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Held: A Dark Mafia Romance by Marlee Wray – Sample

Chapter One


I step out of my apartment to icy wind whistling down the corridor, and I freeze in more ways than one. As I pull my door closed I tense because there is a mark in silver spray paint that I recognize. The symbol’s a pair of letter Cs, one a shadow of the other and both with barbs at the top and bottom. It’s C Crue’s dark mark. It means they’re coming for restitution or revenge.

My stomach lurches and I huddle in my puffer coat, my legs catching most of the cold in their thin leggings. My breath fogs in front of me, and I shiver, not understanding. Drawing breath is difficult. For a moment, I can’t think. I stare at it in confusion. My heart pounds in my chest, my body rigid. This is not good. In fact, it’s really, really bad.

Why is that there? My mind searches for anything that could’ve been viewed as an attack on their operation or even an insult to them. Nothing comes to mind.

It’s a mistake, I think finally. It has to be because I haven’t done anything to deserve it.

Are they trying to scare me? To drive me out of my apartment because I have ties to Frank Palermo?

“Girl, what’d you do?”

My gaze swivels to the right and I find fifteen-year-old Tamico tugging on her hair as she watches me. I move to block the mark.

“Are you coming tonight? I gave your mom tickets,” I say, trying to act like my world hasn’t just been flipped on its head.

“We’re coming,” she says, popping her gum and pulling the collar of her wool coat up. “You probably shouldn’t though, girl. You should be goin’ underground.”

“What are you talking about?” I ask.

“Your door, Z. What’d you do to get C Crue to put their mark on you?”

“It’s a mistake. I haven’t done anything,” I murmur.

“They don’t put that mark for nothing, Zoe. You did somethin’.”

“No,” I say, shaking my head, sending wild, untamed curls into my eyes. The band around my curly dark hair is slipping. I give it a second twist around itself to hold the hair tighter. “It’s a mistake. I wouldn’t cross them. No one in this neighborhood would.”

“No one that doesn’t want a beat down,” she says, worldly in the way teens from around here are, but in her case it’s just based on rumors. She’s in the magnet school for the performing arts, and her mom doesn’t let her run with troublemakers from the neighborhood. I get it though. Everyone around here plays at being tough so they won’t look weak. No one in Coynston wants to seem like easy prey. The attitude is left over from the days when kids were plucked up to deal or carry for Frank Palermo’s organization.

“What do you know about C Crue beat downs?” I ask.

“I know what I hear,” she says with a casual shrug.

The alarm on my phone chimes, and my attention turns back to the show. I’m performing tonight, so I set my alarm to be sure I’m on my way with enough time.

“This block is better since C Crue took it,” I say firmly, like they’re going to hear me say it and know that I’m not against them being here. “Nobody’s in the alley ready to grab you when you cut through it, are they? C Crue doesn’t come after innocent people,” I say, but now I’m just repeating the rumors I’ve heard.

Three men run C Crue. I’ve met them, but I don’t really know them. Do they mess with innocent people now? And, if so, why me? Because I’m Frank Palermo’s daughter’s best friend? He’s their former boss and now a bitter rival. Do they want me gone from the neighborhood because they assume I’m the enemy? That would be pretty hypocritical of them, considering they used to have a tight association with Frank themselves. I wonder for the hundredth time what happened to make them defect from his organization.

A flash of memory hits me, one of Connor McCann, with his short dark brown hair, cool blue eyes, and gorgeous face, pressing his hard body against me.

“So if they don’t come after people who ain’t done nothing, what’d you do to get the C Crue mark with the barbed Cs? Mochi says that’s the warning for ‘they comin’ for you.’”

“It’s a mistake,” I say sharply, confidently, despite the fear hovering beneath the surface.

I hurry toward the stairs. Other than in a crowd, I haven’t seen any of C Crue in three years. There’s no way I’ve personally done something to piss them off.

I glance back once more at the mark, and the chill in my blood intensifies. They’ve made a mistake. Maybe they marked the wrong door?

