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.