Twisted Emotions (The Camorra Chronicles Book 2)
BEFORE – NINO
“You do remember what I told Luca last time I saw him? I doubt he’ll have any kind of interest in working with us after that,” Fabiano muttered, pacing the room. “He will kill me the moment I set foot in his territory, trust me. Fuck, I would kill me if I were him.”
Remo shook his head. “He is angry, but he will see reason.”
I nodded. “He wanted to protect his property, his wife, but he’s still a businessman, and we have good arguments for cooperation. Drugs are still his main business, and our contact in his lab tells us they can’t produce enough for the increasing demand. Luca needs to import drugs, but he can’t because we hold the west and Dante holds the middle. His smugglers lose too much of the shit before it reaches the East Coast. If he works with us, we can guarantee safe transport through our territory and in return he promises us to stay out of our fight with Dante Cavallaro. We don’t even want his help.”
“We don’t need it,” Remo insisted, dark eyes hardening. We disagreed on that point; additional help facing an opponent like Dante Cavallaro would have been very appreciated, but like Luca, Remo let emotions get in the way of rational decisions.
Fabiano frowned. “Luca isn’t like you, Nino. Not every single one of his decisions is based on logical reasons. He’s furious because we insulted Aria, and his pride might stop him from making the logical decision. Trust me on that.”
Pride and fury. Neither were useful.
“If you tell your sister that you gave Leona that bracelet, she will convince him. She’ll think you are her little brother again. She’ll want to believe it. Take Leona with you. Make it out to be a family visit, for all I care, but convince Aria and Luca to talk to us. Tell him I’m going to meet with him personally,” Remo said.
I gave Remo a slanted look. Last time he talked to Luca hadn’t gone over too well. Years had passed, but if Luca held on to grudges, he’d remember that too. And Remo had a way of provoking people that didn’t go over well with the other Capo.
“He won’t believe that we’re trustworthy,” Fabiano said. “And you talking to Luca is the fucking worst thing that could happen. Remo, you are a fucking time bomb. You get a hard-on just imagining how it would feel to bathe in Luca’s blood, damn it. Do you really think you could stop yourself from trying to kill him?”
Remo leaned back with a smile on his face that I’d learned to be wary of. “The Famiglia is all about bonds to ensure peace, aren’t they? We give them what they want, what your sister wanted for you and everyone else.”
He hadn’t answered Fabiano’s question.
Fabiano stopped his pacing and crossed his arms. “And what’s that supposed to be?”
“Peace and love.” Remo’s mouth twisted as if he was going to start laughing. “We’ll suggest a marriage between our families. It worked between the Outfit and the Famiglia for a while.”
Remo hadn’t mentioned anything to me. Usually he consulted with me before he made these kinds of decisions. For Remo, it was a surprisingly reasonable plan. Marriages had prevented many wars over the centuries of human history—of course, they’d started just as many as well.
Fabiano laughed but I could tell that he was displeased from the narrowing of his eyes. “For a few years and now they are back to killing each other.”
“A few years is all we require,” I told him. “Luca knows as well as we do that any kind of peace arrangement will always only be for a short period of time.”
“You can’t believe that Luca will agree to an arranged marriage.”
“Why not?” Remo asked, grinning. “It worked for him and your sister. Look at them, sickly in love. I’m sure he can spare one of his cousins. Didn’t you say his father had three sisters and two brothers? There have to be a few cousins in marrying age, or even a second cousin for all I care.”
“One of those sisters was married to a traitor whom our father killed. I doubt she will give her daughters to us,” I reminded Remo.
“One of her daughters is the fuck-thing of that bastard Growl. As if I’d accept her or her sister for our family,” Remo spat. I inclined my head in agreement. It would send the wrong message if we allowed the Famiglia to give us the leftovers of our traitorous half-brother.
“Luca wouldn’t choose either of them. But who the fuck is supposed to marry a woman from the Famiglia?” Fabiano asked, raising his blond eyebrows at my brother. “Don’t tell me it’s going to be you, Remo, because I won’t make that fucking offer. We all know that you are the last person we can parade around as a husband. You lose your temper all the time. That will end in a fucking bloody wedding and you know it.”