I’ll sort it out with them, I tell myself, trying not to let panic rattle me. The thought of approaching any of them leaves me breathless.

I dig my nails into my palms, the pain steadying me. I need to concentrate on the show. I suck in a breath and wince at the stinging cold. I have to get moving.

I can’t wait to be in the theater under the hot lights, and the thrill of that thought kicks my heart into a flutter, pushing my other fear away.

I always feel nervous and energized before I’m going to perform, but even my New York auditions and performing off-Broadway last summer never had me this keyed up. Tonight I’m the principle dancer. Sure, it’s just a community theater in a medium-sized Massachusetts city, but it’s my hometown. And it’s a city that’s got a rep to uphold because its performing arts legacy is stunning.

This production also means everything to me because I collaborated with my best friend to create it. The story’s personal to Rachel, and I need to nail my performance.

A small shiver of unease hisses through me. This story is a dark fairytale version of events some people wouldn’t want told. Did we go too far? Will word get back to Rachel’s mafia kingpin father? And then what? I know he wouldn’t actually hurt us—at least I don’t think he would—but he could do other things to make life uncomfortable for her.

Rachel has a right to tell this story, I tell myself for the millionth time. Besides, she wouldn’t back down on doing it. And no one will realize what it’s really about. Only a few people know the truth, and they won’t be there.

These thoughts steady me. Everyone has a right to express themselves through music and dance. The very best art comes from raw emotion and dark truths. Telling stories unflinchingly is in our blood in this city. Tonight I’ll be on a stage that hasn’t seen a performance in over twenty years. I have a lot to live up to.

I drag in a chilly breath, and the sharpness is good. It grounds me.

Forget everything else and concentrate on the show. For the next few hours that’s all that matters.

Be so great, they’ll talk about it for years.


The music’s bass drums through the Rover, reverberating in my chest. I rest my wrist on the top of the steering wheel and catch Anvil in my peripheral vision as he pulls his Glock from his chest holster. He shifts his bulk in the seat. He’s six-foot-six and two hundred seventy pounds, most of it pure muscle. Up close, he needs a Glock about as much as a tank does. But if the enemy is out of the long reach of one of his meaty paws, it will serve. He’s a good shot. We all are. He’s not as good as Trick, the third in our unholy trinity. Trick could part a guy’s hair from a hundred yards.

I spin the wheel and sidle into the Langs parking lot. Langs is short for the Langston Theater, which was crumbling to the ground when we bought it. Tonight the newly paved lot is full because the people, our people, have turned out.

They glance at the Rover and stop to wait for us to roll down the aisle.

Snow flurries are drifting down like confetti. I wait for an old man with a walker, flashing my lights. His family hustles forward. A middle-aged woman who’s holding a child’s hand waves an acknowledgement. I nod.

There’s a group of twenty-somethings dressed in trousers and ties. The word went out about the dress code, and people heeded the suggestion that for this reopening, they should wear their best. The young crowd waits, their breath fogging in front of their cold-reddened faces. I gun the engine since they’ve made it clear they’re not walking in front of us.

I turn into a parking spot at the building’s end. There’s a C Crue symbol painted on the brick, marking our spot, marking our building really. The Langston Theater was derelict, another piece of our history about to get bulldozed. That would’ve been fine with my former boss, Frank Palermo. It wasn’t fine with us, so we took five more blocks of the city and bought the theater.

“Let me stretch first,” Anvil says, climbing out of the truck.

He means he wants me to stay in the car while he does a quick sweep. It’s not necessary. I’m the C Crue leader, but I’m no kingpin that hides behind his muscle. Besides, Anvil, Trick, and I are more like a brotherhood now than anything else. We’ve fought and bled together. When we were in Frank Palermo’s organization, we made our bones and then our exit together.

There’s a rumor that Frank plans to bomb the theater to kill the leaders of C Crue at tonight’s opening. We’ve had guys guarding every door and checking cars in and out. Trick swept through the theater himself an hour before the performers started arriving.

