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Taken as Collateral: A Dark Mafia Romance by Piper Stone – Sample

Chapter One



Taking her minutes before her wedding had been easy.

Keeping her might be something else.

But I was the kind of man who didn’t take no for an answer.

“So, I think we should discuss a few very important rules.” I moved to sit on the edge of the bed, giving the beautiful woman a stern look. “You are indeed my prisoner. You will do nothing without my approval. You will be supplied with clothing, food, even the wine you seem to adore, but they will be doled out as you learn to obey. When you’re disobedient, the punishment will be swift and harsh. I am a reasonable man, Francesca, but I will not be crossed in any manner.”

“How dare you treat me this way!” she exclaimed, hissing as her lovely mouth twisted.

“How dare I?” I laughed and shook my head. “You should know I’m your only means of survival. I suggest you learn to submit.”

“Over my dead body.”

She was a mafia princess, a woman unused to being disciplined in any manner. She’d been pampered from the moment she was born, treated as if she would one day be a queen. To me, she was just something to barter with.

“Fuck you!” she snapped, jerking her arm as she attempted to claw my face.

“And that punishment will begin today. Make no mistake, I am a dangerous man.” Fisting her hair, I rolled her over, ripping down the shorts I’d provided. Now I owned every inch of her.

My possession.

I brought my hand down in a swift manner, even as she struggled to get out of my hold.

“No. No!” she squealed, whipping her arm back for protection.

I spanked her long and hard, moving from one side to the other, enjoying the building heat in my palm.

“Let me go!” She continued to struggle, her actions only fueling my desire. She had no idea what I could do to her.

What I would do to her.

I tangled my fingers in her long strands, yanking as I lowered my head. “I suggest you stop fighting or I will pull out my belt. You will learn your place.” I could see the fire in her eyes, the kind that kept my cock at full attention, burning desire raging through every cell and muscle.

“Like I said. Fuck. You,” she spat, remaining defiant.

I smacked her again and again, until her bottom was hot to the touch, her skin a rosy pink.

And my cock aching with need, my balls tight as drums.

“Make no mistake, Francesca. I. Will. Own. You. And there is nothing you can do about it.”

Only when she was finally subdued did I stop, taking several deep breaths. She was my retaliation, a necessity in a world where men ruled, and women were considered nothing but playthings.

Only this woman was different. Intelligent.



And I would enjoy breaking her.

Three Days Earlier

I’d been initiated into the mafia at eleven.

I’d witnessed my first contract hit at twelve.

I’d broken a man’s spirit and his body at eighteen.

I’d murdered a traitorous enemy at nineteen.

I’d watched my mother murdered in cold blood at twenty-five.

That’s when time stopped.

Be careful of the devil lurking inside.

He will steal your soul.

I stood at the window, snorting at the thought. I’d been summoned to my father’s house and into his expansive office overlooking a tropical pool and cabana. The light California breeze created a rippling effect in the shallow, crystal clear waters, the entire setting serene.

But I knew better.

This wasn’t a casual request by any means. This was all about business, my father’s twisted and very brutal business. He called the operation a functional need in a dysfunctional world, lending money to those who were already ‘entitled.’ The borrowed money came at a significant price, whether paid back in cash or in body fluids. That was only a small part of the operation, the rest centering around party favors and various real estate developments. He’d coined the phrase years before, serving up whatever flavor of drug the customer wanted. And he’d become a very wealthy man in the process.

There also hadn’t been a building built in Los Angeles that didn’t have the mark of the Cappalini family. My father liked to say he owned the cops and the mayor’s office. Hell, even half the players in the entertainment world couldn’t throw a party without his approval.

I heard his footsteps in the hallway behind me and bristled, my grip on the very expensive glass of scotch tightening. I caught a single glimpse of his grim expression in the reflection of the bulletproof glass and resisted snarling. This wasn’t the time or place to get into yet another vicious argument. I could also see who he considered his second in command, Grinder’s massive form standing in the doorway. He wasn’t a man I cared for in any regard, and the feeling was obviously mutual.

“So good of you to come, Michael.” My father immediately walked toward the bar, his long strides wasting no time. “You can leave us, Grinder.”

“Yes, sir,” Grinder said after a slight hesitation, his dark eyes boring into mine. What did the asshole think, that I was going to hurt my own father?

