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The Mafia's Pawn (Arranged bride)

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Summary

Milene Rules, I know them, But I didn’t follow them. I moved into his city, his domain without approval. And now, it’s time for me to pay the price. Marry the cold, calculating Don of La Cosa Nostra, The man who many have never seen-or could recognize, And be bound to the mafia forever. But when he comes to collect me, I realize that this isn’t the first time we’ve met. Salvatore Nothing amazes me anymore. I’ve seen and done too much. Until her. She’s an anomaly, Living in poverty, In MY city, Without approval. I’m drawn to her in ways I never imagined. She ignites me and intrigues me. I want more than stolen touches. I want it all. And what Salvatore Ajello wants, he takes.

RomanceArranged marriageMafiaBillionaireBadboyPossessiveSecond Chance

1

Prologue

Seven years ago

A hammer comes down onto my hand, its metal head burying into flesh that’s already a swollen mess, and a fine spray of blood splatters across the table.

I wait until the worst of the pain recedes, then lift my chin and glare at the man looming above me.

“No.” I bite out.

Marcello, one of the capos, watches me for a couple of seconds before he throws a glance over his shoulder at the don who is leaning against the wall to the right. It’s dim in the room, no buzz or glare from the fluorescent tubes on the ceiling. The only illumination seeps from an old lamp on the

corner of the table, but when the don lights his cigar, his face glows red from the flame as he nods.

Marcello turns back to me and tightens his hold around my wrist. “I think you should reconsider,” he sneers and brings the hammer down heavily onto my fingers once more.

Searing pain shoots up along the length of my arm, zinging through my shoulder and sending a lightning strike straight to the back of my head. The

sensation takes hold in my brain, making a home for itself inside my skull. I clench my teeth in an effort to block it out.

“Fuck you, Marcello,” I rasp.

He laughs and shakes his head. “You really are something.”

Marcello sets the hammer down on the table and takes a gun from his holster. I assume he’ll simply shoot me in the head, but instead, he points the weapon at my leg. “I think I’ve fucked up your hand enough. You probably can’t feel it anymore. How about this?”

Two gunshots ring out, and I roar in agony as bullets tear through flesh and bone. Black spots blur my vision.

“Last chance, Salvatore,” he barks.

I take a deep breath, ignore the worthless bastard, and make direct eye contact with the don, who is still standing at the same spot in the dark

corner. It’s too dark for me to see his eyes clearly, but with the lamp so

close to my face, I’m sure he can see mine. My unharmed hand is tied to the arm of the chair, but I rotate my wrist enough to raise my middle finger at him, the rope chafing my skin.

“He won’t cave, Marcello,” the don says and turns to leave. “Just kill him and be done with it.”

Marcello waits until the door closes, then circles around the chair I’m tied to and leans down to whisper into my ear. “I’ve always hated your guts. I don’t know what the don was thinking when he let you take your father’s place two years ago. Making a twenty-four-year-old a capo, as though we’re running a fucking kindergarten or something.”

“I understand how that must unnerve you, Marcello.” I take a deep breath while the dark patches continue to cloud my vision. “Especially

since I’ve made more money for the Family in my two years as a capo than you have after twenty in the same position.”

“I should leave you here to bleed out.” He spits on the floor and sends another bullet into my foot.

“That wouldn’t,” I choke out, “be wise.” “Why not?”

“Because if I don’t die . . . you will.” He laughs. “Yes, we shouldn’t risk it.”

Three rapid gunshots echo through the room, and I gasp as a sharp,

burning pain explodes in my back. I manage one forced breath before everything fades to black.

Present

“Move, you idiot!”

My head snaps up as I step to the side, avoiding an elbow to my kidney, and stare at the woman in scrubs who rushes past me. She’s running toward a car that screeches to a halt a few feet in front of me in the middle of the hospital parking lot.

A teenage boy, not more than fifteen, jumps out of the driver’s side. It’s clear he’s not been to a hospital before, given he’s driven to the parking lot and not the emergency entrance. He opens the door at the same time the nurse reaches the vehicle. For a few seconds, they both stare into the back seat.

“Is that . . . the head?” the boy stutters. “Why is . . .? Mom, you said we had time.”

