Main The Sweetest Oblivion (Made #1)
You may be interested in Powered by Rec2Me
Most frequent terms
Wow, this is my first time reading a book about mafia Romance and let me tell you, this is such a great starter. It’s predictable, kind of soft, it solely focuses on their love life and the main characters are always horny lmao. But seriously if you want to start reading mafias start with this, and if you’ve been reading mafias this is a quick easy read that takes at most two months and at least 1-2 weeks to finish. Simple, cute, steamy.
04 October 2020 (21:47)
5/5 DEF RECOMMEND
-one of the best mafia books that isn’t overly cliche or cringe,
-enemies to lovers and a delicious slow burn
LOVE NICO AND ELENA
-one of the best mafia books that isn’t overly cliche or cringe,
-enemies to lovers and a delicious slow burn
LOVE NICO AND ELENA
06 April 2021 (18:58)
YESSSSSIR THIS BOOK HELLA GOOD 8.9/10
01 June 2021 (12:21)
basically its just smut. love? maybe. lust? definitely. if ur into that then this books for you.
08 June 2021 (13:18)
I love this book... Highly recommended
09 July 2021 (22:35)
literally so good highly recommend 10/10
17 July 2021 (23:51)
YALL THIS BOOK IS SO SO SO GOOD SOLID 10/10
20 July 2021 (20:46)
Oh my God. This is SO good. I couldn't stop reading it and the way it's written makes me feel like I was there with the characters, ESPECIALLY involving their sexual tensions. LOVE IT <3 10/10
30 July 2021 (08:22)
I absolutely love this book
05 August 2021 (04:15)
wow I absolutely love this book
10 August 2021 (18:20)
i think it's a very cliche book and i didn't really enjoy it but if ur into that ig u should read this
12 August 2021 (13:34)
This book was so awful and sexist. The sex was great but the plot was awful!
12 August 2021 (13:50)
honestly the book was great. It showed how the cosa nostra is supposed to be . absolutely loved it
22 August 2021 (00:09)
Okay, I really enjoyed this book. Nevertheless mafia books are toxic asf this one was “super villain -I’m finna sacrifice everyone but you cuz u r my everything- vibes”
28 August 2021 (01:07)
i love it when the male pines for the perfect girl from arranged marriage, this is perfect
02 September 2021 (00:09)
The book is amazing but Elena kinda annoyed me just a little tho but overall it was AMAZING.[It has a happy ending by the way] :)
20 September 2021 (08:15)
I need a second pulse
I just wanna know how many cummies it is expectable to have while reading this book. tks
21 September 2021 (17:05)
honestly the book was sexist and abit weird. but the tension was well written
23 September 2021 (10:23)
I had a great time reading Christian and Ronan's stories and now I'm on Nico. Hope it's good
27 September 2021 (21:07)
No thoughts, just vibes.
28 September 2021 (23:14)
seriously, when are any of these books not so sexist? I mean, I get it but come on. I like the idea but I wish Elena had an actual personality and did not allow herself to be pushed over by someone she’s not obligated to answer to. I couldn’t read the book even though I wanted to know how it’ll end because of how sexist it was. 3/10
01 October 2021 (01:29)
i LOVE the book!! 10/10
02 October 2021 (03:01)
Your moms hot
I’m excited to read this <3
05 October 2021 (18:19)
My favourite book i love it and it says alot bc i usually don't have favourite books
07 October 2021 (22:01)
Loved the book but i do agree that Elena could have had more of a personality.
14 October 2021 (08:13)
this book is everything. finished it in almost just 2 days, was kind of surprised that the book ended cause I was so hooked. YES IT WAS THAT GOOD
16 October 2021 (08:21)
this boo has become my obsession i feel like reading it over and over..... can i keep ace forever..... a must read book
24 October 2021 (16:56)
i'm not a big reader at all but i devoured this book. i've never read a book as fast as i read this book (i read it in 3 days). it was wholesome and the spicy scene was soooo good (especialy when we get to read the nico's pov)
05 November 2021 (02:20)
This book was so good !!!
20 November 2021 (19:27)
the BEST mafia book i have read! i don't really like the rest books of the series but you sould definitely read this one!! the tension between the leads is....unbeatable!!
03 December 2021 (16:35)
I did not like this book at all. In my opinion (if you love this book, I'm not hating on you at all) the characters where all terrible, especially Nico. He was an all around ass. Elena's whole personality was basically 'I want Nico so bad, but I can't cause he's gonna marry my sister.' And that's all there is to it. I couldn't even make it halfway through the book.
04 December 2021 (08:37)
I loveeeed everything about this book ?????Nico is just ?????
09 December 2021 (20:04)
?!?!?!!?!?!!!!!!!!Nico really is just?!?!?!!?!!?!!!
12 December 2021 (06:26)
I loved it... You can totally pick it..u won't regret
22 December 2021 (23:53)
I loved it... Thank you so much!
24 December 2021 (01:40)
Literally just read it, enough said ?
25 December 2021 (14:04)
Couldnt put it down, I loved everything about it
02 January 2022 (10:29)
It’s cute and the sexual frustration..whew. 4/5
07 January 2022 (21:54)
6/10 predictable, misogynistic to the point of dragging women back decades, very antagonistic towards Italians and the whole Familia...I dare say keeping stereotypes alive is why the FBI is so clueless
08 January 2022 (07:00)
I loved it!Thank you so much!
10 January 2022 (14:25)
5/5 love the tension but i don't like that the characters didnt have an actual personality, it's quite sexist and cliché but the smut was good
17 January 2022 (12:09)
3.5/5 idk i read it but i think it’s over hyped, i’ve read a lot better mafia books even on wattpad..
17 January 2022 (12:52)
hi any of you guys can help me. I can’t download the book it’s just empty file. I have iphone
18 January 2022 (21:34)
No me gustó, demasiado predecible.No me gustaron sus personalidades, no me gustaron sus actitudes.
Para resumir el libro la protagonista la tipica chica santa, pero que de golpe con el protagonista masculino saca su personalidad del interior.El protagonista tipico "machirulo" que es uy, solo soy de un dia nena, nl te esperes nada.Pero al final deja de pensar con la pija, como todos sabiamos que iba a pasar.Pero bueno, hace ya un tiempo lo leí, asi que no puedo sacar todo lo que en el momento me había dejado.
Para resumir el libro la protagonista la tipica chica santa, pero que de golpe con el protagonista masculino saca su personalidad del interior.El protagonista tipico "machirulo" que es uy, solo soy de un dia nena, nl te esperes nada.Pero al final deja de pensar con la pija, como todos sabiamos que iba a pasar.Pero bueno, hace ya un tiempo lo leí, asi que no puedo sacar todo lo que en el momento me había dejado.
22 January 2022 (07:10)
There are no words to describe how I am feeling right now. first, if you reading this and you haven't started it yet, girl you better go because it's one hell of a ride. Elena is not only one of my favorite book characters but she is one of the most confident girls leads I've read about. second, I hated how to book ended. why on earth would I read all that for it just to end like that. third, why the hell is the maddest obsession not about elena and Nico. I NEED MORE DRAMA. but overall this book was good but I need more you know like spice to it not just sexual but dramatic in all aspects. rate this an 8.5/10. A good book I would totally read again.
25 January 2022 (19:26)
My all time favorite like i cannot move on from Nico and Elena. Fucking Nico though goshhhhh i fell in luv with Nicholas Russo he can be my husband.
I don’t know why people say that Nico and Elena don’t have personalities like just because they don’t have some crazy sadistic childhood story doesn’t mean they got no personality. Elena has confident “that bitch” energy and Nico has that bad boy vibe but with like whole lotta of sweetness and luv and maturity so yeah Nico is basically perfecttt
I don’t know why people say that Nico and Elena don’t have personalities like just because they don’t have some crazy sadistic childhood story doesn’t mean they got no personality. Elena has confident “that bitch” energy and Nico has that bad boy vibe but with like whole lotta of sweetness and luv and maturity so yeah Nico is basically perfecttt
27 January 2022 (09:41)
7/10 i loved it! didnt rate it 8 or 9 bc i didn’t like elena at all like i hate her but her personality that i hated just kinda disappeared as the story went along so it was readable, nico was okay i think. btw to the people complaining bc elena didn’t have a personality, i don’t agree at all bc early in the book she sort of had a personality and i absolutely hated it!! other than that very fun and fast read i feel very lonely now so that’s a sign of a good romance book xx would rec
29 January 2022 (19:27)
I am completely enamored by your writing. I love all of your characters which you bring so much life to with vivid description. It’s rare to find a book that changes the rest of your life, and here I found three. These characters will stay with me always. I feel they are a part of me, and I shed real tears for them all. Thank you for these, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
02 February 2022 (10:04)
Ahh Nicolas Russo. I love him.
05 February 2022 (13:04)
This is the first time I've ever been this giddy over a book, my oh my I fucking love it!definitely different from other mafia books, the angst is so build up, man I love Ace<3
08 February 2022 (18:32)
A must read. Nico is ?
12 February 2022 (01:22)
OMG. Let's just fell in love with this book
19 February 2022 (16:00)
If you not sure about reading this. READ IT! It’s the best. This is my fav from the series. And NICO fucking RUSSO!!!! I am in love with that man
24 February 2022 (09:05)
I read this book twice that’s how good it is. Nico’s humor is top notch. He’s such a petty king I love it. It was such a fun read! Especially Nico’s pov and convos, I was hollering.
24 February 2022 (09:41)
I so much love my husband and I was ready to do whatever it take to make sure we get back together after 3 years of painful breakup, i want us to live happily forever, I’m so happy sharing my testimony how my husband came back to me, lots of people are going through breakup, If anyone out there having relationship break down I will advice you to contact ((Robinsonbuckler))@yahoo. com, and your story will never remain the same, Thank you sir for also getting me cured from herpes simplex. I will forever be grateful_______________________________
11 March 2022 (23:01)
Just read this book. And you’ll be obsessed with the series
29 March 2022 (13:02)
give this book a shot. you wont regret it.
04 April 2022 (05:44)
2/5 not much of a plot to this book, but the back and forth between elena and nico was fun to read
14 April 2022 (06:54)
I LOVE NICO AND ELENA. I LOVE THIS BOOK. IF YOU DON'T LIKE THE BOOK PER SE JUST PLEASE PUT IT DOWN AND STOP READING. I do love Nico, Christian, and Ronan, all of them. But that doesn't mean that I'm romanticizing them for being RED FLAGS. Let's just accept the fact that they aren't perfect—yes not even a fictional character. Nicolas Russo is an all around ass???? This is a mafia book series what do you expect the characters would be??? Hmp.
16 April 2022 (03:50)
Book is great. Nico is perfect book boyfriend: touch her and you’ll die type. What I didn’t like about this book is that they don’t get together for majority of book and I personally do not like that.
24 April 2022 (19:34)
I really love this book the best thing is that both the characters have constant interactions throughout the book which really kept me invested in it the tension between them is just * chef’s kiss * 5/5
12 May 2022 (17:44)
OMG I love this series I have reread it 3 times its so good especially the 3rd book
11 June 2022 (11:56)
I am on the very first chapter and she has pointed out the fact she is 5'0 EXACTLY at least 4 times. But we gone see how this book go
13 June 2022 (03:22)
UHOH my bad I posted this comment on the wrong damn book
13 June 2022 (03:22)
I'm so sorry but this book was really bad. Great sex tho. The characters didn't really have much of a personality. It was very fucking sexist. To be factual, it was even worse than a lot of these Wattpad books. 4/10??
21 June 2022 (12:22)
If it's an ePub you can upload it on Playbook (Android) or download an ePub reader. You also have the option to download it as a PDF though, the download button has a drag down property, then the options will display.
Hope this helps
If it's an ePub you can upload it on Playbook (Android) or download an ePub reader. You also have the option to download it as a PDF though, the download button has a drag down property, then the options will display.