My anger immediately flared. My father and I always sparred, no matter the discussion.

“How many times have I asked you not to use my given name, Ricardo?” Ricardo Cappalini was a staunch believer in the old ways, cultures learned long ago in the darkened Italian streets. He’d come from nothing, maneuvering through famine and violence to claw his way to America. He’s lost everything along the way, including any concept of humanity; however, family meant everything to him.

Or so he continued to tell me.

He’d never proven anything but that he remained a violent and bitter man.

Since the death of my mother during a horrific attack, I’d walked away from anything having to do with his family values and the tyranny that came with it. My father’s brand of revenge had also nearly cost him his freedom.

I was the bastard son, a joke in his circle of great mafia leaders. It didn’t matter that I made a significant amount of money from making movies, I was the heir apparent. The fact I didn’t give a shit meant I was a thorn in his side. To him, I was nothing more than a useless movie star. I brought the scotch to my lips, savoring the slight burn as the liquid slid down the back of my throat.

“If you think I’m going to use the ridiculous name of Kelan Rock for any reason, you’re wrong,” my father said in a breathless and exasperated manner. We’d had this conversation a solid ten times.

I waited as I heard the ice plopping in his glass, tinkling against the dense lead crystal. I had to admit, his urgent message had piqued my interest. “What do you want, Father? I have a premiere to get ready for.”

“If you spent more time with your family responsibilities instead of that bullshit you’re into, we might not be in this mess!” His deep baritone reverberated even with the high ceilings.

And the worry laced in his tone.

I curtailed my rage, turning to face him. “What mess are we talking about this time?” I was no fool. We always talked in some manner of code, even though the entire house and grounds was swept by one of his capos at least twice a day. The FBI were always hunting.

He took a swig of his drink before moving in my direction, keeping his voice low. “Grinder and Tony got wind of a takeover attempt.”

Two of his most loyal capos, soldiers who performed the most heinous deeds, well rewarded for their silence. They kept their ears to the streets.

“Takeover? By whom?” I knew the other four mafia families within the United States more intimately than even my father knew. None of them would dare try to encroach on my father’s organization. They knew how savage he could be when pushed. I watched as a single bead of sweat trickled down the side of his face. He was nervous.

“A branch of the Massimo family. Did you see the morning paper?” He tossed a copy in my direction, a sneer on his face.

I hadn’t paid attention to the Los Angeles Times for years. The reporters were jaded in their viewpoints, preferring to err on the side of caution. And politics. Then again, my father hadn’t been able to purchase the rag. I eased my drink to the table, unfolding the paper. The headlines were bold, meant to sell.

Murder: Is Los Angeles Prepared for Another Turf War?

Sighing, I shook my head as I read the scandalous piece, the story meant to heighten fears, headlining organized crime in the usual pompous fashion. Two men had been killed outside a famous nightclub, the very one my father frequented. I had no doubt they were my father’s soldiers. The scene caught by some unknown photographer would no doubt make him famous. Bloody and horrific. The picture was graphic enough, actually highlighting the bodies of two individuals lying in the middle of the street. “Two of your men?”

My father nodded, his hand shaking as he attempted to take another gulp. “Marcos and Sam. Two of my best men.”

“And they were protecting you?”

He eyed me warily. “As they always do.”

“Who’s responsible?”

Ricardo took his time refilling his drink before answering. The attack had unnerved him. “Massimo’s men. At least from what I’ve heard.”

I was forced to reflect on everything I’d been taught over the years, things I’d prefer to forget. This news could be devastating. “You’re talking about the Massimos out of Italy? You must be joking.”

The Massimo family were as powerful in Italy as the Bratvas were in Russia and while they were considered extremists, preferring the old methods of handling issues, they also stood by their honor. Coming into America and usurping already existing authority wasn’t their style. Killing two of my father’s men was either an act of vengeance or a prelude to war. Either way, the danger had just escalated. I was pissed at the thought, let alone the interference that the two murders might cause in my life. I tossed the paper, grabbing my drink. I didn’t need to read the rest of the details.

Ricardo simply gave me a harsh glare.

The taste of the three-hundred-dollar bottle of scotch was suddenly bitter. It was my turn to be civil. For my father, this could mean an all-out war, something the city of Los Angeles didn’t need. “What are your plans for retaliation and what does this have to do with me?”

