It's been a while, but I have something to share.
For those who follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you probably know I have finished Inflict, a standalone romance dealing with a crazy Irishman and all of that fun jazz.
So today I am sharing the signup links with Indie Sage who are handling the blurb reveal blitz, the cover reveal, and the tour for Inflict.
So if you're a blogger and you would like to signup to be involved, now is the time.
Find the signups HERE.
It's the day, finally.
Dino's final book in his Duet is here.
I'm so excited to get this out into the world, and finally close the chapters out on at least a couple of these characters so I can move on. I always have such a hard time saying goodbye to my characters, especially ones as special as Dino DeLuca and Karen Martin.
So, I hope you enjoy.
You can pick your copy up at any of the vendors below:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes
You can add Worth of Waste to your Goodreads TBR.
And enter to win one of two signed copies of Waste of Worth HERE.
Hugs, loves. And I hope you enjoy.
Read the first 3 Chapters of Worth of Waste below:
WHO are you?
Karen Martin woke up each and every day, asking herself that same question.
Who are you? How did you get here? Why did you do this to yourself?
She didn’t have the right answers to tell her reflection in the mirror, certainly none that would explain her current situation, or the hell she had found herself living in. She also knew she had no one else to blame—mostly—other than her reflection staring back at her.
Maybe that was the worst part, the fact that she didn’t have someone else to blame.
How could she, when she was alone?
Today was a harder day than normal, and those questions she always asked came with a little more force than normal, if only because the first thing she saw on the small television as she sat down with a cup of decaffeinated tea in her hands was his face.
The first thought that came to her mind?
That’s a better picture than the mugshot.
A shot of Dino DeLuca sitting in the courtroom, suit and tie perfectly in place, standing as he handed his ‘guilty’ plea over. And then he was gone, the image fading away as the anchor room flashed back on the television where the anchors had already moved onto another story.
Karen had only caught the very tail end of the news story, but what she had seen was more than enough to know Dino wouldn’t be coming back out anytime soon.
A sickness climbed from her sensitive stomach, and she set the tea aside, not daring to take another drink. She could have blamed it on the pregnancy—blamed her warring emotions on the little life just barely beginning—but it would have been an excuse.
She didn’t know what to do.
She was alone.
She was pregnant.
She was scared.
An item caught her attention out of the corner of her eye, and for a second, those fears bled away and were then replaced by a heated anger swelling in her chest. The thick manila envelope, filled with stacks of cash and topped with a note Karen couldn’t begin to understand, sat on the very edge of her coffee table.
She’d recognized Dino’s handwriting on the package the second the mail man banged on her door and shoved it into her hands, pissed off because it was too big to put in her mailbox downstairs. She hadn’t known what was happening to him at the time she’d gotten the package—that early Monday morning had just been another day for her, although a sadder, bleaker morning, given she had been convinced Dino’s lack of presence was yet another sign that she would just have to move forward alone.
How stupid she had been …
How crazy …
Karen glared at the cash again, hating that she hadn’t just taken it somewhere and handed it off to get it out of her hands. A charity, maybe.
The police, even.
No doubt, the police would be happy to get a package like that from Karen, especially if she could say it was from Dino. Something stopped her from doing either—the charity or the police.
The unborn life was the one and only thing that stopped Karen’s anger from making her do something she might regret one day. She knew Dino hadn’t meant any harm by sending her the money, and his note inside the package had only confirmed that fact, but the last few sentences of the scribbled mess had just left her more confused.
Don’t give the child my names, it had read.
Karen tried not to dwell on that as much as she could, but it was becoming more and more impossible as the days went on. Especially on a day like today, when she happened to see something like the news broadcast on the television, yet she still felt so far removed from the entire scene.
Because she didn’t know.
She didn’t know anything about the legal problems, what Dino faced, when or if he might be out, or even how she could find out more without stepping foot into his business and making her presence known.
If nothing else, Karen had figured that one thing out all by herself and without any help.
Dino did not want Karen involved.
Not with his people.
Not with his life.
Not with the … mafia.
It all felt a little surreal.
She met a man one day, a sad, frowning man who seemed so cold from afar, so entirely unapproachable on that foggy, damp morning. She’d watched him from nearby as he talked to a gravestone, his large hands being so very careful as they wiped off the stone with a pristine white napkin from his jacket pocket.
Karen had thought about how lonely he looked, crouched down in front of the grave. How alone he seemed, in his distant gaze that looked right passed her at one moment in time, not even noticing she was standing there by a tree watching him.
She should have known better, honestly.
She had no business interfering when she hadn’t even known the man.
And yet, she did.
When Dino DeLuca smiled, Karen had felt like she won a battle that day.
She had done something good.
He made her feel amazing with nothing more than a grin.
In a way, Karen had put herself in her current position by not pressing harder for answers from Dino over the course of their year-and-a-half-long relationship. Times when he flaked on her without explanation, other moments when he seemed quieter than normal—though he barely talked as it was—and passing comments from others about his side business and other life that she allowed to fly right over head.
Maybe she pretended like he was exactly what he seemed because she didn’t want to know about the rest.
Or maybe she didn’t ask things she should have because she wouldn’t have liked the answers.
Karen prided herself on the fact that she wasn’t stupid. For the most part, she made rational, educated choices about her life and the people in it. She didn’t like negativity, but rather, filled her days with goodness and happiness to keep all the darkness at bay.
Then there was Dino …
A man who seemed almost swathed in an aura of darkness he couldn’t—or didn’t want to—escape from.
She hadn’t minded that. He drew her in like a moth to the brightly-burning flame, and while his actions promised never to burn her, his soul never said a damn thing.
Who was really at fault here?
Certainly not him.
The news program ended, switching over to an early morning panel sitting around a glass table with hosts ready to gossip about the latest in politics, fashion, and the celebrity life. Karen wasn’t really seeing what was on the show, but rather, the image of Dino standing in the courtroom.
It had burned into her brain.
She couldn’t get the image out.
Who are you?
That was all she wanted to ask him.
She just wanted one more minute of his time—a few passing seconds—to ask the one question she should have demanded he answer over and over again.
What would he even say now?
I’m a criminal.
I don’t live a good life.
I lied to you.
I love you.
Pushing those awful fucking thoughts from her mind, Karen grabbed the remote and shut the television off, hoping it would rid the image from her mind. It didn’t; she should have known better than to try.
Like that first time they’d met, this was no different.
Dino’s black soul had imprinted itself inside Karen’s heart without even trying. He should have warned her, maybe, given her a chance to run when she could have, before she got too mixed up in him.
Deep down, she didn’t want that at all.
And in a way, he had given her that chance.
Tell me to leave and I’ll go, he’d told her again and again.
She hadn’t ever told him those words because she hadn’t wanted to. Not when she knew something was wrong with him, not when she knew he was hiding things from her, and not even when he’d hurt her by walking away when she needed him to stay.
Karen didn’t say things she didn’t mean, after all.
That didn’t mean it was easy, or that she understood where all of this was going to lead her in the end. She had the distinct feeling nothing would make sense or feel particularly good until she had the chance to sit down with Dino once and for all to get the answers she craved, to questions he had refused to entertain over and over again.
But she would get those answers … eventually.
Karen had long since decided on that.
She just had to figure out how.
Well, actually, Dino would have to wait a short while longer. She had something more important to deal with, or rather, figure out what in the hell she was going to do about and how she was going to make it work.
Her baby, that was.
As much as she wanted to go and demand answers from Dino, as deep as her need was to simply talk to him and hug him, even if she was angry with him, she had something else to take care of and she didn’t think he would mind.
That was never more apparent to Karen than when she flew off the couch and headed for the bathroom faster than she thought was possible, her hand thrown over her mouth in a shitty attempt to keep the spilling vomit inside for those last few feet.
Thankfully, she made it in time. That didn’t necessarily make vomiting any more fun.
Morning sickness was a bitch.
The books all said the sickness would probably wane by the second trimester, but Karen still had weeks and weeks to go for that just yet. Her stress and worries weren’t helping her sensitive stomach in the least, considering the worse she felt mentally or physically, the sicker she became.
It was almost like her morning sickness was reflecting her moods, if that were possible.
It wasn’t just Dino she was worried about, either.
It was also herself.
