There are some who say death is easier to accept when you can see it coming.
But in this case, the moment of reckoning was nothing more than foresight into the future.
Blood. Revenge. Passion.
Those were the three words that would forever burn into my mind.
And I would exact all three.
So. Help. Me. God.
New York City
“Mr. Benedetti. Will there be anything else, sir?”
Roberto glanced up at the trembling waiter, waving his hand. “I am finished. This was delicious. Please give my compliments to the chef.”
The waiter exhaled, the sound rattled. “Yes, sir. I will be happy to do so. Let me remove your plate.”
Inhaling, Roberto shifted his full attention to the man sitting across the table from him. While he allowed a smile to cross his face, there was nothing but concern in his mind. He remained uncertain of his decision, even though the presentation had been excellent. “I’m not certain you can handle the business or the volume. I won’t tolerate bullshit or any insecurities, and you have them written all over your face. That doesn’t please me on any level. Unless you have something else, I think our business meeting is over.”
William flinched visibly, crawling his fingers across the table to collect the pile of papers he’d presented. Then he gave Roberto a discerning look, one full of confidence. “I know exactly what I’m doing, and I plan on making both of us a significant amount of money. I thought this was what you wanted. If not, I can go somewhere else.”
Roberto eyed him carefully, taking and holding a deep breath for several seconds. When he spoke, he kept the volume of his voice low. “I enjoy taking risks, William. That’s why I’m powerful as well as rich. However, I’m also no fool. I will allow this to take place but heed my words. If you dare fuck with me, I will hunt you down and there will be no place you can hide. Do I make myself clear?”
William opened his eyes wide. “I know what I’m doing. I’m not in the business of letting people down.”
Roberto took a sip of wine, swirling it several times before returning it to the table. “You have three hours to sign the first contract. Not one second more.”
“Understood. I need to make a phone call.” William tossed his napkin, moving to a standing position. “I have no doubt the business will be profitable.”
Roberto took another sip of wine. “Let’s hope so. For your sake.” He studied the younger man’s face, shaking his head as William started to walk away.
As the waiter reached across Roberto, snagging the plate, Roberto caught a glimmer of sun coming from an awkward location outside the oversized window leading to the street. He called for his Capo at the same time the waiter dumped the remainder of Roberto’s zucca tortelli directly into his lap.
Then all hell broke loose, the window shattering.
Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!
The spray of gunfire was powerful, the rapid shots overwhelming the screams of other customers.
Then there was silence.
I was prone to bouts of anger and had been since I could remember. I took what I wanted when I wanted without fear of consequences, which often kept me in trouble with my teachers and on several occasions the local law enforcement. However, my particular skills had also helped keep the family’s enemies on a short leash. The rumblings I’d heard during the recent trip to France had pissed me off. At some point, a few of our business associates would need to be handled.
After all, they were dealing with the Benedetti Empire. Betrayal wasn’t an option unless the person had a death wish. But there were several riding that fine line. At least I’d provided a warning to the French mob to stay the fuck out of our territory unless they wanted additional bloodshed.
The hard slam of the door was just as powerful as I’d intended. There was nothing I loathed more than being summoned by the family Consigliere, especially after the long trip I’d endured. While my constant travels were necessary in order to keep the Benedetti fortune growing, the recent back-to-back trips did little but push me further into a foul mood.
That my father had called a meeting at my house in particular meant my mother had another party planned, likely as a welcome home gift for her beloved. At least he had a soft spot for someone in the family. As the firstborn son, I worked closely with my father, a man considered brutal, violent, and completely unforgiving.
There wasn’t a member of the family who hadn’t told me more than once I’d grown up just like him. Even though my father had been a tough taskmaster, I took that as a compliment, becoming more brutal in the way I handled business.
I dropped my bag near the front door, stripping off my jacket and tossing it across one of the living room chairs on my way to the bar. After the tumultuous flight, even in first class, I needed a drink. Maybe more than one.
I’d barely gotten ice into my glass when I heard the sound of the front door opening, the voices of my two brothers filtering into the room. I cringed then poured a hefty amount of scotch over the two cubes of ice. Their boisterous conversation was a clear indication that they’d spent the time indulging in whatever sadistic pleasures they required while I was gone.