I’m not worried. Neither is the city. They’ve turned out. Hundreds of people are filing in, anxious to see how it looks inside now, anxious to see an original performance, staged just for them. We’re not Boston or New York, but this was the birthplace of Bam Company, a small group of singers, dancers, and musicians who were legit talented and hardcore driven. They eventually got invited onto some of the biggest stages in the world. Those original performers from the fifties and sixties are mostly gone, but people still talk about them. It’s still a point of pride around here. Sylvia Tornado, one of the originals, came out of retirement to run this show, so the people are here and they’re ready.

Anvil raps his knuckles on the window to let me know it’s all clear, and I get out. My gun rests against my side. I put my keys in my pocket and leave my hands there. Anyone who glances over will see what I want them to see. We’re relaxed because there’s no threat we’re not ready for tonight.

Anvil and I circle around back.

“Trick says he thinks he’s found a contact for whoever hit the van two weeks ago. Some of the stuff is in an apartment four blocks from here. He’s had it marked. It’s a woman’s apartment.”

We both know there was no woman on the scene when one of our vans that was carrying guns and cash was robbed. If part of the take is in a woman’s apartment, she must just have ties to one of the guys.

“How old is the woman?”

“In her twenties and doesn’t have any brothers. So must be a girlfriend or friend of one of them. She’ll be here tonight.”

I don’t ask how he’s sure of that. I guess Trick must’ve been able to check whether she’d gotten a ticket to the show. I nod as we approach the guarded stage door.

“She’ll have seen the mark by now. Maybe when she sees you, she’ll come talk to you after the show. Come clean and make amends,” Anvil murmurs.

“Maybe. What’s the girl’s story? Do we know?”

“Yeah, some,” Anvil says, but pauses when we’re in earshot of our guy on the door.

Anvil, Trick, and I came up together. We learned to trust each other through anything. We also learned to trust no one else. I’ll find out more about the girl later; we don’t put ourselves in a position where our private conversations can be overheard.

“Hey, C. All clear,” the guy says, pulling the door open. “Only musicians and dancers back here so far. Had one in a cloaked hood. Thought it might be something, but she had a violin in her case,” he says with a laugh.

We enter, the warm air hitting us. The lightbulbs are caged in metal sconces and their light reflects off the gloss of the sealed charcoal concrete walls. I wouldn’t have bothered to do up the backstage hallway, but Trick’s got a taste for the finer things and an eye for detail. The hall makes an impact and it promises another thing he doesn’t back off from… drama. That goes for women. That goes for life. Trick’s got a quicksilver smile and pretty boy looks, but underneath, his will is a blade that can whittle the world into a different version of itself to suit him.

“She grew up here,” Anvil says in a low voice, picking up where we left off now that the sound of performers getting ready is background noise. “She’s finishing school at Hughes University this year. Trick says we’ve met her. Zoe something. She’s one of the dancers.”

My gaze cuts to Anvil. He doesn’t miss the look I give him.

“You remember meeting her?” he asks.

“What’s the last name?”

“Can’t say. I’ll text him and get it,” Anvil says, pulling up his phone.

Arantes? I wonder, but I don’t say the name out loud. To him, I add, “Nah, it’s all right. I’ll find out soon if she’s the one I’m thinking of. Where’s Trick?”

“Probably getting his dick sucked,” Anvil grumbles.

I smirk. Trick does not operate on the same timetable as Anvil. It’s a point of contention. Anvil, our monstrous enforcer, and I move with precision and dark purpose when things call for it. Trick rolls in like the wind, which is to say when it suits him. This doesn’t bother me because Trick never misses anything and he’s talented in ways that mean I’m willing to cut him a lot of slack. But on dangerous, important nights, Trick’s games grate on Anvil. Sometimes I think it’s why Trick plays games in the first place.