She lived in a too-small apartment with only one bedroom. The place didn’t have nearly enough room for all the things a baby needed. Not that she had the money to actually go out and buy the things the baby would need, because she didn’t have any money at all. All the savings she had managed to accumulate over the years was a dwindling pile of cash—now that she had quit her job at Dino’s restaurant—and she needed to fund herself and keep herself housed and fed until another job popped up.
But who was going to give a job to a woman with a taste for photography, bookkeeping skill, and a baby on the way?
Her situation was looking bleaker every single day.
You could go home, her mind pressed.
Karen didn’t even want to entertain the idea of returning to California where her parents lived, if only because the shame would eat her alive. Not only would she be forced to admit to her parents that Chicago had turned out to be a massive failure on her part, she would also be left explaining her pregnancy and just how all that came about.
She was an adult, for Christ’s sake.
She could and would figure this out on her own.
After finishing in the bathroom and putting the mouthwash to good use for the third time that morning, Karen went back to her tea in the living room, though she didn’t bother to drink it. Instead, she took it to the kitchen and dumped the contents out, as her thirst and appetite was entirely gone.
Leaning back against the cupboards, she massaged her temples with the pads of her fingers, hoping to relieve some of the tension there.
It didn’t help all that much.
From the other side of the apartment, the manila envelope with its cash spilling out caught her attention again.
She had resolved herself not to entertain the idea.
Not to touch the money.
Life probably wasn’t going to give her much of a choice.
The baby was the most important thing, Karen knew.
First, though, she had to talk to Dino.
Those last few words on the note haunted her for reasons she wasn’t willing to face.
She needed to know why.
He was the only one who could tell her.
A LOUD clanging from outside the cell woke the man in the bunk under Dino DeLuca’s bed. Probably a prisoner from one of the neighboring cells, attempting to annoy the guards and start an issue.
When the inmates got bored, things like this happened.
He listened to his cellmate curse a blue streak, roll off the bed onto the hard cement floor, and then slowly came to the realization of where he was again. The young man—his cellmate, Todd—was only twenty-three years old and looking at ten to fifteen years for a sentence on drug trafficking. The guy’s almost-boyish appearance, with his blue eyes and blond hair that stuck up in every direction, made the charges hard to believe. Todd was lucky if he weighed one-fifty, soaking wet, and he spoke quietly, rarely looking anyone in the eye when he did talk to them.
But here the kid was, with a Mafioso for a cellmate, with a heavy sentence and drug charges on his record.
Todd didn’t talk to Dino about how or why he’d found himself in the prison beyond the information on the charges and sentence he faced, and Dino didn’t ask for more than the kid gave. However, each morning the kid woke up, it was as though he was only realizing in that moment that he wasn’t waking up in his own bed, but rather, a small eight-by-eight, cement room with one wall of bars, and a very small window that was too high to see out of—and too small to climb out of it, should one of them actually reach it.
It happened every day with no sign of changing.
“Careful, Todd,” Dino said, his attention focused on the crossword in his hands.
Todd took a heavy gulp of air, sitting up on the floor as his gaze focused in on Dino for the first time that morning.
Strangely, Dino often found himself grateful that he’d ended up with a cellmate like Todd. He could have ended up with a bastard, or worse … Instead, he got a kid that almost reminded him of his younger brother. That was, if Theo DeLuca were stripped of his demeanor and behavior.
So, maybe not entirely like his brother, but Dino looked out for Todd, when he could, outside of their cell. He was too small, too young, and the other inmates—or some—would not think twice about using Todd’s weaknesses to their advantage for whatever fucking horrible thing they wanted.
“Sleep last night?” Todd asked.
Dino almost smiled, but the amusement quickly faded. “An hour or so.”
That was what he always told his cellmate, whether he did or did not get any sleep. Todd rarely asked about Dino’s odd sleeping habits, but he figured that was because the kid didn’t want Dino calling him out on the way he woke up every morning.
Tit for tat, he supposed.
Todd stood from the floor, tossing the sheet back to his two-inch thick mattress. “Visiting day today, right?”
How should he know?
He didn’t get visitors unless it was his lawyer, and a visit from Mike was rare unless Dino had specifically called the guy in.
“We’ve been cellmates for thirty-two days,” Todd noted.
“Do you have a calendar that you’re keeping track of or something?” Dino asked.
“I remember numbers.”
Dino wasn’t sure what Todd’s penchant for tracking days had to do with him. “What about it, kid?”
“I noticed you don’t talk much.”
“I noticed you don’t look people in the face when you talk to them.”
Todd glanced up at Dino on the top bunk, then quickly looked away. “Point taken.”
Dino looked over his crossword again, trying to pass time before their block would be called out for breakfast. He couldn’t get beyond the hint. Todd wasn’t only good with numbers, he had learned.
“Cat—five letter word, starts with an ‘M’ and ends with a ‘Y.’”
Todd didn’t even glance back as he brushed his teeth at the small metal sink, “Uh, a moggy.”
What the fuck was a moggy?
How did this kid even end up in prison?
“You’re too smart for this place,” Dino muttered, more to himself than his cellmate.
All over again, Dino was reminded of his younger brother Theo, and how much he wanted to keep him from ending up in a situation like this. Dino had found himself in lockup because of his asshole uncle and Ben DeLuca’s meddling. He didn’t want Theo to end up the same way.
Or God, someone else close to Dino …
He shook his head, refusing to even let his thoughts go there.
He’d done okay since pleading guilty a month ago and having his sentence handed over on the drug and weapons charges. He’d stuck to the schedule the prison put him on because it helped to make the hours pass by easier. He didn’t cause shit, because he was hoping for reduced time, and kicking someone’s head in would only earn him more months behind bars, plus solitary confinement.
He certainly hadn’t thought of her.
Not at night when his cellmate slept.
Not during the one hour a day when he got to go outside and breathe real air.
Not when he wasted time working on stupid fucking crossword puzzles.
The moment her name passed through his mind in a whisper, Dino felt an aching emptiness start to grow in his chest.
This was why he tried not to think of her, why he couldn’t do it.
She would be better off without him, he knew. She could start over, if that’s what was best for her, and shit, maybe she’d get the hell out of Chicago and go as far away as she could possibly get with the money he’d sent to her before his arrest had happened. She could raise his child away from the danger that he and his life posed to them.
If she were a smart woman, those were the exact things she whould do.
Dino wouldn’t blame her at all.
No, Dino tried not to think of Karen Martin at all.
Except he did.
Every damn day.
All the fucking time.
He loved her, after all.
He hoped she had done none of those things. He hoped she had figured out a way to stay, that she had used his money, and maybe—God, maybe—she’d be waiting for that explanation he had promised all those months ago.
Dino had to pretend like he didn’t want any of those things.
It was easier to remember why he had gotten where he was and what he was going to do when he was out, if he didn’t focus on only her. Someday, he’d be able to do that for Karen and give her what she deserved to have from him.
Today was just not that day.
“Visiting day, you said?” Dino asked, tossing his crossword puzzle and pencil aside before he jumped down from the top bunk. “Do you have someone coming to visit you today, or what?”
Todd was already at the bars, his arms hanging out between the holes as he looked for one of the guards that would signal breakfast was soon. “Maybe.”
“Maybe is a non-answer, kid.”
“Maybe I wait every week, thinking this will be the one she actually shows up to, but she never comes.”
Dino’s brow rose high. “She?”
Shit, he actually thought Todd might have been gay. Not that he would have cared if the kid was, but it was surprising that he had a she in his life that he talked about with a sort of fondness that did not speak of a family relation. After all, Dino had heard the kid talk about his mother and sister, and he didn’t use that kind of tone.
“Yeah, she,” Todd repeated. “She—the one that I ended up in here for.”
Well, then …
Dino wasn’t touching that.
Tit for tat, you know.
“Good luck with that,” Dino muttered.
Todd didn’t reply.
The guards shouted out for the block as the buzzers started above the cell doors, and the bars slid open.
Breakfast was served.
Not that it would be anything good.
Because Dino’s block in the prison happened to house non-violent offenders as the general population, they were lucky enough to have their cells open for a majority of the afternoon. The inmates were allowed to wander around the block and as long as no trouble was started, the guards wouldn’t hit the alarm and push the button to lock all the cell doors.
Dino had only had one problem during the free-cell time.
Once, he’d been on the lower level where the cafeteria was located, sitting in the corner and looking out the barred Plexiglas windows. Something had prickled at the back of his neck—a sensation he hadn’t felt in a long time.
Like his long-dormant instincts were suddenly waking back up.
