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Captured Innocence: A Dark Mafia Romance by Piper Stone – Sample

Chapter One


I was fourteen when I met Mattia, the first time I’d also witnessed him killing a man, but it wasn’t the last. On my eighteenth birthday, he saved my life, slaughtering the assassin in cold blood. And both times, I was told he was my enemy, born into a merciless family. Perhaps that’s why for my nineteenth birthday, I decided to go behind my father’s back, indulging in my greatest fantasy, providing a gift that could only be shared once.

My virtue.

With the man I intended on marrying…

“You’re weak, Sophia. You believe in love, the greatest vulnerability of all. That weakness will eventually kill you.”

They were some of the kindest words my father had said to me just before shipping me away to little more than a convent in Paris disguised as a wealthy boarding school for the upper echelon of society. I’d learned within hours of arriving that sexuality was considered a sin. Instead of turning into an obedient girl, both fearing and ignoring my natural urges, I’d embraced them, nurturing my needs with other methods than boys.

I’d become determined to prove my ruthless father wrong, but I’d also listened and observed, refusing to remain a protected, pampered princess. Entering college had allowed me additional opportunities to build my repertoire of skills. It had helped build my self-confidence as well. That’s why I was prepared to enter a club when the nagging voice inside of me told me I shouldn’t.

But I didn’t like following good girl rules.

Still. I had my sights set on lassoing my own Prince Charming, just like my beautiful sister had wished for me. I knew exactly who I wanted, a man so powerful and sensual that I could barely breathe when thinking about the passionate man. Or maybe I should call him the devil in Gucci clothing.

The thought brought a smile to my face and flutters into my stomach. I took a deep breath and gazed at the indulgent golden sign, the name printed in bold lettering in vivid crimson.

Like blood to honor the man who owned the infamous club.


The name suited the sinfully decadent club located in the heart of Rome. The building was ten stories tall complete with a conference center on the first floor, the second taken up with a commercial kitchen and a series of office suites, then several floors of various dazzling clubs housed on every other floor, each one meant for different ages. There was also a rooftop bar and private lounge that I’d heard through rumors catered to fulfilling every kinky desire.

The wicked and wild location suited me perfectly, the need to break out of my shell stronger than it had ever been.

“Look at this crowd,” my best friend Celeste murmured from beside me. “I feel underdressed.”

“You’re beautiful. Stop worrying.”

The entire city street was alive with activity, people dressed to the nines in continuation of a fabulous weekend celebrating life. I took a deep breath, holding in the scents of a city I’d missed for so long, finally breathing out then allowing a smile to cross my face. It was far enough away from my father’s estate that I had no worries I’d be found. In fact, it was in what my papa considered to be enemy territory. I grinned from the thought. The good girl was certainly testing her naughty side.

“Now, you do realize who owns this place, don’t you?” Celeste asked as soon as we stepped onto the sidewalk leading to the hottest club in Rome.

“I haven’t been away that long, girl.”

“I wasn’t certain. Would you look at the gorgeous men? Whew. But if your father finds out, he’ll be pissed.”

“That matters to me why?” I purred as I headed toward the set of velvet ropes keeping the four hundred or so wannabe guests from getting inside. Of course I knew who owned Notorious, one of the hottest bachelors in Italy, his wealth, arrogance, and good looks making him entirely too sexy, and he knew it.

Mattia DeLuca was everything a girl could wish for but nothing she should entertain given his penchant for violence and his refusal to commit to anyone.

Yet as gorgeous as he was, his dark, thick curls accenting his strong jawline and intense dark eyes, he was a reprehensible man, considered a family enemy. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t mind fucking with his mind or teasing him if given the opportunity. My poor daddy would have a cow given my sinful decision, but I was finished with playing the innocent, hapless girl who couldn’t handle herself.

I’d selected Mattia for a very special reason, my decision capable of rocking all of Italy. I hadn’t set out to do that until recently, the day my father had told me in no uncertain terms that I would be married off to the highest bidder on my twenty-first birthday. That had been the last straw, my plan set in motion.

“Because Mattia DeLuca is a dangerous man. He doesn’t like people who break the rules,” Celeste insisted.

“Aww. Poor baby.” I pouted my lips. “He will bend to my will.”

“Excuse me? I thought you two didn’t know each other.”

I shrugged and continued walking. “We’ve run into each other before.” The last time he’d issued a proclamation after saving my life. It was time I tested his resolve.

“God, you’ve changed so much since leaving for Paris.”

