The weeks seemed to pass in a blur.
Much to my disappointment, my attempt at getting Raven’s true identity had come up empty. I wasn’t ignorant, though. I knew that only meant that she had no prior criminal record, nor had anyone from her past reported her missing.
It only piqued my curiosity further.
She had admitted to me that she had run from a man – a man that had hurt her – and I could only assume that his lacked attempt at having the authorities look for her meant that he didn’t want her found by anyone else.
He wanted to be the one to get his hands on her first…something I could not allow.
She and I had fallen into a routine. Every morning we had breakfast in the kitchen together. I read the paper and sipped my coffee while she ate silently across from me. We’d ride down to the warehouse together and go our separate ways.
She spent a lot of her time with Vinnie, learning the ins and outs of my organization while I worked in the office. At the end of the day, we rode back to the penthouse where I left her to sleep while I continued to run my business from my home office.
My brother had strict orders in place, meaning Raven wasn’t allowed to engage in any strenuous activity until her gunshot wound was fully healed. He allotted six weeks, of which three had already passed.
I hadn’t pushed myself onto her during that time – not after the way she melted down. She refused to go back to the apartment, so I had her things moved into my place and gave her a bedroom on the second floor.
Her reaction that night changed everything for me. I mean, I still wanted to slide between her legs and suspected I always would but knowing she had been abused gave me pause. She didn’t have to tell me what she’d suffered because her reaction that night said it all.
I didn’t think any less of her, I just knew that it wouldn’t be right to pressure a woman with obvious signs of PTSD into spreading her legs for me. Even when I couldn’t think straight most days from how badly I craved her, I wouldn’t make a move.
She had to come to me on her own.
A knock sounded at the door. Taking a glance at the clock, I realized it was past noon, and my one o’ clock meeting was fast approaching.
“Come in,” I called, stacking the forms I’d been reading over and dropping them into my top drawer. Marco, the family’s consigliere walked in. He looked tired in his old age, less vibrant than I remembered him.
He’d been with the family for as long as I could remember, having worked for my grandfather toward the end of his life. When my father took over the family business, he and my great uncle decided it would be best to keep him on as an advisor. He had many years of experience as a legal counsel, but he was most valuable for what he did outside of his practice.
“Don Luca,” he rasped, shutting the door behind him as he entered.
I stood, staying behind my desk as he approached. The old man bowed his head in a show of respect, extending a single, open palm. I laid my hand in his, watching as he pressed a kiss to the gold ring on my right hand. I had never been one for these old traditions, but my father insisted that order must be kept, and those beneath me would need a constant reminder of their position in my ranks.
“Good afternoon, Marco. What can I do for you?”
The consigliere took a seat in one of the plush, brown leather seats across from my desk. I followed suit, lowering myself back into the chair and folding my hands in my lap.
“Mr. Brasi has arrived early, he’s just out in the lobby with the men. Shall we begin your daily briefing or take his meeting now?”
“What’s on today’s briefing?” I asked, tugging down the sleeves of my shirt and jacket. I was always conscious of my appearance, needing to be pristine at all times. I’d never been caught in anything less than my absolute best around my men or business associates, and that would never change.
“Tomorrow’s shipments are ready. Vince mentioned you can stop by the main warehouse at your convenience to do a product check if you’d like…” Marco trailed off, marking something on his notepad before meeting my gaze.
“How does everything look?” I trusted Vince and respected his work. As the man that kept my business running, his opinion was sacred to me.
“He says it’s ready to go but won’t make a move unless you give the green light.”
I nodded. “We won’t delay any shipments. If Vinnie says it’s good to go, then it’s good to go. What else?”
Marco ran through the list, reminding me of social events with the other families and the upcoming meeting with Don Lorenzo Barzini, which was rudely interrupted and canceled due to Salvatore Ricci’s attack.
Last on the list was my sister’s birthday dinner.
“When does Carmen arrive in the city?” I took another glance at my watch.
“Ricky just picked her up roughly an hour ago. They should be halfway to your mother’s by now. Dinner will be at seven.”
“Fine,” I stood, needing to stretch my legs for a moment. I walked to the large window sill behind my desk, picking up the decanter of scotch and pouring myself a glass. “You want one?”
Marco declined, like he always did. “Shall I send Mr. Brasi in?”
Shit. I’d almost forgotten. “Did he say what this was about?” Santino Brasi had been a friend of my father’s. He ran a small, family-owned bakery on the upside of town. Since my father’s passing, I hardly heard from him. He stopped attending family events and never bothered to call or even congratulate me when I stepped up in my father’s place. I had no idea what he wanted, but out of respect for my late father, I accepted his request for a meeting.
“He didn’t,” Marco replied, closing his notepad and shoving it back into his brown leather satchel. “Just that it was important and that he needed to speak directly to you.”
“Very well, send him in.”
Marco left, returning a moment later with Santino Brasi in tow.
“Oh, Luca,” he beamed, a smile stretching across his wrinkled face.
“You will address him as Don Luca or Godfather, nothing more,” Marco barked, closing the door behind him and pinning Santino with a deadly glare.
Again, I didn’t care much for these ancient formalities, but they were a necessity. Brasi hadn’t reached out to me once since my father’s death. For all I knew, he could be working with the Ricci’s to bring me down. His loyalty after so many years of silence was questionable.
“My apologies,” Santino murmured, bowing his head in shame, “Don Luca, you’ve grown into quite the handsome young man.”
