A figure both dangerous and dreaded. These are the words that characterize my forthcoming spouse. Coincidentally, he also happens to be my former boyfriend. It's a tangled web. Two years ago, he shattered my heart by departing, compelled to fulfill his father's wishes. Following months of tears, I eventually conceded that he was gone for good, never to glance back. Perhaps he had never truly loved me. The idea of encountering Luca once more was far from my desire. Now, a brutal twist of fate has cruelly bound me to him in a heartless arrangement. I am now his possession. He believes he's done me a favor, but to me, it's akin to a sentence of death. His motivation for marriage isn't rooted in his lingering affection for me; no, he pursued it for wealth and more power. I'm destined to become a mafia wife, and there appears to be only one escape from this fate: death. Yet, fate has something else in store. Someone else is averse to my union with the merciless Luca Bianchi. And if he prevails, my journey might lead me to an untimely demise.
Ten years old
“WHO DID YOU fucking talk to?” my father demands.
“No one, John,” Uncle Marco snaps. “You know that—”
“I know what I’ve been told and what you are saying doesn’t add up!” He pokes his brother in the chest. “And you.” He points at my aunt who stands in the corner of the living room with her back against the window that overlooks their backyard. “You’ve been running your fucking mouth too much.”
Tears fill her brown eyes as she stares at my father. Her shoulders shake, and she bites her bottom lip, trying to swallow a sob.
John Bianchi puts the fear of God in you. Because he is god. As the Don—the ringleader of the Italian-American Mafia—he decides when your time is up and how you pay for your sins. He was born in New York, but he and my uncle moved to Las Vegas when my father was fourteen. Uncle Marco was twelve. The laws in Sin City were more fluid back then, so my father was able to get his hands dirtier. He likes life messy.
“Don’t talk to her like that!” Marco shoves my father.
“I’ll talk to the bitch however I fucking please!” He punches my uncle, knocking him to his knees.
Aunt Ava cries out as blood runs down his chin, but she doesn’t dare go to her husband. No, she stays in her corner, knowing damn well there’s nothing she can do. At this point, all she can hope is that my father spares her life.
“You son of a bitch,” Marco growls, wiping the blood off.
My father pulls the gun from the waistband of his dress slacks and points it down at his brother.
“John!” He throws up his hands, eyes so dark, they’re almost black, pleading with my father to spare his life. “Come on. We’ll figure this out. I swear it wasn’t me …”
My father pulls the trigger.
I jump, momentarily deafened by the sound except for the ringing in my ears. Ava cries out, falling to the floor. Bringing her knees to her chest, she openly sobs.
I look back at my uncle. He never did live up to the expectations of the Bianchi family. My father was born in the mafia, and he will die in it, but his younger brother always played a role. Marco has wanted out for years, and this was the only way he was going to get it. Putting a bullet in his head was John Bianchi’s way of sparing him. He could have made my uncle suffer.
He turns to face my aunt. “No!” she screams. “Please …” She shakes violently as tears run down her face, smearing the makeup she put on earlier. It’s their anniversary. We caught them on their way out to dinner to celebrate fifteen years of marriage.
“Strip,” my father orders.
“Please …!” She sobs, shaking her head.
“Remove your dress. Now!” he shouts.
Using the window for support, she slowly gets to her feet. With shaky hands, she undoes the hook that holds her dress around her neck. It falls down her chest, stomach, and hips before pooling around her black heels. Her frail body shakes as she covers her bare breasts with her arms.
My father smiles at her, obviously happy with what he sees. Or what he doesn’t see. A wire. Someone has been feeding information to the feds, and he suspects it’s her. But the things that have gotten back to my father were spot-on, so if she wasn’t the snitch, then her husband was.
He walks over to her, grips her auburn hair, and jerks her head back. Placing the gun under her chin, he shows no emotion as she closes her eyes and sobs uncontrollably. “You keep your goddamn mouth shut; do you understand me?”
She begins to nod, but he shoves her head back farther with the barrel of the gun.