A woman’s moans fill the air as the boy, horrified and as white as a sheet of paper, keeps his eyes on the back seat.

“Kid! Hey!” The nurse grabs the boy’s forearm and shakes him, but he’s not responding. “Kid. Focus!” She slaps him lightly on his face. “Get inside the hospital. Find a doctor and drag them out here.”

“Aren’t . . . aren’t you a doctor?”

“I’m just a nurse. The information stated your mom was having

contractions, not that she was in full-blown labor. Go. Now!” she snaps, turns toward the car and kneels down on the concrete, placing her hands on the seat in front of her. “It’s okay, Mama. Breathe for me. It’s okay. When the pain comes, I need you to push, all right? What’s your name?”

The woman in the car whimpers and says something I don’t catch, probably answering the nurse’s question, then cries out again.

“I’m Milene,” the nurse says. “You’re doing great, Jenny. Yes, breathe.

One more time, the head is already out. Just one more push, but make it count.”

The nurse looks over her shoulder at the hospital entrance, then off to the side until her gaze lands on me. “You! Suit guy!” she yells. “Come here!”

I cock my head and take in the sight of her. The first thing I notice are her eyes, but not the color. I’m too far away to see that detail. There is a mixture of panic and determination in them that captures my gaze. In any other situation, I would have ignored a similar request and walked away. Other people’s lives don’t interest me in the least. But I find myself unable to move my gaze from the girl. It takes quite a lot of determination to keep

a level head in a situation like this. Slowly, I approach the car, my eyes not leaving the nurse who is, once again, focused on the woman in the car and doling out instructions. The nurse’s hair is a very light shade of blonde, and it’s gathered into a ponytail, which hangs in disarray.

“Give me your jacket,” she says without looking in my direction, as the woman in the car lets out a deep groan. “That’s it, Jenny. That’s it. I have her.”

Her voice is trembling only slightly, but it’s impossible to miss the panicked look on her face. It amazes me, how she keeps it together. And, after everything I’ve seen and done in my lifetime, not many things amaze me anymore.

Suddenly, a baby's cry pierces the space around us.

They say a child’s first cry should melt even the coldest of hearts, but it does nothing for me. Not that I expected it would. I’ve just witnessed a new life entering the world, but it elicited exactly the same emotional response

as the changing of a traffic light.

None.

I take off my jacket, intending to lay it over the car door and leave, but my gaze falls on the nurse’s face and my breath catches in my throat. She’s looking at the baby in her arms, smiling with such awe and joy it makes her face glow. It’s so unguarded and so sincere I can’t force my eyes away from her lips. I felt nothing at the supposed miracle of life, but a strange

sensation suddenly tightens my chest while looking at her, and with it, a

foreign feeling of . . . wanting. I squeeze the jacket in my hand, trying to decipher the meaning of this unbidden urge to grab the girl’s face and turn her to me so I might claim her smile for myself. I don’t have a good name for what’s overtaken me. Perhaps . . . yearning?

From the corner of my eye, I catch sight of two women in white coats

exiting the hospital and running in our direction. Behind them, a male nurse is pushing a gurney.

“You did great, Jenny. I’ll put her on your chest. Open your shirt,” the nurse says, then turns to me, her hand extended. I give her my Armani jacket and watch as she leans inside the car to cover the baby.

“Jesus, Milene.” One of the doctors who’d just arrived gasps. “We’ll take it from here, honey. You did great.”

The blonde nurse—Milene—nods and rises up from the asphalt. Her joyful expression is replaced by confusion, as though she’s only now registering what’s taken place. I have an urge to grab the person responsible for extinguishing her smile and punish them for it, but there is no one to blame. It’s the situation itself. Still, the need to kill someone doesn’t leave me.

The young nurse heads toward the hospital entrance but stops after a few steps and leans against a parked car. With her head bent, she stares at her trembling hands which are smeared with blood, then frantically starts brushing them on the front of her scrubs. She’s very young. Early twenties. Maybe twenty-two or twenty-three, at most. It was probably her first delivery, but she held herself together well and I can’t help but admire her for it. When her hands are somewhat clean, she pushes off the car and resumes her trek, but stumbles. Taking a step to the side, she leans against the next car and closes her eyes.