Remo grinned, his eyes shifting to me. That explained why he hadn’t consulted with me. “I won’t marry anyone. Nino will.”
Lifting my eyebrows at him, I asked, “Will I?”
Fabiano sank down onto the sofa, grimacing. “No offense, but Nino isn’t really the right person to play husband either.”
I tilted my head. I’d never considered marriage. It seemed unnecessary. “If you’re referring to my lack of emotions, I can assure you that I can fake them if required.”
Remo shrugged. “It’s not like it’s a marriage for love. Nino doesn’t have to feel anything to marry. He only needs to say yes and fuck his bride, perhaps father a kid or two, and keep his wife alive as long as we want peace with the Famiglia. You can do that, right?”
I narrowed my eyes, not liking his tone. “I can do that.”
Fabiano shook his head. “That’s a fucking bad idea and you know it.”
“It’s unconventional,” I conceded, “but it’s a practice that’s been used in our circles for generations. Even before our families came to the US, they arranged marriages to establish bonds between different families. And the Famiglia has old-world values. They are the only family outside Italy that still follows the bloody sheets tradition. I’m certain that Luca’s family will welcome the idea of another arranged marriage between families; Luca needs to keep the traditionalists in the Famiglia happy, especially now that he had to take in some of his relatives from Sicily. And there are still traditionalists in the Camorra who’ll appreciate that kind of agreement.”
Fabiano shook his head again. “I tell you again, Luca won’t agree. He will kill me.”
Remo smirked. “We will see. I hear he needs to protect his children.”
Fabiano jerked. “Aria’s got kids?”
Remo and I had known for a while. One of our contacts told us. Luca made sure to keep Aria and the kids out of the press and even killed a few photographers who didn’t grasp the concept of privacy. Remo hadn’t wanted Fabiano to know because he worried Fabiano would get too emotional during his visit in New York. Apparently, he changed his mind.
“ A daughter and a son,” I said. “He needs to protect them, and if we offer him peace in the west, that should convince him.”
Fabiano was silent. “How long have you known?”
“Is that important? It’s not like Luca would have let you anywhere near his kids,” Remo said.
Fabiano nodded but his mouth was tight. “You know Dante wasn’t the main force behind the attack on us. It was my father.” He looked at me then at Remo. “Dante might kill my father before we get our hands on him. I don’t want that to happen. Let me go to Chicago and bring him to Las Vegas. We can still ask Luca for peace after that.”
Remo gave me a pointed look, obviously needing me to be the voice of reason as usual.
“That seems unwise,” I said. “You are too emotionally invested to lead an attack on Outfit ground, especially on your father. And we don’t know for certain if your father acted without Dante’s direct orders. Dante might not kill him.”
“It was my father’s plan. You heard what the Outfit fuckers said when we tore them apart. My father sent those fuckers because he wanted me dead,” Fabiano growled. “And I want to kill him. I want to tear him apart limb by limb.”
“And you will,” Remo said firmly, touching Fabiano’s shoulder. He paused. Again with that smile. “But it would be a good wedding gift. If we get our hands on Scuderi, we could have his death as a peace offering for Luca and his clan. After all, the Scuderi sisters don’t hold much love for their father either.”
“Of course they don’t. He is a despicable asshole,” Fabiano said.
“We can’t waltz into Chicago and drag their Consigliere out. You realize that, right? Dante will have put every possible protection in place.” I had to say it because it was becoming increasingly obvious that neither Remo nor Fabiano would make the wise choice when it came to bringing down the Outfit. “The only logical choice is to send me to New York for the meeting with Luca. I’m not emotionally invested. I will be able to deescalate the situation if required.”
Remo shook his head. “I am Capo. I should be at the front. Only a fucking coward would send his brother out to risk his sorry ass in a situation like this.”
“What about my fucking ass?” Fabiano muttered.
“Your ass is safe because of your sister. No matter what Luca says, he’ll always think twice before putting a bullet in your head. With Nino, nothing’s holding him back.”
“He won’t shoot me. His next delivery will have to pass our borders in the upcoming days … if our informants in Mexico are to be believed. We intercept it, keep hold of his men and his drugs until the meeting, and I’ll give the order to have them released as a peace offering, a sign of goodwill.”
