There were two rules I’d embraced after taking the position of Cristiano King’s Capo.
One: Stay alive no matter the requirements.
Two: Stay away from the family’s angel, the only surviving sister of the powerful King brothers.
The first one was easy to accomplish. I was a brutal, dangerous man with a love of destroying our enemies. My methods were cruel, savage, and life ending.
The second wasn’t as simple, although I’d come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t have everything I wanted. The cost was far too explosive.
Violating Pandora’s Box.
The thought had remained with me for over two years. I wasn’t a man who was allowed to crack open the lid and search the contents inside. I couldn’t indulge in the one creature I desired because that wasn’t allowed. I was nothing more than a soldier, a man responsible for keeping one of the most powerful men in the United States alive.
It wasn’t the first time I’d made a deal with the devil, nor would it be my last.
I’d been born and bred to fight the enemy, whether in my former life as a member of the Russian Bratva or in my employ with the King mafia family. I’d given my life in order to serve, including being imprisoned in one of the most brutal countries in the world.
Mother Russia was unforgiving, the ugly scars received during my incarceration a reminder that I was nobody in the world of organized crime. Even here, in the land of the free, I was considered nothing more than a soldier, a man who followed orders.
A monster who killed without question.
I’d long ago forsaken my conscience, preferring always being prepared for an attack. I’d honed my body as well as my mind, relentlessly training for whatever battle could ensue. My job was to protect every member of the King family when necessary.
Today was no exception, even during a celebration.
Yet my thoughts were never far from her. Even now, my cock ached, a nagging reminder that I’d envisioned thrusting my shaft into her pretty pink pussy, taking what I found increasingly difficult to live without.
A temptress in every way, her hourglass figure and dark eyes had drawn me into a web that could only end with my banishment or death.
No. That wasn’t going to happen. The beautiful only daughter of the King family was forbidden fruit. Hissing, I did what I could to think of my duties.
I looked toward the front door, scanning for weapons as several additional people walked inside. While I wasn’t a man who had any kind of patience, I’d spent far too much time trying to avoid her to step into the quicksand. She was my employer’s sister and nothing more. Taboo as far as I was concerned.
Yet her voluptuous body and tantalizing expressions continued to haunt me almost every night. Only once had I allowed myself a taste of her, capturing her delicate mouth seconds after she’d pierced my eyes with hers.
They’d been dark pools of desire, her hunger to taste something forbidden almost overruling my loyalty to Cristiano King. Thank God we’d been interrupted, or I would have ravaged her without hesitation.
That would have meant certain death.
Every night I was consumed with filthy thoughts, my body aching to touch her. Taste her.
Yet I’d managed to resist her feminine wiles and I would continue doing so, my feelings of honor more important.
But her constant temptations continued to haunt me.
Her long hair sweeping across her shoulders.
Her intense eyes as they studied me from a distance.
Her perfect figure capable of making my mouth water.
I eased my hand against my weapon in an attempt to drag my mind away from my thirst once again, although the nights spent anywhere close to her prevented me from losing the noose around my neck. The thick rope threatened to drag me straight into hell. Maybe that’s all I deserved. I was a savage, a man capable of ending a life without hesitation. And for the most part, I enjoyed doing so.
Angelique didn’t seem to care that I’d been responsible for ending several lives. That was the way of our world, brutality and assassinations just a part of the job.
My thoughts turned vile once again, my cravings dark, my needs sadistic. I knew the lovely flower who’d remained in my dreams couldn’t accept the man who’d been unable to get her out of his system. I was no fool. She’d toyed with me as I’d seen her do with other men. She knew as well as I did that we could never consummate our flirtations.
But our connection, the electricity surging every time we were close was undeniable. I took a deep breath, trying to rid my thoughts of her before scanning the growing crowd. I loathed the fact there were so many people in the gallery. The majority of the King family had arrived, only the patriarch and his wife unable to attend. While they were powerful, there were always enemies prepared to take what they considered their rightful place at the top of the food chain.
I’d pledged to keep that from happening.
On this moonlit night, my gut continued to churn. I had a very bad feeling things could get ugly.
“You’re allowed to enjoy the night, Dimitri.”
I gazed at Lucian, the Underboss almost as merciless as his brother. Then I turned my attention toward the crowd once again, taking a deep breath. “Not with so many pigs in the crowd.” I loathed the fact the family had made friends with law enforcement, although I knew that methods of blackmail had been used.
Lucian laughed softly. “You never let your guard down. Just remember they are our guests tonight.”
“You mean Angelique’s guests,” I said between clenched teeth.
After a few seconds, he sighed, although even the limited sound held his usual disdain for me. Lucian had never been a fan of anyone of Russian descent. “I hope Cristiano treats you well.” He spoke in passing, as if I was supposed to believe him.
I was Cristiano’s most trusted Capo, the new Don of the King family well aware I’d lay down my life for him. “I don’t think that’s anything you need to worry about.”
I’d never liked Lucian King, his cravings even darker than my own. But I certainly wasn’t in any kind of position to challenge him.
