Read Loyalty Chapters 1 & 2 Today! #Comingsoon #MafiaRomance
So today you get something more than an outtake or except ... you get the first two chapters of Loyalty (John + Siena, book 1).
You can also find them on my website HERE, should you want to go back and read them again.
Loyalty is currently on pre-order, and will release on March 5th, 2018.
Haven't grabbed your pre-order yet?
Find it at one of the following:
Amazon US | UK | CA | AUS
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Happy reading, loves!
Copyright 2018 by Bethany-Kris. All rights reserved.
THE BLACK CAR pulled up and parked alongside of Johnathan. The sight of a dark vehicle with tinted windows was so familiar to him he almost smiled. Almost.
A good portion of his life was filled with memories of cars just like this one picking him up for one thing or another. Likely some situation he’d gotten himself in to and needed out of.
The passenger window rolled down and revealed the person who had come to pick John up this time. He did smile at the sight of Giovanni behind the wheel.
“Zio,” John greeted.
Truth be told, Giovanni had always been more like a friend and brother to John than just an uncle. Especially now that John was thirty and not just a kid under his uncle’s feet anymore.
Still, Giovanni was the one person in John’s family that he connected with on a level of trust that he didn’t have with anyone else. Despite the salt peppering the fifty-seven-year-old’s hair, and the lines on his face that said Giovanni was not a young man, he somehow still gave off the air of youth. Antony, John’s grandfather, always said that Giovanni had a young soul.
Whatever that meant.
“John,” his uncle replied. “Get in. We’re going to be late as it is with the drive. They told me you would be getting out at twelve, and it’s already one.”
“They had some kind of delay on the paperwork.”
Giovanni pointed at the passenger door. “Don’t care. Get in.”
Johnathan knew better than to disobey Giovanni. Pulling open the passenger door, he tossed the large brown paper bag to the floor of the car and climbed in. He hadn’t even shut the door completely before the Gio hit the gas, and the car lurched forward.
“Shit,” John said, grabbing for something to steady himself and laughing. “Slow down. I’d like to see Ma at least once more before I die, all right.”
Gio smirked. “Not your father?”
“You know how it is.”
“I don’t, actually. Lucian, like Dante, is my best friend. We’ve always been close, John. When I was younger, had no self-control and too many issues to name, I always had my brothers. When my father felt a million miles away, my brothers were still there. So, no, I don’t understand.”
“It’s like this, he’s not my brother.”
Gio hummed under his breath. “He’s your father, I know.”
John had never seen eye to eye with his father on a lot of things. Lucian was a good father, as far as that went. He’d always been good to John and his sisters. He loved his children totally. But John had always felt misplaced somehow in his life. Or even out of touch with the people around him, his father included. It made it difficult to have a connection like his younger sisters had to their mother and father.
“What is in the bag?” Gio asked, passing the brown sack John had tossed to the car floor a look.
John shrugged. “Shit I went in with. Clothes, a watch, stuff like that. Nothing important.”
“Let me see your band, John.”
“Let me see it.”
Sighing, John lifted his hand up to show off the leather wrist band he wore with his family’s crest embossed across the middle. “Happy?”
“Just making sure you got that back, too.”
“Everything that I took in came back out with me, Zio.”
“I don’t trust the system, John.”
Neither did John, really.
“Thanks for sending a package to the prison for me to have clean, decent clothes to come out with today,” John said.
Gio shot his nephew a look. “I didn’t send anything, John.”
“Your father. He sent it up a couple of weeks ago, so you would have a suit to wear today. He thinks about you even when you’re not thinking about him.”
John wished that made him feel something, but all he got was a twinge in his chest that reminded him of how detached he truly was. It had always been this way for him. He never felt at home; he always looked at the people around him like he was on the outside looking in.
“So, what is your next week looking like?” Gio asked.
“Nothing unusual. I have to check in with the probation officer. Three years of that nonsense should be fun.”
Gio laughed. “Or we could just pay the fucker off.”
John scowled. “Bribing people was one of the reasons I spent three years behind bars instead of the one year it would have been, Zio.”
“Yeah,” Gio said, wincing. “You’re right. Better to let it lie.”
Attempted bribery of officials to drop the charges he faced. Possession of an unregistered weapon. Discharging an unregistered weapon. Assault on a police officer. Actually, several police officers.
The charges had racked up one after the other on John. Before he knew it, a five-year term slammed down on him with the bang of a judge’s gavel. Not even his family’s money, status, or connections had been able to get him out of that one.
John was pretty sure his father and uncle, Dante, had a bit of a hand in it all. To Lucian, John was out of control. Or rather, out of his father’s control. He didn’t always follow the rules. He liked to do things his way, which wasn’t always the Marcello way.
Wherever John went, trouble usually followed.
Lucian had said more than once that it was time for John to grow the fuck up. John supposed he finally had, in a way.
He just wished his father hadn’t let him take a five-year rap to get his head straightened out. Thankfully, John served his time in three years with good behavior and probation for the foreseeable future, but it still stunk like shit no matter which way he looked at it.
“Hey,” Gio said.
John fell out of his troubled thoughts and gave his uncle the attention and respect the man deserved.
That was the Marcello way.
It was a rule John didn’t mind following.
Respect and honor.
“What?” John asked.
“What do you want to do right now?”
“We’ve got a party to make it to, don’t we?”
“Fashionably late is the thing or so I hear,” Gio replied. “Just tell me something you’d like to do, John.”
“A beer. I’d like to have a beer.”
Gio chuckled. “Are you supposed to with—”
“It’s fine. One won’t kill me.”
“I think we can manage that without Dante sending people out looking for us.”
John frowned at the mention of his uncle ... and boss. “It’s my first day out. Are you seriously urging me to irk Dante? Dante, who has a shorter fuse than even I do?”
The older Dante Marcello got the less tolerable to bullshit he seemed to be. John was smart enough to know that his uncle, the Don of the Marcello Cosa Nostra, would kick his ass first and then ask questions later if need be.
