"One of theirs for one of ours," Uncle Antonio demanded. "My Ricardo is dead."
Regina frowned. Her own father, Gino, had rescued Ricardo from his own foolishness years earlier when Ricardo had not yet been twenty, and shipped him off to America to keep him off the radar of la polizia. Thirteen years later, her cousin was dead. So was her father, and Antonio had taken Gino's place as her grandfather's capo bastone. Where once upon a time the younger son Antonio had been a man of dishonor who was not fit to succeed her nonno as clan boss, Gino's death had forced her grandfather to re-evaluate his younger son. Nonno had elevated Uncle Antonio to a position of authority instead of cutting him out of the family.
It was an outward position only – a public posturing that the Dinapoli family was not declining and would not relinquish power when her grandfather had passed. When her nonno died at some time in the future, the truth was that Antonio would be likely be assassinated and another of the capos would rise in his place. The Dinapolis would no longer lead the clan. Antonio's attitude and violent proclivities had not improved with his rise to a position of power. Still, his demand, issued to her grandfather before all of the capos, would be difficult for the old man to deny. Her nonno could not be considered weak.
Thankfully, Regina still had her own loyal family members inside her grandfather's organization. Her father's two best friends – her godfathers and her zios of choice but not blood, Luc and Julio – remained capos in the family. They headed up foot soldiers, decinas, who did the business of the family. In their cases, Luc and Julio ran the smuggling and protection rackets at the port. They also legitimately managed the port operations, a position her father had previously held.
As a result, Luc and Julio were present at the meeting. Regina was not. She was hardly welcome now if the men of her grandfather's family were gathering. She'd disassociated herself from the clan when her parents had been murdered during a mafia war five years previously – a mafia war Antonio himself had exacerbated by insisting on raising the body count instead of working through the provincial commissions to stop the carnage. But as a child, she had discovered that the conversations in this room of her grandfather's house could be overheard easily from the attics above his second-floor study. She'd snuck into the house earlier that morning to visit her grandmother, then pretended to leave before the capos and capodecinas had started to arrive.
"The Savaggio consigliere has requested an audience with you, Don Dinapoli," reported her nonno's own advisor. "He brings condolences from the family there."
"He can go home in a wooden box," Antonio snarled angrily.
No one reminded Antonio that his third son, Ricardo, had been exiled from the family and the country because he'd violently raped three teenage girls when he'd been nineteen. La polizia had been circling, surveilling Ricardo and his cohorts, when Gino had stepped in and sent him away. Ricardo had never been a man of honor to the clan, never a ritualized and initiated member of the mafia to follow his father.
"That will start another war," muttered Julio.
Antonio snorted. "They are too far away to go to war with us, and our neighboring families will hardly ally themselves with Americans." He said the word with venomous distaste.
"I will meet the man and decide if he is worthy of his role," Regina's nonno announced. "He's expected when?"
"His flight arrives at dusk," someone answered. "Shall we meet him?"
"Put him up tonight in the tourist hotel at the beach," the don decided. "I will have an audience with him tomorrow at mid-morning. Escort him here then."
"As you wish," her grandfather's advisor answered. "I'll send a car."
They continued with the meeting, but Regina had heard enough. She remained still and in place, listening to the remainder of the meeting while inwardly planning what to do. Whoever he was, the American consigliere did not deserve to die for flying to Italy to convey condolences on the death of a violent cretin like her cousin. This American Savaggio family were likely criminals, just as the men of her own family were, but the Dinapolis were drifting down the path of dishonor, thanks to her uncle. She knew if the American came to the house, her uncle would make sure he did not live to see the next sunset, no matter what her nonno had decided.
The meeting didn't adjourn until half-past nine. By ten, Regina had slipped out of the house in the ways she had mastered as a girl, flitting through the deserted kitchen and back garden where her grandmother's maid hung the laundry on sunny days. Then she slid out through the back gate, using the key for the lock she'd copied years earlier.
In many ways, she wished her nonno's security was improved, though it would make her own life more difficult.
Regina didn't want her uncle in charge of the family, now or in the future, but she didn't want to assassinate her grandfather to rise to the position, either. So it was best that she didn't step in at all, not even to institute steps to safeguard her grandparents. Still, if she was ever the don, the clan would be run very differently.
She almost snorted aloud. The idea that a woman could be in charge of the family was outrageous. Luc and Julio might support her ascension, but most of the capos would rebel.