“I’m giving you one piece of advice and there won’t be a second one. You need to stay away from my sister.”
He issued the words as if reiterating a mandate from the family, his tone of authority pissing me off. I’d made a single mistake, one I’d regretted since the day I’d dared to succumb to my burning hunger. However, he was making assumptions, another trait that infuriated me.
I shifted my gaze in his direction, narrowing my eyes and keeping them locked into his. “I do my job, Mr. King. Nothing more, nothing less. I know my parameters as I hope you do yours.”
Lifting his eyebrows, he took a deep breath. “I’ll assume that isn’t a threat, Dimitri. I don’t think you want that to happen.”
Before I had a chance to issue any kind of nasty rebuttal, Michael moved closer, offering an expression of amusement before grabbing his brother on the shoulder. “I think Angelique is about to make her illustrious appearance. Why don’t you grab a glass of champagne?”
Lucian glared at me for a full ten seconds before displaying his signature smile. “You’re right. This is a party.” When he walked away, I took a deep breath, loathing my required position.
Michael inched closer, glancing around the room before speaking. “Don’t let Lucian get under your skin, Dimitri. He’ll always be the angry one of the family.”
Chuckling, Michael snagged an approaching waiter, grabbing a second glass. “Take this. Try and relax. The event is completely secure.”
While I did as he asked, taking the slender flute into my hand, I knew better than to let down my guard. In my opinion, the family had gotten soft in the six months since eliminating Carlos Morales, the brutal dictator from South America who’d threatened their empire. While the cartel leader had been formidable, I’d learned the hard way that the enemies positioned in your backyard were the ones to worry about the most.
The buzz in the room was extremely loud, the chatter amongst the guests drowning out the music booming through the half dozen speakers. Everyone appeared to be in a good mood, prepared for a long night of enjoying the festivities while I remained on edge. Michael moved away, quickly returning to the family unit while I remained at the door.
When a series of sensations roared into my body, further fueling the fire burning in my loins, I knew Angelique was close by. I took a deep breath, holding it inside before allowing myself to try to find her over the crowd.
The second she walked into the room, every rational thought fled my mind. There was something so unpretentious yet commanding about the way she drifted into the well-lit space, her normally provocatively colored hair now natural, the dark curls framing her angular face. She was like the perfect china doll, her porcelain skin shimmering. I was suddenly breathless, the savage beast inside of me furious that he couldn’t be exposed.
I drank almost half the glass of champagne, trying my best not to slam it on one of the tables before turning my full attention in her direction. She had no idea just how gorgeous she was, always overshadowed by her brothers. Tonight was her night to shine. While it wasn’t my place, I was proud of her accomplishments, her tenacity something I respected. She’d refused to succumb to her brothers’ will. For that alone, I admired the young woman.
As she moved through the well-wishers, her eyes shifted in my direction. I could see into her very soul even from the distance. My entire body was electrified, my heart racing. After a few seconds of enjoying her dazzling beauty, I returned my attention to the door. Fighting the lust was getting more difficult. Chills dug into my bones in a way that almost made me feel paralyzed. I had to find a way to exorcise my demons with regard to her or I would no longer be able to do my job effectively.
I took several deep breaths, moving my mind and my body into a place some would call Zen. For me, shifting deep into my psyche had been the only method of tolerating the brutal punishments and harsh torture I’d received during my time as a prisoner. Maybe it would help soothe the ache that never abated.
Even though I continued to hear the music filtering into my mind, I was able to block out my longing, concentrating on my job. There were at least six soldiers outside, three more remaining in the interior. And if I knew Cristiano, he had at least four more in various locations.
Goddamn it, sweat beaded along my forehead, sliding down both sides of my face. I needed some fucking fresh air or I was going to lose my shit. As I moved closer to the door, a sudden tickling of my sensations forced me to pull my weapon from under my shirt. At least three sets of headlights could be seen rounding the corner. While that wasn’t unusual given the business of the area, my instincts told me otherwise.
I took gulping breaths, rushing outside then slapping both my hands on the gun. While the last thing I wanted to do was make a scene, I knew better than to let my guard down. As the vehicles approached, suddenly picking up speed, I took a calculated guess. If wrong, my career was likely over.
The sudden screeching of tires confirmed my worst fears. I threw open the door, catching Cristiano’s eye immediately as I headed in his direction.
The Boss of the family knew my methods of operation. He was well aware that when I was rattled, the shit was about ready to hit the fan.
Yet before he had a chance to disperse the crowd or even attempt to protect his family, my worst fears came to pass.
Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!
Gunfire erupted, shattering the glass within seconds. The noise was horrific, drowned out by the terrified screams. And the barrage continued, bullets showering the gallery as guests attempted to take cover. I reacted on instinct, racing outside and firing off several rounds, the other soldiers doing the same.
But as the vehicles continued to issue a heavy spray of artillery, I feared the worse. There was no way to stop the assholes, all three SUVs screeching around the corner.