Hope this helps
24 June 2022 (19:01)
The Sweetest Oblivion Copyright 2018 Danielle Lori All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without written consent of the author, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages for review purposes only. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are used fictitiously and are a product of the author’s imagination. Cover Designer: Okay Creations Interior Formatting: Champagne Book Design Editor: Bryony Leah Table of Contents Title Page Copyright Dedication Playlist Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-One Chapter Twenty-Two Chapter Twenty-Three Chapter Twenty-Four Chapter Twenty-Five Chapter Twenty-Six Chapter Twenty-Seven Chapter Twenty-Eight Chapter Twenty-Nine Chapter Thirty Chapter Thirty-One Chapter Thirty-Two Chapter Thirty-Three Chapter Thirty-Four Chapter Thirty-Five Chapter Thirty-Six Chapter Thirty-Seven Chapter Thirty-Eight Chapter Thirty-Nine Chapter Forty Chapter Forty-One Chapter Forty-Two Chapter Forty-Three Chapter Forty-Four Chapter Forty-Five Chapter Forty-Six Chapter Forty-Seven Chapter Forty-Eight Chapter Forty-Nine Chapter Fifty Chapter Fifty-One Chapter Fifty-Two Acknowledgments Books by Danielle Lori Connect With Me For AJ My only inspiration for falling in love. Listen Here World Gone Mad—Bastille Rocket Man—Elton John Human—Aquilo Waterfalls—Eurielle Her Life—Two Feet Like I’m Gonna Lose You—Jasmine Thompson Madness—Ruelle Fireworks—First Aid Kit Seven Nation Army—The White Stripes Dirty Diana—Shaman’s Harvest Holocene—Bon Iver Hurt For Me—SYML Soldier—Fleurie “There’s no such thing as good money or bad money. There; ’s just money.” —Lucky Luciano Long Island, New York MY HOME WAS PICTURESQUE. A red front door with a golden knocker. Black and white checkered flooring. A wooden staircase with a lacquer shine and a sparkling chandelier. However, I’d always wondered, If I pulled back a corner of the wallpaper . . . would it bleed red? If this world was as transparent as glass, soft splats would drip a pool to the marble floors. I stared at the TV in the corner of the kitchen, hardly processing the newscaster’s voice, but when murder passed her ruby red lips, the word resounded in my mind. My throat tightened as I twisted the ring on my middle finger. While my home, my life, was built on piles of dirty money, I’d always been able to say I hadn’t contributed to the balance. Not until earlier this year, that is. Now, blood was on my hands and guilt watched me while I slept. Voices from the foyer drifted to my ears every time the swinging door opened as our servants came in and out, preparing for lunch. A feminine trill of a laugh, my cousin Benito’s lively timbre, and a voice I’d vaguely recognized as I left the church this morning. It was low, smooth, and indifferent. The hair on the back of my neck rose. I knew it belonged to my future brother-in-law. And it was partly—wholly—the reason I was hiding in the kitchen, though I would never admit it. “You are too beautiful for that frown, Sweet Abelli,” my mamma said, as she entered the room with the cacophony of our guests’ conversations following her. I shifted under the weight of her words. For obvious reasons, I hadn’t heard that nickname in a while. I’d grown out of the name some, especially when I realized I was the girl adored for all the wrong reasons: I wasn’t hard to look at, I was quiet when I should be and polite when I wasn’t. Like a childhood dress that didn’t fit anymore, I was stuck in the world’s expectations for me. It took years of feeling like a pretty bird in a cage until it all became too much . . . and I escaped. “I don’t know why you watch this, Elena,” Mamma said, stirring the sauce on the stove. “All that nonsense is depressing.” Mamma was married to Salvatore Abelli—a high-profile boss of one of the biggest organized crime syndicates in the United States. Sometimes I wondered if the naivety was denial, or if she would truly rather watch Days of Our Lives than worry about my papà’s affairs. “I’m not sure who to vote for in the election,” I answered absently. She shook her head in disbelief, and I guessed it was odd for the daughter of a mob boss to care about the legalities of the government. “Your papà isn’t happy with you,” she said, looking at me under her dark eyelashes with that pursed-lips-you’re-in-trouble expression. “When isn’t Papà unhappy with me lately?” “What do you expect after what you did?” Six months had passed, and I swore she brought it up every day. She was like a dog with a bone, and I honestly thought she enjoyed the mistake I’d made because she finally had something to chastise me about. “Why didn’t you come meet the Russo after church today?” She pointed her spoon at me. “I’m not buying the act that you forgot and were waiting innocently in the car.” I crossed my arms. “I just didn’t want to. He’s . . . rude.” “Elena,” she scolded. “You don’t even know him.” “You don’t need to meet someone with his reputation to know his character, Mamma.” “Oh, Madonna, salvami,” she muttered. “And he won’t understand Adriana,” I added tersely. She snorted. “Not many will understand your sister, figlia mia.” The gardener did . . . but I wasn’t going to share that with Mamma, or by the end of the day he’d be at the bottom of the Hudson. Earlier this week, Papà had announced that Adriana would be marrying Nicolas Russo, the don of one of the five families in New York. My past transgressions were still tender wounds, but with this news added to the list it was like they’d been cut back open. I was the eldest sister; therefore, it was my responsibility to marry first. But because of my mistake, my sister had been thrown under the bus—and to a man with a reputation. Everyone knew that when someone had a reputation in this world it meant one thing: stay the hell away from them. “Besides, Nico is a perfect gentleman. If you would’ve met him this morning after church like you were supposed to, you would know that.” I’d strode right out of the church doors and to the car before I could be corralled to meet my future brother-in-law. I was practically a pariah to my papà, so I was surprised he’d even noticed my absence. Besides, I was sure Nicolas Russo’s gentleman act was nothing but smoke and mirrors. Since Nicolas’s papà had died five years ago, the twenty-nine-year-old and youngest sitting don had become well-known in the underworld. Following his father’s footsteps, he was a cheat, had more blood on his hands than the entirety of the New York State Penitentiary, and was unremorseful about it all. At least I imagined he was unapologetic. The newscaster wouldn’t have reported a new victim with the name “Zanetti” every morning for a year—the family Nicolas had once feuded with for killing his papà—if he felt at all guilty. He was going straight to Hell with that attitude if you asked me. “I did meet him, Mamma.” She raised a brow. “You did?” “Well, no.” Her expression darkened. “But I shared a look with him,” I insisted. “And that was all I needed to see to know he wouldn’t be good for Adriana.” She rolled her eyes. “Ridicolo.” A glare and a look were the same things . . . right? It was an accident, really. It was as I was walking down the church steps that my gaze caught on the meeting I was supposed to be attending. Papà and Mamma stood on either side of Adriana and across from Nicolas Russo—and that was usually how a bride and groom met in this life. Arranged marriages were par for the course in the Cosa Nostra. In annoyance at the entire situation, my eyes had narrowed slightly before glancing at my future brother-in-law, only to find he was already looking at me. That was how the glaring occurred—an accident, you see. But I could hardly convey that to the man, and if I had smiled it would’ve come off condescending, so I just . . . went with the glare and hoped it wouldn’t get me killed. Nicolas’s gaze had hardened a flicker to show he didn’t like it, but after a second of heavy eye contact, he returned his attention to my papà like I was nothing but a leaf blowing by. I’d let out the breath I was holding and went to hide in the car. There was no way I was meeting him after that exchange. I’d just avoid him until the end of my days. “Stop worrying and trust your papà.” I made a hmm noise because I’d overheard from my cousin Benito that the alliance was for collaboration on some weapons deal, nothing more. My sister was a pawn in some large-scale trafficking agreement. How romantic. Even so, we knew this day would come. I held no expectations for a marriage of love, and neither did Adriana. The problem was, my sister believed she was already in love. With the gardener. “Elena, go see if Adriana is ready for lunch.” “She told me last night she wasn’t coming.” “She’s coming!” Mamma snapped, followed by muttering in Italian. With reluctance, I pushed off the counter and headed out of the kitchen. The newscaster’s voice trailed me out the swinging door, and, like a warning, that word murder spilled from red lips once more. On an Evening in Roma played from the antique record player as I headed toward the staircase and took in the guests in the foyer. My papà’s sister and husband, a few male cousins, and my brother Tony, who was shooting an intense glare in Nicolas’s direction. Tony leaned against the wall with his hands in his black suit pockets, alone. His girlfriend wasn’t Italian and was rarely invited over. My mamma disliked her just because she was dating her son. I loved my brother, but he was reckless, impulsive, and lived by the code, “If I don’t like it then I’ll fucking shoot it.” And it looked like he wanted to shoot Nicolas Russo. There was some history between the two, and it wasn’t the good kind. My gaze caught on a striking woman with . . . interesting style. She stood next to a man who I assumed to be her grandfather, but then he slid a hand onto her ass. She only pursed her lips like it was an annoyance. She wore a mink shawl in July, over a thin olive-green dress, and thigh-high boots. Long dark hair fell in smooth waves, and with her fake eyelashes and large hoop earrings she was like an ad to the seventies era. And, as if she wasn’t doing her job well enough, she blew a pink bubble and popped it, her eyes narrowing on me like I was the one whose style was four decades too late. If polar opposites were ever in the same room, it was her and me, undoubtedly. Almost home free with one hand on the banister, my father’s voice sounded behind me. “Elena, come here.” My stomach dipped and I closed my eyes in defeat, but I only hesitated for a second because that voice was non-negotiable. My hands grew clammy as I made my way to where my papà stood next to Nicolas. When I reached my father’s side, he took my arm and gave me a smile, but it didn’t reach his eyes. Papà looked ten years younger than his fifty-five, with small streaks of silver through his black hair. He was always in a suit, and you’d never find a wrinkle in it, but that gentleman look was just a façade. I’d first seen how he’d gotten his reputation when I was seven, through a crack in his office door. “Elena, this is Nicolas Russo. Nico, this is Elena, my eldest daughter.” I’d done this dance a hundred times, just a different day, a different man. However, this time my breath was cut short, as though I was about to be pushed off a plank and into shark-infested water if I looked up at him. He’s just a man, I reminded myself. A man with the worst reputation in New York State, easily. Why did I glare? Inhaling for courage, I tipped my head, not being able to see him under the brim of my hat. A warm rush of recognition ran down my spine as I met his heavy gaze. Light brown eyes, the color of whiskey on ice, and thick, dark lashes. It gave him a brooding expression, almost as if he was looking into the sun, yet he was looking at me as though he was being introduced to one of the servants and not someone he would call “sister-in-law.” I stood a few inches taller than Adriana, and even in my heels the top of my head wouldn’t hit his chin. I had the strong urge to avert my gaze and focus it eye-level on his black tie, but it felt like he’d be winning something if I looked away, so I held his stare. My tone was as polite as it always was in company. “It’s a pleasure—” “We’ve already met.” We what? His indifferent voice ran down my spine, with a strange thrill following in its wake. He’d hardly said anything, but it now felt like I was standing on Russo turf instead of Abelli. As if a six-foot diameter around him was claimed as Russo no matter where he stood. Papà frowned. “When did you two have the chance to meet?” I swallowed. Something amused and dangerous played in Nicolas’s gaze. “Earlier at church. Remember, Elena?” My heartbeats collided with a crash. Why had my name rolled off his tongue like he was more than familiar with it? My papà stiffened beside me, and I knew why he did: he thought I’d done something inappropriate with this man, like his tone had suggested. Heat rushed to my cheeks. All because of one mistake I’d made six months ago, my papà thought I’d come on to my sister’s fiancé? I blinked through my apprehension. This was due to a really short, not even that hostile glare? This man had found out my weakness and was now playing with me. Frustration clawed at my chest. I couldn’t very well go and make this situation worse by disagreeing with a don my father would most likely believe over me now. And so, I forced my voice into the lightest tone I could muster. “Yes, we’ve met, Papà. I forgot my jacket in the church and ran into him inside.” I realized my mistake too late. It was July; I hadn’t worn a jacket. And Nicolas knew that. He pulled a hand out of his pocket and ran a thumb across his bottom lip, giving his head a small shake. He looked impressed I had played along but almost disappointed at what a poor job I’d done. I did not like this man—not at all. A cold whisper ran through my blood as my father looked between us like he was unsure. “Well, all right,” Papà finally responded, patting my arm. “That’s good, then. I’m sure Nico might have some questions for you about Adriana. You know her best.” My lungs expanded, and I took in a breath. “Yes, of course, Papà.” I would rather eat a handful of dirt. The front door opened and my mamma’s brother and Papà’s consigliere, Marco, entered with his wife. My father said a parting word and