BY Rachel Van Dyken
Release Date: May 31, 2016
Must Read ELUDE prior to Empire
Death knocks on my door, I want to answer, but every time I reach for the handle -- the promise I made her brings me back.
So I breathe.
And I allow the anger to oil beneath the surface of a perfectly indifferent facade. I am broken, I don't want to be fixed.
But the Empire is crumbling and it's my job to fix it.
My job to mend the pieces that were scattered over thirty years ago.
A trip to New York, only one chance to redeem a lost part of our mafia family.
The only issue is, the only way to fix it, is to do something I swore I'd never do again.
An arranged marriage.
Only this time.
I won't fall.
Or so help me God, I will kill her myself.
My name is Sergio Abandonoto, you think you know my pain, my suffering, my anger, my hate?
You have no idea.
I am the mafia.
I am the darkness.
Blood in. No out.
“Taxi.” I held up my hand. “It’s too cold to walk.”
“For those of us who have hearts,” I said under my breath.
He paused and then burst out laughing. “Holy shit, was that a dig at me?”
I shrugged as the taxi pulled up.
“Damn, and you’re not even apologizing.”
“It was more of a passing comment under my breath…” I got into the taxi and slid across the cold, worn vinyl seat. “But true.”
Sergio slammed the door after him. “And here I thought I was making a good impression.”
“You offered to kill me if I kissed you.”
The taxi driver frowned into the rearview mirror.
“She’s kidding,” Sergio reassured him.
I refused to let him get off that easy. “You also look at me like you want to throw up.”
Mr. Taxi Driver’s nostrils flared.
“Uh.” Sergio laughed uncomfortably. “I just have a lot on my mind.”
Taxi Driver’s eyes looked like they were going to bug out of his head. Yeah, this was probably the best entertainment he’d had all day.
“I don’t talk about it,” Sergio said in a drop-the-subject voice.
“Maybe you should.”
“I have enough money to afford a therapist, thank you,” he said through clenched teeth.
“Money doesn’t buy happiness,” I fired back.
Sergio released a string of pithy curses. “Did someone spike your milk this morning during show and tell?”
“Sorry. Your Kool-Aid.” His eyes narrowed. “It’s like you’re trying to piss me off.”
Bingo. I smiled. “Funny, that’s what Dante says to me all the time. Just think of all the things you get to look forward to. Isn’t that what you said you wanted?”
Sergio looked ready to strangle me. “No. I don’t believe I asked for an annoying little sister, but if that’s what you’re offering, please don’t let me stop you. Just know, I won’t hesitate to put you over my knee if you get out of hand.”
The minute the words left his mouth. I froze.
The taxi driver stared little laser-like holes into the rearview mirror.
And Sergio leaned toward me.
I swallowed as tension swirled around us.
He gripped me by the chin and turned my head to the side, his lips brushing my ear. “It’s like you have a death wish.”
“You wouldn’t do it.”
He pulled back as both of his eyebrows shot up, and then he looked down, like something had caught his eye.
I followed the direction of his gaze and let out a little gasp as a gun dug into my stomach.
“It’s been directed at you for the last four minutes,” Sergio said through a practiced smile. “I meant what I said. Listen well. I keep my word. Kiss me, and blood will be spilled.”
“Y-you’re a crazy person!” I hissed, shoving at his chest. “And I wasn’t going to kiss you!”
“Sure you weren’t.” He put the gun away. “Good talk though, right? Oh look, the movie theater.”
To say that I scrambled out of the car like a kid running away from her kidnapper would be a gross understatement, but the minute my feet hit the pavement, I paused.
My body told me to run.
The guy had pulled a gun.
I didn’t even watch violent movies, I’d just panicked and said the first thing that popped into my head!
And I was about to go to the theater with a guy who probably showered in blood on a daily basis and by the looks of it — got off on it.
Shivering, I forced myself to take a deep breath and wrapped my jacket tighter around my body.
That was the thing about men like Sergio, or maybe just loyalty in general. He’d promised he would keep me safe, but I wondered if that promise was only extended until I was more trouble than I was worth.
I was safe, not because of what I was to him.
But because of who my dad had been to him.
I was nothing.
And yet, a part of me still yearned to be… something.
“Change your mind?” Sergio’s smooth voice interrupted my thoughts. He was the type of man you felt even when he wasn’t speaking. His presence was impossible to ignore, kind of like his ridiculous good looks.
Weren’t mafia guys supposed to be old?
Chain smokers who bought Cuban cigars and sat behind large desks while counting money and ordering hits on people who pissed them off?
“No.” I finally found my voice. “I was just thinking….”
“About?” His hand touched my back, ushering me forward, but not pushing, almost as if he was giving me the option of still saying no.
I increased my pace so that I couldn’t feel the warmth of his fingertips. “Popcorn.” I turned and winked, hoping it would hide the fact that my body was shaking.
Maybe I was the crazy one.
Because he was armed.
The man was armed.
And he had no qualms about pointing his weapon at me whenever I got too close.
Huh, we’d have a happy marriage.
I guess we’d never argue, since I liked living.
And, you know, breathing.