I should leave. Just turn around, go to my car, and drive home. But I

can’t. It’s like my whole being is focused on the blonde nurse. She seems so lost and vulnerable. So instead of doing the reasonable thing, I cover the distance between us and stand right in front of her. Suddenly, a crazy

compulsion to reach out and touch her face overwhelms me but I stifle that ridiculous urge and just observe her instead. Her eyes open, and she looks up at me. Dark green.

“The jacket guy,” she says and closes her eyes again. “You can leave your name and address at the information desk. I’ll make sure they send your jacket back.”

Her voice sounds steady, but her hands are still shaking, as is the rest of her body. Post-adrenaline crash. I throw a look over my shoulder. There are only thirty yards between us and the hospital entrance, but I doubt she can manage the small distance in this state. Her legs are trembling so badly I

expect them to fold under her at any second. She could trip on her way back to the building and hurt herself. I’m not sure why that possibility bothers me.

I bend and scoop her small frame into my arms. A yelp of surprise

escapes the girl’s lips, but she doesn’t immediately complain. She simply wraps her arms around my neck and stares back at me with wide eyes.

We’re halfway to the entrance when she starts to wriggle, almost knocking me off balance.

“Put me down.” More wriggling, “I can walk, damn it.”

I continue to march forward with her in my arms as she keeps hitting my chest with her tiny fists, trying to slip from my grip. Although she can’t

weigh more than a hundred pounds, her fidgeting does make the task bothersome. If she doesn’t stop, we could both end up facedown on the pavement.

I turn my head, and our noses accidentally touch. She has freckles, I notice.

“Stop,” I say, and the wriggling ceases.

She opens her mouth, as if she’s about to argue with me, but I squeeze my arms around her in warning. No one is allowed to disobey my orders. The girl closes her mouth and scrunches her nose at me but says nothing. Wise. I turn my head back toward the entrance and walk on.

“Was he hot?” Andrea, my best friend, asks.

I lodge the phone between my shoulder and cheek and take out some leftovers from the fridge to have for dinner.

“I guess,” I say and pile the food onto my plate. I haven’t eaten anything since breakfast.

“What kind of answer is that? Was he or not?”

“He was. Tall. Expensive suit. Dark hair, a little salt-and-pepper in places. He smelled nice.” Very, very nice. I can still smell his cologne on my T-shirt.

“Gray hairs? How old was that guy?”

“Midthirties. Probably going prematurely gray.” I place the plate in the microwave, setting the timer to one minute. Not nearly enough time for the food to warm up sufficiently, but it’ll have to do. I’m too hungry to wait any longer than that.

“And he didn’t say anything? His name?”

“Nope. Just carried me inside the hospital lobby, set me down, then turned around and left.”

“Well, I can’t say that I’m surprised. You’ve always attracted weirdos.” Andrea laughs. “Is that anesthesiologist, Randy, still stalking you?”

“Yup.” I sit at the small table in the corner with my plate and dig in. “He sent me flowers again yesterday. Carnations this time. I mean, what the fuck? They’re for funerals.”

“Was there another creepy note?”

“Yeah. Something about my skin shining like moonlight. I threw up a little in my mouth.” My cat jumps onto the table, sticks his nose in my cup and laps my water. I tap him with a kitchen rag on the head. “Down, damn you!”

“Do you think that Randy guy is dangerous?” Andrea asks. “He’s been stalking you for months.”

“I don’t think so. He’ll find someone else to pester soon, hopefully.

What’s going on in Chicago?” I load another heaped forkful of food into my mouth.

“I saw your brother the other day. He still thinks you’re in Illinois.”

“Good. Please make sure you don’t slip up in front of him. Angelo will flip if he finds out I’m in New York.”

“You should come back to Chicago, Milene. It’s not safe. What if

someone from the New York Family finds out you’re there?” She switches to whispering. “Ajello doesn’t allow members of other Cosa Nostra Families on his territory without approval. You know that very well.”