“The Saltoris are also involved.”

“Louis Saltori?” My father had kept various aspects of business from his only son. My thoughts drifted to Saltori’s son, a man who’d been in and out of my life since entering show business. I was beginning to feel a trap had been set. The Saltoris had been small players, although their connection to the Italian Borgata was well known. In order to keep the peace, my father had allowed them a piece of the organization, businesses that Louis ran with an iron fist. The mere two percent provided to my father represented a substantial amount of cash through the years.

My father had always known the Massimos would eventually come to America, but the timing was interesting.

I could smell a betrayal.

“If what we are hearing is correct, Louis will try and make his move within the next thirty days. He has built a substantial army. Cash reserves. The old fuck. I never knew he had it in him. The rumors on the street are already costing me money and that’s not going to continue. The fuckers will die.” The vile expression on his face was one that left the majority of those who worked for him cowering in fear.

“Why are the Saltoris challenging the peace?” After the last turf war, parameters had been agreed to in an effort to keep violence off the streets, including giving Saltori some amount of power. He was heavily involved in the drug scene, using real estate as a cover. Unfortunately, Saltori approved shipments coming into the country.

He inched closer, narrowing his eyes. “Saltori is hungry. I’ll guess he’s been made a promise or two. You know I never trusted the man.” A sneer crossed his face the moment he offered the answer, as if I should be incensed for a different reason. He glanced up and down, obviously displeased with my selection of attire. “If you haven’t made the connection yet, his son is someone that you’ve worked with before. Motherfucking asshole.”

My thoughts drifted to Saltori’s son. The infamous movie director had never given any indication of his desire to be a player in his father’s business, much the same as my thoughts. Was he conniving? Fuck, yes. “Vincenzo Saltori. I am well aware of who and what he is.”

“Maybe something I taught you actually did sink in.”

“Cut the crap, Father. I never forget anything you teach me. What do you want me to do about it?” Vincenzo wasn’t on my list of friends, but he held a powerful influence in Hollywood. He was also the director on my latest project. An arrogant bastard with far too many connections. I didn’t believe in karma or coincidences. I’d been sought after for the role, even though the last time Vincenzo and I had worked together there’d been significant property damage.

I’d never been concerned about the Massimo connection, or maybe I simply hadn’t cared. If what my father was saying was true, things were going to get dicey and difficult decisions would need to be made.

“What I want is for you to take your place by my side where you’d always belonged. I need your help and your muscle. This could get… messy.” Ricardo’s eyes twinkled in a vindictive manner. He was planning on a mass execution. That much I knew about my father. He struck without bothering to ask questions. If Saltori had a part in having his capos murdered, nothing would stop him from attacking.

He was actually asking me to take part in his murderous plan. Hell, no. He wasn’t going to shame me into leaving a life I’d struggled to achieve. Not for any reason. “I refuse to be a part of blood running in the street. This isn’t my world, Father. Remember?” I glared at him before polishing off my drink, slamming the tumbler on the expensive marble bar top.

“What I remember is that you made your mother a promise. What I remember is that you’ve pushed away your family for years, pretending your birthright doesn’t exist. What I remember is that my son is a pussy.”

I was used to his goading as well as his nasty words, but I’d reached my limit. “My birthright?” I stormed toward him, trying to rein in the kind of anger that brought back violent memories. I was shaking as I approached. “My birthright to a murderous organization? To a monster?” I waited for a few seconds, hungering for a nasty retort.

He just stared at me with his cold black eyes, his usual expression.

“The promise I made to my mother was to get the hell out of this life and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.” I’d been a brutal man, violent by nature, following directly in my father’s footsteps. I had blood on my hands, the stain that would never go away, a stench that would never leave my nostrils. I’d made the promise mere weeks before her death.

That had been after witnessing another tragedy, an immoral act ordained by my father. I’d seen a snapshot of the real man, the true monster. I was catching the same glimpse today.

When he remained quiet, I threw back my shoulders, heading for the door. I knew what his soldiers thought of me. There was no respect. Maybe I was selfish, but my mother had spent years making certain I was groomed for another purpose.

“You only think you can run, Michael, but there is no place to hide that the truth won’t be discovered. You are the blood of my blood, skin of my skin. You are my son and required to take the helm one day.”

