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Absolutely love that the main characters are equals and that Melody isn't just a damsel in distress. A truly amazing novel. <3
20 April 2021 (03:48)
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09 May 2021 (20:17)
I'd give it a 2. the writing is like Wattpad but good plot I guess.
30 May 2021 (12:26)
I loved it. The characters are super interesting and they all have a development. There is smut...a lot....it`s just fantastic. Melody is a badass and powerful women. An qual to her husband. Not like the usual pathetic damsel in distress.
07 June 2021 (20:04)
Contents Title Page Copyright Dedication ONE TWO THREE FOUR FIVE SIX SEVEN EIGHT NINE TEN ELEVEN TWELVE THIRTEEN FOURTEEN FIFTEEN SIXTEEN SEVENTEEN EIGHTEEN NINETEEN TWENTY TWENTY-ONE TWENTY-TWO TWENTY-THREE TWENTY-FOUR TWENTY-FIVE TWENTY-SIX TWENTY-SEVEN TWENTY-EIGHT TWENTY-NINE THIRTY THIRTY-ONE THIRTY-TWO EPILOGUE Author's Note About the Author Acknowledgments Notes Ruthless People By J.J. McAvoy First published by The Writer’s Coffee Shop, 2014 Copyright © J.J. McAvoy, 2014 The right of J.J. McAvoy to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her under the Copyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act 2000 This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced, copied, scanned, stored in a retrieval system, recorded or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the publisher. All characters and events in this Book – even those sharing the same name as (or based on) real people – are entirely fictional. No person, brand, or corporation mentioned in this Book should be taken to have endorsed this Book nor should the events surrounding them be considered in any way factual. This Book is a work of fiction and should be read as such. The Writer’s Coffee Shop (Australia) PO Box 447 Cherrybrook NSW 2126 (USA) PO Box 2116 Waxahachie TX 75168 Paperback ISBN- 978-1-61213-319-5 E-book ISBN- 978-1-61213-320-1 A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the US Congress Library. Cover Images: © depositphotos.com / heckmannoleg, © depositphotos.com / jayfish Cover Design: J.J. McAvoy www.thewriterscoffeeshop.com/jmcavoy This book is dedicated to those who said no, and the people who told me to ignore them. ONE “There are four kinds of homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy.” ~ Ambrose Bierce LIAM So, today was the day. I drank straight from the brandy bottle. Fuck the glass. I was; too tired to move. “You plan on sharing?” Natasha asked as she rubbed her body against mine. Handing her the bottle, I leaned back, watching her pour the liquor down her throat. God, I was going to miss that throat but that was about it. “This is such a sad day.” She frowned when I took the bottle back. If only she would leave after our “meetings.” But there was no point kicking her out right this second. Our meetings were officially over, or my mother would demand my balls and my father would hand them up to her. “What’s this girl’s name again?” Natasha asked, rolling on top of me. Brushing her blond hair back from her face, I thought of all the things I’d rather be doing instead of talking but had to restrain myself. “Melody Nicci Giovanni,” I said, taking another swig. She pouted, and it was ugly. Most of her facial expressions were ugly, but I didn’t keep her around for her face, or her brain for that matter. “Arranged marriages are so circa the eighteen hundreds. How can you get married to a girl you’ve never met before? You don’t even know what she looks like. What if she’s ugly, or fat?” she asked. It would have been a good point if it didn’t matter who my family was and what we did for a living. “I’ve explained this Natasha. The Giovannis are one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful family in Italy and most of the west coast. My father wants an end to the rivalry between the Irish and the Italians. So, even if she is ugly, or fat, or covered in bloody warts, I will do my duty and marry her.” Pushing her off me, I rose to my feet. Sedric, my father, had spoken of this marriage for the past twelve years. I was only fifteen and wanted to prove myself, so I was willing do anything that needed to be done to make the family proud, like a bloody idiot. I should have just let Declan marry her, but he had already hacked into his first major Swiss bank account, robbing the Russians blind. Neal was too damn old and had already found himself the perfect arm candy. Like all sons, we wanted to impress our fathers. I thought I had no other option, but like I said, I was a bloody idiot. “You could just marry me. I am one-quarter Italian.” Natasha laughed and rolled around in my bed. I was going to have to burn those sheets or maybe get a new bed. “Not even if hell froze over and my mother was six feet deep,” I replied, grabbing a towel. “And why not?” she yelled, holding the sheet to her chest as if she had any modesty to protect. I looked her dead in the eyes. “Because you are a floozy, a manky, a whore, a woman of no importance or brains with nothing to note but a good ass and a deep throat.” Walking over to her, I kissed the side of her cheek before holding on to her sweet throat. “But don’t be sad. We all have our roles to play, and you have played yours. Your services will no longer be needed.” Letting go of her, I grabbed a few bills from my wallet before throwing them in her direction. “I am not a prostitute.” She held back a sob. I hated criers. I smirked at that. “Yet, you’re going to take the money anyway.” I headed to the bathroom, and when she didn’t reply, I turned back to her one last time. “Leg it babe, and if you think of taking anything other than the money I just gave you, I will not hesitate to kill you, sweet throat or not.” And I meant it. I was a Callahan. Our word was law in Chicago and on most of the east coast. The police didn’t even bother with us anymore. Hearing the bedroom door open and shut, I smiled to myself before jumping in the shower. It would be the last one until I met my future wife. Did she like showers or baths? I didn’t care, but it just proved that I didn’t know anything significant about her other than her birthday, February 13, 1990, and a few small facts. Everything else, her father kept buried. There were no pictures of her anywhere—no social media accounts or driver license. Nothing—not even a fucking receipt with her name on it. She was a ghost. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought she didn’t exist. It made sense, though. I would do the same if I were to have a daughter. There were some crazy fucks in the world who didn’t understand what it meant to be the offspring of a mafia leader. Family was everything. It was the one thing my father had drilled into our heads since we were children. Rule One: You kill for family. You die for family. Because you can’t trust anyone else. In my awkward years as a preteen, some older fool had thought it would be funny to push me down a flight of stairs at school. That night, Neal and Declan burned his house down, but not before beating him within an inch of his life. When they came back and told father what they had done, he gave them the keys to the Porsche and told me to take notes. And take notes I did, very good notes. It was the reason why I was now my father’s right-hand man instead of Neal, despite the fact that he was older. Neal didn’t mind though—he was the muscle—while our cousin Declan was more behind the scenes. It worked perfectly. Rule Two: Take no prisoners and have no regrets about it. Stepping out of my bathroom, there they stood, my father, brother, and cousin, all dressed in the finest suits money could buy. “Did you read the files I sent to you, or were you too busy with your whore?” my father asked glowering at the files on my desk. “He probably stopped when he saw no pictures.” Declan grinned from the door as Neal snickered. “As a matter of fact, I did, but I don’t give a shit where she went to school or what her favorite color is. The one thing I needed to know wasn’t in that file. For all I know, Melody Giovanni could look like an Italian horse.” Sedric stepped in my path, standing just as tall as I was, preventing me from walking to my closet “Father—” “Have you forgotten what is at stake here?” “How—” “Do not interrupt me.” He sneered then said, “You seem to forget that the only way you are going to be head of this family is through marriage.” “There is nothing there about her I care about.” Grabbing hold of my neck, he glared. “Pick up the damn folder, son.” Pulling out of his grasp, I saw Declan standing by my desk ready to hand me the folder, while Neal just stood a foot behind, ready to crawl up my fathers ass, if necessary. “I don’t need the folder. I fucking read it.” “Melody Nicci Giovanni: age twenty-four, born on February 13, in an unknown northern California hospital, only child of Orlando and Aviela Giovanni who both emigrated from Italy as teens. Her mother died when she was young, and since then Orlando has all but locked her away in a tower. She was homeschooled for most of her life, until she went to a small community college in some nowhere prissy town called Cascadia in Oregon. I’m guessing that’s where ice skating and glitter was invented.” I waved Declan off before walking to my closet. Wrapping the red tie around my neck, both Declan and Neal snorted at my comment while my father stood waiting for more. “Other than that, she’s a fucking ghost. No photos. No fingerprints. Just fucking breadcrumbs up and down the west coast, while her father killed every rival Italian and Irish family within a hundred-mile ratio, before taking over their streets.” By the time we figured out it was them, the west coast was completely cut off to us. None of our production could get in or out without being busted—the son of a bitch—and now they were working their way south, taking over the Mexican cartels. Italians always had to spread their shit and put their name on everything. “The first and last time I met Melody, she was skeet shooting while her father and I discussed the possibility of this contract in his office. Not once did that dark little head of hers miss, and she was nine.” My father said. “Am I supposed to be impressed? Nervous? Elated? Thank God, she knows how to shoot skeet. She’s still a woman like any other.” He didn’t speak but walked across the room just as three noisy women began to pound against the door. “Liam, hurry up. You have to meet Mr. Giovanni in an hour!” my cousin’s wife yelled from the other side of the door. There had to be a limit to the boundaries an in-law could cross. If Declan didn’t care about her so much and she wasn’t family, I would be tempted to hurt her. “Handle your woman,” I told him. Neither of them made any sense to me. Declan was quiet, calm, and paler than snow, while Coraline was loud, outgoing, and well . . . black. My father was pissed she wasn’t Irish for about ten seconds before he realized he had no room to talk, seeing as how my mother was a half caste. “Liam, stop wanking off,” Olivia, Neal’s ever-so-bold wife said. All three were now infesting my room. “None of you were invited inside—” Olivia laughed. “We saw your harlot run out of here like a bat out of hell, so we figured you were getting ready.” Stepping out, Neal and Declan grinned like mad fools at their wives. “If you care about their lives, you will get them away from me fast,” I said through my teeth. “Are you threatening my daughters?” my mother asked. “Yes, as always,” Coraline said, laughing, before giving her a hug. Of course, my mother returned it, the traitor. “For the love of God. Get out!” I was going to kill them all. “Don’t raise your voice at me, young man.” My mother’s green eyes narrowed, causing Neal to laugh outright. “Tell him, Mom,” he said. I pleaded with her. “Those damn eyes of yours,” she mumbled, and I knew I had won. Thank fucking Jesus. “I think we have had our fill for now. Let’s let the boy get dressed in peace,” she said, and I would have taken offense to the “boy” comment, but I just needed them to leave without resorting to deadly force. “Let us know if you need help getting dressed, sweetheart,” she added as they exited. Where the fuck was I going, prom? “I am a grown man, Mother.” Her green eyes narrowed. “Real grown men don’t use hookers.” At that, everyone laughed before closing the door, but I could still hear them. This was another reason I needed to get married. You weren’t a “real” Irish man until you had wife. Without one, no matter what I did, I would never gain the respect that was owed to me. I would take this Melody Giovanni and form a woman fit to rule at my side. With her family’s power added