went to greet them, and just left me with this man, whose presence was beginning to burn. He stared down at me. I stared up at him. As a corner of his lips lifted, I realized I was amusing him. My cheeks heated with annoyance. Before, I would have murmured something sweet and made my leave, but that was before. Now, I couldn’t keep my expression polite as I met Nicolas’s—Nico’s, whatever his name was—gaze. “We have not met,” I said firmly. He cocked a brow in a cavalier way. “You sure? Here I was under the impression you had me all figured out.” My heart fluttered so fast it couldn’t be healthy. I had no idea what to say because he was right. This interaction wasn’t doing anything to prove he wasn’t who I thought he was all along, however. He smoothed an absent hand down his tie. “Do you know what assuming gets you?” “Killed?” I breathed. His eyes fell to my lips. “Smart girl.” The words were deep and soft, and a strange part of me felt like I’d done something good. My breaths turned shallow when he moved to walk past me but stopped by my side. His arm touched mine and it burned like the lightest licks of a flame. His voice brushed the side of my neck. “It’s nice to meet you, Elena.” He said my name like he should have earlier: without any insinuation. Like I was something he could check off his list before he walked away. I stood there, staring ahead, while absently returning a couple smiles to family members. So that was my future brother-in-law. The man my sister would marry. Maybe I was a horrible person, but some guilt drifted away and out the door another person just entered. Because I was suddenly glad it was her and not me. “Nothing personal, it’s just business.” —Otto Berman IT WAS WORSE THAN I’D expected. Adriana was primly folding a blouse and placing it into a suitcase on her bed. She wore an oversized Tweety Bird t-shirt and Christmas socks, and wads of toilet paper lay scattered about the room. A few years ago, Adriana went through a rebellious stage and chopped her hair off into a pixie cut. I’d never seen my mother more horrified. Adriana had lost her credit card, her acting classes at our all-girls school, and got glowered at every day for a month. It’d grown into a sleek bob now, but it was then I’d learned that cutting your hair in this house was worse than murder. With dark blue walls, white crown molding and golden accents, Adriana’s room would appear fit for a home staging . . . if it didn’t look like a costume designer had thrown up in it. Posters from famous plays like The Great Gatsby hung on the walls. Weird stage props sat on the vanity: feathers, hats, and masquerade masks. Things that made your head hurt while trying to figure out their purpose—like the giant rabbit’s head on the bed. I didn’t believe Papà knew he was paying for every penny of Adriana’s dramatic art school’s stage props. But my father didn’t concern himself with my sister too much. As long as she was where she was supposed to be, he was happy. He just didn’t understand her, nor she him. With a sigh, I grabbed the blouse from her suitcase and went to the walk-in closet to hang it back up. She ignored my presence, brushing shoulders with me as she passed with a pair of jeans. “What’s with all of the toilet paper?” I asked, sliding the shirt onto a hanger. She sniffled but didn’t respond. The last time I’d seen her cry was at our nonno’s funeral when she was thirteen. My little sister was one of the most unemotional people I’d ever met. In fact, I thought the idea of emotion repelled her. My stomach twisted with concern, but I knew Adriana appreciated pity as much as she loved chick flicks. She hated them. I grabbed the jeans from the suitcase and headed to the closet. “So, where are you going?” She passed me with a yellow polka-dot bikini. “Cuba. Saudi Arabia. North Korea. Pick one.” We continued this dance of packing and unpacking like a human conveyor belt. My brows knitted. “Well, you didn’t exactly give me a good list. But Saudi Arabia is out if you’re planning on wearing this bathing suit.” I folded it and put it away. “Have you met him?” she asked, walking past me with a zebra-printed robe. I knew she meant her future husband. I hesitated. “Yes. He’s, uh . . . real nice.” “Where am I going to fit all my props?” She threw her hands on her hips and stared into her small suitcase like she’d just realized it wasn’t a Mary Poppins bag. “I think they’re going to have to stay here.” Her face scrunched up like she was about to cry. “But I love my costumes.” Tears were running now. “And what about Mr. Rabbit?” She grabbed the giant rabbit’s head off the bed and held it next to her own. “Well . . . I’m not sure about North Korea’s shipping policies, but I’m betting Mr. Rabbit won’t pass.” She threw herself on the bed and whined, “What about Cuba?” “It’s probably a better possibility.” She nodded like that was good. “I have an Alice in Wonderland production coming up.” She wiped her cheeks, already finished crying. “Who are you playing?” I knew it wasn’t Alice. My sister didn’t like anything mainstream or blonde. “The Cheshire Cat.” She smiled. “Yeah, that sounds like you.” I went into the closet and found a thin-strapped black dress she could wear to lunch. It took a moment to find it because it was squeezed between a Legend of Zelda and Peter Pan costume. I set the dress on her bed. “You better get ready. Almost everyone is here.” “Ryan broke up with me,” she deadpanned. My expression softened. “I’m so sorry, Adriana.” “He doesn’t understand why I’m getting married and doesn’t want to see me anymore. So, he must not love me very much, right, Elena?” She looked at me with big brown eyes. I paused. Explain rationality to my sister and ease her heartbreak a bit, or rip the Band-Aid off? “Right.” She nodded. “I’ll be down soon.” I was downstairs, turning a corner in the hall near the library when I collided with something warm and solid. A breath escaped me as I was forced a step back. I knew who I’d run into before I had to look. Russo. Unease drifted through my body like a kindled flame. We were no longer in a foyer filled with people, but completely alone. It was so quiet I could hear my heart beating in my chest. I took another step back as if to get some footing, but it was mostly just to put myself out of his reach, some kind of survival instinct kicking in. He stood there in a gray suit and a smooth black tie. He was larger than life in this hallway. Or maybe this hall was just small? No, it looked like a normal-sized hallway. Ugh, get a grip, Elena. He regarded me like someone would watch Animal Planet—like I was another species and possibly dull entertainment. He had a cell phone in one hand at his side, so I assumed he must have been making a private call. This hallway was more of an alcove made of arches behind the staircase. Some large potted plants blocked our view from the main hall, and a green glass lamp on a side table cast the area in dim light. However, it was bright enough to see the flicker of impatience behind his gaze. “You going to stand here and stare at me all day, or are you going to move?” I blinked. “And if I say stand here and stare at you?” It was out of my mouth before I could stop it, and I instantly wished I could reach out and take my words back. I’d never spoken to someone like that—let alone a boss—in my life. My stomach dipped like a tilt-a-whirl. With the phone in his hand, a thumb came up to run across his jaw. I imagined he did that while thinking of how he was going to kill a man. He took a small step forward. As if we were the same poles of a magnet, I took one back. He dropped his hand to his side, the slightest bit of amusement coming to life in his eyes as if I’d just done a trick that entertained him. I suddenly had the distinct feeling I didn’t want to be his entertainment. And an even stronger feeling that I already was. “Thought the Sweet Abelli was sweet.” How did he know my nickname? I didn’t know what came over me, but I suddenly felt free of that name—maybe because he’d never met that girl before. I wanted to be someone different. Especially to him, for some inexplicable reason. “Well, I guess we were both fooled then. Here I was thinking a gentleman apologized when running into a woman.” “Sounds like someone’s been making assumptions again,” he drawled. An odd thumping began in my chest, and I shook my head. “It wasn’t an assumption.” He took a step forward, and once again I took one back. He slipped his hands into his pockets as his gaze fell down my body. It was hardly leering and more observant, like I was in fact another species and he was wondering if I was edible. His eyes narrowed on my pink heels. “You think you’ve got some proof, huh?” I nodded, feeling strangely breathless under his scrutiny. “My mamma said you acted the perfect gentleman at church.” “I did act the perfect gentleman.” “So, it’s a matter of if you want to be one?” He didn’t say a word, but his neutral expression confirmed it as his stare traveled back up from my heels. “And I’m guessing you don’t want to be one right now?” I realized I shouldn’t have said it as I was saying it. His heavy gaze reached mine, burning me. He gave his head a slow shake. Okay. I’d stood my ground long enough, much longer than the Sweet Abelli ever would. But now, I just needed to get the heck out of here. “Okay, well . . . I’ll see you around.” I couldn’t think of a less idiotic response, so I only took a step to go around him—but, before I could, something grabbed my wrist. He grabbed my wrist. His grip felt like a band of fire; rough, calloused fire. A cool breath of fear mixed with something boiling hot leaked into my bloodstream. He stood a couple feet from me, his grip the only thing connecting us. “Write up a list of your sister’s hobbies. Likes and dislikes, shoe size, dress size, and anything else you think will be useful. Yeah?” “Yeah,” I breathed. How many men had he killed with the hand wrapped around my wrist? It wasn’t a hard grip, but it was heavy, firm, immovable. It made me aware of how much smaller I was, how unnerved and out of place I felt. How I couldn’t leave unless he chose to release me. He watched me with an inquisitive gaze. My heart felt close to stopping and my skin was burning up. It was inappropriate for him to touch me, future brother-in-law or not. My papà could come out of his office any moment, but this man didn’t seem to care. I did, though, especially after the scene earlier. “I’ll give the list to you on Friday at the engagement party,” I managed to say and tried to pull my wrist away. He didn’t let me go. My pulse fluttered when his thumb brushed my knuckles. “I was under the impression the Abellis could afford more than a fifty-cent ring.” I glanced at the ring on my middle finger. It came from one of those vending machines and had a purple round-cut jewel in the center. The thought of it sobered me. “Sometimes the cheapest things are the most valuable.” His gaze came back to my face, and we looked at each other for a moment. His grip slipped down my wrist, palm, fingers. The rough pads of his fingertips brushed my softer ones, and made my heart skip a beat. “I’ll see you at lunch, Elena.” He left, disappearing into my papà’s office. Cazzo . . . Leaning against the wall, the ring was a heavy weight on my finger. I could take it off, put it somewhere it couldn’t haunt me, but I knew I never would. Not yet. His grip still burned like a brand on my wrist as I left the hallway. Once again, he’d said my name in the most inappropriate way. “Murders came with smiles, shooting people was no big deal for us Goodfellas.” —Henry Hill BILLIE HOLIDAY PLAYED SOFTLY FROM the old pool radio. Condensation dripped down crystal glasses, and silverware glinted in the bright sunlight. It was a hot July afternoon, but the steady breeze was the perfect interlude. Lights wound around the wooden slats of the patio cover, and my mamma’s rose bushes were flourishing. The chairs were soft and the food was good, but it could only be so comfortable having lunch with a bunch of strangers. However, the seventies ad sitting across from me didn’t seem to share the same opinion. “Anyway, the cop let me go and he didn’t even take my coke—” “Gianna.” The word was a low warning from Nicolas’s spot at the table. She rolled her eyes and took a deep drink of wine, but she spoke no more. I wondered why Nicolas had chastised her and what their relationship was. Siblings? They did appear to find each other annoying, but I was sure I’d heard somewhere that Nicolas was an only child. Gianna’s senior citizen of a husband sitting next to her hadn’t said a word, except for some oddly-timed chuckling. I was beginning to think he was hard of hearing. Gianna was my polar opposite. Where I was quiet, she spoke with abandon and laughed loudly. Where I was demure, well . . . she’d stuck her gum to her cloth napkin before eating her pasta without twirling it around the fork. I was a little jealous of her carefree approach to life. Tony sat on her other side. He leaned back in his chair with his jacket unbuttoned looking bored, but I knew him better than that. I’d seen that smug way he scratched the scruff on his jaw like he was angry and amused at the same time. And that never meant anything good. He was handsome, but if I wasn’t his sister I wouldn’t touch him with a ten-foot pole. His recklessness was dangerous for anyone involved, especially himself. He caught my uneasy look and shot me a wink. Low chatter and the scraping of silverware filled the yard, but beneath that lay a tense air that wouldn’t dissipate, an uncomfortable vibe the breeze wouldn’t take with it. Everyone seemed to be easily chatting amongst themselves, so maybe it was just me. I brushed it off. Gianna didn’t stay quiet for long, though she no longer spoke about 8-balls of coke. She changed the subject to horse racing. That was an acceptable conversation many joined in on. It wasn’t like this was a drug-free zone—in fact, many people came through this house on a daily basis with drugs on them—but out in the open, it was Cosa Nostra etiquette to pretend we were the classic example of a white-picket-fence family. Even if our homes were surrounded by an iron gate and security instead. I was happy to see that Adriana had shown up instead of boarding a plane to Cuba. She sat next to her fiancé and Papà at the other end of table. Maybe I was a