I stopped only long enough to throw him a glance riddled with hatred. He’d nearly destroyed my life once. I’d be damned if he was going to get the chance to do it again. “Have a good life, Father.”

As I walked away, all I could think about was paying for the sins of the father—my father to be exact.

Over my dead body.

“Kelan! Look this way!”

“Can I get a picture with you?”

“Carnal King. Carnal King.”

The screams were always the same, the fans lining the red carpet, hands clinging to the velvet rope. They all wanted a piece of me. The nickname had stuck after one particularly heated love scene in my first movie. I stood with my hands in my pockets, a grin on my face. At least my angry eyes were hidden by dark shades. My latest film was premiering, the action adventure ready to top the charts.

I had a buddy on the police force, a fan of Kelan the movie star. I’d always had suspicions the detective was bought and paid for by my father, but we’d never had an inappropriate conversation. Shane had been somewhat forthcoming in details regarding the murder. The hit had been swift, gunfire coming from an open window of a black Caddy. Spineless fuckers.

I’d gotten the basic information over a cold couple of beers and shots of tequila in the middle of a strip club, his favorite location to unwind. The police were unnerved, fearful of more blood spilled. They certainly had looked the other way dozens of times, but blood in the streets was difficult for them to justify without a full investigation.

I should be indulging in champagne versus wallowing in self-pity as well as fury. I loved my father, had once even worshipped him, but the adoration had become tainted. Still, the news had been more than disconcerting. I had no idea how deep Vincenzo was in with his family, although I suspected he knew much more than the press had ever mentioned. Everyone had secrets.

As another limo pulled up, I kept the plastic smile covering my face. The press was looking for any sign of weakness, a scandal that would give them their fifteen minutes of fame. While connections to my family had been made after my first blockbuster had hit the silver screen, that was old news.

For now.

If what my father had told me held any merit, there would be a juicy exposé somewhere down the road. Maybe Ricardo was right. I couldn’t run. I remained exactly where I was as the limo as the door was opened, the gorgeous blonde lifting her gown as she exited, already waving to the overjoyed crowd.

The screaming continued, everyone awaiting the beautiful fantasy couple, our stories fulfilling their desires. I huffed at the thought. I could barely tolerate Trudy, her princess attitude in need of harsh discipline. She was the epitome of a true prima donna, but Vincenzo had insisted that she was the only actress for the job.

“Don’t look now but our star is approaching.”

Vincenzo and I had sparred far too many times and tonight I was in no mood for his bullshit. I’d known about his background but hadn’t held it against him any more than he had with me. We simply couldn’t tolerate each other. Some would say bad blood.

I wasn’t going to let on I was aware of his father’s upcoming betrayal. Acknowledging that wasn’t going to do me any good and could tip the enemy. Yeah, I’d learned everything there was to know about living within a closely protected family, a prisoner in expensive housing. My mother had felt the same, merely a trinket on my father’s arm, the gorgeous movie star trophy my father had targeted and won.

My birth had been much the same. He’d expected several more children. Her body refused to comply. My father had taken out his disappointment on his only son.

“After tonight, we don’t have to see each other again, Vincenzo. Trust me, I don’t want to waste time with a worthless director.” I kept my tone as emotionless as possible as I studied his eyes. If he was aware of what his father was planning, the arrogant ass was hiding it well.

“You’re going to honor every single press conference and appearance, or I will discredit you,” Vincenzo hissed under his breath.

I shifted in order to face him, shaking my head. “Threats now, Vincenzo? That’s interesting coming from you.” The tension was high. I noticed he’d clenched his fist as if ready to throw a punch. That would certainly make headlines. He was also searching to see what I knew. He seemed to forget that I was a damn good actor.

“Promises, my friend,” Vincenzo hissed.

“Hey. Hold on here, fellas.” My agent approached, swearing under his breath. As soon as he was within a few inches, he glared from one to the other. “We’re in front of about two hundred reporters. Do you two really want to go at it like you’re five-year-olds?” Drake Collier was always the voice of reason.

I narrowed my eyes, waiting for Vincenzo to back down. The confrontation was overt, even for him. My hackles were raised, my instinct telling me he was smack in the middle of the possible takeover.

“Besides,” Drake continued, “you have an urgent phone call, Kelan.”

