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I found a lot of to trouble for downloading the books but z-library made it so simple I'm so thankful for it
31 March 2020 (16:17)
Cora Reilly is really one of the best authors when it comes to mafia books
03 May 2020 (14:43)
Z-library has really made downloading books easier. Thank you and keep it up
27 July 2020 (00:25)
Okay i really like Savio but, yes there is a but, he's a bit of an ass for a quite a few chapters to start with. Probably just me but i had trouble digesting Gemma's behavior, as the fiancee i would have expected her to put up more of a fight especially when she tried to call everything off. I admire that she knows and learnt how to kick ass but to me, she needed to be a lot stronger mentally and emotionally, she gets to carried away with them, she's gotta stand her ground more.
15 June 2021 (16:31)
to be honest this one is probably one of my least favorite, not be cause it was terrible! God No! I just couldn't relate to the characters, but for those who do i'm sure you'll enjoy it!
15 June 2021 (17:28)
Copyright ©2020 Cora Reilly All Rights Reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, businesses, events and places are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Cover design by Romantic Book Affairs Designs Interior Design/formatting by Champagne Book Design Title Page Copyright Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-One Chapter Twenty-Two Chapter Twenty-Three Chapter Twenty-Four Chapter Twenty-Five Chapter Twenty-Six Chapter Twenty-Seven Chapter Twenty-Eight Chapter Twenty-Nine Chapter Thirty Chapter Thirty-One Other Books About the Author Gemma 10, Savio 14 Some people don’t believe in love at first sight. They say it’s only lust. The first time I saw Savio Falcone, I fell for him, literally and figuratively, and not in lust either because I didn’t know what lust was. I fell in love with a boy I couldn’t have, not in a way my family would approve. Stretched out on my belly on the sofa, the Jonas Brothers blared from my earbuds, gearing up for the chorus. Moving my legs in rhythm to the music, I sang the first line of the chorus at the top of my lungs. A shadow fell over my magazine. Annoyance burst through me. I hated it when Diego spied on me. My head shot up and a little scream shot out of me. A boy leaned over me, his elbows braced on the backrest of the sofa and a smirk on his face. Trying to jerk upright, I tumbled right off the sofa and landed in an undignified heap on the floor. The boy walked around and stood over me, the grin becomin; g wider. His lips moved, but Nick Jonas was screaming into my ears. The boy bent down and tugged the buds out of my ears, dousing my surroundings in quiet. “So, you’re Gemma. Nice singing,” he said. I flushed, still unmoving and silent. I had a nice voice, but I hadn’t been trying to sing well. I had screamed the song, trying to let off steam. He wasn’t complimenting me. The mocking twinkle in his eyes made that very clear. Despite his rudeness, I couldn’t deliver a sharp comeback. Because this boy was so beautiful it hurt looking at him. He was tall and muscled, with eyes the color of dark chocolate and perfectly styled, charcoal black hair. All sharp cheekbones, strong jaw, and arrogant smiles. Even his clothes looked out of this world. Black leather jacket, low cut dark blue jeans, tight white shirt showing off the outlines of a six-pack, and white sneakers. I’d only seen guys like him in the girls’ magazines I read in secret. The same magazine he was picking up from the sofa and reading. Mortification filled me. One of his eyebrows—and even that was perfect—rose. “If you want to find out in a few years, let me know.” The smirk. My lips fell open as a flock of butterflies fluttered wildly in my belly. I clenched involuntarily at the unfamiliar sensation. Diego sauntered over to us, looking from me on the floor to the boy and the magazine in his hands. Diego’s olive eyes, the same color as mine, flashed with annoyance as he snatched the magazine from the boy. “Gemma, you aren’t supposed to read this shit! Nonna is going to wash your mouth with soap if she finds out.” “She only threatens to wash my mouth with soap if I say bad words, not if I read them.” “It’s worse. You’ll be grounded for weeks,” Diego muttered. He scanned the article I’d been reading, and his face turned red. Then he ripped the magazine apart. If Mom hadn’t confiscated my phone only a few days ago, I would have taken photos of the pages like I’d done in the past. “Did Antonia give this shit to you again?” Of course, Toni had given it to me. She was allowed to read girls’ magazines. Her dad was cool. I jutted my chin out. I wasn’t a snitch. Noticing the boy’s eyes on me, I glanced toward him, feeling my cheeks throb with embarrassment. “What’s the problem?” he asked curiously. Diego looked embarrassed. Why was he acting strangely? With Mick, he was never that awkward. Who was this boy? “My sister isn’t supposed to read rags.” “Nonna doesn’t want you to read them either.” The boy frowned. “Why not?” Diego actually blushed. Now I really wanted to know who the pretty boy was. “Because Gemma isn’t supposed to know about these things.” “These things,” the boy repeated. Diego lowered his voice. “Kissing and stuff.” The boy burst out laughing. “Don’t tell me you don’t know about the birds and the bees?” Despite his mocking, I wanted to smile. How could anyone be this pretty? He looked me in the eye before he grinned at Diego. “Do I need to have the talk with you?” Diego looked like he wanted the ground to swallow him. I rarely managed to embarrass him. This boy needed to teach me how he did it. “I know how it works, but my sister isn’t supposed to.” “You aren’t supposed to either.” Diego glowered. “I’m a boy. Dad talked to me.” “Oh man,” the boy said, chuckling. Suddenly, Diego’s expression darkened. “We honor our traditions. You should too, even if you don’t believe in them.” “Was that what you were doing when you were thrusting your tongue down Dakota’s throat? Honoring your traditions?” “You kissed a girl?” I blurted. Diego sent me a look demanding I shut up. “Nonna wants us to wait until marriage!” That seemed to be the last straw. The boy keeled over, bracing his hands on his thighs and roared with laughter. “Don’t tell me you’ve never gone further than kissing, Diego?” Diego glanced at me, mortified, then gripped the boy’s arm. “Let’s go up to my room. Gemma will keep bugging us if we stay down here.” The boy shook his head in disbelief. “Whatever.” He followed Diego to the stairs. “Our house is nowhere near as splendid as your mansion,” Diego said. Was he embarrassed of our home? “So what?” the boy said. “Before we came to Vegas, my brothers and I shared one room.” He was perfect. The butterflies in my stomach kept doing their little dance and I liked the sensation—a lot. “What’s your name?” I blurted before they went up. “Savio Falcone,” he said, giving me a grin. Flutter. Flutter. A riot of butterflies. “And I meant what I said. If you want to find out in a few years, come to me.” It took me a moment to understand what he was talking about: the article. Diego looked between his friend and me, frowning. “Come on, man.” They disappeared upstairs. Savio Falcone. Diego had told me that he was friends with a Falcone but I thought he was pulling my leg. Not in a million years would I have considered this pretty boy a Falcone. The way people whispered in fear about them, I’d expected someone scary and monstrous in appearance. I had really talked to a Falcone… and embarrassed myself. My cheeks were still burning thinking of my undignified fall and the article Savio had caught me reading. How to tell if your boyfriend is a good kisser? I’d never kissed a boy and I wouldn’t. Not until my wedding day and no one but my husband. Right then, I promised myself that Savio Falcone would be the one. Gemma 13, Savio 17 Rubbing my eyes, I trudged into the kitchen and straight toward the fridge. I didn’t remember the last time I’d spent a Sunday morning in bed. Nonna always chased us out of bed at sunrise so we could make ourselves presentable for church. I’d faked period cramps this morning because I’d spent half the night texting with Toni and had been too tired to go to church, and worse the potluck afterward. Last time I’d argued for more than an hour with Nonna before she’d let me leave early so I could meet Toni. Mom and Nonna always thought I needed every moment at church functions to cancel out the fact that I was a girl who loved martial arts. “Meow,” a deep voice said right behind me. I jumped in the air with a screech, then whirled around and threw the milk carton at the intruder. Savio ducked and the carton hit the wall, only to burst with a splash. Milk flew everywhere and the soggy carton dropped to the ground. “You’ll have to work on that aim, Kitty.” Dark chocolate eyes shone with amusement and that infamous arrogant smile twisted his lips. My cheeks flamed as I followed his gaze to my pajamas. A tank top and shorts with Hello Kitty all over them and that wasn’t even the worst. I wasn’t wearing a bra and unlike many of my friends, I already had breasts and needed a bra. I jerked my arms up and crossed them over my chest. Was this the punishment for lying to get out of church? Nonna would certainly say so. It was too harsh of a punishment. I’d light up two more candles next time. Savio smirked, but he looked away from my chest. He didn’t look anywhere near my body. Instead, he sauntered over to the burst milk carton. “I always thought it was an urban legend that kitties loved milk. You prove me wrong.” I wanted to die on the spot. Of course, while I was in embarrassing pajamas, Savio wore his usual Instagram model-worthy outfit. Ripped black jeans and tight white shirt accentuating his perfect body. “What are you doing here?” My attempt to sound flippant turned into a nervous mutter. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t keep my composure around him. I wasn’t the only one, though. Almost every girl I knew had a crush on Savio. He was tall, muscled, and a beast in the cage, and if rumors were to be believed, in other areas as well. Embarrassment washed through me. That wasn’t something I was supposed to know anything about. If it was up to my family, I’d still believe storks dropped off babies on the porch. Toni was a life saver. “Diego and I are watching my last fight.” “Oh, really? I hear you beat up your opponent pretty badly,” I said, feeling more at ease talking about this and glad to finally get the chance to do so. I only wished I was allowed to actually watch one of his fights. The door swung open and Diego stepped inside, his dark hair styled in that annoying out-of-bed look he’d adopted recently to appear cool. He glanced from Savio to the spilled milk, then to me. Disapproval tightened his mouth. He used to be much cooler when I was younger. Now he was always annoyed with me. “What happened here?” I stalked closer to him. “What are you doing home?” Diego frowned. “Dad asked me to stay with you. Why are your arms wrapped around your chest as if you’re cold? You can drop the act. I know you’re not sick.” I glowered and dropped my arms. “Sorry if it bothers you.” Despite my embarrassment, I allowed Diego to come to his own conclusion. His eyes filled with realization and he quickly stepped in front of me, trying to cover me from Savio’s view. Savio rolled his eyes, turned and headed for the door. “I’ll be waiting in the living room until you figure out your shit.” The moment he was gone, Diego glared down at me. “Why are you running around half naked in front of Savio?” I cuffed him. “Because this is my home, and I didn’t know I wasn’t alone.” I pinched him, but he wasn’t as sensitive to pain as he used to be before he started training with Savio. “Because of you, I made a fool out of myself. What will Savio think of me now?” Diego’s mouth tightened. “He doesn’t think of you, Gemma. You are an annoying little brat. He couldn’t care less if you run around in your PJs around him.” He stalked toward the door, then before he left, he pointed at the mess on the floor. “Clean that up.” Rage boiled up in me and I aimed a kick at his butt, but he quickly grabbed my heel and shoved me back. I landed on my tailbone, letting out a pained gasp as tears shot into my eyes. Concern flickered across Diego’s face. To pay him back, I covered my face with my palms and started sniffling. He knelt beside me and touched my shoulder. “Gemma, are you hurt?” I quickly dropped my hands and punched his stomach. “Fuck, you little brat.” I grinned. “See, this is why I need to start training with Savio. You always hold back because you don’t