As we pass, the door to the community dressing room cracks open. My gaze is drawn in like it’s pulled by gravity. A stunning half naked body is being pinned into a blackbird costume. I catch a glimmer of body glitter and the tip of a luscious breast and its mocha nipple before I see a pair of deep brown eyes, wide with surprise, looking back at me. I recognize her instantly. Zoe Arantes. This is how Trick knew she’d be in the theater. Not from ticket sales, but because she’s one of the performers. She’s definitely got the body for it. My cock sends a message to my mouth that says, why don’t you suck on that nipple? It’s out and waiting for you.

A guy with a handful of pins darts out, and the door closes behind him. He freezes at the sight of us and then nearly genuflects.

Hell, I think. That’s taking it pretty far.

“They’re almost ready,” he says, exhaling. “We can’t wait for you to see it!”

I nod.

“Is it only girls?” he asks me in a whisper.

For a moment I don’t get what he’s asking. My mind’s still on the dark-haired girl behind the door.

“Because I’d love to do… whatever, whenever you want.” He’s small and dark, with sculpted brows that rise to emphasize the offer of sex as kinky as we want.

“Only women,” I say, wondering how far talk of our wild nights has spread. It’s not something we advertise, but hot rumors travel far and fast.

“Too bad. I’m in love with you. Just so you know,” he jokes suggestively. Then he zips past us toward the back exit. “Gotta get something from my car!” he announces to the guy at the door.

“Do we know him?” Anvil asks, looking after him.

“Not until now,” I say, wanting to open the door that’s swung shut so I can stare at the blackbird. I don’t though. I don’t want to rattle the performers.

We continue moving forward until we reach the end of the hall and emerge through a door into the packed house. We’re on the left side of the theater’s main aisle, and I look approvingly at the rows of red-cushioned chairs that are nearly full already.

The place sparkles with ornate gilded plasterwork, imported marble, and huge crystal chandeliers. I don’t know what it looked like when it opened the first time a hundred years ago, but it can’t have looked better than it does now.

Sylvia Tornado wears a champagne-colored pantsuit and leans on a gold-handled cane, surveying the crowd and the orchestra pit. She smiles when she sees us, one of the few who ever does. Most people aren’t that comfortable.

“Welcome to your new house,” she says with a clever little smile. Her gray hair is pulled into a bun that’s circled by small purple flowers. She gestures for a female usher, who rushes up and gives us each a program. “The center seats, please.” To me, she adds, “I’ll be on your left.”

“Trick should sit front and center,” Anvil says, glancing at the crowd. “I’ll be in the balcony.”

“Patrick thought otherwise,” Sylvia says.

My gaze shifts.

“We text,” she says, patting her pocket where her phone is obviously concealed.

The idea of Trick and this wizened octogenarian texting each other nearly makes me laugh, but I see Anvil’s scowl. He doesn’t want to sit with the back of his head available to a mass of people.

With a sharp shake of his head, he says, “I’d block the view.” He adds in a low voice to me, “If Trick wants the balcony, let him have it. No one could be better up there than he could, assuming he shows up before the last act. I’ll take the wing.”

He doesn’t wait for my nod, nor does he need to. The three of us aren’t exactly equal partners, but we’re as near to it as it comes.

“Just you and me, beautiful,” I say, putting out my arm for Sylvia.

She puts a hand on it and lets me escort her to our seats.

A hush falls over the crowd, and I turn, expecting to see Trick looking like a model in a designer suit, but it’s not him. There’s a surprise guest—an unwelcome one.

As Frank Palermo strolls down the main aisle, he’s all smiles. Given the chance, he’d put a bullet in my head; he’s sent plenty of guys to try to do just that. Tonight though, he extends a hand.

I stare at it for a beat, my fingers itching for the gun I can’t pull. I register two of his guys. One’s older than me by a decade and also a prick. His name’s Pauly Mangia. He hated taking orders from me when I rose up the ranks like a rocket. The other guy with a red mop of hair worn in a stupid man bun must be a couple of years younger than we are. I’ve never seen him around.