“I don’t want to be interrupted. Take a damn message,” I snapped, more because of the glib expression on Vincenzo’s face.

Drake grabbed my arm, tugging me away from the round of bravado. “You’re going to want to take this. They couldn’t get ahold of you, so they tracked me down.” The urgency in his voice was palpable.

I’d purposely left my phone turned off, longing for one fucking night of enjoyment. I yanked the phone out of his hand, loathing interruptions. The noise behind me was deafening. I walked away but the applause seemed to follow me. “Yes?”

“Is this…” The man’s voice was garbled.

“Kelan! Kelan!”

The screaming continued, forcing me to head closer to the building.

“What did you say? Speak louder.”

“Is this Michael Cappalini?”

I almost ended the call. “Who exactly is this? You have two seconds before I’m hanging up.”

“This is Dr. Wallace Tucker of the University Hospital. I’m sorry to inform you that your father has been in an… accident.”

I’d heard those exact words before, said with the same hesitation the day that my mother had been brutally murdered. There was no sense of time as his words continued to echo in my ears. As if in slow motion, I tipped my head in Vincenzo’s direction, locking eyes.

War had just begun.

Chapter Two


“You sure ya wanna do this in here?” Grinder’s gruff voice remained grating.

I shifted my gaze toward him, eyeing the hulking man. There was anger and even suspicions in his eyes, as if he believed I had something to do with the assassination attempt.

I’d assigned another man for my father’s protection, knowing I’d need Grinder’s assistance in other ways. My decision hadn’t settled well with him. However, there were certain requirements within crime families, unwritten rules that would be followed by every capo and soldier alike. Whether I liked it or not, I was now in charge. The men didn’t have to like or respect me, but they would follow orders. Keeping the Cosa Nostra safe had become the primary objective. Hell, I had indeed remembered everything my father had taught me.

“I’m certain. I don’t want any attention drawn to the fact I’m involved. Do you understand?”

Grinder shifted back and forth from foot to foot, the same damn cold eyes. “Yes, boss.”

I also needed his protection. I was no fool and he was bred for this kind of position. Heavily armed, there was nothing getting by the man. While I loathed the fact he as well as many of the others had already taken to calling me the boss, I didn’t bother correcting him. The entire organization needed to feel some level of comfort.

“You swept the place?” I asked casually, remaining perched against the floor-to-ceiling window and staring out at the rippling water. The young woman my father had hired to maintain the pool had worked diligently during the morning, making certain everything was pristine. She’d undoubtedly faced my father’s wrath at one time or another.

“Yeah, boss, three times today alone. Ain’t nobody gettin’ close to you. Your father would have my ass.”

I checked my watch and sighed. Less than twenty-four hours had passed since my father’s near execution. He’d been rushed into a twelve-hour surgery and now remained in intensive care. His prognosis wasn’t great. “Then send them in when they arrive.” I was risking having a meeting of this level of importance at my father’s house, but the only people I was close to were supposed to be my enemies. The concept was ironic.

“Sure thing, boss.”

“Oh, and Grinder, make certain we have plenty of booze.”

He lifted his eyebrows, surprised at my request then simply nodded. I wasn’t planning on sitting by my father’s bedside. The next twenty-four hours were vital in exacting revenge in an appropriate manner. As far as a crystal clear plan? Fuck if I knew.

“I’ll do that, boss.” Grinder hesitated, as if ready to offer advice but lumbered away instead. The man was a true enforcer, his nickname well suited. He’d been an MMA fighter before coming to work for the Cappalini organization. Even with his continued dislike, I knew I could trust him, which was vital at this point.

All I’d have to do was issue a single mandate and the war would begin, but I was much more cautious than my father. I was also behind the eight ball with regard to knowing all the ropes. Sure, I knew enough, my father drilling certain aspects into my head whether or not I gave a damn to listen. That had started as early as kindergarten. As a kid trying to fit in, having a beefy armed soldier everywhere I went certainly created a lot of questions.

I took a sip of the same scotch I’d had only the day before, wincing as the liquid burned, making my throat raw, fueling my increasing rage. I swirled the liquor, concentrating on the sound of ice clinking in the bottom. I’d pushed my father away so hard during the last four years that I was numb to the fact he was tethered to a hospital bed, perhaps dying from his injuries.