Snickering, I leaned against the bar, waiting for them to enter the room. Stefano was the first to appear, his wide grin exactly as I’d expected. Enrique seemed more pensive, his jaw clenched, his approach somewhat slower. As the youngest of the three of us, he was also considered the darkest, a mean streak appearing only a year after he was born. His behavior had been difficult to control, even now, but I adored him.
My mother had often called us her three little princes, boys who would grow up to rule a kingdom. From where I stood, we’d sold our souls to the devil a long time ago. As far as running the Benedetti Empire, my father was king and commander, often telling us he would never retire.
I swirled the liquid in my glass before taking a gulp.
“Difficult trip?” Stefano asked, pushing me aside so he could partake in the same libation.
We were Italians, born and bred in Tuscany, yet our father had insisted that we learn several languages, including English. He’d insisted we speak Italian only around our mother, who refused to allow what she called the immoral western world into our household. She loathed all things from America whereas I found them to be nothing short of a new adventure.
“Not as difficult as it could have been,” I said quietly as I walked to the triple set of French doors, staring out at the picturesque view of the mountains and gorgeous greenery, a view I rarely saw and cared even less about.
“Does that mean you handled the situation?” Enrique mused, adding a subtle but demonic-sounding laugh at the end.
I shot him a look then shook my head. My brother enjoyed the more arduous tasks we were often required to handle. Especially bloodshed. His penchant for violence was well known, which was why our father almost never sent him to handle the complicated situations. He could inadvertently start a war just by roughing up those who owed us money.
“I handled it appropriately, but I don’t think the hard push from the French bastards is over,” I answered, refusing to take any guff from either one of them.
“If your warning doesn’t work, then we take out the city.” Enrique’s suggestion wasn’t necessary a bad one, but I doubted our father wanted to start a war over a lousy two million lost in revenue.
“As a last resort,” I chided. “Have you talked with Pops?”
Stefano flanked my side, shaking his head. “Not since yesterday morning. He confirmed his arrival time today but said little about how the meetings had gone.”
Why my father had insisted that he needed to handle basic transactions with distribution companies regarding the Benedetti wines had been beyond me. While we maintained a certain level of business in New York, none of it included either wines or olive production. His desire to take away a portion of the drug running business from the Irish mob had been in the initial stages, but he’d said almost nothing about it in recent months. My father never did anything without extensive planning. Maybe he thought the legitimate businesses would provide a different inroad, allowing him access to clients who would purchase large amounts of the party favors we offered.
“As if we need the money,” Enrique added.
That was true enough. The family’s holdings had crossed into the billion-dollar range and were growing. Granted, only a portion of our wealth had been procured through legal methods, the other through our wide network of buyers for cocaine and heroin as well as cigarettes and guns. We were a family to be feared and respected, my father demanding both.
The sound of a short knock followed by footsteps indicated Enzo had arrived with our father in tow. Enzo Pazzi had been close to my father since they’d been teenagers, his counseling often proving to be helpful.
Even if he attempted to act like our second father, something all three of us resented.
As the footsteps grew closer, I realized there was only one set. What the fuck was going on? Growling, I glared at the door, my brothers flanking my side. We always knew when bad news was about to descend.
When Enzo walked into the room unaccompanied, my hackles were immediately raised. I walked closer, eying the thick sealed envelope he held in one hand, his iPad in the other. That wasn’t nearly as disconcerting as the look on his face, his expression one of sadness.
My father had told me on the day I’d turned thirteen that we had significant enemies. I’d already known that given I’d been witness to the brutal elimination of one of them when I was eleven. I would never forget the horror on the man’s face the moment his throat was slashed or the way my body jerked from being covered in a spray of blood. My father had disciplined me for ignoring his rules much later, my snooping allowing me to watch as the man who’d betrayed my father had been forced to endure my father’s wrath.
The incident had excited the darkness inside of me, my hunger to learn more about my father’s business never far from my mind.
On this terrible day, I knew my father had met the kind of tragic end he’d warned me about.
“One day the devil will come and take his due. Be prepared because that will occur without warning.”
His words burned in the back of my mind.
“What the hell is going on?” Enrique demanded.
Enzo couldn’t have looked more uncomfortable as he approached, gently placing the unlabeled envelope on the coffee table before clearing his throat. “I’m sorry but I need to bring you some bad news.”