want to hurt me. How am I supposed to improve like that?” Diego glowered. “And you’re not supposed to say the F-word around me. If Nonna or Mom were home, you’d be in trouble.” He got to his feet and shook his head. “You’re lucky you’re allowed to fight at all, stop bothering Savio. He won’t fight with you. It’s a waste of his time. Why would he want to hang out with a little girl?” “He hangs out with girls all the time.” Diego chuckled darkly. “Yeah, he does. You are a kid, Gemma. Just drop it.” He disappeared through the door. I pushed to my feet and rubbed my tailbone. I’d have a bruise tomorrow, but I’ve had bruises before. I rushed up to my room and changed into jeans and a cute T-shirt that Toni had given me. I usually changed into those clothes at school because Nonna didn’t approve of jeans. Modest dresses were the only clothes Nonna and Mom allowed me to wear. After I’d brushed my hair and put on my secret stash of makeup, I hurried back downstairs. The sound of cheering and yowling rang from the speakers of the TV when I stepped into the living room. Diego and Savio lounged on the sofa, their feet propped up on the coffee table. I walked into their line of vision. It was the first time I wore normal clothes and makeup around Savio so I was nervous about his reaction. Neither Savio nor Diego gave me a fleeting glance though. “Get us something to drink, Gemma. A Coke for me.” “And one for me,” Savio said, not even looking away from the TV. Flushing, I turned around and headed for the kitchen. I was invisible to Savio. The door to the gym opened as I finished another round of double-unders before I dropped the skipping rope on the ground. “It’s okay,” I called to my older brothers who were sparring in the cage. Neither Nino nor Remo looked my way, too busy fighting. Diego turned the corner with Gemma hot on his heels. Her eyes became huge as she took in the old casino that we’d turned into our gym. Especially the chandeliers that always got looks from visitors. I raised my eyebrows at Diego. Hadn’t he told me only recently that he wouldn’t give in to Gemma’s begging? He rolled his eyes in response before he gave me an apologetic look. Diego motioned for his sister to stop and she did, but not without pulling a face. She quickly smiled when she noticed my attention. She was in gym clothes, which looked like they might have been Diego’s a long time ago: too big sweatpants and a baggy T-shirt. Diego strode toward me. We clapped hands. “Babysitting duties?” He groaned. “Worse. Gemma has been whining to Dad for weeks now how much she wants to fight with you that he asked me to take her with me.” Gemma had been begging me to fight with her for months. “Your dad’s okay with me fighting your sister?” Diego huffed. “Of course not. She’s his precious little princess. The idea that you could hurt a single hair on her angelic little head would drive him insane. He couldn’t bear her begging anymore and wanted me to take her with me so she can watch. As if she’ll be happy with just watching.” I glanced behind Diego. Gemma was bobbing on her heels, her hands entwined. She was wearing some strange updo with braids. She was lucky she knew how to fight because with that hairdo, she’d otherwise get beaten up in school for sure. Gemma was a scrawny kid, but she’d been working out with Diego for a while now. She knew how to throw a punch. “Maybe we can get her off our backs once and for all.” Diego frowned. “Gemma is stubborn. Once she’s set her mind on something, it’s close to impossible to dissuade her.” I grinned. “Maybe. But I might know of a way.” I glanced toward Remo, who did a high kick toward Nino’s head. He was sweaty, scarred, and the crazy as fuck look in his eyes made grown men shit themselves. I knew how my brothers appeared to strangers, and most people had every reason to be scared as shit of them. I motioned for Gemma to come over. She beamed and practically rushed toward us, her face flushed. Diego rolled his eyes again. “Hi Savio!” “Hey Kitty.” Her blush deepened and she squirmed. “That’s not my name.” “But it’s so very fitting.” Diego scoffed. “You should see some of her other pajamas—” Gemma punched his arm. “Shut up!” She smiled at me, tilting her head to the side and peering up at me through her lashes. Then she tried batting them. I almost choked on laughter. Kitty was flirting with me. “If you got something in your eyes, wash your face, Gemma,” Diego growled. She tore her gaze away from me. She swallowed. “So, will you fight with me today?” “Is that why you’re here?” I asked. She nodded, expression brightening. “Diego’s always holding back. How can I improve with that training?” Diego gave me an exasperated look over her head, and I smirked. “If you want someone who won’t hold back, you’ll have to fight my brother, Remo. He won’t hold back, trust me. After that, I’ll fight with you.” Nino and Remo stopped their fighting in the cage, their eyes on me. Gemma’s eyes grew wide as her gaze slid past me toward my brothers. Remo was a scary fucker. Most men wouldn’t dare face him in the cage, or anywhere else. He had left a bloody trail in his claim for power, but he was the best Capo the Camorra had ever seen. Diego pointed toward a few chairs next to the boxing ring. “Come on, Gemma, sit down and let me train with Savio.” Gemma tore her wide-eyed gaze from Remo and looked up at me. “If I fight him, you’ll train with me twice a week for the next year.” Oh, now we were bartering? “Three months,” I said with a shake of my head. Even that would mean a seriously deep cut in my free time—meaning less time with girls who actually had something to offer. “Six months,” she said firmly, lifting her chin. She held my gaze. I gave her a smirk. “All right.” She’d run away screaming the moment she was in a cage with my brother anyway. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Diego said quickly. He looked worried for his sister. Remo had been on edge lately with his trip approaching to Outfit territory to kidnap a bride, but my brother wouldn’t hurt a girl. “Hey Remo, can you come over for a sec?” Remo rubbed his face and chest dry, then dropped the towel and climbed out of the fighting cage. Nino followed after him and both stopped beside me. “Gemma wants to play with the big boys,” I told Remo. “She wants to fight you.” “You’re Daniele’s youngest,” Remo said, more statement than question. People were always surprised when Remo knew them, but my brothers and I knew all our soldiers in Las Vegas and the high-ranking Camorrista in our entire territory. You couldn’t establish power without knowing the people you’d have to control. Gemma flushed. “Yes…” She trailed off, obviously unsure what to call him. I had to stifle laughter. I’d have loved to see her call him Sir or Mr. Falcone. “Gemma’s only thirteen,” Diego added. A hint of protectiveness rang in his voice. Remo nodded, but he was looking at Gemma, then at me. I cocked one eyebrow at him. “Maybe,” Nino drawled. “Gemma should fight me instead.” Gemma’s eyes darted to Nino. She didn’t look happier about that. His reputation wasn’t much better than Remo’s. Most people were creeped out by the fact that Nino didn’t have emotions. Remo’s mouth twitched. Of course, he found it funny when Nino tried to prevent a misfortune from happening. “That wasn’t the deal,” I said. Remo tilted his head with the fucking twisted smile that made grown men piss their pants. “You want to fight me?” Gemma swallowed, but she straightened her shoulders. Her eyes darted to the scar marring Remo’s eyebrow and temple. “I do. That was the deal, like Savio said.” Diego stared from his sister to me, giving me a meaningful look. He wanted me to interfere because he couldn’t with Remo. But I found the whole thing way too entertaining to stop it. “Then go ahead,” Remo said. “The cage,” I reminded Gemma. A hint of anxiety flitted in her eyes and Diego gripped my arm and whispered harshly, “What’s the matter with you? Are you fucking crazy? This is my little sister. She’s not some fucking toy you can play with!” “Calm down,” I said. Diego swallowed, turning to Remo. “Can I ask you to wear a shirt when fighting my sister?” Remo’s dark brows pulled together. I snorted. “Don’t tell me this is because of your traditional bullshit?” Diego glared at me and Gemma turned even redder and stared down at her feet. Remo nodded, surprising me. Nino walked over to the gym bag and took out a black shirt, which he handed Remo, who pulled it over his head. Remo didn’t play by the rules. He made them. But showing respect to his men no matter how ridiculous their traditions was something he paid attention to. With a last glance at me, Gemma climbed into the cage, followed by Remo who closed the door with a clang, causing Gemma to jump. I moved closer, so did Nino and a seething Diego. “What’s Remo going to do?” he asked. Nino replied before I could, “He won’t hurt your sister. At least not more than she can take.” Diego’s face turned red and he sent me a scowl. “I swear,” he whispered. “If Gemma gets hurt, you can do your shit alone. Then we’re done.” He was fucking scared for her. I always forgot that only my brothers and I knew Remo. He was a brutal fucker, merciless and psychotic as fuck, but he wasn’t into humiliating or torturing innocents, especially not underage girls. “Just calm the fuck down. He’ll scare her a bit, that’s all.” I turned my attention back to the cage where Remo and Gemma were facing each other. It was a ridiculous sight. Gemma was scrawny and barely reached Remo’s chest, but she managed to keep her expression surprisingly fearless. Only her eyes reflected the respect and fear Remo invoked in her. My brother assessed her closely like he always did with his opponents, to find their weakness and determine how to crush them hard and fast, or how to obliterate them as painfully and slowly as he enjoyed. But I had a feeling with Gemma, he was trying to figure out a way to fight her without doing too much damage. That Gemma had even dared to enter a cage with him came unexpected. Maybe Kitty would surprise me. I knew Savio thought I’d back out of our deal, but I wouldn’t let him off the hook that easily. I wanted to train with him, wanted to show him that I wasn’t a little girl anymore, not a kid whose hair he could tousle. And yet looking at Remo Falcone made me want to take flight. All those scars and muscles, and his reputation made my pulse pick up. Him covering them with a shirt didn’t make him any less imposing. I had seen a few fights on Toni’s laptop, and all of the Falcones were scary in the cage, but the Capo, he was out of this world brutal. Diego always talked about him like he wasn’t even human. “How long have you been fighting?” he asked, making me jump. He noticed, mouth twitching, and so had Savio who looked like he was about to start laughing. I flushed. “Three years.” My gaze lingered around his nose because his eyes scared me too much. “Not meeting your opponent’s gaze suggests you’re submitting. Are you submitting before the fight has even started, Gemma?” he asked in a low voice. My eyes snapped up to his. “No.” It was a struggle holding his gaze. I got why Dad, Diego, and the other men always spoke with so much respect about their Capo. “Good,” he said. He beckoned me forward. “Attack.” I took a few steps forward, raising my fists to shield my face. He was too tall. Hitting Diego had already been difficult, but the Capo was even taller. He mirrored my moves, raising his fists up to his face. My stomach was in knots as I tried to gather the courage to hit him. “Come on, Kitty, show claws,” Savio called. Remo’s mouth twitched, and I lunged, trying to land a punch in his lower belly. His hand blocked me and that move already hurt like crazy. His other hand went past my defenses and pushed against my stomach. Not a punch, a shove that made me stumble backward and almost lose my balance. A shove? That wasn’t a move in a cage fight. I glared, angry, and barreled toward him again. I had to use my speed and small body if I wanted any chance. Remo’s smile widened. He tried to grab me, but I dropped to my knees and did a forward roll. I’d planned to use his wide stance to move through his legs, but he grasped one of my ankles and tugged. I landed flat on my back with a gasp, and then he straddled my legs and pressed my wrists together over my head. “Surrender,” he said. I struggled, trying to get out of his hold. “Surrender,” he ordered. I didn’t want to. I was angry at Savio for making me fight his brother, knowing I’d humiliate myself, but I was even angrier at myself for wanting Savio’s attention so badly that I’d agreed to this deal. Remo hadn’t even fought me. He’d toyed with me, just like Savio. This was over