“Drugs and expendable soldiers won’t stop Luca from killing you,” Fabiano said.
“We will see,” I said. “It’s the only logical choice.”
“Your fucking logic is pissing me off,” Remo muttered.
“I’m the future husband, so it is the logical choice to send me. We’re doing this on my terms, Remo. I won’t have you two mess this up with your emotions.”
“I think he’s pissing me off on purpose,” Remo said to Fabiano.
Fabiano nodded. “I think he is.”
“It doesn’t take much effort to piss you off, Remo.”
Remo narrowed his eyes at me. “The logical choice would be to take someone with you. You shouldn’t go alone. Take Fabiano.”
Fabiano rolled his eyes. “Yeah, take me. Because apparently I’m bulletproof because I’m a fucking Scuderi.”
I regarded the blond man. “Maybe your presence would rip open too many wounds for Luca. We don’t want to start on the wrong foot.”
“I think that ship has sailed,” Fabiano said.
“Do you want to come with me to New York?” I asked, my expression doubtful.
“I’d rather go to Chicago and kill my fucking father, but if an insane marriage between you and some poor Famiglia woman brings me closer to that goal, I’ll go to New York and talk to Luca fucking Vitiello. But I don’t think he’ll be very happy to see me. He won’t believe I’ve changed for one fucking second.”
“You haven’t really. Except for your behavior toward Leona. You are still a cruel bastard, so Vitiello shouldn’t trust you,” I said.
Fabiano looked between Remo and me. “Am I going or not? I’ll have to figure out a way to tell Leona about this without freaking her out.”
Remo shook his head. “I should go as Capo.”
“We’ll save that reunion for the second meeting when Vitiello is convinced the benefits of a bond outweigh the joy of cutting off your head,” I said.
“I take it that means I’m going.” Fabiano got up. “I really hope this fucking ordeal allows me to kill my father, or you two will have a lot to make up to me.”
I still wasn’t convinced that Fabiano’s presence would improve our situation. He was Aria’s brother, true, but even that wouldn’t protect him forever. Taking Remo was out of the question. I’d have to make sure Luca and Fabiano would follow my reasoning and not let their unpredictable emotions run the show.
I stood off to the side as usual, far enough away from the dance floor so no one would feel obligated to ask me to a dance. My eyes followed Giulia as she danced with her husband, Cassio. Her eyes caught mine briefly, and she smiled. She had already moved out when I had to move in with Aunt Egidia and Uncle Felix six years ago, but she and I had become close friends nevertheless, closer than anyone else, especially my older brothers. They were allowed to stay in Atlanta after our father was killed by my cousin Luca. I shivered at the memory.
Giulia was one of the few who looked at me with kindness and not a superior sneer. I resisted the urge to rub my arms; it seemed like I was always cold. Even the music failed to set me at ease. I couldn’t wait to be back home and feel the keys of my piano under my fingertips.
My spine stiffened when Luca headed toward me. His wife, Aria, probably took pity on me and told him to ask me to a dance. I really wished he wouldn’t.
“Would you like to dance?” he asked, holding out his hand. Since I’d turned eighteen last year, I was expected to attend social events. Even Aunt Egidia and Uncle Felix couldn’t find excuses to keep me away anymore. I was still shunned by many, not openly, but I caught their looks when they thought I wasn’t paying attention.
“It’s an honor,” I said quietly and took his hand. My body revolted at the physical contact, but I forced it into submission and followed Luca toward the dance floor. He was my cousin and I’d known him all my life, not that I knew him very well. We had too many cousins in our family to allow a closer bond.
I tried to brace myself for the next step, for his hand on my waist, tried to prepare so I wouldn’t flinch, but the moment his palm touched my hip, my entire body seized. Luca regarded me but didn’t pull back. He was probably used to that kind of reaction from people. His reputation and size would have sent even a normal woman running. I tried to soften my body in his hold as we danced, but it was a losing battle and eventually I gave up.
“Your father was a traitor, Kiara. I had to kill him.”
