The car pulled up to the curb outside the luxury apartment complex. It was 7:00 p.m. sharp, and I was eager to see her again. I didn’t even know her real name, but it hardly mattered. If she accepted my proposal – and I hoped she did – whoever she was before this would be of no consequence. She would be Raven Moretti, and she would belong to me.
Having a woman on the team would be different, but something told me she would far exceed my expectations. This girl was made of tougher stuff than most men I knew. I had to have her. A part of me wanted to take the choice away from her and force her to do what I wanted, but the most attractive thing about her was her independence.
I wouldn’t be the asshole that took her freedom away, but I wasn’t going to back down without a fight. I was willing to go through great lengths to bring this woman on board. It’s not like she had anyone else to turn to. She had admitted that she was living on the streets before running into my men.
I could provide her with food, shelter, and more money than she had ever dreamed of having in all her life. In exchange, I would only want one thing: her undying loyalty to me and the rest of the family.
I waited in the back seat of the blacked-out Escalade as Ricky ascended the complex to escort her down. It was one of the many properties I owned, and if she accepted, the apartment would be hers.
I had my men purchase new clothes for her, hating how run-down she looked in her worn out jeans and stretched T-shirt. A woman as beautiful as she deserved to be dripping in diamonds, her body clad in the most expensive designer clothes.
I had an arrangement of lavish dresses delivered to the apartment earlier that day, hoping she would choose one of the racier pieces to wear out tonight. I wasn’t sure whether she was interested in me, but I hoped so. Even though I’d told her she didn’t need to sleep with me to work off her debt, it didn’t mean I wasn’t planning to win her over until she did so willingly.
Along with her new clothes, she received a birth certificate, social security card, and passport, all under her new would-be identity. Perhaps I was being a little pretentious, but I needed her to understand just how powerful I was. She would be safe in my care, and there wasn’t a single thing that I couldn’t provide her with.
The doors to the building opened and Ricky approached. My jaw went slack, and my eyes nearly fell out of their sockets when I saw her. Her curvy body looked as though it had been poured into the shimmery, silver cocktail dress she wore. Her petite shoulders and slender neck were on display, and she looked like the fucking queen of the world with tear-drop diamonds hanging from her earlobes.
Her hair was pulled back in an up-do, a few soft strands brushing her shoulders and framing her gorgeous face. Her eyelids were smoky, making her green irises pop. A hint of pink gloss was on her lips, making her the most desirable creature on the planet.
I never did this – not for anyone – but I couldn’t even stop myself. I pushed my door open and stepped out of the vehicle. I didn’t miss the look of surprise on Ricky’s face when I walked past him, coming to stand directly in front of her.
“Wow,” I breathed, my brain short-circuiting at the worst possible moment. “You’re stunning.”
A touch of rose colored her cheeks and for the first time since I met her, the corners of her lips rose in a smile. “Thanks.”
I offered her my hand, surprised when she actually took it and led her to the car. I warned Ricky away with a single look, wanting to be the man that held the door open for her, and helped her into the vehicle.
As previously mentioned, this never happened.
I slid onto the leather seat beside her, my eyes glued to her breasts and the way they spilled from the top of her dress. Even with the large bandage wrapped around her shoulder, she was breathtaking. I noticed something missing, though.
“You’re not wearing your sling.”
She looked down at her arm as though just realizing that fact for the first time.
“Oh…yea I don’t think I need it. If I’m careful, it doesn’t hurt so much. Also, it clashed with this dress.”
I chuckled. “Even if you came down in a trash bag, you’d be the most beautiful woman in the city.”
Her eyes widened a fraction, as though she were surprised to hear those words. “Somehow I doubt that…”
I frowned but said nothing in protest. I had no idea what this woman had suffered. I was desperate to know every little thing about her, but she needed to trust me first.
The car pulled away from the curb, taking us to my favorite Italian joint. I watched her profile, admiring all the little details about her. She had the smallest ears – they were actually cute. And that was saying something because that word did not exist in my vocabulary.
“How is your pain?” It was a lame conversation starter, but it was the best I could do at the time.
She turned her face toward me, her brows furrowed slightly. “It’s pretty painful…but I can handle it.”
I didn’t like that answer at all. “I’ll have Danny get you some painkillers.”
She shook her head in protest. “No, it’s al –”
I silenced her with a hand in the air, the dark look in my eyes speaking for me. She was a quick learner and caught on fast because she didn’t argue again.
“One of the benefits of being part of this family is that I always take care of my own. Don’t ever feel as though you’re an inconvenience because you’re not.”
She nodded, her throat working as she swallowed nervously. “I guess I’m just so used to being on my own…it’s hard to let someone else look after me.”
“That’s something you’re gonna have to get used to if you decide to get on board.”
She nodded, turning to look out the window again.
We enjoyed the rest of the ride in silence, arriving at the restaurant 10 minutes later.
We pulled up to the curb, Ricky hopping out and coming around the front of the car to open my door for me. I stepped out, turning to reach a hand inside and help her out. Her slender legs swung over the seat, revealing the sky-high heels she wore.