I faked a yawn and threw her a look. “All for the better. By the way, don’t forget to come early tomorrow for my glorious birthday party. I won’t be able to tolerate Lucia fawning all over me if she is able to fly in from the States.” While I adored my older sister, she also thought of me as a child, the birthday party planned in my honor another indication my family refused to believe I was all grown up. I had a terrible feeling my father was laying the groundwork for his promise to marry me off. The thought was disgusting and I’d disappear before allowing that to happen.

I thought about Lucia and sighed, missing her more than I cared to admit. How long had it been since we’d been allowed to spend any time together? She had a new life in the United States, enjoying being free from the tethers of our family and its wretched traditions.

Sadly, my gut told me that my father was prepared to parade me around to suitors at the great party as well. He prescribed to the old Italian customs, including arranged marriages. My mother certainly knew that better than most, her hatred of our father evident for my entire life.

“Oh, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Then I get to flirt with that sexy brother of yours.”

Exhaling, I stopped short, turning to face her. “You don’t want to have anything to do with Enzo. Okay?”


I hated to tell her that my brother was just like my father, maybe worse, truly an evil human being. “Because you have a normal, loving family. You deserve to find a nice boy who will treat you with respect.”

She narrowed her eyes then burst into laughter, believing I was kidding. “Party pooper. You can’t have all the fun.”

“I assure you that there will be plenty of dangerously stunning men there.” If I knew my father, he was using the event as an unscrupulous business opportunity as well, padding his already hefty bank accounts. “Now, come on. We’re wasting the night away.” Without a doubt, I was playing with fire, but I couldn’t help myself. I’d been stuck in a convent-like atmosphere for far too long.

Did I know what I was doing? Probably not.

As soon as we walked closer, the two beefy bouncers leered at us like we were fresh meat.

“Good God. Look at the two of them. Suddenly, I have a bad feeling about this. I don’t think they’re going to allow us to get in. You either need to know somebody or be somebody.”

“Stop worrying,” I told her as I strutted toward the entrance to the club. “We’ll get in.” I held out a golden card, which I’d stolen from a cute but boring young man in Paris. That’s the moment I’d allowed myself to consider acting on an adventure.

She took a deep breath. “You are such a bad influence.”

“That’s why you love me.” We continued to walk closer, the excitement building.

“How did you get away from the burly security guards who follow you everywhere?”

I gave her a look and batted my eyelashes. “You’d be surprised what showing off your boobs can do.”

“What?” She stared at me in horror.

“Not my finest hour but both of them looked the other way as long as I promised to keep them out of trouble.”

Celeste sighed. “Maybe I need to try your tactics once in a while.”

“Yes, you do.”

“Still, we’re only nineteen. The drinking age is twenty-one,” Celeste said as she fell in beside me. She’d been my best friend since grade school and even though I’d been forced to go to boarding school in France the day I turned eleven, we’d remained close. However, she was still the meek girl, while living alone for so many years had given me a boldness that I used to my benefit every chance I got. She was only now coming out of her shell. I’d smashed mine.

“So what? Our IDs are perfection.” And they were. I had an incredible source in Paris that had provided me with the finest quality pieces of identification I’d ever seen. Besides, there wasn’t a single person in the city who’d dare challenge let alone deny entrance to the daughter of Roberto Lazarro. They knew what would happen, the wrath my father would bring down on them.

I pushed in front of the crowd to the two bouncers guarding the door. Then I gave them the sweetest smile possible.

One of them started to tell me to get back in line before glancing down at the revealing dress I was wearing, a little something in scarlet I’d picked up before leaving Paris. It highlighted every curve perfectly, the length barely covering my butt while providing a lasting look at my long legs in four-inch stilettos.

When I handed him my fake ID, he barely glanced at the particulars other than my name. Then a smirk crossed his face. There was no one here that would do the math. It simply wasn’t important.

“No can do, miss. Move along.”

His tone was gruff and he was stupid enough to try to push me aside.

I jumped in front of him, tilting my head as I threw out the gold card. “I don’t think you want to deny anything to the daughter of Roberto Lazarro. Do you?”

The hulking mass of a man lifted his eyebrow, a cold, calculating smirk crossing his face. The other bouncer walked over, grabbing the invitation from Mr. Hulking Mass Number One’s hand, giving me a hard onceover. “Let her in.”

Although he sneered given his disapproval, he did what he was told, not even pestering Celeste for her ID before motioning us in.