I watched him closely as he approached, noting the way he took a seat in the chair opposite mine without so much as an invitation. Marco remained standing, a look of disdain in his pale gray eyes. I nodded, silently gesturing for him to sit.
Taking a seat myself, I leaned forward, folding my hands over my desk. “How can I help you, Sonny? It’s been a long time since we’ve heard from you.”
He looked nervous, his eyes shifting from left to right as he struggled to explain his prolonged absence. He had been a friend of my father’s. My mother helped him raise his children and took them under her care when his wife fell ill. The least he could have done was reach out to her. The longer I looked him in the eyes, the angrier I became. It was insulting to have him sit before me after years of silence.
“Luca, my boy –”
“Don Luca, dammit,” Marco corrected, his annoyance now a palpable thing in the room.
“Don Luca,” the old man stammered, leaning forward over my desk. “Things are not going so well for my family. My business, it’s failing. People don’t have respect for traditional Italian bakeries anymore. They prefer that garbage sold by McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s a disgrace!”
I fought the urge to roll my eyes, gritting my teeth to keep my composure. “So, what is it you’d like me to do?”
“There’s a man,” he began, his voice dropping an octave and anger lacing his tone, “he’s trying to buy me out. I don’t own the space yet, you see, we’ve been leasing for years. It’s getting harder to pay the lease, and this American is circling around my shop like a vulture, waiting to strike!”
“I see,” I droned, leaning back in my chair, “so, you want me to what? Pay the lease? Buy you out? I don’t understand what you’re looking for, Sonny.”
“This man,” Santino continued, his thick fingers running through his hair, “he’s sabotaging my business. It’s been hard enough with the fast-food competition, but what he’s doing…well it’s criminal! I need this business, Don Luca. If I lose it, my family will suffer. My wife, she’s old, tired. My children, they still depend on me so much. I want you to get rid of this pest. Make him disappear so that my business has a chance.”
I stared at him for long moments, letting his words sink in. What he was asking me to do was serious. It was one thing to kill my enemies or those who had malicious intent toward me. It was another to murder a random person, a businessman trying to make a living.
“Tell me something, Santino,” I began, reaching for my tumbler and helping myself to a swig of scotch. The liquid burned its way down my throat. “Why is this the first time you’ve come to me? You were a friend to my father for years…why haven’t I seen you since he passed?”
The man hesitated, a hint of remorse entering his eyes. “It was difficult for me to lose your father,” he whispered, “he was one of my closest friends. I didn’t know how to face you or your mother. The burden had been dropped on your shoulders and you’re still so young. I didn’t know what to say…I was a coward.”
I pressed my palms into the desk and leaned forward, bringing our faces only inches apart. “You are a coward,” I gritted between clenched teeth, “and you abandoned this family. Why should I help you now?”
Tears sprang forth from his eyes faster than I could register. “Please, Luca, I beg you. I’ll pay you, everything I have! And when the business picks up again, I’ll let you take a percentage. Anything you want, just don’t let this man drive me out of my own business. It’s been in my family forever, it’s all we have!”
I leaned back into the chair, inhaling a deep breath to stay my temper. The fact that he thought I needed any of his money was affronting. There was only one thing that mattered to me, and it wasn’t money.
“I wonder what I did to deserve you insulting me this way,” I drawled, doing my best to keep my face expressionless, unreadable. “It’s not your money that I want, Sonny. It’s your respect, your loyalty. You didn’t want to accept it when I took my father’s place, so you turned your back on the family and disappeared. You’re a disgrace.”
“Oh, please!” he sobbed, bringing his hands together and slobbering all over my desk, “Godfather, please! You have my loyalty, you have my respect. Anything you want, just please help me.”
I couldn’t help the sneer that twisted my face. Watching a man reduce himself to – whatever the fuck this was – was sickening. It was pathetic. Disgusting. I couldn’t bear it much longer.
“Marco, get him a drink,” I commanded as I rose to a stand, “and a tissue.”
My consigliere complied, pouring Santino a shot of whiskey from the liquor cabinet. He rested it on the desk and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, handing it to Brasi with barely restrained asperity.
“Go ahead, drink,” I said, sliding the glass closer to him. Sonny looked up, a flicker of hope in his eyes, and swallowed the shot down. “Clean yourself up,” I gestured toward the handkerchief.
Stepping around my desk, I stood before my father’s oldest friend, sweeping my gaze down the length of him. I’m doing this for you, Papà.
“I’ll take care of this problem for you,” I began, sliding my hands into my pockets, “and give you a loan toward saving the business.”
“Thank you, Don Luca, thank you,” he cried, wiping the tears from his eyes and shoving the handkerchief in his pocket. I held my hand up to silence him.
“I expect you to pay the loan back in full. I’ll give you five years to do so.”
“Of course, Luca, anything you want.”
I forced a smile, resting my hand on Brasi’s shoulder. “Now, I may call on you one day for a service. I expect, if that day ever comes, for you to carry out my request without question.”
He nodded, all too eager. “Yes, yes, of course.”
“And don’t be a stranger,” I said, giving him a gentle shove, “you can call every now and again. Bring your wife to visit with my mother. She’s been so alone since Papà died, God rest his soul.”
“God rest his soul,” Brasi echoed, bowing his head, “and yes, I will see your mother. It has been too long. Thank you, Godfather. I am indebted to you.” He reached for my hand, pressing a kiss to the gold band.
With a wave of my hand, I dismissed him. Marco rose from his seat and escorted him out of my sight. I had had enough business for one morning and was eager to take a break.There was only one person I wanted to see right now