Gio smiled. “It’s not him you should be worried about.”
“No. Worry about when your mother gets her hands on you for not calling her for three months.”
Family first, John. Always.
His father’s words were a mantra John couldn’t forget.
John’s mother, Jordyn, had gotten progressively more concerned the closer his release date loomed. She voiced her worries about his release, and a possible relapse into another one of his episodes enough that it started to grate on John’s nerves. His focus was simply getting out of prison and what he was going to do after he was out. To do that, he had put a block of sorts between him and his mother.
It probably wasn’t the right thing to do.
“Maybe we should stop at a flower shop on the way to Tuxedo Park,” John murmured.
Gio nodded. “Maybe we should.”
“And the jewelry store.”
“Now you’re getting it, man. Lucian taught you well, regardless of what you think.”
John laughed. “I know my mother worries because she loves me.”
“She suffocates me,” John admitted. “I’m an adult, not a child. She acts like I’m seventeen and not thirty. She still thinks I’m a boy.”
“For the record, all mothers see their children as their babies. Jordyn isn’t a special case. Cecelia still thinks she has to fix my damned tie if it’s crooked.”
“You know it’s not the same.”
Gio sighed heavily. “Or maybe you just don’t understand your mother and father, John.”
“I think I do.”
“Do you? They almost lost you twice. Have you ever thought that letting you go too far ahead where they can’t reach makes them feel suffocated? That being unable to keep you close takes away the security they have?”
John didn’t answer his uncle, but he knew Giovanni had a good point. When he was just a baby, his aunt, Catrina, had been involved with a cartel that had taken John as a way to draw Catrina out. He’d nearly lost his life, as had his father, uncles, and aunt when they’d made the attempt to save him.
Clearly, his family won that battle.
The Marcellos always won.
And then John’s first episode had happened when he was seventeen. In the process of losing himself in the manic chaos of his brain, and the torrent of his uncontrollable, rash decisions that led him to a bad place, he nearly died again. Self-medicating, living fast, and almost dying young.
He might as well have been a walking cliché.
Except he wasn’t.
His life was real, and so was the manic bipolar disorder he had been diagnosed with at seventeen, and then severely failed to manage as an adult.
“John,” Giovanni said quietly. “I’d like an answer.”
“How close did my father keep me when he let me be carted off to prison for three years?”
“You didn’t give Lucian a choice. You were running crazy, John, doing stupid shit. The faster you ran, the more frenzied you became. You were refusing to work with your father or the people set up for you. On more than one occasion, you put everyone in terrible situations that could have cost us all a lot. You were self-medicating between chemicals and prescriptions. Cristo, John, you went missing for two weeks!”
He had done all of that.
“I thought I had it under control,” John said.
“That was your first mistake because clearly you were lost. Everybody was trying to help you, but you just kept pushing us away until we couldn’t even see you anymore.”
Not one word was a lie.
John wouldn’t deny it.
His last manic episode had begun shortly after his twenty-sixth birthday, and the cycles of the disorder went on for weeks at a time, and lasted for over a year. It almost mirrored his first episode from his teenaged years when his family had finally gotten a diagnosis for what was wrong inside his head.
John’s biggest mistake back then was thinking he could manage his mental health without medications. Those pills labeled him crazy. He didn’t need them. He was wrong, and the longer he was without them the more manic he became in his daily life. He’d go from stealing because of the rush, fighting because of the high, using substances to manage the highs and the lows, to fucking any female within arm’s reach just to feel.
When he was in a high cycle of the mania, he’d be up for days, running non-stop, and obsessive to an extreme. When the lows of the cycle hit, he would do anything just to get out of it, if he could even manage to function.
Yeah, he’d lost that battle with a bang.
His parents hadn’t been able to step in like they had when he was a teen because he was an adult the second time around. When his episode came to a head and John finally hit bottom, he nearly killed his cousin, Andino, during an argument over territory and men on the streets. It should have been a simple discussion between Capos. John was far too lost in his own nonsense to fully understand what he was doing when he pulled that gun on his cousin in a busy restaurant.
How Gio was even sitting in a car with John after what he’d almost done to the man’s son, John didn’t understand.
Well, truthfully, he did know how.
“I’m good,” John said firmly.
“Now,” Gio agreed.
John decided right then and there to end the conversation. He didn’t want to talk about his mental health with his uncle, or anyone for that matter. He had a fucking doctor for that shit. Or he’d had before.
“Drop it, Zio,” John said.
“You brought it up first.”
“And now I’m done.”
Gio glared at the highway they were driving down. “Your crew has been divided between a few of the family Capos.”
“Better than Dante handing my position and men off to someone else entirely.”
“You could say that.”
Oh, for fuck’s sake.
John could hear the hesitance in his uncle’s tone, which wouldn’t lead to anything good.
“What now?” he demanded.
Gio rapped his fingers to the leather-bound steering wheel. “Just to be sure that you’re not going to have a relapse the moment you’re out and free to do your own thing, Dante and Lucian decided that it would be better if you worked alongside Andino and Timothy with their crews for a while.”
Anger surged through John like he hadn’t felt in a long time. It was good. So fucking good. Like a shot of adrenaline straight to his bloodstream.
But that feeling was also addictive and bad for him. Bad for his mania and bad for the bipolar currents of his emotions that he fought with daily. He wasn’t that crazy, out of control, unmanageable person. He got that his behavior and issues had put his family and la famiglia through hell, but he was good.
Did his family not trust him?
It pissed him off even more.
“Just to be clear, I don’t get a say here, right?” John asked.
Gio shrugged. “No, you don’t.”
Because that’s how Cosa Nostra worked, and his family was knee-deep in that life and culture. Nobody could possibly begin to understand their life. With his uncle being the head boss of the family, his other uncle acting as Dante’s consigliere, and John’s own father being the family underboss, there was no escaping who he was.
When it came to family decisions, especially ones made about him, John didn’t get a bone in the fight. His uncles pulled rank, as did his father.