so quick it couldn’t be considered a fight. I tried to arch off the ground or free my arms, but his hold was like steel. His fingers tightened, becoming uncomfortable. “You need to know when to surrender.” “Surrender, Gemma,” Diego called. I could feel tears of anger rising in my eyes. “No! Neither of you would!” Remo’s grip on my wrists became painful. “That’s true, but we live with the consequences. You can refuse surrender because you know you’re safe from pain. You’re playing the girl-card.” “I’m not! You all decide to coddle me because I’m a girl. I don’t mind pain! I want to be taken seriously!” I bit out, struggling harder, tired of being regarded like a cute little kitty. “Remo,” Nino Falcone said in warning. I winced under the force of Remo’s grip. “If I tighten my hold further, I’ll snap your thin wrists clean in half. Pride is an honorable thing, but don’t let it get in the way of a wise choice. Your fights will never be ours, so you can’t fight them the same way we do.” I looked away. “I surrender.” He released me and got to his feet. Savio and Diego joined us in the cage. Diego gave me a reprimanding look, but Savio nodded as if he was impressed. “I lost. You don’t have to pretend I did good.” Tears of embarrassment and anger threatened to burst forth, but so far, I’d managed not to cry in front of Savio and I had no intention of changing that. Some girls only cried when they were heartbroken or sad, I wasn’t that lucky. I also bawled when I was angry or exceedingly happy, which led to many embarrassing scenes. Emotionality ran like a curse in our family—at least on the female side. Diego had the emotional range of a brick. Savio chuckled and exchanged a look with his older brother. Diego rolled his eyes. This was too much. I jumped to my feet and shoved past them, then hoisted myself out of the cage and rushed toward one of the doors, hoping it would lead to a restroom. I needed to splash some water in my face before I lost it… and the remains of my dignity. I’d wanted to impress Savio with my skills so he’d finally take notice of me, but now they all laughed at me like many did in school because of my clothes and beliefs. “Gemma, get a grip!” Diego called. I ignored him. Half the time, he was the reason why I cried anyway. I pushed through the door and into a locker room where I made a beeline for the sink. I splashed water onto my face, sucking in a sharp breath from the cold. It helped with the crying sensation though. I sank down on one of the benches and stared down at my shabby white sneakers. Diego had worn them when he was eleven. Now it was my turn. The door creaked and steps rang out. “Leave me alone. I’m not speaking to you anymore. You keep embarrassing me in front of Savio.” Brand-new stylish black and gold Nike came into view—a limited edition that cost more than Diego’s and my wardrobe together. I wished the ground would swallow me. “That’s what siblings are for, Kitty.” I wanted him to go away, to spare me the mortification, but even now I craved his closeness. I looked up and his lips twitched. “Why are you here?” The snappiness I was aiming for turned into a hopeful whisper. Savio’s mouth twitched again, making me self-conscious. “You fought against Remo. Geez, Kitty, most guys would have shit their pants in a cage with Remo, and you showed sass.” I blinked, trying to figure out if he was pulling my leg. He held out his hand, which I took, and he pulled me to my feet. “Diego is throwing a hissy-fit. Come on, let’s go back so I can kick his ass.” “When will you fight me?” “How about tomorrow?” Tomorrow was Sunday, which meant church and family dinner, but maybe I could squeeze a session in. But Diego had to help Dad repair our stove in the restaurant. “Diego can’t take me. He’s got to help Dad in the Capri.” Savio shrugged. “I can pick you up from church and take you back home. I need to work out tomorrow anyway.” I grinned. “Great.” His mouth twitched once more. “Maybe you should risk a look into the mirror before you come back out.” With that, he turned and walked through the door. My stomach tightened in apprehension as I faced the mirror over the sink. I’d put on a hint of mascara and now it was smeared all around my eyes. I looked like a raccoon. Diego was angry, but I didn’t care. “Dad won’t agree, just so you know.” “What’s the big deal?” He tossed me a glare as he pulled his rusty Ford Ranger up in front of our house. The scent of the cigarillos Grandpa had smoked still clung to the leather and ceiling, which was why Nonna refused to use the car—too much grief. “Really?” he muttered. “The big deal is that you agreed that Savio would pick you up and train with you.” “So what? He’s your friend.” “Yeah, he is. I know him.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” “You wouldn’t understand.” I scowled. Before Diego had turned the ignition off, I jumped out of the car, grabbing the house keys, and tore toward the front door then locked it. I needed to talk to Dad first if I wanted any chance of getting his approval. Diego would only ruin everything. I ran past Mom who was vacuuming the living room, and into the kitchen from where the scent of Nonna’s famous rabbit stew wafted over to me. I stumbled inside. Dad sat at the table, bent over bills, judging by the deep frown on his forehead. Nonna stirred the stew with a wooden spoon and sang one of the old Italian love songs that made Mom teary-eyed. I hurried toward Dad, earning a disapproving cluck from Nonna because I usually greeted her first, but this couldn’t wait. Dad looked up and I gave him my sweetest smile then wrapped my arms around his neck from the side. The doorbell rang. He leaned back with a deep laugh. “I know that smile, angelo mio.” “Dad,” I said softly. “You know how much fight training means to me. And Savio finally agreed to help me. He’s going to practice with me after church tomorrow. Please, let me go.” The bell rang again, then the vacuum was turned off. “I need Diego in the Capri tomorrow…” “I know, but Savio was kind enough to agree to pick me up at church and bring me back home after training.” Dad shook his head. I hugged him tighter and kissed his cheek. “Please, Dad. You know Savio. I’ll do anything. Pleeeaaassseee.” Diego’s voice rang out. I turned to Nonna, which was a sign of how desperate I was. “Nonna, please.” She pursed her lips. “Alone with a boy.” She clucked her tongue. “I’ll even go back to the church choir like you want me to.” Nonna tilted her head then gave a small satisfied nod before she turned back to the stew. The door swung open and Diego stepped in, seething. “Don’t say yes, Dad.” Dad lifted a finger. “Not in that tone.” I poked my tongue out at my brother. Diego gritted his teeth. “You can’t allow her to be alone with Savio.” “Diego always spends time with Savio. You know how responsible Diego is. He wouldn’t be friends with Savio, if he wasn’t trustworthy.” Diego gave me a look that promised retaliation, but he could hardly argue with my reasoning or he’d have to say exactly why Savio was a bad influence and that would mean, he wasn’t allowed to spend time with his best friend either. “He’s your friend,” Dad said to Diego before he grabbed my chin. “And you, angelo mio, won’t behave in a way that would disappoint your mom or me, right?” “I just want to become a good fighter.” That, and I wanted Savio to notice me only once. Diego shook his head and walked over to Nonna to kiss her cheek. “What do you say, Nonna?” “Gemma wants to return to the church choir.” I grinned at him and he narrowed his eyes at me. We both knew that Nonna was desperate for me to sing again. Her old-lady friends always asked when the angel-voice would return to the choir. “Why are you so against Gemma spending time with that Falcone boy?” Nonna asked. The tips of Diego’s ears turned red. I really wanted to know how he’d managed to stop his face from turning red as well. It was a trick I desperately needed to learn. “He just doesn’t want to share his friend,” I said. Dad gently untangled himself from my hold and got up. “I’ll have a talk with Savio before he picks you up.” “Dad—” “No,” Dad said firmly, and I snapped my mouth shut, knowing when to retreat. I decided to switch the topic quickly so Dad didn’t reconsider his decision. “Can Toni come over tonight? I miss her so much.” “She’s back home?” Mom asked as she stepped into the kitchen. I nodded. “Came home yesterday.” Nonna clucked her tongue. “Growing up the way she does, no good will come of that.” Dad chuckled. “Antonia is a good girl. She can’t help her upbringing.” Heat washed over me. “Toni’s dad tries to raise her as well as he can.” “He lets her spend too much time in the Arena. Nothing a girl should see.” “So, can she come over?” “Of course,” Dad said. Nonna frowned, but she wouldn’t argue with Dad, at least not in front of us kids. He was the master of the house. Mom went over to Diego and righted his shirt. He pulled away with a grimace. “Mom, I’m old enough to dress myself.” “Stop coddling him. He’s a soldier of the Camorra, Claudia.” Mom sighed. “They grow up too fast.” Dad walked up to her and kissed her temple then whispered something in her ear that had her swat his chest. Diego groaned and walked out of the kitchen. I quickly left as well and ran up to my room. I took my secret mobile out of my desk and sent Toni a message. “You aren’t supposed to have a cell,” Diego said. I rolled over on my bed. He leaned against the doorframe, arms crossed over his chest. “Don’t tell on me.” Diego had enough secrets of his own, and while I didn’t know all of them, I did some. Not that I would ever tell on him, no matter how infuriating he could be, and infuriating me was his favorite sport. He came in and closed the door before walking over to me. He perched on my bed. “I won’t. Give it to me.” “Why?” He held out his hand. “Give. It. To. Me.” I clutched the cell against my chest. Sometimes he forgot that I wasn’t his soldier who had to obey his commands. “No.” Diego grabbed my arms and wrangled the cell out of my hand then unlocked the screen. I shouldn’t have used Savio’s birthday as my password. I tried to snatch it out of his hand again. If he saw Toni’s last message, she’d die from embarrassment. Unfortunately, Diego was far too strong for me. His eyes scanned the screen and Toni’s message. His eyes widened then his lips curled. I pinched his arm. “That’s my cell. I deserve some privacy.” He checked my contacts, only girls from the choir and school then handed my phone back to me. “You’re an idiot.” “Toni doesn’t think so,” he said with a self-righteous smile. My eyes widened. “Don’t say anything to her!” “About her wanting to see me without a shirt or about her visit from Aunt Flo.” “Diego! Shut up,” I hissed. “Don’t embarrass her.” Diego got up. He rolled his eyes. “Don’t worry. It’s bad enough seeing you simper over Savio.” He walked out with an annoying saunter. Snatching up a pillow, I threw it at him, but it missed and landed on the floor in the hallway. “You dropped something.” The doorbell rang. I dropped everything and stormed out of the kitchen. Diego was already on his way down the stairs to get the door, but I beat him to it. A grin split my face when I spotted Toni in front of the door. She was dressed in Converse, jeans and a T-shirt. Her long brown hair was completely tousled from riding her bike here. It leaned against the tree in our front yard. She was tanned from spending the last couple of weeks in Corse with her aunt. I threw my arms around her and hugged her tightly. “I missed you.” “Missed you too.” “Don’t tell me you came here on the bike alone,” Diego said, scanning our front yard. Toni shrugged. “Dad’s got to work. There’s a lot to prepare for the next fight.” “A girl shouldn’t drive around alone in this city,” Mom said, coming up from behind. She embraced Toni briefly. We all headed into the kitchen where the table was already set. Dad carried the huge pot of stew over to the table and gave Toni a smile. Only Nonna’s reaction was rather reserved. Not only did she disapprove of Toni’s dad raising her alone, Nonna also disapproved of the fact that Toni wasn’t a full-fledged Italian. Her Grandma had been from Corse, and that came close to a crime in Nonna’s eyes. “Good evening, Mrs. Bazzoli,” Toni greeted my nonna with a bright smile as usual as she sat down beside me. Toni was good at ignoring other people’s rejection, which was probably why we got along so well. We weren’t really part of the IT-crowd in school. After dinner, Toni and I headed up to my room and flung us on my bed with the girls’ magazines she’d smuggled into the house in her overnight bag. “Did you bring the clothes?” She nodded with a conspiratorial smile. “But you know that