Five minutes later, she slid into the passenger seat of her Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUV, the one painted in the discreet silver color, and turned to her assistant, who had been waiting patiently for the last half-hour. "Greta," Regina purred.
Greta turned to her. The other woman was professionally done up, with her shiny blond hair tightly restrained in a bun at the back of her neck, and her cosmetics expertly applied to give her an exotic air around dark, long eyelashes, and kohl-enhanced eyes. She wore a bright red lipstick. Regina found it with her own mouth, tasting the other woman's tea in an intimate greeting.
"It went well, then?" Greta murmured, returning to her seat and shifting gears as she pulled away.
"They didn't even mention my yacht anchored outside the marina," Regina confirmed, pulling on her seatbelt. "But we have an emergency rescue. Uncle Antonio has it in mind to assassinate the Savaggio consigliere. He's at the Palace Hotel tonight, and scheduled to meet with nonno tomorrow morning. So we only have a few hours."
"You think he'll listen if you show up at his door to warn him off?"
Regina snorted. "He'd just as likely point a gun at my head and deliver me as a hostage, don't you think? I mean, this guy is another advisor to another don in another family. We don't know anything about him, or his ethics."
Greta let the car slide down the street, the engine so smooth and purringly expensive that Regina wanted to pet its hood and praise it. She didn't question Regina, but waited while Regina mentally went over her plans again. Greta and Regina had known each other for more than a decade – since Regina had arrived as a terrified fourteen-year-old at the Swiss boarding school they'd both attended. Greta, a sixteen-year-old veteran of the hallowed halls, had taken Regina under her wings and shown her how to survive and succeed in that pit of female vipers. They'd become lovers on Greta's last night and had resumed the relationship when Regina had followed Greta to Vienna to pursue university studies two years later.
Their relationship as friends-turned-lovers had shifted again to friends-with-benefits, and continued even when Regina's parents had died and she'd hired Greta to help her manage the massive estate she'd inherited. In addition to her father's legally-acquired and ill-gotten gains over his lifetime, he'd had the good sense to marry Regina's mother, whose family and wealth had survived centuries and grown considerably in the last sixty years. Regina hadn't been able to keep up with the work, despite her best efforts. Greta was a wizard at finance and accounting, not to mention speaking four languages, including Italian. At this point, Greta knew Regina well enough to remain quiet until Regina was ready to explain.
"We'll go in, take him with us, put him on the yacht, and lift anchor with the dawn. The crew is ready for departure. If we're missing any supplies, we'll head into a marina in France or Spain."
Greta raised her brows. "You'll want to aim for three in the morning, then. I'll head for the hotel. You can convince Signore Ignacio to let you use the coffee shop at the hotel as a base of operations. We'll message the yacht crew to be on board, have your soldiers come for some surveillance and brief them for the op, then leave before the coffee shop staff show up for work at half-past four."
Regina lifted a brow. "I thought you were going to object," she said quietly. "This guy is a risk for me, and he's sight unseen. He might be a violent coward."
"Then we'll shove him onto shore in Spain and tell him to get his undesirable body back to New York," Greta announced. She glanced at Regina as she shifted gears and headed down the hilly street toward sea level. "Tonight, we'll disarm him and leave behind any tech he has, so as to not risk any GPS location data. But we should acquire his passport when we evacuate him from the hotel, so he can get home when we let him go."
"Practical and vicious," Regina murmured. "It's why I've always liked you."
"It's why you pay me well," Greta corrected.
He couldn't sleep. Mario should have fallen asleep easily, since his trip from Syracuse, New York to Sicily had taken fifteen hours. Indeed, he thought he'd have collapsed in exhaustion when the two Dinapoli soldiers had met him in baggage. They'd given him a once over before hustling him and his luggage out the door and into a black SUV that looked more like a big, badass American vehicle than an Italian luxury car.
Why hadn't Mario known that Maserati made SUVs?. He'd almost texted Jimmy to let him know about this development in Italian automobile production, but he restrained himself. He'd see the Dinapoli godfather on the morrow, deliver the Savaggios condolences and the small box of Ricardo's remains that had travelled with him in his briefcase, and get back to the airport. He could fucking show Jimmy one of the damn things. He'd buy one and drive it home.
