Authors: Kaye Blue
. Copyright © 2016 by Kaye Blue
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, businesses, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination. Any similarities to real people, locales, businesses, or events are unintentional. This work is intended for mature audiences only. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
the enemy’s daughter proves my loyalty, and that’s what I need to do to move up.
I didn’t count on her getting under my skin, tempting me to feel things, do things, that I never have before.
If this agreement doesn’t hold, it’ll mean war. I need her … and now I want her.
But can I trust her?
ur marriage is
all about keeping the peace ... at least on the surface.
What my husband doesn’t know will definitely hurt him when I turn the tables and win control of the family.
But he isn’t the man I thought he was—and neither is my father. Now my loyalties are divided, tearing me in two.
Should I help the family of my blood…or my heart?
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he bouquet was
a lead weight in her hands.
They’d always looked so light, so hopeful, she’d thought hers would feel like nothing, or maybe that she’d be so happy she wouldn’t notice the weight.
She wasn’t happy, and she did notice.
The flowers—white roses that, in her opinion were almost funereal, appropriate given the situation—weighed her down far more than she could have dreamed. Her wrists strained to keep them upright. At least the satin ribbon they were wrapped in was smooth, soft, and kept the rough stems from scratching her palms.
One tiny concession to her comfort, the only concession she would get today.
The music started, and after a beat, she began to move, slightly wobbling on the sky-high heels she wore, but she caught her balance quickly. This entire day was a nightmare—she wouldn’t add her humiliation to the events.
And so, her spine steel straight, she put one foot in front of the other, ignoring the swish of the heavy dress against her stocking-clad legs, ignoring the brush of air against the sweetheart neckline of her bodice, but unable to ignore the tightness in her chest, knowing that the squeeze was not solely because of the corset that held her so tight.
Breathe. Just breathe.
She whispered the words in her mind, used them to hold her up. They did, making it possible for her to walk down the long and seemingly ever-longer length of the aisle.
She suddenly wished she wasn’t alone.
Her sister was nowhere to be found. She didn’t allow herself to think about her mother. When she glanced left, she saw her father. One glimpse at him, and she knew she had done the right thing, walking down the aisle by herself.
He would have barely been able to walk this far. His injuries weren’t healed enough for that, though she knew he would have tried. Even if he had been able, it would have been a terrible idea.
Because even though he was battered, she could see the rage in his face, could feel his impotent anger as if it were a tangible thing. Simply sitting there, watching this, was threatening to break his control. If he had participated, he wouldn’t have been able to stop himself.
And people would have died.
She didn’t want that; she never wanted that, which was why she was going through with this.
So she looked away from her father and kept walking. Kept walking until she finally reached the priest.
She met his eyes, saw something she couldn’t interpret there. Maybe he knew what this was, maybe he actually cared, but even if he did, he couldn’t help her.
No one could.
This was, as all had been for so very long, up to her.
With that reminder, she finally turned to face the man who would be her husband.
ne Hour Earlier
id Santo send
you here to murder me?” I asked.
The old man who stood on a short stool in front of me gasped, dropped his hands, and then stepped back. I reached out quickly to catch him and righted him on the stool.
“Just kidding,” I said.
From the man’s wide, shocked eyes, I could tell he didn’t appreciate the humor.
“N-No…of course not, sir,” he said, stammering. He gestured toward the half-knotted tie that hung around my neck. “I just wanted it to be perfect. No harm intended. Please…”
As he spoke, he grew more and more animated, and I could see the hard beat of his pulse and his harsh inhales.
“It’s fine. Just finish,” I said, trying to calm him.
Failing to, if the shaky hands he lifted were any indication. I stayed quiet, though, and let him finish knotting the tie around my neck. Then he stepped off the stool and returned with a black jacket he held up. I took it from him and slipped it over the crisp white shirt I wore, one he had made himself.
The old man reached toward me tentatively, and when I nodded, he buttoned the jacket and smoothed the lapels. He stepped back when he was done, and even though he was afraid, I could see the gleam of pride in his eyes.
I glanced at the mirror.
“Not bad,” I said, taking in my reflection. “The tux, I mean,” I added, for some reason not wanting the old man to think of me as cocky, though I sure as fuck was.
“Thank you, sir,” he said.
“You can go now. Here.” I reached into my pocket and handed the man a wad of bills.
He took them and left without another word, moving faster than a man his age should have been able to. I often had that effect on people.
The Syndicate had been in the city for months, and there was tension as people tried to figure out who was in charge, and what might happen to them. The old man had been Santo Carmelli’s personal tailor and had resisted my job offer, no doubt worried what Santo might do to him for his betrayal.
I’d finally convinced him Santo was not a concern, but he’d ruled his territory for so long, and recently, so brutally that people had been afraid. But Santo’s reign was no more, probably hadn’t been since the Syndicate had come here.