I don’t do sports outside of school, so I didn’t have many to choose from.” “Everything is better than the old baggy clothes from my brother.” “What was with him? He acted strange around me today.” I distracted myself with one of the magazines and shrugged, not having the guts to tell Toni that Diego found out about her crush and her period because he was a nosy idiot. “Oh, he’s just angry because I get to train with Savio tomorrow. You know how he is. If he could, he’d put me on a leash.” Toni nodded. “He’s a bit overbearing, but it means he cares.” A hint of sadness rang in her voice. “Your dad loves you, Toni. He’s just very busy trying to make the Arena a success. It’s not easy to earn the respect of the Camorrista considering…” “Considering we’re not fully Italian.” “Yeah,” I said, then nudged her and pointed toward the article I’d opened. “How to tell if a boy is into you.” Toni grinned. “Are you going to use this on Savio tomorrow?” I giggled. “Maybe.” “You have to tell me everything in detail.” “You know there won’t be anything that interesting to tell.” She rolled her eyes. “You really sure you don’t want to give kissing a chance before marriage?” I pushed her. “No!” She giggled. “I would kiss Diego if he made a move.” “Eeewww! Toni, please, I just ate. I don’t want to imagine you kissing my brother.” She feigned a dreamy expression. “I’m sure he is a marvelous kisser.” I tried shoving her off my bed, but she snatched the covers and with a screech, we both landed on the floor. A knock sounded. “What’s going on here? Some people are trying to sleep,” Diego muttered, dressed in sweatpants and T-Shirt, but his hair was freshly styled and a hint of black jeans peeked out of his pant leg. “I doubt you’ll get much sleep tonight,” I said, nodding toward his ankle. He followed my gaze then grimaced and quickly hid the black fabric. “You keep your nose out of my business.” “Why? You have your nose in my business all the time.” “Which is why I should tell on you,” he said with a nod toward the magazines. “Goodnight, Diego and tell Savio hi.” Toni and I exchanged a look and burst into a new wave of giggles. He shook his head slowly then left but didn’t close the door. I almost rolled my eyes. Overbearing brother as usual. He would probably spend the night partying again. Did he really think I hadn’t noticed? Our rooms were right beside each other and the walls paper-thin. It was midday when I pulled up in front of the church. I hadn’t been inside one of these buildings in years, and didn’t really feel any urge to change that. I’d probably go up in flames the second I passed the threshold. With a name like Falcone, my brothers and I had VIP tickets for the antlered bastard’s fiery show anyway. A crowd had gathered in front of the church and tables with bowls were set up. The roar of my engine drew many looks and when I got out, most of the men nodded in greeting. This commune consisted mostly of Camorra families, so I knew all the men, and none of the women, which was unusual enough. No matter where I showed up, the risk of meeting a former fuck buddy was always high, not here, however. Remo had made his point perfectly clear regarding me making a move on girls from traditional families and so I stayed away. I preferred my balls attached to my body. Diego headed over to me at once, looking like a fucking mother-in-law’s delight with a polo-shirt and dress pants. The rest of his family was still immersed in conversation with the priest. Dark shadows spread under Diego’s eyes. “You look like shit. Long night?” I flashed him a grin. We’d partied until six in the morning, so he couldn’t have gotten more than one hour of sleep before he had to get up for church. “I need to talk to you.” I leaned against my Bugatti and cocked one eyebrow. “Am I in trouble?” I asked mockingly. “I’m not in the mood for jokes. I need to have a word with you before I allow you to spend time with my sister.” I straightened, narrowing my eyes. “Allow me?” In this city, I didn’t need anyone’s permission to do anything—except for Remo’s. “I expect you to honor our values and not act inappropriately toward Gemma in any way.” Was he fucking serious? “All right, Diego, why don’t you go fuck yourself? You really think I’d hit on your thirteen-year-old sister?” I was going to punch his fucking jaw. He sighed. “No. But it’s my job to protect her and make sure she’s safe. You make fun of our values all the time.” “Mainly because you are very selective when choosing to live up to your values, or do I have to remind you of last night’s encounter with Dakota? Was she reciting her fucking Hail Mary or why was she kneeling in front of you with your dick in her mouth?” Diego glanced around with a worried look. “Shhh. I don’t want Nonna or my mother to find out.” “That you enjoy a nice BJ now and then?” Diego looked around again. I scoffed. “Whatever. Rest assured, I’ll keep my hands to myself around Gemma. Fuck, she’s like a kid sister for me.” Diego shoved his hands into his pockets and nodded. His hypocrisy sometimes drove me up the walls. His father strode over to me, followed by Gemma, who was mostly hidden behind his bulky and tall frame—one Diego had inherited. Daniele held out his hand and I shook it. He definitely squeezed my hand harder than usual. “I hear you’re going to take Gemma fighting today.” “I’ll show her a few moves as promised,” I said, trying to keep my sarcasm to a minimum. Diego tossed me a warning look. Daniele gave me a tight smile. It was the first time he was anything but friendly to me. Gemma still hovered behind him in her knee-length polka-dotted dress with a fucking bow around the waist and a white collar. There was even a bow in her ponytail. Fuck, just the thought of hitting on her made my balls shrivel to the size of raisins. “I trust you keep her safe as Diego would. We appreciate that you and your brothers show respect for our traditions,” Daniele said. The hint of warning rang in his voice, raising my hackles. It took all my meager self-control not to give him a piece of my mind. Nobody threatened my brothers or me. “Don’t worry, Daniele. Gemma will be the safest girl in Vegas when she’s with me. I’ll protect her like a little sister.” Gemma’s lips pinched. Daniele nodded, satisfied. Then he led Gemma toward my car with a protective hand on her back. Her eyes grew wide when she spotted my copper Bugatti. It was a favorite with the ladies. I took her gym bag from Daniele, dropped it in my small trunk, and walked toward the driver’s side. Daniele sent me another meaningful look before he closed the door. I resisted the urge to floor the gas and take off with spinning tires. Instead I pulled away from the curb slowly. Gemma waved at her family, beaming like the kid that she was. Diego was a fucking idiot. Gemma folded her hands in her lap, then darted her eyes to me. Slowly she turned red. She squirmed in her seat, looking like she was about to have a difficult math test. “You okay?” She jumped. “Oh yes, sorry. It’s just…” “Just?” I twisted toward her when we stopped at a red light. “This is the first time I’m alone with a boy who isn’t family.” The light turned green and I hit the gas, making Gemma’s eyes widen. “You’ve known me for years. I’m practically family.” She didn’t look happy about that. “I’m not your sister, you know?” I chuckled. “I’m aware of that, yes.” Silence descended on us. I turned the music on, my favorite playlist. The pounding bass of “Candy Shop” by 50 Cent filled the car. I drummed my fingers in rhythm to the sound. Gemma frowned. “This song doesn’t make sense. Why does a rapper sing about lollipops and rodeos?” “That’s a euphemism for a BJ.” I closed my mouth. Fuck, that’s probably not something I should have said. Gemma stared at me with wide curious eyes. “What’s a BJ?” I focused on the street, trying to come up with a semi-appropriate reply, but chastity wasn’t really my forte. “Forget it.” If she asked Diego about it, he’d kick my ass. Maybe I should send her Dakota’s way. She had explained a BJ to Diego after all. The rest of the drive passed in silence because my playlist wasn’t made for choir girl ears, but I could see Gemma still mulling over the song. I led her into our gym and nodded toward the door of the locker room. “Why don’t you go change?” Gemma nodded eagerly and dashed off. I shook my head at her enthusiasm. I was already in gym clothes, so I had time to prepare my boxing gloves. Usually I preferred to fight with taped hands, because punches were harder that way. Yet, with a girl, I needed to make sure not to hurt her. I bandaged my fists anyway for our training at the boxing sack when Gemma emerged from the locker room. I paused. Gemma wasn’t wearing the gym clothes she usually had—no washed out, too big sweatpants and baggy T-shirt. This time she wore one of those Gymshark workout outfits all the fitness tubers went crazy about. Tight purple tank top and tight leggings in the same color. Only the fitspo girls filled out those clothes. Gemma only managed to emphasize her non-existent curves. Fuck. I knew why she had chosen that outfit, and I knew that neither Diego nor her father would approve of it. She stopped right in front of me, her cheeks already bright red. It was obvious why. Of course, I’d seen her watching me before, but it always seemed funny. Now alone with her and knowing how crazy Diego was regarding his sister, the thing felt like a catastrophe in the making. Crushing girls’ hearts was practically my special skill set, but knowing I had to break Kitty’s innocent little heart actually caused me a flicker of qualms. She peered up at me like a lovesick puppy. I wondered how she imagined this day to go in her choir girl fantasies. From what Diego had mentioned, Gemma hadn’t even had the talk yet and her questions in the car had confirmed that. She probably thought all girls and boys did when they were alone was take a stroll over daffodil meadows. Thank fuck, I’d at least chosen to wear a shirt today. “Let’s start with our warm-up,” I said. She dropped her pink boxing gloves, waiting expectantly. “Double-unders. Ever done them?” “I can’t do more than one or two,” she admitted. “We’ll change that.” I handed her a jump rope then took one for myself. “Watch how I do it.” I walked a few steps back and began jumping. Simple rope jumps at first until I sped up and switched to double-unders. Just for fun, I did a couple triple-unders, but they were difficult to maintain, so I switched back to double-unders again. Gemma watched me slack-jawed. I stopped. “Your turn.” She looked ready to pass out from nervousness, so it really didn’t come as a surprise that she got tangled in the rope after only two jumps. Flushing, she quickly tried again, but her legs got entangled once again. “I’m sorry!” “You don’t have to be sorry.” She was about to try again, but with the way her hands were shaking that would end the same way. I lightly touched her arm, stopping her. Her eyes flew up to mine, stunned. I could see goose-bumps spreading on her skin. I pulled my hand away. “Don’t look at the ground while you’re jumping. Stare straight ahead, and only use your feet to push off the ground not your calves, that takes too much energy.” “O-okay,” she stammered. Gemma had never been this nervous around me. Being alone with me really threw her off. It almost made me feel sorry for her, but mostly I had to stop myself from laughing. “Give it a try and focus.” She nodded, determination crossing her face. This time she managed to establish a good rhythm. “Now, try to do a double-under.” She did but didn’t jump high enough nor spin the rope fast enough. I explained what she had to change and eventually she managed to do three double-unders in a row. “This is something you need to practice over and over again. It’s not something that comes easy.” She nodded obediently. “Can we fight now?” I chuckled. “Sure.” I motioned toward the boxing ring and led her toward it. Grabbing her boxing gloves, she climbed through the ropes I parted for her. I swung myself over them and landed with a low thud inside the ring. Again the admiration. I really needed to tone it down around Kitty. I helped her put on her gloves, ignoring the way she blushed at our closeness. Then I put on my own gloves and faced her. I let her do high kicks against my palms for a while before I began sparring, but it became obvious pretty quickly that Gemma wasn’t focused on fighting, too distracted by my closeness. I stepped back with a shake of my head. “This isn’t working.” She froze. Here we go. I needed to establish ground rules if this was supposed to work the next few months. I’d given Diego and his father my word to protect Gemma, even if that required crushing her