But Ricardo Dinapoli and Maserati were not why Mario couldn't sleep. It was winter in Sicily, too, but that meant low tens in Celsius and many rainy days. It had been dry when he'd arrived at the airport, but Mario had left the windows to his hotel room slightly ajar to let the sea breeze in. He knew from the wet salt air that a cool rain would come before dawn. Precipitation would keep the temperature down to eight or nine degrees Celsius. Hopefully, he'd depart before any nasty rain storm closed the airport.
The weather was so different from the cold icy landscape of upper New York that Mario could hardly bear to miss a second of it. He loved Lake Ontario in the spring and fall, and on summer evenings, when the cool wind blew off the water. This night reminded him of that. He laid on the bed in nothing but his black boxer briefs and welcomed the soft breeze.
He sat abruptly as an odd noise registered on his patio. Without a blink, he reached for the pistol he'd stashed beneath the pillow beside him, drawing it out and clicking the safety off in one smooth, practiced movement. With the gun held pointed down and at his side, he slid his feet to the floor and moved toward the patio to investigate.
Behind him, the door burst open. Mario turned, lifting the gun.
He flinched and hesitated when the muzzle of another weapon poked the back of his neck. The personage before him was not the mafioso he'd expected. Without being told, he lowered his weapon. He didn't know who held the weapon digging into the base of his neck, but the woman in front of him was unarmed. He wouldn't shoot an unarmed woman, even if she'd come to take his life.
She was unbearably beautiful. The room had been dark for some time, so Mario's eyes had adjusted to the dimness. He could see her clearly. She was tall, though she didn't meet his six feet, even in her heeled boots. More important than her height, though, were her breasts. He forced himself not to stop and stare, but met her gaze instead. She was dressed all in black, her skin as dark as he'd have expected of a Sicilian woman. Her hair was black but bound tightly in a braid. He couldn't tell how long it was, but even pinned up in a bun, the braid was more than a few inches. Her eyebrows were faintly arched and meticulously groomed. Her eyes were dark, probably brown though he couldn't be certain in the night. Her lips were full and she met his gaze straight on, fully confident as she stood before him, hands on her hips.
Her breasts – oh, her glorious breasts – were high and round and perfectly shaped inside her top. He had to force himself not to stare at them or move his hands to free them.
"Toss it on the bed, signore." She gestured at his gun, her English perfect.
He did so, smiling at her despite the weapon that continued to threaten him. "Benvenuto a te, signorina," he replied, forcing himself not to tense. He glanced at her hands. She wore no rings, but then, who could be certain of anything in a world where a woman dared assault him? These clueless imbeciles obviously had no clue as to what Mario had done to remain one of Jimmy Savaggio's three underbosses.
"I am sure you have questions, signore," the woman said softly. "And I will answer them all later." She gestured with her hand toward the door. "For now, understand that we do not want to hurt you. But we are taking you. Cooperate and you will not be injured in any way. Understood?"
Mario did. These were not assassins, but abductors. In a way, he was relieved that he would not be forced to hurt the woman while trying to defend himself. He was also thoroughly pissed. "You gonna let me dress first?" he asked, making sure a touch of indolence was evident in the question.
She didn't even blink, though her gaze slowly perused his body, all the way to his bare feet. The inspection was strangely unnerving, perhaps because he only had on those black boxer briefs and she was fully attired. "That doesn't appear to be necessary," she drawled. "You'll do just as you are."
Mario tried not to grin. "Just take my briefcase along, too?" he asked. "Don't want to leave it here."
Behind him, the woman's cohort snorted. "You open it for us. Slow, now," another woman drawled. Not his woman, not the beautiful one before him. This woman held the gun at the nape of his neck and her grip was confident and certain. Before him, his woman – a princess now that he could see she was dressed in the current season's Prada collection – lifted the briefcase so he could press his fingertip to the touch-identification pad.
It obediently clicked open.
Mario inwardly swore. He felt like the fool in the James Bond films, except his bag didn't have a false bottom or anything else to disguise the contents: the intricate, expensive box with a portion of Ricardo's remains interred in it, his mobile phone, his private diary and a copy of a recent bestseller he'd picked up in the airport. "No laptop?" she asked, clearly surprised.
"I'm not here for long," he murmured. "A quick visit."
She gestured at the memorial box, with a plate attached that had Ricardo's name engraved on it. "You show up at the Dinapolis tomorrow, you'll be going home in boxes just like that." She left the case open but took his diary out and inspected it, noting the thin leather cover and hundred pages of empty narrow-lined gilted gold paper. "We'll keep this." Glancing at her compatriot behind her, she added, "Take his wallet and passport, too. We leave everything else, in case he's got some sort of tracking on it. The Dinapolis will find Ricardo's ashes when they search the room."