“Fucking say it, Ava!” he growls in her face.
“Keep … my ... mouth … shut,” she chokes out.
He releases her, and she cries out when he shoves her to the floor once again. Turning to face me, he places his gun back in his waistband. Coming over to me, he says, “Never let anyone stand in your way, son. Not even fucking blood. They’ll be the first to undercut you, and they should be the first to die for it.”
Twenty-two years old
The morning air is cool on my skin. The harsh wind whistling as it blows through the tall trees on this mountainside. The sun is just starting to rise on this glorious Friday. My heart pounds with adrenaline.
The sound of screaming is like music to my ears. A beacon of hope calling to me, letting me know I’m close to my destination. But as much as I like the sound, I don’t need it. I know where he is because I set the traps.
A week ago, my father called me to his home office in New York and ordered me to go hunting. But this isn’t the kind of hunt where you hang your kill on the wall as a trophy to impress others. No, this is the kind you let the wild animals feast on and then leave to rot once you’ve trapped your prey.
I come to the clearing and see a man by the name of Bernard lying on the ground. He looks up as I approach with my two men. His lips pull back in a snarl, and drool runs down his chin like a rabid dog. Seems fitting since he’s on a leash.
“You!” Spit flies out of his mouth. His eyes go to Nite, who stops beside me. “You will pay for this!”
He’s not lying. The life of the Cosa Nostra is an endless circle of revenge. It’s something we all came to terms with long ago. Every one of us understands that you live one day just to possibly be killed the next. But in this day and age, it’s not just limited to the mafioso. There are too many angry people in the world who feel they have the right to take your life.
I take a step toward him. He tries to crawl away, but the teeth from the bear trap bite into his leg, preventing it. Gritting his teeth, he throws his head back in pain. His veins protrude from his neck, and the spit flies as he pants.
“Would you like me to set you free?” I ask, watching the puddle of blood grow underneath him. I was taught to play with my food. Sometimes the mind game fucks them up more than the actual violence.
“Fuck you, Luca!” he growls.
“What do you think, Nite?” I look over at the man who stands next to me. His hands are tightly fisted and his shoulders shake with fury, but he says nothing. He turns to me, his green eyes almost glowing with rage.
“I agree.” I nod as if I can read his mind. “I think we should give him a fighting chance.”
It’s all about the hunt. That’s what makes this so exciting and gets my blood pumping. I was raised on violence.
Plus, my father sent me to do a job, and I won’t fail him. If I do, I’ll be the one in a trap. And I refuse to give him any reason not to need me. Useless men end up dead and buried in the desert. My father doesn’t show favoritism, not even to his own sons. You either kill or be killed. It’s the Bianchi way.
The man yanks on the chain that secures the bear trap into the dirt. He won’t be able to get it up. I set all twenty traps out here myself. We raided their log cabin an hour ago, entering from the front to push the fuckers out through the back, knowing they would try to escape through these woods.
And we were ready. We spent all of last night getting things in order.
Reaching down, I grab the knife out of my black boot and lift it in the air. Bernard raises his hands to shield himself, thinking I’m going to throw it at his face. As if I would give him that kind of mercy. Instead, it lands blade down in the dirt next to his bloody leg. “Start cutting,” I order.
“Wh … what …?” he cries and yanks it from the ground. “This won’t cut through the chain.” He seethes, shaking it at me.
“It won’t.” I agree with him.
His eyes widen once he understands what I’m saying. “I’m not going to cut my leg off!” he shouts.
I look back over at Oliver Nite. The man has been a member of the Bianchi family for fifteen years now. My father found him fighting off a group of thugs trying to steal what little he had. He took Nite in because he saw an opportunity. One—he could fight. And two—he was a child who had no one. My father could use the boy to his advantage. “What do you think?” I ask him.
He takes a step toward the man.
“Stay back!” Bernard orders, lifting the knife that I gave him to cut through his leg. His only chance to free himself from the trap. His only chance at freedom.