to my own, I would own it all before I was thirty. The thought of that, and what else the future held, got my cock up. Only a small part of me cared if she was attractive or not. Her last name and her loyalty would get me off just fine. Thankfully, from what I was told, she already knew what her family did. I didn’t have time to train her on what to expect or why my clothes may be a little bloody sometimes. I straightened my tie before reaching for my gun and placing my brass knuckles in my pocket. Opening the door, my father stood waiting—correction, hovering. He looked me up and down before nodding in approval. Rule Three: Just because you sell drugs for a living isn’t an excuse not to dress well. “Here are the Giovannis’ updated finance and business records,” he said before handing me a thick folder as we walked. Him and his damn folders. “How did we get these?” I said without thinking, and then answered knowingly. “Declan is getting better.” “He broke through the firewall this morning . . . while you were inside Ms. Briar.” He glared at me. “I ended it,” I said once we reached the awaiting cars. My mother smiled, kissing us both on the cheek. “Hopefully, or I will have to get involved.” He kissed my mother back. “Goodbye dear, we will be back in the morning.” “I know the drill. Let me know when you’ve met her,” she said once Neal and Declan entered their own car. We never used one vehicle. My father and I rode separately while Declan and Neal rode together. Entering my black Audi, I skimmed through the files, knowing that the moment we started to move he would call. When my phone went off, the driver simply connected it to the car Bluetooth. “Finished?” my father asked me. I smirk. “The bastard almost tripled his profits in less than a fucking year.” “He’s also somehow gotten his drugs into Valero territories—Greece, Russia, and the damn Philippines. He has networks going through most of Eastern Europe, the little fucker,” Declan stated through the radio. Apparently we were on a conference call. We had tried to put our drugs in that side of the world for the last four years, but the Valero guarded it tighter than a father on spring break. There were three families stronger than all the rest. The Callahan, the Giovanni, and the fucking Valero. The Valero were nothing but snakes—no, worms crawling in the dirt eating their own shit. Most of them were Russian, some German, all thieves stealing my property and selling it as their own. “The man’s got fucking horse shoes and a leprechaun up his arse,” I said. That’s the only way they could have pulled it off without the Valero filling them with bullets. “Not to mention their numbers are growing. When I was in Mexico, I saw at least twenty of Giovanni’s men guarding underground heroin fields,” Neal said, a bit too excitedly. “Fucking underground, can you believe it? I wouldn’t even begin to understand the amount of science shit they need to make that work. Down there, the name Giovanni sends men running and pleading for their lives.” “Táimid ag titim ar gcúl.1 . . and I do not like to be behind. I will not sit idly by as they surpass us. Do you understand me?” my father replied. “Liam.” “I know,” I sighed, for the last fucking time. “Don’t fuck it up. With this marriage we can steamroll the Valero and anyone else,” my father added again. “Thank God the poor bastard didn’t have a son,” Declan said. “Nothing is final yet,” my father replied. “Even after Liam marries her, which will take a few days if your mother has her way, they won’t just give us everything. It may take months to make sure it is our name that strikes fear into the hearts of men.” “Liam, can you do this? You are very vain. What if she is not up to your mighty standards?” Neal’s tone was serious, and I wanted to bust a pipe over his face. “Piss off.” I wasn’t going to fuck this up. They should know this by now. Orlando Giovanni’s daughter was the key to every door. “If she isn’t up to par, I will drink until I can’t see straight. Or until I can convince her to see Olivia’s plastic surgeon.” I was only half joking. Ugly people didn’t have to stay ugly forever. “Fuck you,” he snapped. “Great, thanks Liam, now he’s going to be bitching the rest of the ride.” Declan sighed. “Look how much I care.” I nodded at the driver who ended our call for me. I needed a moment, but all I could think about was the little Giovanni that was about to be part of my life. Taking the ring out of my jacket pocket, I stared at the massive diamond that would seal our fates. She was Italian, which meant Catholic, just like us, and that meant: Rule Four: No bloody divorce. “Let the games begin,” I whispered to myself. I was going to make this work or die trying. But, if she was anything like the females I had in the past, she would be dancing in the palm of my hand, and I couldn’t wait. TWO “Even in killing men, observe the rules of propriety.” ~ Confucius MELODY “Ms. Giovanni, we will be landing in h-half an h-hour,” the flight attendant stammered. Nodding, I simply raised my glass, but the moron was so scared, he couldn’t even pour the wine right. I narrowed my eyes at the red stains on my new white Armani jacket before glaring at him. I snatched the bottle from his damn hands. “I’m so—” “Don’t say sorry,” I said in a low hiss. “You aren’t even on the threshold of sorry yet.” His eyes widened before taking a step back and backing straight into Fedel, who already had a gun pointed at the back of his skull. “All we really need is the pilot, ma’am,” Fedel said simply. Stripping off my jacket, I stared at the moron at the end of the nine-millimeter. He was young, only a few years older than I was. What would make him take the job as a steward on my jet? A better question would be, who cleared him to be a steward on my fucking jet? Things spoken in here were more sensitive than the damn Watergate tapes. “Fedel, how did this fool get on my plane?” I asked, only mildly interested as Monte handed me another file. “His sister racked up quite a large debt. I do believe he is trying to pay it off,” he said, waiting for me to give the go-ahead. He was so trigger-happy sometimes. “Is that why you’re here? Your sister is a crack whore?” He frowned, swallowing the lump in his throat before speaking again. “Crystal meth.” It’s too early in the morning for blood. I shook my head at Fedel. He sulked for a moment but did what he was told and lowered his GLOCK. “If you want to pay off your sister’s debt, it would be wise for you to stay alive and not spill my Romanée-Conti, or ruin nine-hundred-dollar jackets,” I told him before turning back to the file in front of me. “Yes, M-M-Miss G-Giovanni. It will n-never happen a-again.” His voice sounded like a dying dog’s. I almost pitied his sister. Was he all she had coming to her aid? “Count yourself blessed Nelson Reed, 997-00-4279, 1705 Blue Ridge Road,” Fedel said, making sure the moron was aware that we not only knew his name, but his social security number and address. Just because we didn’t kill him today didn’t mean we could not destroy his life tomorrow. Fedel sighed before taking a seat in front of me. “It was a nice jacket. You should have let me kill him.” “My father wasn’t pleased with the bloodstains I left in the last jet.” I smirked, lifting the picture of my future husband. Husband. I cringed at the word. I wouldn’t deny he was attractive—highly attractive, in fact. But I would need more than green eyes, dark brown sex hair, and a charming smile. He wasn’t very muscular either, but he looked fast and strong. “His full name is Liam Alec Callahan, age twenty-seven. He graduated high school at fifteen, Dartmouth at twenty,” Fedel said, sorting through the photos. “Let me guess, top of his class?” I added, waiting for him to pour more wine in my glass. Fedel did so before nodding. “But of course, nothing less than perfection for the Irish mutt. That doesn’t only apply to the schools, but also their fancy half-a-million-dollar suits, luxury cars, vacations houses, parties, and whores.” That got my attention. “He uses high-end hookers?” It shouldn’t surprise me much, all men had their toys. I would have to put an end to it when we were married, but I understood. The marriage contract our fathers signed fifteen years ago stated neither side would tolerate infidelity. It had less to do with romance and more to do with strategic reasoning. Hookers and lovers almost always led to the fall of an empire. The moment you became comfortable with one another, secrets were spilled, and information was stolen in the dead of night. It was just easier to do without it. “None that we could find. Instead, he just buys them pretty, shiny things like diamond bracelets, expensive purses, or thousand dollar shoes. They all like their shoes,” he said mockingly, sliding over photos of all the women Liam had been with. It was quite a list. At least he would be an experienced lover, but that didn’t necessarily mean he was good in bed. “Is he clean?” If he wasn’t, we could buy whatever drug was needed. Ninety percent of everything out there had a cure . . . with the right credit card. “As a damn whistle,” Fedel said, almost disappointed. “From his current health records, he is healthier than a racehorse, which is surprising with amount of brandy he drinks. His beverage of choice—Camus Cuvee. He has a damn glass, or even the bottle, to his lips in every photo. He isn’t depressed or an alcoholic, he’s—” “Just Irish.” I added. They could drink every day, from dusk until dawn, and still walk a straight line. “Exactly. From what I’ve gathered, he’s the brains and is also highly skilled in hand-to-hand combat, boxing being a pastime of his. It looks like daddy dearest has spent most of his time forging him to take his place.” “Doesn’t he have an elder brother?” “Yes, he does. Meet Neal Aiden Callahan, age thirty-one. Married to Malibu Barbie, aka Olivia Ann Colemen, age twenty-nine, three years ago.” He lifted up a photo of the happy couple. Neal was all muscle with brown hair and hazel eyes, while his wife looked like a life-sized Barbie doll. On her wrist was a small tattoo of a Celtic Knot in the shape of an oak tree. “A Dara knot.” I told him looking over the lines. Fedel’s eyebrow rose. “A what?’ I did not repeat myself but explained, “It means internal fortitude; to remain strong regardless of the circumstances around you. It seems Barbie is not very fond of the world she lives in.” “Well she sure likes the money it brings her. She can’t bite the hands that give her those nice Jimmy Choo’s.” Dropping the photo, I waited for him to go on. “As for her husband, Neal is also a proud graduate of Dartmouth, by the skin of teeth as it happens,” Fedel added. “And is also a world-class sniper. When he isn’t killing people from hundreds of yards away, he is playing baseball . . . a lot.” “So the brother is an idiot. Olivia’s maiden name is Colemen?” I repeated, focusing back on his wife as I took another sip. “As in Senator Daniel Colemen?” Fedel nodded, lifting up a photo of the man in question. “Yes, Senator Daniel Colemen, a right-wing conservative pushing for a smaller government, and I wonder why? Her mother is an active left-wing liberal blogger, which is why they are divorced and the former Mrs. Colemen is now helping the needy children of Africa as the head of the Callahan’s Global Youth Charity. Both know about their daughter’s new family and approve.” I grinned at that. “Is it real a charity?” “Sadly, yes. When they aren’t stealing cars for the black-market, organizing several murders-for-hire, or selling heroin, crack, and meth to Suzy down the block, they’re attending ballets and charity balls to better their community.” He shook his head. “What about this one?” I asked, pointing to the man beside Liam. He had the same green eyes as Liam, however the man’s hair was longer and a lighter shade of brown. I figured the African American woman next to him had to be his wife. “Ah, Declan Alvin Callahan—” “Why the fuck do all their middle names start with an A?” I asked. Fedel looked around to see if he had the answer somewhere in his papers. I didn’t need to know, but watching him squirm was amusing. First generation Italian, like myself, we looked a lot alike—the same olive skin tone, pitch black hair, and brown eyes. He was my right hand, and in some ways, that made him closer to me than a sibling. Nonetheless, I never wanted him to get too comfortable. No matter how ridiculous my question was, or how pointless it may seem, his job was to get my answer or die trying. “It seems to be a tradition started in the eighteen-forties after the first Callahans came over from Ireland,” he said at last. Nodding, I waited for him to continue. “Declan