Authors: Michelle St. James
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Two Hours or More (65-100 Pages), #Contemporary Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Crime, #New Adult & College
A Mob Boss Serial
Michelle St. James
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2015 by Michelle St. James aka Michelle Zink
All rights reserved.
Cover design by Rebekah Zink
the door to the beachside cafe, scanned the dining room, and made his way toward the giants at the back of the room. He slid into the booth next to the bald one and put his hands on the table.
“Long time, no see.”
Elia Bartolli did a double take. “Man, you do not look good.”
“Thanks,” Luca said drily. “Nice to see you, too.”
Elia shrugged. “I’m just saying.”
Luca turned his attention to the dark-haired man across from him. “You going to whisper sweet nothings in my ear, too?”
“You're not my type.” Marco said.
The men broke into grins.
Luca looked up to find a thin, extremely tan woman with deeply etched lines around her eyes and mouth. “Coffee would be great, thanks.”
She nodded, and they waited to start to talking until she returned to fill his cup and top off Marco’s. Elia didn’t drink coffee. Said it stunted your sperm count. They ordered breakfast and started talking as soon as she was clear of the table.
“It’s only been five months since the Syndicate take down,” Elia said. “There’s no way you can be in trouble this fast.”
“It’s not me who’s in trouble,” Luca said. “It’s this girl who - ”
Marco groaned and dropped his head in his hands. “Not you, too.”
“What?” Luca said. “I hadn’t even finished.”
“First Nico, and now you?” Marco shook his head. “Not that long ago I would have sworn we’d be bachelors forever.”
“I'm not talking marriage.” But even as Luca said it, he felt his pulse quicken. What would it be like to make Isabel his forever? To know that he could hold her hand every night, wrap her naked body in his arms while she fell asleep, make sure no one ever hurt her again? “Just a girl in trouble.”
“That’s what they all say in the beginning,” Elia said. “Look what happened to Nico.”
Nico was living with the love of his life and their infant daughter on a beach somewhere, which didn’t sound half bad to Luca anymore, but he didn’t want to say that out loud.
“Look, the girl’s in trouble, and since I’m her bodyguard, I’m in trouble, too.”
“So you’re saying you’re nothing more than this girl’s bodyguard?” Elia didn’t look convinced.
Luca thought about lying but that wasn’t how they worked together. “Okay, I’m more than her bodyguard.”
“Knew it,” Marco said. “Soon as you called saying you had a problem, I told Elia, “That fucker’s in love.’”
“I didn’t say anything about love,” Luca said, although the word didn’t scare him like it used to. “But I care about this woman, and she’s in trouble — trouble she doesn’t deserve.”
“Spill it,” Marco said, taking a sip of his coffee.
“She’s the sister of Diego Fuentes,” Luca said, careful to keep his voice low.
“Diego F -”
“Here you go.” The waitress set their plates down in front of them. “Get you anything else?”
“We're good,” Luca said.
Marco watched her disappear around the counter. “Diego Fuentes the drug lord?”
“That’s the one.”
“I don’t like this already,” Elia said.
“You’re going to like it even less when I finish.”
He told them everything: the way Diego kept Isabel prisoner using the rape tape he’d orchestrated. How Isabel controlled their inheritance but was forced to sign over money to Diego for the business and personal drugs and god-knew-what-else, because if she didn’t, Diego would make the tape public. How she cared for her little sister even while being forced to live under the same roof as one of the men who’d raped her while she was drugged.
He could hardly say the words. He thought he’d managed to quell his fury once he got Isabel settled in his bed, once he watched her drift off to sleep, her chest rising and falling as she breathed. But now it was back in full force. He saw again the things Hector, Diego’s head of security, did to her on the tape, the way the other man had slapped her face, the panic in her eyes that made it clear she wanted it to stop but was under the influence of something that made it impossible to do or say anything.
His stomach turned, and for a minute, he thought he might have to excuse himself to be sick in the bathroom. He took a drink of his water instead, got himself under control.
“Her own brother let his guards rape her?” Marco said.