"What if he's got some sort of tracker on his body?" the other woman asked. Mario wanted to believe there was a mischievous tone to that voice, but he just wasn't certain. He was still absorbing what had been said about his meeting with the Dinapolis the next day.
"You think I should inspect him more closely?" the princess asked, clearly skeptical.
"Maybe after we get him out of here," the other woman replied.
"Right. Hands in front of you," the princess commanded.
In short order, they zip-tied his hands in front of him, warned him not to be stupid, and marched him out onto the patio. He'd been given a first floor room that opened onto the beach. It was a circumstance he'd been grateful for earlier in the evening but now he recognized the ease with which he could be removed from the hotel unobserved. A nondescript work truck sat on the beach, one marked with the local city crest. It had been there earlier, when he opened the patio door. His abduction had been planned at least a few hours in advance.
He was ordered in the cab, then followed by the woman at his back. The princess trotted around the front and drove.
With the gun at his side instead of his neck, he was able to see his second abductor. She was just as gorgeous and as expensively dressed in designer black as the cool princess on the opposite side of him. She was sexy as fuck and he wouldn't have turned her down on any other night, but he knew they wouldn't share the same spark that he could sense whenever he met the princess's eyes.
Mario didn't try to make them talk. He kept an eye on their route as they drove down the beach, noting with dismay that they slid off the beach and into a marina parking area without so much as a hiccup. He cooperated when the princess tugged him after her out of the driver's side, with the princess's muscle behind him, gun still stuck to his side. He followed her obediently, clad only in a fucking pair of black boxer briefs as they traipsed down a dock and out past dozens of boats of all kinds and quality.
He didn't even make a squeak when they stopped in front of a top-of-the-line stern drive powerboat. Inwardly, he actually did quake. It was going to be cold on that fucking boat tonight, and he had no idea how far they were taking him by water. But he eyed the side of the boat carefully and stepped onto it with perfect balance, hopping down onto the seat and waiting without comment. A man in a skipper's hat and heavy jacket waited in the driver's seat, and the princess released the rope from the slip as the gunwoman slipped into the seat beside him.
Mario wanted to roll his eyes. He could have disarmed the damn woman several times. He thought about telling her so, but with the additional silent crew member, it would be three against one. Still, he hadn't forgotten the princess's assertion that he'd been about to walk into an assassination the next morning, which implied that they were rescuing him rather than abducting him.
All in all, it was a rather strange rescue, with him just in his fucking underwear. He watched carefully when the boat approached a super-yacht that reminded him of again that he'd dropped into a world of spy movies and aristocrats. Even in the dark, he could see four decks above the water line, a helipad, and uniformed crew members waiting on the stern deck to welcome them.
The princess confirmed to the driver that the powerboat would be stored after they disembarked, and stepped up onto the deck. "Come," she said to him, looking at him for only a second before shifting her gaze ahead to the waiting crew. Once he'd climbed out of the powerboat onto the luxurious teak back deck, he tried to look around, but the yacht was essentially dark. He followed the princess through the deck door as the powerboat slid away, at least still able to appreciate the sway of her supple hips and thighs as she strode ahead of him.
The super-yacht was like nothing he'd ever seen, despite his lifetime on Lake Ontario. The interior was just as spectacular as the exterior had been. They climbed one set of stairs and walked down a corridor, his ever-present gun-wielding captor behind him.
Finally, the princess stopped at a door and opened it, reaching in to flick a switch. He saw the lights pop on. She waved him in ahead of her. He again debated the wisdom of disarming his captor and taking the princess on a little hostage-taking jaunt of his own, but he was still too damn curious as to what was going on. Mario went into the room and stopped abruptly. The room featured a wide king platform bed, luxurious linens, bamboo flooring, a desk, leather sofa and ambient lighting. He glanced back, but the princess quirked her lips. "You won't be able to wander, at least not tonight. Have a hot shower, warm up, and sleep for a few hours. Breakfast is at ten, someone will come to escort you there." She blinked. "It really is for your own good, you know."
She stepped back, the door closed, and the distinct sound of a lock being turned came through the door.
Mario sighed. At least his kidnapper had good taste.