Chapter 46, Don Vito Luciano
[BY AMBER MARIGOLD JILTEN]
“What are you saying?” I ask.
“Let’s work together, Amber. Let’s be friends,” Kyle says and raises his hand for a shake. It’s then that I suddenly notice the cut on his palm and blood dripping from the wound.
He’s... willing to bind our blood?
I look at the man in front of me. He looks enough like Blake that I feel unimaginable guilt. Those silver eyes, almost blue in the pale moonlight and dark hair, hut... He also looks so different from Blake that I feel uneasy. On my toes. Like he might be able to do something unpredictable any moment and there’s nothing I would be able to do about it. He could have people gathered in the garden, a sniper. Ready to take me out and nobody would know who did it. It would be so easy to kill me.
So why am I still alive? And more importantly, why’s he willing to bind our blood? How would that even work? He already has a co-leader. He can’t have more than one... right?
What’s he planning? What does he want?
What... what do I have? Kyle is just after something. He likes me because I’m kind and smart? Bullshit. Kyle has only teamed with people if they had something to give him. Now it’s up to me to find out what I have that’s so valuable.
Calm down, Amber. Now’s the time to keep a cool head. Find out as much as you can.
“You already have a co-leader. How would you bind our blood?”
Kyle chuckles and lowers his hand for a moment as he brings his free hand to his lip. “I’m not offering for you to become my co-leader. I’m offering to make you my heir. Besides, I won’t have a co-leader for much longer.”
“Wait what? Your heir? What does that mean?”
“It means, that if something was to happen to me, you would take my place as leader of Southern Sterling. By sharing our blood, I give you full right to have Southern Sterling after my death. As I said, Amber, I believe in you,” Kyle explains with sincere gestures. Blood slowly drips from his wounded hand and I kind of want to get him a bandage for that. A bandage covered in salt. “I’m honest when I say I believe we’re on the same side. We both want to make this world better. And we both have what it takes to do that. I wouldn’t be comfortable with anyone taking my place unless it’s you. I hope this would also help you trust me. By doing this, I’m making myself vulnerable to you.”
A soft breeze blows past us, ruffling my hair.
I snicker before taking two steps closer to Kyle. I don’t let his silver gaze affect my judgment. All I allow myself is a lazy smirk, that of a chess player that already sees what their opponent is planning.
“You really have a way with words, Kyle Bowmen,” I say as I walk past him, to the belcone where I lean against the sandstone much as he did earlier. “If you were going up against the average opponent, I might’ve believed you. But you fail to mention that the deal goes both ways. You get the North if something happens to me.”
Kyle looks at me blankly for a moment, his expression in disbelief before that mask of his slips and he gives me a sly smile. I watch as he takes a cloth from his back pocket and wraps his hand with it.
“You really are infamous for a reason, Amber,” Kyle chuckles, “I had my suspicions when you fooled me at the wedding, but now it’s confirmed.” He takes three steps closer until he’s right by me and I have to crane my neck up to hold his stare. “You’re not like the others. I can’t seem to fool you no matter my acting.”
“You can’t fool the girl that has everyone fooled,” I smirk right back.
“Right,” Kyle grins. He takes a step away from me and I feel like I finally got some breathing room again. “We truly are one and the same. And that’s why I’ll be honest with you, Amber. More honest than I am with anyone else in my life.”
I quirk an eyebrow as I watch this fool pace up and down the dimly light balcony.
“I’m honest when I say that I truly want this world to be better. Whether I live to see it, doesn’t matter. My only dream is a world void of corruption and hate. I’ve tried achieving it your way. I’ve been where you and Xavier are now. Trust me, I tried doing it with as little violence as possible, but... that’s just not how the world works, Amber. The human race is it’s own worst enemy and the only way for people to come together is if they have an enemy greater than them. For peace... there must be fear.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” I scoff.
“No, no, think about it,” Kyle says, “The only way for people to stop fighting and stop hurting is if they know there are consequences to that. If they’re scared.”
“I thought you ruled with love,” I contradict. What a hypocrite. Preaching about inspiring people when he’s telling me fear is the only way to control people.
Kyle sighs and puts his hands in his pants pockets as he looks up at the stars. “I do believe in love,” he says, “But that only works with people you know. If I had the time to meet every single person in this world, I’d do that. But I can’t. And the masses...” Kyle says as he glances back down at me, “The masses need fear.”
I want to laugh at this man. How can a world in fear be a world of peace? It’s contradicting by nature.
But then... How does one make this world a better place? Where do you even start?