Gasping for breath, I jumped through the broken glass, immediately searching for Angelique as the loud music was unable to drown out the continued screams and moans. Pieces of damaged and broken art littered the floor, blood splattered across almost every surface. I threw my head back and roared as I continued to scan the scene of horror.
Then I saw her crumpled body on the floor. As I rushed toward her, her beautiful face marred by trickles of blood, I made a promise to myself as well as the King family.
The person responsible would die by my hands.
“Enemies strengthen you. Allies weaken you.” — Frank Herbert
Fifteen minutes earlier…
Wealthy. Powerful. Ruthless.
While my father and brothers reveled in their merciless level of control, the sordid business adding to the family wealth, I’d never felt any of the three needs. I might be considered the princess of the King family, a position allowing me all the perks of royalty and influence, but I’d always known that the title held no superiority.
I’d come to terms with that over the years. Finally. Instead of hating my parents or staying jealous of my brothers, I’d found my own way in life doing what I loved. There was nothing more satisfying than owning such an incredible art gallery. Now, with the recent building expansion, I’d been able to lure in even more incredible artists. Painters. Photographers. Sculptors. I’d finally started to make a name for myself.
And no one was going to take it away from me.
Including my brothers, who insisted that being out in the open all the time was far too dangerous. Not only couldn’t they accept that I was just as skilled in weaponry and martial arts, they also underestimated my ability to read people to perfection. I knew an asshole or a monster from across a crowded room without batting an eye.
The thought always made me smile when enduring one of the family meetings, listening to my father and brothers pontificate on and on about whatever new method they’d used to take out an enemy. That had been when I was allowed to listen in on the family business discussions, which was rare.
Okay, so maybe I was pissed off at still being treated like a fragile little girl. I knew my brothers loved me. I also understood why they were terrified that I’d be hurt or worse given our baby sister had been murdered in cold blood. Still, that didn’t mean they were going to keep me in a locked box for the rest of my life.
I shooed away the thoughts, plastering on a smile as I gazed into the mirror one last time. I thought even my mother would approve. I’d finally allowed my natural hair color to make an appearance and I’d forgotten how lovely I looked in the long raven curls. I made a face, twisting my mouth. While I appeared sophisticated, glamorous in the sweeping violet dress, the well-coifed appearance wasn’t a clear reflection of the girl inside.
I preferred my funky purple and pink hair. Even blue and green had their places.
I also preferred jeans or shorts to fancy dresses.
Laughing, I took a step away, feeling more refreshed. I hadn’t expected that almost everyone I’d sent an invitation to would accept. The gallery was filled with people. No, they were potential customers. I had to keep that in mind.
“Work it, baby. Work it. Work it.” I swished my hips back and forth, pursing my lips then giving myself a nod of approval. Thank God I’d hired the finest catering firm in New Orleans. Maybe the night wouldn’t be a bust. I could see the local-yokel newspaper in the morning dissing my event. That would make it to the art forces in New York faster than a lightning bolt if I failed.
As I walked from the hallway into the main gallery, I realized just how proud I was of all that I’d accomplished. Years in the making. Hours spent talking with artists. Yelling sessions with contractors. Arguing with my father on my career choice.
Now this night.
I was so happy I was giddy, the lighting and festive atmosphere creating a series of tingles dancing down to my toes. The atmosphere was perfect, the twinkling lights covering every inch of the ceiling just as dazzling as I’d imagined. Even the music was exactly as I’d wanted, the piano player and jazz singer adding to the sultry depiction of a beautiful night in Paris.
As the sexy waiter approached, his eyes twinkling as he dared to gaze down the length of me, all I could do was smile. I slipped my fingers around the slender flute, eyeing my oldest brother who stood close to the door. My brothers would always be my protectors, looking out for my best interests.
Or so they’d told me on several occasions.
I kept my smile as I walked into the crowd, shaking hands as several guests congratulated my success. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of Dimitri Kristoff, Cristiano’s Capo. A flutter shifted into my stomach, my blood pressure rising. The soldier was one of the most brutal employed by the family, yet I’d seen a softer side of him, if only for a little while.
He was big and buff, his gorgeous blue eyes only one of his incredible features. He’d allowed his once short-cropped blond hair to grow, the new look complementing his chiseled facial features. Even his long eyelashes were undeniably sexy. I couldn’t allow myself to think about his rugged body, every muscle honed to perfection from what had to be hours spent in the gym. I’d hungered for the man for years, although I didn’t need a warning from my family to remind me he was off limits.
No member of the King family could ever dare enter into any kind of carnal relationship with one of the working men or women. We were far too… refined. I rolled my eyes at the thought. Yes, I’d been responsible for teasing the man, making him uncomfortable. I knew in my heart the behavior needed to stop, but it was almost impossible to resist him.
Stop it. You have guests. Remember that.
Yes, my inner voice was right. I couldn’t hunger for something I wasn’t allowed to have.