heart. “Listen, Gemma, I agreed to train with you but right now you aren’t fighting, you’re daydreaming.” “I’m… I’m not,” she whispered lamely. “You are,” I said firmly. “I know you’ve got a crush on me, but if you want to keep training with me, you’ll have to stop it. Either you focus on fighting or we won’t work out together again.” Her face was bright red and fuck it, her eyes were glistening with unshed tears. If I brought her back to the Bazzoli house with red eyes, that would go over fucking well. Still, I needed to drill the message into her head. “But you promised…” “I promised to fight with you, yes. Right now, this doesn’t feel like training. You need to get a grip. You are a little kid, not to mention Diego’s sister. I like grown women, not little girls.” The last might have been a tad cruel, but maybe that would finally make her stop the fawning. She whirled around and climbed out of the boxing ring, then tried to rush toward the locker room. Unfortunately, she stumbled in her haste and fell to her knees, then she didn’t move. Fuck. I jumped out of the ring and stalked toward her, then squatted in front of her. “Did you hurt yourself?” She gave a jerky shake of her head, her face lowered and tiny shoulders shaking. Crying girls usually made me take off as quickly as I could, but this was Diego’s little sister. “Don’t cry.” “I feel stupid,” she said thickly. “I know you have all these pretty girls…” “You are pretty too, but you are way too young, Gemma. Your dad and brother would kill me, as they should. How about we forget today, and I promise to keep training with you if you swear to forget about your crush on me until you’re older.” She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, looking up hopefully. “Do we have a deal?” She nodded. “Deal.” Then she tilted her head in contemplation. “How much older?” I chuckled, shaking my head. “Much older.” “Like fourteen?” I shook my head again. “Older.” “Fifteen?” “Definitely older.” She pursed her lips. “Sixteen?” I straightened and held out my hand. She took it so I could pull her to her feet. “Older.” “But by then, you’ll already be married to another girl!” I burst out laughing. Oh, Kitty was too hilarious. “Don’t worry, I’m never going to marry.” “Never?” she whispered. “Never.” “Oh.” Nino shook his head again. “Are you sure about this?” His hand with the tattoo needle hovered about an inch over my pelvis. I rolled my eyes at my brother. “If you ask one more time, I’ll go into one of the tattoo studios on the Strip and get it there.” Nino’s expression flashed with disapproval—of the studios that didn’t do a good enough job in his opinion, which was the reason why he’d done most of his tattoos himself, and of my choice of tattoo. A bull’s head, or rather a Minotaur’s head right above my dick. It was as much a joke as provocation. My man-slut reputation was already indisputable, might as well have fun with it. The needle pierced my skin and Nino finally started his work. “I hope you don’t come to regret this image.” “From all the things we’re doing on a daily basis—torture, killing, prostitution, death fights—you really think I’m going to regret a bull tattoo?” I flashed him a grin and earned an uncomprehending look. Out of my brothers, I really was the sanest, which didn’t say much. “I can’t see what one has to do with the other,” Nino drawled as he kept outlining the Minotaur. “And you can choose to stop any of the mentioned activities. That tattoo is permanent unless you have it removed, but that’s going to be difficult, given the depth of the ink to assure the deep black color, and the size of the tattoo.” “If I stop doing those things, how am I going to be of use for the Camorra? Adamo’s already pretty useless. You and Remo can’t have another one of us suffer from exaggerated scruples.” Nino glanced up briefly. “Would you prefer not to be involved in the unsavory parts of our business? So far you never gave any indication that torturing or killing bothered you.” It had bothered me in the beginning. Unlike Remo and Nino, I was capable of empathy and pity to begin with and had to learn toning both down. It hadn’t taken long. Our fight for power in Las Vegas had wiped away most of my innocence quickly. I enjoyed many of our activities, but I’d never be as good as torture as Nino and Remo. “It doesn’t,” I said simply. Nino regarded me a moment longer, but I’d learned to hide my emotions and thoughts over time, even if I rarely bothered to do it. Nino was almost done with the tattoo when the door opened, and Remo walked in. “Unless you want to see Savio’s cock, you should stay in the hallway,” he said. “How much longer will it take? Dinner’s almost done,” Kiara shouted from a distance away. I smirked. “Your husband enjoys the sight of my crown jewels. He’s taking his time.” Nino let out a sigh, but Remo showed the hint of a smile as he inspected my tattoo. None of us were bothered by each other’s nakedness. We’d fucked around each other for years before Kiara’s presence led to a sex ban in the common areas of the house. “All right. I’m heading back down to the kitchen,” Kiara called. “Don’t show your dick to my wife,” Nino warned. I chuckled. “Only if she asks to see it.” “You really think that’s going to impress women,” Remo said, with a sharp nod toward my tattoo. “It’s not meant to impress. It’s a warning,” I said. The reactions of my brothers made this tattoo already a good choice. “And since when do you know how to impress women?” “It’s a waste of time.” I shrugged. “I don’t waste my time on women. Either a girl’s an easy lay or I don’t bother.” Gemma 15, Savio 19 My head was throbbing and my vision kept turning black, but I fought against unconsciousness. I needed to be ready to fight. Fabiano slanted me a searching look. I gave a small nod even though it sent a stab through my brain. I could tell Fabiano was trying to loosen the cord binding his arms to his back. I glanced toward the door when Remo and Nino walked in, led into the room by the traitors my mother had hired to do her dirty work. Mother stepped up to Kiara and Alessio, Nino’s wife and adopted baby boy, threatening them with a lighter. I hadn’t been able to stop her from dousing them with gasoline earlier when several assholes had attacked me at once. “You are going to put down all of your weapons, or they’ll both burn.” “We took their weapons,” Carmine said. If I got the chance, I’d shove my knife into his traitorous throat. “No, no, you didn’t. I know Benedetto’s sons,” Mother said with a smile that raised the little hairs at the back of my head. It was difficult to believe that his madwoman was our own flesh and blood, except for the horrid reminder of her having the same gray eyes as Nino. “We are your sons too,” I said, because she seemed to forget that little fact. Maybe we were fucked up, but a huge part of why was because of her. Reaching up, I lightly touched the side of my head. My fingers came away red. Fuck. Those assholes had hit me good. Mother didn’t even look at me. She had only eyes for Remo and Nino. “A gunshot could set Kiara and her boy on fire too. A little spark and everything goes up in flames, do you really want to risk it? Hear their agonized screams?” Carmine took the guns from my brothers, and for the first time, a flicker of worry filled me. I’d trusted in Remo and Nino finding a solution to this mess. They always did. They had ripped Las Vegas from the hands of unworthy men. They had fought for our birthright, for our territory, for our legacy when nobody had believed in the name Falcone. For a while I’d been sure they were invincible. Many Camorrista still did. But there was one thing that had the power to destroy them and she stood in the middle of the room like a martyr. “What did you promise them to do your bidding?” Nino asked. Mother smiled. “Money. Power. Revenge.” “Power,” Remo scoffed. “Do you really think my men will follow either of you? They’ll laugh into your pitiful faces and then smash them in. And even if you manage to seize power by some stroke of luck, you won’t have it for long. Luca will wipe the floor with assholes like you and just claim the Camorra for himself.” “We’ll see,” Carmine said. “Help him to his feet,” Mother said, nodding at me but still not meeting my eyes. This was about her and Remo mainly. We all knew it. Remo was our father’s son more than each of us. Mother had been too weak to kill our father, the man who’d tormented her, and so she tried to kill the next best thing: his sons. One of the traitors grabbed my arm and tried to drag me to my feet. I headbutted him despite the following agony and was rewarded by the satisfying sound of his breaking nose. “Go fuck yourself, motherfucker.” I grinned when the bloody asshole pointed his gun at me. Our mother waved the lighter. “I told you. They’ll burn.” I stood. I didn’t want to be responsible for Kiara’s and Alessio’s death. Pain shot through my ankle when I put my weight on it. I must have twisted it at some point. “Where’s Adamo?” Mother asked, flicking the lighter open, causing Kiara to flinch. Mother smiled manically. “He disappeared after you tricked him into helping you,” Nino said. Adamo could be such a fucking fool. I’d told him several times that he should stay away from our mother, but he wouldn’t listen. He had to believe in the good in people. Maybe now he’d finally understand that most people were assholes. Remo and Nino always justified his stupidity because he was young, but when I’d been sixteen, I hadn’t been this fucking naïve. “Poor boy,” Mother said as if she actually cared, as if she was capable of empathy. “He’s weak, lost. He isn’t like you or Benedetto.” She looked at Remo. “What about those kids and wife of yours, Remo? Where are they?” Remo’s nostrils flared. “Everyone knows about that kidnapped girl and those twins that look like you,” she continued. “Especially that boy. Your spitting image. Your tainted blood.” Everyone knew about Nevio. He was the spitting image of Remo and that wasn’t where their resemblance ended. Mother didn’t know it, but the boy who was most likely to continue our father’s legacy was Nevio. If she wanted our tainted blood to end, she would have to kill him. Remo gave her a wide grin, full of maniac darkness. “You know me, don’t you? You really think I could ever have a woman in my life without killing her?” Mother tilted her head and closed the lid of the lighter. “You killed her?” “Her and those useless kids.” Mother didn’t know any of us. She only lived for herself. We lived for each other. Each of us would die for the other. Remo would cut himself into tiny pieces before he’d hurt Serafina or his twins. “Why don’t you douse us with gasoline? That way you can guarantee we don’t act out of turn and you can let Kiara and Alessio go,” Nino suggested. Mother’s answering laugh raised goosebumps on my skin. I didn’t even remember the last time that had happened. “Oh no, no. I won’t let the past repeat itself. She stays. You’ll behave as long as she does. You don’t want her to get hurt, do you?” “We need to hurry up here,” Carmine said, looking at Remo. “We don’t know if they didn’t alert their soldiers. As long as they still live, every fucking Made Man in the city will follow their command.” “Okay, this is how it goes, boys. I want you to cut your wrists, all right?” Mother said, sounding as if she was talking about our plans for the fucking Christmas holidays. I scoffed. Did she really think we’d go down without a fucking fight? “I should have killed you right after they cut Adamo out of you. Father wouldn’t have stopped me. He would have found a new woman to terrorize,” Remo snarled. Mother looked at Remo with a sorrowful smile. “And I should have killed you first, in your sleep, but I didn’t know how strong you were. I do now, my son.” “Don’t call me that!” he roared, causing her to flinch. “This could have been over many years ago. It must end this way, don’t you see?” Mother whispered. She opened the flap of the lighter. “All three of you will cut your wrists now. I’ll wait until you’ve passed out before I burn down the mansion and your bodies in it. If you don’t, I’ll burn her and the baby right in front of you and have my men shoot you anyway.” “You’ll burn them anyway. The moment we’ve passed out, you’ll kill them,” Nino said, and for once, his emotionless mask was gone. It was still strange to see fear on my brother’s face when he hadn’t been capable of any emotions for as long as I could remember—until his wife, Kiara. Our mother shook her head with a soft smile. “No, no, she’s a victim like I was, and the boy isn’t yours, so he can live as well. We have to go but not them, boys, don’t you see?” She really thought she was doing the world a