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“Check the dumpsters,” I instructed my men, my eyes never leaving the specimen before me.

At five-foot-two, the slender creature stood with her shoulders back and her head held high. There was blood soaking into her jacket, evidence of her fight for survival. Her green eyes had determination written all over them.

Gio, Vince, and Tony jogged back toward me a few moments later. A single nod from Vince told me everything I needed to know.

This tiny woman had managed to kill three of my soldiers.

I was definitely intrigued.

“Take the bag.”

Tony reached for the bag hanging over her shoulder, ready to take back what was mine when she pulled a nine-millimeter from her jacket pocket and pointed it right at my face. I grinned.

This woman had balls.

“I swear to God, I will shoot you in your fucking face if anyone touches me or my money.”

I arched a single brow, tilting my head in amusement. “Your money?”

“You heard me, asshole.” She cocked the gun and held it steady, her stance unwavering and fearless.

Sliding my hands into my coat pocket, I took a step forward, allowing the street lamp to illuminate my features for the first time. Her eyes widened a fraction and her lips parted – just barely, but I noticed.

I smirked, holding her emerald gaze. “You are mistaken. That money belongs to me, and you stole it.”

Her big eyes darted between mine, her thoughts a mystery behind her mask of stoicism. It was only then that I noticed how sunken in her eyes were. Dark circles bordered those big, green eyes, and her cheekbones were too sharp, too defined.

She was starving.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said, my hands still resting comfortably in my pockets and my posture relaxed, “keep the money. You can work it off over time.”

Panic entered her eyes, her posture stiffening further when she heard my proposal. “Work it off how?”

I smiled, hoping to ease the tension and make her relax. “You killed three of my soldiers. For a woman your size, that’s quite impressive.”

She scowled, a look of disgust flitting across her pretty features. “It was self-defense. Those pigs threatened to rape and kill me.”

Now it was my turn to scowl. Rape was not something I ever condoned. Killing, well that was all part of the business. It was nothing personal.

“I apologize for their untoward behavior. My men are aware of the standards I expect them to uphold. I never have, nor will I ever order the rape of a helpless woman.”

Her scowl deepened, her right hand still aiming the gun at my face. “I’m far from helpless. Your thugs can attest to that. Oh, wait. They’re dead.” There was a mischievous gleam in her eyes. Whether she realized it or not, she got a high from the kill. It was obvious in the prideful way she talked about it.

“My mistake. You can clearly hold your own.”

She stared at me as though she wasn’t quite sure whether to believe in my compliment or take it as a threat. A smart woman.

She suddenly wavered where she stood, her face draining of its color. It was then that I noticed the blood dripping from her left shoulder. It rolled down the sleeve of her jacket and dripped onto the floor.

The gun fell from her hand and her eyes fluttered closed, rolling into the back of her head as she lost consciousness.

I quickly stepped forward, catching her by the waist before she hit the hard ground. Taking the heavy bag from her shoulder, I slung it over my own and lifted the petite woman into my arms.

“Clean this mess up,” I called over my shoulder as I walked back toward my car. I trusted Tony and Gio to dispose of the bodies in the alleyway. They’d be at the bottom of the lake before sunrise.

Ricky, my driver and bodyguard, opened the back door for me so I could slide in. I placed her inside first, laying her over the back seat before sliding in beside her.

“I need something to slow down her bleeding. Call Danny and make sure he’s ready when we arrive. She’s going to need immediate treatment.”

Within seconds, I was handed a roll of fresh bandages and a small stack of towels from the emergency first aid kit in the trunk. Normally, I’d let the sense of power sink in – really enjoying the feel of absolute authority. It was a high, unlike anything, having your commands followed without question.

I was the king of the underworld, ruler of Chicago and just about the rest of Illinois. Every criminal on these streets trembled at the sound of my name, knowing a visit from me was just as good as meeting the grim reaper himself.

On these streets, I was the law. I was the judge, jury, and executioner. The cops were on my payroll, did what I asked. Nobody was truly safe unless they were under my explicit protection.

That was power. Real power. There was nothing else like it in the world. I was fucking untouchable.

Tearing the woman’s jacket off, I immediately noticed the gunshot wound to her shoulder, which was wrapped with what appeared to be the strap from the bag she stole. It had loosened at some point, the knot slipping open to allow more blood to pump out. She was losing a lot of blood fast. I wouldn’t normally save a damsel in distress – just wasn’t my style – but her determination and fearlessness demanded my attention and respect.

Letting her die would be a waste. She was braver than most of my men combined. She didn’t yield when they cornered her, she didn’t give up or beg for mercy. She looked down the barrels of 12 automatic weapons and held a pistol to my face, making threats right until the very end. They weren’t empty threats, either. There was no doubt in my mind that she would have pulled the trigger the moment she felt her safety was compromised.

I tore the sleeve of her T-shirt open and pressed a couple of towels into her wound to stem the bleeding. Holding firm pressure to her shoulder, I used my free hand to bring the bandage over before wrapping it tightly around the towels. Liquid red soaked into the white fabric, the blood loss too severe to stop without medical intervention.

That meant an artery had been severed. If she was lucky, she had minutes to live before she bled out. Luckily, we were only two blocks away from the main warehouse.

My brother Danny was a physician, having been given no choice by our late father in the matter. The family needed a doctor, and there was no one more reliable than one of our own. He was an integral part of the team.

We pulled up outside the building, the tires screeching to a halt outside the back doors. Ricky hopped out and was met by Vince outside my door. They pulled it open, taking the bag from me and stepping aside so I could carry the woman out.

When Vince reached for her, I gave him a black look. No one would lay a hand on her. This woman was under my protection until further notice. He immediately withdrew his hands, understanding the meaning behind my glare instantly.