coward, but I was glad I didn’t have to sit near Nicolas. I was the perfect hostess and had a polite response for anything—as inappropriate as the comments could sometimes be when people were drinking—but with him, words were at a loss for me. I felt tongue-tied around him, tilted off my point of gravity, and truthfully just hot, as though a blush permanently warmed my skin. It might be unpleasant speaking to him, but it was too easy to look in his direction. If not for his size, he could easily fit Adriana’s pretty-boy preferences when he had a sober expression on his face. He was tan, his hair was almost black, and I couldn’t help but notice that his biceps were defined through his shirt. My future brother-in-law was even more handsome beneath bright sun. It was unfortunate his personality didn’t match. What I found the most intriguing about his appearance, however, was the dark ink that showed through his white dress shirt. It was vague, but I thought it went all the way from his shoulder to the gold watch on his wrist. Nicolas Russo had a full sleeve. I knew that gentleman look was all smoke and mirrors. He glanced over and met my gaze as if he’d felt me observing him. From five chairs down, the impact of an indifferent stare still found a way to touch my skin. The way he shouldn’t have said my name played on a loop, deep and suggestive, in my head. Just so I didn’t look like a coward, I held his gaze for a breathless second before looking away. I had the sudden feeling that for my future health . . . I shouldn’t interact with this man anymore. “I hear you have a recital coming up, Elena,” my uncle Manuel said from a few seats down. His voice had become nothing but a memory of bloodshed due to the part he played six months ago. I drank a sip of wine, tasting nothing but guilt and resentment. Every pair of eyes shifted to me, all twenty of them, but I was only aware of one of them. “Yes.” I forced a smile. “Saturday.” “You dance?” Gianna asked. “How fun! I’ve done some dancing but”—her voice lowered—“we’re probably talking about two different things.” My eyes twinkled. “Tap, you mean?” Her laugh was light and airy. “Yes, definitely tap. Have you always danced?” “Yes, since I was a child.” “Are you any good?” I laughed at the forward question. “Truthfully, no.” My mamma muttered something in disagreement from down the table. She had to disagree—it was part of being a mother—but I was mediocre at dance and I didn’t have a problem acknowledging it. It was something to do. Something to fill the monotonous time. I used to love it as a child, but now it was just a sleeve of the dress that didn’t fit. Conversation quieted, and Gianna pushed her broccoli around on her plate like she was seven and didn’t like vegetables. Her husband chuckled at absolutely nothing. She rolled her eyes and took a large gulp of wine. Lunch continued with meaningless chatter, good food and drink, but the tension never dissipated. It sat there, uninterrupted. Like an echo before the words were even spoken. My brother leaned back in his chair, a ring sounding as he ran his finger around his wine glass. Adriana ate as though a large man she didn’t know and was marrying in three weeks wasn’t sitting next to her. Papà mentioned he’d bought an old shooting range, and conversation on that drifted down the table like a domino effect. They’d just served tiramisu for dessert, and I was ready for this lunch to end. But unfortunately, that uncomfortable tension was about to twist its way out of the inevitable. It began with an innocent suggestion between the men to visit the range. And then I watched it play out like a bad dream. The Russo sitting to the left of me grunted sardonically. I’d learned his name was Stefan, though he’d hardly said more than a word. The ring from my brother’s wine glass faded off. Tony’s dark gaze centered on the man. “Don’t think I caught the joke, Russo.” Stefan shook his head. “Just got better things to do than watch a bunch of Abellis miss targets.” “Uh-oh,” Gianna said under her breath. I closed my eyes. The day my brother let this go without a fight would be the day the sky fell. “Tony, don’t . . .” Benito warned from his seat beside my brother. He was always the voice of reason in that duo. But Tony didn’t even glance at his cousin—instead, he smiled at Stefan Russo and it wasn’t nice at all. My chest tightened, and I looked down the table to get Papà’s attention, but he was in conversation with Nicolas and my uncles. “Not sure what you’re talking about,” Tony drawled. “I didn’t miss—what was his name? Ah, yes, Piero . . .?” My brother’s eyes flickered with dark enjoyment. “Hit the bullseye on that one.” Tony’s amusement faded into a deathly quiet that even the family and guests at the head of the table noticed. Everything went static, like a still-shot in a magazine. I never saw it coming. My pulse leapt into my throat as an arm clamped around my waist, pulling me to my feet. My head was forced to the side as a cold barrel pressed against my temple. Shouting rang out in Italian. Chairs fell backward to the patio as everyone jumped to their feet. Guns rose in every direction. I heard my papà ordering commands, but my heart drowned out his voice. Bu-bum. Bu-bum. Bu-bum. The beat resounded beneath a cold sheen of fear. I hadn’t lived a picturesque life, no matter what my red front door and golden knocker conveyed. I’d seen my papà cut off a man’s finger when I was seven. I’d watched my uncle shoot a man in the head, his face sideways on the bloodstained carpet, eyes open. I’d seen knife wounds, bullet wounds, so much red. But through all that, I’d never had a gun pressed to my head. Never felt cold metal against my temple. Never felt as if my life could be gone, just like that. The cold in my veins froze to ice. Nicolas’s voice cut through the drumming of blood in my ears. It was low and smooth, and I grabbed onto it like a life raft. “Put it down, Stefan.” “He was the one who killed Piero!” The barrel shook against my head, and my lungs constricted, but I didn’t move a muscle as I stared at the hedges lining the iron fence. “Tony!” my papà snapped. “Don’t.” I glanced at my brother, only to stare at the end of a barrel. He was going to shoot the Russo behind me, but with my heels on the man didn’t have much height on me. “You’re a poor fucking shot, Tony. We all know you’ll hit the favored little Abelli!” Stefan’s heated voice vibrated against my back. “Put. It. Down.” Nicolas’s words carried a calmness with a hint of animosity, like the ocean before a storm. One second, two seconds. Stefan was hesitating— Bang. Something warm and wet hit my face. My ears rang as the voices around me sank underwater. The man’s arm fell from me, and a dull thunk sounded as he hit the ground. The newscaster’s voice replayed in my mind, murder spilling from red lips, again, and again. Numbness flooded me. Sounds rushed in, pulled out of water with heavy chains, dripping wet. “Sit the fuck down! Now!” my father’s voice rang out. “We’re going to finish this lunch, goddammit!” It took a moment for his words to process and to realize that everyone sat stiffly in their chairs but him and Nicolas. My future brother-in-law’s heavy, unreadable gaze touched my skin as I stared at the gun in one of his hands. “Elena! Sit!” Papà snapped. I dropped into my chair. The warmth of blood dripped down my cheek. Red had splattered across my chair and part of the white tablecloth. A dead Russo’s feet touched my own. I sat there, pulling my gaze from a staring Gianna to Tony, who ate his dessert with relish. “Elena.” The small warning came from my papà, and because I was told to, I put a forkful of tiramisu in my mouth and chewed. Placing my hand on the back of my hat, I glanced up at the clear blue sky. Circumstances aside, it really was a beautiful day. “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.” —William Shakespeare THE GUNSHOT ECHOED IN THE air, and the tension was louder than silverware against porcelain plates. The Abellis cast me cautious glances, while my family kept their eyes downcast on their desserts, stiffer than the chairs they sat on. Leaning back, I rested a forearm on the table and focused my gaze on the cigarette I rolled between my fingers. The anger was strong enough I had to choke it down. It burned in my throat, in my chest, and marred my vision with a red mist. My eyes skimmed up an inch to find Luca, my underboss and only reliable cousin, wiping a hand across his mouth in a poor attempt to hide his amusement. My gaze darkened, conveying I might just go for shooting two cousins today. He sat back in his chair, his humor fading. He’d just won a bet that we couldn’t get away without any altercations today. And won double because anything involving the Sweet Abelli had been a bonus. My family gambled on everything—everything. Any possible chance to gain a buck, they exploited it. I owed him five fucking grand. And I was putting the blame on a little black-haired prima donna, because if I thought about her brother right now I’d end up putting a bullet in his goddamn head. There are some relatives you don’t like—ones you might shoot on your own terms if given the chance. But being forced into it . . . that rubbed me the wrong way, like the lash of a horsewhip. My jaw tightened as venom crawled through my veins. My papà had a fondness for kicking me in the ribs when I acted without thinking. My mamma used to smoke at the kitchen table in her nightgown after she and my father would scream the house down. With my ribs burning and the cigarette in my hand, it wasn’t lost on me that the apple really doesn’t fall that fucking far from the tree. And I’d guess that those who’d known Antonio Russo—even my own family—would be hesitant to think of that as anything but unfortunate. I was a mold my father and the Cosa Nostra created. As bad a combo as a barrel of gunpowder and a little flame. Where my papà had lacked in my rearing, my mamma tried to fill in the cracks. She tried, through dilated pupils and frequent bloody noses. The late Caterina Russo did her best to teach her only child to respect women. Truthfully, it had never really stuck. It was hard to respect a mamma you had to pick up off the floor some nights. Not to mention, I’d had most things I’d wanted handed to me since I was old enough to ask for them. I didn’t need charm and respect to get women—my impending wealth and position had done that for me since I was thirteen years old. Luca’s mamma was the first to man up and shoot me the tiniest scowl. My family could be as pissed as they wanted, but I’d appreciate at least one fucking thank-you for stopping a bloodbath from ruining a perfectly good Sunday. Jesus. It was just Stefan anyway. Nobody liked Stefan. The truth was, not every man could handle being a Russo. My nonna used to say our blood ran hotter than most. Though maybe that had just been an excuse to justify why all of her male offspring were entitled, greedy, and possessive of things that weren’t theirs. A Russo wanted what he wanted, and once he did it was practically his. Most likely through a variety of illegal ventures. But maybe she was onto something, because it fucking felt hotter than it should. I’ll Be Seeing You by Billie Holiday filled the spacious backyard, the soft piano notes invading a tense atmosphere full of clearing throats and shifting gazes. I rolled the cigarette between my fingers, trying to quell the itch. I only smoked when I was too pissed off to see straight, or the rare occasion—unsettled. Salvatore left the table to send the servants home. They all knew who employed them and were connected to the Cosa Nostra in some way—but it was a sure bet the dead man lying on the patio, his blood running through the divots in the bricks, was too much for some of them. I’d only caught part of the conversation that set this in motion, but it was clear Tony had been gloating over killing Piero, another idiotic cousin of mine. I hadn’t known Tony was the one to do it, but I was hardly surprised. Hardly moved either. I’d addressed Piero’s death like I would a Zanetti’s: with two fingers of whiskey. You do stupid shit, you get killed. That’s how the world works, and my cousin had done more than enough. In all honesty, I thought Stefan was going to put the gun down. But at that point I hadn’t cared. A flash of anger had pulsed in my chest from my cousin’s disrespect, and, oddly enough, burned even hotter at the fact he was threatening the Sweet Abelli. The annoying feeling rushed over me that only I could threaten her—so I fucking shot him and watched the blood splatter against Elena’s white dress. Tony had had a hard-on for seeing me dead ever since his friend Joe Zanetti saw the end of my .45 enough years ago I thought it was irrelevant now. I’d assumed Tony and I would have some issues, but I’d underestimated what a fucking idiot he was and that he’d bring them to lunch. I guessed the idea that I’d be fucking his sister was chafing him a bit more than my usual presence would. I tapped my cigarette on the table, and before I could stop myself I glanced to where the Sweet Abelli sat. My eyes narrowed. I’d only owe Luca twenty-five if it weren’t for her. Blood dripped down her olive skin, yet she ate her dessert because her papà had told her to. I wasn’t usually a sadist, but Jesus, it was kind of hot. A reluctant rush of heat ran to my groin. Talking about sadists, my gaze found my cousin Lorenzo a couple seats down. He was staring at the girl like it was his job. And not any job I’d given him—because he was good at turning those to shit—but like a vocation or something. You’d never know looking at the man nor talking to him, but the bastard had an inclination for S&M. Knowing that and watching him stare at Elena Abelli, a sliver of irritation ran through me. She probably liked it sweet and vanilla. Probably preferred the man to get on his knees and beg a bit. Lorenzo would. I’d rather shut my dick in a car door. She’d glared at me at church today, and I’d wondered what the Sweet Abelli could have against me. I’d known the nickname before I even met the girl. It was an innocent pet name that became well-known—well, among men—because not only was she sweet, she had the sweetest body around. I’d heard more about this girl’s ass in the past couple years than I ever needed to. And truthfully, I’d grown sick of it. When something was overhyped, it