“Our father is dead,” I said with little emotion.
The Consigliere trembled before shifting his head in my direction. “He was gunned down in a restaurant in New York City yesterday.”
A moment of utter silence filled the room, the same odd tension that had occurred during every family crisis.
Then Stefano exploded, roaring like some caged animal. “What the fuck happened? And who should we hunt down and kill?”
Enzo held out his hand, trying his best to maintain a calm demeanor, but I could see the sadness in his eyes. The man was gutted. “I don’t know for certain.”
“You’re just telling us this?” Enrique accused.
“I just found this out two fucking hours ago!” Enzo snapped. I could tell how rattled the man was by the fact he cursed, something that almost never happened.
“How in God’s name could that have happened?” Enrique barked.
Stefano locked eyes with mine, ignoring our brother’s outburst. He was similar in nature, his anger kept hidden by the kind of calm demeanor that no one ever wanted to face. My brother didn’t need to utter a word for me to know what he was thinking.
We would hunt, secure, and eliminate the people responsible.
I moved closer, gazing down at what Enzo had brought into the room. “You’re certain our father is dead?”
The older man exhaled, the sound more distraught than I’d ever heard. He nodded only once before fiddling with his iPad, half closing his eyes as he positioned the small computer on the coffee table, pressing a button then immediately walking toward the bar. I stared at him as he prepared a drink, another behavior I rarely saw him indulge in. The man was rattled as fuck.
“Yes, I’m certain he’s dead. He had no chance to flee, the fuckers taking him down right after lunch.” Enzo’s voice was strained. “The poor bastard was all alone, with the exception of his Capo.”
I heard Enrique’s anger manifest itself, words of vengeance spouted in Italian. He’d been the closest to our father, my brother doing everything he could to walk in our father’s shoes.
“Calm down. We need clear heads,” I hissed, glancing from one to the other. Whoever had been responsible had obviously planned the attack, selecting exactly when Pops had been the most vulnerable. It was possible that Michael O’Sullivan, the notorious thug who led the Irish mob had found out about my father’s other plans. If so, that meant a traitor was in our midst.
I’d faced death so many times during my life that the loss of life often didn’t faze me. However, I could tell my muscles were tensing, my blood boiling as the news began to settle in. I moved behind my brothers as the news broadcast the afternoon before from the United States began to roll.
The images of the well-known restaurant, one of my father’s favorites, flashed onto the screen, my blood turning to ice. The scene was horrific, the shattered glass and obvious bloodstains soaking through several of the white linen tablecloths something that would burn in the back of my mind for years. The second clip was just as disturbing.
The dozens of reporters covering the tragedy crowded closer to the police commissioner as he attempted to give a press conference. I barely heard the words the pompous asshole spoke, other than to learn the shooting had been gangland style, the brazen actions in the middle of the lunch rush a shock to the city. That was exactly the kind of activity O’Sullivan enjoyed, acting as if he ruled half the country.
“Mario was killed as well,” Enzo said after I walked away. I could feel his presence behind me, his voice trembling. Mario had been the only man my father had taken with him, the Capo serving my father for several years.
A cold chill shifted down my spine, my anger morphing into something explosive. As my body began to shake, I heard the exclamations of both my brothers from the horror they’d just witnessed. The rumble in my gut increased and soon, I would be unable to control my rage.
I raked my hand across my desk, tossing everything aside. Then I threw my arms back and roared.
The quiet in the room was deafening. After a few seconds, I rubbed my eyes then turned to face them.
“Who did this?” Enrique demanded, unable to keep emotion out of his voice.
I studied Enzo’s face. My father would have discussed his final decision to move into America with the man even before mentioning it to me. A mixture of thoughts and images revolved in my mind, including how the hell I would find a way to tell our mother the news. She would be crushed, her entire world crumbling at her feet. I fisted my hand, fighting the building rage that could become my enemy. The last thing I needed to do was fly off the handle.
“O’Sullivan,” I said quietly.
My brothers appeared physically shaken, but their eyes remained locked on me.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Stefano huffed. “The ruthless mafia family who rules New York? They have nothing to do with us, nor do they have their sights set on expanding their territory. At least that’s what we’ve been told. What was our father doing there?” He walked closer to me, shaking his head. “You shouldn’t have any idea unless Enrique and I weren’t provided with certain details regarding our father’s recent trip.”