Alvin Callahan, age twenty-nine, married to Coraline Wilson, age twenty-five. He is the son of Sedric’s older brother, who was set up by the Valero twenty years ago, and killed by Chicago PD in the crossfire. Since then, Sedric has raised Declan almost as his own. Coraline, the wife, is the daughter of Adam Wilson, big shot bank owner. From what we can tell, Declan was the one who hacked the system this morning and stole that twenty-seven million from the Russians a few years back. Most of them still don’t know he did it. Those who did were killed off, most likely by Neal.” What a lovely family. “Coraline. I’ve seen her face before,” I stated, staring at the photo of Declan Callahan’s wife. “Maybe that’s because if Robin Hood and Mother Teresa had a daughter it would be her.” I tried not to smile. “Explain.” He left a spread of photos across the table. In each one Coraline was either feeding the homeless, giving blood, rebuilding homes, and so on. “She spends more time giving away all her shit than anyone in the family. Last year alone she spent almost nine million on charities and performed over two thousand hours of community service. It’s like she’s—” “Guilty,” I stated. Giving was normal. Giving to make yourself look like a better person was normal, but this went way beyond that. That might be a problem. Both women seem to love the lifestyle and hate the life . . . just great. Lifting the last set of photos, I knew who they were—the world knew. “Sedric A. Callahan, who is named after the first Callahan, age fifty-four, and his wife, Evelyn Callahan, age fifty-one, make sure their kids breed well,” he stated, placing the file down. “Now Fedel, it’s wrong to judge.” I grinned. The truth of the matter is that I was slightly impressed, and it took a lot to impress me. I could tell Liam’s green eyes came from his mother, while his darker features came from his father. They were all quite good looking, and from what I could tell, all was God-given with the exception of Malibu Barbie. It was good, but I could tell she’s had work done. Nevertheless, they all looked Hallmark ready. It was almost sickening. “Ma’am, why in the hell is Sedric stepping back and allowing his second son to take over? It makes no sense. I’ve checked into his health records, and he’s fine.” I took my time drinking in the warmth of the wine as I stared at the photos. Fedel was right. People like us didn’t just step down. We didn’t retire. We died and then someone tried to replace us. But I think I knew Sedric a little bit better, after all my father spoke often of him. “All I know is he didn’t want to lead but had no other choice after his brother’s death. Now he’s washing the blood off his hands on to his sons.” He frowned shaking his head at the photo. “The Irish and their fucking drama.” “My father lost his elder brother as well, Fedel. We Italians have drama.” “Yea, well they still need you more than you need them.” “Are the wives involved in business?” I asked, ignoring him. Evelyn, looked too sweet to be packing with her sandy brown hair curled gracefully under a large sun hat, but then again, it was my grandmother who had taught me how to fire my first gun. I was only seven, and I had never been without one since. Fedel huffed. “No. They prefer to keep their heads above ground, planning parties, making sure everyone attends Mass on Sundays, going to charities and monthly dinner parties. They all know and accept it with open arms, but they aren’t on the same level as you, ma’am.” Smirking, I shifted my gaze to him. “And what level am I on?” Fedel adjusted his tie before sitting straighter, his face void of all emotion, eyes almost black. “You, ma’am, are ruthless, and not a soul on this planet would dare cross you. You would put a bullet in our heads if we were ever disloyal to you or the family. You are the Boss,” he replied. When I glanced at the men surrounding me, they nodded, not making eye contact, but aware that I was looking. It made me proud. It had taken a lot of blood, sweat, and no tears to make sure that they, and everyone else, knew that I was the Boss. I may be pretty, I may be young, but I was a Giovanni. Giovannis were—and always would be—beautiful, but lethal when crossed. Nodding, I leaned back in my seat, finishing my wine as we descended. I was the head of the Giovanni Empire now, a fact that no one other than my men and my father were aware of. The world still believed he was Boss, but since the age of eighteen, everything—the drugs, the hits, the money—had been run through me because my father was dying. The great Orlando “Iron Hands” Giovanni was dying of stage four colon cancer. Ninety percent of everything out there had a cure, if you had the right credit card. Cancer, however, was a self-righteous bitch that fell into the ten percent that couldn’t be bought. The irony was, most people in our world thought that sons were the only way to keep our underground empire growing. My father didn’t. He felt he was blessed. The men in our family all seemed to die of the same cancer, but the women were made of tougher stuff. My grandmother lived until she was one hundred and four before she passed away, in her sleep, with a gun under her pillow. The reason my mother died was because of a plane crash. I was six when I figured out what my family was. I was brighter than most kids my age, and at seven years old, I was learning to shoot my first gun. By eleven, I was being homeschooled in college algebra, drug cartels, and at my father’s insistence, hand-to-hand combat. By seventeen, I knew the business like the back of my hand. Fedel was right. I would put a bullet in his head in a blink of an eye if he gave me a reason, and I liked Fedel. “Ms. Giovanni, we are now in Chicago,” the pilot informed me as I rose from my seat. Monte, my body guard and third in command opened the plane door, stepping out first, followed by two other men carrying my things. The moron, Nelson, stood at the front of the plane trying his best not to make eye contact with any of us as we reached him. “Ha-ave a g-good day, Ms. Gio-van-ni.” Handing him my jacket, he stared at me wide eyed. “Take it to your sister and let her know how close you came to dying today, and while you are at it, go find your balls before I see you again.” With that I walked out and found a shiny black limo waiting for me. Stopping next to Monte, I tried not to roll my eyes. Where am I going, prom? “Monte, see if you can get me a car, in white . . . and soon.” I sighed. I did not want to be driven. I wanted to drive. I needed to drive. It was one of my four S’s. Swimming, shooting, sex, and speed were the only four things that could help clear my mind. “Yes, ma’am,” he said, pulling out his phone, already speaking to someone. If Fedel was my right hand, then Monte was my left. He was never taken by surprise. He didn’t need to be acknowledged or even seen, and only spoke when necessary. Unlike Fedel and me, he was the only half-Italian. His blond hair made him stick out like Donatella Versace at a Walmart. His fix? He just shaved most of it all off. Fedel stood beside me and handed me my personal phone. There was only one person who had the number. “Ciao, padre, calling to make sure I got on the plane?” I asked, while Monte and Fedel arranged for a new car. He laughed before coughing. “Il mia bambina dolce.2 I would never doubt you. After all, you were the one who renewed the contract.” The contract stated I would willingly marry Liam Alec Callahan and would merge our families. Orlando and Sedric had signed the contract fifteen years ago when they first created it. Then it needed to be signed by Liam and me on our eighteenth birthdays, and one last time during the first year of the marriage. “I did. Has he?” I asked, just as a white Aston Martin pulled up in front of me. Smirking, I turned toward Monte and Fedel and nodded, that was much better. “No, not yet. But he, his father, and brothers will be arriving any moment to do so.” He practically coughed up a lung, but I was used to it. Taking the keys from Monte, I slid in and pointed for him to get in, too. He’d done well. He could ride alongside me. “So I am guessing that means he hasn’t seen the change yet.” This was going to be interesting. “You mean, where you demand to be kept informed and in agreement with his future decisions involving the business?” Orlando laughed. “It will be quite interesting to see his reaction. This isn’t the normal position wives play.” I snorted, pressing my foot on the gas, a row of black sedans followed behind me as I pulled out of the airport. “It’s nonnegotiable. If he wants a stake in my empire, then I need to make sure he doesn’t destroy it. His brother hacked our records this morning. They are aware of how much we are worth. He’s going sign, and he is going accept that I’m not normal. I don’t expect normal,” I said, flying down the back roads that would lead to our Chicago home, despite the fact that we never spent time in Chicago. Now I was stuck here. “You allowed them to hack into our records.” I smiled. Monte looked at me while shaking his head, but chuckled as well. He knew what I was talking about even if he couldn’t hear the whole conversation. Declan was good—great, even. He was one of three people who could crack my level one firewalls—the second was dead—and the third was me. If Callahan didn’t accept, which would make him an idiot, then I would have Declan buried right next to number two. I hated hackers who were against me. “My dear, if you were not my daughter, I would fear you.” I could hear the smile in his voice over the phone. “It’s because I am your daughter that you should fear me.” In his day, Orlando could make grown men cry and beg for a bullet. If Orlando got his hands on them, pain was guaranteed. “You are one of the best who has ever been. But don’t count Liam Callahan out. It may surprise you, but he is just as, if not more, ruthless than you are.” He was right. Liam Callahan was a name many feared. He was known as the “Boogeyman of the East,” and I was the unknown “Wicked Witch of the West.” “Ma’am.” Monte cleared his throat, holding my work phone. “I will see you soon. Addio,”3 I said to my father before hanging up. Monte placed the phone on Bluetooth. “Make my motherfucking day,” I said, breaking the speed limit as I turned the corner. “With pleasure, ma’am,” Fedel replied. “Ryan Ross, Amory Valero’s right-hand man, fucked up big and drove drunk. Guess who picked him up?” “Fedel . . .” I said, my tone laced with anger. He knew better than to ever play guess-who with me. “As luck would have it, Brooks was the one who pulled him over and brought him to us. He’s waiting in the room under the house, so drugged up he can’t see straight . . . but he’s still not talking.” “Goodbye, Fedel,” I said as Monte ended the call. “Motherfucking day made, ma’am?” I just nodded, driving closer and closer to my future husband, my empire, and some new intel. “Yes, Monte, motherfucking day made.” THREE “Murder is born of love, and love attains the greatest intensity in murder.” ~ Octave Mirbeau LIAM “Someone is just a tad bit presumptuous.” Declan snickered into phone. “She’s already packed, Liam.” And sure enough, when my car pulled up to the Italian-styled mansion, I watched as some of Giovanni’s men placed suitcases, what I figured were Melody’s things, into a white suburban near the far side of the house. When they noticed us, they finished as fast they could and disappeared behind the tree sculptures that lined the back. They were all the size of Neal and I couldn’t help wonder how they would fit in with our people. This would be the biggest merger the mafia world had ever seen. The Irish and the Italian were like the English and the French—we had been fighting for generations. “She is just like the rest of them,” I said into the Bluetooth. “In love with Daddy’s credit card. But from the looks of it, she is no worse than Coraline.” “Or your mother,” Declan said as the cars came to a stop. He couldn’t deny his wife was a savage when it came to spending money. She held onto her plastic card with the Jaws of Life, and Declan, being the whipped bastard he was, couldn’t bring himself to stop her. It would have been great if she actually spent the money on herself or the family, but no, she had to sprinkle it throughout the whole city, drawing unneeded attention at times. Neal’s wife, Olivia, was the complete opposite. She would walk right past a starving child and buy herself another pair of shoes. I, just like the rest of them, would have to allow Melody to shop herself crazy as long as I got what I needed. Hanging up, I tried to resist the urge to grin like a fool. Just from getting out of my Audi, I