By defeating all the bad guys? There are too many out there. We could never get them all. And what happens when we do? If we kill every bad person out there, it would make us the only bad guys left.
Is that what Xavier wants? For us to be the only bad guys left in this world?
Either way, I know whatever Xavier and I have in store is a hell of a lot better than Kyle’s world of fear. It might be an effective solution, but... it’s not right. And the price for earning that fear would simply be too high.
“I don’t trust you,” I tell Kyle.
He gives a ghost of a chuckle. “I don’t expect you to trust me. All I ask is that you give me a chance.”
“Why are you telling me all this here and not inside with my husband?” I ask with steely eyes.
How will he worm himself out of this one?
Kyle holds my stare. “Xavier... is a good man. But Xavier wasn’t raised in this world. You and I? We were raised for this. Whether you knew it or not, we were born and bred for this life. Xavier might have come here at a young age, but he wasn’t taught with the idea that he would take over so he doesn’t know the truth that you and I were born with,” he explains, “It takes horrible people to change this world.”
“Xavier and I both have done horrible things!”
“Has he ever betrayed a friend for the greater good?” Kyle asks.
I mean... He’s done plenty of bad things. He’s made harsh decisions before... He...
“You have, Amber,” Kyle continues, “You’ve done it more than once. Betrayed the people you love for the bigger picture. I’ve done it too. I’ve left my brother behind. The only person left alive that I loved. I betrayed him for the bigger image. That’s our gift, Amber. We are willing to do awful things for the bigger picture. And not just to bad people, but to those we love. That’s not being evil, it’s being selfless. Sacrificing yourself is easy, but sacrificing those you care about is where the true test comes. Xavier on the other hand? To him, this world isn’t worth saving unless those he loves are there with him. It’s a noble idea, but it’s not realistic. It’s selfish.”
I hate that some of what Kyle says makes sense, but...
What good is a world without friends and family? What would it matter if there’s no one special to share that with?
This guy is planning something crazy and I need to get close to him to figure out what that is.
“You’re right,” I sigh, “I do feel like we are different. I used to think I’m not good enough because of that side of myself.”
“I don’t expect you to have an answer just yet,” Kyle says, “But please think it over.”
I hold his stare for a few seconds before I let my shoulders sag, “I’ll think about it, but I doubt I’d side with you.”
“You can talk to Xavier about it,” Kyle says, “But only if your answer is no. I think I’ve made it clear that he wouldn’t understand it.”
“You expect me to lie to my husband?”
“I expect you to make the right choice.”
I snicker one last time. “Whatever. I’m leaving,” I say and walk past Kyle. I leave him out on the balcony and head back inside.
The warm light greets me as soon as I step through the glass doors. I walk with gritted teeth back to the casino area. This guy is dangerous, I think to myself. And his plan makes sense which is the worst part. I hate myself for understanding where he’s coming from.
But if the price of making the world a better place is high enough to put the whole world in fear... It wouldn’t be worth it.
Through the flickering lights and loud machines and people laughing at their winnings, I spot Xavier. I can’t help but instantly melt at the sight. Much in contrast to Kyle’s icy aura, Xavier is a fire that warms me. Burns me.
“You alright?” Xavier asks once we meet up.
If we weren’t surrounded by dangerous families constantly sending curious glances, I would hug the man right now. I really need a hug.
“Yeah,” I smile with tired eyes, “I just needed a breath, The night sky can do wonders.”
Xavier gives me a knowing look. “Did something happen while you were gone?”
As always, he reads me like a book. I love that about him. I love that we don’t need words to understand each other. And I really want to tell him everything. There’s no way I’m falling for that psychopath’s words back there, but...
Kyle knew I had guns strapped on me. Obviously, I’m being watched. And after having an unknown number know my every move two years back... I know better than to trust what I’m saying is private. If I’m to find out Kyle’s plans, I have to pretend like I’m considering his words. I have to act like he’s getting to me. But we’re both great actors so... if I’m to pull this off, it’ll have to be a convincing performance.
“No,” I answer Xavier, “Nothing happened. Everything is fine.”
You listening Kyle? Your lies are working on me. You’ve got me interested in your plan.
Is that what you’re thinking?
Xavier and I change the topic and talk about Don Vito Luciano, the current most powerful mafia family boss. He talks about Daniel while we make our way to the second floor of the pyramid. I listen intently both because any information I get can be used, but also I honestly never thought much about Daniel before all this. The guy really had me fooled. I would’ve never guessed he was so important.
Once we’re at the restaurant and we get escorted to one of the beautifully decorated dining tables at the back, Xavier finishes Daniel’s story and we come face to face with one of our biggest obstacles yet. Don Vito Luciano. My nerves kick in without warning.