He’d found Todd in their cell, beaten bloody, and some of their things missing. It hadn’t taken long to figure out who had done it, once Todd had woken up. Dino had gotten the bastard back on the next free-cell time, when the guards’ backs were turned and the inmate’s cellmate had gone downstairs, just like Dino had the day before.
Prison liked its tit for tat.
Dino simply provided that without getting himself in shit.
Thankfully, there hadn’t been an issue since, and guards were more than willing to turn their cheek to a bruise or bloody nose when inmates worked out their own problems without a fucking riot of some sort. He had also effectively sealed his reputation amongst the prisoners that he wasn’t going to take shit from anybody, and that included someone bothering his cellmate.
Dino damn near fell off the top bunk at the shout of his name. He’d been lost in his zone, enjoying the quiet that the block was rarely afforded. It was one of the only things he really enjoyed about visitation days. Most of the inmates on his block had someone who showed up, and they’d either be put into the visitation area, or be placed in the waiting area for when their time came.
Todd had gotten his visitor, as far as Dino knew.
He’d been called down to the waiting area earlier, leaving Dino alone to his thoughts. He didn’t mind.
As the guard came into view outside of Dino’s cell, the blue-suited man tapped his knuckles against the door, glancing up at the camera. “Open it for me.”
“What is it?” Dino asked.
The guard didn’t answer, simply waited for his request to be heeded. It was only after the door was unlocked and the bars slid open did he turn his attention back to Dino. “You’ve got a visitor downstairs. Apparently, they didn’t register that they were coming in, so they had to wait for when there was a cancelation in the schedule.”
Dino pushed off the bed, landing soundlessly on the cement floor. “Who is it?”
“I don’t get details, DeLuca, just orders.”
As the guard cuffed Dino—common procedure when inmates were being moved between blocks where it was less secure than other areas of the prison—he considered who might have shown up.
His uncle was a good possibility.
Ben DeLuca hadn’t come to the prison once since Dino’s arrival, but he figured he was due one of his uncle’s usual threats that would remind him of just how and why he was there in the first fucking place.
His brother was another option.
Theo had come to the first hearing with a clean suit for Dino to wear. Even though Dino would never ask for his brother to show up like he had. That would only put Theo on Ben’s shit list.
Being a Capo for the Chicago Outfit, meant Dino wasn’t likely to have a lot of visitors by way of friends or family. No man affiliated to the mob wanted to be seen having interactions with another man who was locked up. It simply wouldn’t look good, and it didn’t lend any credence to a man’s reputation of staying away from cops or officials. It would be better for any sort of interaction from a man outside and a man inside to be had over a phone call, and even then, very little talk of business or the mafia was likely to be had.
It was an unspoken rule of the lifestyle.
Women were the only exception to the rule, but his mother was long dead, and his sister was out of the country.
Dino shouldn’t have a visitor.
He hadn’t called his lawyer in.
He didn’t have family or friends that were unconnected to the mob.
Who in the hell was it?
“Let’s go,” the guard said, directing Dino out of the cell.
He would find out soon enough.
KAREN hadn’t thought about how cold a prison must feel like on the inside. She had always been the passerby on the outside, getting just a glimpse of the large building with its concrete walls. She hadn’t actually given much thought as to how the people inside must feel to be locked away.
Of course, she knew criminals deserved to be exactly where they were—locked up, hidden away from society to do their time.
She was not naive to what prisons were meant for, she simply hadn’t been put in a position where she needed to care about the people—or rather, one person—inside the concrete walls. Until now, it seemed.
Karen tugged her jacket closer to her chest, trying not to be bothered by the guards on both sides of the Plexiglas windows. The hard chair was doing nothing to soothe the sudden ache in her back, and even sitting didn’t help the restlessness coursing through her nervous system.
She still wasn’t sure if she should have come to visit Dino. A part of her wanted to see him, needed to talk to him, if only for a few minutes. She needed answers that only he could give her, but whether or not he would be willing to talk was a whole other story.
The other part of her, a little louder than the part that wanted to be where she was, had her squirming in her seat with an anxious flare that just wouldn’t let go, no matter how hard she tried to ignore it.
Maybe she shouldn’t have come at all.
Shit, as it were, it had taken her a good two weeks just to gain up the courage to go looking for where Dino had been placed, and then another two weeks to talk herself into a visit. Karen hadn’t realized just how involved visiting an inmate actually was. There was much more to it than just showing up and asking for time to see a prisoner.
She had been smart enough to call ahead and find out if there were scheduled visiting days, but no one had thought to mention during that phone call that visitors needed to sign in, reserve certain times, plus go through a massive amount of security before they could even get their visit with an inmate.
Showing up with no previous sign-in, no visiting reservation, and having no clue how the security for the prison was actually run, Karen had been left waiting for hours on the off chance that someone might flake on their visiting time.
She hadn’t even been guaranteed a visit with Dino when she finally got through the sign-in information, but rather, shoved into a waiting area where she fiddled with her phone and stared at gray walls for hours.
Thankfully, someone hadn’t shown up for their visitation, and Karen was walked through another hallway and sat down in a hard chair, facing a Plexiglas window where she could see another chair waited. On the walls of both sides of the glass, phones sat waiting for her to pick up one, and Dino to pick up the other. Thin barrier walls separated her seating section from a row of several others.
The barriers did nothing to help hide the conversations going on.
She could still hear the conversations of others visiting inmates, though she couldn’t hear what the inmates were saying from their side of the wall, or even see them behind their barriers.
Hearing them was more than enough.
A mother talking to her son.
A girlfriend crying to her boyfriend.
A friend reassuring his friend.
Karen wished there was a bit more privacy offered for people, but as soon as the thought came on, she knew how ridiculous it was. This was prison, for fuck’s sake.
There was no privacy.
No one expected any sort of discretion.
That was probably her first real understanding that coming to the prison to see and talk to Dino was absolutely a mistake. It didn’t matter that a huge portion of her heart was still owned by a man she didn’t really know at all. It didn’t make a difference that his lies did little to cut away at the feelings she still held for him.
The questions she wanted to ask—the things she needed to know—could not be asked here.
Still, even knowing this, Karen didn’t move from her chair. Her fingers drummed a fast beat to the small ledge that acted as a shelf in front of the Plexiglas window.
Just knowing she would see Dino was enough to make her stay there.
Tiny, smudged finger and palm prints on the edge of the glass caught her attention, and she could tell immediately that by the size of the prints, they were owned by someone small. A child, probably. It looked as though they had put their whole little hands against the glass, almost as if they thought if they could push hard enough on the window, if they got a little bit closer, then they would be able to crawl right through it.
For a split second, caught by the sight of those smudged prints, Karen was … heartbroken.
Would that be her child someday?
Would it be her baby learning who its father was and finding love on the other side of a Plexiglas window?
Would it be her son or daughter’s fingerprints breaking someone else’s heart at the heavy realization of what sitting in that spot meant for their future?
Karen blinked away the sudden prickling sensation in her eyes, willing the wetness gathering to go away. She couldn’t afford a breakdown. Not now, not here. When she was alone, when there weren’t guards just down the way and cameras trained on her every move, then maybe she could take a moment to let her situation sink in and deal with how all of this made her feel, and what it would mean.
She had only glanced over her shoulder to check the time on the clock behind her for a second before a knock on the glass made her spin back around in her seat.
A guard was standing on the other side of the glass, his hand still lifted with his knuckles coming forward to hit the window again if he needed.
Karen wasn’t paying attention to him at all.
No, she was too busy staring at the man behind him.
Dino met Karen’s gaze as the guard said something she couldn’t hear, and then turned to leave without another word. The man she had thought about for weeks on end, the man she worried and fretted over, the man she had been so angry with and hurt by his actions, only stared at her, never moving or even attempting to sit and grab the phone at the wall.
No, he just fucking stared at her. Karen sucked in a hard breath, a deep pain settling in the middle of her chest. She hadn’t thought about how hard it would be to see him locked up, locked down, and out of her reach.
The gray uniform and cuffs around his wrists only added to that difficult, painful emptiness growing in her soul.
Those words she had wanted to ask, all the things she wanted to say, suddenly stuck on her tongue like cement.
They wouldn’t come.
The words wouldn’t form.
Even when Karen reached for the phone, putting it to her ear and looking to Dino expectantly, he didn’t move. He didn’t sit or reach for his own phone, but rather, kept staring at her as though he wasn’t sure what he was seeing.