“I’ve been the Underboss, which means that certain details were kept private until necessary.” My father’s continued desire to maintain ranks had always pissed off my brothers.
As Stefano got in my face, acting as if prepared to take a swing, it was Enrique who pulled him away. “Let it alone, brother,” Enrique snarled. “Fighting isn’t going to bring our father back. If O’Sullivan is to blame, then we cut out his heart.”
Enzo sighed. “While no one has accepted responsibility, word on the street is that the O’Sullivan family is behind the hit. However, I think there’s more to it.”
“What the hell does that mean?” I glared at the envelope Enzo had brought, trying to control my rage. “And what did you bring? You know more than you’ve told us.”
“This is bullshit,” Stefano growled.
For some reason, Enzo seemed even more stressed by my question.
“Answer me, Enzo. Our father was murdered, slaughtered like some animal. What the fuck is in that envelope?” I was losing my patience, something that no one wanted to happen.
“I don’t know, Matteo. Your father brought this to me prior to leaving for New York. He made me promise to keep it safe as well as the contents untouched and that’s exactly what I did.” Enzo almost never showed any emotion. His continued response to the tragedy was difficult to watch.
“But you know more. He was planning on deciding on whether to bring business into New York.” I laughed after issuing the words.
“Yes, but not without making the decision with the family. He wasn’t ready to do that yet. At least as far as I know.” Enzo was telling the truth. That was easy to tell.
Enrique grabbed the envelope from the table, prepared to tear into it.
“Don’t do that!” Enzo huffed, additional anger in his tone. Sighing, he tilted his head, closing his eyes for a few seconds. “Look, your father was very clear that Matteo was required to open it in the event that… that he didn’t make it back. I’m just trying to honor your father’s wishes.”
I turned my head in Enrique’s direction, studying my younger brother. The fact he was distraught didn’t bother me in the least. However, the last thing any of us needed to do was go off halfcocked. Revenge took time and planning.
Grumbling, Enrique tossed it in my direction, obviously pissed off by the Consigliere’s orders.
“Good ole Father and his ranks.” Stefano inched closer, although he knew better than to fuck with my space.
I took a deep breath before opening the package, finding several eight and a half by eleven photographs as well as another envelope. Inside was a letter from our father addressed to me specifically. After glancing through the group of pictures I realized the majority of them didn’t need any explanation.
They were very candid, filthy photographs of two high ranking officials as well as the great mafia leader himself in extremely compromising positions, the kind that would lead to disgrace and certain arrest. Half of them were repulsive, the acts performed far surpassing anything I’d ever participated in. I handed them to Stefano then read the letter. By the end, I was completely calm, devoid of any emotion.
My father used to joke that when I was angry, there wasn’t a person within a mile radius who didn’t know.
But when I’d reached the very precipice where darkness took over all sense of rationality, the peaceful aura I exuded should invoke utter terror in everyone around me.
And he was right.
Revenge would be sweet.
I’d grown up being taught that family was more important than anything. Money. Power. Influence. None of them were as crucial as the love surrounding a family as well as the protection needed to keep it intact. My father believed the Benedetti Empire was only as strong as our close connections. Perhaps he was right. A hole remained in my heart, the kind that would never heal completely.
I’d never been prone to bouts of emotion other than rage. I’d never shed a tear over anything, but today my entire world seemed to be in a holding pattern. My father had been the glue to keep us all together, insisting that every family gathering and holiday had to be celebrated in style. I chuckled at the thought of how much time he’d taken in the kitchen preparing one of his famous Italian dishes.
Now the burden would fall on my shoulders, something that I’d been groomed to do since I was a small boy. That would potentially cause the rift between my brothers and me to grow wider.
While my father and I had never seen eye to eye about almost anything, I’d gained an early respect for his ability to command a room by simply walking into it. No one had ever accused him of being kind, but he’d earned his reputation as being fair. If you fucked with him, his family, or his business, then you paid the price.
His methods were savage and cruel, and I’d adapted every skill and attribute with the exception of one.