could feel the tides turn in my favor. “Liam,” my father said, stepping in line beside me. “You take the lead on this. I’ll not interfere with whatever happens from this moment on. If you do this, you will have successfully cleared all obstacles in our way, and I will allow you to take my place as Ceann na Conairte. However, until that contract is signed, they are still the enemy. Should you fail, seek comfort in your mother, for you won’t find any in me.” I wouldn’t fucking think of it, I thought bitterly. Outwardly, I nodded and put my business face on. Declan and Neal mimicked my expression. We had talked about the different scenarios this could come down to and were prepared for them all. Neal had four of his snipers outside, and Declan had jammed all frequencies that were not our own. We also had a car positioned less than a block away with men just waiting for the chance to clip the Giovannis’ wings. They were the enemy until the contract declared otherwise. I was more than ready to get the papers signed and continue my blood ascension to Ceann na Conairte. “Incoming,” Neal declared from my left, just as the doors to the mansion opened, revealing an older, jaded-looking man with a scar that ran from his forehead to his chin. “Welcome, Callahans, to the Giovanni Villa. Mr. Giovanni is already waiting and told me to skip the formalities for the time being. I shall escort you to his office.” The older man bowed as though he had come out of Downton fucking Abbey. I knew Declan would have a laugh about that later, but for now, we were working. I nodded, not wanting to waste time with formalities either. We all knew why we were here, and there was no need to bullshit. Usually, my father walked ahead of us, but since I was point man today, I followed the old man inside first. The house was beautiful, rich, and very fucking Italian with vintage ceramic tiles, one too many statues, and the overwhelming scent of roses. It felt more like a museum to ancient Rome than a home. Finally, the old man stopped and didn’t bother to knock before opening a door for us. Stepping in, for the first time in my twenty-seven years I was shocked. It didn’t show on my face, but internally, I was shocked. “If it isn’t my favorite Irish crime family,” Orlando said, coughing and in a wheelchair. The man known as “Iron Hands” was gone. The Giovanni study was filled with ancient scrolls, floor-to-ceiling walls of books, with the exception of one large window, and nineteenth-century handcrafted furniture. However, nothing in here was more priceless than the sight of this old crippled man. His hairless face broke out into a smirk. “Sedric, you trained them well. They didn’t even flinch.” “I am insulted you are just figuring this out now,” my father said and with just a sidelong glance I could tell what he was thinking. He was as shocked as we were. He just hid it well. In the mafia world, Orlando “Iron Hands” Giovanni was the stuff of legends. The things he had done could not be said out loud without making many people sick, or causing them to piss themselves in fear. He was one of the very few men my father respected, and in some way, dreaded. They both had a healthy fear of each other, but the man in front of me now looked like he hadn’t been in the same room with “Iron Hands” for years. This explained why he wanted this merger finalized, I thought. “Please, have a seat. The contract is on the desk,” he said to us. I knew my family wouldn’t make a move. Only the Ceann na Conairte was able to sit down with the enemy, so I unbuttoned my jacket as the rest of them flanked the sides of my chair. “We’ve already read the contract. We simply wish to see your daughter sign it,” I told him. In fact, I had read it so many damn times, I knew it line by fucking line. “Read it again, she has already signed,” he said through a barking cough. Tempted to lose my cool, I glared at Declan, telling him with my eyes to read it. He could read just as fast as I could, and I did not want Orlando see me bend to his games. I would play nice for now, but I was not above beating a man in a wheelchair. “Liam,” Declan snapped, handing me back the paper. It took me a moment to read over the two lines that had been changed. “You’re kidding.” I snickered, handing it up to Neal and my father. “You are asking that she basically babysit how I run my company?” Orlando’s brown eyes narrowed. The fact that he no longer had eyebrows only made him look more ill. “We prefer the term empire,” he stated. “Of course you do.” Fucking Italians and their empires. “Orlando—and I will call you Orlando, not out of disrespect, but because I know that by the end of tonight I will have a ring on your daughter’s finger—your daughter will want for nothing. She will be able to buy the sun twice over if she wanted. She will be taken care of and treated like every other Callahan woman, which is like bloody royalty. In my care, your empire will be treated with the same care and reverence.” Orlando leered before crossing his weak arms. “Pretty words, boy. And I will call you boy because even if you were royalty, you would still never be good enough for my daughter. I did not ask her to babysit you. Melody is smart and will be more than useful. I have no doubt that the empire will be just fine. As your brother saw when he hacked our records.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Declan stiffen beside me. No one ever knew he hacked into their files. It was then that I realized we had been set up. Orlando wanted us to see how much we would lose if we didn’t give in. “Orlando—” “Don’t try to sweet-talk me. I’m Italian, we wrote the book on it. So take the deal or walk away. That’s my only offer. And in case you hadn’t noticed, I don’t have time to waste.” The old motherfucker cut me off. I slid my left hand down and felt the brass knuckles in the pocket of my pants. I wanted bash his face in. The vein at the side of my neck pulsed thickly, as it always did when I became bloodthirsty. My vision began to cloud over with rage. I knew, without a doubt, my father was waiting to see what I would do. Whatever choice I made, he would back me up here and bitch at me at home. I would not let anyone show me up, much less an old-timer halfway to his grave already. Not here, not now, and not ever. The room was silent as I stood up, walked over to his stocked bar, and poured myself a glass of brandy. He wanted to play hardball? So could I. “How much does she even know about the company, excuse me, I mean the empire, as you people call it?” I asked him as I poured. “Enough.” Leering, I turned back to him. “Enough? That’s all you can give me? Orlando, meet me halfway here. You and I both know she may be smart, but no father would ever allow his little princess to see the things we see, or do the things we do.” “She’s a quick learner. Considering the women you’ve been with, is that not enough?” He had a point. Turning to my brother, I drank some more before leaning on Orlando’s desk. It would be mine soon enough. “Neal, dear brother, what do you think?” I asked, taking Orlando’s the pen and point it at him. “As long as she fulfills her other duties, why not? Anything she doesn’t know, you can teach her. It may help bind you both together.” I almost wanted to applaud him. I laughed at the thought. Sometimes, Neal was just so wise. “And Declan, dear cousin, what do you think about this rude, last-minute shift in the contract?” Declan grinned. “Worse comes to worse, you have to waste five minutes explaining things to her. Plus, I kind of like the idea. Maybe if the women knew how hard it was to make a few million, they wouldn’t spend it so quickly.” We all laughed and turned to Orlando who smirked at me with those damn chapped lips of his. I wasn’t sure if it was because he agreed or because all the cancer drugs were messing with his brain. Orlando Giovanni was harder to read than most. “Well then, Orlando, I do believe I’ll be marrying your daughter,” I said with no emotion in my voice. Declan handed me the contract again. Before the pen touched the paper, I stared at the meticulous script that spelled out Melody Nicci Giovanni. I wanted to see her first, but I signed anyway. My father had always told me to pick my battles so that I could have energy to survive the war. There was too much riding on this for me to refuse just because I would have to get an okay from a little princess. Besides we were married, I would keep her too busy to care. “You aren’t going to seek counsel from your father?” Orlando asked as I signed away my soul. “His bride, his choice,” my father said, speaking for the first time, and with just as much emotion as I had. None. “My choice it is,” I repeated, handing the sickly man, my future father-in-law, the papers. We shook hands, and I tried to force myself not to snap his in half. “I would like to see whom I have chosen.” “But of course,” he said, ringing a bell that echoed throughout the room. Finishing the last of his horrible brandy, I waited. When the door opened, I felt my cock try to detach itself. The girl who walked in was an ugly duckling with thick and messy dark brown hair, dark glasses, and goddamn braces. Fuck it all to the seven levels of hell! my mind screamed. “Just think, underground heroin fields. When would you like that plastic surgeon’s number?” Neal murmured beside me. I could hear the laughter being held back in his voice. He cared about those damn underground heroin fields so much, you would think he did fucking heroin himself. “Ms. Bianchi, where is my daughter?” Orlando asked, and my blood pressure dropped while my cock rose in hope. I could have sworn I heard the old man snicker. “Closest fucking call of your life,” Declan uttered, as we waited for the ugly duckling’s reply. The timid girl glanced at us, but did not answer. Instead, she kept her eyes glued to the floor. If she didn’t speak up soon, I would twist her ugly little head off. “It’s fine, Adriana. The man before you is Melody’s fiancé. You may speak freely,” Orlando told her while I was losing my goddamn patience. Bowing at us first, she rose and gave me her full attention, standing with so much pride it almost distracted from her appearance . . . almost. “Good morning, sir. The Boss is in a meeting in the basement,” she said, making us all freeze. Everyone in our world knew that fucking word. “Is this some sort of joke?” “Who do you think has been running things while I die, gentlemen?” He snickered, before turning away from us. “If you don’t believe me, you are free to go to the basement. But be forewarned, you won’t meet a woman who needs to be taught anything. Benvenuti nella famiglia,4 Callahans.” Flaming, I turned back to my father who was still staring at the sick man in the chair. “Did you know this?” I glared at him, only to have him glare right back. Most days, I knew my place under my father, but the tides were shifting. I was rising, and I needed to know if he had held information from me. “No, Liam, I was not aware. It seems to have been a well-kept secret, but does explain the recent growth of the Giovanni Empire,” he replied, seeming somewhat baffled by the thought of it as well. “No fucking way a girl has been behind all this,” Neal said like a child. “Take us to her then,” I commanded the girl, and she nodded. I would see this Melody and find out if she was truly the Boss they had dared to call her. “Sedric, may I share words with you for a moment?” My father nodded, no longer caring what I chose to do. One last time I turned to Orlando, who didn’t even bother looking back as we left. It must have been a grim day for him. He would lose a company and a daughter. I didn’t pity him, though—he’d be dead soon enough. The ugly duckling didn’t speak, or even bother breathing, until we reached the end of the hall that was guarded by two of Giovanni’s men. From the corner of my eye, I saw both Declan and Neal slowly reach for their guns. In Declan’s left hand, his cellphone was ready to call in more guns if this was a trick. But my instincts and common sense told me that Orlando really was dying and he wanted to marry off his daughter first. What I didn’t know was what to believe about said daughter. “Sir.” The men glanced at me before opening the door, only to reveal an elevator with Fedel Morris inside. He was the bastard son of Gino Morris, one of the fucking mutts who had the balls to break into our safe house and kill fifteen of our men sixteen years ago. It was the reason my father pushed for this goddamn contract. “This is as far as I can go, sir. It was a pleasure to be of service,” Adriana said to us, giving me a short bow again before stepping back. “Mr. Callahan,” the mutt said with forced respect, making