights.”

Gio laughed. “Doesn’t Affonso have some kind of family dinner thing then?”

. Which is exactly why I need something else to do on Thursday nights.”

“You could always sit down at the Marcello table. We wouldn’t turn you away from a meal, Donati.”

Calisto knew that was true. Giovanni Marcello came from the long-reigning Marcello crime family. Cosa Nostra was in that man’s blood just as much, if not more, than Calisto’s.

“You might not turn me away, but I can’t go wining and dining with the rival family,” Calisto said, only half kidding.

“Just fighting with them on Thursdays, huh?”

“What are you talking about? I am nowhere near a fellow family tonight. I am over on Bleecker Street doing business.”

Gio cocked a brow. “Seriously?”

“What Affonso doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

Calisto swallowed the lump forming in his throat. He couldn’t possibly explain to Gio how true those words really were.

“How’s the new family member?” Gio asked.

Calisto stepped out of the cage, keeping his back turned to the man. It was difficult for Calisto to hide the varying degrees of emotions that ran through him every time he was forced to talk about his uncle’s bride like she was just any other woman he knew.

She wasn’t any other woman.

Not to Calisto.

Emma Sorrento—now Donati—could never be “just someone” to him.

Calisto had taken Emma from her life in Las Vegas, uprooted her without a single care, and deposited her to his uncle like a gift wrapped in a pretty bow. Somewhere in between all of that nonsense, Calisto had managed to find himself in Emma’s bed, and she had somehow weeded her way into his mind.

He couldn’t get her out.

“She’s … doing well,” Calisto settled on saying.

As far as he knew.

“Good.” Gio broke away from Calisto, walking toward the weights. Calisto went for the showers and changing rooms. Behind him, the younger man called, “Next week, stop protecting your face so much.”

Calisto flipped his friend off.

Unfortunately, his mind was now in a different place. A place where he tried not to go, and hadn’t gone since the wedding four months ago. He’d watched the tuffs of February snow fall to the ground as Affonso shuffled his new bride into a waiting black car after the reception ended. 

For a week, Calisto barred himself from everyone and everything he possibly could. He tried not to think about the week-long honeymoon that Emma was forced to endure, or what was happening. He drank his mind stupid to the point where coherent thoughts were impossible and emotions didn’t exist.

It was easier.

And then Calisto sobered up.

Affonso and Emma came back.

Life moved on.

Somewhat.

Calisto stayed away as much as possible. Inserting himself into Emma’s daily life felt like a cruel joke to him and her both. A reminder of the things they had done, and the lies they told to keep it a secret. The less time they spent together, the better.

Dio knew Calisto didn’t need to get himself anymore wrapped up in Emma than he already had been. Once, was all he needed.

Or it was supposed to be.

As long as he kept a distance, Calisto wouldn’t find himself failing again.

Surely, that was enough.

***

Every second Tuesday of each month was reserved for a duty that Calisto had no possible way of getting out of. Tribute was a Don’s God-given right in Cosa Nostra. There were no questions to be asked about paying the boss, his men simply tallied the Don’s seventy percent out of their cash for the previous two weeks, slapped it into an envelope, and delivered it into a waiting hand.

Calisto’s ritual was the same on every other Tuesday. He got up before eight, dressed in a suit, stopped at a café right down the block from his apartment, and then had his driver make the thirty minute trip to a Hilton hotel across the city just before noon. Being even a little bit late was unacceptable.

There were a few things in life that Affonso hated most of all. Losing money, people who questioned him, loose ends, and men who made him wait. Unless someone had more power behind their name than Affonso did, he waited on no one.

Being Affonso’s nephew didn’t afford Calisto much leeway where la famiglia was concerned. In front of his uncle’s men, Calisto offered the respect that was due to Affonso, but not much else. It was when they were alone that he rallied against Affonso’s demands, and voiced his opinions louder than his uncle wanted him to.

Behind closed doors, there was no made man, no nephew to the boss, and no consigliere doing his uncle’s bidding.

There was just Calisto.

“Five minutes,” Tiny said in the front seat.
Calisto grunted his thanks through a sip of hot coffee. His enforcer drummed a beat on the steering wheel in time with the music from the radio.

“You’re awfully active this morning,” Calisto noted.

“It’s a good day, boss.” Tiny shot him with a wide grin and added, “And you know, I took a ragazza home last night. Then I sent her on her way this morning with a pat on the ass and a promise for more. Makes a man happy to spend his night with a beautiful woman.”

Calisto chuckled. “One of these days, you’ll find one of those women knocking on your door with a baby in hand, Tiny. You’re too loose with your nonsense.”

“I wrap it up.”