And today marked the official transfer of power.
It was also my wedding day.
As if sensing my thoughts, the tie, which was already tight, seemed to get even tighter. I had no fucking clue why Maxim, my boss and head of the Syndicate, had insisted I marry Santo’s daughter. He’d given some vague explanation, rare for him, but I remained unconvinced.
It would have been easy enough to just take Santo’s territory and eliminate anyone stupid enough to have a problem with that. That was what would have happened any other time.
But Maxim was doing something different here, and I wouldn’t rock the boat too hard, even if it meant getting married. Because this was my chance.
For years, I had worked for this moment, and once I did this, I felt certain Maxim would finally give me the shot I had always wanted—the one I’d earned. Santo’s territory would be mine to run how I saw fit.
Marrying Santo’s daughter was a small price to pay, and who knew? She might even be a good lay.
Hard to imagine anything good coming from Santo, but I’d always been an optimist.
I drove to the church, ready for this to be over so I could get to work, and I’d bet Daniela Carmelli was ready for it to be over too.
Funny, but that was about all I knew about my wife-to-be. Her name was Daniela, she was Santo’s adopted daughter, and she was obviously out of her fucking mind or scared to death because she was going through with this.
I didn’t care either way. Santo’s daughter was to be my wife, but she wasn’t my problem.
I turned, parked, nodded at Adrian, who I didn’t see but knew watched, and went into the church.
All eyes—and there were many—turned on me, but I didn’t spare any of them a second glance. Not even Santo, who I could feel glaring. Let him glare; let the others gawk. They couldn’t do anything else.
The priest stood at the altar, and I walked toward him, anxious to get this over with.
“Where is she?” I said when I stood in front of the priest.
The man looked at me, scorn on his face, and then nodded. At his move, music began, and an instant later, the doors opened.
The sea of white satin was the first thing I noticed. She walked slowly, calmly, and though she wore no veil, I couldn’t really see her eyes. They were hooded, not quite downcast, but I couldn’t read them.
I was impressed anyway.
I’d given no thought to this moment, or how the woman might respond, but Daniela was carrying herself well. No tears, no screaming. She simply walked, graceful, dignified. Though she didn’t seem eager, she wasn’t frightened or sad or angry, at least not that I could tell. She was doing as she’d been told, and gave no hint to the metaphorical gun pointed at her father’s back.
When she stopped in front of the priest, I was impressed again. At a distance, it was easy enough to hide fear, anger, but even this close, I couldn’t see either, not really. I picked up on the slightest hint of angst in her posture, but when she finally looked at me, I saw nothing but that calm, almost reserved, resolve.
If only I’d had the strength to mirror it. When her eyes met mine, I felt transported. The liquid, dark brown depths sucked me in, made everything else fall away, and left only her.
The moment was a revelation, one where I saw something beyond what I so often did. There was no calculation, no bloodthirstiness, none of the things I was used to. Instead, when I looked into her eyes, I saw intelligence, curiosity, and even a hint of fear that made the other emotions in her eyes so real.
That was what it was. In that moment, I looked into her eyes and saw a real person, one who called to me.
Then she blinked, and that flat, compliant look took over her again.
Still, I was stunned, so much so that most of the ceremony passed in a haze.
I’d felt something for that split second that I had stared into her eyes. Something that wasn’t ambition or anger or even amusement, something I didn’t have the words to speak, but I’d felt it all the same.
I glanced at her, saw how steadfastly she refused to meet my eye, probably her effort to keep me from seeing her again. No matter. I would eventually, because she was mine now.
to gather a few things. I won’t be long,” I said.
The driver said nothing, didn’t even look my way, but he put the SUV in Park, so I took that as a sign that I could get out.
Maneuvering in a wedding dress and high heels was not easy, but I managed to get out of the vehicle and make my way to the front door. I had no key, but I always left a spare in the flowerpot next to the shrub, and I went for it now, not bothering to try to hide what I was doing.
The key itself was probably a waste. I probably could have left the front door wide open without worry someone would come in.
One of the benefits—the precious few benefits—of having a mob boss for a father.
Former mob boss,
I corrected myself.
No one had told me what was happening with my father’s business, at least not directly, but he was no longer in power, his fate resting on his ability to accept that fact. My stomach dropped, but I ignored it, kept myself intent on getting inside.
After I entered the house, I slammed the door shut and then put on the chain lock, grateful to finally have a chance to shut out the rest of the world.
It wouldn’t last.
It never did, but I needed these moments, and I would take them.
I moved through the living room of my ranch-style house, taking solace in the familiar, comfortable surroundings. This was the only place in the world that was mine, the only place where I could simply be Daniela. Not Santo’s daughter. Just Daniela Carmelli.
That thought brought me up short.
I wasn’t Daniela Carmelli anymore.
