Authors: Kaye Blue
My fear receded and instead anger sparked. “I’d appreciate it if you’d not talk about Mother that way.”
It was a mild admonition, but it got Santo’s attention.
“You always were protective of her. She plucked you out of that trashy hellhole you were born in, treated you like her own,” he said. Then he shrugged. “A shame she could never give me children of my blood. Imagine what she could have done with our own, not castoffs like you and that ungrateful sister of yours.”
His words stabbed me in my heart.
They shouldn’t have, not after all this time, but they still did. I had spent my entire life trying to prove I was worthy, that I deserved the love Mother had given me, the protection Santo had. That Giovanna had too, no matter how she’d rebelled.
And in the space of two sentences, he had again managed to make me feel like I was nothing.
I stayed quiet for a moment, determined I wouldn’t show him how much his words hurt. He wouldn’t care, but there was my pride to consider.
“Santo, please don’t tell me I did this for no reason,” I said.
“Daniela, you didn’t do this for no reason,” he said.
His words should have been reassuring, but they weren’t.
“Promise me you won’t strike out against the Syndicate,” I said.
Sometimes his word meant something. Other times it didn’t, but trying to get a promise he meant was the only hope I had.
“The Syndicate,” he spat. “That should have been mine.”
I knew nothing of that, but I didn’t have time to consider it, not with the look that was on his face.
“Daddy…” I said, the word nearly choking me.
He lifted abyss-black eyes toward me. “After what they did to me,” he said through clenched teeth.
“They let you live.”
His expression twisted and he looked around the surroundings. “In this shithole and not the house I built? Took my business from me, my home, my daughter. Humiliated me. And you want me to do nothing?” he asked.
He stood then, and his rage was so potent I doubted he even felt pain.
“I know it’s terrible, Daddy, but you made a promise. Besides, there are other things to consider,” I said, speaking as calmly as I could.
“The business. The men. All that could be gone in the blink of an eye if you go back on your word. All that you built,” I said.
“All that I’ve built? I have nothing,” Santo said.
“That’s not true,” I said, trying to reassure him. “It’s only been a few days. The business is still there. And if enough time passes…”
“What? You think something will change? That they’ll give me back what’s mine?” he said.
“Sergei…” I said, and then I trailed off, choosing my words carefully. “He’s fair. And ambitious. He won’t want to be here forever. And if you could—”
“You’re so fucking stupid, girl. You think if I’m nice enough and play good, he’ll just forget everything, give it back to me?”
I nodded tentatively.
“Like I said, stupid, and that motherfucker Maxim would never allow it. He might give me some shit job fetching his slippers, make sure that every day I knew who was in charge.” He shook his head vehemently. “I’m nobody’s bitch, Daniela.”
“Santo…please,” I said.
His demeanor changed again, the tumult gone as quickly as it had arrived, replaced with something almost like serenity. He reached for my face, cupped my cheeks gently, stared down at me.
“Don’t worry. You just keep doing what you’re doing, keep your new husband happy, occupied. Your daddy will take care of the rest,” he said.
My blood turned to ice in my veins.
This couldn’t be good. The wild mood swings I understood, the anger, followed by calm, followed by little moments of kindness. Those were simply a matter of life with Santo.
But the way he looked at me now, the certainty in his eyes, told me that he had something planned.
Who knew if I’d survive it?
hen I finally got back to
the car, I let the tears come.
And come they did, hard, fast, and enough that I eventually had to pull over. I reached for tissues and wiped my face and then I started to drive again.
I drove aimlessly, unfocused, but as I continued, I realized I was driving toward my house and not Sergei’s. I was again reminded I didn’t live here anymore, that I might not again. Was torn between the closeness that would come from living with Sergei on a day-to-day basis and sadness about the loss of my old life.
Still, I didn’t regret coming. I couldn’t go back to Sergei’s, not now. Seeing Santo had shaken me, but seeing Rita had been worse.
She’d been like me once, hopeful, thought she had the world in front of her. I’d been supportive, listened to Rita’s fairy tales about what life with Davey would be like. Yet inside, I’d thought her foolish. Now, I was doing the same thing I had ridiculed her for.