Enzo had tried to encourage me to take some time to heal before acting on my need to enact revenge. That simply wasn’t going to happen. I couldn’t allow the people responsible to think for even a day that their treacherous act would go without punishment. However, I had no plans of using my father’s traditional methods. Killing the three men likely responsible was far too good for them. Even watching them being arrested would offer no level of satisfaction. The bastards deserved to suffer in the same kind of way—destruction of their families one by one.
“Let’s get this over with, Matteo. As you might imagine, our mother isn’t doing well.” Stefano’s voice was laced with the same level of anger as before. He’d stormed out of my house after Enzo’s visit. “She hasn’t stopped crying since hearing the news. One of us has to give a shit about her.”
“Cut the crap, Stefano. We all care about our mother,” I chided. “Father had his reasons for not giving us details about his plans.”
Stefano laughed as he lowered his head. “But you knew.”
“No, not this time. At least not all of it.” I didn’t give a shit whether he believed me or not. I’d remained on edge all night, trying to weed through every scrap of information I could find, calling in favors from several informants. My father had obviously been planning something for longer than he’d let on. Still, something was off about it, pieces of the puzzle missing. Maybe our mother had an idea.
Our mother was a gentle soul, although her resolve was just as strong as her mother’s had been. She would handle the situation with grace and humility, pretending as if the funeral was cause for another kind of celebration. While my father rarely talked about business with her, a takeover of New York would have meant a split in the family. Who had he planned on taking over the city? There were too many questions.
I fisted my hands, doing my best to keep my rage in check. With the ongoing police investigation, it would take some time before my father’s body was released. I planned on encouraging the American officials to make that happen sooner versus later. While I was there, I would handle other aspects of business as well.
“Get on with it, brother. I have work to do.”
“We wait for Enrique to arrive,” I stated with no inflection in my voice. “He’s a part of this decision as well.”
“Jesus. All the pomp and circumstance. All three of us take a trip to the United States and we handle the situation. That’s what should happen.”
I refused to lash out, even though my brother needed a reminder that given the circumstances, I was now in charge. Period.
I took a deep breath, holding it as I noticed Enrique’s arrival in the reflection of the window. He appeared more disheveled than the day before, likely having spent his night with a full bottle of liquor in his hand. While I couldn’t blame him, the last thing we needed was to show weakness of any kind. That wouldn’t bode well for our business, our enemies likely to take advantage.
“What great plan does our brother have in mind?” Enrique asked, laughing after issuing the words. He swaggered in as if this was nothing more than a typical family meeting.
After I shoved my hands into my pockets, I turned around to face them. We’d all had a chance to read over the information our father had provided, the incriminating evidence substantial. It had been made clear in his letter that he’d planned on using the information to the family’s advantage. In addition, I’d tasked Enzo to run an intensive search on every detail he could find on the three families, formulizing my plan after his last phone call and email.
I remained at the window, simply nodding as I gazed back and forth between them. When I spoke, I did so with confidence. “The three men who are responsible for our father’s murder are well known. Therefore, whatever retaliation method we use must be creative. We don’t have the resources or the connections needed to begin a war in another country.”
“True enough.” Enrique narrowed his eyes. “So what do you suggest we do?”
“We fight on their terms,” I answered.
Stefano laughed. “Why do I have the distinct feeling that I’m not going to like this? That’s because I haven’t liked any decisions you’ve made for a long time.”
“Stop it, Stefano. We are family. That meant something to our father. His business was important. He and our mother sacrificed to allow all three of us to have a better life. You need to stop acting like some spoiled asshole. I’m sick to fucking death of it.” Enrique’s outburst surprised both of us.
While Stefano continued to glare at me, at least he had the good thought of keeping his mouth shut. However, Enrique was right. We needed to work together.
Sighing, I moved toward my desk, scattering a new set of pictures across the surface. “Like it or not, brother, this is what we are going to do.” I watched as they inched closer, confused as hell at the vivid photographs I’d presented. The three women were stunning in every way, the perfect method of seeking the retaliation we needed.
“The body isn’t cold and you’re already taking the helm.” Stefano seemed agitated.
I simply shot him a nasty look. Why did I have the feeling he and I were going to come to blows?
Enrique moved closer, huffing after glancing at what I’d presented. “What is this? Who are they?”
Stefano inched closer and was the first to catch on, lifting his head and staring into my eyes. “Marriage. You want us to force arranged marriages.”