“Talk to me?” Karen asked, hoping he understood what she was saying without needing to hear it.
Then, all at once, it was like Dino had woken up from his daze. He still didn’t pick up the phone, but he shook his head quickly and mouthed, “You shouldn’t be here, Karen.”
All over again, her heart broke.
She was going to tell him she missed him--loved him.
She wanted to tell him about the baby, how far along the pregnancy was, and when she was due.
She needed to ask what in the hell she was supposed to do?
Dino didn’t give her a chance to ask or say anything. “Go home.”
Karen blinked, sitting a little straighter in her chair. “What?”
He pointed at her, then behind her. “Go home and don’t come back here.”
She didn’t move, because something inside wouldn’t let her go. His rejection stung like acid on her skin, but the coldness reflecting in his brown gaze was something far worse, as far as she was concerned. She had broken through that coldness once, a long time ago. She had been able to see the small bit of light that colored the edges of his blackened soul.
There was so much more to Dino DeLuca than what he showed.
No one truly knew.
Except for maybe her.
Dino dropped Karen’s gaze when she still stayed right where she was, not budging even an inch. Then, he reached over and grabbed the phone, putting it to his ear. For a long moment, Karen cradled her own phone tighter, listening to the rhythmic crackle of Dino’s breaths through the speaker.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
That was not what she expected to hear.
She didn’t ask him what he was apologizing for because without needing to tell her, they both knew damn well he had a lot to offer her where repentance was concerned. He had done a lot of things, said a lot of things, and it had left them with nothing more than Plexiglas windows and two phones away from one another.
“You have to go,” Dino said, still keeping that soft tone, “because it’s not safe for you to be here.”
Karen shook her head. “You’d be surprised at just how safe this place is for housing thousands of criminals.”
Dino flinched. “Not the people here—the people who are outside of here.”
She suspected he meant his family, that other life that he’d kept hidden from her until she didn’t have a choice but to open her eyes and see everything Dino had been hiding.
His gaze met hers, dark and sure.
There was fear there, and she hadn’t expected to see that at all.
The last thing she had ever seen from Dino was fear.
“It’s not safe for you to be coming here,” he repeated firmly.
With that, he put the phone back to the hook, and turned away. He’d only taken one step, probably moving toward a waiting guard that she couldn’t see, before Karen was up off the chair and moving closer to the window.
Her hands slammed into the Plexiglas window hard, making Dino stop. She’d dropped the phone to the small ledge, not even bothering to hang it up like he had for his. Those tears she had been holding at bay started to fall, making tracks down her cheeks as she stared at the man who refused to even talk to her.
Her shout of his name must have been loud enough for him to hear behind the glass, because his back tensed. He looked over his shoulder at her, that fear still present, but it was accompanied by something else, too.
A bit of want, too.
She had so many things to say to him, so many things to ask.
Those same questions she had been asking herself for a good month and a half fought their way out, demanding to be spoken aloud so that maybe … God, maybe, she would finally be able to sleep at night.
“I don’t know who you are,” Karen told him, hoping he could read her lips enough to understand what she had said.
She loved the man she thought she knew.
She cared for the person who let her chase his nightmares away.
She wanted to hold the man who made her feel like she was the most important thing in his world.
But the man standing behind the glass, the one with a last name that she now knew should frighten her, and affiliations that labeled him one of the worst kinds of criminals …
No, Karen didn’t know that man at all.
But she wanted to.
Because she believed, no matter what, she’d love him, too.
“I’m sorry,” Dino mouthed. “I’ll see you soon.”
That was it.
That was all he said.
Dino was gone before Karen could even think about what she wanted to do or say next. All she saw was his back as he disappeared beyond the barrier, and he didn’t even look back at her that time.
She fell into the hard chair with a thump, suddenly feeling so unsteady and unsure.
Had she made a mistake?
Was she wrong for wanting that man?
I’ll see you soon.
His words rang through her mind like a clanging bell, over and over again. It left her feeling more unsure than ever, like her world had suddenly been put on pause because he wasn’t kind enough to tell her this was the end.
Instead, he’d put them on hold.
Dino didn’t seem to understand that it couldn’t work that way for Karen. While he was locked away and unable to explain himself to her, the world wouldn’t stop for her while she waited for him to get out.
Her world still turned.
She was still pregnant.
She had to keep moving forward so that she could do what she needed to do in order to care for his child. She wouldn’t keep putting herself through hell emotionally, on the off chance that Dino might give something more to her than a look that made her heart clench and words that only cut her deeper.
She wouldn’t be coming back to the prison at all after today. She had given him the chance to tell her who he was and what he needed or wanted from her, and he hadn’t even tried to provide her with those things.
He loved her.
Karen knew those things without a doubt.
The problem was, love couldn’t always be enough and no matter what people tried to say, it couldn’t be unconditional. Love without barriers meant no one thought about the other side of the equation—they didn’t take into account how their behavior or actions might hurt someone else.
It was selfish to love that way.
It was unhealthy.
Yet, a small part of her still didn’t care.
I’ll see you soon.
Maybe by the time he was ready—by the time he could give her what she needed—Karen wouldn’t need or want it anymore. The part of her that he owned could be put on the shelf for a time while she waited on him, but the rest of her was still going to have to keep moving.
She was worried the rest of her would eventually take the waiting part with it, too.
That probably scared her the most.
So it has been a while since I have done a blog post, and for many reasons. For one, I just didn't have much to say on here that wasn't already being said in three other places, and for two, I needed to cut out some of my time that was better spent elsewhere.
This pregnancy has been interesting, to say the least. Quite a few physical issues have popped up that take away my ability to make posts every day on here, because those ten to twenty minutes are far more precious when I am using them to put words down on the next book.
With that being said, I made a promise on my Twitter earlier today. And if you don't follow me on Twitter, you should, because I am on there far more often than I am anywhere else. @BethanyKris is where you will find me, in case you want to.
So, on Twitter, I mentioned that this morning I woke up with this super persistent scene in mind for a very special couple that A LOT (read A FUCKING LOT) of people keep asking about. I try not to say much about the Legacy novels and the couples, because I won't even give release dates for books that aren't entirely, fully finished writing-wise. So no one gets very damn much from me where future books are concerned.
Except today, Cross wanted me to write. And he's a persistent fucker, so I did what he wanted. It's not the first scene that opens the book, but it is an important scene, and the first one of the book that I have written so far.
I promised the Twitter people I would share a small snippet of that scene, on the blog, so here I am to do that.
This is unedited. It is subject to change. I will NOT answer questions about this book, or it's release, because I won't make promises for an unfinished WIP.
But I can give you this tease ... because they are coming.
The Marcello Don held up a single hand, stopping Cross’s father from saying anything more. “I will speak. You will listen.”
Calisto scowled. “As long as speaking is all we do.”
Dante laughed dryly. “We’ll see.”
Cross set his small luggage to the tarmac. “She told me you knew.”
Angry, green eyes turned on Cross in a blink. He swore if Dante were capable, he would have killed him dead just by glaring at him.
“Do you honestly believe that I would allow my only daughter to travel out of country with a gun runner for two weeks while he was partaking in an active fucking deal?”
Cross looked to his father. “I didn’t know you knew that was happening.”
“He asked why you were in Cancun,” Calisto said, “and I told him since Andino also has a hand in the whole thing.”
“Yes, so it’s better you don’t lie,” Dante said lowly.
“I didn’t know you knew about the deal that was going down.”
That was the truth.
He hadn’t planned on offering the information, either.
Clearly, Calisto had different plans.
“Is that supposed to make it better?” Dante roared.
“She was perfectly safe,” Cross said, refusing to be affected by Dante’s rage. “She was fine.”
He wasn’t going to offer more details in that regard, though.
“You … you are …” Dante turned away, pinching the bridge of his nose as he snarled to himself. “She is not one of your toys, Cross, she is my daughter!”
“Perhaps you should ask Catherine if I use her like a boy might use one of his toys, and see how she feels about it, huh?”
That was not the right thing to say.
Calisto’s gaze widened, turning on his son with a warning on his tongue that was already too late. Cross knew it as the final words had spewed from his own mouth, because Dante had the gun in his hand, the hammer cocked back, and the barrel an inch from Cross’s face before he’d finished speaking.
“Why don’t I just ask you?” Dante asked.
Several voices called out from around them, ones Cross recognized like the other Marcello brothers, and even a man from his father’s Cosa Nostra. None of the voices objecting to the scene seemed to make any difference to the Marcello Don, though.