Frank’s dropped his hand since I took too long to react to it. That’s wise since I wouldn’t have shaken it. He’s a snake who’ll shake your hand then put a bullet in the back of your skull when you turn to walk away.

He’s wearing an easy smile, the big man without a care in the world.

Sylvia speaks first. “Hello, Mr. Palermo. We’re delighted you could make it. If we’d known you were coming, we’d have reserved a seat for you.”

“I thought I heard this one’s open,” he says, dropping into the seat between Sylvia and the aisle seat. “Why don’t you sit at my right hand, C, for old time’s sake?”

“Why not?” I reply, my gaze as hard as stone. It’s not been six months since we buried the latest casualty of our war with him, but he’s buried guys even more recently, so who am I to balk?

C Crue is winning the war. I know it, and apparently, so does Frank. Or what’s he doing here, pretending everything isn’t blood and death between us?

“I’m here for Zoe,” he says casually.

Now that’s interesting. It may even be true. Does she work for him now? Is that how she ended up with our mark on her door?

I exchange a look with Anvil, who I bet is sorry he chose a spot out of reach of the main aisle. Anvil’s gun hand is out of sight; that probably means the Glock is in it. With a small shake of my head, I take my seat.

“Who’s Zoe?” I ask.

Frank opens the program and flicks a finger on a name. “Zoe Arantes. You know her, right?”

Do I know her? Yeah, I know her, I think. Not as well as my cock would like to. Zoe with the dark curly hair, banging body, and naturally luscious lips that look like they’ve been pumped up from too many rough kisses? The quick-talking girl with the ass that won’t quit? Yeah, I know exactly who she is.

“Remind me,” I say.

“She’s one of Rachel’s friends. The one who wore the green bikini to Rachel’s graduation party and had all the guys drooling over her. Didn’t she have a run-in with you?”

“Not me,” I lie.

I remember that day well, but I’m surprised he heard about it. Did Zoe tell Rachel? Probably. Had Rachel told her dad? Maybe. Things between Rachel and her old man were tense back then, but it’s been awhile, and things are probably different now. She’s living in his place. And she’s letting his people dress her like a doll, whitewashing his image, at least for people outside the city. How close is Zoe Arantes to that action? I need to find out.

“Something about Zoe being where she wasn’t supposed to be?” Frank adds.

At the graduation party, I’d told all the kids to stay downstairs because our guys were upstairs drinking and talking and I didn’t want anyone to hear anything they shouldn’t. Zoe broke the rules, and we had… an encounter.

“I don’t recall,” I say.

“Sure. Always lots of girls around you and Trick. Hard to remember them all. And it’s better anyway. Now that we’ve parted ways, some girls are off limits. You’ve got a mother. Trick’s got family, right? You boys understand.”

Boys, yeah, right, I think. I let his threat and the jab go unanswered. I was eighteen when Frank recruited me, so yeah, young. But Anvil, Trick, and I were never really kids, not even back then. Life burned the innocence off us way before Frank Palermo found us. In fact, seeing the hardness in me is exactly why he wanted me in his crew.

As for families being off limits, yeah, they normally are. Except if a family member gets themselves involved. Mine never would. Trick’s wouldn’t. But apparently a friend of Rachel’s would, and she’s interfered with our business. That can’t be left unanswered.

We take steps to protect our families and I’m not looking to put a target on their backs, but I’m not going to back down just because Frank’s mentioning them. Instead, we’ll double security around them, maybe send them on a trip. Because I don’t consider Zoe Arantes off limits if she stole from me.

“We understand a lot of things,” I say as the house lights dim. The sooner there’s only one king of the city, the better it will be.

I have no idea if Trick is in the theater yet, but I can predict what his outward reaction to seeing Frank will be. Nothing. Trick’s got a game face that’s better than anyone’s.

I also know exactly how Anvil will react if Frank decides to shove a blade through my ribs sometime during the show. A knife wound would almost be worth it to see ‘Vil tear Frankie P apart with his bare hands.