was always a letdown. I guessed the joke was on me because this was not one of those times. I had always tuned out of conversation when she came up. I’d never seen her, but when my idiot cousins would waste time talking about the same pussy like it was what I paid them to do, it was an annoyance. Her name had become an irritation, like some kind of Pavlovian conditioning. So, when her papà had told me she was unfit for marriage, I hadn’t even asked why. I’d signed the contract for the other one. Then I saw her at church. Son of a bitch. My cousins would check out any woman under fifty. Any woman if she had just one decent attribute, so of course I had never believed the hype. Talk about a man’s wet dream. Her body . . . fucking centerfold-worthy. Her hair was a weakness of mine: black, silky, and long enough I could wrap it around my fist twice. The thought had flitted through my mind unwillingly. And at church. Jesus. It was the soft, innocent expression of hers, though, that seemed to burn through my skin and straight to my dick. It was so damn sweet, and I knew that’s where her little nickname had come from. Couldn’t be from Little Miss Glare’s personality. I’d observed her from the back of the church for far longer than I should have. I’d watched as she gave the same smile to every man in the congregation who came up to her, like it was a queue to see Her Majesty. I was six-foot-three—hardly inconspicuous—but she wouldn’t notice me for another thirty minutes, at which time she would glare at me. The Sweet Abelli was sweet to everyone but me. I could have laughed, if for reasons unknown to me, it didn’t piss me off. It was the first time since I’d become Boss that anyone had blatantly disrespected me. Maybe it was juvenile, but I wanted Elena Abelli to know I didn’t care for her much either. No woman with that much male attention could ever be anything but stuck-up and shallow. By her pink designer heels, I could see she liked to spend her papà’s money. Her sister was wearing flip-flops. I’d probably save millions of dollars by marrying her instead. Adriana was a little strange, but attractive. If you took her away from her sister, she was stunning; if she stood next to Elena, she’d blend into the wallpaper. This scenario worked for me just fine. I’d rather not have a wife all my cousins were jerking off to. It wasn’t like I cared much about who I married. It was time to take a wife, and in my world that meant profits. Salvatore had a little dispute with some Mexicans that was starting to grow into a problem. He’d grown soft in his old age. After the wedding, I’d help him find the root of the issue and deal with it the way I’d been taught: with a bullet through the head. This alliance was making me millions richer, not to mention would allow me control of most of the city. A wave of awareness ran down my spine when Elena’s gaze settled on me from across the table. It was a warm and annoying consciousness on the side of my face. I was going to ignore it, but I found myself glancing at her anyway. The back of my neck itched, but I held her stare until she looked away. After her glare at church, I’d taken it upon myself to find out why she was unfit for marriage. Turns out the Sweet Abelli ran away, got sweet with some man. I knew her lack of virginity wasn’t the reason Salvatore hadn’t offered her to me. It was only an excuse. Salvatore didn’t want me to have her, though I could hardly blame him. If I were him, I wouldn’t give my daughter to me either. It was easy to understand why Salvatore had little trouble offering his other one. Adriana sat beside me in a black dress, one leg crossed over the other. Her brown shoulder-length hair covered her face as she leaned forward and doodled something on her palm with a pen. I hadn’t said a word to her since she’d shown up to the table late. To be honest, I’d almost forgotten she was sitting here. I guessed it was time to get to know my future wife. “What are you drawing?” Adriana hesitated, but then turned her little palm around and showed me. “A rabbit.” It wasn’t a question because that’s what it fucking was. She pursed her lips and pulled her hand away to continue. “Mr. Rabbit,” she corrected in a tone that would have normally pissed me off. But I was already at my limit, so I shrugged it off and planned exactly what I was going to do to her brother. “Right or left?” Tony’s jaw ticked but he didn’t say a word, just sat in the chair across from his papà’s desk like he was at a board meeting. Blood dripped from his lip onto his white dress shirt, though he still wore a darkly entertained expression. So I hit him. Again. A burn traveled through my cracked knuckles. His teeth clenched, but he took it without a sound. Tony was one of those men who were so high on their own shit they couldn’t feel pain. He’d fucking feel something before I left this room. Rays of sun shone through the blinds into Salvatore’s office, lighting dust particles in the air. All the guests had filed out, and it was safe to say this lunch was a failure. Which only meant more lunches and parties I’d have to attend. None of the families wanted to risk acquainting everyone at such a large event, because shit like today could happen, before escalating into a bloodbath with women and children present. Luca stood in front of the door, his cold eyes focused on the back of Tony’s head. Benito and another of his younger cousins, who was close to Adriana’s age, leaned against the wall with their arms crossed, while Salvatore sat behind his desk with a contrite expression. I could start a war for Piero’s death if I wanted, which was probably why Salvatore was going along with this. That, and the fact that his daughter’s life had been threatened due to his son’s stupidity. “You fucked up, son,” Salvatore said, clasping his hands on the wooden desk. “I warned you and you went and caused trouble anyway. If something would’ve happened to Elena, you’d be floating in the Hudson. You should feel lucky.” “Lucky,” Tony mocked. He ran a hand across his jaw before saying, “Left.” Satisfaction filled my chest. Right, it is. “There are three sides to every story. Mine, yours and the truth.” —Joe Massino I PADDED DOWN THE CARPETED hall to the distant beat of the Misfits leaking from under my sister’s door. As soon as I entered my room, I left a trail of clothes to the bathroom. Bypassing the mirror, I turned the shower on hot and climbed in. It burned. Something had to wash this memory away. Today took me back to six months ago. It was the last day I’d had someone else’s blood splattered against my face. The hot water spilled from the faucet, matting my hair to my face and shoulders. I imagined it was paint—the red running down my body and swirling into the drain. If only guilt was so easy to get rid of. I closed my eyes. Shouting. Cold barrel against my temple. One second, two seconds. Hesitation— Bang. My eyes flew open. That gunshot hadn’t been in my mind. The back of my neck prickled. Hopefully it was only Tony shooting another one of Nonna’s vases. But until now, I hadn’t thought of the consequences Tony might face after the trouble he caused . . . I hopped out of the shower and dried off as fast as I could. Leaving my hair wet and uncombed, I threw on a t-shirt and shorts before running down the stairs. The marble floor was cold against my feet as I took the turn toward my papà’s office, and once again, I collided with something solid. A lungful of air escaped me. I’d been going so fast I would have fallen to my butt on the floor, but an arm wrapped around my waist as I teetered backward and steadied me. It was an incredibly warm and heavy arm. “Jesus,” Nicolas muttered with annoyance. My stomach tightened as it pressed against his. The contact made me tingle everywhere, but I didn’t have time to analyze the feeling more. I was spun out of his way and left to watch Nicolas’s back as he continued down the hall. His underboss’s cold indifference touched me as he passed, and I was suddenly and surprisingly glad I’d run into Nicolas instead. A burning sensation remained around my waist, and my heartbeat fluttered from the impact and the worry creeping in. “Did you kill my brother?” “Should have,” was all Nicolas said before the front door shut behind the two men. I inhaled in relief, but it was short-lived when Tony left my papà’s office and swayed down the hall like he was drunk. He was bare-chested and his dress shirt was wrapped around his hand. Blood dripped bright red to the marble floors. My brother was tall, slightly brawny, and covered in scars. From the two bullet wounds to an innumerable amount of others that I could only guess the cause. Probably from the illegal fights I knew he participated in. Tony didn’t say a word as he passed, but I followed him into the kitchen. With the swinging door pressed against my back, I watched him grab a bottle of whiskey from the cupboard and struggle to open it with one hand. He eventually managed by holding it against his chest and twisting. He took a long pull before sitting at the island. “Go away, Elena.” “You need to see Vito.” He was the vicar at church, but also had medical experience to patch up wounds. It was the Lord’s work, after all. “I’m fine.” He took another pull on the bottle, spilling some down his bare chest. He wasn’t fine. He was smearing blood across the countertop. And he’d appeared drunk before he started drinking like someone had just broken his heart. “I’ll call Vito.” I went for the cordless phone near the fridge. Tony glanced at me with a remorseful expression. “I’m sorry, Elena. Didn’t know it’d go that way. Honest.” My heart squeezed. “I forgive you.” He laughed weakly. “You shouldn’t.” Tony usually had a smug look on his face, but when he smiled—a real smile—it drifted away and he became pretty charming. This was the brother I loved, even if I didn’t get to see him often. Sometimes it felt like you needed to be the worst you could be to survive in this world. I didn’t know why he’d killed whoever Piero was, but I would pretend it was self-defense. Tony had been thrown into this life as a young man, and while my chains were tight, so were his in a sense. “Can’t help it,” I replied. He shook his head when I began dialing. “Don’t call Vito. I’m fine.” “You’re not fine. Tony, you really don’t look so good.” His tanned complexion was sweaty and pale. “I’m fine, Elena.” I sighed. It was just like Papà to leave Tony bleeding without calling for help. I hung the phone back on the hook because my brother had said it in that voice. Even if Vito came, Tony wouldn’t have anything to do with him. Too stubborn. I crossed my arms and leaned against the counter with my hair still dripping water to the floor. “Why don’t you like Nicolas?” He snorted and took another drink. “Lots of reasons.” “Well, what’s the number one?” “He fucked my girlfriend.” My eyes widened. “Jenny?” Another pull. “Did she tell you?” I asked. He shook his head. “He sent me a picture.” Ouch. “Are you sure it was her?” “Butterfly. Lower back.” “Oh . . . well, that was rude of him.” Honestly, it was hard to feel sorry for Tony. He’d cheated on Jenny with that servant Gabriella and I wouldn’t doubt others. I didn’t take Nicolas as a man to sleep with other men’s girlfriends for the hell of it, though, and I had a feeling . . . “What did you do to him?” A not-so-nice smile tugged at Tony’s lips. And there it was. There were always two sides to every story. He took another pull, and with a frown I watched the blood drip down the side of the island and collect into a small pool. Drinking was only going to make him bleed more. I pushed off the counter and pulled the bottle straight from his lips. Whiskey splashed down his chin and chest. His eyes narrowed, but his next words were slurred. “Jesus, Elena.” He looked wasted, or really close to passing out. I unwound the shirt from his hand and recoiled. “Oh my god! You have to go to the hospital, Tony!” A bullet-shaped hole went straight through his hand like the barrel had been placed directly to it. I covered my mouth, the urge to gag rising in my throat. As I backed up to find Benito, Tony passed out. He fell sideways out of his chair, leaving a smear of red across the counter, and landed with a heavy thunk on the kitchen floor. Crap, crap, crap. “Benito!” I yelled. “Why are you shouting?” Adriana asked as she breezed into the kitchen in galaxy leggings and a sports bra. “Your fiancé shot Tony!” “Dead?” She raised a brow, focused on picking the best apple out of the bowl on the counter. “Where’s Mamma?” I asked. She shrugged, peeling the sticker off a green apple. I sighed. Fine. If they want to play this game . . . I nudged open the swinging door and shouted into the hallway, “I’m calling 911!” On cue, Benito, Dominic, and my papà pushed their way into the kitchen. Papà narrowed his eyes on me, but then noticed his only son lying on his back in a lot of red. He spoke quietly to Benito—he always spoke quietly unless he was mad—and then my cousins hauled Tony up, one under his arms and one by his ankles, and carried him out of the kitchen. “Not Vito,” I told my papà. “The hospital.” “Yeah, yeah, Elena. They’re taking him,” he said dismissively, his gaze coasting over the blood on the floor. I eyed him, wondering if he was telling me the truth. My papà never took any of us to the hospital without a fight. He glanced at me, noting my suspicious gaze. “It’s just as good as a hospital,” he snapped. Ugh. I had no idea where they were taking my brother. Most likely a doctor Papà had on his payroll. “Hey, has anyone seen my drawing pencils?” Adriana interrupted. “Behind every great fortune, there is a crime.” —Lucky Luciano I MIGHT NOT HAVE HAD a good reason to dislike Nicolas Russo in the beginning, but after meeting him, after he shot too close to my head, and after he put a bullet through my brother’s hand, I now had substantial motive to immensely dislike him. The whys of it all didn’t matter. Tony had been gone all night. It wasn’t until I’d gotten back from dance practice twenty minutes ago that I learned he was going to be okay. He was given a 75 percent chance of having full function of his hand again. Apparently, Jenny had volunteered to move into his apartment and help him out. My mamma told me this with a roll of her eyes. She really didn’t like Jenny. And after hearing she’d cheated on Tony with Nicolas, I wasn’t