After chastising the bad little girl inside, I walked with purpose to one of the guests, trying to yank in my anger toward the man. He’d been nothing but a pain in my family’s ass.
“Senator Ragland, I’m so glad you were able to make it,” I mused as I wrapped my hand around his arm, offering a bright smile.
“You’ve done such a great job with the gallery, Angelique. My wife has already identified three pieces she must have in our collection.”
I laughed, my training on how to drag in a purchaser coming to the forefront. “And I will be happy to help you ensure your gorgeous pieces make it home. Come see me in an hour or so.” I flitted off before he had a chance to answer, doing everything in my power not to laugh. The police chief. Marcel Chaveneau had been nothing but a dangerous nemesis, my brothers trying to keep him under control even though he pushed every boundary.
“Chief Chaveneau, thank you for coming. I hope you’ve been able to find something of interest for your dark and delicious proclivities.”
He took my hand, acting as if I was the only person in the room. When he brought my knuckles to his lips, I wanted nothing more than to yank it away, even slapping him across the side of the face. But I resisted. My brothers had done everything in their power to try to keep the man in charge of the police force in their fold. I could only imagine the amount of money or other perks they’d given him in the effort.
“You are a true beauty, Angelique, and your gallery reflects your imagination. I have no doubt my wife will be able to find something appropriate for our home.”
As if the pompous pig actually knew what that was.
“Enjoy the party,” I purred.
I acted as if I was honored before moving away, heading for Cristiano. When I noticed the front door opening, I shifted my attention, bristling as I always did when one of the Azzurri brothers came within close proximity. I didn’t care what deal or arrangement Cristiano had made with the second crime family who ruled New Orleans, I refused to trust either one of the two brothers in the Azzurri family.
They were nothing but snakes, prepared to take down the King Empire. At least the older brother, Giancarlo, had more savvy than the bastard Antonio. I hated being forced to act as if I didn’t want to punch the man.
I shifted my fingers through the few strands of hair falling from my hairclip, heading straight for my brother.
“Are you enjoying the festivities?” I asked, totally ignoring the brutal bastard.
“This is spectacular, Angel,” Cristiano said as he leaned over, kissing me on the cheek. “You should be very proud of yourself.”
“Yes, a truly amazing location,” Giancarlo added. “I’m sorry I’m late.”
You weren’t invited, asshole.
While I didn’t mutter the words, I certainly thought about saying them and more, although as my mother would say, maybe I needed to have my mouth washed out with soap.
Be kind. Don’t bite his head off.
I shifted my attention toward the Azzurri asshole, unable to keep a smirk off my face. “I’m surprised you stopped by, especially since you weren’t on the guest list.”
Giancarlo chuckled, giving my brother a knowing look. Whatever kind of bond they’d formed continued to disgust me. “I wanted to offer my respect, Angelique. Besides, I knew you could throw one of the best parties in town. Surely, you can make room for one more.” Defying me on purpose, he grabbed a glass of champagne from one of the waiters, lifting the dense crystal in a toast.
God, I loathed the Azzurri mafia family, their methods of dealing with their issues much more barbaric than those used by my brothers and father.
I abhorred the fact he was gazing at me with interest in his eyes. In fact, I wanted nothing more than to dig my nails into his skin, to help him understand that he hadn’t been on the invitation list. But I did as required, smiling in the usual King fashion.
Never allow your enemies to know when they’ve managed to get under your skin.
“Of course I can. I am a generous woman after all. Thank you so much for engaging in the celebration. Just remember, this isn’t a not-for-profit organization or event. Purchase something.” I gave Giancarlo a hard look, although I noticed my brother’s admonishing glare out of the corner of my eyes. Cristiano had brought four of his soldiers with him, three of them standing like statues in their effort to ensure the safety of our entire family.
While I didn’t blame him, the fact that having any kind of family event meant extra protection continued to infuriate me.
Sighing, I tried not to break the glass in my hand as I purposely walked away, trying to remember that this was a celebration of all my hard work. I flitted through the crowd, savoring every moment of being recognized. I was proud of my accomplishments, yet still nauseous. I couldn’t wait to see the morning paper, although members of the press were late.
I drifted off by myself for a few precious seconds, taking several sips of champagne, unable to take my eyes off Dimitri. I could tell he was doing everything in his power to avoid making eye contact. That had been necessary given we’d been caught in a compromising position. God, there were times I couldn’t stand being a member of the family. The requirements. The necessity of protocol.
Everyone knew how much I hated being forced to follow anyone’s rules. I licked the rim of the glass, studying Dimitri. The man seemed more on edge than normal, hovering by the door, staring out into the gorgeous night.
I started to move closer until he bolted outside. What the hell was he doing? I managed to catch Cristiano’s eye.
Then everything shifted into slow motion.
Cristiano swung his head toward the door then in my direction, throwing up his arm.
A rush of adrenaline drowned out every other noise.
Until the first cracks of gunfire shattered the glass.
Then the screams.
As time seemed to stand still, I watched as Giancarlo’s bullet-riddled body slowly fell to the floor.