The sound of the heavy metal door scraping cement stole my attention. Danny and a few more men spilled from the warehouse entrance and approached me.

“What happened?” Danny asked, eyeing the lifeless woman I was cradling in my arms.

“Bullet to her left shoulder. I think it might have pierced an artery, she’s bleeding out fast.”

Gesù,” he exclaimed, “bring her in quickly. She won’t have much time.”

Tell me something I don’t know.

I followed my brother into the warehouse, all the way to the private clinic he insisted upon when he graduated medical school. I had to admit, it came in pretty handy. The level of medical care my brother was able to provide in this place was remarkable. Having all the tools he could ever want or need at his disposal made him one of the most useful members of this family. He had saved many lives, many times.

I hoped he could save one more.

I wasn’t exactly sure why the need to keep this petite woman alive rode me, but I went with my gut. Something told me she would be worth the trouble. Her fearlessness combined with both her offensive and defensive skills would be invaluable. She could be trained as one of my soldiers. I didn’t doubt her ruthlessness.

As a woman, she would be an unlikely opponent. Men would never see the danger coming because they would be too distracted by her beauty. She could go out into the field and collect the debts owed to me, using her feminine curves as a pass to get in anywhere she damn well pleased.

The possibilities were endless. All I knew, was that I wanted this woman close – where I could keep an eye on her. She was unpredictable, especially when threatened. Like a cornered animal, she lashed out at her attackers and spilled their blood onto the ground. Her instincts for survival were spot on, saving her from an almost certain death.

I laid her on the large table in the center of the room, the overhead lights illuminating her body with their fluorescent glow. Danny got to work, barking orders at his assistants and cutting through both my attempt at bandaging her and the remains of her gray shirt.

Her breasts were clad in a black sports bra, perky even beneath the firm fabric that pressed them tightly against her torso. With a single gesture, I ordered my men and their prying eyes out of the clinic. Only my brother, his staff, and I remained.

I watched my brother work quickly, removing the bullet with what looked like a large pair of tongs. The lead clinked when he dropped it into a metal bowl before setting back to work. I observed in fascination as he clamped and stopped the bleed before repairing the vessel with his steady hands, a needle, and dissolvable thread.

He irrigated the wound with saline using a large syringe, then closed her up and bandaged her shoulder tightly. I watched him place a sling over her arm, securing it against her body so she wouldn’t interrupt the healing process by moving that arm around.

When he was finished, his scrubs and blue gown were soaked with blood. He pulled off his gloves and stood facing his staff so they could disrobe him. I approached the table and looked down at the beautiful woman I managed to capture.

Even when it was clear that she was malnourished, she was gorgeous. Her long, sleek ponytail was loose, and the ends of her hair were spread out over the table – her baseball cap hanging off the edge from the end of her tresses. Her caramel skin was slightly dusky from the blood loss, but her natural glow could not be snuffed out. Those high cheekbones, albeit a bit more defined than necessary, were just another of her many beautiful features. Her full lips were slightly parted, and her respirations were rapid, shallow.

At least she was breathing.

“So, what’s the story? Who is she?”

I flitted my gaze to Danny who now stood in a clean pair of scrubs. His hazel eyes were identical to mine, his handsome features closely resembling my own. I was the better looking of the two – obviously. But I could admit my younger brother was a good-looking guy.

“She stole a bag from one of the trucks, outran three of my soldiers and killed them. She must have been shot during the fight. We caught her at the end of an alley making a break for it.” I relayed the story with a hint of pride in my voice. She managed to impress the fuck out of me, which was rare.

“Fuck,” Danny breathed, his eyes widening in disbelief, “that’s one hell of a woman. What are you gonna do to her?”

One hell of a woman, indeed. “She’s gonna work off her debt,” I explained, reaching forward to pull the cap off her head. Her features were so much softer in sleep. She had been hard and cold out there on the streets – tough as nails.

“What debt?” Danny countered, confusion entering his eyes, “you’re not letting her keep the money, are you?”

I stroked a single finger over her cheek, dragging it down to her jaw. Even her skin was soft, like a rose petal. “Yes,” I replied, my eyes never tearing away from her beauty, “I’m letting her keep it. She’s much more valuable than a few hundred thousand dollars. I think she’d make a great soldier…maybe even a bounty hunter.”

My brother didn’t bother to hide his shock. “You’re pulling my leg, aren’t you? This tiny woman? A soldier? Come on, bro. You don’t actually believe that.”

My eyes slid to his, hostile and full of warning. “I don’t fucking kid around, Danny. She killed three of my guys. Men over six-feet tall, a hundred and fifty pounds heavier than she is. You don’t see the potential here?”

He rolled his eyes, a disrespectful gesture only he could get away with. If he were anybody else, I would have slit his throat right then and there.

“All I see is you thinking with your dick. Papà would never have approved of this – a woman working for La Famiglia? A woman’s only job is to keep our beds warm and our bellies full. Maybe pop out some kids…but this? She’s not even Sicilian. Since when do you welcome outsiders into the family?”

I didn’t appreciate my brother having this conversation with me in front of his staff. Nobody other than he would ever dare to argue against me. I didn’t need the others getting any ideas.

“Clear the room,” I ordered, staring directly at the group of assistants at the far end of the clinic. They rushed out the side door without a single protest. “Don’t ever question my authority in front of your lackeys again,” I growled, taking a violent step toward him. “Papà is gone. I’m head of the family now.”

For once, he kept his mouth shut.

“Clean her up and do whatever needs to be done to ensure she survives. Call me the second she’s awake.”

Having had the last word, I turned on my heel and exited the clinic.

A/N: Don’t forget to follow, like, and vote! Let me know what you think of the characters and story so far!

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