sure what to think about her either. Granted, I would have dumped Tony years ago if I was her, but I didn’t understand sticking around if you weren’t going to be faithful. It made me believe she was only around for one thing. I sat cross-legged on the couch, watching a documentary on recent humanitarian crises, still dressed in my sweaty leggings and an off-the-shoulder top. It was one of the hottest days of the summer so far, and Benito had left the windows down the entire drive home. He’d said the wind did great things for his hair, and so I never got to cool off. I pressed a cold water bottle to my face. The front door opened and my papà’s voice filled the foyer. A rush of awareness ran from my nape down the length of my spine. I realized Nicolas was here before I even heard his voice, deep and indifferent. A strange dance began in my stomach. Even though I stared at the TV, I had no idea what was happening because I was hyperaware of every noise coming from the foyer. As their steps went by the living room’s double doors, a cell phone rang. “Take it,” Papà said. “I’ll be in my office.” Since it was silent, I imagined a nod from Nicolas. My papà’s footsteps drifted down the hall. “Yeah?” Nicolas drawled. A couple of seconds passed before, “Motherfucker.” I tensed. It sounded like he was going to kill someone, and his steps were coming straight for me. Before I knew it, he reached over my shoulder and stole my remote. “Hey,” I protested. He didn’t respond; he only changed the channel. Breaking News flashed on the bottom half of the screen, and the blonde newscaster went over the details of a large drug bust at the border. Nicolas stood behind me, close enough my ponytail brushed his stomach. His hands gripped the back of the couch on either side of me as he leaned slightly over my head, his attention on the TV like I wasn’t even here. It was invasive and rude. My pulse drummed in my ears as my heart tripped up in what could only be called anticipation. My body’s unwilling reaction brought a rush of annoyance in. I didn’t like this man—heart fluttering or not—and I suddenly didn’t care how inappropriate it would be to talk back to him. “Yours?” I asked smoothly. “Bummer.” A tug on my ponytail. “Watch it.” His words were low and distracted. Warmth spilled into my chest, like I’d just gotten away with playing with fire. I wanted to do it again. Was this how people became addicts? “There are seven other televisions in this house, Russo.” Another tug on my ponytail, but this time he pulled it all the way back so I was looking at him upside down. His eyes narrowed. “I’m beginning to wonder if this Sweet Abelli even exists.” I swallowed. “You shot my brother.” Was his fist . . .? It was wrapping around my ponytail. Once. Twice. His gaze flicked to the TV. “He deserved worse.” This man was going to watch the news with a fistful of my hair? My God. Maybe it was due to my head being at an awkward angle and my blood not circulating as well, but my brain wasn’t getting enough oxygen. And the fact that he smelled so good, like clean soap and man, made the corners of my vision hazy. “You’re not a judge and jury,” I breathed. His gaze came down to me. “He almost got you killed, yet you stick up for him?” “He’s my brother.” His expression hardened. “He’s an idiot.” My mamma’s voice filtered into the room from down the hall, and slowly, he unwound his fist from my hair and took a step back. A moment later, she entered the room. “Nico, I didn’t know you were coming today.” Mamma’s tone was tight. She didn’t like that he’d shot Tony either, but she must have known it was coming and hid in her room all night. “Will you be staying for lunch?” “I’m sure he’s got plenty of stuff to do, Mam—” “That sounds great, Celia.” “Great.” Mamma sounded like she meant the opposite. I was so glad to have her back on my side. “I’ll prepare a spot for you then.” “Thank you.” Her steps grew faint as she left the room. “You know what pisses me off?” His tone was dark, but somehow it only awoke a thrill beneath my skin. I knew the answer to this question. “Assuming?” I focused on the TV, pretending not to care about what he was doing, but my heart faltered when he moved close behind me. I held my breath as he slowly set the remote back in my lap, and then right at the hollow behind my ear, he whispered, “Smart girl.” A shiver ran down my neck, but then he left with a parting word. “Don’t fucking do it again.” The sun burned hot and heavy. I imagined if I lay on the brick patio, I would be as well-done as my steak. “Really, Celia,” Nonna complained. “It’s hotter than blue blazes out here and I can still see a bloodstain on the patio.” I’d changed into high-waisted shorts and a short top that bared a sliver of my midriff, and a drop of sweat still ran down my back. “Some fresh air is good for you,” Mamma replied. “So is edible food,” Nonna muttered, pushing shrimp around with her fork like they were still alive. I kept my eyes on my plate as I ate, mostly because Nicolas sat directly across from me. He wore no jacket, and he’d rolled up his white dress shirt. I was right. Black ink started at his wrist and disappeared into his shirt. It wasn’t often I’d met men with tattoos—at least, not ones so obvious. The only thing I could make out was the ace of spades tattooed on the inside of his forearm. I guessed he accepted the nickname “Ace,” which I’d heard he was called. I might have read a few articles on him myself. He sat next to Adriana, and they both seemed like they’d always done it. She’d even given him a look because his leg was touching hers. It was strange to imagine them as a couple, yet I’d seen them exchange words, which I’d believed would be a difficult feat in itself. I thought Mr. Rabbit had even been brought up. I’d assumed they wouldn’t be good for each other at all, but I was beginning to wonder if I’d been wrong all along. Papà and Mamma were discussing something between themselves and Nonna was picking at her food, when Adriana suddenly said, “It’s called manspreading.” Nicolas’s gaze flicked to my sister. “What?” “Manspreading. How you’re sitting.” He didn’t respond, only sat back, rested his arm behind Adriana’s chair, and then, like he was merely getting comfortable, stretched his legs out a little further. My sister’s expression hardened. All right, maybe I spoke too soon about them working well together. “You know, Nico,” Nonna started, “I don’t blame you at all for shooting Tony. He’s had it a long time coming and his papà hasn’t done a thing.” Papà grunted, apparently now listening to the conversation. “That boy has shot four of my vases. Don’t know what I’d do if he ruined another.” She sounded like it was the most grievous thing Tony had ever done. “Glad to hear it,” Nicolas drawled. Mamma shot her a dark look, and my nonna smiled triumphantly at her plate. These two were all I needed to see to know I would never live with my mother-in-law. I chewed my lip, hesitating. I’d been waiting for the right moment to ask Papà something and now seemed like the best time. He was always easier persuaded around other people, most likely because he didn’t want to come off as a controlling jerk. I’d hardly left the house for anything but dance in six months. Surely he couldn’t punish me forever? “Papà,” I started, “one of the dancers is having a pool party on Sunday in celebration of the Summer Recital. And I was wondering if I could go . . . ?” “Which girl is this?” he asked. I shifted under his eagle-eye stare. “Well, actually . . . his name is Tyler.” Nonna harrumphed. “Since when are you into beta males, Elena?” I shot her a look for giving Papà the wrong idea. She pursed her lips and focused on poking at her food. The table went quiet while he gave it some thought. I swallowed as Nicolas’s gaze warmed the side of my face. Papà took a drink and set his glass down. “I want the address and the owner’s information. And you’ll take Benito.” I let out a small breath. Was I being forgiven? Guilt pierced through my chest because I knew I didn’t deserve it. “Thanks, Papà.” “I’m going inside before I melt,” Nonna said, getting to her feet. “This was the worst day to eat outside, Celia. Don’t know what you were thinking.” “We don’t break our captains. We kill them.” —Vincent Gigante “MERCY.” MAMMA GRIMACED, AS I’D just explained the plot of her book club novel. “I don’t even feel bad for not reading that one.” She hadn’t read a single one of them—I had. “Okay, I have to go,” she said, putting a heel on with one hand and an earring in with the other. “Your papà and Benito are out, but Dominic is in the basement. Oh, and help your sister pick out her cake flavor. Tua zia Liza needs to know today. Please, Elena!” I sighed and climbed off my parents’ bed. “Leaving!” Mamma’s voice drifted out of the room. I heard a faint “Finally” from my nonna as she passed the doorway with her servant Gabriella in tow. She’d gone on her afternoon walk, or, more likely, sat on the patio for five minutes of fresh air while gossiping. A couple of moments later, I pushed the kitchen door open. Adriana sat cross-legged on the counter with two plates of cake before her. Her elbows rested on her knees and her fists were under her chin, while only wearing her yellow polka-dot bikini. “What are the flavors?” I asked, coming to stand before the island. The sun was the only light in the room, casting the windowpane reflection across the counter. “Pink Champagne and Luscious Lemon.” She said it like the options were really Tasty Garbage and Rotten Apricot. She was going to drag this out for as long as she could. Asking my sister to make a decision was like requesting her to write out the equation for time travel. I tried both by scooping some up with my fingers. “Definitely the lemon,” I said, opening the cupboard for a glass. I didn’t normally have dance practice on Tuesdays, but with the recital coming up we’d had it every day. My thighs burned as I stood on my tiptoes to get a cup from the top shelf. Benito and my other male cousins were all taller, yet they always took the glasses from the bottom shelf just to annoy the girls in the family. “I was leaning toward Pink Champagne,” Adriana groaned. “Then Pink Champagne it is,” I said as I filled my glass from the fridge water dispenser. She shook her head. “No, now it doesn’t seem right.” “The lemon, then.” “That one doesn’t seem right either.” I sighed. My sister could drive a saint to curse. I leaned against the fridge and eyed her over my glass. “Why are you in your swimsuit?” “Was on my way to the pool, but Mamma stopped me and said I can’t leave the kitchen until I decide.” After a moment of thought, a smile pulled on my lips. “Mamma left.” Adriana’s gaze, warm and hopeful, popped up from the plates. An hour later, with the cake flavor still undecided, Don’t Stop Believin’ played on the pool radio. The sun was hot, sparkling off the blue water as my head emerged from beneath. The cool liquid ran down my shoulders as I waded to my sister, who wore sunglasses and lay still on a floaty. She was a diva in the pool. In other words: boring. I tipped her. She came up sputtering, pulling her sunglasses off and pushing the dark hair from her face. “I don’t know why you can’t just let me . . .” she trailed off. The pool sat at the side of the house, allowing a view to the front gates. My gaze followed hers to see a lawn care truck coming down the drive. Oh no. Before I could say a word, she pulled herself out of the pool. “Adriana, don’t,” I warned. My stomach twisted. I wasn’t sure how she’d seen Ryan this long without Papà finding out. She’d falsified her class schedule, putting an extra time slot down that she could spend with him, but seeing him at the house was too risky. She turned to me, her gaze soft and pleading. “I just want to talk to him.” “And say what? That you’re still getting married in three weeks?” “And whose fault is that?” she snapped. Ouch. She was never abrupt with me like this. We might not have talked much lately—because what would we talk about? Her wedding?—but she’d never been hostile with me. “I haven’t done anything you haven’t done,” I told her. “I know. I just need to talk to him. You would want to talk to—” she glanced toward the ring on my finger under the water, “—him if you could, wouldn’t you?” Would I? I didn’t know. Maybe that was the reason guilt felt like a heavy weight I carried around daily. It’d all been meaningless. It wasn’t even for love. And I was the only one who’d gotten out alive. “The cameras,” I warned her. There was a security system downstairs that Dominic only had to glance at to see what was going on outside the home. I took a deep breath and tried to ignore the unease that swam in my veins. “The living room. Talk to him in there so you can see if anyone comes down the drive.” The gardener came on Tuesdays and Fridays for lawn care and to clean the pool, so the truck wouldn’t raise Dominic’s suspicion. Let’s just hope my cousin was immersed in Skyrim like he usually was and wouldn’t show his face upstairs. Thankfully, Benito wasn’t here; he had a sharper eye. My gaze found Ryan, who stood next to his truck, looking in our direction. He wasn’t even wearing his lawn care t-shirt, but a button-up and jeans. I groaned. What the hell is he thinking? Adriana beamed. “Thank you, Elena!” Then she was running toward him. As I lay on my back, arms out, the sun warmed my front while the cool water licked at my sides. My eyes closed. I wondered what it would be like living here without my sister. How long I would coast through the halls until I got the same fate as her. I wondered if my papà would let me take classes this upcoming semester, though I was sure I’d blown that for myself. I’d been pulled from all writing and political classes six months ago. I was free from a job, all responsibilities if I wanted, but even as the water held me up, slowly turned me in a circle, I might as well be drowning. Drowning in a past mistake I could never fix, but one I could try to make amends for. One I would amend, in the only way I could. The quiet purr of an engine broke through my thoughts. My eyes flew open. Swimming toward the side, I grasped the edge of the pool and watched a shiny black car park next to Ryan’s truck. I didn’t know who it belonged to, but soon enough the door opened and the worst person who could show up stepped out. A cold sweat drifted through me. Disaster