It was a way of life, including within the King family. I stood in the required dark suit, standing watch over every member of the King Empire, even though they were well protected in the posh environment of the patriarch’s estate. Sylvester King was well versed in brutality, his methods capable of rivaling any other mafia family, including the Bratva I’d sworn to protect all those years ago.
He was also aging rapidly, the toll taken on his body from almost five decades of indulging in cigars and alcohol killing him. Even after several attempts made on his life, his failing health was what was likely to do him in.
“I don’t like this shit whatsoever, Cristiano,” Sylvester barked. He remained behind his desk, glancing from one son to the other.
“You know it’s the right thing to do, Pops,” Cristiano countered. “You might not have understood or appreciated our connection with the Azzurri family, but it allowed us years of peace within the city. Then the fucking massacre.”
All five brothers seemed reserved, their Capos remaining in the shadows of the room. We were all dressed for the funeral, attending a requirement.
Massacre was the correct word to use. The shooting at the gallery had taken out twelve people, including Senator Ragland and two members of law enforcement. I’d watched the news over the last four days. The accounting of what had occurred had been horrific, pushing both mafia families into a circus. There was new fear on the streets, people avoiding the area at all costs. There’d even been word tourism was down, rumors flying around about a turf war between the Kings and the Azzurris.
Only Cristiano seemed hesitant to believe the possibility.
Thank God Angelique had been unhurt, her cuts minor.
“We’re lucky the shit wasn’t worse,” Lucian insisted.
“Your brother was shot,” Sylvester snapped. “You damn well better not forget about that fact.”
“I’m fine, Pops.” Dante gave him a look, raising his eyebrows. “We weren’t the intended target.”
“How the fuck do you know that?” Sylvester continued as he shoved away from the desk, forced to take his time rising to his feet.
“Because one or more of us would be dead,” Vincenzo snarked.
I took a deep breath, shifting my attention toward the floor-to-ceiling window that provided a broad overview of the massive pool and cabana structure. All five brothers remained apprehensive, already placing their soldiers on the highest alert.
“If the attack was a strike against the family, I guarantee it’s going to happen again,” Michael said, huffing under his breath.
Cristiano walked toward the window, peering out at the five women they cared for, both Michael’s children as well as Cristiano’s new twins basking in the early afternoon warmth. I didn’t need to glance out the glass surface to know the entire picturesque scene resembled a frilly holiday card. I couldn’t understand how a single member of the King family had been able to consider having any kind of normal life while being in their positions. Fucking a woman was one thing. Keeping her entirely another. Still, their decisions weren’t for me to question. When the door opened, Angelique walking inside, electricity surged through every muscle and cell.
I took a deep breath, forcing myself to look away.
“It’s time to go,” she stated before giving me a single look then walking out. She’d insisted on attending Giancarlo Azzurri’s funeral, refusing to back down even though her father had forbidden her from attending. The beautiful woman had just had her entire gallery destroyed, the life she’d worked so hard to achieve delayed by several months. The police hadn’t even finished their damn investigation yet.
Cristiano growled under his breath before turning sharply and heading in my direction. He gave me a onceover that was entirely different than normal, his expression pensive. When he spoke, he lowered his voice as if he didn’t want anyone else to hear. “You make certain nothing happens to my sister. Do you understand?”
“Of course, Cristiano.”
He inched closer, shaking his head slightly. “No matter what you need to do.”
There was something entirely different about his command. In fact, I’d never seen him so unnerved. Since taking over the helm of the family given his father’s retirement, he’d developed an even more merciless reputation. There were few people or organizations that would dare fuck with the King family.
“Understood.” I could tell by the look in his eyes that he anticipated another attack at the funeral. I would be ready, no matter the circumstances.
“Then we leave,” he said over his shoulder. “After that, we figure out what the hell the next chapter means.”
“What are you thinking, brother?” Lucian asked.
Cristiano took a deep breath, exhaling it slowly. “That Antonio is no friend of ours.”
“He just lost his brother in a drive-by shooting. I doubt he’s in the position to alter his brother’s course of action after only four days.” Vincenzo laughed after issuing the statement.
“I guess we will see.” Cristiano walked out the door first. I knew the man was tense, but his heightened concern kept me on edge.
Enough so I reached for my weapon.
However, I also knew Cristiano. I could tell he had other thoughts on his mind.
As well as plans.
My instincts remained on high alert.
He knew something was about to go down.
“We need to be prepared,” Cristiano said quietly.
“For?” Dante asked.
Lucian smiled after a few seconds. “An all-out war.”
Funerals were nothing more than a representation of death, an ugly reminder that no matter how wealthy or powerful, anyone could be cut down in an instant.
I remained by Angelique’s side; the entire process difficult to endure. I’d been to a number of Catholic funerals as required in my role as Capo. They were even more insufferable than weddings, both aspects of pomp and circumstance something I found intolerable. I’d always found it amusing that so many good-natured people attended such events for a notorious criminal. Maybe in this case, they were sending their farewells to the short period of time without the constant worry of unwanted bloodshed on the streets of New Orleans.