Chapter Two


Everything is wrong. First, the mark on my door, and now Frank sitting in the front row next to Connor McCann. My heart hammers in my chest as I cross the stage to the alcove where Rachel is tucked away.

I lean into it. She’s taken off her hooded cloak and stands in front of a microphone. She’s not with the orchestra because she can’t be. She’s not allowed to be here.

But Rachel and I wrote this dark fairytale together, and it’s based on her own story. She wrote the score. I choreographed it. We’ve lived and breathed it from back when it was a dream we had together while eating tacos and drinking gin and tonics in my apartment.

“Your dad’s here.”

Her head jerks up, and she looks past me to the closed curtain.

“You could go,” I whisper.

Her pretty face sets itself into a mask of angry determination. “No one else can play my parts the way I can.” Her hand goes possessively to her violin. She’s not bragging about her playing. It’s just a fact. She put her soul into this music. She was already better than anyone in the orchestra, but for several of the songs, her playing is transcendent.

“What if he already knows? Maybe he had someone follow you. Maybe he’ll think you’ve been in touch with the C Crue trio, acting as a spy on his operation. He’s so paranoid,” I whisper.

“He can think what he wants.”

My breath catches. “No. Don’t say that. You know what he does when he thinks someone’s betrayed him.”

“I’m still valuable. As long as I am, he won’t do anything to me.”

The blood is slowly draining from my head. She’s considered this and calculated the risk. Of course she has.

I look at the black cherry color of Rachel’s dyed hair and the black polish on her nails. She’s been sucked slowly into darkness, like rainwater falling through a grate into shadowed sewers under the city.

Her small hands flutter as they lift her instrument. She’s a raven who’s about to be in the crosshairs of a vicious man’s gun scope. I’m terrified for her. For both of us, because I’d die if I lost her.

“Rach,” I whisper.

Her small hand grips my forearm and squeezes. “Go and do it. Be so good, it breaks hearts,” she says fiercely.

“I will,” I whisper, before hugging her. I’m shaking when I step back to leave her.


I realize before Frank where the story’s going. The play is a fairytale, but there are echoes of real life. I think it’s based on rumors about how he tried to kill his mistress when she decided to leave him, and of what happened afterward.

Frank, though, is leaning back like a boss, smiling and nodding. He even tells me that he paid for Zoe’s scholarship when she was in high school.

“Clearly, it’s paid off,” he says with a slight leer on his face as the girl leaps into the air in some sort of scissor split.

Is he fucking her? For some reason, I hate that idea so much my hand slides to my gun before I even realize it. I move my hand away. This is not the time or the place.

Another leap, and this time her back arches so much that her long hair brushes her back thigh. She’s incredible to watch. At moments, she bursts upward with so much power I half expect her to skim the lights with her fingertips. Other times she wilts to the floor so elegantly, she’s like a dying flower.

Right now she’s racing to warn the fairy queen of the troll king’s plan to kill her. A huntsman chases her across the stage. She weaves around the woodland set pieces. A violin’s sinister shrieks reach a crescendo.

She jumps, takes flight, and then a crack of sound and she plummets, landing with a slap directly in front of us. The audience gasps. Her slim body convulses, once, twice, three times to the knife’s edge of a violin bow across its strings. Then she is still.

When the fairy finds her and weeps over her fallen body, there’s no other sound.

Then the audience reacts to the emergence of the troll king behind them.

Next to me, Frank stiffens. With the spotlight on the creature, we can see the mole between its left cheek and ear, at just the spot where Frank’s used to be. He had a dermatologist snip it off and cover the scar, but I remember it from eight years ago.

The troll king lifts his blade and licks it with relish, then raises it to strike.

The fairy queen turns sharply and shoves an icicle of her tears into his heart. He staggers back several feet, slowly pulling the ice dagger out. He reels forward again, but before he gets to her, she drinks from a vial around her neck. The fairy queen falls onto the body of her friend.

A singer’s voice rises louder and louder as the troll king staggers off the stage, coughing up snowflakes.