His life was dictated, surrounded, and determined by rules.
John stifled the familiar urge to push back against the walls closing in on him again. They were only in his own mind, after all.
“There’s something else I have to do this week,” John said, dropping the conversation. He didn’t want to fight with his uncle about something that neither of them could do anything about at the moment. “I should do it tomorrow, but I need some contacts.”
Gio cocked a brow and passed John a look. “What is that?”
“I need a new therapist. One that my father doesn’t have on his payroll.”
“I’ll follow his fucking rules and give him what he wants, but he’s not having control over that. Not now. It’s been three years since my last episode. Give me a fucking break here. I’ve earned that, Gio.”
“You were wrong,” Gio said quietly.
“Your father. He did give you a choice, John. You know he did.”
John forced back his irritation. “Leave it alone.”
“He gave you a choice. An institution to get yourself checked out and settled, or time behind bars. You made the choice, John, not Lucian.”
“I’m not crazy,” John said.
“No one ever said that.”
But they might as well have.
“Putting me in an institution would have labeled me exactly that.”
“We just wanted you healthy.”
Gio passed him another look. “Let’s hope you stay that way.”
“Thanks for that, asshole.”
“I’m just being real, John. We both know if you don’t keep managing this like you’ve been forced to for the last three years, you can easily relapse into another episode.”
John knew that, but it still made his anger rear its ugly head. His saving grace was being able to control it now, whereas he couldn’t before.
“By the way,” Gio said as he pushed the gas pedal harder.
“Happy birthday, John.”
• • •
A drop of tension crawled down John’s spine as his uncle pulled up to the iron-wrought gate. A long, twisty driveway led up to a mansion with two wings, three floors, a pool, and a guest house out back. The estate rested on six acres of property in Tuxedo Park.
The Marcello family home was massive.
“Passcode, please,” a robotic voice commanded from the speaker Gio was talking in to.
“Seven, two, six, nine, five, five,” his uncle replied.
“Please speak your name clearly for voice recognition.”
“Giovanni David Marcello.”
The speaker buzzed for a split second before the gate shuddered and began to open automatically. Gio pulled the car through the opening the moment the vehicle could fit through. It never failed to amaze John how careful and protective their family was about keeping their private lives hidden from public view. He understood, of course, but it was still amusing.
“Voice recognition?” John asked. “When did Antony have that put in?”
“A year ago.”
Gio stilled in his seat. “Just because, I suppose.”
“Are you being purposely difficult, or what?”
Quickly, Gio put the car in park at the mid-way point on the driveway between the gate and the house.
“He put it in because he’s not young, John. He’s eighty-seven, and he doesn’t like to be reminded of the things he’s not capable of doing at his age. He’s not quick on his feet, his eyesight is terrible, and he wants his wife to feel safe.”
“What happened to the guard he had?”
“You’ll see,” Gio muttered as he put the car in drive again. “Just don’t say anything to him about his age or the changes. It bothers him and then Cecelia gets pissy.”
“I got it.”
John found the guard in question the moment the front entrance to the Marcello home was in full view. Dressed in all black, the man rested beside a dark sedan with a cigarette in one hand and a gun at his waist. John knew the man had to be the guard because no one else was permitted to smoke in front of the Marcello home. They had areas designated for that sort of thing.
“He’s keeping him closer,” John noted.
“Any particular reason why?”
Gio shrugged. “You can never be too safe.”
Why didn’t John believe that?
“Hey,” Gio said quietly.
John gave his uncle a look. “Hmm?”
His tension was still there, dancing hand in hand with his anxiety. Three years in lock-up was a long time to be gone. How many things had changed since he’d went to prison? How much more distance had he forced between him and his family in that time?
Gio turned the car off and put his hand on the door handle. “For the record, John …”
“What about it?”
“I thought you made the right choice three years ago.”
John’s brow furrowed. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“When your father bribed the judge with the option of an institution or jail time. I thought you made the right choice.”
Well, that was not what John expected to hear.
“Why is that?”
“Because despite how irrational everything you were doing seemed to be, I don’t believe for a second that any hospital in the country would have sorted you out like prison did. Thirty days in an institution with a couple of therapists, new meds, and little else wasn’t what you needed. Time was what you needed, John. You still got the doctors, you got the meds, but you also got the break. You made the right choice.”
John let out a slow breath. “Who else feels that way?”
Gio laughed. “I know what you’re asking without outright asking it.”
“Your mother is probably at the front door about ready to blow it down and come out here.”
John nodded, knowing his uncle wasn’t going to answer his question. “I better get my ass in the house before she comes out.”
“Yeah, probably. I bet your father is waiting, too.”
“We haven’t talked a lot since I went in.”
“All you had to do was pick up the phone, John.”
John glanced at the mansion. “I know.”
“Lucian thinks you made the right choice for you. In case you were wondering.”
“Lying is a terrible habit, Johnathan.”
But John was too damned good at it.
• • •
“Oh, il mio ragazzo!”
John barely heard the words come out of his mother’s mouth before he was engulfed in tiny arms that squeezed him nearly to death. For such a tiny thing, his mother was strong as hell. She literally knocked him off balance forcing them both to spin in a half circle, so they were facing the front door and not the large entryway like before.
“Hey, Ma,” John said, letting her crush him for all she was worth.
Gio grinned as he strolled on by.
He could have helped John a little. Physical expressions of emotions and John had never mixed well together. Not unless he was the one doing the expressing. And when he physically expressed emotions, it usually never ended well for anyone involved. Mushy, lovey nonsense didn’t do very damned much for him, either.
Jordyn squeezed her son harder. “I missed you.”
“You saw me a few months ago, Ma.”
John bent down when Jordyn finally loosened her grip around his chest and gave his mother a quick kiss to the cheek. “So nothing, Ma. I missed you, too.”
Jordyn’s face lit up with happiness.
Guilt stabbed at John’s insides.