I’d never held it against him. My father knew the consequences of betrayal, yet Luca seemed to think that was the reason I couldn’t stand his touch. I wished it were that. God, how I wished it were only that, wished it was only Luca’s touch that brought me close to panic. I swallowed the memories of the nights that had broken me.
“You had to,” I agreed. “And I don’t miss him. He wasn’t a good father. I miss my mother, but you didn’t kill her. That was my father.”
In my head I began playing the melody I’d been working on over the last few weeks, hoping it would calm me. It didn’t.
Luca nodded. “I talked to Aunt Egidia and Felix. They are concerned that you aren’t married yet.”
I was nineteen and hadn’t been promised to anyone yet. “Who wants to marry the daughter of a traitor?” I muttered. Deep down I was relieved. Marriage would reveal a secret I needed to hold on to, a secret that would turn me into a pariah in our circles.
“You did nothing wrong. Your father’s actions don’t define you.”
People were watching me. “Why don’t you tell them,” I spat, looking around at our audience. I cringed at my tone. “I’m sorry.” Luca was Capo. I needed to show respect.
He regarded me, wearing a blank mask. “I don’t want to promise you to a soldier. You are a Vitiello and should be married to one of my Captains or Underbosses.”
“It’s okay. I have time,” I said quietly, my cheeks flushing in shame. I didn’t really have time. I was getting older and being unmarried and a traitor’s daughter would only make people talk more.
The dance was finally over, and I gave Luca a quick, forced smile before I made my way back to the side. After that, I did what I could do best—had learned to do best—I pretended I wasn’t there. My aunt choosing modest dresses in subdued colors from last year’s collection definitely helped with that. I couldn’t wait for the Vitiello Christmas party to be over. Christmastime was connected to too many horrible memories.
ChristmasTime seven years ago
I couldn’t sleep. No matter how I twisted and turned, I always managed to lie on the bruises. Father had been in a horrible mood today. Mother said it had something to do with us being in New York. Tomorrow, we’d finally return to Atlanta, and then his mood would be better. Soon, everything would be better. Soon, Father would have solved all of his problems and we’d finally be happy. I knew it wasn’t true. He would never be happy, never stop hitting us. Father enjoyed his unhappiness and he enjoyed making us suffer.
Something clanged downstairs. I got out of bed and stretched, trying to get rid of the soreness in my limbs from the beating I endured this morning. A sound in the corridor drew me toward the door, and I carefully opened it, peering out the crack. A tall man lunged at me. Something over my head gleamed in the light, and then a knife was wedged into the wooden doorframe. I opened my mouth to scream, but the man clamped his hand over my mouth. I struggled, terrified of the huge stranger.
“Not a sound. Nothing will happen to you, Kiara.” I froze and took a closer look at the man. It was my cousin Luca, my father’s Capo. “Where is your father?”
I pointed toward the door at the end of the corridor, my parents’ bedroom. He released me and handed me over to Matteo, my other cousin. I wasn’t sure what was going on. Why were they here in the middle of the night?
Matteo began to lead me away when my mother stepped out of the bedroom. Her terrified eyes landed on me a moment before she jerked and fell to the ground.
Luca threw himself to the ground as a bullet hit the wall behind him. Matteo shoved me away and darted forward, but another man gripped me in an unrelenting hold. My gaze froze on my mother, who stared at me with lifeless eyes.
Only Father had been in the bedroom with her, and he had killed her.
Dead. Just like that. One tiny bullet and she was gone.
I was dragged downstairs and out of the house, pushed into the backseat of a car. Then I was alone with the sound of my shallow breathing. I wrapped my arms around my chest, wincing as my fingers touched the bruises on my upper arms caused by my father’s outburst this morning. I began rocking back and forth, humming a melody my piano teacher had taught me a few weeks ago. It was getting cold in the car, but I didn’t mind. The cold felt good, soothing.
Someone opened the door, and I shied away in fear, pulling my legs up to my chest. Luca poked his head in. There was blood on his throat. Not much but I couldn’t look away. Blood. My father’s?
“How old are you?” he asked.
I didn’t say anything.
I tensed, and he closed the door and sat in the front beside his brother, Matteo. They assured me I was safe. Safe? I had never felt safe. Mother always said the only safety in our world was death. She found it.