Then all hell would break loose.

I heard a rap on the door and stiffened, still half expecting to see an officer of the law. They’d already grilled me standing outside the hallway where my father was having surgery. The lead detective was damn lucky he’d made it out of there without a broken jaw. I’d thought about complaining but figured certain ‘friends’ of my father’s would eventually intervene. Fortunately, the press hadn’t been alerted yet, allowing me to slip away without being seen. Everything was far too precarious.


Dominick Lugiano’s face was stoic, his usual dancing dark eyes piercing. I took comfort in his deep baritone, a man I was closer to than any of the others. His father was the boss of the New York syndicate, another ruthless man with no conscience. Dominick had followed into his father’s footsteps, ready to take the helm the second the throne was relinquished. He didn’t share my hatred of the crime syndicate.

“Dominick. I’m glad you came.” I moved toward him, my arms outstretched.

“You certainly know how to call a meeting, buddy.” Dominick pulled me into a hug, slapping his hands against my back. “How’s your father?”

“Tough old bird. He’ll live.” Although I had my doubts. The initial hit had obviously been meant to take out my father as well. They simply came back to finish the job. I took a step back, holding up my drink.

“The two hits were careless. Sloppy.”

“To a point,” I replied, the anger still flowing. “Scotch?”

“Yeah, what the hell. Shitty ass flight.” Dominick walked closer, scanning my father’s office. “Nice digs.” He headed toward the oversized window, admiring the view. “Very nice digs.”

I snorted as I poured him a drink. “Not sure that new wife of yours would appreciate it.” I handed him the drink, giving him a watchful eye.

“I can look. I’m still a red-blooded carnal male.” Laughing, he held up his drink. “I forgot. That’s your nickname.”

I rolled my eyes as two of the others walked in. Lorenzo Francesco, son of the Chicago Don and Miguel Garcia, firstborn son of the Miami Cartel. Only Aleksei Petrov remained absent. He was true Bratva, his immigrant father having secured the Philadelphia syndicate with brutal force, more barbarians than well respected mafia. Aleksei was no different. We all agreed the man had no soul.

We’d formed an alliance years before, a secret we’d all sworn to keep. We provided aid in certain measures to each other, eliminating our enemies. I had one that was going to require finesse to eradicate. Their help could prove vital, even necessary. The bastard from Italy wouldn’t know what hit him. After all, we were the sons of darkness.

“Damn, brother. LA is good for your tan,” Miguel teased as he sauntered into the room, dancing as if I had music playing.

“Yeah, well, that’s what I get paid to do,” I said absently.

“You’re not your father, that’s for sure,” Lorenzo huffed, walking immediately toward the bar. “Whoa, baby. Would you look at that set of knockers.” He adjusted his crotch as he leered out the window.

I rubbed my eyes. Lorenzo was a man I respected but could barely stomach. “She’s not to be touched.”

“Same old Kelan. Or should we call you boss, now?” Lorenzo snarled.

“That’s enough shit, Lorenzo,” Dominick chastised. “We’re here for a reason. Any rumblings of a war?”

“Only from my lips,” I said without conviction. I knew what was expected of me.

“How’s your father?” Miguel asked.

“Touch and go.”

“Who the hell was responsible for this shit? It’s all over the news. Might as well help you move in and take care of this prick while we’re here.” Lorenzo guzzled his drink.

“Louis Saltori, cousin to Don Dante Massimo. Don Dante is without a doubt the most brutal monster I have ever come into contact with. You can bet he has more on his hit list, including you, movie star. Saltori is just his bitch, but from what I understand, he’s been gunning for a territory for years.” Aleksei stormed into the room, taking swaggering steps, his long blond hair flowing from the force of his gait. He approached, glancing from one to the other, the rather surprised looks. “I do my homework. I listen. I learn. You, my friend, have a big problem on your hands. Now, I need a drink. You Americans do not understand the meaning of a decent flight or customer service.”

I bristled hearing the words, but the confirmation was well timed.

Dominick chuckled, waving his hand at me as he walked toward the bar. “Our Russian friend is right. About Louis Saltori anyway. Talked to Pops. He mentioned he’d heard some rumblings of a possible takeover two months ago. He just didn’t know where. Now we do.”

I was definitely on the target list or at least would be soon enough. Let the bastards try to gun me down.