space for us in the elevator. The moment we were all inside, Neal took a step next to him, clearly itching for an excuse to pull the trigger. He knew Neal was there but did not say a word or even flinch when Declan reloaded loudly. All any of us could hear when we stepped out of the elevator was a man gasping for air as water splashed around him. We were a level up from where they were waterboarding the man. The basement was just one giant gym with a boxing ring in the corner. They had cleared everything on the ground floor to make room for their prisoner. As I stepped up to the rail, a few eyes fell on me. The men gave me a short nod as if they understood the shift happening within their company. Each one of them looked just as deadly as our men, and they all stood silently, allowing the man’s underwater screams to echo around the space. “Enough,” a gentle voice called out, and each man stood straighter when the most beautiful woman I had ever seen stepped forward. Even from where I stood, I could tell she was perfection. From her wavy, black hair, flawless olive skin, and deep brown eyes, to her perfect hourglass figure. The knee-length white dress she wore hugged each one of her toned curves and, God, her tight ass—fuck. Her lips demanded to be kissed, and my cock demanded I have my way with her right then and there. “Melody Nicci Giovanni, head of the Giovanni family and the Boss,” Fedel informed us. Neal stepped up to see the goddess below. “Holy shitcock, motherfucking damn,” he said, his mouth dropping open. “Neal,” I said, without emotion. The last thing I wanted the Italians to believe was that we were impressed. Nodding, Neal returned to the same cold monster I needed at my side. Declan met my gaze, telling me he was on the same wavelength as Neal. If it weren’t for the obnoxiously loud gasping coming from the man below us, all three of us would have forgotten he was there. But when I looked closer, I realized who it was they were waterboarding. Ryan Ross. How the fuck did they get him? “Ryan, as much as I would like to draw this out, I am late for a meeting with my fiancé, and I hate being late,” Melody stated, as a blonde man stepped forward, holding her jewelry on a white fucking pillow. “To hell with you and your fiancé. You no good Italian cunt bitc—” Before he could finish, one of the men who had held him down smashed his fist several times into his face. “It’s Boss or Ms. Giovanni,” the man said, spitting on him. “Nothing more. Nothing less.” Melody frowned and even that made me hard. She had beautiful lips. “I didn’t want to do this,” she said, putting her earrings in before being handed a gun. Spitting the blood from his mouth, Ryan smiled. “Do it. I’d rather die than talk to you, bitch.” “Who said this was for you?” Melody smiled back as two men dragged a sobbing female forward and placed her on a chair in front of the scum. Ryan’s eyes widened as he looked at her. “The Valero don’t know about your special friend, do they? They aren’t big on you fucking women outside the ones they offer you. You tried really hard to keep her a secret,” she said, walking behind him. It made my blood boil at how close she was to him. “Did you know she’s pregnant?” Melody asked, causing the girl to hold on to her flat stomach and sob even louder. “Two lives saved if you just tell me what I want to know.” She loaded the gun. He didn’t say a word, even as the girl begged him. “So this is your answer then, Ryan?” Melody asked slowly. “I will kill her.” He still did not speak. Sighing, she fired not once, not twice, but repeatedly, only stopping when the girl’s lifeless body fell from the chair. She didn’t even flinch. Instead, she walked toward the girl and emptied the rest of her clip into the body. When she was done, she turned back to the now blood-spattered Ryan who sat wide-eyed and shaken. This must have happened often, because her men went to work, carrying the body and cleaning up the blood on the ground, which hadn’t touched her. They brought a new blood-free chair for her to sit on and handed her a pair of heels. All of which happened in a matter of seconds. They moved like the military. “Does it make me a hypocrite if I still consider myself pro-life?” She didn’t even blink as she stepped into her white shoes. “She’s just as fucking merciless as you are,” Neal uttered in disbelief. In a single moment, though, she had gone against everything I ever believed. This was not the role I wanted my future wife to play. She was too beautiful for the blood and the darkness. She should be upstairs, flipping through catalogs and painting her pretty little nails, or waiting in our bed for me to have her. This could not stand, and this would not be her role. I was to become the Boss and the Ceann na Conairte. She was to stand at my side so the Italians would fall in line. Not that I could deny how sexy I found it. My mind hated this . . . saw the danger in this . . . but my body lusted after it painfully. My cock throbbed for her. Declan snickered to my right. “Right now, you wish the biggest thing you had to deal with was a charity junkie for a wife.” I couldn’t agree more. I would have to fix this situation and fast. “Everyone out!” I roared, making every last one of the inhabitants of the room look at me as though I had lost my mind. The eyes that shined with the most rage were those of my beautiful, soon-to-be wife. Oh well, this would be her first lesson. There was one Boss, only one Ceann na Conairte, and it was not her. FOUR “Every murder turns on a bright hot light, and a lot of people . . . have to walk out of the shadows.” ~ Albert Maltz ORLANDO “Thank you for lying to him. I know it is not your forte.” I coughed. I was always bloody coughing. I wanted nothing more than to rip my damn throat from my neck. “Yes, well,” Sedric said, handing me a glass of brandy. “One day he may thank me for keeping the identify of your daughter secret.” With shaky hands, I held on to the glass before tossing the contents down my throat. It helped the hacking this damn cancer caused, but not by much. “She’s your daughter now.” I hated saying it. I couldn’t even meet his gaze. I just stared at the empty glass. My own hands looked so foreign to me. When had I become this man? This broken and tired old man who was frustrated at watching the sun come up in the morning and seeing the moon fill the night sky? When had I become tired of living? In my youth, all I did was live, some say a little too much, but I knew this was to be my future. Even now it wasn’t enough. I wanted to live more. I wanted more. It was the curse of being a Giovanni. We wanted it all, even if we didn’t know it yet. I rode like lightning and— “Orlando?” Snapping out of my trance, I stared at the gracefully graying man before me with slight envy. Even now, he did not look a day over thirty-something. The Callahans, I swear, had found the Fountain of Youth. “My apologizes. What did you say?” I frowned, trying to sit up, but my body was my prison and I couldn’t. Walking over to me, Sedric slowly lifted me up with one hand. “I said, she would forever be your daughter. I wish to know why you didn’t tell me about the cancer. I wouldn’t have used it against you.” “Liar.” He couldn’t help himself, a small grin spread across his face. “I didn’t wish for anyone to know, Mel included. But that damn girl was too bloody smart for her own good and blackmailed the doctors into telling her.” Snickering, I grabbed the bottle off my desk, spilling a few drops on my hands. Sedric nodded, staring out the window as he drank. “When I first found out about her, I was shocked and angry that you would allow your daughter to get tied into the life we have chosen. I had to see it with my own eyes, and watching her chop off two men’s hands down in Mexico sure did the trick.” “So you saw her on a good day.” His eyebrow rose, and all I could do was snort. “I didn’t allow Mel to do anything. She doesn’t ask for permission. She takes what she wants. By the time you’ve figured out what happened, it’s too late to stop her. I didn’t even realize it when she started taking over. One moment she was helping me balance cocaine and clean guns, the next she was telling me not to worry because she already knew what to do. I tried to fight her, but the damn girl’s plans always worked so well. I was left speechless.” “Your empire may have needed us once upon a time, but not now. I must admit, she has done well, frighteningly well, in fact. You could have terminated the contract,” he said, and he was right, I could have. Any self-respecting Boss would never have shared his or her throne with another, and yet here we were. “If Mel was a man, no one would dare deny she has the capability to be the best there ever was. But there will always be a fool who thinks she can be run over, and she would never stop fighting. If someone backed her into a corner, she would either fight or tear down the wall and attack them from behind.” I chuckled. It was one of the things I loved about her. That fire in her eyes reminded me so much of her mother. “My son is not going to just let her rule. In fact, I fear the years of peace we’ve enjoyed inside my house will be on hiatus.” Sedric grinned and I knew he was looking forward to it. Behind his polished accent and polite demeanor, he enjoyed chaos. I had an old bullet wound in my arm to prove it. “But”—he turned back to me—“that is not your only reason, Orlando. If you minded her fighting, you would have locked her away from it all the moment she was born. The fighting does not bother you. What does?” Damn Irish bastard, I thought as I glared at him. “The difference between a female and male Boss is that the female sells not only her soul, but her heart. Mel hasn’t felt anything but rage in years. She is walled-off and will stay that way if she does not marry. Even if she were to hate him, at least I know she will never be alone. She will still have a family.” Everyone she has ever loved has died, and I was well on my way, too. In return, Mel died a long time ago. Sedric frowned, shaking his head. “It is odd. You believe that Melody needs Liam to end the loneliness, and I believe Liam needs Melody to not fear being alone. He has all the makings of a Ceann na Conairte. I knew it the very first day he was born. Neal was . . . not mentally strong enough. He doesn’t have it. But Liam? He was born for it. It is in his DNA. Even as a child he loved to leave his mark on everything.” “But?” I coughed. “But behind Liam’s façade, he craves to be loved, and he hates to be alone.” He frowned, hating that he had to admit the truth, and that was the truth. “He is not focused as he should be and is too compassionate sometimes. I blame his mother for that.” “And compassion is only for the family,” I said. He nodded. “He is merciless in many ways. But to be the Ceann na Conairte, you must not show mercy to anyone but your family. You are cold. You are distant. You enjoy the blood, the death. Liam kills, but he does not relish in it as he should. If he did, the Valero would fear him as they fear you, or should I say, the woman now acting as you.” “I must ask you for something, Sedric,” I added, wishing more than anything to never have to speak the words that were about to break free from my lips. “Whatever it is, say it, and I will have it done,” he said, only making the ache in my heart burn more. Swallowing my pride I nodded. “I wish for you to walk Mel down the aisle.” There was a pause, and he searched my eyes. “Are you sure?” I nodded. My bambina dolce5 deserved to walk down the aisle and be proud. She would argue about how proud she was of me already. How she didn’t care that I would cough throughout the ceremony, or that I needed to be pushed down the aisle, or the fact that more people would be focused on me rather than her. But I cared, and I did not want that. If I went and our enemies saw how weak I was, they would try to use that against her, against her empire. “I will call Evelyn, and she will have everything ready in three days. You can watch from a secret room. No one will see you,” he said with a grateful nod. Offering any more than that, and he might as well carve out my heart. “Do you not feel like we are Pandora just as she is about to open her box?” I grinned at him. “They will bring chaos like we never could, and we did it simply with the hope of bettering them for the future.” Sedric chortled before finishing off his brandy. “Yes, in a twisted sort of way.” “We do live in a twisted world,” I replied as the door opened to reveal Adriana once again. “Yes?” “Mr. Giovanni, Mr. Callahan. I am sorry to intrude, but I was told to come get you both,” she said with her head down. “Why is that?” Sedric