I laughed out loud, the sound unhinged, broken, but I couldn’t stop it. I’d signed the papers, said the I dos, but I didn’t know my own last name. It really had come to this.
But what did it matter? I’d thought the Carmelli name would protect me, and yet, here I was.
I sank to the floor, satin and tulle pooling around me.
A perfect end to this nightmarish day.
I’d married a complete stranger, essentially given myself to a criminal organization that would like nothing more than to see me and my family dead. Why should something like a last name matter?
At least I knew his first name.
I lay back, the woven rug rough against my bare arms. I didn’t attempt to move, though. I needed the friction, that little flare of pain to keep me grounded in this moment. Aware.
It would be easy, oh so easy, here, in my own little world, to pretend that today hadn’t happened. And for an hour, maybe two, I could, would be able to go on like everything was the same.
But it wasn’t.
The heavy dress, the ring that now weighed down my finger were proof of that. The ceremony had unfolded like a dream, nightmare really, but those were facts.
I belonged to the Syndicate now, belonged to him, and there was no way out.
That thought made me sit up and propelled me off the floor, the burst of nerves that exploded through me making it impossible for me to stay still.
I had every reason to be nervous.
The Syndicate, that awful man Maxim, were one thing, but my new husband… I shivered.
For all of the wrong reasons.
Because as terrible as the day had been, as angry and afraid as I had been, I couldn’t stop myself from remembering him.
He was impressive to look at, tall, broad, heavily muscled. Handsome by any measure of the word.
Not too shocking in itself. I’d met plenty of handsome men, some of my father’s world, some not, but from all, I’d learned to anticipate the reactions.
They’d look at me, stare at my body, sometimes with distaste for my full curves dimming their eyes, sometimes with naked desire brightening them.
But always, once they knew my name, their eyes would change. Shine with the fear of what my father might do to them. Gleam with opportunity for a chance to use me to get close to Santo.
I was simply a bystander, a side effect, a means to an end. Most days I didn’t care. I’d been Santo’s daughter long enough to know what to expect—and know what was expected of me—so their reactions didn’t touch me. I made a game of it, would time them and see how long it took for their true colors to come through.
It shouldn’t have been any different with the man who was now my husband. I knew exactly where I stood. To him, I was only a tool to control my father, a weapon to punish him. Not the most familiar position for me, but one I could withstand. I hadn’t made it all these years without understanding how to use other people, how to be used by them.
But when I’d stood at the altar and looked into his eyes, I’d seen nothing of what I had expected. No fear, no opportunity, no lust, even—something I would pretend didn’t disappoint me.
No, when I’d first glimpsed him, I’d seen boredom, utter disinterest. It had dropped my guard completely, made me curious about the man, made me want to know what made him so different.
And in that long second that he’d watched me back, I’d seen that boredom change, become something else altogether. Sympathy? Compassion maybe? I couldn’t say for sure since I had so rarely seen either. Whatever it was, it had shaken me. Broke through the haze and captured me, made me think of nothing else but him.
That was fucking terrifying.
I knew better, and more, I knew men like him. I had been raised by one.
He was a criminal, a killer, exactly the kind of person I swore I wouldn’t want and would never, ever trust.
That look in his eyes called to me, made me want to believe in him. Made me want to trust him.
Made me want him.
I slammed my fist against the rug-covered floor, uncaring of the dull waves of pain that moved through my hand. I deserved them, needed them, if only to keep myself from forgetting who and what he was.
It would be beyond stupid of me to ever pretend that what I’d seen was real, to allow myself to believe he was anything more than another someone who only cared what I could do for him, if he even cared at all.
I had married him for my family, would do whatever I had to for them. However, I would keep myself distant, make sure I never allowed myself to fall for whatever game hid behind his beautiful eyes.
Of course, the man himself hadn’t given me a chance to take his measure.
He’d said a scant few words to me, two to be exact, and then he’d been gone. I’d lingered long enough to have a short conversation with my father, received the forced, confused well-wishes. I’d played my role to perfection, ignoring the curious stares, ignoring the obvious sham and instead politely accepting the congratulations.
Then I’d been alone, whisked into the backseat of one of my new husband’s cars like this was an ordinary day.
It was anything but. Still, I needed to pull myself together.
Because before I’d looked into Sergei’s eyes, I’d looked into my father’s.
His body was broken, something I’d never seen. I didn’t think I could even remember him ever having a cold, let alone being hurt by someone else.
The pure rage that burned in his eyes, though, I’d seen, seen far more often than I cared to remember. My stomach fluttered as I thought of that look, of what it meant. And I was again reminded of why I had agreed to this in the first place.
I needed to protect my father from himself, protect the people he would hurt from him. I knew he couldn’t—or wouldn’t—do it himself. So it was up to me.
It had never been my goal to be the buffer between Santo and the outside world. The role had found me, though, and that role had never been more important than it was now.