It was a pretty cold night and she didn’t have a coat on. I removed my wool peacoat and placed it over her, resting my arm over her shoulder and pulling her into my side as we entered the restaurant. I made a mental note to have Vinnie retrieve her a few coats from Armani.
I was surprised she had allowed me to get this close, considering she wouldn’t let me near her just that morning. I wondered what made her change her tune.
The host greeted us the moment we stepped through the door. “Mr. Moretti, welcome. I can have the restaurant cleared in just a moment.”
I gave him a curt nod and stepped to the side, my arm still wrapped tightly around her shoulders. She was so small next to me and appeared even tinier in my large coat. Even with her four-inch heels, she barely reached my breast bone.
“What does he mean he’s gonna clear the restaurant?” Her pretty voice floated up to my ears.
“I don’t dine with the public.” She must have understood my meaning because she didn’t ask any more questions. Her injured shoulder was pressed into my side and I immediately loosened my hold, not wanting to cause her any pain.
If I had, she didn’t show it. My respect for her only grew, because I knew first hand how painful a gunshot wound was. Unlike most people who were recovering from such an injury, she was back on her feet in less than twelve hours. The average person remained in the hospital for at least a few days before getting to that point.
She continued to amaze me at every turn, and I found myself wanting to know everything about her.
“Did you grow up in Chicago?”
She lifted her gaze to mine, her eyes wide as if I had asked something intrusive. “No…”
It was clear she wasn’t going to elaborate.
A minute later, the entire restaurant had been cleared and the host reappeared, seating us in a private booth. I made sure the restaurant was paid handsomely for the inconvenience, also covering the checks of every patron that had been rushed out upon my arrival – tips included.
“What’s your name?” I didn’t think I would be interested in knowing, seeing how she would assume a new identity the moment she agreed to my terms, but I found myself increasingly curious about her.
She looked up from her menu, her green eyes locking with mine. I could sense her trepidation, could see it in the way her face flushed and her pulse jumped in her throat.
“Does it really matter? You’ve already given me a new identity.”
Did that mean...? “Are you saying that you agree to my terms? You’ll join the family?”
“It’s not like I have anywhere else to go…” she closed her menu and gave me her full attention. “What does the job entail? You mentioned training?”
I smiled, loving the way she got down to business. She left no room for my ulterior motives.
“Yes. I think you’d make an excellent soldier. But I’ve thought it through and I think you’d be more valuable as a bounty hunter.”
She arched a brow. “Bounty hunter?”
“Yes. Paying visits to those who have crossed me, collecting any debts owed. By any means necessary.” My message wasn’t lost on her.
“You want me to kill people.” It wasn’t a question, and it made me admire her more.
“If necessary. I would leave those decisions up to you. Use your discretion, but you need to keep in mind that I have a reputation to uphold. If word gets out that I’m showing mercy to those who have crossed me, the foundation on which this family’s notoriety was built would crumble.”
She frowned, her sexy lips pouting with the gesture. “What makes you think I’m capable of murder?”
“It isn’t murder, it’s justice. In my world, the laws are simple. When someone crosses me, they’re breaking the laws I’ve set in place. Each of my business partners is aware of the rules as well as the consequences should they violate those rules.” I held her gaze, awaiting her response.
When she didn’t respond, I continued. “Something tells me last night wasn’t your first time killing.”
She stared at me, her face a mask of impassivity. With a poker face like that, I knew she’d be a great addition.
“You’re not completely wrong,” she said, averting her gaze and looking out the window. It had started to rain, and she watched the drops hit the pavement repeatedly. “I had to fight my way out of some pretty fucked up situations. I wasn’t above killing if it meant I survived…but last night was the first time I actually went through with it.”
Interesting. I knew there was a darkness inside her. I could see it in her eyes. There was a shadow within that spoke to me. I recognized it because I lived with it every day.
Now more than ever, I had to know the real her. “Tell me your name.”
She clenched her jaw, breaking eye contact. “Why?”
I leaned forward, giving her my full attention. “What are you so afraid of?”
She suddenly slid out of her seat, standing abruptly. Her fingers clutched the hem of her dress, twisting the fabric as her nerves grew.
“Maybe this was a mistake…I should go.”
That shit definitely wouldn’t fly.
“Sit. Down.” I stared at her menacingly, my eyes full of threat.
Her eyes became saucers as she quickly lowered herself back into the booth.
“Look at me.”
She instantly obeyed.
“You have nothing to fear from me. This will never work if you can’t trust me.”
She hesitated a moment longer before finally speaking. “I can’t tell you my name. It’s associated with a past I’m trying to walk away from. I like the new name you’re giving me. I’ll join your family, but my only request is that you leave my past alone. Help me move forward.”
She held my gaze, her expression fearless even though she was looking into the eyes of a monster. Without realizing it, she struck a deal with the Devil. If I agreed to this, she would be under my authority.
Nothing would make me happier.
“Very well, Raven. Welcome to La Famiglia.