“Sure, sure.”

Tiny had acted as Calisto’s driver and enforcer for as long as he had taken up the spot as Affonso’s consigliere in the Donati crime family. The man got his nickname for the tiny knife he kept hidden in his pants pocket that only came out when he needed it for something. Tiny didn’t use guns to protect Calisto, he used his fists and a knife.

The guy’s name didn’t exactly fit him well. Tiny towered over Calisto by four inches, making the man a good six-foot, six inches. He also packed a good one-hundred pounds of beefed up muscle to Calisto’s lean, toned one-eighty. Despite his size, and his mean ass demeanor, Tiny was quick on his feet, and his sharp blue eyes were capable of finding danger in even the calmest of situations.

Calisto trusted Tiny.

That was the important thing.

In a world where Calisto was considered a target for his last name and position in Cosa Nostra, he knew that Tiny had his back. That was saying a lot.

“Here we are,” Tiny said as the car pulled into the circular paved entrance of the Hilton.

“Wonderful,” Calisto muttered dryly.

Tiny got out of the Lexus without another word, and made his way around the vehicle to open Calisto’s door. With his hands at his back, Tiny waited as Calisto climbed out, fixed his suit jacket, and stepped away from the car.

“I’ll keep the car ready, Cal.”

“Thanks.”

“And I’ll grab you another coffee with a shot of something extra,” Tiny added.  “It’ll give you something to look forward to after you’re done playing your uncle’s right-hand.”

Tiny knew him well.

“Make that a double shot and no rum this time,” Calisto said. “Get me something stronger. I have a feeling today is going to be a long day.”

“Any particular reason why?”

“No reason,” Calisto murmured.

The heat of the early June sun soaked into Calisto’s black suit. It seemed like Summer had come on quickly. Calisto barely noticed Spring before it passed him by. Already, the heat was unrelenting, and it only made the exhaust smell hanging in the city air all the more difficult to ignore. Usually, Calisto loved the hustle and bustle of the city with its constant movement and all the lights. Even the bumper-to-bumper traffic gave him time to think in the back of a car.

Now, it all just seemed to irritate him. Maybe it was his bleak mood that was coloring his world and outlook a bit gray at the edges lately. But maybe it wasn’t.

He just had a feeling.

Strange and unexplainable as it was.

His gut was never wrong.

***

“Mr. Donati.” Terri walked toward Calisto, tablet in hand and an extra sway to her hips. “You’re one of the last ones to arrive today. The boardroom is ready upstairs. Can I bring you anything in to make you more comfortable?”

“No, thank you.”

Calisto continued to walk on past the woman in her straight pencil skirt and blood-red blouse. Terri was Affonso’s assistant for his personal things, and sometimes that meant Calisto had to check in with the woman to make sure his uncle’s illegal activities wouldn’t interfere with his legal business.

Terri had thrown enough hints in Calisto’s direction over the years for him to know she was interested, but he sure wasn’t. For one, the girl wasn’t Italian. And for another, she was too damn close to his uncle, in a friendly sort of way, being his assistant and all.

Calisto didn’t need the trouble.

Not even for a quick fuck.

The elevator was open and waiting for Calisto as he rounded the corner. He stepped inside and hit the button for the doors to close just as Terri’s voice echoed to his spot.

“Affonso’s car has just arrived.”

The Don had come to collect.

Let the business begin.

Calisto scrolled through his phone as the elevator traveled to the highest floor in the hotel. He was at least three minutes ahead of his uncle, and he took the walk down the long, quiet hallway with unhurried strides. He was in no mood to play consigliere for Affonso while the man collected his dues, but it wasn’t like he had a choice.

This was the life he’d chosen.

The murmurs of deep voices quieted as Calisto entered the stylishly decorated boardroom. Wide windows covered the far wall, overlooking a busy part of Harlem. The Marcello family controlled Hell’s Kitchen, while the Donati family had territory in Harlem and down on the other side of Manhattan. The Calabrese family had little business in the area, but the very center of Manhattan had long been considered a dead man’s zone for the three families running the state of New York.

A safe zone, even.

Without question, it was never good for one family to step in on another family’s territory. Having a safe zone where meetings could be held, sit-downs arranged, and whatever else needed doing was invaluable. Affonso seemed to prefer Harlem for his routine business. The other families never complained. It was better for the three New York families to work together, otherwise the bloody street wars that settled scores would be deadly and useless.

Ray Missotti, Affonso’s underboss, stood to greet Calisto with his usual sly smile. “You’re nearly late.”

“Traffic,” Calisto said, strolling past the man without as much as a handshake. Ray was lazy as hell, and Calisto picked up enough of the man’s slack as it was without acting like the two were friends for the sake of the men watching. “Sit, Ray. The boss is coming up the elevator now.”