He didn’t verbally express his feelings very well, either. He felt a lot of shit, and that was just the by-product of his disorder. Processing, understanding, and communicating his inner thoughts and emotions was difficult. It had clearly been too long since he’d given any affection to his mother if her joy over a simple admission was any indication.
“Liliana couldn’t make it down from Chicago with Joseph,” Jordyn said as she fiddled with John’s crooked tie. “She tried, but she couldn’t get out of the shifts at the hospital.”
Liliana, John’s younger sister, had married a man involved with the Chicago Outfit. John barely remembered the wedding, as he’d been right in the thick of his manic episode.
“But she’s coming down next month,” Jordyn added.
“Lucia?” John asked.
“She’s here,” his mother said about his youngest sister.
John’s other sister, also married but to a man who was unaffiliated to the mob, had never been very close to him. He wouldn’t be surprised if she hadn’t shown up for his welcome-home-slash-birthday party.
“She’s here, sneaking food while everyone else waits to eat,” came a darker, familiar voice from behind John.
Jordyn took a step back from her son. John spun on his heel only to come face to face with his father.
For John, it was like looking in an aging mirror. As he grew up, almost everyone he knew felt the need to point out how much he resembled his father. A twin, they said. Hazel eyes that matched John’s looked him up and down. His father smiled a little, making the sharp lines of his features soften briefly. Even at sixty, Lucian Marcello stood tall and straight, matching John’s height at six feet, three inches tall. Lucian commanded a room with his no-nonsense demeanor and his blunt attitude. He could also be intimidating with his quietness and watchful eye.
“Son,” Lucian greeted.
“Hey,” John replied.
“You look good.”
“I hope so.”
“Seems prison has its benefits, hmm?”
John let the comment roll off his shoulders, knowing his father hadn’t meant it as an insult. “I think it did for me.”
“How was the drive?”
“Long,” John answered.
Lucian chuckled. “With Gio, any drive is long.”
“He talks a lot.”
“That he does.” Lucian jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “As I said, Cella is here and sneaking food. We’re letting it go what with the pregnancy and all. She has to feed the baby.”
John cleared his throat. “I didn’t know she was pregnant.”
“Phones work, John, even in prison.”
That comment didn’t roll off like the first one did.
“Lucian,” Jordyn said, coming to stand beside her son. “Don’t.”
Lucian’s jaw tightened before he frowned. “Mi scusi, I’m sorry. That was out of line, son. I’m happy you’re home. We all are.”
John wished he could say the same, but for a split second he was back to feeling like the outsider in his family again. No one in particular made him feel that way directly, but the disconnect he experienced with his own father made everyone else seem distant, too.
The shout of his name drew John’s attention away from Lucian.
John stiffened when his cousin, Andino, moved past his uncle with a wide grin. Andino stood toe-to-toe with John. Before the incident that landed John in prison and nearly took Andino’s life, the two cousins had been inseparable.
Ride or die, their family said. Because the two cousins always found trouble together. They had always been close, best friends even, and one mistake ruined it all.
At twenty-eight, Andino was the closest cousin in relation to his own age that John had.
“Jordyn,” Lucian said with a pointed look in his wife’s direction, “… why don’t we go let everyone know that the man of the hour has arrived.”
“Sure,” Jordyn replied.
With a squeeze of her hand on John’s arm, his parents disappeared.
“It’s good to see you, man,” Andino said.
John smirked. “And you, cugino.”
Andino grinned at the Italian word for cousin. “I would have made the trip up to see you, but I wasn’t sure if that was good for you.”
“I wouldn’t have turned you away, Andi.”
Andino held out a hand.
John passed it a wary glance.
“John?” Andino asked.
“We’re good, man.”
Just like that, three words ripped away the concern John had about his friendship with Andino.
“Are we?” John asked.
Andino didn’t drop his hand. “Family first, John.”
John shook his cousin’s hand. Home started to feel a little more real. The distance keeping John and his emotional attachments to his family at bay began to close.
“I hope you don’t mind a crowd,” Andino said.
John cocked a brow. “I never do.”
“Good, because the whole damn city might as well be here to welcome you home.”
“Open invitation to anyone in la famiglia, man,” Andino said, chuckling. “I don’t think anyone refused it.”
• • •
“I have to start looking for a place,” John said.
Andino took a drag off his cigarette, and eyed his companion in the Lexus. “I told you that it was all right if you stayed with me for a bit.”
“I like being alone, Andi. It’s not about you.”
“Fine. You’ve only been home a couple of days, John. Give it a bit of time. You’ve got a lot of adjustment to do. Work in to it all slowly. You don’t have to do it all at once.”
John disagreed. He wanted to get back to his old routine of things as quickly as he possibly could. Part of that was not being under his cousin’s watch all of the damned time. It wasn’t Andino’s fault because the man was just following orders. But John felt suffocated all the same.
“I still need to find my own place.”
Andino tossed his nearly finished cigarette out of the window. “We can do that.”
“So hey, I’ve got to handle some business over at one of my restaurants. Are you interested in coming or do you have things to do?”
John shrugged. “I’ve got shit to do.”
“I’m not giving you my car.”
Laughing, John said, “I don’t need it, asshole.”
But he did need to get his own and soon. It was in the works.
“I’ll take the bus,” John added. “The warehouse is only a couple of blocks from here.”
“Careful and clean, right?”
John glowered. “Back off.”
“I’m just making sure.”
“It’s on the up. It’s your goddamn guys I’m working with.”
“I know,” Andino said. “But not all of those fools are good, either. I’ll see you later.”
John climbed out of the Lexus without another word to his cousin. As Andino pulled away from the side of the road, John strolled down the sidewalk to where the bus stop was and waited. Less than ten minutes later, a bus heading straight into the heart of Hell’s Kitchen pulled over, and John stepped in the vehicle.
Pulling out a phone from his pocket, John dialed his father’s cell phone number as he walked toward the back of the bus with his eyes on the ground.
“Ciao,” Lucian said when he picked up John’s call.
“I’m not going to make it for dinner. Give Ma my apologies.”