loomed in the distance. More blood. Young, lifeless eyes. No. It wasn’t going to happen again. I pulled myself out of the pool and headed toward the front of the house, ignoring the itch to go in the opposite direction. Nicolas held a manila envelope in one hand and shut the car door with his other. My skin buzzed with a cool sensation, and my bare feet paused at the end of the walkway. I stood there in a white bikini, soaking wet, while my heart beat a mile a minute. When his gaze finally came up to me, he stopped in his tracks. We stared at each other. He was only wearing black dress pants and a white short-sleeve shirt. I swallowed. It felt like he was more underdressed than me. Black ink covered one arm, while the other was smooth tanned muscle. Warmth rushed to the pit of my stomach and spread through me like fire. My breathing shallowed as his gaze trailed the drips of water running down my body. Each drop that hit the concrete was another match lit in the short space between us. His attention settled on my face, his gaze narrowing. “Is this how you welcome all your guests?” I blinked at his rude tone. I couldn’t exactly say I’d ever stood half-naked in front of an unrelated man and had him angry with me for it. “Some.” I tried for nonchalance, but it sounded more breathless than anything. He gave his head a shake, letting out a small breath of amusement. He wasn’t amused at all, though, that much was clear by the way a muscle in his jaw ticked. It wasn’t often I was an irritation, and I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. When he headed for the front door, ice crept through me. I took a step forward. “Nicolas, wait.” He stopped, glancing at me sideways. “Papà isn’t here,” I rushed out. “Aware,” was all he said while heading for the door again. My stomach dipped. Without thinking about it—because I would’ve chickened out—I hurried and stepped in front of him. He stopped short and glared at me. My heartbeat wavered like a plucked string. Without my heels on, his presence was larger, more intimidating. “You can’t go in. It’s not . . . proper without my papà home.” There wasn’t a chance my father had invited this man over while he was away. How did he even get past the community gates? But I already knew Nicolas did what he wanted regardless of rules, and my papà must have realized that before the marriage contract was signed. His gaze sparked. “You have a second to move before I do it for you.” “Be my guest. You’ll get all wet.” Somehow, I thought that was a great comeback, but it only made us both aware I was half-naked and soaked. The breeze grew hotter, the air denser. His jaw tightened as he took a step forward. I didn’t move. His white shirt almost brushed my white bikini top. My breasts tingled in anticipation and drops of water tickled as they dripped down my midsection. His body heat was a living thing, sinking into my skin and urging me to step closer, to press my body against his. I couldn’t breathe when he leaned in, his voice low against my ear. “You’re lucky I have shit to do today.” The rough sound ran the length of my neck, goose bumps following. I couldn’t help but think: What would he have done if he didn’t? His fingers brushed mine as he slipped the manila envelope into my hand. “Put it on your papà’s desk.” He took a step back, and my entire body burned in the aftermath. “And don’t fucking go through it.” I wished I could say his tone doused me with cold water, but it didn’t. My gaze narrowed as I looked up at him. The sunlight made his amber eyes even more golden. “Your business with my papà is the last thing on earth I would concern myself with.” His voice darkened. “Good.” We stared at each other for another moment. He jingled the keys in his hand and took a slow step back, before turning around and heading to his car. I stood there and watched him, because his back was as nice as his front. Nicolas opened his car door, calling out, “By the way, it’s Nico. Nobody fucking calls me Nicolas.” As he backed out of the drive, I reminded myself to keep calling him Nicolas. I headed into the house, dropped the folder on my papà’s desk, but, before I could leave, my gaze was pulled to the small safe in the corner of the room. With a tight throat, I walked toward it and tried the handle even though I already knew the outcome. Locked. Guilt made me grasp onto the tiniest shards of hope. I checked each drawer of his large mahogany desk, though, once again, knew I wouldn’t find what I searched for. My papà had all of his private bank information in this house locked down, but one of these days he had to trip up. One of these days this family would pay restitution for the innocent life they’d taken. I walked out of his office to watch Adriana shuffle Ryan out the front door. I crossed my arms when I saw her swimsuit top tied awkwardly to the side, her bottoms on inside out. While I was saving her ass, she was having sex? What a little . . . ugh. When he was gone, she leaned against the door, looking pale and relieved. I pursed my lips in disappointment, turned around and chimed, “Lemon,” as I headed up the staircase. “Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.” —Marilyn Monroe I STOPPED SHORT IN ADRIANA’S doorway and closed my eyes in disbelief. “Papà is going to kill you,” I told her. “Good,” she muttered, adding a long arc with her paintbrush to the canvas that leaned against the wall. The painting would be a rainbow if it wasn’t all black. My sister had been brooding since Ryan came over. She went to her classes, but otherwise stayed in her room. The week crawled by with her casting a black cloud over the house with her emo paintings and sappy music. I was beginning to feel guilty again, but there wasn’t a part of me that wanted to put myself in her place. I’d rather have a husband who wasn’t so rude, wasn’t such a womanizer as I’d heard, and truthfully less handsome. Maybe that sounded odd, but to me it made perfect sense. Laughter filtered up the stairs, and I closed my eyes once more. Adriana’s engagement party had started five minutes ago, and she currently sat cross-legged on her floor in overalls, covered in paint. I could see Papà’s temper not far in the distance, and I would feel its heat just because I was such an easy target. Adriana never reacted when our papà raged at her, and it annoyed him, so he turned it on me. “What on earth could you be thinking right now?” I headed toward her closet, not looking forward to digging through costumes to find the rare dress she could wear. “That I hate my fiancé. He’s rude, and you’ve seen him, right? Can you even imagine us having sex, Elena?” I paused, gave my head a shake, and continued pushing clothes on hangers aside. “Um, no. I’m not going to try to imagine that.” She sighed. “A couple of hours ago I realized I would have to have sex with him.” I made a noise of acknowledgment, not surprised it had taken her this long to come to that assumption. The obvious was like the hidden secrets of the world in Adriana’s eccentric mind. Surprising, as she’d always aced her schoolwork and had more friends than I could ever hope for. “And I kept thinking, maybe there’s a reason he manspreads so much? His is big. Then I began to worry, so I started looking up pictures—well, videos—of men his size, naked, and that only made me worry more.” “You were watching porn,” I said, deadpan, standing in the closet doorway and watching her paint Mr. Rabbit beneath the black rainbow. She tilted her head to eye her masterpiece. “Yeah, I guess that’s what it’s called.” “Adriana!” My sister groaned, and I looked toward the door. Mamma wore a red cocktail dress and an angry expression. A slew of Italian flew past her lips as she snatched the dress from my hand and then smacked Adriana on the back of the head. “Shower, now!” Adriana grumbled and got to her feet. “And porn!” More Italian. “What were you thinking?” A laugh escaped me. Mamma shot me a glare, and I turned it into a cough. She had always shown up at the most inopportune times. We couldn’t get away with anything. “Elena, go pacify the Russo. Lord forbid he starts shooting the guests again.” “Me? What am I supposed to do?” All I received were a few sentences of berating Italian that didn’t even address the current topic at hand. When my mamma went off, she’d talk about everything but what she was currently mad about. This time, it was how she broke a favorite porcelain dish earlier, Nonna complained about her lunch again, and the gardener hadn’t shown up today. Which was definitely for the best . . . Guests trickled in the front door as I made my way down the staircase. I wore a pink choker maxi dress, heels with a bow that tied around my ankles, and my hair down, pinned to one side. Even though I didn’t approve of this marriage, it didn’t mean I wasn’t going to take the opportunity to dress up. Frankly, it was the highlight of my week. “Elena!” my cousin Sophia squealed as she came through the front door. “Squealed” was the best way to explain it. She was nineteen with a constant mischievous expression. “I’ve missed you!” She threw her arms around me, and I took a step back at the impact. “I just saw you at church Sunday,” I laughed. “I know.” She smacked a “mwah” on each of my cheeks and pulled back. “But so much has happened since then.” She hadn’t been here for the lunch incident, but I understood my family well enough to know that my three-year-old cousin Caitlin would be able to recite the entire event like she’d been present. “Where’s Sal?” I asked. Her older brother was a male version of her. “He ran into Benito out front. You know, ‘man talk’.” She rolled her eyes. “All right. I’m going to go find us some alcohol. Then we need to talk about this Nico I’ve been hearing about.” “Check out the bloodstain on the patio. That’s all there is to tell,” I told her. “That’s not what I’ve heard. Mamma said he’s hotter than David Beckham.” “I don’t know who that is.” Her mouth gaped. “You’re living under a rock, Elena. Too many books, not enough TV.” “The quote of the century,” I mumbled wryly as she saw another cousin, squealed their name, and left me there. For a moment, I stood alone in the foyer. The windows and patio doors were open, allowing the summer air to flow through the house. It was a beautiful night, and I was praying it didn’t end up like the last time we’d had the Russos over. Tony wouldn’t be here, so we had a much better chance. I turned to find Papà, to tell him there was an issue with Adriana’s dress and that she was going to be late, and to let him relay that to Nicolas, but, before I could, the front door opened once again. Bitterness crawled up my throat, but it was now too late to get away. Nicolas Russo had the worst reputation of any man I’d met, hands down. Though, somehow, I’d found the courage to be myself around him, not the Sweet Abelli everyone used to know and expected me to be forever. But just as it was when someone got sucked into their old habits by the people they hung out with, I was tumbling back into the abyss of fake smiles and fake words, and I didn’t know how to get out. “Elena.” Warm air brushed my skin as the front door shut, and I longed to be on the other side. But instead, I smiled politely. “Oscar.” Mid-thirties, with dirty blond hair and expensive suits always worn with a colored tie, Oscar Perez was handsome in a classic and charismatic way. He never lacked female attention, yet he always lavished his on me. He worked for my papà and was often around for parties, but since we’d had nothing going on I hadn’t seen him in months, since before the incident. It was one of the biggest reliefs, but unfortunately, all good things have to come to an end. “Don’t you look as beautiful as always,” he told me, giving me a kiss on each cheek and lingering too long. “Demasiado hermosa para las palabras.” I didn’t know what he’d said, but I assumed it had something to do with my symmetrical face. I stared at his light blue tie, the color of his eyes. I hated it. He was the fairest Colombian I’d ever met, and for some reason I resented his blond, comely appearance. What a lie it was. “Thank you,” I said, trying to take a step back, but his hand went to my lower back and drifted to the top of my ass. My stomach tightened with unease. He was lean but tall, and his presence consumed me like a bad aftertaste. He’d always been subtly inappropriate—his fingers just grazing things they shouldn’t. Close enough to make me uncomfortable, but not too close to get shot by my papà. If he went further, would my father even believe me now? Oscar pulled back to look me in the eye, but his hand didn’t leave me. Something crawled under my skin. I realized at this moment why I couldn’t escape the expectations people had for the Sweet Abelli with anyone but my sister’s fiancé. Nicolas Russo was safe. He was marrying my sister. There was no chance I’d have to marry him, no chance my actions would alter how he would treat me as a wife. Most men walking through these doors could be a potential husband to me. Why make it worse on myself? Oscar’s fingers tightened on my lower back, and he spoke in my ear, “I hear you’ve gotten into trouble since the last time I saw you.” My heartbeat drummed. He’d always been inappropriate, but politely inappropriate, if that made any sense at all. He’d never brought up something so personal and invasive. His saccharine voice took a cruel edge. “I was very disappointed when I found out, Elena. You can understand why, can’t you?” There was one thing that could mean—my worst nightmare—but I wouldn’t accept it, didn’t believe it. I wasn’t going to call him a liar, though. “Of course,” I breathed. I didn’t realize how tightly he’d been holding me until he let me go and I fell back a step, my line of vision focused on his ugly tie. It took a second to realize we were no longer alone, and the heavy presence against my back could only be one person. Oscar glanced warily behind me, before looking back at me with a fake smile and bitterness dancing in his eyes. “I’ll see you at dinner, Elena.” He kissed the top of my hand, eyeing my cheap ring with a grimace, and then disappeared into my home like a snake on the loose. I stared at the door, while his insinuation resounded in my mind. Resentment crawled into my chest, creeping to wherever it resided. However, maybe Oscar Perez was what I deserved . . . Slowly, I turned around, my