Luca wasn’t surprised by the ice in the other man’s voice. Marco was always calm on the surface, but Luca knew his sense of justice ran deep, and more than once he’d seen the man unleash a torrent of violence on the deserving seemingly out of nowhere. They’d been revered, even feared, when they worked for the Vitale crime family in New York. But they’d been fair, and there were some things Nico didn’t sanction under any circumstances. Violence against women was one of them.
“He did.” Luca choked out the words, forcing away the image of Hector and the other guard raping Isabel. He might lose it if he thought about it too long. Might start punching things blindly until his fists were bloody to stop the fury that rose in him when he thought of anyone hurting her.
“What a sick bastard,” Elia said. “And the little sister lives there, too?”
“She does,” Luca said. “Isabel is trying to make things normal for her, but the place is a powder keg. I have to get them both out of there, but I don’t even know if I’m going to be allowed back on the property after what went down last night. I’m surprised he hasn’t come after me already, the fucker.”
“I’m more surprised you didn’t kill him on the spot,” Elia said.
Luca sighed. He still wasn’t sure if letting Diego live had been the right thing to do. “It was tempting. But the other guards were there. I had no idea how it was going to go down if I pulled the trigger. And he is Isabel’s brother.”
“Not in any way that matters,” Marco said.
“Maybe not to us, but I still have to get Isabel’s buy-in on anything we do to her brother. They’re blood, and the Cubans take that almost as seriously as we do.”
“Not seriously enough given the asshole’s treatment of his sister,” Elia muttered.
“So what do you want us to do?” Marco asked.
“I don’t even know,” Luca said. “I’m still trying to get a read on what’s going to happen next. But I wanted someone else to know in case I disappear.”
Elia rolled his big shoulders. “If you disappear, that asshole better run back to Cuba. His life won’t be worth shit here."
Luca smiled. They were his family. His only family. It was comforting, especially given the dissolution of the Syndicate. He was used to having an army of men at his back. Facing off against Diego Fuentes was no small undertaking, and he was glad to know he wouldn’t be entirely alone in getting Isabel out alive.
“There is one thing that might help,” Luca said.
Elia took a drink of his coffee. “Name it.”
“I’m thinking if I can get one of you on the inside, it gives me a little more maneuverability, and another layer of protection for Isabel.”
“How are we going to do that?” Marco asked. “From the sound of it, your ass is already grass there. It’s not like either of us can use you as a reference for Fuentes.”
“There are other channels,” Luca said. “I found the job through Aldo Matolla. Remember, we worked with him on that hotel thing a few years ago? I’m thinking you put out feelers with him, and I’ll text you if it looks like one of the other men is on the outs.”
“And you think that might happen?” Elia asked.
“I think heads are going to roll when Diego sobers up and realizes I threatened him, beat his head of security to within an inch of his life, and walked out with his sister while three of his men stood by and watched. So yeah, I’m thinking there might be some job openings at Casa Fuentes in the very near future.”
“You call, I come,” Marco said. “I’ll contact Aldo.”
“You need me there, too?” Elia asked.
“Nah," Luca said. Elia was the best when you were looking for scorched earth, but when you needed a kinder, gentler touch, Marco was your man. “Let’s keep one of you on the outside for now. Getting off the property will be tricky if Diego is suspicious. Better to have someone who can move freely if we can’t.”
“You’re afraid I’m going to break things — like people’s faces — aren’t you?” Elia asked.
Luca grinned. “Little bit.”
Elia nodded. “Got it. I’ll be your outside man.”
“You sure you don’t want to bring us in with you?” Marco asked. “If things were as bad as you say last night, I’m a little worried you might be met with an AK at the front gate.”
“Fuentes isn’t going to make a scene outside,” Luca said. “It’s not his style. All his temper tantrums are had behind closed doors.”
“Great, so he’ll kill you in the foyer,” Marco said.
“I don’t think so,” Luca said. “I think if he wanted to kill me, I wouldn’t have woken up this morning. The guy’s twisted. He likes to fuck with people, and I’ve just handed him some prime material on a silver platter. I think he’s going to toy with me before he tries to eat me.”