Lucian sighed heavily. “Why not?”
“Business in the Kitchen.”
Technically, it was a lie. He didn’t have to work today if he didn’t want to, but he needed something to do other than be under his cousin’s watch. John simply didn’t want to go through another round with his parents and their concerns. He needed space and time to breathe. He needed to be his own person without everyone else’s worries and influence.
His parents didn’t understand.
“Breakfast tomorrow then,” Lucian said.
“It’s not a request, John,” his father cut in harshly. “When you flake on your mother, I expect you to make it up to her.”
Lucian hung up the call before John could.
Shoving his phone in his pocket, John took the first seat he could. Glancing up from his clenched hands that rested in his lap, he came face-to-face with sapphire eyes.
The woman smiled.
She had a tablet in her hands and one earbud in her ear. A messenger bag rested at her feet, drawing John’s gaze down to the leather boots she wore. Skinny jeans showcased the length of her legs and the curve of her hips. He didn’t recognize her, but something about her was familiar.
Tucking a strand of her caramel-toned curls behind her ear, the woman met his gaze again. His mouth went dry and he didn’t have the first clue of why. Maybe it was because he’d spent three years in prison, and the only females he’d had contact with since he got out were family.
Or maybe it was because the girl was fucking beautiful.
Every part of him knew it.
“Hi,” she said, still smiling.
“Hi.” John grinned back. “Johnathan Marcello.”
“The Johnathan Marcello?”
John chuckled. “There’s only one alive in this city, as far as I know.”
The woman’s smile turned wider. “Siena.”
“Like the city in Italy?”
“Just like that,” she replied.
“A last name?” John asked.
“Calabrese. It’s very nice to meet you, John.”
JOHNATHAN’S EYES widened, and Siena grinned at the sight. Surprise looked good on the man. His confident smile earlier had sharpened his strong jaw and chiseled cheekbones, and made her think, I bet he could kill a woman with that smile. Stop her heart with a look, and restart it with a wink.
The surprise, though?
That took his sexiness, and turned it almost boyish in a blink.
“You didn’t know who I was?” Siena asked.
“Marcellos don’t tend to … mix a lot of business with the Calabrese family.” Johnathan’s confident grin took over once more, and his gaze traveled over her form. “You must be Matteo’s daughter.”
“One of a few,” she replied.
Johnathan cocked a brow. “I only know the Calabrese boss to have one.”
“The three illegitimate ones don’t get much recognition in the family.”
Across from her on the bus, Johnathan cleared his throat.
“Ah, I see,” he said.
So was the way of their life.
Nobody ever said being a principessa della mafia was an easy thing. In fact, it was one of the most suffocating things to be. All the rules and expectations that never ended. Having a Cosa Nostra boss for a father—and high-ranking brothers—left a young woman like Siena under their control and demands.
She was used to it, now.
Twenty-five years dealing with it all had done that to her.
“Kind of strange to see a Capo riding on a city bus,” Siena said.
“And what do you know about Capos, donna?”
The way he called her woman, and his hazel gaze drifted down over her jean-clad legs left a heavy feeling thumping in her throat. Siena was used to men staring—a byproduct of having taken after her exceptionally beautiful, but cold, mother. She wasn’t, however, used to a man like Johnathan doing it.
A man connected to the mafia. One that might face punishment from her father or brothers for disrespecting their family name by treating one of their women in any way that wasn’t honest and pure.
Like she was some angel.
Or a saint.
Siena was none of those things.
She quite liked the way Johnathan was looking at her.
“Well?” Johnathan asked. “What do you know about the business, huh?”
More than he probably thought she did.
Siena simply said, “Do you think I shouldn’t know who is who when it comes to the Three Families in New York? Wouldn’t that be a little dumb of me, considering who my father is and all?”
She mentally patted herself on the back for dodging that bullet. After all, one who dealt in the business did not discuss the business.
It was a rule.
Siena’s father repeated it to her a little more often than he did to everyone else. She figured that was because she was a woman, and no made man in the mafia wanted other Mafiosi to know a woman was handling business.
Especially … numbers.
“Isn’t it always black cars, and ten under the speed limit for Capos?” Siena asked.
“For some, maybe.” Johnathan chuckled. “My car is still in shipping somewhere between the Rust Belt and here.”
“But is it black?” she asked.
Johnathan smirked. “Possibly.”
“And do you drive ten under the limit?”
“I knew it,” Siena said, winking. “So, for now you’re slumming it on a bus, then?”
“I don’t mind the bus. I get to be around people without actually engaging with people.”
Siena lifted a single eyebrow. “Is that a shot at me—I shouldn’t be engaging you, or something?”
Johnathan’s grin deepened, and he looked her over once more. “Nah, I don’t mind engaging you, Siena.”
“It’s just a shame my last name is Calabrese, huh?”
He waved a hand, and said, “It is what it is.”
Johnathan looked out the bus window, and stayed silent for a few moments. As the bus stopped to let more people on, and a few off, Siena took the chance to take Johnathan’s profile in. A lax, easy smile. Strong lines shaped his jaw and cheekbones. A single dimple in his right cheek peeked out whenever his grin deepened. His bottom lip was slightly fuller than his top, and his olive complexion spoke of his Italian bloodline.
He had to be at least six-foot-three, or taller when standing up. The black suit he wore looked cut perfectly to his form—a lean, yet fit, form. The diamond incrusted Rolex on one wrist, a leather band embossed with something on the other, and black leather shoes gave credence to the wealth the Marcello family had.
Everything about Johnathan screamed handsome, bad news, and entirely interesting to Siena. His good looks certainly couldn’t be denied, and his last name—without needing him to confirm or deny—was enough to tell her he was probably mixed up in la famiglia.
The interesting bit, though, was a little harder to explain.
Other than how he looked at her?
Something different from how his dark grin made her pulse quicken?
Maybe it was because the Marcello family kind of felt like an enigma to her. She knew they were real, and heard enough about them to respect how they controlled New York. Yet, at the same time, the Marcellos were also illusive. A crime organization just like her father’s, but one her family only whispered about over the years.
