I watched Luca’s broad back as he exited my room. It was pretty clear he had no intention of answering my question.
I had no desire to leave the room when Jax was lurking somewhere in this house. I was surprised when Luca joined the family for brunch – especially since Jax was there, making small-talk with his mother and aunts.
The sight made me sick to my stomach.
He played the family man so well, but I knew the truth. He was a disgusting human being that cared only about which heist or job would produce the biggest payday. He had no regard for human life other than his own.
I knew without a doubt that Carmen meant nothing to him. She was nothing more than a monopoly piece in his game – a means to an end. But what was he up to?
Not bothering to fix my appearance, I strolled out of the room and down the front stairs. As promised, Ricky awaited me at the first step.
Without so much as a greeting, he led me down the hall and pulled a door open. I peered inside, realizing another set of stairs descended into a dark, dank basement. I arched a brow and gave Ricky a look that said it all.
There was no way in hell I was going down those stairs. That was how people in horror movies died.
“Boss is waiting.”
I rolled my eyes. “If I die, I’m coming back to haunt you for the rest of your natural life.”
A hint of mirth was the only sign of amusement on Ricky’s face as I descended the old wooden stairs. A pale light illuminated the bottom of the staircase and I was relieved to find Luca and his men gathered in the center of the room.
Several heads turned to face me when my arrival was announced by a loud creak in the last step.
“Uh, hi,” I waved awkwardly.
Vince smiled and waved me over to him. I blew out a breath and went to his side.
“What’s going on?” I whispered, noticing how austere all the men’s faces were. Especially Luca’s. He stood at the head of the large semicircle with a no-nonsense gleam in his hazel eyes. His jaw was clenched tight – the dominating mob boss coming to the fore.
Vinnie leaned into my ear and whispered, “New guy.”
My eyes widened when I realized whom he was referring to.
“Now that we’ve all arrived,” Luca began, giving me a pointed look, “I’m sure you are all aware of Carmen’s fiancé – a man named Jacoby. Goes by Jax for short.”
The men nodded in unison and Luca scanned his eyes over the crowd. There must have been at least 20 of us crammed into the space.
“It has come to my attention that he gained entrance into the family’s estate without so much as a security checkpoint.”
The murmurs that had begun amongst the men slowly died down and glances were shared from across the room. Not a single man spoke.
“Gio,” Luca began, turning to face the addressed, “who was posted around the estate this morning?”
The head of security rattled a few names off.
“I want them all questioned accordingly. If I discover that any one of you allowed a stranger into my mother’s home without the appropriate security measures, there will be hell to pay.”
I nearly shivered in response. I’d only seen this side of him a couple of times and I admit, it was terrifying. He was cold, calculated, and ruthless.
“Bring him in.”
Vince left my side and I watched as he silently climbed the stairs, flanked by two more men. The room grew quiet and felt much smaller all of a sudden. The air seemed to suffocate me as a sense of impending doom came over me.
Moments later, the basement door swung open – filling the room with the dramatic echo of a bang as it hit the wall – and Jax was tossed down to the bottom of the stairs. He cursed as he hit the cement ground hard.
Vinnie and his two companions were on him in an instant, pulling him to his feet and dragging him across the room. I watched in horror as they forced him to his knees – his arms bound behind his back.
Jax spit blood onto the floor but remained relatively calm despite the violent way he’d been handled. I noticed there were bruises already forming under his right eye and he sported a split lip. It was clear he’d already been tortured to some degree.
I might have hated Jax, but I knew with certainty I didn’t want to be here to witness whatever was about to take place. I had asked Luca to back off. It was clear he never intended to honor my wishes.
He’d walked away from me and barely looked in my direction when we joined the rest of the family for brunch. After the cruel way he’d pushed me off him, I wasn’t sure where we stood. He was angry at me ninety percent of the time, so I wasn’t surprised by his behavior.
But I was furious about this. I wanted nothing to do with it.
Luca stepped into the center of the room, the overhead light flickering as though it feared him the way the rest of the world did.
“Jacoby Ramirez,” Luca began, his arms clamped together at the small of his back as he casually circled Jax. He resembled a hawk circling its prey, or a lion toying with its next kill. “I’m sure I don’t need to introduce myself.”
Jax sneered, a bitter laugh escaping him. “Is that supposed to mean something to me?”
The corner of Luca’s mouth tilted with the hint of a smile, but I knew the truth. He was far from amused. Jax hadn’t noticed me yet, so I stepped back and off to the side, allowing one of the men’s massive frame to cast me in shadows. The last thing I needed was to be recognized and called out by my stepbrother.
Aside from Luca, he was the only man in the room that knew my real name.
“I’ll assume you don’t know who I am,” Luca began, bringing his arms in front of him and turning the large ring on his right hand with indifference, “which is funny because you seem familiar with my woman.”
My heart nearly stopped. Jesus Christ, did he just call me that in front of his men? Was he really doing this now? Like this?
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Jax, but I could see the way his eyes lit up at Luca’s statement. He knew exactly what he was talking about.
Luca scanned the area I’d been standing in and found me within seconds. My pitiful attempt to hide was thwarted. “Raven.”