“Takeover? That shit hasn’t happened for years. Wasn’t Saltori working with your father?” Miguel asked.

There were few secrets it seemed.

“He was. Now, he wants his own piece of the pie,” I stated, hearing the exhaustion in my voice.

“He should be eliminated immediately.” Miguel’s world was simple, much like the Russians’. Kill or be killed.

“Not sure what the fuck I can do. From what my father’s capos have told me, there’s no proof that Louis was involved. No offense, Aleksei, but no one has stepped up to the plate taking credit. If Louis is anything like his son, he would have no trouble gloating about the near kill. What we do know is that the hit was clean, executed with knowledge with a single intended target. My father. The two capos were simply baggage.”

“Your capos,” Aleksei said with no emotion. When I turned in his direction, he shrugged. “They’re your soldiers now. You need to direct them. You’re in charge and this is an obvious vendetta situation. Whether you believe my information or not, you need to act quickly.”

Sighing, I moved toward the bar to refill my drink. I planned on getting stinking drunk tonight. Screw the rest of the shit.

“How can we help? You need a plan and fast. If this Saltori is involved, he won’t sit back on his laurels. If you’ve found the bastards who gunned down your father, we can start there.” Lorenzo stated the words with the kind of conviction that I needed.

“I don’t want any additional bloodshed.” I realized my hand was shaking as I attempted to pour the drink, beads of the expensive liquor sloshing out over the rim.

“An eye for an eye, Kelan.” Aleksei grabbed his own glass, pouring a hefty amount of vodka. “Besides, you can’t control a turf war without retaliating. You can’t show weakness in any regard. If you believe Saltori is involved, take him out today.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not programmed that way.” I knew I had to take a strong stand, hitting back hard in order to keep my father’s various businesses going. I just didn’t have the stomach for his brand of brutality. Aleksei seemed miffed. Why I’d joined the alliance I had no idea, maybe to stay informed from a distance.

Aleksei spouted off something in Russian, no doubt condemning me to hell.

“There might be another way initially to take control, but ultimately you’re going to have to make a dramatic statement,” Dominick suggested.

I glanced in his direction, amused at the way his eyes had regained their twinkle. He was by far the most cunning of the others. “Should I ask?”

Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a folded piece of paper. “Take a look. Did some searching on the plane when you mentioned the Massimo name.”

I hesitated before reaching out, easing my drink to the bar counter before opening it. The beautiful woman staring at me in the photograph immediately stirred my cock. She was breathtaking with huge luscious brown eyes and glossy black hair, her pursed mouth meant for hours of passion. I could just imagine her lips wrapped around my throbbing shaft. “Do I know her?” I passed off the picture to the others.

“Francesca Alessandro. She’s the only daughter of Antonio Alessandro, a true princess.” Dominick kept his grin as he answered.

“That means what exactly?” I asked the question in an offhanded manner. I knew of the Alessandro family: very powerful and vindictive in their particular manners of business.

Aleksei whistled. “A beautiful woman and very wealthy. Or I should say, she will be extremely wealthy on the day she weds. She’s set to inherit over five hundred million dollars, or so I’ve heard. She is special to Antonio. He would kill anyone who dared touch her without his consent. Yet the man is willing to sell her off to a pig.”

“You seem to know quite a bit about Italian families,” Miguel taunted.

Snarling, Aleksei flashed a look of anger. “If you spent more time learning about your enemies then your family’s wealth would be much greater.”

“Calm the fuck down,” Dominick hissed. “This could affect all of us if not handled carefully. What’s to stop the Massimos from trying to acquire a larger piece of the pie, including New York or Philadelphia?”

“The fuckers wouldn’t stand a chance,” Aleksei hissed.

“Who is she destined to marry?” I asked again. Dominick had a point. The hits could be just the tip of the iceberg.

Dominick sauntered closer. “She is set to marry Vincenzo Saltori two days from now. My understanding is that this is an arranged marriage. Came on fairly quickly too. The union will provide significant wealth, the connections worth almost as much as the money.”

“As I said, the man is nothing but a pig,” Aleksei snarled.

“Shit. Perfect,” Lorenzo muttered under his breath.