Dentro ci sono uomini cattivi che desidereranno mangiare delle belle ragazzine.” There are bad men inside who’d desire to eat pretty little girls.

I threw my head over my shoulder after hearing his comment. “Then I guess it’s good I’m a crack shot, isn’t it?” I used English although I could have chosen French or Spanish, Turkish or Russian. If he had any clue what I’d said to him, it wasn’t apparent, the bastard grinning lewdly as he opened the door.

In return, I flicked him the bird then pounced inside, acting as if I owned the place.

“Wow. That was impressive,” Celeste said as she giggled. “Did you see the one guy’s face? I think he wanted to eat you alive.”

“He’s just hired muscle. He knew better than to touch me.” I had a feeling my arrival had been noted, which was exactly what I wanted.

“God, this place is gorgeous and insane. Look how crowded it is,” Celeste said, clinging to my arm as if terrified I’d leave her.

Men of all sizes and shapes scanned us like we were prime grade-A beef as I pushed our way through the crowd. I was searching for one thing: Mattia. To that end, I made certain I preened in front of several cameras. If he was working, he’d be told I was here. I was certain of it. After a few seconds, I glanced at the balcony, the prime real estate exactly what I was looking for.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

As soon as I pointed, she followed my gaze. “To where all the pretty people play.”

“You are such a bad girl. Did I ever tell you that?”

That’s exactly what I planned on being if only for a single night. I’d concocted the plan on my eighteenth birthday, the party held at my father’s favorite restaurant. Mattia had been there with his entire family, celebrating something special as well.

I’d watched him as he’d watched me, careful not to allow anyone to see our interest in the other. The images of what happened that night tickled the back of my mind just as it had dozens of times before.

As the hand was snapped over my mouth, preventing me from screaming, shock tore through me. I was quickly dragged from the corridor, the assailant quickly leaving through the rear door of the restaurant. That’s when my fight or flight kicked in and I struggled, managing to kick the powerful man in the shins.

But he was too strong for me, jerking me toward an oncoming vehicle. When the driver skidded to a stop, the door pitched open, I did everything I could to get away, biting the asshole’s hand.

My high-pitched scream was short lived, the horrible man knocking me to the ground.

“You bitch!”

The words were spouted in English, but I knew the language. Dazed, the wind knocked out of me, I tried to scramble away but he was too fast, wrapping his hand around my arm and jerking me off the cracked pavement.

Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!

Four rapid shots were fired and I was dropped. Then I watched in horror and glee as the man who’d tried to abduct me fell to the ground, pitching face first. Seconds later, the driver slumped to the steering wheel, the car rolling into the brick wall of the building next door.

When a figure approached, I tried to scream but nothing came out. Then a larger than life man dropped beside me, immediately cupping my face.

“You’re okay, bellissima principessa. I will never let anyone harm you again. That is my pledge to you.” The words ‘beautiful princess’ should be ones I hated, but his deep voice made me feel as if he was my knight in shining armor.

When he gathered me into his arms, carrying me under the light over the back door, I recognized my hero.


He whisked me inside, easing me to the floor near the restrooms. Exhaling, he brushed the backs of his knuckles across my face, giving me the kind of seductive look that would fuel fantasies for days and weeks to come. Then he dared move closer, taking a deep breath and allowing it to slide across my face. “Are you alright?”

“Yes,” I managed.

He pressed one hand against the wall, lowering his head. Without thinking, I lifted mine. Then he gripped my chin with two fingers, pressing his voluptuous lips against mine. As the kiss became a sweet, scintillating moment, my heart fluttered, my mind spinning out of control. The taste of him was incredible, bourbon tinged with a hint of peppermint, the flavor irresistible.

As he swept his tongue inside, he was insistent yet tender, as if fearful I would be terrified. I arched my back, pressing my hand against his chest. Then I allowed myself to knead his muscles, yielding to his possessive mouth.

When he broke the moment of intimacy a few seconds later, I gasped for air while he growled.

Then he issued a promise that I knew would haunt me for a long time.

“Un giorno sarai mio. Il mio a piacere. Mio da proteggere. E mio da possedere.”

One day you will be mine. Mine to taste. Mine to protect. And mine to own.

My lower lip quivered and after he pressed his lips against my cheek, he backed away into the shadows. But not before repeating a single word in English.


As the vision faded, I realized my nipples ached, my panties damp from the lingering desire. I’d only agreed to come home for yet another birthday celebration for one reason.


The man I’d hungered to taste, the one who’d made a promise, a secret I’d kept locked away in a box.