I nodded, a grin crossing my face. “What better method of bringing the police commissioner, the wealthy senator, and Michael O’Sullivan down? Their daughters are beautiful, single, sexy as hell, and the best ammunition we could ask for. We simply bring their indiscretions to their attention and they will crumble. If not, we contact the press and the FBI. While I wouldn’t mind putting a bullet into their brains, it’s too risky and I’m not gambling on our family’s future in that way. This is our empire now.”
Stefano started to laugh as Enrique continued glaring at me. “I will have to admit, you’re becoming more and more like our father every day.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment, Stefano. Are we in agreement?” I glanced from one to the other, expecting their compliance.
“You’re a sick fuck, Matteo,” Enrique replied. “Answer me this? What if I don’t like the girl?”
I gathered the pictures, fingering the glossy photograph of my lovely intended bride. “You don’t have to like your intended bride. You simply have to break her.”
New York City
New York. I took a deep breath, holding it in for several seconds. The scent of fresh baking bread, pizza, and Chinese food mixed with the light stench of trash. Just like I’d remembered. As I eased out of the limousine, I adjusted my cuffs, taking time to make certain my black onyx and diamond studs were centered. My Capo moved closer, gazing up at the twinkling lights of the Ritz Carlton hotel. The central location had stunning views and spectacular service. At least we’d be comfortable during our stay.
“Are you sure you want to do this, boss?” Gio asked as he flanked my side, already directing the driver to place our bags on the curb.
A bellman had already approached, his plastic smile a requirement of the job.
“Will you be checking in, sir?” he asked, immediately grabbing the suitcases.
“Yes, we will. The name is Matteo Benedetti.”
Whether or not he recognized the name I would never know. He’d been well trained to keep his reactions regarding guests to himself. I shifted my gaze in Gio’s direction, able to catch a glimpse of the Glock he always carried with him. He’d been by my side for years, a man who would take a bullet for me without hesitation. He was also just as brutal, albeit his sophisticated upbringing allowing him to mingle with any kind of crowd.
He always found common ground during a conversation.
“I’m certain, Gio. Don’t forget. We have a party to attend after checking in.” I walked toward the swinging doors of the hotel, scanning the lobby as I did so. There were several undercover officers in place, their attempt to hide in various positions in the lobby laughable. They were here to offer their protection for the man being honored for his achievements. The ballroom would already be packed, well-wishers and members of the elite press clamoring for the man’s attention.
The police commissioner, Gregory Wiltcher, was larger than life, his family a legend in the city, his father a commissioner before him. He was also crooked as hell, working with ‘the utter scum’ whose promised removal had won his praise. The evening’s gala and award ceremony were all about giving him another accolade.
My stomach churned at the thought.
I charged toward the reservation desk, the young woman behind the desk opening her eyes wide.
“Mr. Benedetti. We’ve been expecting you. All I need is your signature.” She blushed as she turned an electronic pad in my direction. Her lovely lower lip trembled as she gazed down as far as she was able. My reputation had obviously preceded me.
“Thank you, Miss Devlin. You’ve been extremely helpful.” I kept my tone ripe with seduction, although the diminutive brunette wasn’t my type.
She fanned her face before I turned around, giving me a real smile. This would be a very interesting evening.
I moved toward Gio, lowering my voice. “Get us situated in the suite then mingle in the ballroom.”
He nodded, immediately moving toward the bellman. He knew better than to question me again. I buttoned my jacket and headed for the elevator, prepared to enjoy the evening.
I wasn’t surprised at the lavishness of the event. In fact, the man who’d thrown Gregory the party was not only a good friend of the commissioner, he was also another powerful, wealthy man in his own right. I doubted that Gregory would want a man like Maxwell Cunningham to know all his dirty little secrets.
Given our late arrival, the liquor was already flowing, the police commissioner’s speech concluded, but it was obvious the party was just beginning. People were dancing on the massive floor, the music lively. I grabbed a drink from the bar, enjoying the very expensive bourbon that was being served. As I shifted through the crowd, recognizing some of the most powerful people in the city, my cock twitched as memories of the gorgeous picture of the man’s daughter flashed into my mind.