Cross didn’t blink, staring down the barrel of the Beretta to look Dante right in the eyes. “Well, that’s a familiar sight, Dante. How many times have we done this, now?”
“I see you still haven’t managed to learn proper respect when the better man is demanding it and you’ve got nothing but your fucking arrogance and pride to offer back, Cross.”
Every single word.
“Yet, here I am, still alive.”
His father always said that his arrogance would be what killed him in the end.
It was a very real possibility.
Dante smiled. “Depending on the next few words out of your mouth, yes, for now.”
“Come on, now,” Calisto said quietly, “this isn’t needed. He fucked up, but it’s not like—”
Dante’s gaze turned on Calisto. “Not like what, old friend? He won’t do it again? He’s learned his lesson? He gives a shit about the rules and place he’s been given? Tell me which one it is, Calisto.”
Calisto’s jaw clenched. “Likely none of them, because he’s a little bastard when he wants to be, but you’ve got one of those yourself, don’t you? A mouthy son with little respect for anyone else but himself, who oversteps his boundaries every chance he can and makes zero fucking apologies for doing so. He found that Irish girl and laughed in her father’s face when he refused to marry her to an Italian’s son. We both know there’s more to tell, too.”
Dante stayed silent.
“Had I pulled a gun on your boy—on Michael—you’d have beaten me to death on the spot, Dante,” Calisto added quickly, “Don't even dare to deny it. Your only daughter, yes, but he’s my only boy.”
“Do you think a nephew is worth the same as a daughter or son?” Dante asked.
Cross barely managed to hide his flinch, because there were only two people on the tarmac that actually knew the truth of his paternity. His father hid his hurt without even trying, offering Dante a shrug and a small smile.
“I’m the only father he knows,” Calisto said simply.
“You’re doing a shit job then.”
“So be it, but he is mine. And while he’s worth a war to me, consider if he’s worth the same to you.”
Dante took a heavy breath, his gaze swinging back to Cross. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t paint this tarmac with your fucking brain matter for what you did.”
Cross didn’t even have to think about it. “You don’t have to care, and you don’t even have to believe me, but she’s the love of my life. Pull the trigger, but you’ll put two in a grave, Dante. I’m literally betting my life on it right now.”
Waste of Worth (DeLuca Duet: Part One) is LIVE!
And I have a giveaway to share, but that's a little lower in the post.
First, and more importantly, I can share Dino and Karen with you all. I am so excited! These two are some of my favorite characters that I've written, and how great is it that they get to be my first two releases of 2017. I fretted and worried and lost a hell of a lot of sleep over these two books, and these two characters, for many reasons ... mostly because they're a little different than what I've done. Maybe tame in some aspects, while pushing some lines in other respects.
They're just not the War books, or Marcellos, Bloodlines, and so on. They're Dino's books, so they had to be special to him. I think I succeeded in that.
Now for all the fun bits.
Grab your copy:
Direct from Author
(This is new, but you can buy my ebooks direct from me & there'll be a more in-depth post on this later in the week!)
Or you can grab your copy from one of the vendors below!
Amazon | iTunes | Kobo | Barnes & Noble
Read the first 3 Chapters HERE.
And ENTER THE GIVEAWAY to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card OR a signed paperback of Waste of Worth!
Happy reading, loves!
For those over on Goodreads, some of my blog settings have changed so that you have to come over to my website to read the whole post, and I've decided to keep it that way due to Goodreads being unable to correct the inserted hyperlinks and refreshing problems with the posts.
Now, onto the good stuff.
I promised earlier in the week to share the first THREE chapters of Waste of Worth with you all. And today is that day, so yay for that.
We are just 11 days away from the release of the first book in the DeLuca Duet, and I am so excited to share Dino's story with you all.
Hugs, and enjoy!
Pick up your Pre-Order copy of Waste of Worth at the following vendors:
Releasing January 9th, 2017
Waste of Worth (DeLuca Duet: Part One)
Amazon | iTunes | Kobo | Barnes & Noble
Pick up your Pre-Order copy of Worth of Waste at the following vendors:
Releasing February 6th, 2017
Amazon | iTunes | Kobo | Barnes & Noble
MEMORIES could make a monster out of a man.
There were times that seemed harder to deal with than others; passing moments that could make Dino DeLuca’s chest tighten in pain, or his fists clench in anger.
The sound of metal being dropped was one of the worst. He swore he could feel his back bruising and bleeding all over again at the simple tinging tone.
Whispered words made him jumpy--paranoid. Whispers were good for nothing but taunting, and he didn’t want to hear those mocking words anymore.
Had enough yet?
Learn to follow directions, Dino.
It should fucking hurt, kid.
The stench of vomit, clinging to the air and seemingly never letting go, would make his panic rush into overdrive, overwhelming him with an almost-sense of itchiness all over his skin. As if the vomit was still soaked and dripping off his clothes in the darkness as he sobbed in a dank basement, curled in a corner and fighting off another round of sickness.
The reactions always came so swiftly that they surprised him, no matter the time or place. His memories weren’t much different when it came right down to it.
These times were the most difficult for Dino.
Those times came at night.
When the lights were off …
When the apartment was quiet …
When it was just him and his monsters …
When he was alone.
The most frightening thing about monsters was the fact that they could be anybody. The old man sitting outside the pizzeria, tipping his hat at the ladies passing by. The young woman on the city bus with her hair bleached white and her gaze distant, staring at anything but anyone. The mother pushing a stroller down the street, oblivious but focused.
Or a monster could be the man dressed in three-piece suit stepping out of the restaurant he owns, the ring of the key fob for his white Bentley spinning circles as he whistled Ave Maria on his way to church.
Dino caught sight of the lower portion of his reflection in the darkly tinted glass of his Bentley’s window.
He managed a smile.
It was more like a smirk.
Fact was, the expression he wore was neither. Dino found it incredibly hard to smile—something that came so easy for others was foreign to him. When he did try, it came off as a grimacing grin and that worked its way into a sneer.
Or a smirk.
He liked that better.
It was manageable.
The monster was definitely the man wearing the three-piece suit with the key fob in his hand, staring at himself in the window, Dino knew.
Slipping into the SUV, the noise of the busy Chicago city street was instantly silenced. Dino turned on his vehicle and checked his rearview mirror before he pulled out onto the road.
He regretted choosing the rearview almost immediately.
While his reflection in the window of his car had been partly obscured by the shadows of trees providing shade to the sidewalk, it was not concealed at all in the rearview mirror.
Dino didn’t like mirrors.
He didn’t like the face staring back at him.
The soulless brown gaze, emotionless expression, and silence were more than enough to make him look away.
Except he couldn’t.
Under the right edge of his strong jaw was a three-inch scar that started three-quarters of the way up his throat and stopped just before his ear. The broad slope of his nose had the slightest crook in the middle. Sometimes the left side of his jaw ached when it rained.
Those were the obvious things—marks, scars, and reminders he could pick out instantly when faced with his reflection. The longer he stared at himself, the more he would find.
It was—without meaning to be—the most dangerous game he could play with himself.
Church, he told himself. You need to be seen at church.
It was only the ringing of his phone that finally drove his gaze away from the rearview mirror, making him check the caller ID, and breaking his cycle of self-loathing.
Dino was grateful for that.
Not so much the caller that interrupted him.
Sighing, he connected the call through Bluetooth as he pulled out onto the road.
“DeLuca here,” Dino answered.
“Why the fuck is Riley Conti calling me with demands about you, Dino?”
Dino silently counted back from five before he answered his younger brother. “Theo, good morning to you, too. Are you at church? I’m headed that way. We can talk then.”
Dino let the call drop.
Theo wouldn’t say two words to Dino at the church and he knew it for a fact. When it came to the public, Theo and Dino were constantly apart from one another—on opposite sides of the room where they didn’t have to speak.
It was the easiest way for Dino to handle Theo DeLuca.
Maybe that made him a coward.
The brothers’ history together was not an easy one, not when it had been shadowed by the death of their parents, and then the events that followed the murders. Unlike Dino, who learned quickly that trust was a beautiful myth in their lifestyle and in the Chicago Outfit, Theo was of a more stubborn mindset.
And so, the two were distant.
Dino tried with Theo, but it never really seemed to help the relationship.
He was all too aware that his younger brother blamed him for things that had been out of his control, though Theo thought his older sibling could have handled the past far better.