I sighed, my eyes rolling into the back of my head – conveying my indignation. I stepped forward, not missing the way Vinnie’s gaze filled with accusation as he watched me walk into the center of the room. I felt like I was on trial for something I didn’t do.
Jax laughed the instant he laid eyes on me. “Is that what they’re calling you?”
Luca acted immediately, his body moving at the speed of light as he backhanded Jax in the face – his cheek splitting with the force of the strike and the sharp edges of his ring. “Do not speak to her.”
Jax continued to chuckle, spitting more blood onto the floor and something that resembled a tooth. Oh, my God. It was a tooth. I cringed, looking away.
“Had you not snuck into my house and spoken to Raven without undergoing the proper procedures, you might have gotten away with whatever it is you had planned. However, you trespassed on my mother’s home, with a gun no less, and dared to upset this young lady.”
Jax’s lips stretched into a bloodied smile and a deranged laugh tore through him. He looked like he was losing his mind.
“So, this is what you’ve been up to?” He addressed me as though Luca’s warning hadn’t been clear. “You’re nothing but a useless whore –”
Luca moved quickly – faster than my eyes could register. He had Jax in a headlock, impeding the air he tried to inhale. His face was red as he struggled to breathe, but he made no move to fight back. I suppose that would have been a difficult plight with his hands tied behind his back.
“Call her that again, and I will hang you from this ceiling by your neck, slice open your stomach and let your entrails seep onto the ground.” I’d never seen so much murder in Luca’s eyes. The threat he’d just issued was appalling even to the imagination. I’d never had a man fight for my honor before. I wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or horrified.
I suppose I was a bit of both.
When Jax’s face turned blue and his eyes began to roll into the back of his head, Luca released him. His body slumped forward onto the cement, motionless. It must have taken his brain a moment to realize there was oxygen available because a second later he jerked awake, gasping and coughing dramatically.
I stood there motionless, speechless. I had no idea how I was expected to react. The nausea roiling in my stomach threatened to make its way past my throat and onto the ground. I was getting dizzy and could feel the cold sweat forming over my brow.
“Tell my men who this is,” Luca commanded, and I realized he was addressing me.
“I - uh,” I stuttered, tripping over my own tongue, “he’s my stepbrother.”
“And are you aware of the business he’s involved in?”
I narrowed my eyes, not appreciating the accusation in his tone. “He’s just a small-time drug-dealer.”
“A small-time drug-dealer,” he echoed, “posing as a paralegal in New York.”
This was news to me.
“Engaged to my sister,” he continued, “though I suspect that’s all part of his plan. So, how is it that this ‘small-time criminal’ slipped through our defenses? How is it that he got this close to Carmen and thus this family without raising suspicion?”
The room remained silent.
“Do you know who he works for?” Luca asked, directing his attention to me.
I shrugged. “No idea.”
Having recovered from his most recent form of torture, Jax began to laugh maniacally. Luca kicked him in the stomach, that same flash of violence and blood lust passing over his features.
“This man,” Luca began, addressing his men this time, “works for Santiago Alío.”
My blood turned to ice in my veins. White noise filled my ears and I swear I nearly passed out right then and there.
“Kill me,” Jax grunted from the ground, “and his entire army will be on your doorstep by morning.”
He was rewarded with a kick to the back of his head.
I couldn’t move, couldn’t think. If what Luca said was true, that meant that my husband had quickly climbed the ladder of success and replaced the previous kingpin he and Jax once worked for.
Which meant he was more powerful now than he ever was before. And something told me Jax already informed him of my presence here, which meant whether Luca killed him or not, Santi would come for me.
He promised he’d always come for me.
“Pick him up,” Luca ordered, and his men jumped into action. “I need a knife.” Vince reached into his pocket and handed him a large switchblade.
Without preamble, Luca struck Jax in the eye, burying the knife deep. His deafening cries filled the room and I had to turn away. It was too terrible to watch. Acid crept up my throat with alarming speed and I stumbled into the corner to retch.
“You dared to touch my sister,” Luca growled, and Jax’s agonizing cry told me he twisted the knife in the socket, “you had the gall to enter my family home without my permission,” another harrowing howl, “and you upset my lady.”
I retched again when the sound of the wet knife slipping out was heard, followed by yet another arduous wail. I felt strong arms around my waist as I was lifted from the ground and dragged away from the puddle of puke I’d produced. I could no longer hear the exchange taking place behind me – a loud ringing filling my ears at just the right moment. I was beginning to realize it was a defense mechanism – one I was grateful for now.
My hair was pulled from my face – the ponytail having fallen apart from all the heaving – and I found Vinnie looking at me with concern. When had he stepped away from the butchery?
“You okay?” he asked gently.
I wiped the back of my hand across my lips, nodding.
“Let me get you some water,” he whispered, stroking my cheek with a hint of affection.
I refused to look up, refused to bear witness to the carnage before me. I knew what Luca was capable of, but I never wanted to be a part of it. I’d agreed to join his business out of desperation, but I never wanted this.
Once again, I felt like my only option was to run; from my husband, from Jax...and Luca.