“What. The. Fuck?” My anger turned into rage, spots forming in front of my eyes. Everything, including the movie had been a setup. If I’d been closer to my father, I might have picked up on the scheme months ago. “If that’s the case, they can easily crush my father’s hold on California and the entire West Coast.”

“Exactly,” Dominick said, smiling. He inched even closer. “You need to do something about this.”

“What the hell can I do at this point?” I knew the answer already, could figure out exactly where Dominick was going with his warped mind.

“You can stop the marriage and put a stake in the sand,” Aleksei answered.

I looked from one to the other, my adrenaline increasing. What I knew of the Italian mafia was that they were extremely vindictive. Touching her in any manner would mean certain death. “Meaning?”

The four others waited, remaining quiet.

“Oh, fuck, no! I’m not kidnapping an innocent woman.”

“Excellent control method if you ask me. Sweet pussy while you take out the Saltoris,” Lorenzo commented, lifting his glass.

“She’s not innocent, Kelan. She’s an Italian princess who’s lived a life of luxury at the expense of many others. Her father is a ruthless man himself, having worked with the Massimos for decades and his father before him. She knows exactly how rich she’ll be when she marries one stupid slacker of an American.” Dominick’s statement was vehement.

Dominick was serious. I stormed out of the back door, heading closer to the pool. When I heard a single pair of footsteps behind me, I snarled. “This is bullshit! Far too fucking complicated.”

He flanked my side, staring out at the water. “Maybe so, my friend, but there is no other way short of killing every one of Louis’ men and putting a bullet in the man’s brain. My guess is he’ll be waiting for that level of retaliation. Now that your father is incapacitated, they’ll start shutting down his business connections, cutting off supplies and easily undermining everything your father has worked to achieve. This will be completely unexpected. And effective. And trust me, she’s not innocent by any means.”

I thought about the idea, my stomach churning. I knew this day would arrive. I’d always known I’d be tossed into the family’s business. Some called me a ruthless man, unforgiving and even dangerous. I suppose in some ways I was but escalating my barbarian nature wasn’t going to be easy. However, as my father always reminded me, my true nature was absolute domination.

Of business.

Of our enemies.

Of women.

Perhaps he’d been right all along. I could feel a change in my mind, a hunger burning in my gut that I’d squelched through years of practice. My anger and passion had been shifted to the art of making movies. No longer.

“My mother regretted the day she married my father. She begged me to get out of the family any way I could. She made me promise to make a stand, to make her proud.” I issued the words as I had several times before. Only on this day, they held an entirely different meaning.

Dominick quietly sipped his drink for a full minute. “You are a Cappalini whether you like it or not. You can change your name, hide your identity, and find a job that has nothing to do with your father’s business, but you are what you are. Right now, you have no other choice but to do what’s necessary. No matter what you do in life, your mother will always be proud of you. You are her son, her pride and joy.” He patted me on the shoulder and turned, hesitating briefly. “And remember something. Your mother knew exactly what she was getting into when she married your father. There is no time for regrets or second guessing. You have an entire Borgata family waiting for your leadership.”

I shrugged, shaking my head.

“It’s entirely up to you, Kelan, but if you do nothing, dozens, even hundreds of people will lose their lives. I will tell you this much. You are in just as much danger as your father is.”

“I can take care of myself.” Dominick was right. While a soldier would be guarding my father twenty-four/seven, I knew whoever had initiated the execution would try to finish the act. Just a matter of time. I’d already seen one report that certain party favor supplies were down. Could be a product of the chatter on the street or a beginning of the takeover.

I couldn’t allow that to happen.

“I have no doubt but now isn’t the time to press your luck. I suggest you take a trip out of town.”

“And where the fuck would I go?”

He grinned as he patted me on the shoulder. “I have a place that would suit you, especially if you follow through with my other suggestion.”

Sighing, I rubbed my forehead, a nasty headache furrowing into my brain. This was all too much to deal with. However, weakness was something that couldn’t be tolerated. Getting out of town. The idea wasn’t a bad one. “I’ll think about it.”

“Give me a call. I can arrange it in just a few hours. No one has to know.”

The sound of his footsteps echoed as he walked away. I glared at the water in the pool, able to catch a glimpse of my reflection. There was no way of hiding any longer. Dominick was right. I closed my eyes, pushing aside Kelan, the golden boy of Hollywood. Time to become the man my father always wanted me to be.

A monster.

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