It would suck not to make my twenty-first birthday because I didn’t fold the towels just right.
And again, I froze.
Was he that neurotic? Or was it just the closeness?
“On a scale of one to ten…” I was proud of the way I kept the shaking out of my voice. Why was I so scared? Oh right, because he’d pointed a gun, no, shoved a freaking gun into my stomach and done it with a smile on his face. “How OCD are you?”
An easy laugh escaped him as he glanced around the movie theater lobby and then back at me. “What makes you think I’m OCD?”
“Things.” I gulped then forced a smile that I didn’t feel. How was I supposed to go through an entire movie knowing he was one uncomfortable conversation away from losing it? “So?”
“What can I get you?” A teen boy looked at Sergio then smiled wider when his eyes fell to me.
Immediately, Sergio wrapped a protective arm around me, basically forcing my body to curve into his warmth. “My wife and I will have two buckets of popcorn, two packs of Sour Patch Kids, and a bottled water.”
I didn’t correct him about the water.
“Wait.” Sergio held up his hand. “Sorry, Dr. Pepper mixed with Coke.”
The teen scrunched up his face then rung us up. His eyes fell to me again then back at the register, like he was trying not to look but couldn’t help it, which was comical, since I didn’t really think I was anything to look at.
When he handed Sergio back his change I could have sworn I heard a growl from my “husband.”
As it was, he jerked the candy so hard out of the kid’s hands that I was surprised he didn’t do a front flip over the counter.
“He’s a boy,” I whispered under my breath. “No need to shoot him too.”
Sergio glanced down at me, muttered a curse. “He was staring.”
“He looked about one science project away from solving world hunger via his mom’s basement… hardly the type of guy that I’d date.”
“Date?” Sergio said it so loudly the people in front of us waiting to show the attendant their tickets jumped and then turned around. “What the hell do you mean date?”
Crap. I’d messed up again.
My palms went sweaty while my face felt numb with fear. Regardless of how pretty he was to look at — I was finally fully aware of how dangerous he was to me.
To everyone around me.
Sweat trickled down my lower back as I gulped down more soda and shrugged. “I just mean, he’s not my type.”
“No shit he isn’t, because you don’t get a type anymore.”
“Right.” I licked my lower lip, pretending not to be scared, pretending to be the brave person I wasn’t was wearing on me.
By the time we made it into the theater I was dizzy.
It was too much all at once.
“So…” Sergio’s voice was in my ear. I jumped a foot. He frowned as if he couldn’t figure out why I’d be so jumpy. “Dante sits behind you, right?”
“Right.” I exhaled in relief. I forgot. It wasn’t a date. It was a challenge. He’d called me his sister, so therefore he was my brother, right? Hah. I relaxed a bit as I pointed to a seat a few rows back and quickly stole the goodies out of his hands then made my way to my own seat before he could object.
The credits started rolling.
And I found myself ducking in the chair.
The hair on the back of my neck stood on end.
As if I was being watched — because I was.
Ten minutes into the movie, I was so stressed out, I almost burst into tears. My back was to him.
Wasn’t that a big no-no? My back was to the dude with the gun.
Even though he was supposed to protect me with the gun, all bets were off now.
Sweat pooled in the palms of my hands.
The music rose as one of the actresses ran down the stairs screaming.
I couldn’t take it.
And then, a body sat down next to me.
Sergio gave me a suspicious look then put a seat between us.
But it wasn’t relief.
At least I knew where he was.
And where the gun was, he was right handed, so there was that.
I finally allowed myself to relax enough to watch the movie when I saw Sergio’s right hand duck into his jacket.
I gripped the plastic arm rests, my fingers digging into the cheap sticky plastic material as he slowly pulled something out.
And I flinched so hard that there was no mistaking what I thought he was doing.
Even though he had grabbed a black cell phone.
The damage was done.
My entire body shook as a big fat tear escaped, I tried to wipe it away but I wasn’t fast enough.
“S-sorry.” I shoved past him and ran.
But my body was too scared.
To make it very far.
Get the beginning of Sergio's story in Elude
Twenty-Four hours before were were to be married--I offered to shoot her.
Ten hours before our wedding--I made a mockery of her dying wish.
Five hours before we were going to say our vows--I promised I'd never love her.
One hour before I said I do--I vowed I'd never shed a tear over her death.
But the minute we were pronounced man and wife--I knew.
I'd only use my gun to protect her.
I'd give my life for hers.
And I would, most definitely, lose my heart, to a dying girl--a girl who by all accounts should have never been mine in the first place.
I always believed the mafia would be my end game--where I'd lose my heart, while it claimed my soul. I could have never imagined. It would be my redemption.
Or the beginning of something beautiful.
The beginning of her.
The end of us.
Rachel Van Dyken is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling author of regency and contemporary romances. When she's not writing you can find her drinking coffee at Starbucks and plotting her next book while watching The Bachelor.
She keeps her home in Idaho with her Husband, adorable son, and two snoring boxers! She loves to hear from readers!
You can connect with her on Facebook www.facebook.com/rachelvandyken or join her fan group Rachel's New Rockin Readers. Her website is www.rachelvandykenauthor.com.
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