Marco made the sign of the cross. “From your mouth to the holy mother’s ears.”
in a chair on the palazzo, using her sunglasses to keep an eye on her surroundings without making it look like she was scared. Fear was an aphrodisiac for Diego. Other people’s fear anyway.
She hadn’t wanted Luca to leave after he dropped Sofia off at school, but she knew it was necessary. Things were spiraling out of control at home. Now Diego knew about her relationship with Luca, and Luca had made it clear he wouldn’t tolerate Diego’s brand of abuse.
They were facing off, and a showdown was imminent. It was no longer a matter of if, but when, and how many people would be left standing when it was all over. The only shred of hope she had was Luca’s assertion that he had powerful friends — some of whom were every bit as dangerous as Diego.
She’d been horrified to see the video playing on the big screen TV when she’d walked into the media room the night before. Part of her wanted to hide, pretend it wasn’t happening. She’d known what it was as soon she’d left Sofia’s room after tucking her in, as soon as she’d heard the music coming from the TV screen, music that would forever be embedded in her mind as the soundtrack to her shame and degradation at the hands of her brother’s bodyguards.
Her first thought had been Luca. Had he seen it? What would he think of her now? But then she’d looked over to see him pummeling Hector, beating to a pulp one of the men who'd raped her while the other men looked on, seemingly too shocked by the turn of events to know what to do.
She’d been surprised her brother had allowed it. Hector had been with him a long time. Her brother trusted him, and trust didn’t come easy in his business, or with his particular brand of paranoia. But he hadn’t moved to stop Luca from ruining the man’s face, and a moment later Diego had ordered Hector removed from the room. Isabel hoped she’d never have to see him again.
She sighed, tipping her face to the sun, allowing herself the luxury of closing her eyes for a minute. She’d been exhausted last night, as if all the tension that had been in her body since the assault had left all at once. It wasn’t that it changed anything. Not really. She would have to live with what had happened — with what had been done to her — for the rest of her life.
But the shame had subsided, soothed away by the tender brush of Luca’s hands on her head, the soft murmur of his apologies for everything she’d been through. She didn’t like to hear him apologize. Besides Sofia, he’d been the only good thing in her life since that night. Because of him, she had hope again, even if she didn’t know how it would all pan out in the end. She wasn’t alone anymore, and that was no small thing.
“It’s a bad idea to close your eyes, Isa. Haven't you learned anything from me?”
Diego’s voice chilled the blood in her veins. She opened her eyes, grateful for the sunglasses that shielded at least some of her face from her brother. His gaze roamed her body dispassionately. It was fucked up to feel any kind of gratitude in her current situation, but she was thankful he’d never shown any interest in her. Diego’s predilections didn’t run to incest. It was small comfort given his other compulsions, but it was something. And at least she wouldn’t have to worry about a threat to Sofia from that angle.
“How do you know my eyes were closed?” she asked, buying time to recover her composure.
“It’s easy to tell,” he said, “even with the sunglasses on. It’s the only time you relax around me,
. When your eyes are closed.”
She felt a chill run over her skin and had to resist the urge to slip on her swimsuit cover up. Had he been watching her while she slept? Is that what this little conversation was about? Taking one of her last remaining bastions of peace — sleep — and making it yet another vulnerability she couldn’t afford?
She tipped her head back again, tried to sound bored, like nothing had changed with Luca’s discovery of the rape tape. “What do you want, Diego?”
He lowered himself to the chaise next to her. “I saw your boyfriend leave the property this morning.”
“So?” She was grateful to hear her voice emerge steady and calm, without any hint of her internal panic. She knew it was a possibility Diego would make Luca leave, or worse, try to hurt him, although she was less worried about that after seeing the flinty look in Luca’s eyes when he’d told her could take care of himself — and her and Sofia.