I’d let myself think those things about Sergei, had allowed sex, amazing, mind-blowing sex and a few smiles wipe my memory and my common sense. It was good now, but it had been good for Rita once too. And where had she ended up? The same place I would, and that was if I was lucky.
I’d probably end up dead, or in a place where I wished I was, everything I’d ever wanted for my life gone, a broken, used-up victim of my father’s world in a way I’d promised myself I never would be.
And it would be my fault.
Because I wasn’t like Rita. I’d gone into this with my eyes open, but was letting myself sink deeper. I feared I was powerless to stop.
Instead of turning into the driveway, I parked on the side of the street and waited, focused on the nice rosebushes I had worked so hard to maintain. They were good, but they would never compare to my mother’s.
Just as I never would.
The tears threatened to come again when I thought of how much I had failed her. She never would have allowed this to happen. She would have found a way to protect Santo from himself.
The irony was her death had brought this all upon us.
Never, not on his best day, was Santo stable, reliable. But after Mother’s death, he had gotten worse, far, far worse, and it had been terrifying to watch as he disintegrated.
We had all lived in relative peace when Mother had been alive, but as soon as she was gone, it was like hell breaking loose. The stories became more frequent, more brutal, and I had comforted my share of widows.
I’d married Sergei to save him, but somehow I knew there would be more causalities.
I wished my sister Giovanna was still around, could practically hear her voice as she’d watch me with angry eyes and tell me the cost of my blind loyalty.
But Giovanna was not here. I was alone.
After I heaved a sigh, I got out of the car and walked toward my house, familiarity coming over me at the same time as my gloomy mood darkened even more.
After Sergei had kicked down the door, he hadn’t even tried to prop it up, and my sadness intensified when I thought about my poor home left open, exposed. Not too different from me if I thought about it, which was something I did not want to do.
I glanced at the house and then stopped, narrowed my eyes on the door.
The door that was completely intact.
Sergei had definitely kicked it off its hinges, yet it stood now, the bright blue completely smooth and unbroken.
I approached cautiously and then reached out, brushed my fingers along the smooth surface. The color was exactly the same as it had been, but this door was solid, wouldn’t give, even under one of Sergei’s kicks.
He had replaced the door.
I started to smile.
t had been a grueling day
, more for Santo’s men than me, but it was thankfully nearing an end.
I’d spoken with each of Santo’s men, made sure they understood the new order of things, what they could and could not do.
I finished with Michael, who didn’t even seem insulted by our cursory conversation, and had him send Vincent in.
I grimaced when I looked around the dim office. Funny, but this wasn’t exactly how I had thought of a promotion. Stuck in the room all day talking to idiots and assholes, but when I reflected on it, it made sense.
Running the show and being hands-on in the action weren’t completely compatible.
“You wanted to see me?” Vincent came into the office, standing with arms hanging loosely at his sides. He was supposed to be giving off the air of nonchalance, but I could see how angry he was.
He’d been waiting for over ten hours, and I had spoken to the seventy-eight-year-old barman before him. I would understand if he was upset, but this was all part of my test and how he responded would tell me whether the potential I saw was real. I’d taken good measure of Santo’s men, and with few exceptions I didn’t see any too ambitious among them, Vincent and Michael being two big exceptions.
“Yes. Come in. Sit if you want,” I said.
“I’ll stand,” he said.
“Suit yourself,” I said, moving over to the closest chair.
As Vincent watched, I saw the gleam of satisfaction in his eye. He thought he was winning. Probably attached some significance to the fact that he stood and I did not.
There was none. Standing, sitting didn’t matter. I was in charge here, held the key to his life or death. Something he would understand soon.
“Vincent, what did you do for Santo?” I asked.
“Why should I answer your questions?” he said.
I looked at him. “You’re the first person to ask me that all day,” I said, excited at the prospect that at least one of Santo’s men might be more than worthless.
“Asking questions doesn’t get you too far around here. Besides, guys are a little shaken up with your so-called change in management,” Vincent said.
“Not you,” I said.
He shrugged, again going for nonchalance, but instead showing pure defiance.
“You may be right, but I would have expected a little more reluctance to tell an absolute stranger everything,” I said.