Johnathan was, essentially, one big mystery.
Just like his family.
Straight, thick brows gave him a disinterested expression, except when he turned his hazel gaze on her. The cool, calm demeanor of Johnathan Marcello was shattered when someone got a good look at his eyes—a wild, lost man stared back.
Johnathan glanced away from the window. He caught Siena staring at him like a foolish girl, but she didn’t look away.
“Yes?” he asked.
Lying really wasn’t her forte.
She wasn’t very good at it.
“You’re very handsome, Johnathan,” she said.
Those dark eyes of his flashed with something unknown before he said, “I prefer John.”
“What I said remains the same, John.”
Siena was not usually so bold. Daring statements like those to a man like Johnathan could possibly get her in trouble, all things considered.
Still, she said it.
It had to be said.
He arched a brow. “Why did you call me the Johnathan Marcello earlier?”
Siena cleared her throat. “You’re a little infamous, aren’t you?”
“All the Marcellos, really.”
Johnathan nodded. “I suppose.”
Then, the bus came to another slow stop. Johnathan glanced out the window, and cussed before he stood up. His back was already turned to her, and he was heading for the door when he looked back over his shoulder.
All over again, with one single look, Siena’s heart thumped hard in her throat. A rhythm that intrigued and frightened her.
How did he do that by only staring?
Why couldn’t she control her own body?
“Maybe I’ll see you around, bella.”
He’d called her beautiful.
“Maybe,” she agreed.
Johnathan didn’t hear her.
He had already exited the bus.
• • •
Matteo’s voice boomed over the bustling Brooklyn restaurant. Siena’s father was a lot of things, but overwhelming was highest on the list. He towered over her mother who stood next to him at the table, and was wide enough that Siena’s arms couldn’t reach all the way around him when she hugged him.
“Traffic was bad,” Siena told him. “Hi, Dad.”
Matteo scowled at her when she stepped back. “Taking the bus again?”
“I like the bus. It’s … responsible.”
And it gives me a little less time with you.
She didn’t add that last part out loud.
Siena knew better.
“You have a brand new Lexus sitting in your apartment’s lot,” her father said, shaking his head full of dark brown hair, although it had started to thin a bit at the top. He didn’t like for anyone to point it out. “I bought you that car for you to do your business, and get to places on time, Siena.”
“Oh, leave her alone, Matteo. So, she likes the bus, who cares?”
Siena’s mother—Coraline—smiled sweetly at her daughter. She returned the smile, but hers wasn’t as honest or wide.
Sure, she loved her parents.
They had given her life, after all.
The two were still … difficult. Siena had grown up as the afterthought in her parents’ lives. Her brothers, Kev and Darren, had always taken center stage with Matteo and Coraline. Siena, on the other hand, had simply been given direction and restrictions. Rules she was meant to follow with no questions asked, and a set path in life chosen by these two people in front of her.
It certainly left her with a bitter taste.
“Because riding a bus with the money she makes is undignified,” Matteo said.
“Or economically and fiscally smart,” Siena put in.
Matteo passed her a look, and narrowed his gaze. “No, I told you what it is.”
Heaven forbid she ride the bus with the rest of the lowly people. She might catch their poor people cooties, or something.
Siena had all she could do not to roll her damn eyes. Matteo wouldn’t like that, either. Respect needed to be shown at all times when it came to her father. He expected nothing less from his children.
At least that was one thing she had in common with her brothers where their father was concerned. Matteo treated them all equally in that respect. One of the only fucking things.
“Sit, sit,” her father demanded with a wave at the table.
Matteo didn’t bother holding out a chair for Siena, but he did for his wife. Siena pulled her own chair out, and sat down. She was hoping this lunch with her parents would be over quickly enough because she had a million other things she’d rather be doing.
Coraline reached across the table to tap the napkin in front of Siena. “You’ll be staying a while—act like it, sweetheart.”
Siena picked up the napkin, flicked it open, and set it on her lap. At least the place had decent food, and that would make this lunch slightly more bearable. For now, anyway.
Matteo waved at a waiter who was handling another table. At the sight of her father gesturing for him, the man instantly left the couple whose coffees were not yet poured, and came their way.
So was the way of Matteo Calabrese.
He did not like to wait, or be left waiting.
He did not like to be ignored.
He was king of the room, always.
Luckily for her father, Matteo owned this particular restaurant. Actually, he owned quite a few businesses, and so did Siena’s older brothers. Between restaurants, clubs, used car dealerships, a couple of barber shops, pizza joints, a laundry mat, and a pub in Manhattan, they had more businesses than they knew what to do with.
None of the men in her family seemed particularly good with numbers unless it included counting up their profits for the month. Taxes were a thing to be avoided at all costs. Every single nickel and dime needed accounted for at the end of the day.
Given how they used their legal businesses to hide their illegal profits from the criminal side of their lives, her father and brothers needed someone good with numbers. Someone who could scrub books clean, and hide dirty cash.
They needed her.
Siena was … exceptional with numbers. She could take a business’s books, hide a couple of hundred grand in dirty money through different receivables accounts, and push the cleaned money straight out the other end.
It was the one thing she could do that her brothers could not. It was the only reason why Siena suspected her father hadn’t tried to force her into some arranged marriage to get the responsibility of her off his hands.
After all, a girl was only useful if she wasn’t useless.
Without numbers … without her talent of scrubbing books for her father’s Cosa Nostra, that’s all Siena would be. Entirely useless to the men in her family.
It gave her a little bit of control. She had no problems running with it every chance she could. It wasn’t her fault if Matteo and her brothers couldn’t see that she was manipulating them sometimes to get what she wanted.
“Mr. Calabrese,” the waiter said with a smile. “Good afternoon, sir.”
“Yes, yes, I’m ready to order now.”
“Pen’s ready, sir.”
Like always, Matteo ordered for himself, his wife, and Siena. Had her brothers been there, he would have ordered for them, too.