gaze traveling up a black vest, black tie, to a gaze just as dark. “If that was the Sweet Abelli, can’t say I’m impressed.” Where Oscar’s presence was a dark, looming shadow, it felt nothing compared to Nicolas’s larger, warmer one. His pulled you in, didn’t send you away. It was infinitely more dangerous. The reminder of my spineless behavior still permeated the air, and I couldn’t flip the switch so fast. “Excuse me,” I breathed, taking a step around him, but he reached out and grabbed my hand. I didn’t get a chance to even weigh his expression before he was pulling me to the front door. His rough palm practically burned mine, spreading a warm sensation in my lower stomach. It took a moment to find the voice to speak, and once I did, it sounded more breathless and uncertain than it ever had. “What are you doing?” He was mad. He had to be to touch me in the middle of the foyer with guests around every corner. He ignored my question. “Where’s my list?” My brows knitted, and then I remembered I was supposed to write that. “I, uh, forgot about it.” Under the warm glow of the porch light, I heard Benito and Sal laughing near one of the cars in the drive, but it was too dark to see. Nicolas’s grip was soft but strong, and so there was no other choice but to follow him down the stone path toward the side of the house. I had no idea what we were doing, but it was either go with him, or back inside where Oscar roamed free. It was an easy choice, though surprising considering I’d only seen one of them shoot their family member in the head. Nicolas stopped near the corner of the house, released my hand, and leaned against the brick wall of my home. A second later, the orange flame of a lighter cast his face in gold tones as he lit a cigarette between his lips. “You smoke?” It was a stupid question, as he was now blowing out a breath of smoke and watching me with a lazy expression. “Sometimes,” was all he said, his shoulders tense. He glanced up to look at the security cameras above our heads. He was in a blind spot, leaning against the wall. I was probably front and center on the screen for Dominic to see. What would people think if I was, once again, caught alone with a man I shouldn’t be with? A rush of anxiety shot through me, and I stepped to the side and out of the camera’s view. Nicolas’s gaze was heavy, angry even, and I wasn’t sure what I’d done to him. I glanced at the star-lit sky. It was beautiful, but I didn’t believe he’d brought me out here to enjoy it with him. In fact, it looked like he’d prefer I wasn’t here at all. I sighed. “Why am I out here with you?” The night was dark, but I still saw a bitter expression cross his face. “Saw that prick push you around, touch your ass. Was wondering if I could get away with the same.” My heart stilled for a split second before I narrowed my eyes. I had my reasons for putting up with Oscar, but I didn’t have to deal with this from a brother-in-law. I took a step to leave, but a rough hand grabbed my wrist. “Stay.” It wasn’t a suggestion but neither was it demanding. Why did he want me to stay when he was clearly angry with me? He was rude and confusing. And who told him he could hold my hand, pull me around, and make me feel warm all over? I imagined Nicolas Russo had gotten whatever he’d wanted since he was young, and, being the only child, he didn’t even have to share. I let out a shallow breath and pulled my wrist out of his grip. It was stupid, but I was going to stay. I told myself it was only because I needed to get to know his character for my sister’s sake. Not because his mere presence made something hot unravel inside me. I eyed his cigarette. It looked small and harmless in his hand. I didn’t know what it would look like in mine, but I was beginning to wonder. He must have noticed my expression, because he pulled the cigarette from his lips and handed it out to me. He wanted to share? He watched me with that hooded, looking-into-the-sun expression, not saying a word. My pulse fluttered. It’d been six months since I’d even touched a man—that must be why I was having such schoolgirl notions about handholding and cigarette-sharing. Male contact wasn’t a normal thing for me, and even before this ring graced my finger, it hadn’t been then. I took the cigarette from him, and he watched me as I brought it to my lips and inhaled. The coughing was instantaneous, my eyes watering. Dark amusement ghosted through his gaze before he reached forward and took it from me, his fingers brushing mine. “I wasn’t finished,” I protested, still coughing a little bit. If I was going to smoke, I was going to do it right. Maybe I was a perfectionist, but I couldn’t leave anything halfway or poorly done. I watched him put his lips on the cigarette where mine had been. Thank God it was dark, because my cheeks grew hot. This man had barely said anything to me that wasn’t rude, short, or demanding, yet my body reacted to everything he did like it was magic. Che palle. I was crushing on my future brother-in-law. He handed it back to me. “Not so much this time.” I listened to him and only inhaled a little bit. A couple of seconds passed before smoke smoothly escaped my parted lips. A languid rush filled my bloodstream, my head feeling light. The breeze was warm, the song of the cicadas steady, while I shared a cigarette with a man I knew nothing about. “My mamma’s going to kill me,” I said softly, followed by my cousins’ low laughter drifting on the light breeze. Nicolas dropped the butt, blew out a breath of smoke, and stepped on it. “You tell your mamma everything?” I looked up at the starry sky. The answer was no; I never told anyone much. Nothing that mattered anyway. “She’ll smell the smoke,” I said, gazing at the constellations. I glanced at him to see he’d been watching me. I flushed, every inch of my skin growing hot. “Come here.” Something soft and charming wove through his deep voice. My heart skittered to a stop. This was how this man got women: by only saying, “Come here,” in that tone. Nonetheless, I couldn’t say I felt cold when he was rude either. I had always done what I was told, especially by the Made Men in my life, though not a single step I took in his direction was because of that. I was a moth moving toward the flame, until I stood close enough for my wings to ignite. I held my breath when his hand rested on my waist. His grip tightened as he pulled me forward until my chest brushed his. My pulse beat in my throat, and his hand was so hot, spreading warmth to the pit of my stomach, that I hardly noticed him leaning in, brushing his face against my hair. “No smoke.” The words were smooth with a rough edge. His palm slid from my waist to my hip before he pulled away, leaving a trail of fire down my side. He pushed off the wall, and I took a step back and out of his way. Walking away, he stopped and turned to me. His voice was cool, indifferent, and laced with that commanding tone he’d mastered. “The list? I want it tomorrow, Elena.” “What do you mean, like do I carry a membership card that says ‘Mafia’ on it?” —Willie Moretti TEMPTATION IS HALF-NAKED, INNOCENT, AND dripping wet. And I am my idiot cousins. Those were the two conclusions I’d come to this week with an irritating sense of acquiescence. I was practically up to my neck in work, and yet I could only focus on one goddamn thing. Elena Abelli, of course. So fucking wet. The way she’d stood there, dripping water to the concrete while staring at me with those soft brown eyes and that sweet expression. Her long, wet hair and a body you’d see on a porn star. Jesus, it couldn’t be real. That’s what I’d convinced myself, but then it followed me, got in my way even, and told me what I couldn’t do. It was regrettably real. Every perfect square inch of it. For an unknown reason, the idea of her greeting guests looking like that dug under my skin. Was her papà letting her run around half-naked while men were over? And as her soon-to-be brother-in-law, could I tell her to go put on some fucking clothes? I hadn’t ever wished a girl would get dressed, especially one with an ass like Elena Abelli’s. Frustration clawed at my chest, because I knew when irrational responses went through my head it meant one thing, and it usually wasn’t good for either party involved. The night was lit by tiki torches and the sparkling orange lights above the Abelli’s patio table. The atmosphere seemed to be easy enough, though that was probably because all the Abellis stayed on one side of the yard and all the Russos on the other. A servant poured Adriana her sixth glass of wine, and I reached out and took it from her, setting it on the other side of my dessert plate. Her gaze burned a hole into my cheek. “You’re not fucking old enough to drink,” I told her. She sighed, mumbling something about having to drink to forget the videos—whatever that meant. We were supposed to be “getting to know one another,” as her mamma suggested, but we’d hardly said a word to each other and I couldn’t find it in me to care. Mostly because I knew where her sister stood and was concentrating on not letting myself look in that direction. The girl had the entire male population of New York kissing her ass, and I didn’t care to be included in that circle jerk. Nevertheless, a flash of pink in a corner of the yard caught my attention, and I couldn’t stop myself from flicking an unwilling glance to her. She was playing croquet with her girl cousins and Benito. And just like a prima donna, she still had her heels on. I’d thought my perception of her personality would be a big enough repellent, like a thick cloud of bug spray or maybe a little mace. Unfortunately, it didn’t do anything to turn me off. Not when I looked at her, and especially not when she spoke with that soft, warm voice that soaked through my skin and ran straight to my groin. I now understood my cousins’ fascination. The fact that I could be lumped into the same group as those idiots . . . ridiculous. I knew what this was. I was a Russo. We wanted what we couldn’t have, and what I couldn’t have was Elena Abelli in my bed just one damn time. “You don’t like my sister?” Adriana asked. Jesus, she was a bit perceptive. I would have to remember that. I took a sip of whiskey. “I like your sister just fine.” “Hmm,” was all she said, like she didn’t believe me but didn’t give a shit either. This was how our conversations seemed to go. Short and apathetic. I couldn’t decide if we were perfect for each other, or if she’d drive me crazy with her idiosyncrasies. My gaze found that blond prick talking to one of Elena’s uncles. I didn’t know the man, but I knew I wouldn’t help him if I saw him bleeding out on the street. A burn radiated in my chest from only looking at him. I’d barely stopped myself from smashing his face against the front door earlier. Elena Abelli was not my business, regardless of the way the Russo blood in my veins burned a little hotter in her presence. “Yankees or Mets?” Adriana had poured all the salt out of the shaker and was now drawing caricatures in it. “Red Sox,” I responded dryly. “Boxers or briefs?” “Commando,” I lied. Her gaze dropped to my dick, only to look away a moment later and purse her lips. “This game is boring.” Amusement filled me. This girl was fucking weird. And I was aware that’s why Salvatore had offered me a daughter in the first place. “Unfit,” he’d said about Elena. Unfit, my ass. Not a single man in the Cosa Nostra would turn Elena away because of her lack of virginity. Salvatore didn’t want to give up the favored Sweet Abelli, at least not to me. He probably thought he’d gotten one over on me. I’d take the weird one. At least she would be entertaining. She was also the smartest choice. Who knew how many men Elena had been with? I was Don. If I married a woman who’d been fucked by a few others in the Cosa Nostra, it would look bad. And, honestly, I never was that great at sharing. I’d have to kill all of them and I already had enough on my plate. Luca leaned against the wall by the open double doors, sharing a look with my cousin Ricardo who sat at the edge of the party quietly observing the scene. Luca held up two fingers, nodding toward the girls on the lawn. Ricardo shook his head. After a few more silent exchanges, they both nodded. At least tonight seemed to be dull enough for bets on stupid croquet games rather than as eventful as it was last Sunday. I sure as hell wouldn’t be the one to ruin it by cracking skulls against doors. I flicked a glance at Elena to find her gaze already on me. It was the same way she’d looked at me when she said, “You’ll get all wet.” I tried to ignore the heat running to my groin. The words had been innocent, the thought not crossing her mind that any man would let her get them as wet as she wanted. And not with fucking pool water either. At first, I thought whoever nicknamed her had never even met her, but as I spent a little more time observing her it started to make sense. She looked tense when she stood up to me, like it was new for her, like she expected me to wrap my hand around her throat and squeeze. A thought I’d had, though probably in a different context. The Sweet Abelli was trying to grow some wings. Thank fuck. Something in my chest rattled with satisfaction when she listened to me without hesitation. The hot-blooded male in me wondered how obedient she really was. And the Russo wanted to know how much she would let me get away with. I had already touched her more than I should. Had only shared my cigarette with her just so I could see her lips where mine had been. I’d imagined those little pink fingernails around a specific part of my body, rather than holding a smoke. I’d only touched the girl’s waist, and the warmth and softness of it was still burned into my palm. The whole goddamn situation was fucking annoying. The blond prick grabbed Elena by the arm as she walked past, pulling her in to say something in her ear. Animosity crawled through me. Leaning back in my chair, I rested my forearm on the table and away from my gun, because I had the sudden urge to shoot another man in the Abellis’ backyard. Elena’s papà glanced at the exchange, though hardly seemed concerned. My tongue ran across my teeth, a deep, unsettling ache unfurling in my ribs. Elena nodded tightly before the prick dropped his hand and let her go. She disappeared inside. “What’s his name?” I asked Adriana, nodding toward th