“I doubt the notorious Don Ajello would tire himself out over poor little me,” I mumble between bites, “and anyway, I have to finish my residency. I’ll be coming back as soon as I’m done.” The cat jumps up onto the table again, steals a piece of meat off my plate, and dashes toward the bathroom. “One of these days, I’m going to strangle this cat.”

“You’ve been saying that for weeks.” Andrea laughs.

“He came home with a fucking chicken wing yesterday. And a piece of fish two days before. The neighbors will think I’ve trained him to steal food for me.” I yawn. “I’ll call you tomorrow. I can't keep my eyes open.”

“All right. If you run into that sexy stranger again, be sure to get his number.”

“Yeah, sure.”

I cut the call and drag myself to the bed on the other side of my

apartment. The whole thing is smaller than my bedroom back home, but it’s paid for with my own money, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I haven’t told Andrea or anyone else yet, but I don’t plan on going back to

Chicago. Ever.

I’m done with all the Cosa Nostra crap.

A sharp rap sounds on my office door. I look up from the laptop to see my head of security enter and nod toward the chair on the other side of the desk.

“Did you find the girl?” I ask.

“Yes. And you won’t believe this.” Nino sits down and crosses his arms in front of his chest. “She’s Milene Scardoni. The youngest sister of one of Chicago’s capos, Angelo Scardoni.”

I lean back in my chair. What an unusual turn of events. “You’re sure?” “Yes. She’s the only Milene who works at St. Mary’s. I checked her

social media as well.” He takes out his phone, scrolls through it for a couple of seconds, then slides it across the desk toward me. “Not many photos there, but I found two where she’s with her sister. The one who married into the Bratva. They look very much alike. And I found several photos with

Rossi’s sister-in-law, Andrea. It’s her, Boss.”

I pick up the phone from the desk and look down at the screen. The photo is a couple of years old. Her hair is shorter. She’s standing with

another girl of about the same age. Milene is smiling, and her palm is fully extended in front of her mouth, sending a kiss toward the camera. With full lips and a tiny nose, she is beautiful. But, it's not her flawless features that attract my attention. It’s her eyes. Big, luminous green orbs that seem as though they are looking right at me, twinkling with joy and mischief. I move my thumb over the screen until I reach her lips and trace their

contours.

“The sister of a Chicago capo. In my territory.” I put the phone back on the desk, but I can’t stop staring at the image. It seems so genuine, her

smile. How would it feel to have someone smile at me like that?

“Do you want me to send someone to drag her in here?” Nino asks. “Or will you call Rossi so he can handle the problem himself?”

I force my eyes away from the screen, unnerved by the fact a random woman who I’ve just met has managed to invoke such an unhealthy

interest. I stand up and walk toward the large window overlooking the city. Calling Luca Rossi, the Chicago don, would be the best course of action.

He’ll send someone to collect her and take her back to Chicago.

“No,” I say, staring at the street below. The rain had begun an hour

earlier. It started as drizzle but grew into a full-blown downpour. I wonder how much darker her hair is when it’s wet. “Put someone on her. Do you know where she lives?”

“I checked. Some dump in the suburbs.”

“Alone?”

“She has a cat.”

“I want cameras planted in her place,” I say. “Kitchen, living room, bedrooms, but not in the bathroom.”

Nino says nothing, so I turn to find him regarding me with a slightly

shocked expression on his face. We’ve known each other for two decades, so it’s no wonder my request stuns him. I’m baffled by it too.

“I had a look inside from the fire escape,” he says quickly. “It’s a two hundred-square-foot studio. Just one room.”

What the hell is a capo’s sister doing, working her ass off as a nurse, living in a studio in the suburbs?

“Put two cameras to cover the whole space,” I say. “I want it done in the next twenty-four hours, and set the recordings to stream directly to my laptop. No one else is to have access.”

“Consider it done.” Nino gets up to leave but looks at me over his shoulder. “If I may ask, where did you unearth her?”

“In front of St. Mary’s. I was going home after a semiannual checkup.” I turn back to the window. “She called me an idiot, almost knocked me over, and then delivered a baby in the middle of a parking lot. She also

confiscated my jacket in the course of this escapade.”

Nino bursts out laughing behind me. “Well, I see why you found her interesting.”

Yes. I find Milene Scardoni very interesting.