This guy looks like he’ll make me an offer I can’t refuse.
The don is sitting in a chair across from us. He has half a dozen men surrounding him. All of them are large with stoic expressions. Like matching soldiers, every one of them has their hands clasped in front of them, wearing black leather gloves. They all carry guns with them, no doubt. The only person here without a weapon is the don himself. His tuxedo jacket is off, next to him on an empty chair. He still has his waistcoat on, but his sleeves are rolled up, exposing an expensive gold watch on his right hand. I look up and notice that the don is staring at Xavier. He looks a lot like Daniel. Gelled back hair, dark lashes, and a lean body. But there are grey hairs and unlike Daniel that always has this idiotic smile, the don is wearing an unimpressed expression.
“Ciao, Xavier Jilten,” The don greets in a deep voice. “I’m afraid I’ve no more children for you to steal.”
I nearly burst out laughing right there. It takes all of my willpower to keep a straight face.
“Can we talk?” Xavier asks.
“You’re flapping that mouth of yours and words are coming out. I believe you can,” the don says and finally breaks the stare. He picks up his knife and fork and starts digging into the plate of food in front of him. Lasagne.
As if ordered, the half a dozen men all leave us. Tetsu and Fluke follow them to the front of the restaurant while Xavier and I sit in the two chairs across from the don. The restaurant is dimly lit with themes of white, cream, and pale orange. A waiter comes over and the don orders us dinner without bothering to ask for our opinions. We don’t dare to refuse.
“You,” Vito says as he points a fork at me, “You need pasta.”
“What’s your name?”
“Amber Marigold Jilten,” I introduce myself.
“Hmpf, you married this thief?” Vito asks before turning to Xavier, “Did you steal her like you stole my son?”
Xavier smiles politely. “On the contrary, the thief here is Amber,” he says before going to hold my hand, “She stole my heart.”
The don scoffs before taking a bite of his dinner. “You’ve always had a way with words. It’s how you brainwashed my boy.”
“Daniel came to me out of his own free will,” Xavier sighs.
“And Ciro? Did Ciro come to you out of his own will as well?”
“I have no idea who you’re talking about,” Xavier says honestly.
Our dinner arrives, Lasagne as well, and the Don thanks the waiter before glaring at us again. His eyes look tired. Like he’s done nothing but read fine print all day. “I only have two sons. You stole the oldest. The one meant to take my place and as if things couldn’t get worse, the youngest has run off as well. Ciro is determined to find Dino. He asked me which gang he belongs to. I didn’t tell him of course. If any of my rivals knew where Dino was being kept, they’d try to hurt my boy and we can’t have that.”
“Nobody knows Daniel’s true identity. He’s safe with us,” Xavier explains.
The don leans back and takes a sip of his water. “Dino’s always been a smart boy. I know he can protect himself, but Ciro? The boy fell on his head when he was born. I thought I could raise him to take Dino’s place after he was kidnapped, but no. The boy’s head’s in the clouds. He could never take over the family business. And worse, he faints at the sight of blood.” Vito takes another big sip before he sighs, “And now the stupid boy has run off to the snake pit of the world to find his most beloved older brother. Why must your town take all that I hold dear?”
“I could try to find Ciro if you want?”
“No,” the don says, “If he meets you, he’ll want to stay with you just like Dino.”
“Alright,” Xavier smiles.
There’s a bit of a tired pause between the three of us as the don orders another water and leans back in his chair. “So, how is Dino?” he asks.
“Daniel is doing well. He’s happy for the most part.”
The don looks down for a second, stares at his plate of food. “That’s good at least... As much as I need him to take over the business, I really want him to be happy as well. I love that boy. God be my witness, I’d do anything for that boy.”
Vito slowly looks up. “And I’d burn the world if anything was to happen to him.”
My throat goes a little dry. Daniel has been the North’s shield against the mafia all these years, but in reality, he’s also been a bomb. All this time I thought he was just an idiot with no real use but loyalty, but now... Now I see this idiot could send the world after us if he got so much as a scratch on him. What the hell is wrong with Xavier? I wouldn’t let Daniel out on missions like that if him getting hurt could spell our end!
“I’d burn the world as well,” Xavier says calmly. “I’d set everyone on fire that dare hurt one of my friends.”
I feel a shiver run through my body. Why do I like that about Xavier? For someone that wants to make the world better, it’s not the best trait, and yet I love him for it. He’d do anything for those he cares about. It makes me feel... reassured.
And a dark part of myself wants the world to burn if I’m not here to see it.