Angelique stood stoically, the light breeze of the late afternoon shifting her long hair back and forth across her shoulders. She hadn’t muttered more than a few words of condolences to the Azzurri family before turning silent. In fact, she’d been almost completely emotionless the last few days, answering the questions raised by the police matter-of-factly. While she’d been protected by her family from the press hounds, that didn’t mean her photograph hadn’t been shown on some broadcast a solid five dozen times.
Even during the drive, she’d been cold and distant, keeping her face pinned to the outside world. I’d wanted to find the perfect words to say to her, but I wasn’t certain that was possible or if it was my place.
Now we stood under a massive oak tree, gazing down the rolling hill as Giancarlo was laid to rest. She’d purposely walked away from everyone, refusing to remain by her brothers’ sides.
From where I stood, the scent of her perfume managed to waft into my nostrils, making my aching balls swell. At least the exotic scent masked out the thousands of roses placed on and around the casket. Sighing, I looked away, realizing the eulogy must be over, several of those attending already making their way toward the rickety gates of the cemetery.
“I hate this bullshit,” she said absently, her voice so soft I almost didn’t hear her.
She laughed, the sound bitter. “I’m not certain you do. When my sister was murdered, the time required for all of us to spend at the funeral home was ridiculous. I promised myself that I’d never attend one of these again.”
“Then why did you come?”
After tilting her head over her shoulder, a smile crossed her face. “Honor. Family. Requirements. Pick one of the above.”
“That doesn’t make you happy.”
“Not in the least, but a member of the family isn’t allowed to question. Neither are you. We simply follow the rules as laid out to us.”
I could hear such bitterness in her tone. “At least the majority of choices in your life you’re allowed to make.”
Now she laughed, the sultry lilt floating above the trees. When she turned to face me, there was a wry smile on her face. “Is that what you really think, Dimitri? Do you believe that living my life as a member of the King family has any additional perks than that of a soldier in my father’s army?”
“Don’t you mean your brother’s?”
The way she looked at me was coy, far too inviting. I knew that if we were alone, I could lose all control, slamming her against the tree and ripping away her body-hugging dress. How many freaking dreams had I had about unwrapping the luscious package, examining the contents inside? And I would take my sweet time in doing so.
“Don’t underestimate my father. He still has significant power. He’s also insufferable in his old ways, not realizing that this is an entirely new era.”
“Your father has remained alive because of his cautious behavior as well as his ability to read the hidden agendas of his enemies. I suggest you remember that you’re very lucky to have been born into a family of wealth and influence. The majority of us aren’t so lucky to have a silver spoon in our mouths.” It was the first time I’d shown her any anger for her blanket statements or because of what I’d endured in my life.
Surprised, she opened her gorgeous eyes as wide as they would go, finally giving me a single nod. “Maybe one day you’ll tell me about your life in Russia.”
“I don’t think you want to hear the brutal stories, princess.”
I knew she loathed when I called her by the nickname, but in my mind, she was every bit a beautiful princess deserving of a prince.
“Maybe I do, Dimitri.” Her words seemed to fade into the light breeze, my attention shifting to the now mostly empty seats. The sight of the ornate casket gave me a series of chills, memories of my father’s funeral forever implanted in my mind. That had been just two days before I’d left for the United States.
I walked closer to the edge of the hill, studying the way Antonio Azzurri shook every single guest’s hand. When he lifted his head, I could swear the man was looking directly at Angelique. I bristled as soon as he headed in our direction, Cristiano and Lucian flanking his side.
“Don’t tell me that vicious animal is coming this way,” she breathed.
“Just relax, Angelique. He’s nothing but a pig.”
“But now a pig in charge. I don’t like being here any longer. I want to go.”
I could see no harm in getting her the hell out of there. “Why not.” After she moved by my side, we both started down the hill on the other side.
Then I stopped her short. “Trakhni menya,” I hissed.
“What’s wrong? Why are you saying fuck me?” She followed my gaze, gripping my arm. “What are they doing?”
“I would say they’re surrounding us.” There were at least thirty soldiers who’d remained out of sight from the funeral. Now they were moving in formation, several of the bastards heading in our direction. I backed her away, taking purposeful steps as I opened my suit jacket, immediately yanking my weapon into my hand. At least Cristiano had been prepared, his suspicions obviously true.
His last statements before we’d left his father’s house provided all the information we needed.
“Antonio betrayed his brother. I’m certain of it.”
“My God. This was a setup,” she whispered.
“Yes, however this possibility was anticipated. Antonio and his clowns will have a significant surprise. However, you need to stay close to me, Angelique. Don’t fuck with me on this. Even though your brothers prepared for the possibility, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to get dangerous.”
I scanned the perimeter, noticing there were at least thirty additional assholes moving in from two sides. Still cursing, I grabbed my phone, immediately texting Cristiano.
That was about all I needed to say. Then I texted Nick, who had a brigade of our soldiers waiting for the contact.