My cousins took me to an older woman called Marianna, whom I’d never met before. She was kind and loving, but I couldn’t stay with her. As honor dictated, I had to stay with family, so I was sent to Baltimore to live with my Aunt Egidia and her husband, Felix, who was Underboss in the city like my father had been Underboss in Atlanta.
I had met her only during family festivities because she and my father hated each other. Luca took me to them a couple of days after my mother’s funeral. I was silent beside him, and he didn’t try to make conversation. He looked angry and tense.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered when we came to a stop in front of a large villa in Baltimore. Over the years, I’d learned to apologize even if I didn’t know what I’d done wrong.
Luca frowned at me. “What for?”
“For what my father did.” Honor and loyalty were the most important things in our world, and Father had broken his oath and betrayed Luca.
“That’s not your fault, so it’s nothing you should apologize for,” he said, and for a little while I believed it to be true. Until I saw Aunt Egidia’s disapproving face and heard Felix say to Luca that it would reflect badly on them if they took me in. Luca wouldn’t hear it, so I stayed with them, and eventually they learned to tolerate me, and yet not a day passed when I wasn’t acutely aware that I was seen as a traitor’s daughter. I didn’t blame them. From a young age, I’d learned that there was no greater crime than betrayal. Father had tainted our family name, had tainted my brothers and me, and we’d always carry the blemish. My brothers, at least, could try to make a name for themselves if they became brave Made Men, but I was a girl. All I could hope for was mercy.
Being regarded as a traitor’s daughter, facing the pitying or disgusted expressions wasn’t the worst part about these gatherings. Not even close. He was. He caught my eyes from across the room, and his face held the knowledge of what he had done, the triumph over what he had taken. He stood beside my aunt—his wife—beside his children—my cousins—and was regarded with respect. His eyes on me made my skin crawl. He didn’t approach me, but his leering was enough. His gaze was just like his touch; it was humiliation and pain, and I could not stand it. Cold sweat covered my skin, and my stomach churned. I turned around and hurried toward the women’s restroom. I’d hide there for the rest of the night, until it was time to leave with my Aunt Egidia and Uncle Felix.
I splashed my face with water, ignoring the minimal makeup I wore. Luckily it was waterproof mascara and a hint of concealer to cover the shadows under my eyes, so I didn’t do much damage. I needed the cold of the water to help me get a grip on my rising panic.
The door opened and Giulia slipped in. She was beautiful in her bold violet dress with her light brown hair. She carried herself with confidence and had for as long as I could remember. That was probably how she had managed to make her marriage with Cassio work despite their age difference.
She came toward me and touched my shoulder, her brows drawing together. “Are you okay? You left the party.”
“I’m not feeling well. You know I’m not good around so many people.”
Her eyes softened further, and I knew what was coming. “Luca would kill him if you told him what he’s done.”
“No,” I croaked, my eyes darting to the door, afraid someone would come in and overhear us. I often regretted that I’d confided in Giulia shortly after it had happened, but I had been broken and confused, and she was always kind. “You swore not to tell anyone. You swore it, Giulia.”
She nodded, but I could tell that she didn’t like it. “I did, and I won’t tell anyone. It’s your decision, but I think Uncle Durant needs to pay for what he did.”
I shuddered, hearing his name. Turning my back on her, I washed my hands again. “You know that I will be the one to pay, Giulia. This world isn’t kind, least of all to a woman like me. I can’t go through this. I will be worse off than I am now. Your parents already have trouble finding a husband for me. If the truth got out, I’d die a spinster. They would never forgive me.”
Her lips formed a thin line. “My parents never treated you the way they should have. I’m sorry.”
I shook my head. “It’s okay. They took me in. They never hit me, never punished me harshly. It could have been worse.”
“I could ask Cassio if one of his men would be a good match for you. There are many decent men in his ranks.”
Decent. Cassio ruled over Philadelphia with an iron fist. What he considered decent probably didn’t qualify as decent for other people, but I had no right to be choosy or judge others.
“No. That would offend your parents. You know how they are.”
“Yeah, I know …” Her brows tightened.
“Don’t worry about me. I’m in no hurry to marry,” I said. Marriage would be my final ruin.