favor. She thought this was her task in life, when it was only her sick version of revenge on our father. “Fuck, if I’d known how batshit crazy you are, I would have killed you myself,” I said. I could have visited her in the mental institution Remo had kept her in these last few years and put a bullet in her head. For some reason, I’d preferred pretending she didn’t exist. “See?” she said. “It’s in you like it is in them, like it was in your father.” She regarded us. She motioned at Carmine, who handed Nino a knife. “Either you’ll cut your wrists now, or I’ll burn them. I’ll count to three.” Kiara began crying softly, rocking Alessio. She didn’t deserve any of this, nor did the kid. They both had gone through hell in their past, had been brutalized by the people meant to protect them. Nino cut his wrists, not taking his eyes off his wife and son. “No!” Kiara cried out, looking as if the knife had cut her flesh, not his. “Two,” Mother counted. “Savio, Remo.” Remo grasped the knife with a growl and cut his wrists. Of course, he did. Remo had burnt for us before. He’d die a thousand deaths if it meant protecting his family. Nino’s gaze met mine and I knew what was coming. Now it was my turn. Diego and I had planned to visit a house party this weekend. I’d looked at new cars. Nothing of that mattered today. “Fuck.” I closed my eyes briefly. Remo and Nino didn’t fear death. It was their fucking disposition to have made peace with the inevitable end a long time ago. I’d preferred to ignore the possibility of dying. It had been a distant concept that didn’t concern me, even if I’d killed many men myself. “One,” Mother warned. For some reason, Kitty’s laughter the last time we’d fought in the cage flitted through my mind. I opened my eyes, tore the knife from Remo’s grip and slashed my wrists before I could lose my nerve and hate myself forever. Nino’s expression filled with relief. I looked down at my wrists, at the red rivulets dripping down my palms and fingers. The sight of blood had never bothered me, not its smell or sticky feel either, and it didn’t today. Maybe I should have been scared of the unknown darkness ahead, but I felt a strange sense of calm. It could have been my head wound and the resulting dizziness, whatever it was: death didn’t bother me as much as I’d thought it would. And then everything went very fast. Suddenly Adamo barreled in, jabbing a knife into our mother’s back. We all sprang into action, overpowering the traitors. When our mother took her last breath, killed by our knife, I could see peace descend on Remo’s and Nino’s face. Shoulders hunched, I perched on the edge of the sofa, staring at the angry red marks on my forearms from cutting my wrists. The Camorra doc had stitched me up and soon bandages would cover up the wounds, not the memories though. A tight sensation took hold of my chest, a mix of burning fury and numbing gloom. The former I could deal with, the latter annoyed the shit out of me. I glanced toward the corpse of our mother in the center of our living room. She’d invaded our home, our fucking lives, to kill us. Some people had mommy issues. That term didn’t even begin to describe the kind of fuckery we had to deal with. This was the second time she’d tried to kill my brothers and me. Our own fucking mother. Looking at her dead body now, I didn’t feel anything but rage. When other people got that warm feeling when thinking about the woman who gave birth to them, for me, there was only darkness and pain. The last time she’d tried to end our lives, I’d been too young to understand or remember, but Remo and Nino had carried the baggage of that day with them. My brothers were everything for me, but even I knew both of them teetered on the edge of insanity. No fucking wonder when your mother slit your wrists and tried to burn you alive. That had been many years ago, and today she’d tried again, and almost succeeded. My brothers sought the closeness of their wives and children. Fabiano had left to pick up his girlfriend, Leona. Only Adamo and I were in our own bubble. Our eyes met, guilt and shame flashing across his face. Maybe he hoped for absolution, for me to walk over to him and tell him all was forgiven. After the doc had bandaged me, I staggered to my feet, ignoring the stars dancing before my eyes, and headed toward the stairs. I dragged myself into my room and fell into bed. Reaching for my cell, I considered sending Diego a text, but then I wasn’t sure what to write. I didn’t want him to think what happened bothered me, didn’t want to appear weak in front of anyone, even my best friend. Dropping the cell, I stared at the ceiling. The silence bothered me today, when it never had before. Usually, I would have gone out and found a girl to fuck, but I wasn’t even in the mood for that. With slashed wrists and a head wound, I wouldn’t be able to deliver a satisfying performance. I’d probably pass out mid-fuck and bury the girl under my unconscious body. For the first time in my life, I wanted someone at my side, if only for a few hours. When I came down to breakfast, I heard Mom’s sniffling. “These poor boys,” she said thickly. “These boys are the men who rule over the West Coast with relentless brutality, Claudia,” Dad said. “They survived Benedetto, they’ll survive this and probably get out of it stronger than before.” “What’s going on?” I asked when I entered. Nonna sat at the table, praying the Holy Rosary, her eyes squeezed shut. Diego paced the room with a deep frown. Dad had his arm wrapped around Mom’s shoulder who was crying, which didn’t necessarily mean something horrible had happened. Dad and Diego exchanged a look, deciding if this was something I was allowed to know about. Toni would give me the dirty details later anyway, but recently it annoyed me that my family still treated me like I couldn’t handle anything. “The Camorra is under red alert because of an incident in the Falcone mansion,” Dad said. “What incident?” Diego took out his phone, checking his messages before he shoved it back into his pants. “Nera Falcone tried to kill her sons.” “Again?” I gasped. “What happened? Did someone get hurt?” The stories of Mother Falcone’s craziness still made the rounds. When Benedetto had still been in power, people hadn’t dared discuss the events, but since Remo had taken over, that had changed. “She had the support of a few traitors,” Dad said carefully. “We don’t know details yet, but Remo called for a meeting of every Camorrista in Vegas. Diego and I’ll have to leave soon.” Diego nodded. “I’ll grab a jacket.” I quickly followed after him when he left the kitchen. “How’s Savio?” “I don’t know. He hasn’t written yet.” I grabbed his arm. “Diego, are you stupid? You should ask him if he’s all right. He’s your friend.” Diego shook me off. “If I do, that sounds as if I think he’s weak. Gemma, he’s my friend, but he’s also a Falcone. He and his brothers rule over the Camorra. He won’t tell me even if he isn’t all right. And I’m going to see them at the meeting in Roger’s Arena anyway.” I didn’t get it. If Savio’s mother had tried to kill him and his brothers, that must have shaken him up, Falcone or not. “Stay out of Savio’s business, Gemma. I warn you.” The moment Dad and Diego had left for their meeting, I rushed to my room and grabbed my phone from my sock drawer. Even though Savio and I didn’t train together anymore, unless I accompanied Diego for his work out—which still happened occasionally—I still had Savio’s number. Maybe Diego couldn’t text his friend for some stupid testosterone codex, but I was a girl. Before doubts could overcome me, I quickly typed in a message and send it off. Hey Savio, I hope you are all right. I’m so sorry about what happened. If you need anything at all or want someone to talk to, I am here. Kitty In the beginning his nickname had bothered me, but it had grown on me, because Savio was the only one who called me by that name. When I didn’t get a reply after a few minutes, worry filled me. Maybe I’d crossed a line? Savio and I weren’t really friends. We were… I wasn’t even sure. My phone beeped, almost giving me a heart attack. Stomach tightening, I checked Savio’s reply. Thanks, Kitty. The only thing I need is that delicious almond cake your Nonna bakes. ;-) I knew he was joking, but giddy about his reply, I headed downstairs. Mom had left to go grocery shopping. Whenever something horrible happened, she cooked up a storm as if delicious food could cancel out all the darkness in the world. Nonna was asleep on the sofa, the rosary still clutched in her hand. I went over to her and covered her with a blanket. She must have taken the news the hardest, after all, Dad’s brother was killed by traitors shortly after Remo came into power. I slipped inside the kitchen and grabbed everything for the cake. I’d baked it countless times with Nonna, so I knew what to do by heart. Toni sent me a message while I waited for the cake to bake. Please be at your phone! Did you hear what went on with the Falcones? I called her. She probably knew the details nobody bothered to tell me. “Spill.” “Adamo helped his mother escape the mental hospital she was in and then she ran away, and forced Savio, Nino, and Remo to cut their wrists!” I swallowed. “What?” “I couldn’t believe it either. But Dad told me. They’re all wearing bandages over their wrists to cover the cut. Can you believe it? If I ever complain about my mother again, remind me of Nera Falcone.” The official version was that Toni’s mom had died in a car accident when in truth she’d run off with a Frenchman. I tried to imagine how Savio must be feeling now. His own mother had forced him to cut his wrist. That was barbaric and cruel. “Are you at the Arena?” “You know about the meeting?” “Hmm.” “Dad didn’t allow me to come. He said Remo Falcone is going to make an example out of one of the traitors in front of the other men. Dad said knowing the Capo, there would be blood, vomit and piss to clean later.” I shuddered. I’d heard about the brutality of the Falcones but never witnessed it. “I’m baking a cake for Savio so he’ll feel better. I wanted to take it to the Arena.” Toni was silent for a moment. “Don’t go inside. Just put it on his car, okay?” “Okay. Since when are you the sensible one?” “When Savio is concerned I have to be. You lose your head around him.” The oven beeped. “I’m not losing my head. I have to go now. The cake is done.” “I mean it, Gemma, be careful today, okay? You think Savio is a cute guy because that’s the side of him you know, but he’s a Falcone and Dad’s been dealing with him for a while now. After what happened yesterday, Savio’s probably still on edge and looking for an outlet. Don’t be that outlet.” Toni sounded worried, but she really had no reason to. “It’ll be fine. I’ll message you when I get the chance.” I hung up and saved the cake from the oven before it turned too dark. Once the cake had cooled slightly, I put the slices into the biggest Tupperware container we had and went into the backyard. I grabbed Diego’s old bike and headed out for the Arena. With a little luck, nobody from my family would notice my trip. The parking lot in front of Roger’s Fight Arena was crowded with cars. There were a few luxury models around, but I didn’t see the copper Bugatti. Savio probably had a new car by now. I parked my bike in front of the entrance then hesitated. I couldn’t leave the container in front of the bar. I took out my phone and sent Savio another message, telling him that I was in the parking lot. A scream rang out inside, causing me to back off a few steps and shiver. “This isn’t a place for you, Kitty.” I jumped and whirled around. “You almost gave me a heart attack,” I said, pressing a palm to my chest. He must have used the backdoor. Facing Savio, my chest constricted. A bruise bloomed at the top of his head, and his forearms were bandaged, but these obvious injuries didn’t worry me. It was the look in his eyes that was off, a lurking darkness I’d never seen in them before. He wasn’t smiling or smirking, only regarding me with mild curiosity. “What are you doing here?” he asked. Tugging a strand behind my ear, I held out the Tupperware container. Savio’s eyebrows rose. “Almond cake,” I said. He opened the lid and took a deep breath, then he smiled slightly. “Don’t tell me you forced your poor Nonna to bake for me.” I flushed. “I baked it myself.” Savio grabbed a piece and took a big bite, then he nodded. “They’re very good. Baking and fighting, you’ll make a man very happy one day.” “I only want you.” I hadn’t really just said that, had I? Judging from the brief flash of surprise on Savio’s face, I had. Heat shot into my head. Toni was right. I lost my head when I was around Savio. My heart had been his