Catherine Wiltcher was a stunning woman, although her blonde hair and lavender eyes offered no understanding of just how rebellious she was. She was just about ready to graduate law school, already preparing to take the bar exam. Given her grade point average and accolades she’d already collected during her time at Columbia, she most certainly had her pick of job offerings.
Unfortunately, she wouldn’t get that chance.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the lovely blonde standing with several other women. I couldn’t resist taking even a small taste of her, if only for a few minutes. As I walked closer, I kept my eyes locked on her face. One of her friends noticed me first, whispering in Catherine’s ear.
Catherine gave me a quick glance then slowly turned her head once again, a provocative smile crossing her face. My cock stirred as my balls tightened. She was breathtaking, the gorgeous purple dress highlighting the most incredible pair of lavender eyes I’d ever seen. As I approached, the other woman whispered words of approval as they backed away.
“Can I have this dance?” I asked.
I could tell she was trying to play coy. Finally, she handed her glass of champagne to one of the other women. “Why not?”
I allowed her to lead me to the dancefloor. There would be plenty of time to require her obedience at a later point. When she turned to face me, there was no doubt she was sizing me up, trying to figure out who I was in the scheme of things.
I took her hand without her asking, sliding my other arm around her waist and dragging her to a slightly darker location on the floor. She pushed her hand against me, rearing back. The fire in her eyes was a powerful aphrodisiac, even more so than the intoxicating perfume she’d chosen.
The music was very passionate, adding to the heat shared between us. There was a spark and I knew she felt the pull between us even though she did everything in her power to fight the shared attraction. But for a few minutes, the delicious game continued.
“You’re very forceful, Mr.…”
“Benedetti. Matteo Benedetti. And you are Catherine Wiltcher.” I held her close, surprised as a burst of electricity shot through both of us.
If she recognized my name, it certainly didn’t register on her face, but I did surprise her by knowing hers.
Catherine tensed, the push of her hand on my chest stronger than before. “Who are you and what do you want?”
“Your father has taught you to be careful. Excellent. I assure you that I wanted nothing more than a dance. Tonight.”
“Interesting. You are an arrogant man. Aren’t you?”
I couldn’t help but laugh at her question. “I am a powerful man who gets what he wants. And I’ve decided that I want you.”
My statement pissed her off. Immediately, she did everything she could to break away from my hold. That made me hunger that much more.
“That may be true, Mr. Benedetti, but you couldn’t handle a woman like me. I suggest you run along and find someone who can tolerate your… size.” She purposely issued the last word while darting her eyes to my crotch. My God, the woman was full of piss and vinegar. I would certainly enjoy breaking her.
Then she would become mine.
I took several deep breaths as she walked away, my nostrils filled with her scent. Tasting her would be oh-so sweet.
I made small talk with a few people until I noticed Gregory standing with a rather large group of people surrounding him. As usual, it would appear he was pontificating. I moved closer, remaining on the fringes of the animated crowd, but close enough that it was only a matter of time before he caught sight of the newcomer.
In less than a minute, he did, immediately growing uncomfortable. If I had to guess, the starched, pressed white shirt he wore under his dress uniform had become highly uncomfortable around the collar. I lifted my glass, giving him a wry smile.
Then I walked away, nodding to Gio who was keeping an eye on the proceedings. Catherine had disappeared, which was fine by me. It was time for business.
Seconds later, Gregory stopped my progression, his face flushed from his obvious anger. He took a deep breath before speaking. “I don’t believe you were on the invitation list, Mr. Benedetti.”
I didn’t bother holding his gaze, instead enjoying the view as well as the contents of the glass in my hand. “I go where I want, Mr. Wiltcher.” I refused to kowtow to his official title.
“If you are here to inquire about your father’s murder, this isn’t the time or the place,” Gregory continued.
I took my time turning my head, keeping the smile on my face. “I don’t need to inquire about the details, Gregory. The events that occurred at that restaurant in the middle of your jurisdiction were pretty clear in the news broadcast I was shown. My father was betrayed. Having said that, I also know the identities of the people responsible for making that happen.” I took another sip, swirling the cubes of ice until they clinked against the dense crystal.
“What the hell are you trying to tell me?”
I inched closer, keeping my voice even. “You and your buddies, Senator Starling and Michael O’Sullivan, simply tasked some of Michael’s soldiers to slaughter my father in the middle of the lunch rush.”