I try to hide that little truth, try to pretend it’s not there, but you can’t just let horrible thoughts go away. You simply have to live with them and try to be a better person through action.
“I’ll make you an offer,” the don says as he finishes his plate and wipes his mouth with an expensive table cloth. “I know the rumors. I know things on that side of the world isn’t going so well. The cartels already picked their winning horse as well as India. The South Africans can’t be relied on and the Yakuza I believe will still support you. But even with the Japanese support, you are outmanned, Xavier. So here’s my deal. You hand Dino over to me and I’ll make sure all five mafia families stand behind you. It’ll tip the coming war in your favor. Southern Sterling will have its legs cut off. And the best part? They wouldn’t see it coming. Nobody knows our connection. They wouldn’t even imagine the day where we work together.”
I nearly let my jaw hang open. This offer right here might be able to guarantee a win! We’d be stupid to let it go just like that!
“No deal,” Xavier says and I nearly rip my head when I look over at my husband. He didn’t even think about it. “I have no right to give Daniel away like he’s an object. He’s his own man.”
I want to hit myself on the head. Daniel... He left the mafia for a reason. Here I was thinking about the advantage of having the mafia behind us while Xavier was thinking about his friend.
God, I truly am a horrible person.
It takes horrible people to change this world.
I know Xavier’s decision is the right one. Daniel wouldn’t want to be treated like that. And Xavier would rather have his friend be treated like a normal person than guarantee our safety. Friends and family do come first to Xavier...
Kyle’s words weren’t a lie after all.
I hate that.
What Xavier is doing isn’t wrong. He’s simply being a good friend, but... At the same time, he’s only strengthening Kyle’s argument. God, why are the lines so blurred? I thought there was good and evil. But the reality is much more grey. For all I know, Xavier and I could be the bad guys here.
No, stop thinking like that, Amber. There are no bad guys and there are no good guys. There are only winners and losers. And whoever wins, gets to tell the tale. Whoever wins will be the good guys.
“I wish you agreed,” the don sighs, “The war could’ve been won.”
“How about we make you an offer, Don Vito,” I suddenly say.
What the hell am I thinking?
“Oh?” the don asks as he leans forward. “I’m interested.”
I tuck a strand of hair behind my ear and clear my throat as I carefully place my knife and fork back down. “If we lose this war, Daniel goes down with us. Our fate is intertwined with his. So unless you want to see your precious boy get murdered within the next year, you will lend us your support.” I say. I don’t like the mask I’m wearing, but I slowly let Rebma’s words mix with mine. “As long as Daniel is alive, there’s nothing you can do to us? But will you sit back while someone else kills the heir to your business?”
The don sets his jaw as he stares me down. “I see why you become the North’s co-leader,” he says, “Fine, let us have a new deal.”
My heart races with what’s happening.
“As long as Dino is alive, the mafia will not side with your enemies. We shall stay out of it. But... you will do well to know that this Daniel fellow you speak of is not my son. My son is Dino Luciano. Daniel is useless to me. If you want our support, it will be to Dino.”
“Daniel doesn’t go by that name,” Xavier interjects.
The don sends him a sharp look. “Then you have no support.” I watch as the don gets up, pushes his chair back as he does, and wipes his hand with the embroidered table cloth. “We are done here,” he says. I watch him walk over, ready to leave the restaurant but before he does, he stops next to Xavier, his eyes still fixed in front of him. “Oh, and if you run into Ciro, tell him his mother is worried.”
The don leaves.
Xavier and I are left at the dining table and I take a few seconds to let my heart calm down for a bit. I have no idea if we’re better off after this conversation, or worse. All I know is that once the inner gang comes back from their mission, I’m not letting Daniel out of my sight.
“Well, that went much better than I thought it would,” Xavier laughs.
I turn to my husband in shock. “Are you kidding me? The don of the most powerful mafia family just stormed off! He hates us!”
“If he really hated us, we would be dead already,” Xavier smiles as he leans in. I watch as my husband lets out a tensed breath and rests his head on my shoulder. He looks tired. “Let’s go take a bath. We can talk to the rest of these people at the race.”
“The race?” I ask.
Xavier mumbles something I don’t think belongs to any language. For a ruthless gang leader, he looks pretty cute up close like this.
“Alright,” I sigh with my own smile. “We can go take a bath.”
“Somewhere we won’t be disturbed,” he whispers flirtatiously and I almost flirt right back, but then Xavier looks up at me with serious eyes.
So we can talk about the thing you’re afraid others might hear, he seems to say.
I smirk. Good idea.
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