asked with a coldness in his voice that he hadn’t had since our conversation started. “The Boss and Mr. Callahan apparently cleared the room in the basement so they could be alone and no one was to enter. But, a few minutes later, a gun went off.” FIVE “It’s a pity you didn’t know when you started your game of murder, that I was playing, too.” ~ Robb White MELODY Who in the fuck is asking to die? I glared toward the back of the room, searching for the face behind the voice that had dared interrupt me. My blood boiled. Liam, soon-to-be-fucking-dead, Callahan was walking down the stairs—my fucking stairs—with his sex hair high and his green eyes sharper than razor blades. He was beautiful, and I almost regretted the fact that I would have to put a bullet in his head and then smash it through a fucking wall. “So, this is the man behind the bitch?” Ryan laughed. Before I could even stop myself, I brought the butt of my gun across his face and did not stop smashing it until I heard a sick pop. I beat him into unconsciousness and left him slumped in his chair, his eyes swollen shut. Wiping the blood from my face, I took a deep breath and held the gun up for Monte before I turned back to face the fuckable idiot. “You overstep, Callahan.” He looked me up and down with both disgust and lust. “Do I? I believe you’re mistaken, love. After all, I just signed a very powerful document making all of this mine.” “Did your father pay for your Dartmouth diploma? Because you don’t seem to be good at reading.” I glared at him, trying not to let the thick waves of lust that radiated off him bother me. “That paper says you work with me after our marriage, Callahan, and we are not married yet so you’re still a fucking guest in my fucking house.” He smirked and it was sexy, dangerously so, and I wanted to kill him for it. “Be a good fiancée and tell your pets to leave, or I will put them down, sweetheart.” His green eyes assessed at me as though I was his shiny new toy. Do not kill. Do not kill. Melody, stay calm and do not kill him. I wasn’t going to lose my cool in front of my men. Glancing across the room, each of them stood with their hands tensed at their sides, waiting for me to give the word. Just a tip of my head would signal them to put as many fucking bullets as possible into the motherfucker in front of me. “Monte, Fedel, take Mr. Ross and wake him up. If he doesn’t cooperate, please show him the live feed we have of his brother, whom he also failed to hide, and the bomb in his house.” I never broke eye contact with Liam. “The rest of you, leave.” I could hear their feet as they followed my orders and ran like roaches in the daylight. The only men who didn’t move were the two I recognized as Liam’s brother and cousin. “That applies to you two as well.” They grinned and looked to Liam. He raised an eyebrow at me. “They stay here.” Taking a step forward, I stopped when he was a little more than an inch away from me. I could feel his breath on the tip of my nose, and smiled sweetly. “Only if they’re in body bags,” I said, stepping around Liam and scowling at the two men who had yet to leave. “You have two seconds.” They shifted their eyes toward the man standing behind me once more before heading toward the door. The moment it shut, I spun around, fist flying toward his head. It met his palm. Grabbing my fist, he flung me into the chair Ryan had occupied. He cupped my cheek with one hand, and with the other, he held both my wrists tight. “First, your joke?” he said, panting in my face like a lion eager for the chance to jump his prey. “Not funny.” “Second.” He brushed his thumb over my lips. “The moment the ink touched that fucking paper, you were mine. Mine to fuck. Mine to fucking command, and mine to put in your fucking place.” “Third.” He kissed me brutally before pulling away. “All this is over. You sit at my side and you stay beautiful, like a lady.” I stared at him wide-eyed. “Is that all, master?” He grinned, but before he could speak again, I pulled my head back and smashed it against his fucking nose. His head went back and his grip on me loosened. I brought my knees back just far enough to kick in him in the crotch, causing him to release me completely. “You fucking—” he started, but I didn’t let him finish speaking before sideswiping his legs out from under him. With my now-ruined white Gucci heels on his neck, I glared down at him. “First,” I said, pressing into his neck, “get used to this position, because you’re my bitch, not the other way around.” “Second, do not ever put your fucking lips on me without my permission!” He twisted my foot and brought me down to the ground, pinning me there with the weight of his body, before I could get to my third point Fury burned in his eyes as he breathed roughly through his nose. “My mother told me never to hit a woman, but you are pushing my limits.” “Funny, my father told me the same thing. Would you like me to apologize?” I pushed my thumbs to his eyes, forcing his hands to let go of my throat. We fought and struggled on the ground like savage animals before he picked me up and threw me into the nearest wall. I grabbed a chair and smashed it against his side. It went on and on, each of us trying our best to kill the other without actually killing each other. When I landed a kick to his side, he fucking grabbed me like a ragdoll and flung me across the room. It was nothing. Instead of letting myself feel the pain, I jumped back up. My heels were now long gone, and the dress I had changed into just to meet him was torn up the sides. His suit jacket had been lost in the heat of the battle, his shirt was ripped, and his tie was barely hanging around his neck. His hair was even more disheveled, and eyes were wilder than the fucking jungle. When my fist collided with his cheek, he drew his gun and aimed it directly at my face. He stalled when he got a good look at me. Panting like the beast he was, the lust in his eyes returned in full force. Without a second thought, he pushed me up against the wall before attacking me with kisses. His mouth was everywhere, from my neck down to the front of my chest, back to the sides of my face, before it met mine again. He gripped my ass with one hand and my breast with the other, the one that still held his gun. I felt his hard-on pushing against my waist, trying its best to find its way inside me. His actions were barbaric, almost animalistic, like a man dying of thirst, and the only source of water was my skin. I loved every moment of it. But I would not let him win. I would not bow down to him. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever. He was so busy trying to figure out how to get the zipper of my dress down that taking the gun from him was like taking candy from a baby. Frantically rubbing himself against me even harder, closer, he almost just let me have the firearm. With one great push, I forced his body to separate from mine, which surprisingly missed his warmth already. He stared at me with desperation. I pointed the gun and pulled the trigger, causing his leg to buckle. He started in shock as the bullet went through his thigh, then roared in pain as he fell down on one knee. That’s right, hail to the Boss. “Third, if you ever interrupt me again, Liam Alec Callahan, may God have mercy on your soul when I send you meet to him.” I kissed him on the cheek and removing the clip from the gun, along with the bullet in the chamber, before walking toward the door. When I opened it, my men were there with guns drawn on Declan and Neal, who mirrored their poses. It explained why neither of them had come in. They couldn’t check the door without putting their backs to the enemy. My men all looked me up and down with proud grins on their faces. “What would you like us to do with them, ma’am?” one of them, Antonio Franco, asked, grinning wider than the rest of them. Antonio hated the Callahans as much as Fedel did. He wasn’t as close to me as Monte or Fedel, but he was as loyal as they come. He and his father had worked for Orlando long before I took over. Getting him to fall in line had meant getting the older ones—the ones who were still bitter that I, a female, and a young one at that, was now Boss—to fall in line. I turned to my family-in-law and smiled before reaching out to shake their hands. “I apologize for not being properly introduced. As you know, I’m Melody Nicci Giovanni, but you may call me Mel.” They didn’t shake back. Instead they glared, their guns still raised. “Oh, right, your brother.” I pretended to forget. “He is a little beat up and will need a doctor. But don’t worry—the shot was clean through and through. He’ll be walking in a few hours. You may check on him, and I will have Adriana show you to your rooms.” I nodded to my men, directing them to drop their weapons—they frowned but complied—before following me toward the elevator. It opened to reveal not only my father, but also the eldest Mr. Callahan. Making me realize, once again, the Callahans were blessed with almost a little too much pretty for my liking. My father looked me up and down before shaking his head and sighing while Sedric just stared with no expression on his face. “Did my son do this to you?” he asked, looking at my slightly bruised arms and legs, cut lips, and messed up hair. “It was a small disagreement.” I smiled. “And I shot him for it. If he weren’t my future husband, it would have been worse. I do hope we can be introduced properly later, Mr. Callahan, as I find your past work fascinating.” And with that I stepped into the elevator as it reopened. It was only when the doors were closing that I saw Liam’s brother and cousin rush back into the room to collect him. I withheld my laughter. “I’m shocked you didn’t shoot him in the kneecap for that shit, ma’am,” Antonio said as we made our way up. I smiled. “How would I look with a handicapped husband, Antonio?” The moment we reached the top floor, I headed straight into my room. I had it conjoined with my father’s once he became worse. I almost sighed at the feeling of the soft carpet on my bare feet. This room, my room, was my sanctuary. The day I took over, I had it remodeled to a more eighteenth-century Roman décor—paintings included. Changing into a white and gold bathing suit, I headed toward the swimming pool. I felt dirty and downright tired, but the last thing I wanted was for the bruises on my skin to linger more than a few hours. The way to avoid that was to take a swim in ice water. It would sting at first, but a few hours later my skin, and my mind, would be good as new—clear. God knew it was fucked up now. I could still feel his hands all over me, demanding and possessive. His lips as they bit into my neck, my ear, and at last my lips. He wasn’t just a good kisser, he was a sensual kisser. He wanted to make sure, with just one kiss, that I was wet for him and willing to give in. Had I been anyone else, it would have worked. There was no doubt in my mind that he knew what to do and how to do it. He was a force, and I wouldn’t have minded, if he hadn’t come into my house and tried to make me into his little Stepford wife. In the pool, I shivered, but I needed to try to escape him. I couldn’t, though. He was there pushing his way to the front of my mind. I hated him. I loathed him. I lusted after him, and it made me angry with myself. Even in the cold water, as I swam I felt him pressing against me. I felt the electricity of his hands, his sensual tongue. I couldn’t deny that I wanted him. I would have to figure out how to have him and, at the same time, make him understand that I was not surrendering to his will. Not even close. It was my choice. It was going to be animalistic and wild and a way for me to wind down. When I finally came back up for air, there he was, the object of all my anger, rage, and lust sitting poolside in a fresh suit with a bandage over his leg—a leg that was resting on my pool chair. Rising out of the water, I reached for my towel while his eyes raked over my body. “See something you like?” I asked, squeezing the cold water from my hair. He frowned. “Sadly, yes, but it’s an illusion. The moment you get close, it turns into a ruthless savage and shoots you in the thigh with your own gun.” “If I turned into a ruthless savage, it was only because another ruthless savage stepped into my arena. If you came for an apology, look elsewhere. Now, get the fuck up,” I said. Glaring, he got up. The moment I sat down, he grabbed my hand and I saw in his eyes that he felt whatever spark it was that coursed through us. He leaned in, catching my gaze in his own. He stopped just inches from my face before I heard a click near my wrist. Looking down, I saw that he had handcuffed my wrist