It seemed to take him a few seconds to react, but when he did, his anger had left him now replaced with utter fear. His face was pasty white, a nervous tic appearing in the corner of his mouth.
“That’s bullshit,” he barked.
I reached into my pocket, the collage of photographs I’d made small but detailed enough that the asshole should know better than to fuck with me.
After grabbing the single sheet from my hand, he managed to pale even more, a strangled sound coming from his lips.
“Now, since you have a better understanding of why I’m here, I suggest we go to a more private area to work out… restitution.” I grinned and backed away, cocking my head.
There was no hesitation. He turned on his heel and walked to a bank of doors, ignoring two people who attempted to draw his attention before bursting out of the ballroom. I took my time following, the only open door a clear indication of where he’d gone. After I walked inside and closed the door, I did a cursory check of the adjoining room. It was obvious the location was used as an auxiliary to the ballroom, a quiet space for brides and other members of celebrations.
Gregory immediately walked toward the bar, his hand shaking as he poured a hefty drink. Scotch. Neat. I had gotten under his skin.
What a shame.
He took several gulps while I continued to nurse mine, the man finally turning in my direction.
“What the fuck do you want from me, Benedetti?”
“And here I thought we were on a first name basis. Very well. I could easily crush you and your… friends with the vast amount of information my father gathered. That would mean not only ruining your reputation but also sending all three of you to prison. Honestly, I don’t think any of you would last very long behind bars. I could also put a bullet into each one of you, starting right now. But that is not how I run my business.” I took a few seconds to laugh bitterly.
“My business. I certainly hadn’t thought I’d be forced to say those words so quickly. But I digress.”
His entire face remained pinched, the anger returning to his eyes. “Then what the fuck do you want?”
“It’s simple really. An alliance.”
He couldn’t have been more confused. “Meaning?”
“Just what it sounds like. My father wanted to bring more of his business into the United States starting with New York. He was well aware of your connections, which would allow our product to be filtered into other large cities.” His eyes finally opened wide, realizing I wasn’t just talking about distribution of our award-winning wines and olive oils.
“That’s insane,” he hissed.
“Perhaps so, but at this point, you don’t have a choice.”
“My partners will never agree to forming any kind of sick alliance with a thug.”
I had to laugh given the word he’d chosen. He was in bed with a mafia lord after all. “Well, you’re going to help convince them, especially since our families will be so close.”
He pointed a finger in my direction. “Get the fuck out of here.”
“I didn’t say we were done, Gregory. We’re just getting started. I could leave here, but if I do, the option for you to remain out of jail is off the table. First, I’ll have a conversation with Maxwell Cunningham, just for fun. Then I’ll share all that my father gathered with the FBI. I do have a direct contact, the man proving to be extremely helpful. After that, I’ll destroy your entire family.” I enjoyed the last of my drink, moving past him to pour another one.
I could hear his heavy breathing as I did so. There was no doubt his mind was churning.
“What else do you fucking want, you horrible monster?” he dared to ask.
“Monster. Do I need to provide pictures of the club the three of you run together? You know the one I’m talking about. Club Risqué? I believe given your connections that you are easily able to provide young runaway girls, forcing them to participate in some pretty heinous activities.” I moved toward the window, able to see a hint of his reflection. His body had even started to shake.
“You fuckhead. You asshole.”
“I’ve been called worse things in my life, Gregory. You’ve heard my list of demands with the exception of one and what I’m about to tell you is a deal breaker. If you don’t agree, there is no deal. Then I’ll enjoy watching you burn in hell.”
His breathing became labored, the choking sounds he made almost disconcerting.
“What? What do you want?”
Gregory seemed taken aback, sucking in his breath. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
I shifted in order to look him in the eyes. “I require your daughter’s hand in marriage. Catherine will make a beautiful bride. Don’t you think?”
I’d witnessed several men almost losing their shit after striking a deal that would allow them to continue breathing, but for a few seconds I thought the man might have a heart attack.
However, I was impressed that Gregory came to his senses, hissing before giving me a single nod.
As I walked out of the room, the deal already in motion, I felt a sense of satisfaction as well as pride. I also knew my father was looking down and smiling.
The fun was just beginning.