He probably could have--should have.
Dino thought he had, honestly. He’d taken years of abuse from the hands of their uncle Ben after their parents’ deaths. He’d lived separately from the family, sure, but he was not exempt from the beatings or the manipulation.
Of course, that was a story for another day.
If Dino got his wish, that day would never come.
Another call rang through to Dino’s cell phone.
He checked the caller ID again.
Ben DeLuca, it read.
Dino didn’t pick up the call, still driving toward the church.
He would see Ben soon enough.
Without even being told, Dino was already aware he would suffer for not picking up the call.
Years had passed since he’d suffered some form of physical harm from his uncle’s hard hand.
Dino’s chest tightened at the thought.
Truth was, he still wasn’t exempt from the manipulation.
Not when he was constantly haunted with it all.
He still wasn’t free.
Dino slid quietly into the church pew less than five minutes after Mass had started for the parishioners. He avoided meeting the gazes of those he recognized, uninterested in a whispered conversation while the priest was preaching respect from behind his pulpit at the altar.
Of course, his hope didn’t last long before Ben DeLuca made his way over, sitting just a seat behind Dino.
Church was supposed to be Dino’s safe place.
It was meant for God—not men.
Ben had never been very good at following those rules.
“You’re late,” Ben said.
The priest continued on from the front, his sermon about respect likely being lost on the majority listening.
Dino was not one of those people.
He understood respect far better than most.
So, even though he hated his uncle—while he despised the man and the hell he’d caused in Dino’s life from the murder of his parents to the abuse of himself and his siblings—he didn’t shun Ben when he spoke.
He answered back.
He followed the rules.
“Traffic,” Dino lied.
Knowing Ben wouldn’t see it, Dino glanced up at the vaulted ceiling, sending off a silent apology to God. It had to be double the sin to lie in church, surely.
It wasn’t the first time.
“You didn’t answer my call earlier,” Ben said.
Dino stiffened slightly, but managed to hide the action by shifting a bit in the pew to make it seem as though he were searching for a better position. “I was on another call—Theo, actually. By the time I was done, I was practically here.”
Ben seemed to let it pass.
Seemed being the keyword.
“Yes, your brother is in a fit, though he didn’t want to talk about why,” Ben muttered more to himself than Dino.
That was all Dino really needed to say, and he knew his uncle would get the hint. Theo, a young, made soldier in their mafia family—much like Dino had been before getting his Capo title—sometimes had a problem with authority. Although he knew to follow the rules. Mostly, he did that well.
Given the fact that Riley Conti was the front boss for the Chicago Outfit, he often got the majority say where the Capos and the business were concerned on the streets. While the main boss, Terrance Trentini, and the underboss, Dino’s uncle, made the calls for the family as a whole.
It was all a delicate business, really.
Four factions of Capos made up the crews, with Dino heading the DeLuca side of things. The Rossis handled business at the top of Chicago, working alongside the Trentini family, while the DeLucas were at the bottom of Chicago, running business against the territory lines of the Conti family.
Sometimes, the families—the Capos, really—didn’t work well together.
Sometimes they were a breath away from killing each other.
Sometimes Theo had to work with people he would rather bury.
It didn’t help that Theo didn’t particularly care for Riley Conti and hadn’t for quite a while. And for good reason. Who would care for a man who once nearly beat him to death with a metal chair over a simple disagreement?
That had been years ago, but it still happened.
Theo didn’t let shit go.
Not that Dino blamed him.
“Well, handle that,” Ben finally said, bringing Dino from his thoughts. “We have a meeting coming up and the last thing I want to do is listen to Theo and Riley bark at one another again.”
Dino nodded, his gaze sweeping through the people in the pews to find his younger brother. He didn’t bother to explain that Riley was actually bothering Theo about him, because Ben wouldn’t give a shit about that fact. He didn’t care that Riley enjoyed bothering Theo, simply because he could, or that he took shots at the young soldier’s age like he didn’t deserve to be where he was—or the button into the family that he had earned—if only because he was younger than most in the position.
Theo was good at his job. He worked under his older brother with the goal of having the actual Capo title. He helped to manage the DeLuca crew, and other than the bosses above them, the only person he really had to answer to now was Dino.
He fucking deserved the credit for that.
Outfit men were bastards.
Each and every single one of them.
“I’ll get whatever little dispute they’re having handled,” Dino assured, never once giving his uncle his full attention.
It was easier this way.
Easier for him to pretend like all he had time for where Ben was concerned were passing moments and a quick, quiet conversation.
That way, he wasn’t letting Ben in.
Not close enough to hurt him again, or to find something to take from him.
Ben liked that too much.
He’d already taken enough.
“Oh, and before I forget,” Ben said as he stood.
Dino grinded his molars when he felt Ben’s hand land on his shoulder. The older man’s fingers squeezed tightly, and while it didn’t hurt, it certainly make every muscle in Dino’s body freeze like blocks of ice.
The touch was meant to be affectionate.
A nice gesture between an uncle and a nephew.
It only made Dino sick.
“What is it?” Dino asked.
Ben released his hold, but patted Dino’s shoulder. “Happy birthday. I nearly forgot—Carmela reminded me. You should celebrate tonight, but not too much, Dino. Business first, my boy. Business always comes first.”
Dino didn’t thank Ben for the well wishes, but his uncle was already walking away, heading back for his own pew where his wife was sitting with a bible open in her hands.
It was a little strange. Maybe even sad.
He hadn’t necessarily forgotten his birthday, but he didn’t care to remember it, either. It was just another year of life—twenty-nine all together.
Dino didn’t understand why he should celebrate his life when he was barely fucking living it.
EVERYONE had choices to make that would eventually lead their lives down one path or another. And sometimes, making one choice could lead to a separate set of roadblocks that would then lead them into yet another set of choices, often more difficult ones.
Dino understood this better than most.
At thirteen years old, he’d make a choice to get involved with a group of boys that liked nothing more than to cause a little trouble. He was accustomed to trouble, liked it even. He’d grown up seeing his father making money by the trouble he caused, and so it only seemed like the next logical step for Dino to follow in those footsteps.
Joseph DeLuca had, of course, denied his son.
Dino had decided, all those years ago, that he really didn’t need his father’s permission to do what he wanted to do, and so the group of boys came into play.
That was his first choice.
It led him into a world of thieves and ground-runners.
Thugs stealing whatever was available and then selling it for cheap on the streets. Others ran for the drug dealers, doing errands or making drop-offs when they were needed for some extra cash, on the hope that it would lead to a better position in the crew.
God knew Dino hadn’t needed to dabble in any of those things—there was more than enough of it inside his own family, for Christ’s sake. His father had been an Outfit Capo, right alongside his uncle.
The drugs Dino was helping the dealers to drop?
It came from his family.
Eventually, his uncle Ben had urged him toward the mafia more than the streets, much to his father’s chagrin and protest. He started learning about that world, that crazy, private, suffocating world that surrounded his family in secrecy, rules, and demands.
By the time he was sixteen, Dino knew exactly what he wanted to be.
A made man.
It was such a strange thing, he knew, how the very same choices he had made eventually shaped him, were the same ones his father had been faced with growing up, but they had led Joseph down an entirely different path.
One that included eventual death.
Dino remembered the day he’d moved out of his parents’ Melrose Park home like it was yesterday. His mother had kept her back turned to him the whole time. Not out of anger or disgust, but because she was crying and she didn’t want him to see it. Valerie DeLuca loved all three of her children, no matter their choices or mistakes, but she sided with her husband on the off-chance that Dino would stay.
His father packed his bags.
Go back to school, drop this Outfit nonsense, and you can come home, his father had told him at the door.
The only thing that made Dino pause was his sister Lily and his brother Theo. He looked after them, because despite how hypocritical his father was with his demands for Dino to live a clean life while he was busy making dirty money, he cared for his siblings.
But little Lily had Theo.
So … Dino made another choice.
Nearly a year later, to the very day he’d moved out, his parents were murdered in that quaint little Melrose Park home. His father, shot in the face as he sat at the kitchen table, and his mother in the back of the head as she ran for the front door.
It’d been a fucking bloodbath.
Dino had only seen the aftermath, weeks later when the blood on the walls was dried and the red puddles on the yellow-tiled floor had turned to crusted stains. He’d gone back in the house to get things of his and his siblings’—memories for them when they were older and they wouldn’t be able to remember their mother and father all too well.