We’ve been compromised.
Cristiano continued talking while he reached for his cellphone. I could tell the moment he realized his suspicions had been right. Even from where I stood, I could see his smile. I laughed softly as he patted Antonio on the back, continuing to walk toward the hill.
“Why didn’t someone tell me?” Angelique hissed.
“Because there wasn’t time and there was no positive proof.”
Within seconds, all five of the King brothers as well as the other Capos had both hands on their weapons.
“Just stay where you are. If I had to guess, I’d say the attack ending Giancarlo’s life was all about you.”
“Me?” she huffed. Then her eyes opened wide. “Antonio killed his own brother. Jesus Christ.”
“I guess there’s not as much loyalty in the Azzurri family.” I noticed one of Azzurri’s men heading toward us. I shifted closer, until I was able to point my weapon at his head.
“Not so fast, Russian. You’re going to want to hear what our boss has to say.” The man grinned as he pointed a gun in my face, his gold tooth flashing in the sunlight.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, freak?” Angelique demanded, doing everything she could to move around me. She loathed being left out of the family business. She would never learn that her brothers were trying to protect her and nothing more.
“Curtail the little bitch or I’ll be forced to do it for you. That would be a shame since she’s an important part of the discussion.”
I took a deep breath as I glared at him, making mental note of exactly what the asshole looked like. One night, he’d find himself in a dark alley. I’d enjoy tearing him from limb to limb. However, Cristiano didn’t want a fight until he’d learned all the basics of what to expect.
When Angelique yanked a weapon from her small purse, I cringed. I should have known better than to allow her to come without frisking her. The little princess was going to get herself killed. “Stop. That’s not going to help at this point. Look around you.”
She scanned the perimeter as the sound of tires screeching could be heard from a distance. While she refused to lower her gun, she gave me a knowing look. This was a game of chess and nothing more. Who was going to get to checkmate first.
“I suggest you do exactly what the thug told you. Until Mr. Azzurri allows you to be dismissed, you’re not going anywhere.” The asshole allowed his gaze to fall all the way down Angelique’s shapely legs, licking his lips. Then his attention was drawn by the sound of vehicle doors slamming. He snapped his head back in my direction, narrowing his eyes. “You fucker.”
As Cristiano had mentioned earlier, he’d ordered an additional group of soldiers to arrive on the premises.
“You’re going to need to learn not to mess with the King family,” I chortled, watching as Cristiano led Antonio up the hill. What a shame. The new head of the Azzurri syndicate didn’t seem happy.
“Leave her alone, Carter. She’s mine. That’s something for you to keep in mind.” Antonio scanned the horizon, obviously noticing the group of King soldiers flanking his own.
I snapped my head toward Antonio, making certain he was well aware of my rage. “Touch her and die.”
Antonio laughed, turning his attention on Cristiano. “I heard your Capo was brutal. I applaud you on your selection.”
“Cut the crap, Antonio. I’m in no mood. We came here to offer our respect, not to be ambushed,” Dante snapped.
“But it would seem you also came here to undermine my authority. Isn’t that right, Cristiano? I thought you were more honorable than that.” Antonio shifted his attention toward the entire King family, staring them down one at a time.
Cristiano moved closer to Antonio, a smirk on his face. “You engineered the massacre for the sole purpose of eliminating your brother. Now, I would guess that you hoped by doing so at a festive event, you would manage to take out one or more of the King family. I’m certain you were angry when your goal wasn’t achieved.”
Antonio’s smug look was the only answer any one of the King family needed. They moved to surround him, no longer giving a shit about the dozens of soldiers who were ready for whatever direction their scumbag of a leader would provide.
He didn’t seem fazed by his space being crowded. I remained close to Angelique, studying the itchy fingers on several of the enemy soldiers. The murder and takeover had been planned for some time. The bastard would have needed it in order to turn those once considered loyal to Giancarlo. I did what I could to suppress my rage, but there would be little I could do to stop my actions if Antonio reacted in a negative manner.
“Sadly, you thought I was stupid,” Cristiano continued. “While I was surprised that you’d reach such a low level, I was reminded of something your brother once told me. Never trust those closest to you. I guess he was right.” He was relaxed, prepared to allow his men to strike if necessary.
Antonio kept the grin on his face as he inched closer to Cristiano. “There’s no need for such anger, buddy. You and I have worked together on several issues. I believe we can continue to do so.”
Cristiano turned his head in my direction. I wasted no time directing the barrel of my weapon at Antonio’s head. That forced every other soldier to raise their weapons. While the last thing Cristiano wanted was another bloodbath, everyone attending this unholy meeting was well aware of my skills. Antonio would be dead before a single soldier managed to get off a shot.
“What is it you want, Azzurri?” Lucian asked.
“What do I want?” Antonio grinned before ever so slowly turning his head in Angelique’s direction. “It’s simple. A more formal arrangement between our families. I want your sister’s hand in marriage. That will ensure peace among our families. That will keep our lovely city from being covered in strings of blood.”