and my ankle to the chair. “After that display earlier, I believe you need a time out.” He chuckled, kissing my forehead like I was some pet or child. “You were swimming so long you missed dinner, so I did you a favor and brought you some.” He pointed to the dish that was only attainable with my free hand. “I will come to get you in the morning.” “What makes you think I can’t pick a lock you son of a bitch?” I sneered, pulling on the damn handcuffs. “I filled the locks with cement. You can’t pick it love, believe me, I’ve used them before,” he said, brushing the side of my face. “If you ever hold a weapon to me again, Melody, I will handcuff you fucking upside down and underwater.” He kissed me again, this time on the mouth, and with my free hand, I slapped him across the fucking face. His head snapped to the side before he turned back to me and winked. Smug, sexy bastard. With his free hand, he slid an obnoxiously large diamond engagement ring onto my finger. He let go and grabbed a few more towels, dropped them over me, and walked toward the exit. “Say you’re sorry and I will free you now, love, and then we can start anew.” He was trying to break me, the fucker. “Fuck you and the Audi you drove up in.” Frustrated, he ran his hands through his hair before shaking his head. “We will talk later, then. Eat. I wouldn’t want to bring you home to my mother sick. I will make sure the room stays warm. I sent everyone else to bed for the night. Goodnight, wife.” “Fuck you, fiancé,” I said, leaning back in the chair. I was fine until he turned off the lights and shut the door. He didn’t know. No one knew except for my father. I had an irrational fear of the dark. Even though there was still the dimmest light from the pool illuminating the small area, I could still feel the fear creeping up my spine. There was no way in hell I was spending the night here. Sighing, I tried to calm myself before pulling the chair and myself to the edge of the water before jumping in. I was going to get out of this tonight, even if I had to break my hand to do so. Hopefully, the chair would break against the walls first. Either way, he would not win. SIX “Murderers are not monsters, they’re men. And that’s the most frightening thing about them.” ~ Alice Sebold LIAM “Have I taught you nothing?” my father asked, his voice a pitch above a whisper as I read the files on the desk before me. “No father, actually, you have taught me quite a lot,” I replied before I took another drink of Orlando’s horrible brandy. “Why do you ask?” “Do not be coy with me boy. What happened between you and Melody today was unacceptable. You beat your wife—” “She is not my wife yet,” I said, smashing my hand against the oak desk and rising from the chair. “This woman, this Melody Giovanni, is insane, borderline demented, and she took a swing at me. It escalated, and then she . . . she shot me through the fucking leg!” Sedric glared, his eyes blazing as he stepped forward. “As she should have. You had no right to interrupt her. If the tables were reversed, what would you have done?” I would have killed the person slowly. “You cannot possibly be on her side. You should be on my side.” I almost wanted to laugh at the thought. “Imagine if it had been Mom, or Coraline, or Olivia. What would you have said to them if you saw them act as Melody did?” “What are you? Four? I am on the side of the family, as you should be. It was not your mother, or Coraline, or Olivia. It was Melody. Melody, who will become your wife in less than seventy-two hours. Make peace with her.” Seventy-two hours? “Why in the hell are we getting married in three days?” “So you don’t kill each other before the week is out. The press has been notified, and by morning, the world will know. Every gossip column, every news outlet, and every damn mafia member in the world will know the Giovannis and the Callahans are one. This means you two will have to pretend so fucking well, you fool yourselves that this isn’t just some arranged marriage, or so help me God, I will set you both on fire.” The fact that my father, Sedric Callahan, had just raised his voice and cursed in the same breath was proof enough he was serious. He had set a man on fire before . . . two actually. Taking a seat once again, I turned and stared at the roaring fire that lit Orlando’s office. This day had not gone how I planned, and while my bones were aching for sleep, my mind could not stop racing. “Son, do I approve of what Melody does? No. I do not, and that is because of the simple fact that I was raised differently. And by a man much more controlling than myself. The strongest survive, however, and the key to survival is to evolve with your environment. We have made so many strides. No longer are we just uneducated thugs with guns. We have evolved, the mafia has evolved, and now it’s your turn. Melody Giovanni is your evolution, embrace it and make peace.” It was only when the door shut after him that I allowed myself to relax. I filled my mouth with the horrible brown liquid in my hands, but even that didn’t help my mind drift from the beautiful, dark-eyed woman who was to become my wife. Our moment in the basement made my blood boil and other parts of me ache. She did not fight like a woman, but like a trained man, and the way she had looked—like a lioness about to rip apart her prey—made me want her even more. I almost had her on that damn wall, and she had wanted it. I had felt her nipples respond to me as they pressed against my chest through the thin material of her dress. Her eyes were begging, and her lips had parted for me as she held back moans of pleasure. Even her olive skin warmed beneath my hands. I would have taken her against that wall many times over and given her the pleasure we both hungered for, but instead, the wench shot me. She fucking shot me. I’d been so shocked and horny that my mind couldn’t even comprehend what had happened. My thigh was burning like fire when she kissed my cheek and walked away. With that one shot, she had proven that breaking her was not possible. She would never convert to what I needed her to be. She was a ruthless savage, and if you cannot break a ruthless savage, you need to figure out how to tame them. I needed to make Melody understand that she was not above me. That she did not give the orders. That she did not move mountains or cause tornados to rip through the sky. I did. I had worked too long and too hard to let anyone stop me, least of all her. I would have rather died than give up my fucking claim to this family. When I found out what my father did for a living, I saw how people created paths for him as he walked in crowded buildings. I watched as governors, senators, bankers, and fucking judges alike kissed his feet. I knew what I wanted to do. Some people, like Neal and Declan, were simply born into the family, but I knew I was born to rule the mafia. It was beyond my fucking calling, it was in my blood. It was what pushed me daily, and the only person who ever stood in the way of that was my father. I should have taken over on my twenty-first birthday. I looked forward to that day, but not so I could drink legally—I had been drinking since I was fifteen—but because I had wanted to hear him say it. I had wanted to hear my father tell the world that I was to take over the company, but instead, all he did was give me an island and pat me on the back. His explanation was that it is not the time. He was the damn Ceann na Conairte. He made the fucking time, and the rest of us followed it. Melody was eighteen and legal at that point, so it wasn’t as though he was waiting for her. But each year after that, I waited, killing anyone who dared to get in my way, and now to have to deal with my wife-to-be? It was fucking bullshit, and I never saw it coming. “Today has been interesting, dear cousin,” Declan stated, walking in and heading straight to the bar. Forget crack, we Callahans were addicted to brandy and drank it like it was water. “Interesting does not even begin to cover what happened today,” I said. “My fiancée shot me with my own gun.” Declan grinned, the little fucker, before taking a seat on the couch. “How did she manage to disarm the greatness that is Liam Callahan? I have seen you draw, load, and shoot your gun in three seconds flat.” I frowned, knowing that he knew and simply wanted to hear me say it. Sometimes I wished he would go fuck himself. “She looks like a sweet little lamb from afar, but when you get close, you find out she skinned and ate the damn thing just to use it as a coat. She’s a beast.” I glared at the fire, remembering similar flames in her eyes as she shot me. It was like she had figured out how to make hell reflect in her gaze. “I like lamb,” Declan said. “Shut up, you dick.” I threw my glass at his head, but he dodged it, allowing it to shatter against the wall. He only laughed. “Does this pent up frustration I feel radiating off you have anything to do with the fact that you want her so badly? That’s how she got the gun. You were feeling her up and—” “And she took it from me and shot me like a dog. Yes, cousin, that’s how it happened.” I did not want him thinking about her firm ass in my hand or the bullet hole, which was now in my leg. “And yet, you still want her, you sick fuck.” He drank. “I don’t blame you, though, she is—” “Finish that sentence and it will be your last one. Cousin or not.” Already I was reaching for my loaded gun. Raising his hands, glass still in his left, he nodded with a grin. “You are possessive. I wonder what your future wife thinks about that.” “I don’t give a flying fuck what she thinks about it, and what would Coraline have to say about your words over Melody?” I asked, knowing full well how pussy whipped he was. “She would be pissed off, so much so that I hope she shoots me in the thigh. We’ve never had that kind of foreplay before.” I cringed at the thought of it. “And I’m the sick fucker?” “No more than you,” he replied, stretching. “Where is the queen anyway? She wasn’t at lunch or dinner. I think I’ve seen everyone but her since then.” Walking over to the bar, I grabbed another glass. “Oh, sweet Mary, mother of shit, what did you do?” Declan asked, rising from the chair. “My mother would have your tongue for speaking like that,” I replied, knocking back a glass before pouring another. “Not before taking yours for what happened today. I should have known you would retaliate.” Rolling my eyes at him, I walked over to the desk and gathered my files. “I handcuffed her to one of the chairs in the pool house and left her some dinner. I’ll get her in the morning.” “You can’t be serious, Liam,” he said, causing me to turn to him. He should have known better than to doubt me. “Okay, you’re serious.” He frowned. “But you can’t leave her there all night. If this was how she was with a good night’s sleep, imagine how irritated she is going to be in the morning. Do you want her to be like that for your mother?” He had a point, but I was fucking pissed. “I’m not going to do it.” If I released her, it would be as though I was saying she was right. That she was Boss. I wasn’t going to bow down to her. “You hard headed son of a—” “Mr. Callahan.” Adriana, the ugly duckling, came in, already dressed in an ancient nightgown as though she had come out of the fucking middle ages. Declan held back his laugh by filling his mouth with brandy, while I just turned to the poor, time-confused girl in front me. “Yes, ugl . . . Adriana?” I asked. She glared at me as though she knew what I almost said. “The Boss wanted me to ask you what time you will be departing in the morning?” Declan spit out the drink in his mouth, coughing like a dying man before laughing hysterically. I stared at her for a moment before stomping out of the room without answering. I had made sure all her men had been far away. There was no way she should have fucking been able to get out of those cuffs. They were designed by me and made with reinforced steel. Bursting into the indoor pool house, I froze. “Oh, my dear cousin, you have met your equal, and it is funny as shit to watch,” Declan muttered, standing right beside me as I stared at the broken chair, now resting in its watery grave. It looked as though a monster had ripped its legs and arms off. Seeing as how I only handcuffed her to one of each, it baffled me. The food was still uneaten and the towels all rested at the bottom of the pool as well. “I’m going to bed,” I told the grinning fool who was my cousin. “Sleep with one eye open, cousin, and your hand on your gun. She may just kill you tonight,” Declan said as I walked back to the room I was given for the night. When I entered, there sat my reinforced steel cuffs in tiny pieces all