The police hadn’t cleaned it up.
It wasn’t their job, apparently.
Despite how he’d left the relationship with his parents, strained and distant, he still loved them. The last thing he wanted was for the memories that his siblings had to be turned into something foul.
The whispers and rumors had begun damn near instantly.
Joseph was a rat, feeding police with inside information as to their business and the inner workings of the Chicago mob like he had every right. He’d gotten what he deserved.
Dino never argued his father’s fate—never once spoke against the people who said Joseph earned the punishment that put him in the ground. And despite learning that it was Joseph’s own brother to pull the trigger—Ben, that was—Dino’s only desire was to protect his siblings from a similar fate.
Traitors ate bullets.
Simple as that.
But that didn’t mean he liked it.
Or that it didn’t fill him with rage every time he considered his mother being caught up in it all.
Valerie had been an innocent, stuck in a mess of her husband’s making, a man she loved, yes, but not one she was able to protect. Like most mafia wives, she was born into the lifestyle with a father and grandfather who had been gangsters, and she married a man just like them because that was what she had been taught to do. She raised her family from home, never working or asking for more than what her husband provided because women of the mafia were expected not to complain if they wanted to keep their husbands at home, in their bed and their place.
Dino remembered his mother being sweet—loving her husband and her family.
She only died that night because she’d opted to stay in with Joseph, instead of taking one of her very infrequent ladies’ nights that had been pre-planned.
Sighing, Dino wished all of this past shit was easier for him to deal with, but it wasn’t. It was these choices, both those he made himself and those made by his father, that led him to the hell that was Ben DeLuca.
Maybe he hated the dead man a little for it.
Not his mother, though.
Bending down in front of the gravestone, Dino pulled the pristine white handkerchief from his suit pocket, and began wiping the bits of dirt and blades of grass from the front of the shiny marker. He read his mother’s name, and took in the dates she had lived and died.
He always tried to stop by whenever Sunday rolled around.
Guilt was a silent killer.
Dino couldn’t help but wonder if he had stayed, if he had done what his mother and father wanted all those years ago, would she have been spared? Would she have been home, or gone like she was supposed to be?
Would he have died, too?
She was the innocent one.
He was filthy like his father.
Why did those who deserved angel wings earn them far faster than those who didn’t?
“Lily’s gone to Europe,” Dino said to the gravestone, tucking the cloth back into his pocket. “She was pretty determined to go, Ma, and I didn’t want her around here more than she needed to be. I love her—she needs to be happy, right?”
It’d taken years, but Dino finally had the control over his siblings that he’d fought for where his uncle Ben and aunt Carmela were concerned. After the death of his parents, Ben had beaten Dino black and blue that very same night when he thought to take his brother and sister with him to be cared for.
Ben couldn’t have that—he wanted control.
Control of the DeLuca name, of the children left behind that he could shape and mold, and of the teenaged boy he’d already been slowly moving away from his father.
Ben wanted all of that, and he’d gotten it.
That was the first time Dino learned Ben was not to be trusted.
The second time was worse than the first …
“Anyway, she’s happy, and keeps sending me postcards with pictures,” Dino explained.
To some it probably seemed stupid for him to talk to a grave. His mother’s body had long rotted away in a casket six feet under, and her soul was gone high above, likely.
But it helped.
Very few things helped Dino.
Knowing he had to go and chat with Riley Conti for the sake of peace and business, Dino said a quiet goodbye to his mother, giving the headstone one more pat with his hand before he stood straight. Dino fixed his jacket as he weaved in and out of the other markers, careful not to step on the graves as that was just disrespectful to the dead.
And he’d kill any fucking fool who stepped on his mother’s grave.
He’d just stepped onto the stone pathway heading back toward the parking lot of the church when something rammed back into him from behind.
The quiet ommpf sound was followed by a quick apology.
Dino spun on his heel, coming face to face with a young woman that held a large camera in her hands and eyes so wide he was pretty sure he would be able to see his reflection in the brown depths if he looked hard enough. She was pretty—beautiful, even—in an unassuming way, with her earth-toned clothing and her long, caramel-colored hair tied up in a messy bun at the very top of her head. The sunglasses on her head fell down over her face, hiding those eyes of hers, as she took another step backward.
She pushed the sunglasses back to the crown of her head.
Dino was still staring at her, quite unsure of what to do.
“You okay?” he asked.
The woman nodded, smiling just a bit.
That led his attention to the gentle curve of her pink lips, and the way her shoulder lifted at the same time.
“My fault,” she replied. “I was walking backward to get the right shot—missed you coming out from behind the statue. Nice day for photos, though, so I couldn’t help myself. I get the best ones in the cemeteries.”
Dino’s brow furrowed.
She talked a lot.
He barely talked at all, even when he was forced into conversation.
Maybe that was why he felt so awkward standing there, unsure of what to say or if she even wanted him to.
“I saw you, though,” the girl continued. “Over there, right?”
She pointed back toward his mother’s grave.
Dino just blinked. “Uh.”
She didn’t seem the slightest bit put off by his lack of communication, instead, rolling right on with whatever she had to say next.
“It makes me curious when I’m photographing cemeteries and see people talking to graves or whatever, and I almost stop them to chat, but never do. It wouldn’t be right.”
Yet, there she was, talking to him.
That was not lost on Dino.
She stuck her hand out, offering it to him.
“Karen Martin,” she said.
Dino’s gaze flicked down at her hand, and without his permission, lifted his own to take hers. There was a warmth to her skin that wasn’t in his, he noticed. They were both outside, so there was no real reason for the temperature difference.
Karen smiled widely. “You should tell me your name, it’s only fair.”
“Dino,” he said, surprised at how quietly his name came out.
“Do you come here often?”
Again, he answered, more honestly than perhaps he should have spoken. “Once a week usually to visit my mother.”
That brightness in her features dimmed just a bit, but she still managed a smile.
Dino couldn’t help but notice that it was a beautiful smile.
Even when it was sad.
“Can I make a confession, Dino?” Karen asked.
Dino eyed her, both curious and a little wary of her sunny disposition while she stood chatting happily in the middle of a cemetery with a man she didn’t know from Adam.
“Go for it, Karen.”
“Me bumping into you wasn’t really an accident,” she said with a wink. “You looked sad—I wanted to see if I could make you smile.”
He wasn’t quite sure what to make of that.
Karen shrugged her one shoulder again, letting go of his hand and pointing at his face as she took a step backward. “And you are, Dino. Smiling, I mean.”
Karen laughed, a sweet sound that reminded him of a melody, floating in the wind and being carried further away. “Have a great day, Dino. And if you need to smile next Sunday, I might be around.”
Before he could reply, Karen was already gone back up the pathway, and disappearing behind a rather large statue in the cemetery.
It took two minutes for Dino to get back to his car.
His reflection in the driver’s window confirmed Karen’s statement.
He was smiling.
How strange …
“FOR the sake of business?” Theo snarled.
Dino barely passed his younger brother a glance at his show of anger—it wasn’t unusual for Theo, as far as that went. “We all have to play nice with people we don’t like, Theo.”
“Riley Conti is a fucking—”
“Cool it,” Dino interrupted, finally giving his brother his attention. “We’re in the middle of a fucking church parking lot. The least you could do is keep your tantrum at a quiet level so that we’re not sharing our problems with the goddamn neighbors. It’s not like they need more to gossip about where the Outfit is concerned.”
“Right, that’s what you’re worried about, not the fact that Riley is a cocksucker who can’t be trusted. Let’s jump in bed with the snakes, huh? Sure.”
“Fuck you, Dino.”
With that last statement, his brother pushed off the side of the vehicle and stalked off, heading toward his own car down the lot.
Dino stared up at the sky, wishing for patience. He wasn’t exactly surprised at how the conversation had gone with Theo, as this was how it usually went whenever they had to discuss things. Especially if Dino had to put restrictions on his brother’s business in some shape or form.
The week had been hell.
He’d done his business as he was supposed to, and worked out a deal that Riley would be happy with, but one that Theo would not be pleased about having to contribute to. Because the Conti and DeLuca territory lines were so close together, it only made sense for the families to work together when needed.
Unfortunately, that meant Theo, being the leader of the crew on the streets, would need to answer to Riley at times when business intermingled.
It was a shitty situation, but required.
He didn’t know what else to tell his brother.
Theo would have to suck it up.
Dino was forced to work with Ben DeLuca every day of his life, and he despised that man with all the fibers of his being.