for years anyway. Savio closed the container, regarding me in a way I didn’t understand. He leaned down and I held my breath. “No, you don’t, trust me. You’re too young to understand what kind of man I am.” “I’m not that young,” I said grimly. “I’m fifteen and a half.” “Fifteen and a half,” he repeated with a strange smile. He straightened and lifted the container. “Thanks for this.” My eyes were drawn to the bandages around his wrists. Blood tinged them red. “You’re bleeding.” Savio glanced down at his arm, and his expression darkened. “It’s nothing.” His voice held an edge despite the familiar smirk he gave me. “Now go back home.” I nodded, backing away. It was obvious that he was suffering, and how could he not, but he wouldn’t talk to me. I’d done what I could. Maybe Diego could get through to him, but given my brother’s lack of empathy, that was unlikely. Gemma 16, Savio 20 “You’re a life saver,” Toni said, wiping sweat off her brow. “With a fight like that, Dad needs all the support he can get but with the flu making the rounds things have been crazy.” “Diego had it last week, don’t get me started on how much he whined because of a sore throat and dripping nose. He’s suffered bullet wounds, but he expects me to become his house nurse only because he’s got the flu.” Toni rolled her eyes. “He’s used to being treated like a pasha because your nonna and mom always do everything for him.” “It’s how things are handled in our family,” I said with a shrug as I carried a beer crate up the stairs and set it down behind the bar. “They would freak if they knew I was here helping you.” “I know. But your dad hardly ever sets foot inside the bar. The last time was during that bloody meeting.” I didn’t want to remember that day when I’d made a fool out of myself. Toni had freaked when I’d told her about the words I’d said to Savio. I only want you. Maybe it had been a good thing though. I hadn’t seen him since that day six months ago and had time to cool down. Toni had gotten over her crush on my brother, so maybe there was hope for me as well. I bent down to shove the beer crate farther under the bar. “But you’d make a lot of tip money with your curves, let me tell you.” I snorted, peering over my shoulder and finding Toni assessing my butt. “I’m fifteen.” “Only one more day. And do you really think anyone in the Arena would care? And if we use the right amount of makeup, we could make you look older.” “Antonia, I’m not going to serve drinks here tonight. You said you only needed me to help you prepare everything.” She gave me a sheepish smile. “Yeah, well, we’re out of waitresses for tonight. It’s only Cheryl and me. I could really use your help.” I straightened. “Toni! You know how my family is. If one guy as much as touches my back, they’re going to cut him into pieces. I’m not allowed to be around men, much less in a place like this.” I closed my mouth, worried I’d offended Toni. “Sorry.” “No,” she said with a small shrug. “I know what the traditional families think of my family and this place. A good girl like yourself shouldn’t be seen around here.” Now I felt like the worst friend on this planet. I sighed. “All right. But let me work the bar. That’s probably the place where butt-touching is the most difficult, even if that means I won’t get any tips.” Toni squealed and jumped toward me, drawing me into a tight embrace. She drew back with a grin. “Oh, and you’ll get tips, trust me. Just wear those uber-tight white jeans and that red crop top.” “I’ve never worn them.” Toni shook her head. “I know! Which is why you should wear them tonight. You’ve had those clothes for two months, Gemma. With your body, it’s your duty to wear something like that.” “Explain that to my family,” I muttered with a laugh. “Come on, you’ve snuck out clothes before. You don’t have the guts to wear those jeans, that’s why you haven’t worn them yet.” She was right. My upbringing made me uncomfortable in revealing clothes, even if I found them pretty. Nonna’s and Mom’s words had left an impact no matter how often I tried to deny it. “Okay, okay,” I said. “I just have to figure out a way to sneak out after dinner tonight. I think I could make seven o’clock, is that all right?” Toni nodded. “Sure, it usually gets really crowded around eight until around one. If you could be there then, that would be amazing.” “One? Oh, man. If I get caught, Dad’s going to have my head.” I yawned several times during dinner until Dad took pity on me and allowed me to go to my room so I could go to bed early. I didn’t have a lock on my door so I had to hope that nobody checked on me. I rebuild the shape of a body with clothes on my bed then covered it with a blanket. My stomach burst with nerves when I checked my reflection. I wore the clothes Toni had suggested, and they showed off all my curves, even my stomach. I’d never shown this much skin and wasn’t sure if I’d feel comfortable wearing them in public. Putting a denim jacket on, I opened my window then used the tree in front of it to climb down. Diego had been doing this for years, but for me, it was a first. I’d never had reason to sneak out at night because unlike Diego, I didn’t go to parties. Toni’s bike waited in the yard. I grabbed it and rode toward the Arena, trying not to look left and right as I crossed less appealing streets. I let out a relieved breath when I finally arrived at Roger’s Arena. A few guys smoking outside let out whistles when they spotted me. Ignoring them, I quickly went in through the back entrance like Toni had shown me. It was almost eight and she sagged with relief when I stepped into the bar area. Her cheeks were flushed. “There you are!” She, too, was dressed in tight pants and a tight shirt. “Can you take over the bar then I can serve those tables.” She nodded toward two tables where the customers were waving at her with impatient looks. “Of course,” I said, and then she was already gone. Toni had given me a short introduction to the workings of a bar and tap this afternoon, but I had a feeling I’d mess up anyway. Soon the bar was buzzing, and I didn’t have time for hesitation as I tried to hand out beer after beer. My first respite happened during the third fight, the first with known fighters. Most guests were focused on the bloody spectacle in the cage. Leaning against the bar, I watched the fight. I’d watched so many of them on screen but had never been allowed to experience one live. It was a different atmosphere. The room buzzed with excitement and blood-thirst. The most brutal fights always drew the biggest crowd, which was why Toni’s dad earned a heap of dollars whenever Remo Falcone had a fight, especially a death fight. It was unheard of that a Capo would risk his life so readily when he didn’t have reason to do so. All the Falcone brothers had a penchant for risking their lives on a frequent basis in the cage. I wondered how I’d feel if I’d ever get the chance to see Savio in the cage. Toni’s frantic waving caught my attention. She served a table at the other end of the room but obviously needed to get my attention. I straightened and raised my eyebrows. I didn’t understand her crazy sign language. She pointed toward the door. I glanced that way and almost had a heart attack. Savio, Diego, and Mick had entered the Arena. None of them looked toward the bar—yet. And Diego probably wouldn’t anytime soon because he was busy pawing Dakota of all people. Her younger sister Noemi went to my school and we hated each other with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. I dropped into a crouch, sucking in a deep breath, my heart beating in my throat. What were they doing here? One of the men at the bar gave me a look as if he thought I’d gone crazy. I gave him an embarrassed smile. “I’d like another beer, young lady.” I nodded quickly and headed toward the fridge, still ducking my head. I needed to get out of here really quickly. I bent over the fridge as if I needed to get a closer look, hoping that Toni would figure out a way to save the day. Maybe she could throw them out for breaking some house rule. “I must have gone to Heaven, because this ass isn’t from Earth,” drawled a very familiar voice. I was so dead, so very, very dead. If Diego was with Savio, I’d be grounded for eternity. I could already hear Nonna’s disapproving cluck and see Dad’s I’m very disappointed in you look. Mom would probably even shed a few very heart-broken tears. Maybe I could just stay bent over like this until he lost interest and left? Then another thought hit me like a punch. Savio was hitting on me. Well, on my butt, but that was more than I had hoped for by now. Since our embarrassing first fight training, I’d toned down my crush, and in the last six months, I hadn’t seen him. Giddiness spread in me like a wildfire. From the corner of my eyes, I could see him coming around the bar. “Just thinking of all the dirty things I could do with that ass makes my—” I straightened and whirled on him. “Don’t finish that sentence!” Savio’s expression flashed with shock. Slowly his eyes dragged down my body, lingering on my hips, my stomach, my breasts until he finally looked at my face again—my undoubtedly bright red face. It felt impossibly hot and that wasn’t because of the sticky warm air in the bar. His expression transformed into anger, which stunned me. I’d expected a joke and teasing like so often in the past. “What the hell are you doing here? Dressed like that?” I frowned at his demanding tone. He sounded like Diego, as if what I did was his business. Luckily, my brother wasn’t with him, nor was Mick, even though the latter usually defended me when Diego treated me like a stupid kid. A quick scan of the bar didn’t give me any clues about their whereabouts either. “How does one get a beer around here?” an older man muttered. “I could shove a bottle down your fucking throat, how about that?” Savio snarled. One look at Savio’s face and the man scurried away. “I’m supposed to serve beer—” Savio grabbed my forearm and dragged me away from the bar. Taken by surprise, I stumbled after him. “Savio, what are you doing?” His grip was like steel, impossible to escape from. He didn’t stop until we were in one of the backrooms and he’d thrown the door shut. Then he got in my face. “Explain.” I blinked up at him, completely taken aback by his dominant demeanor. I’d never seen him like this: his eyes dark with anger and something else I couldn’t decipher, his jaw clenched so tightly I was surprised it didn’t break and his body brimming with barely restrained violence. Without thinking, I took a step back only to bump into the wall. I turned my face away, flushing. “Please don’t tell my parents.” “Why should I do that, Kitty?” I asked in a low voice, anger still pulsing in my body. I wasn’t even sure where it had come from. Diego was the protective hypocrite when it came to his sister. I was the one making fun of him for protecting her virtue like a fucking knight in shining armor. “Because we’re friends?” she asked hopefully, those dark green eyes meeting mine. Plump lips parted, high cheekbones flushed. When had Kitty become this awfully pretty? My feelings definitely weren’t friendly. Fuck, I had hit on Gemma. If Diego knew, he’d have a coronary. I narrowed my eyes and leaned down until we were at eye level. “First I want you to answer my question. What are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be a good little choir girl and get a good night of sleep before church tomorrow morning? Or do you always spend your nights like this?” Her cheeks turned even redder. “It was the first time I sneaked out, the first time I’m wearing something like this. And it wasn’t even my idea. I hate exposing myself like that because it makes me feel impure, but I wanted to help Toni.” She tugged a strand behind her ear and just like that, she looked the choir girl again. A choir girl wrapped in the body of a goddamn sex bomb. How the fuck hadn’t I noticed those curves before? But it was easy to explain. Gemma usually wore very modest clothes and I hadn’t exactly seen her often in the last year. The Camorra took up too much of my time with Adamo being gone in New York, and my brothers busy with their wives and kids. Then her words registered on me. “Impure?” She nodded. “I’m not supposed to show this much skin to anyone but my husband.” I could only stare. “You mean your stomach?” “Yeah.” “Fuck, Kitty, don’t be ridiculous. If you enjoy showing off your curves, why not do it? It’s your body, so it’s your decision how much skin you show.” God, these curves would haunt me for a while. She frowned. “But you were angry…” “I’m fucking livid, because dressed like this, you better make sure Diego or I are at your side, got it?” She searched my face. “You?” Me, yes, why me? I wasn’t Gemma’s protector, that was Diego’s task in life. “Is Diego with you?” I nodded, still having a hard time not checking Gemma out. Kitty had abs. Not as defined as mine, but the proof of her hard work was still unmistakable. And that narrow waist and those swung hips. Goddamn it. “But he’s busy with Dakota in his car.” “Dakota?” “It doesn’t matter. She’s probably opening her backdoor for him as we speak. Don’t try to distract me.” Gemma tilted her head with that fucking curious expression. “Toni locked the backdoor after I arrived. Nobody’s supposed to use it, except for staff.” I chuckled darkly. Curling my fingers around her wrist and trying to ignore the small shiver that passed through her body, I pulled her arm away from her stomach, revealing those curves again. “Looking like this,” I growled, motioning at her body. “You have no business being so goddamn naïve, Kitty. Some men might use that to their advantage.” Her eyes held mine and I knew I was screwed because I wanted my best friend’s little sister. I wanted to do very naughty, very grown-up things to her. Things she had no clue about judging from her puzzled expression. I stared at the ceiling. Maybe there was a God after all, and this was his way to test me. It was a given that I would fail his test, the question was only when. After her admittance six months ago, I’d kept my distance. I’d been on edge anyway and didn’t want to risk my friendship with Diego over the silly crush of a little girl. But, damn it, Gemma didn’t look like a little girl anymore. Gemma walked over to the bed in the corner of the room as if she had every intention of sitting down. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” She froze. “Why?” Heaven have mercy. “Didn’t Toni mention what happens in these backrooms and why there is a bed in here?” Gemma’s face scrunched up and she took a step back from the bed, but she kept scanning the blankets as if she worried she might find evidence of the previous activities. It gave me time to admire her. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I’d known her for years, had been best friends with Diego for just as many. He’d always been wary of me around his sister and I had always told him that he was a stupid asshole for thinking I’d hit on his sister. Today I knew Diego had every right to distrust me around Gemma because seeing her like that, all I could think about was to have her in my bed one day. Shaking myself out of my horniness, I sent Diego a text, telling him that I had found a girl and was taking her somewhere to fuck. He didn’t reply, which meant he was too immersed in Dakota, literally. “I’ll take you home now. Come,” I said. Gemma’s gaze jerked back to me. She lifted her chin in that stubborn way of hers. “What? No. I promised Toni I’d help her until one at least. They’re low on staff.” “Do I look like I care if Roger’s got enough waitresses who shake their asses in front of customers? All I know is that your pretty little ass won’t shake in front of anyone…” …but me. Gemma stared at me as if I’d grown a second head. She didn’t even blush at me using the word ass. Kitty had grown, and I really wished I would stop noticing. Diego would test one of those Bunsen burners they used in their restaurants to fry my balls if he found out. That would be a disturbing twist on Arancini for sure. Gemma squared her shoulders and walked toward me, trying to appear tough and self-assured. “You aren’t my brother or my father, Savio.” Thank the fucking Lord for that. “You can’t tell me what to do. I gave Toni my promise and I’ll keep it.” She tried to leave the room, but I pressed my palm against the door, smiling darkly. “I just told you what’s going to happen. I’ll bring you home. If you come on your own two legs or if I have to carry you, that’s up to you, Kitty.” Her mouth fell open, then she shrugged. “You’re not going to do that. You are here to have fun, not play babysitter.” I lowered my arm, allowing her to open the door and step out. She gave me a triumphant smile. I remembered the puppy dog eyes from the past and decidedly liked this Gemma better. “Don’t tell Diego, all right? I owe you something.” I nodded. Did she really think she’d won? She turned as if to walk back into the bar. I stalked after her, grabbed her, spun her around and hoisted her over my shoulder. It wasn’t the first time I’d done it. During our fight training, I’d sometimes teased her that way but back then, she’d been a girl with the body of a girl. Now her perfectly rounded butt taunted me from the corner of my eye and my palm resting on her lean legs wanted nothing more than to discover every inch of her shaped body. “What are you doing?” Gemma gasped, her body becoming as tight as a bowstring. “Let me down!” She squirmed in my hold. “Savio, put me down right this second. I need to help Toni!” I tightened my hold on her. “It’s easy, really. I can take you home, Kitty, or I’m going to take you to Diego now.” She became slack. “Don’t tell him. He’ll be angry.” After a moment, she added. “You can set me down. I’m not going to try to run.” “One wrong move, and I’ll call Diego,” I warned. I had no intention of calling him. I could deal with Gemma myself. “Okay.” I lowered her slowly and realized I was reluctant to let her go. I led her to my car. Diego would be pissed if he found out I didn’t tell him about this. “I should tell Toni where I’m going. She’ll be worried,” Gemma whispered with a fleeting glance toward the Arena. “I promised her to help out. What kind of friend breaks her promise?” I braced my forearm on the door and peered down at Kitty’s face. “The friend who doesn’t want to be grounded for the rest of her life.” “Since when are you a stickler for rules? You never once took Diego home when he snuck out to party with you.” I chuckled. “Come on, Kitty. You know the rules, you’ve lived by them until now. Don’t tell me your dad would react the same way if he found out Diego was out partying all night or if it was you, especially dressed like this.” I motioned at her outfit, causing her to bite her lip and look away. Now I got why it was called sweet sixteen. Fuck me. I wished I wasn’t so fucking addicted to sweets, because Gemma, without a doubt, would be the sweetest thing I’d ever tasted. And I wanted that taste. I straightened, bringing more distance between us. “Get in the car and send Toni a text.” She sank down on the passenger seat. “I still have my jean jacket and my purse inside.” “I’ll get them, and you’ll stay here.” I threw the door shut then locked the car. Gemma gave me an exasperated look. I turned on my heel and stalked back inside. I’d get her fucking things, but first I’d have a word with Roger and Toni. Mick crossed my way on my way to the bar where Toni was running around like a headless chicken. “Hey, where’s everyone gone? Diego disappears with Dakota, then you’re gone as well.” “I can’t stay. I found someone to fuck, but I might be back later.” Mick rolled his eyes. “Really? Going out with you two is a joke.” “Go find a girl for yourself and stop bitching.” “What about the madman from L.A., aren’t you supposed to keep an eye on him?” Fuck. “There’s still another fight before his. I’ll be back before then.” Next time my brothers could play babysitter for their crazy-ass Underboss. I left Mick and headed for Toni, who grimaced when she spotted me. “What can I get you?” she asked when I arrived at the bar. “Your father,” I said, walking around the bar. “This area is restricted to staff.” I glared down at her. “Take me to your father now, Antonia.” She turned and led me through the door into the back area. “Where’s Gemma?” “In my car.” Toni threw a curious glance over her shoulder. “You know she isn’t supposed to be alone with guys.” “She isn’t supposed to work in a fucking bar with dozens of leering fucks either, or is she?” Toni flushed and turned back around. She knocked at her father’s office door. My patience was running thin, so I reached past her and shoved the door open. Inside, Roger was talking animatedly to Nestore Romano, the man I was supposed to keep an eye on. Nestore looked my way, then he just left Roger standing there and walked past me with an almost non-existent tilt of his head. “Antonia, I was in an important conversation,” he said, the hint of disapproval in his voice. “Didn’t look like that to me,” I drawled. “Nestore seemed to bore himself terribly.” Not that it was an unusual occurrence with the Madman from L.A. Roger gave me a small-lipped smile. “Savio, what can I do for you?” “You can pay attention to who’s working your fucking bar for one.” Roger frowned. “Antonia handled the staff today.” I got in his face. “It’s none of my business if you let your teenage daughter prance around all the kinky fucks, but you better pay attention to other people’s daughters.” “What are you talking about?” Roger glanced at his daughter who seemed busy trying to stare at the floor as if it was the most interesting thing in the goddamn world. “I’m talking about Gemma Bazzoli. You know Daniele and Diego. They both won’t be happy if they find out she tended to the bar because you don’t pay enough waitresses.” Roger’s face was turning increasingly red. He still had trouble letting me tell him what to do. He’d known me when I was still a little shit. But now I handled our business alongside my brothers, so he’d better get his shit together. “I don’t want to see Gemma in this place again unless she’s with me or her family, got it?” Roger narrowed his eyes in contemplation. “What’s the girl to you anyway? I thought you’d be the first to appreciate a new piece of ass in the bar.” I grabbed his collar and got in his face. “Careful, Roger.” If Toni hadn’t watched with wide, terrified eyes, I might have gone a bit harder on him. “That piece of ass you’re talking about is off limits, and remember she’s your daughter’s age.” Roger nodded. “All right, all right. I didn’t know she was even here. I’ll make sure she stays away.” I released him then turned on my heel and left. On my way out, I grabbed Gemma’s stuff from behind the bar. She was slumped in the seat but straightened the moment I got into the car. “Did you talk to Toni?” “I did.” I started the engine, trying to focus on the street and not the way too tantalizing girl beside me. “But you didn’t tell Diego, right?” I chuckled. “If I’d told him, he’d be the one driving you home, not me.” “Yeah,” Gemma agreed with a mirthless laugh. “He’d be chewing my ear off. What the fudge’s going on in your head? How dare you have a fudging life? Yadda yadda.” I shook my head. “I seriously doubt Diego would use a sweet treat to voice his displeasure.” I slanted her a look. She was smiling in a very Gemma way. Unguarded, honest, not in a way that was meant to make her look pretty, even though she did. “He tries not to swear in front of me, but that’s my version of events.” “Fudge, really?” I said. “What’s wrong with a healthy fuck?” Gemma flushed, and I realized my wording could be taken a different way as well. “I don’t like the word.” “You’ve never tried it, so how can you know?” Apparently, I was the king of double entendres today. Gemma looked down at her lap, frowning, and I was starting to worry that I’d upset her when she darted her eyes up once more. “Were you hitting on me in the bar?” I considered my options. Lying and not get kicked in the balls by Diego, or the truth and seeing Gemma’s delicious blush deepen. “Yes.” As expected, she turned a darker shade of pink. “Why?” I gave her a look. Did she have to ask? “So,” she said curiously. “You wanted to get me into bed?” I chuckled. “I wanted to get the girl with that body into bed, not you.” Indignation flashed in her eyes. “I’m that girl. That’s my body.” Sadly, it was, which meant I’d never get to have it. “It is, but I’d never consider getting you into bed, Kitty. For one, Diego would have a coronary, second, you are too young and third, your family would force me to marry you if I as much as kiss you, so… no, thank you.” She turned away, glaring at the side window. She was pissed, and I wondered which of my words exactly had disgruntled her. When I pulled into her street, her eyes widened. “Stop here! They’ll hear your engine if you get closer.” “Oh, really?” I asked and drove straight up to her family’s house, then cut off the engine. The lights came on in one of the windows. This was a middle-class area. No Ferrari engines. Gemma made herself small in her seat, but her nonna’s face peeked through the illuminated window then disappeared. The lights in another room came on. Gemma frowned at me. “Why did you do that?” “Because I think your dad should keep a closer eye on you.” “Why?” That was the one-million-d