“You fucking son of a bitch,” Angelique whispered in a hoarse voice.
“And if we don’t comply?” Vincenzo asked.
Antonio gazed at her longingly. “Then it’s an all-out war. The treaty my brother was stupid enough to make with you has been canceled. While I would hate to have this gorgeous city fall into ruins, that might be necessary. I guess that’s something you’re going to need to think about.”
I managed to grab her arm before she was able to pistol whip the freak, although I wouldn’t mind watching her issue bloody and brutal blows.
“You fucking bastard. If you think I’m going to marry a pig like you, then you are a hell of a lot dumber than you look. My family won’t tolerate such bullshit.” Angelique hissed the words, managing to jerk free from my hold.
Michael grabbed her next and I could tell he was trying to calm her down by whispering in her ear. She was having none of it.
“I’m leaving now and if you dare try and stop me, I assure you that you won’t be able to use the tiny dick stuffed between your legs for anything including pissing.” When she started to walk away, she was met with several of Azzurri’s soldiers shifting in front of her.
“I suggest you have your men back away, or they will never have another opportunity to make another decision themselves. I doubt you want to keep them on as vegetables.” If my harsh words surprised the man, he didn’t show any sign.
However, he did instruct them to move away.
I pulled her against me, trying to find the right words to keep her from destroying the plan. “Don’t do this, Angelique. It’s not the time or place.”
Cursing under her breath, she attempted only once to jerk away from my hold then stopped moving altogether.
“Dimitri. Take my sister away from here. I refuse to have her in the middle of a ridiculous business negotiation,” Cristiano instructed, his eyes full of even more fury than before. “If one of your men even attempt to stop them or dare cause any harm, you will face my wrath.”
There was a moment of silence, only the wind whistling through the trees.
“You know what? We don’t need her here,” Antonio snorted. He shifted his hate-filled gaze in my direction, the same wry smile on his face. He really thought he was in control.
I backed away, glaring into several of the soldiers’ eyes. I tugged her arm. Feeling hesitation, I yanked her around to face me, shaking my head. She kept her hateful glare but obeyed, allowing me to take her down the hill and through a group of our soldiers toward my vehicle. At least we were away from the majority of Azzurri’s men, but I didn’t want to spend one minute longer out in the open than necessary. “You need to stop, Angelique. Your behavior could have gotten you or your brothers killed.”
“You don’t own me. No one does.”
“Right now, I’m the one responsible for you so you will listen to me. Cristiano has instructed me to do whatever is necessary to keep you safe as well as obedient.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? That’s ridiculous and I’m not going with you. In fact, you’re going to give me your keys.”
“No, I’m not. Now, if you don’t calm down, I’ll have no issue tossing you into the trunk.”
She glared at me, a look of shock crossing her face. “You wouldn’t dare.”
I moved closer until I was towering over her. “I will do whatever is necessary to keep you safe. Period.”
“You’re not my keeper.” I wasn’t shocked when she lifted her arm, swinging in an attempt to strike me across the face. She was obviously in shock, still trying to overcome the event at the gallery.
I wrapped my hand around her fist, squeezing as I pushed her arm away. “Don’t do something you’re going to regret.”
“You’re threatening me now? Really? Who the hell do you think you are?” There was such venom in her eyes, the shimmer in her pupils reminding me of daggers.
Growling, I cupped her face with my other hand, rubbing my fingers across her skin, slowly releasing my hold on her arm. “Don’t, Angelique. We need to get you out of here. I promise I won’t let anything happen to you, but you need to trust me. Can you do that?”
She shuddered in my arms, blinking several times as her features finally softened. “I won’t marry him, Dimitri. I don’t care about honor or family. They can’t force that on me.”
“And they won’t. That’s not what’s going to happen. You know none of your brothers will allow you to marry that swine. Give your brother more credit. He anticipated what just transpired. You need to stop acting like a child.”
She almost laughed, as she had more than once from me using the term swine instead of pig. I could see tears forming in her eyes but as always with Angelique, she blinked them away, refusing to show any sign of weakness. “They better not. I don’t have any qualms about killing my brothers if necessary.”
“Do not say shit like that. You know you don’t mean it.”
“I don’t know. Keeping the peace is the reason Cristiano entered into the treaty with Giancarlo in the first place.”
“And that was important, but not the same as his sister’s life. Now, you are going to do what I tell you. Period.”
“Fine. Be commanding.”
I gave her a slight smile in the hopes she would listen to me.
Sighing, she shifted another look over her shoulder before lifting her arm and offering her middle finger. “Fuck you, Antonio. Not a snowball’s chance in hell I’ll do anything but destroy you piece by piece.”
Without a doubt, I knew she could.
And that alone terrified the hell out of me. I knew a man like Antonio would attempt to take what he wanted. However, the bastard had underestimated my abilities. He would never have a chance to lay a single finger on her.
“Skoro ty sgorish’ v adu.”
Soon you will burn in hell.