Nobody said being a made man was fun or easy.
It was far from it.
Frustrated but refusing to show it, Dino headed toward the cemetery, wanting to check his mother’s grave and update her on the week.
Right, he thought, and that is it.
It certainly wasn’t to see if Karen was there again, like she had promised to be, taking pictures and making him smile.
He certainly hadn’t thought about her at all or their brief encounter.
He most definitely wasn’t curious about her.
Dino didn’t have time for those sorts of things. His life didn’t allow for things that made him smile or gave him a reprieve from the constant darkness shadowing it, not even a brown-eyed stranger with a soft smile and a sweet laugh.
And yet, as Dino stepped into the cemetery just beyond the iron gates and large stone wall that was too high to see over, the very first thing he did look for was Karen. He didn’t know the woman at all, and while he’d been tempted to see if he could find out more about a Chicagoan photographer that went by the name Karen, he opted not to.
Dino didn’t make an effort to have relationships of any sort. Not romantic, or even friendly. They never ended well, and he wasn’t the type, frankly. He didn’t have the time or care for it.
But even if he did … a thick fear curled around his throat like a noose, threatening to strangle him with the force of the invisible feeling.
He couldn’t afford love of any kind.
Like everything else, it would only be taken away.
It didn’t matter, it seemed.
Karen was nowhere to be seen in the cemetery.
Ignoring the heaviness settling in his gut at the realization, Dino made his way to his mother’s grave. He spent a good ten minutes there, cleaning off her stone and talking quietly. It was only when he stood and turned to leave did he pause.
Karen stood far back, sitting on a stone bench with the camera in her hands once again. She raised it, and snapped a picture of him before calling out, “I was a little bit late today.”
Dino found himself smiling again. “Oh?”
“Traffic is a bitch.”
He laughed, taken off-guard at her crass candor.
“No pictures today then?” he asked, walking toward her.
Karen glanced down at the camera, focusing on the screen as she pressed a button over and over. “I got the ones I wanted.”
Dino didn’t ask her for more information, instead, taking a seat beside her on the bench. “Why cemeteries?”
“Sundays are for cemeteries. Mondays are for birds and trees. Tuesdays are for people. See where I’m going with this?”
“Whatever catches your attention, huh?”
“Pretty much,” Karen said. “Of course, I have to feed myself and pay the rent on my loft, so the majority of my time is spent on people who pay.”
“You don’t sound interested,” Karen noted.
More than he could explain.
More than what was safe.
Quickly, Dino stood from the bench, brushing invisible dust from the arms of his suit. “Have a wonderful—”
“Did I say something wrong?”
He didn’t know how to explain it to her, but it wasn’t her that was wrong.
“No, but I have to go. It was nice seeing you again.”
Dino didn’t know how to be any other way. He didn’t let people close because they didn’t stay that way for long. He didn’t think it was fair for them to be hurt because he was weak. He was far better at being alone, anyway.
No, it certainly wasn’t her that was wrong.
It was all him.
Karen was still peering at Dino with curiosity burning brightly in her gaze. “I’ll be here again next weekend.”
It was then that Dino knew this strange woman was interested in him, for whatever reason. How many times could she photograph the same cemetery?
It didn’t matter that he might like to know a bit more about her, too.
Or even why she was curious about him.
He wasn’t allowed to have things that made him happy—it had to be given. When he took happiness for himself, it was always ripped away.
“I won’t be here,” Dino told her.
With that, he walked away.
Ben tipped his glass of whiskey in Dino’s direction, giving him a look that said his next statement was not going to be something Dino liked.
“Your sister—call her back from Europe. It’s been too long.”
Dino used his own bottle of beer to hide the frown starting to form. “I’m not calling Lily back. She’s fine over there.”
“She needs to be here, Dino. Get her set up in a marriage of good standing.”
Dino couldn’t outright refuse Ben, given he was the head of the DeLuca family, and the Outfit’s underboss, but he could use what bit of power he had to divert attention.
“Soon,” Dino promised. “I haven’t picked someone yet, or even offered.”
Dino’s teeth grinded, but he managed to interrupt Ben with a quiet but firm, “No.”
“Is it Tommas you take issue with, or a Rossi?”
Certainly not the Rossi family.
“Tommas is looking at someone else,” Dino said, offering nothing else.
He didn’t know if it was true. He had no idea if the Rossi Capo was looking at any woman as a wife, but Dino did know it wouldn’t be Lily.
“Joel, then,” Ben said.
Was that what they were going to do?
Toss out names of men in the Outfit until Ben hit the one Dino would agree to marry his sister off to?
“For now, she’s fine where she is,” Dino repeated.
Ben didn’t look all too pleased, but it was what it was.
Unfortunately, if Ben really wanted Lily married off, all he would need to do was make a few phone calls of his own, set up the arrangement, and call her home. Dino wouldn’t get much of a say.
And the only say Dino would have, was if he ended up being the person to set up Lily in a marriage of his choosing.
She would hate him for that, he knew.
It would be unforgiveable to her.
Dino figured he had a bit of time before he’d have to worry about all of that. A couple of years, hopefully. A whole lifetime to someone of Lily’s age, essentially. Maybe when he did finally step in, to save her from having their uncle pick her a husband, she would understand why Dino had been the one to choose.
At least he would pick a man who would love her, care for her, and give her the world.
Maybe he already had a man in mind, but … time.
He had time.
“And Theo,” Ben added, resting back in his desk chair.
Dino had all he could do not to roll his eyes. “What about Theo, Ben?”
“Find Theo a wife—he needs the same thing Lily does. It might even settle him down a bit.”
The laugh that broke free from Dino’s chest was both sardonic and bitter.
“That’s never going to happen,” Dino told Ben, knowing it was true. “If you want to keep Theo compliant and happy doing what you want him to do, then your best bet is to leave him the hell alone. Theo will get married to whoever the fuck he wants, whenever the fuck he wants, and you’ll get no say in it all, Ben, so don’t waste your time.”
Dino knew better than to poke at his uncle in such a way that was almost taunting in nature. Ben had no patience for that, and had zero qualms with reminding Dino of just how powerless he could be against him.
But it had been the truth.
Ben needed to hear it.
“Is that so?” Ben asked.
“I say it for your benefit,” Dino replied, “not mine. It’d be a headache, and nothing more.”
“I suppose that only really leaves us with one person to move our family up in the Outfit, then.”
Dino’s confusion must have been obvious in his expression, because Ben smiled in that cold way of his, tipping his glass toward his oldest nephew.
“You, Dino.” Ben shrugged, taking another drink of whiskey. “That only leaves us with you.”
“I don’t want a wife,” Dino said quietly.
Why would he ever want to bring someone into the hell that was the mafia? How selfish of a creature would he be to trap a woman in a life where the next day was not promised and the world that should be safe and happy was constantly in an uproar and unstable?
As for him …
Dino was a broken man, unable to even sleep at night, and he wasn’t even sure he knew how to love a woman properly, let alone give her a happy life.
No, marriage was not in his future.
“Want and need are two very different things. And it isn’t about what you want or need, Dino, it’s about la famiglia. That’s the problem with the Outfit—when a family is quiet for too long, when they do nothing to better their position, then they fade into the background and are seen as weak. Is that what you want for the DeLuca family—to be a target?”
In a way, Ben was right.
That was the culture of the Outfit and the families within it.
They were always competing, always fighting. It never ended, though it was tiring.
“How much higher do you want to be exactly?” Dino dared to ask.
Ben eyed him from the side, taking in the question. “I beg your pardon?”
“You said this was to move the family up in the Outfit--our family specifically. Exactly how high do you want to be, Ben? You’re the underboss, and we both know you have zero interest in running the streets as the front boss like Riley does. So where are we going exactly?”
Ben smiled that cold and familiar sight again.
It made Dino sick.
His uncle always smiled before something bad happened, especially where Dino was concerned. He’d seen that smile too many times to count before he’d ended up in a hospital, making up some lie as to how he’d earned himself another broken bone or one of many bruises.
“We’re going up,” Ben said. “All the way up, Dino.”
“The boss is your friend,” Dino replied, referring to the Outfit’s leader, Terrance Trentini.
“There is no such thing as friends, Dino. Haven’t I taught you that over the years?”
Yes, yes he had.
Author. Canadian. Mother. Lover. I write about bad guys who fall for their women and fall hard. To visit my old blog for older posts, please go HERE.