over my now shot up bed. On top of that, a fucking note by hers truly, in her precise handwriting, with a bullet taped to it. I came to visit you honey, so we could finish what we started in the basement, but you and your cousin were busy giggling like schoolgirls. Oh well, I hope you have a good night. About the bed, well . . . you can understand right, sweetheart? Checkmate. Melody Giovanni I could hear her laughter ringing in my fucking ears. Checkmate? She thought this was checkmate? We hadn’t even started playing yet. Beaming, I jumped on the bullet-infested bed, kicking up feathers, before pulling out my phone and dialing quickly. “Hello, mother? I’m sorry it’s late.” “I was beginning to think you had forgotten about me. I miss you all. The house is to quiet I can’t think. Oh how is Melody? Is she beautiful? I met Orlando once and he was looker. I’m sure—” “Yes, I have missed you as well. Yes, Melody is . . . she is one of a kind Mom, one of a kind. I was calling to see if you wouldn’t mind having a welcoming party for her. Just to show her how happy I am to have her in my life.” “Really? Someone sounds smitten. The whole family?” I wanted to roll my eyes. “Yes, the whole family. Can you do it? She is almost as maniacal as Olivia.” “Are you sure she isn’t tired. I thought she just came into town today.” “She won’t be tired at all.” “Sure! I’m so excited. I’ll get right on it.” When she hung up, I grinned. My mother would do what she always did for celebrations. She would go over the top. I knew now that Melody could lie down with the lowest and roll in the dirt like a motherfucking pro. But she wouldn’t be able to contain herself with the family. They shit rainbows and unicorns, and while she was distracted, it would give me time to work on a new lead I had on the Valero. I was planning something huge for those motherfuckers, and I was going to use information I had acquired from Orlando’s files to do it. The Giovannis’ contacts were now my contacts. I almost wanted to say checkmate fucking now. But I wondered how she would feel when I used her work and multiplied the destruction by twenty. She was playing childish games, and I was no child. This wasn’t about who could outdo whom, this was me proving a point. I would kill two birds with one stone. The Valero would never see it coming, and I would make my mark as the new Ceann na Conairte and Boss. Sleep tight, my little Giovanni, for tomorrow, you will dance like my very own puppet on strings, I thought, lifting my hand behind my head and grinning. SEVEN “We kill everybody, my dear. Some with bullets, some with words, and everybody with our deeds. We drive people into their graves, and neither see it nor feel it.” ~ Maxim Gorky MELODY “Which one, ma’am?” Adriana held up two teal dresses for me to wear for my first day with the bloody Irish clan, but I really didn’t care what I wore as long as I got through the damn day. “Dr. Anderson, what do you think?” I asked the older man bandaging my wrist. Dr. Anderson was the only doctor I trusted enough to touch me. After all, he was the one who had delivered me, and he had seen more than enough of my injuries to not even bother asking. He looked up, pushing his thick glasses up his nose before finishing his work on my wrist. “The long-sleeved one would be best to hide your wound. It won’t hide the one on your ankle but that one is not as bad as your wrist.” He was right. I had used so much force to pull the plastic arm off the chair that it had cut deeply into my wrist. The idiot had made his cuffs with reinforced steel, which made it easy to break the chair, but it still hurt like a bitch and would scar. Adriana looked at me waiting. “White heels, ma’am?” I nodded, rubbing my wrist once the doctor let go. I had to fight the urge to throw this damn ugly ring down the drain every time I looked at my hand. Fedel held the door open for Dr. Anderson, but not before handing him an envelope with more than enough money to make sure he wouldn’t have to work for a while. “Ma’am, after the announcement of your and Mr. Callahan’s wedding this morning, I have a few magazines, charities, and interviewers looking to have a moment with you,” Fedel told me with a phone in his hands. After rising from my chair, Adriana handed me the dress as I walked behind the screen. “Fedel, do I look like Martha fucking Stewart?” “No, ma’am. I would never think you would be foolish enough to end up in jail.” He cleared his throat, and I laughed. Stepping out from behind the screen, I let Adriana drop the white heels at my feet. “Then tell them to go fuck themselves.” “That would not be wise, mio bambino dolce.” My father coughed as he was wheeled in by his nurse. Walking over to him, I kissed him on the cheek. “Why can’t I tell them to fuck themselves?” I asked him as Adriana handed me my bracelets. “Because, to the rest of the world, you are the fiancée to one of the most powerful men in this country—the prince of Chicago. You aren’t the Boss to them. They want a Kate Middleton or a first lady, someone to kiss babies and write big checks on behalf of your fiancé,” my father snapped at me, causing me to stop and just stare into his dying eyes. “Fedel. Adriana. Leave.” In seconds they, along with my father’s nurse, were gone. “You’re still mad that I shot him.” He frowned at me. “I do not have time to hold on to anger. And yet, here you are, forcing me to waste time to discipline you.” Shaking my head, I smiled. “You should be proud I didn’t kill him. He is a spoiled brat who thinks he was born in the nineteen-twenties when women served their husbands and bowed down to their will. I’m not now, nor shall I ever be, any man’s arm candy.” “Melody.” He sighed, using my full name like when he was annoyed or pissed. “You are as hard-headed as your mother.” “Thank you. I will take that as a complement.” I turned away from him. “It was not one,” he hissed. “Have you forgotten why you wear the white shoes?” My whole body froze for a moment, and a chill ran up my spine. “That was a low blow, Orlando.” I sneered at him and took off the damn white shoes before walking into my closet. Most of my things had already been taken out and were en route to Callahan Manor. I had left some of the things I would need in my closet here. One never knows when I would need a personal moment away from the leprechaun. My father wheeled in behind me. “I will not go to my grave knowing that this marriage is condemned and that, yet again, two people who are made for each other will not swallow their pride, lower their swords, and act as fucking equals! You, Melody Nicci Giovanni, will not walk the same path your mother and I did. You will support your husband, guide him when needed, and stand by his side and his side alone. You will be a damn Callahan, and you will make sure both families, past and present, rise!” he yelled, not once coughing or even so much as blinking for that matter. Had I closed my eyes, he would have sounded like the Orlando I used to know. “What happened with you and Mom is not the same,” I replied, slipping on the tan shoes, while in the back of my mind a voice told me to change back. “But the outcome will be if you do not take my advice. Make peace with him Melody. Remember how long it took me to adjust to you as Boss? Prove it to him. Prove it to them all, and do it without making your husband the fool so I can rest in peace.” The tenseness in his voice dropped before he coughed again, returning to the sick man that he was now. I hated the thought of having to prove myself. I had done that for years—proving to every man we interrogated, every boss I took down, every crackhead with a big mouth, and even with my men. I thought I was done with that phase of my rule, and yet here I was again. “Don’t think too long about it, we’re not all still in our twenties.” Orlando smiled at me, and even though he was only a shadow of the man I used to know, that smile always made me smile. Walking behind him, I pulled his wheelchair back before exiting my closet for the last time. “Fine, I will try, but if he treats me like a doormat or worse, Martha Stewart, I am shooting him in the other thigh.” I was only half-joking. “That is all I ask,” he said as he was wheeled out of my bedroom. Adriana and Fedel’s backs straightened as they followed us down the hall. “Fedel, are the houses finished?” I asked him, walking slower than needed, but I was in no rush to get to my destination. “Yes, ma’am, they are. Most of our equipment and technology has been moved into the basement, and the men were moved last night. However, they want to stay away from the Irish for as long as possible.” “So would I.” I muttered. When I had found out whom I was to marry years ago, I had slowly but surely bought, bribed, and taken “government-protected” lands just far enough away from the Callahan Manor to give my men a place for their families that was nearer to where I would be staying. The houses were not anything close to Callahan Manor or my home here, but they were nice, common family homes that would typically be found in the suburbs of Chicago. We had started building three years ago, a task I left to Antonio and Fedel to complete. “Are you ready?” Orlando asked me. My father’s right-hand man since he was a teen, Fiorello, stood at the door waiting for us to answer before opening. He was the only one, with the exception of a cook and a nurse, who my father wanted to stay with him here. Fiorello had been tortured by the Valero once upon a time, for dirt on my father, which left him with the scar that now graced his face. He fought his way out and came back, asking only for a doctor and a large glass of red wine. I knew my father was going to be fine. I just wasn’t sure if I was. Nodding, I signaled for Fiorello to open the door. Beside me, Orlando’s nurse took her place at his wheelchair. The moment the door opened, I was met with four pairs of eyes staring at me, each more beautiful than the last until they fell on Liam, whose green eyes were glued to my legs. His gaze lingered a little on the bruise at my ankle before wandering up the rest of my body meeting mine. His lips were turned in a frown, but in his eyes were filled with lust. “Ma’am.” Monte walked over to me, handing me an iPad. He must have put all the information on Ryan Ross here. I took it from him before walking toward my new famiglia, or teaghlach as it was called in Irish. “Good morning, am I late?” I asked as kindly and brightly as possible. “No, ma’am, just thinking you’re beautiful this morning,” Declan replied trying to take my hand to kiss it but I pulled back. His cousin did not seem to get it because Neal opened his arms as if he were about give me a hug. “Save your fancy words, she looks fucking hot. Simple.” “Let me make this clear to the both of you. Touch me and I will strap you down then take every last bone out of your bodies. Understood?” I asked him with a smile. His arms dropped and Declan kept his hand in his pocket. “Beautiful.” I added. “Stupid Irish brut,” Fedel hissed lowly in Italian. “Senza rispetto,”6 Monte said softly. He was all about respect. “Enough you fools. We are going to be late. Your mother says it’s mayhem outside the manor. Let’s go,” Sedric told them before winking at me. The old pervert. They walked toward their cars, leaving me alone with Liam and his brand new black, Audi. He said nothing, opening the door for me and then closing it when I took a seat. He didn’t say anything when he took his seat beside me either, and I didn’t need him to. In fact, I had work to do. According to the files on my tablet, Amory Valero had gotten out of prison, a secret the Valero were trying to hide from the world until they released the savage for their own personal use. Apparently, from what Ryan spilled to Monte and Fedel, they wanted Amory in Brazil to attempt to steal my fucking cocaine. They must have been on fucking cocaine to think that it was going to work. But this was what the Valero did, it was what they were good at . . . the fucking thieves. For years, they had stolen whatever they could from my family. The leader, Amory’s father, Vance, was all but run out of Italy by my father. Instead of withering into nothing, however, he resorted to the black market. If it was worth a penny, Vance stole it, flipped it, and bought himself more men. If I could, I would hang him by his balls. “What is that?” Liam’s green eyes narrowed as he tried to read the encrypted files all while the driver in front pretended not to even be in the car. None of your business, you motherfucking Irish asshole. “Work,” I replied instead, trying my best not to speak my mind. I knew needed to listen to Orlando, but the look of anger and disgu