The good girl, the one who never made waves or stood up for herself, the one who’d been treated like a child her entire life would venture out on her own.

I wasn’t just playing with fire. I was igniting explosives, but what was wrong with getting burned? Something magical had happened the moment the clock had struck midnight the evening before, my birthday a monumental event in the back of my mind. I was eager to indulge in my greatest fantasy.

And it had Mattia DeLuca’s name written all over it.

Chapter Two


Money and power meant everything in a world where the truth was usually veiled in boasting and lies. I could afford to do both when necessary. However, that was because I had more power than most, the DeLuca family wealth in the billions. In addition, we ruled a significant portion of Italy, almost everyone in our territory bowing down to us, considering us celebrities. Wherever we went, we were treated like royalty, our meals comped at restaurants, cases of wine appearing at our doorsteps.

We were even provided with vacation vouchers from anywhere in the world we wanted to go. The truth was we were spoiled with generosity often from people who had little to nothing. In turn, we funded charities and orphanages, provided funding for businesses, and even had a scholarship fund that allowed needy students to go to college without paying a dime.

Would that get us out of hell free of charge? Absolutely not.

We were also brutal, unforgiving men, especially regarding liars and thieves. And the man I was prepared to teach a valuable lesson to would soon learn that turning his back on the DeLuca family had been a costly mistake.


Blood spewed from the man’s mouth along with a tooth.

“Sit the fuck down,” I told him. The asshole had dared take a swing, his fist connecting with my jaw. I rubbed it while I backed away, cursing in Italian under my breath. The idiot was dumber than I’d realized.

I’d been born into a violent world, death hovering around me like a warm blanket. I was immune to the effects, using violence as an extension of who I’d become. I was merciless, well trained in the art of torture and death. There was no room for second guessing, no concern over an enemy’s welfare. Just do it. The famous motto often made me grin since it suited my lifestyle perfectly.

However, tonight I was antsy and wasn’t certain why.

Usually, I relished the loss of blood, enjoying both the thought of death and carnage. Tonight, I was bored, angry that my quiet night had been interrupted. Maybe I deserved a break from working twenty-four/seven for the last two years.

Vincenzo, my right-hand man shoved the snitch down onto the steel-backed chair, patting him on the shoulder. “Good boy,” he mused, when the guy remained where he was, giving me a hard look given his anger. Marco had put up a good fight, my Capo’s face showcasing a nice shiner.

I backed away, shaking my head and adjusting the brass knuckles. This wasn’t how I’d wanted my day to end. But business occurred when necessary, including providing lessons and warnings. With shipments being hijacked, I couldn’t afford to allow anyone to get away with insubordination.

The thumping noise of the bass drums pulsed inside my office, which would ordinarily irritate the hell out of me at this point but tonight the tribal beat was helping to drown out the strangled noise and pleas.

“Please, boss. I have a family. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again?”

Christ. Did he really believe I’d buy that shit?

“You have a whore and a mother, Marco. Don’t kid yourself. I know everything about you. Granted, I pity your mother. What she must think of you.”

If there was one thing that I couldn’t stand, it was men who begged for their lives after being discovered for their treachery. In my world, you took your punishment like a man, no matter the expected end. I’d been lucky enough to have a father who taught me at an early age that there was no room for weakness or tears.

I had him to thank for becoming a savage man some liked to call Satan. I appreciated the moniker more than people could understand. One day, I would be the Don and I would rule the empire using completely different methods, although just as brutal.

I adjusted the brass knuckles for a second time, an instrument I rarely used but given the location of the punishment session, I wouldn’t be able to carve my name into his chest or pull out my dentistry tools. Those were some of my favorite instruments in my massive collective of torture techniques. The thought alone brought a grin to my face.

The man’s head was lolled, the beating he’d just taken making it difficult for him to breathe. I took a step away, grabbing my glass of scotch from my desk and powering back the remaining liquid. It was important to stay hydrated during rounds of discipline.

After slamming the tumbler on the bloodwood surface, I returned, fisting his hair at the scalp and snapping his head awkwardly. One eye was already swollen shut, the other unfocused. I smacked his cheek lightly, trying to drag him back to reality. “Hey, pissant. Wakey. Wakey. You’ll die when I tell you to die.”

My two Capos chuckled from behind me. I glanced at Vincenzo, the bulky man grinning like a kid. He’d been the one to track down the asshole when I’d heard the scumbag had left town. Maybe holing up with his mother hadn’t been the best idea. She’d been forced to watch as he was dragged from her house crying like a baby.

