By: Dana Delamar


Twenty-eight years ago

Cernobbio, Lake Como, Italy

As his assassins set the trap, Carlo Andretti leaned forward, his nose nearly touching the window. Vengeance is mine. Just like the Lord above. His pulse quickened, his mouth went dry, his body itched to be in on the action. To aim a gun. To pull a trigger.

The Lucchesi family’s driver and their bodyguard waited outside the restaurant in a large black Mercedes, smoke from their cigarettes floating out the open windows. Idiots. Anyone could get the drop on them. These were the men Lucchesi trusted with his family?

Bruno, the man Carlo used for all his dirty work, snuck up behind the car, followed by one of his assistants. The two men dispatched the guard and driver without effort, slitting their throats in tandem, the strike perfectly timed.

Sipping an espresso in a room across the street, Carlo watched his men melt back into the dark. It wouldn’t be long now until they attacked their true prey. He savored the hot bitter brew he swallowed. Rinaldo Lucchesi, the capo of the Lucchesi family, had interfered in Carlo’s business for the last time. He thought he could come up north, into Carlo’s territory, and impose his principles and his will.

Rinaldo and his ridiculous, short-sighted philosophy would be the ruin of the ’Ndrangheta. Carlo was not going to let Lucchesi expose their bellies to the sharp teeth of Cosa Nostra or the Russians. Lucchesi might be suicidal, but Carlo most assuredly was not. He had a family to look out for, a child he adored. He couldn’t let Lucchesi destroy her future, and he couldn’t let him destroy the future of all the ’Ndrangheta.

Taking Carlo’s son hostage to force him to capitulate was where Lucchesi had miscalculated. He’d taken the wrong child. In a contest between Dario and Antonella, Toni won every time. Had Lucchesi taken Toni…. Carlo’s gut quivered. Everyone would know his weakness then. He’d make any sacrifice for his tigress, his cunning little she-wolf. The child of his heart. The child who was his heart.

If Toni knew he was risking her twin brother’s life this way, she’d be appalled. But if his plan worked, he’d have the boy, his vengeance, and the way clear in the north. Milan and the lake would be his alone. And once their riches were his, nothing could stop him from pushing his father and his brother off their perch, high at the top of the ’Ndrangheta. They’d censured him once, they’d exiled him up north, thinking that would keep him weak, that their lapdog Lucchesi would be able to muzzle him. They were about to learn otherwise.

The front door to the restaurant swung open, its glass catching the light of a streetlamp, and the Lucchesi woman and two of her children strolled out, the boys flanking her on either side. Rinaldo and their middle boy, Enrico, were not with them. Unease wormed through Carlo’s belly. Where are they? He glanced around and saw nothing out of the ordinary, but the nighttime shadows could be both friend and foe.

The woman and her boys had almost reached the Mercedes when they stopped short, the woman placing a restraining hand on the shoulder of her youngest child. The eldest son, Primo, nearly a man now, the one who was supposed to be capo someday, pulled his gun and looked in the passenger side front window. No doubt he saw the bodies, because he shouted, “Go back!”

It was too late.

Bruno and his four men charged toward the family, opening fire. Primo whirled around to meet them, but bullets slammed into his chest before he could get off a shot.

Carlo felt an odd sort of admiration as the boy fell, blood blanketing his once-white shirt. Primo had tried to defend his family like a good man of honor. But the boy was ruined, his mind tainted by his father’s notions.

None of Rinaldo’s line would survive the night. It was fitting that Lucchesi’s heir died first.

The woman and the youngest boy, Mario, sought cover by the car. Apparently they crawled inside, since Bruno whipped his arm overhead, signaling the men to surround the Mercedes. The hit men didn’t hesitate, spraying the car with bullets. The percussive blasts of gunfire beat a joyful staccato in Carlo’s chest. How well he remembered the wild buck of a gun in his hands, the acrid smell of gunpowder, the coppery tang of blood in the air, the ringing in his ears in the wake of a kill. But he was capo now, and he had to be protected for the good of the family. Still, he missed the old days when he had administered justice firsthand.

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