Anything her father could control, he did. Even if it was something as simple as what they wanted to eat for lunch.
“Shoo,” Matteo told the waiter with a flick of his wrist. “I’m hungry.”
The young man—who didn’t look old enough to be serving liquor, likely—darted off, and headed right for the kitchen. He didn’t even go back to the table where the couple was still waiting with their still-empty coffee cups.
“New boy,” Matteo told Coraline. “I like him so far.”
“He seems quiet,” her mother agreed.
Then, Matteo turned his dark eyes on the phone he had pulled from his inner jacket pocket. Just like that, Coraline and Siena were dismissed from the man’s attention. Coraline didn’t really seem all that bothered, as she simply stared out the window at the passersby on the street.
Siena was never more aware of how much she took after her mother in appearance and behavior than in that moment. Sure, her slyness and attitude came from her father, not to mention her determination to get shit done.
All her mom.
From the blues of her wide eyes, to the caramel of her long, wavy hair. Standing side by side, the two only reached five-foot-seven in four-inch heels. Their full lips curved the same way when they smiled, or smirked, and even the button nose was compliments of her mother’s delicate features.
The physical appearance was about as far as it went, though.
Coraline was quiet, and quick to bend to the whims of the men around her. Siena was far more likely to find a way out of it, or speak loudly enough for someone to listen.
Her mother was happy in her place, spoiled and content. She never batted an eye at the three daughters her husband fathered with a mistress over the period of twenty years, or the fact that mistress lived in a bigger house than she did.
Siena was not the kind of woman to stick her head in the sand.
She just couldn’t.
She certainly wasn’t going to turn her cheek, and pretend like the men in her life were some kind of good, godly creatures who gave back to society, and attended church every Sunday. Sure, they did those things—they also sold drugs, laundered money, blackmailed anyone they could, and murder was always at the top of someone’s to-do list.
Coraline could pretend all she wanted about her family, and live in her gilded cage of clouds where the bad stuff didn’t touch her.
Siena’s feet were still firmly planted on the ground.
She liked it here better.
“Don’t pull this tardiness nonsense on your brother later,” Matteo said.
Siena’s attention was back on her father in a blink. “Pardon?”
“Later—you’re heading over to Kev’s club, aren’t you? You’ve got books to scrub for him.”
“Don’t be late again. It’s rude, Siena.”
“I know, Dad. I won’t be late.”
She would make sure to be late.
Besides, she did need a couple of new books to put on her nightstand. The old bookshop a couple of blocks away from her brother’s club sounded like a good place to get lost in for an hour or so.
If she could do it, and get away with it, then what was stopping her?
It was the Calabrese way.
• • •
Siena thumbed through the brand new paperback of a romance she had asked the old shopkeeper to order in for her well over a month ago. Sure, she had an e-reader and could have purchased a digital copy instantly, but she still liked a good old paperback once in a while.
“How long are you gonna caress that book, girly?”
Siena gave Eugene a smile.
Well in to his seventies, Eugene had been supplying Siena’s addiction to romance and thrillers since she was seventeen or so. Sometimes, she came in the shop just to help him rearrange shelves, or unload the new releases for the month. He didn’t need to be lifting things, anyway. His aged face showed more wrinkles when he smiled, and told the story of his life.
“I’m going to touch it and love it for as long as I want to, thank you,” she said, smiling sweetly.
Eugene sighed. “You and those damn romances. You’re going to give yourself an unhealthy outlook on men. No real life man will stand up to the kinds of heroes in those books.”
Siena shrugged. “My standards are already pretty sky-high.”
The man chuckled hoarsely. “As they should be, Siena. You take the book, and have a good day, sweetheart.”
“You didn’t ring me up yet.”
From the other side of the counter, the man winked. “Call it even for you doing my books last month for the quarter.”
Siena gave him a look. “Yeah, and I saw how much you’re making, too. So, let me pay for the damn book.”
“No way. It’s all yours. I already paid for it. You thought I would forget, I bet.”
“I remembered your birthday was today. Twenty-five.”
The old man smiled. “You didn’t ask for a thing to do my books, girly. Plus, you filed my taxes last year and wouldn’t let me pay you for that, either. Consider it payback, and a birthday gift. It’s just a book.”
“I didn’t want anything,” she replied, giving him a look.
It literally took her all of an hour to do his books, and twenty minutes to file his taxes.
Eugene shrugged. “The least you could do is allow me to buy you a book—one you’ve been waiting a long time for me to get. I know you have one of those fancy e-reader thingys. You could have just as easily gotten yourself a copy on that reading thing, and not from me. It’s one book. Don’t worry about it. Your reading addiction keeps me in business.”
Siena knew that was only partly true. She still adored Eugene for saying it. Both sets of her grandparents had died—one after the other over the span of a decade. Before she ever even reached sixteen years old.
Now, at twenty-five, she kind of felt like she had found a stand-in for a grandparent with Eugene. Seeing him once or twice a week made her whole day.
Leaning across the counter, Siena pulled Eugene in for a tight one-armed hug. “Thank you, Eugene.”
“Ah, no need for that. You let me know if the book is as good as you wanted it to be, okay?”
Siena tapped the paperback against her palm, and cocked a brow. “Even though you think romance novels are just trashy sex scenes now?”
The old man laughed. “Now, I read some … mostly because you made me, but they’re okay.”
“How about you don’t go getting unrealistic ideas in your head about what a real man is, huh?”
Siena nodded. “I won’t.”
“But make sure he treats you like a queen.”
Eugene waved at the door. “Have a good day, Siena. By the way, I know that’s a series, and I have already ordered the following two for you. This time, you can pay. They should get here in a couple of weeks.”
“Ciao,” Eugene replied in kind, butchering the Italian greeting.
It still made Siena smile as she headed out of the bookshop. Eugene didn’t need to make her feel special by saving or buying her books, or greeting her the way she greeted him every time she entered or exited his shop. Yet, he still did all of those things.