For that alone, Marco deserved to die. Making a mother worry was a cardinal sin in my world. Women were to be exalted, even though my mother had been a whore, at least according to my father. I shoved the ugliness aside. It was time to finish business.

“I’m disappointed in you, Marco. You had potential. Then you fucked it up.” The guy had come up through the ranks, starting out in the United States working for a cousin out of New York. He’d come highly recommended, treated like family. It disturbed me that the asshole could turn so quickly.

“I’m sawry,” he said, his words garbled from blood dripping from his busted-up mouth. “I had no choice.”

“You always have a choice.” My snarl was likely sliding into deaf ears.

I offered him a semblance of a smile, although I wasn’t certain why. Along with being more antsy than normal, I was also testy, my nerves shot given the recent shit that had gone down surrounding business. Pops had taken it out on my younger brother, a kid who had no business being born into a family of degenerates. He’d also beaten my adopted brother, treating him like an animal. But the beatings I’d received had been used as training, preparing me to take the throne one day. Allowing this asshole to live wouldn’t score me any points.

I punched Marco several times, including one brutal jab to the kidney. All the while, I envisioned my father’s face. I’d walked in on him using a whip on Tommaso, the kid doing everything he could to hold in his emotion. Crying or pleading only made the beatings that much worse. However, the scars were constant reminders of who and what I was, which in truth was fine by me.

It had taken everything I had not to kill my father with my bare hands.

Sadly, Tommaso was no threat to the dickless man. Why torture him? God, I was livid.

That’s why I was more brutal than normal, but the beating didn’t soothe the beast inside. I wasn’t certain anything would at this point.

Maybe my anger was about my father’s continued conversation about finding a suitable wife so I could pop out an heir. It would increase my value and the respect seen in me by other members of the Five Families.

“Don’t get your suit dirty, boss. You’re walking the floor tonight. Allow me to finish the job. I’ll enjoy every moment.”

Exhaling, I glanced at Vincenzo. Ordinarily I wouldn’t mind his eagerness, but I felt it prudent to handle it myself. “I feel the need, bud,” I told him and he knew what that meant. I’d been diagnosed with anger issues a few years before, which had been reason to laugh, but given my penchant for violence, I’d been encouraged to find certain things that would help calm me down. I’d found two.

Fucking up a face and sex. I’d had my share of beautiful women, but given so many had thrown themselves at me, I was weary of one-nighters where I didn’t even remember their name afterwards or if the sex had been any good. I preferred a woman with chutzpa and intelligence, capable of outwitting me with ease and a wicked smile. I’d found the one I wanted, even laying claim a year before in an insane moment of weakness.

It was too bad I couldn’t follow through with my promise. The budding flower was absolutely perfect in my mind. Shit. What the hell was I thinking? I took a few additional swings before taking a deep breath, surprised my knuckles ached.

“Gotcha, boss.” He grinned and backed away.

I heard his phone ringing just before I threw another hard punch into the middle of Marco’s face, the crunch of bones giving me a smile. Unfortunately, blood flew from his crushed nose all over my suit. Groaning, I pulled out the handkerchief I’d shoved into my jacket pocket, wiping the glob away before it hardened.

“Yeah. What’s up, Bruno?” Vincenzo answered.

I heard him chuckling seconds later and turned my head in his direction just as he glanced toward me. I could swear the man’s eyes were twinkling. That was something that I hadn’t witnessed in a long time. I waited to see why Bruno had called. He was at the front door to the club, a good location for him given his love of brutality as well.

“Yeah, I’ll tell him,” Vincenzo said, laughing under his breath as he shoved his phone into his pocket. “You won’t believe who just walked into our club a few minutes ago.”

I had everyone from politicians and dignitaries, famous actors and musicians who graced my club. They were people I couldn’t give a fuck about, and he knew it. Now I was curious. “Don’t keep me in suspense, Vinny. You know how cranky I get when you do.”

He walked closer, his grin full of irony. “Maybe you want me to finish the job for you. I think you’ll have your hands full with our illustrious mystery guest. In fact, I think I can consider it an early birthday present.”

Chuckling, I shook my head. It was just another day of the year I wanted to forget. However, I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was tossing out bait that he knew I’d hunger to taste like a rabid dog.

“Really. Who is this luscious creature who’ll pull me out of the darkness?”

He lifted his head, allowing a grin to remain before answering. “Sophia Lazarro.”