In the final act, the troll king tries to reclaim the forest, laying flowers on the bodies and offering handfuls of flowers to passersby, but they turn away from him with his ashen skin and sunken cheeks.

There is a sprite in a tree. He tries to hook her leg, but her foot swings out of reach over and over as she reads from a book, singing a ballad to the spirits of the forest. The troll king turns to ice and falls dead.

In the final scene, the music is again powerful, but now joyful. The verses call to everyone to rise up and love life as the new dawn comes. The fallen fairy sits up, shaking off the flowers covering her, the spell from the potion broken with the troll king’s death. Other birds and fairies dance and the fairy who woke dances with the sprite from the tree. Twirling together, they lead the procession away.

People jump to their feet, clapping.

I stand and applaud, my eyes fixed on Zoe as she waits her turn. She is the last to take her bows and comes forward, blowing kisses and throwing something from the small bag that the fairy queen carried early in the show.

I reach up and catch one of the favors. It’s wrapped with ribbons. After a moment, I realize it’s a foil-covered chocolate violin.

She bows to thunderous applause. The crowd is wild for her, stomping their feet and shouting. She rises with a bright smile and waves, then puts a hand over her heart.

I stare at her until she finally steps back into the line of assembled cast members. I look at the wings. The musicians took their bows earlier, but not the violinist. We never see him or her. The fact that we don’t makes me think it’s a her, Rachel. If so, I hope she hears the ovation go on and on.

“What’d you think, Frank?” I ask.

He pushes past me without answering.

I smirk until I spot Anvil moving swiftly down the far aisle. He’s parallel to Frank walking down the center one, and I wonder at Anvil’s intent. There’s a look on Anvil’s face that makes me believe he might take a shot if he gets it.

There is no way I can let a hit go down in a crowded theater. I start hauling it, but I can tell I won’t make it in time. Throngs of people are in my way, some even congratulating me about the production, giving me credit I didn’t earn.

A side door opens, splitting the center aisle group, and Frank sails out with the crowd that pours through it.

I reach the side door about the time Anvil does. As we emerge into the night, I find Trick’s leaning against a wall just outside the door. It’s obvious to me that he spotted what I was trying to prevent and propped the door open to make a path for Frank to get out ahead of Anvil. I gauge the distance down the balcony stairs. Trick made good time.

“Pretty good show,” Trick says as Anvil stalks past him, scanning the parking lot for Frank Palermo.

“He’s gone,” I say in a low voice. “Not like you could’ve taken him out here anyway.”

Anvil takes his hand away from his holster, scowling. “Wasn’t going to do anything to him here.”

“If you say so, ‘Vil,” Trick says.

Anvil looks between us for a moment, then at Trick. “Give me your keys. You can go with C. I’ll meet up with you guys later.”

Trick looks at me, and I’m wondering too what the hell is up with Anvil. For important decisions, we conspire together. Anvil’s not impulsive, so this feels off. But I’ve known him long enough to recognize the look on his face. Whatever’s he’s got in his head to do, no one is going to stop him. So I nod for Trick to give him his keys.

“Have C’s back,” Anvil says. “Don’t get distracted.”

“Who are you going to visit? C and I got nothin’ going that can’t wait,” Trick says. “We’ll come.”

Anvil shoves his hand out. “I’m not gonna storm the Pali fortress on my own, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’ve just got something to do.”

“Since when?” Trick says, dropping the keys into Anvil’s hand.

Anvil doesn’t answer. He turns and stalks away.

Trick watches him go. “Now that’s interesting.”

“Yeah.” After a beat, I say, “He’ll say when he’s ready.” But I am curious. Anvil’s not known for having a life outside The Life.

We walk toward the Range Rover, and I toss the keys to Trick. We climb in, with Trick behind the wheel.

“So what about an after party?” he asks. “I’ve got some girls at the ready whose pretty asses really need attention.”

A wild time dominating and fucking pretty women is always a good end to the night, but there’s something else on my mind. “Tell me about Zoe Arantes.”

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