“Who says they told you everything?” he asked.
“They told me enough,” I replied.
“So I got nothing to add. I’m done here?” he said.
“No,” I said.
“Fuck that. I’m gone,” Vincent said.
“Your choice, but know that if you walk out that door, you won’t see tomorrow,” I said.
“And I will if I stay?” he replied.
“You’ll have a chance,” I said.
Vincent looked at me, and I could see the battle warring within him. He’d need to do a better job of hiding his emotions, but so far, he was the only one of the men who had shown anything like independent thought.
A moment later, he sat down in the chair across from me.
“Good start. Let’s cut the shit, Vincent,” I said.
“Finally,” he replied, reclining in the chair.
“I hear you’re Santo’s best hitter,” I said.
“I don’t like to brag,” he replied.
“Is that all you want from life?” I asked.
Vincent laughed. “What the fuck is this?”
“A question,” I said.
He laughed harder. “You gotta be shitting me. The guys are pissing their pants about the fucking Syndicate, and you bring me in here for career counseling.”
I said nothing, just watched until he stopped laughing. “You done?”
He snorted. “Yeah.”
“What’s your answer?”
“I’ve never given it any thought, like to play it day by day,” he said.
“Give it thought now. Is that all you ever want to be?” I said.
“I have other options?”
“You could, if you’re not too stupid to recognize them,” I said.
He wasn’t. He might have tried to pretend to be, but I had Vincent pegged. He didn’t want to die in some alley only ever having been Santo’s enforcer.
“Why all the questions?” he asked, serious now in a way he hadn’t been before.
“Because I need to know who I’m dealing with,” I replied.
“And you think this conversation has told you who you’re dealing with?” Vincent asked.
“Yes,” I said.
He didn’t contradict me, so I continued. “You understand that you don’t take orders from Santo or anyone else who’s not me.”
“Not the worst news I’ve heard today,” he said. He clammed up quickly, though, probably having realized his words could be taken as disloyalty. I’d overlook it—he’d worked for Santo, after all—but it was good he instantly recognized the error.
“You can go now,” I said, my perception that Vincent had potential confirmed.
He frowned. “That’s it?”
“Yes,” I replied.
He nodded, looked almost disappointed, and then he stood but he didn’t immediately leave.
“What?” I asked.
“You’re really married to Daniela?”
I studied his expression, and for the first time it was inscrutable. I didn’t like it one bit.
“Why is that a concern of yours?” I asked.
“We used to know each other,” he said.
I stood then, projecting a calm I didn’t feel, and for the first time all day, Vincent looked slightly nervous.
He shook his head. “Not like that.”
“Good to know,” I said, relief loosening the tense anger that had tightened my chest.
Vincent didn’t linger this time and I was happy to finally be done.
But I wasn’t happy about my instinctual reaction to the mention of Daniela, how angry I’d been at the thought of Vincent having been her lover. He hadn’t said that, but his question, one that suggested a familiarity with Daniela that went beyond business was one I didn’t like one bit.
I didn’t begrudge her her past, but I didn’t want a reminder of it either.
Another sign of how she affected me, how much I cared, despite my desire to stay distant.
I left the bar and met back up with Adrian, who had been waiting.
“Anything of interest outside?” I asked.
“No,” he responded.
He paused, then turned, looked at me. “It’s a little disappointing,” he said.
“That Santo’s men seem to be so docile?” I asked.
“Yes,” I said, and then I got into the SUV and drove back to Santo’s house.
Most would be excited about living in a grand estate, view it as a symbol, but the only thing that moved me about that place was the fact I knew Daniela would be there waiting for me. My excitement at seeing her was something that I could barely contain.
Which was messed up.
This was business, and while I welcomed having a little pleasure mixed in, these feelings were more than that. That they rose to the level of feelings said it all. I didn’t have those, but instead of focusing on my work, far too often, my mind had strayed to her, the expression on her face when she’d told me to lose the tie, how her lips felt against mine, the way her breath warmed my ear as I drove into her.
A dangerous development, one made worse if I let myself admit I had started to care for her, a risk I wasn’t sure I was willing to take.
One that I might not have a choice in.