He allowed the information to sink in. He was one of the only people who’d known about my interest in the girl from a year before, the meeting accidental but something I would never forget. Saving her life had been cathartic, even if her father had threatened me and mine had laughed, patting me on the back as if I’d done my good deed for the year.

I’d never learned the identity of the two men who’d accosted her and in truth, I hadn’t given a shit. My reaction had been without thinking but it was something I’d do again. That was the night a weakness was born. I felt it more now than ever. Fuck.

It would seem fate had intervened again. My cock twitched at the thought.

I’d made the stunning princess a promise that day I’d tried and failed at forgetting. She’d awakened something deep inside of me that had lingered for months afterward, leaving me with filthy thoughts and needs that couldn’t be sated. I’d almost made a huge mistake that night that could have cost me dearly, but I’d maintained control. But with her inside my club, all bets were off.

Perhaps I’d make good on the promise I’d issued. Hmmm… The thought was delicious and very interesting. With the Lazarros and the DeLucas still at odds, our union could present a delicious opportunity.

He chuckled, patting me on the back. “There’s that look I know far too well. I thought that would make you happy. From what Bruno said, she’s dressed to kill. She also threatened Daniel. She’s certainly not her daddy’s little princess any longer.”

Daniel was a bruiser of a soldier. Anyone threatening him didn’t mind taking their life into their hands.

I still had difficulty getting over the sudden news. The woman I’d hungered for was in my club? That wasn’t a coincidence. I felt that in my gut. In fact, I’d been certain she would have told her father about my forward behavior, half expecting for weeks for there to be an attempt on my life or at minimum, another threat to stay clear at a cost I couldn’t afford. There’d been no such thing. Perhaps she considered me her dirty little secret, especially since her body had responded just as mine had, desire tearing through both of us.

“Did she now?” I rubbed the stubble on my jaw, amused as hell.

“I thought you’d be pleased.” His chortle made me laugh.

“You thought right.” I reared back, thinking about what he’d just said. Two images flashed into my mind. One was of the girl I’d met several years before, a wallflower who stared at me with fear yet also contempt in her eyes. She’d been at the wrong place at the wrong time, the only witness to a vicious crime. Instead of reacting as a normal young woman would, she’d seemed drawn to me. I’d spared her life given her identity and nothing else.

And two was the young woman celebrating her eighteenth birthday, no longer a picture of innocence but a woman I’d wanted to deflower even then. Call me an evil man. At least I’d had the good graces to walk away that night. Still, she wasn’t old enough to be drinking inside my club. Hmm… Perhaps I should punish her for her bad behavior. I chuckled, my filthy mind working overtime.

Marco moaned, dragging me back into reality. Business never ended.

After throwing him an angry glare, I removed the brass knuckles from my fingers, handing them to Vincenzo. “You know me too well, brother. Just don’t forget to clean up after yourself when you’re done. I don’t like to leave a trail behind me.”

“You think I don’t know that, boss?” His grin was as evil as the way I felt inside, hunger already bridging the surface. “Go have fun.”

Fun. The word wasn’t in my dictionary.

Sophia Lazarro, the revered and very protected princess of a rival family. While the Five Families of Italy, crime syndicates who ran the entire country, were all in a moment of truce, at least according to my father, the Lazarros were considered our true enemies. We’d shared bloodshed and violence over the years, claiming lives at various times. Our territories were close, so much so the lines were often blurred. My adopted brother D’Artagnan and I had been tasked to round up straggler Lazarro soldiers over the last few years, which had led to worse blood raining in the streets.

What in the world was the prized princess doing here?

There’d been talk of a marriage between Lucia Lazarro and me, but that had yet to come to pass. I wasn’t the marrying kind. For the younger sister to be inside my club was far too tempting.

“Where is my beautiful prize?”

“Near the bar on the upper floor.”

The floor directly above was reserved for private members of Notorious, which meant Sophia had either been invited by someone or had flirted her way into the special club. Now I was more intrigued than ever. Even though she’d changed dramatically in two years, a year before she’d still seemed so innocent, a light to my darkness, good to my evil. Could a year make a significant difference?

When Marco shifted in his chair, I was surprised as well as pleased at his tenacity. When he spoke, I had to listen intently to hear what he was saying, the words muttered in Italian.

Stai attento, principe delle tenebre, perché il tuo destino è nelle mani di uomini di cui ti fidi.” Be careful, prince of darkness, for your fate lies in the hands of men you trust.

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