She suspected he was the one and only reason why people like her kept going back to him, and his bookshop. Because he was so sweet, he cared, and he never forgot to make someone who came into his business feel important while they were there.
The man should have retired years ago—he wasn’t willing to give up his shop, though. Never was married, apparently, so he didn’t have a wife or kids to pull him away from work and show him the world.
Siena thumbed through the first few pages of the paperback as she headed out of the bookshop. Her attention was fully engrossed in the opening paragraph introducing a CEO heroine getting ready for what was intended to be the biggest meeting of the woman’s life.
She was so engaged in the book she had waited forever for, that she wasn’t even paying attention to the people blowing by her on the street. It was only a couple of blocks to her brother’s club. Kev had texted her four times and left one voicemail asking where the hell she was and why she was late.
Siena didn’t bother to respond.
Who else was going to cook and scrub their books?
Nobody but her.
He could wait.
Siena flipped to the second page in the book, and not a breath later rammed straight into something hard. Her book went sprawling to the—thankfully dry—pavement, and landed with the cover up. She stumbled backwards, and almost fell herself.
A dark chuckle and a hand wrapping around her back kept her from hitting the ground as well.
The spicy cologne of the man helping her up was the first thing Siena noticed about the guy. His familiar black suit was the second thing.
She stared Johnathan Marcello right in the face as he helped her to stand straight. He flashed her a smile, showing off straight, white teeth and his charm in a blink.
“Two meetings in one day, huh?” he asked
Siena wondered why her throat had gone tight again. Still, she managed to speak. “Sorry about that. I was—”
Johnathan bent down and picked up her book. He eyed the title and the cover, and handed it over with another brilliant smile. “Distracted, I think. I can see why—the guy on that cover looks like he bathed himself in body oil, or something.”
“They do say sex sells.”
That smile of Johnathan’s turned suggestive in a blink. “That it does.”
“It’s actually a book I’ve been waiting forever for,” she admitted. “My birthday is today, and the shopkeeper remembered. It’s my gift from him.”
Johnathan chuckled. “A gift, huh?”
“He’s old enough to be my grandfather.”
“Well, happy birthday.”
“Big, old twenty-five,” she half-grumbled.
Johnathan scoffed. “Old, right. You’re five years away from my thirty, and only when you get to there can you come talk to me about old.”
“Thirty isn’t old.”
And he didn’t look anything beyond twenty-six, maybe.
Johnathan shrugged. “It’s all in how you feel, I guess.”
Siena didn’t believe in shit like fate or any of that kind of nonsense. Not being a numbers girl like she was. She much preferred to see things in black and white. Reality. Written in stone, not a what-could-be kind of thing.
She wondered, however, what the odds were that she would randomly run in to Johnathan like this again. Twice. In one day.
Should she consider that a sign, or something?
Maybe she could try for a third time to see him, except without it being entirely random. More … planned.
The outspoken part of Siena’s personality came forward before she could stop it with trivial things like nerves or anxiety.
“Hey, do you have somewhere—”
Johnathan’s phone ringing loudly inside his pocket stopped Siena from asking him to dinner like she wanted. He pulled out the phone, and put it to his ear while he held up a finger for her to ask for a minute.
“Yeah, John here.” A beat of silence passed, and then Johnathan said, “All right, man. I’m on my way.”
Johnathan hung up the phone, gave Siena a wink, and shoved the device in his jacket.
“Business calls,” he told her. “Try looking up when you walk, huh? Gotta be safe, bella donna. You don’t know the kind of crazy you might run in to around here.”
With a wave, John darted out into the street, and didn’t give Siena another look.
She hadn’t gotten to ask him out.
Maybe that was the sign.
• • •
Darren chewed loudly on an apple in the corner chair as Siena strolled into the club’s office. You would think, given the kind of private work she did for her family, that they would allow her the privacy of her own office.
She almost always worked out of one of their offices.
“Late, aren’t you?” Darren asked.
Siena shrugged as she dropped in the office chair, and turned the PC monitor the way she liked. “I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Kev isn’t happy.”
Their oldest brother was never happy.
“Kev can chill,” Siena said.
A couple of passwords, and one encrypted file later, and Siena had brought up the dirty books for the club. Next week, she would be at another office owned by her family to scrub out and cook those books, too.
It changed a lot.
Her bachelor’s degree in accounting afforded her the knowledge of cooking and scrubbing books, but her respect for numbers kept her attention focused and interested. That was what mattered most.
She actually liked doing it.
The numbers in the excel charts were a comforting place for Siena. It was all about balances and checks. Numbers were straightforward, and didn’t leave questions behind. Something either added up, or it didn’t.
She liked that.
“Oh, so you finally fucking showed up, did you?”
Kev’s voice—much like their father’s—boomed. It could travel down hallways, and through walls. The men in her family didn’t know how to have a quiet conversation if their lives depended on it.
Siena didn’t look away from the computer screen as she brought up the accounts receivable and payable for the club. The proper books this time—not the ones she was about to make look proper.
“Got caught up in something,” Siena said.
“Something like what?”
She didn’t want to mention the bookstore to her brothers. The two didn’t have any respect or appreciation for things like books and escapism. They only respected and understood the life, Cosa Nostra, and their father.
She decided to deflect Kev’s question with one of her own.
“So, I guess Johnathan Marcello is out of prison now, huh?” she asked.
Johnathan’s prison sentence had been widely known across New York. It had been in the news, and even his sentencing had been publicized. It was one of the reasons she had called him infamous, though she thought it might be rude to point it out.
Siena peered over the PC screen.
Sure enough, Kev’s brow had raised as he shot Darren a look. She mentally patted herself on the back.
“Did you know that?” Kev asked Darren.
“I didn’t. How does she know it?”
Both Siena’s brothers looked to her.
“I ran in to him on the bus,” she said, shrugging.
She didn’t mention the street, too.
“I guess we should let Dad know,” Kev said.
Siena almost asked why.
She knew better.
They wouldn’t answer.