Ray did, but he tossed Calisto a baleful scowl at the same time.

Calisto found his favorite chair in the east corner of the room beside a mahogany bookshelf filled with classic literature. No matter how many times he sat in the spot, far away from the view of the windows and facing the men in the room where no one could hit him from behind, Calisto still felt a little uneasy.

In his life, nothing was promised or safe. Getting rid of the boss’s consigliere might just be the chance one of the Donati Capos needed to get higher in la familiga. He took note of the five Capos sitting around the room in their usual spots.

While the men would chat happily and unconcerned with Ray, they wouldn’t do the same with Calisto. They felt he was too close to the boss—that he was Affonso’s eyes when the man wasn’t around.

It amused him to no end.

They didn’t have a clue.

“Ah, everyone is here.”

At Affonso’s voice, each man in the room stood from their respective seats to greet their boss with a nod and a “boss” right on the tips of their tongues. Calisto was no exception, although his greeting was a hell of a lot quieter, and he was the first to sit back down.

“Traffic was hell this morning,” Affonso said, strolling across the room to grab the waiting bottle of vodka. He poured himself a drink, leaned against the table, and took a hearty sip. “But that’s nothing new for Manhattan. No problems, right?”

“No, boss,” came the collective answer.

Affonso’s routine rarely changed when it came to tribute. He asked the same few questions, vaguely hinting at things like problems—which usually meant officials following them or issues with other Capos or families. Then, he’d gesture at Calisto and the tone would change. Envelopes would be brought out from each man’s pocket, all thick and full of dirty cash.

It was the only part of Calisto’s job as the consigliere that he liked. Nothing was better than money, making it, having it, or spending it. Dirty money was even better, because the government hadn’t gotten their paws on it to take what they could from it.

Calisto raised his hand, saying, “There is a problem.”

Affonso sighed and eyed his nephew over his shoulder. “What now, Cal?”

“Irish. New Jersey. Same shit.”

“Same empty threats, pushing their luck, and little else?”

Calisto nodded. “Sì, Don.”

Madonn,” Affonso cursed under his breath. Then, he waved a hand high in the air. “As of now, they’re hurting no one.”

“The Marcellos and the Calabrese won’t be as nice, if they try selling products on their territories.”

“Right now, they’re edging on ours. Leave it alone, Cal.”

“Whatever you want,” Calisto replied, unbothered.

As much as Calisto despised his uncle as a man, he couldn’t help but admit that Affonso was a damn good boss where it counted. Affonso didn’t have to be a man of high moral standards, and he didn’t even have to be a decent human being to run his Cosa Nostra.

No, Affonso only had to be a boss.

“I have something to do today, so we’ll be cutting this short if there’s nothing to discuss,” Affonso said, directing his statement to the entire room. “Who has gifts for me?”

Gifts.

Calisto barely held back from scoffing. Still, he stood from his seat, pulled out the envelope from his own pocket, and dropped it on the table behind his uncle. He walked around the room with a hand held out, collecting payment after payment from each man, until he had another six more envelopes to put beside his uncle.

Grazie, Cal,” Affonso said. “Make sure each has paid the required minimum before they leave, yes?”

“No problem,” Calisto replied.

Affonso downed the rest of his drink in one gulp, and pushed the tumbler back onto the table. “Now, as for that business I mentioned doing today.”

“What about it, boss?” Ray asked.

“I’m having a dinner.”

Calisto’s back straightened, but he stayed quiet.

“Little early in the week for that, isn’t it?” a Capo asked.

“I have news,” Affonso replied.

Calisto could practically hear the grin in his uncle’s tone.

“What news, boss?”

“Come to dinner tonight and find out. Around seven. My beautiful wife had some late appointments today. She won’t be getting back until that time. It’s time for the Donatis to have something else to celebrate.”

God, no.

Calisto hoped his uncle wasn’t saying what he thought he was.

A hand landed on Calisto’s shoulder. Hard.

“And you,” Affonso said.

Calisto refused to meet his uncle’s gaze as he continued counting cash. “Yeah?”

“You need to be there, too. You haven’t been coming around enough. I want you there tonight.”

The lie—some bullshit to get him out of the dinner—was right on the tip of Calisto’s tongue.

“I—”

“No excuses, Calisto. Be there. I want you there.”

Calisto did lift his stare to meet Affonso’s that time. A hint of excitement and youth colored up his uncle’s cold, brown gaze.

The feeling from earlier was back.

Whatever was happening, it was going to be awful.

Calisto knew it. 
0 Responses

Post a Comment