Luca’s past was still a mystery, but he was strong and unwavering, and she had a feeling he could be even more dangerous than her brother. Diego was a little bit crazy, a wild card. His unpredictability was what made him scary. But Luca was another brand of formidable altogether. The chill in his gaze after he’d pummeled Hector had startled her at first. There had been no emotion there, not even fury. His blue eyes had been as cold as ice. Maybe she should have been scared of him, too. But she wasn’t.
you realize I could change the code on the gate? Make sure he can’t come in here anymore? Take out a contract on his head?”
“Why don’t you?” She was fighting against the tide of panic rising in her body. She and Luca knew it was a possibility, and he’d promised that nothing would keep him from her. She believed him, but she still felt better having him at the house, especially now.
Diego ran a finger up her bare leg. “That would be the easiest thing to do.” She didn’t say anything, let him go on. “Or I could have one of the men take him out to the Glades. It’s one of our favorite hiding spots, you know. No one ever finds anything out there. The swamp just swallows it right up.”
“I told you what would happen if you hurt Luca.” She was surprised by the steel in her voice. Surprised to discover there was one more person — one more person besides Sofia — that she would risk everything for. “You’ll never see another cent from Papa’s estate.”
Her mention of their father made his face turn as still as a statue.
The game isn’t as much fun when you’re not the one controlling the conversation, is it, asshole?
“Papa.” He spat the word from his mouth like it was something foul. “This is his fault, you know. You blame me, but if Papa had split the money between us, you could go on your way with Sofia, and I could stay and run the business.”
“But that’s not what happened,” she said. “And I’ve done everything you asked. Even when you…” She sucked in a breath against the pain of the memory. Because as bad as the rape had been — the feeling of helplessness, of being just conscious enough to know what was happening to her but not coherent or in control enough to make it stop — the worst part of all was knowing Diego had done it to her, had orchestrated the whole thing as a way to keep control of her. Had let his own men violate her so that she had to see them every day in her own home. “Even when you did what you did,” she continued, “I cooperated with you. I - ”
“You had no choice,” Diego shouted. “Have no choice.”
“Everyone has choices,
You’re the one who said that. And you’re right. I could have left with Sofia and let the world see that awful video. I could have lived with the fallout of it. Forced Sofia to live with the fallout. Maybe I’m just a coward. But whatever the reason, you’ve been able to run the business as you see fit, with all the money you want and need. I don’t ask questions, don’t expect to be part of the business. I - ”
He interrupted her again. “You don’t want to be part of the business.”
“That may be true, but you have done everything in your power to exercise control over me, and I’ve allowed it to happen. All I’ve asked in return — the only thing I’ve asked in return — is that you leave Sofia and me alone. Let us find some kind of happiness here in this prison.”
His laugh was mean and cold. “Prison?” He looked around, and she followed his gaze, taking in the infinity pool, the giant covered palazzo lined with teak lounge chairs, the ocean in the distance. “Some prison.”
“A prison doesn’t have to look ugly to be ugly,” she said softly. “To keep you from the things you want.”
“And what is it you want?” he asked.
She shrugged, not daring to believe it was an honest question, a legitimate negotiation. “To be free. Sofia and I don’t need much. We can take a small amount of the inheritance and be on our way.”
“Papa insured that you couldn’t sign it over to me,” he said. “The old bastard never trusted me.”
“I can sign some papers giving you access to a certain amount, and we can meet once a year so I can have more disbursed from the fund.”
He hesitated, and for a few seconds she actually believed he might say yes. That she and Sofia might walk off the property truly free for the first time in almost two years.
“I don’t think so, Isa.” She tried to hide her disappointment. She didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. “What if you don’t come back?” He continued without waiting for her answer. “I can’t risk it. You’ll stay here with Sofia. This is your home, after all.”
He was almost to the terrace doors when she found her voice again. “What about Luca?”
He turned, waved away her question like it was a fruit fly in summer. “Enjoy the sun, Isa. Relax. Rest. Let the men handle the business.”
He disappeared into the house, and she put her fist in her mouth and bit hard enough to leave marks on her skin. He was going to make her crazy before she got out of here. Either that, or she was going to end up killing him herself.