Sunday, July 19, 2015

Cover Reveal: The Burning by Susan Squires

Title: The Burning
Author: Susan Squires
Series: Companion
Genre: Regency Paranormal Romance
Release Date: July 2, 2015
Cover Design: Rebecca Poole, Dreams2Media
Summary:
Award-winning, bestselling author Susan Squires brings you into a world of erotic temptation that comes alive at night and thrives on our darkest secrets and longings. Take the journey to an unforgettable place in the heart of darkness and desire…

A FORBIDDEN TEMPTATION…
It is 1821 and all who know the beautiful, mysterious Ann Van Helsing believe she is insane. Yet Ann’s curse is the deep psychic ability that shows her everything about another human being—their history, thoughts and desires—simply by touching them. Overwhelmed by a power she can barely control, Ann roams the quiet woods and caves near her estate, searching for an elusive peace. Here she encounters the man who will change everything…

LEAVES HER YEARNING…
To atone for an unforgivable transgression against his own kind, vampire Stephan Sincai has become a vigilante who must hunt and kill those whom other vampires have made. When Ann discovers Stephen bleeding in her cave, she reaches tries to help him. The moment she touches him she knows every fiber of Stephens being—and the knowledge is at once frightening and irresistible…

FOR ETERNAL FULFILLMENT…
Ann and Stephen are drawn together by a powerful force. As they fight against the evil surrounding them, an enemy bent on destroying them will make them choose between what they love and what they fear the most….

GRIPPING AND UNFORGETTABLE.” 
Romantic Times (4 ½ star review) on The Companion


TRANSYLVANIA, PROVINCE OF THE HAPSBURG EMPIRE, SEPTEMBER 1820
They ran their hands over his body. There were three of them. Their palms rubbed his chest, his hips and thighs, and the bulge of his biceps where his wrists were bound above his head. The nails scraped lightly, threatening. He knew what was to come. The stone bench on which he lay was hard against the bare flesh of his buttocks and shoulders, but the room was warm. They loved heat. It was a true luxury in the winter of the Carpathian Mountains. The only illumination came from the fire licking at the logs in the great stone arches. Above him, their faces hung, unreal in the flickering light. Their eyes glowed red. Now they would compel him. Their low moans filled the little room cut into the rocky heart of the monastery. He knew every crevice in its stone by now. This room held his torment and possibly his salvation.

“Test him well, tonight, sisters,” one of them whispered. Her breasts brushed his belly.

“Is he worthy of our father’s trust?" another breathed into his ear.

He felt his loins throb, tight with a need he dared not indulge. He had no idea whether they compelled that need, or whether it belonged to him. A tongue found his nipple. He could not help but arch up into it. The chains clanked. A hand cupped his balls. He felt the scrape of canines at his throat. They wanted blood tonight. He waited for the pain. How would he bear their ministrations in the long hours ahead?

You deserve this, he told himself. A thousand years of torment would not atone for your crimes. You have one chance at redemption and they will help you to it.

He breathed as they had taught him. He focused inward, searching for an island of control. His shoulders relaxed. All emotion drained slowly away. The piercing of his carotid was a fact of pain, no more. One of them sucked at his throat while the others kept him roused.

But now he was ready for whatever they might do to him. He would become what was required. No matter the cost, he would atone.

Author Bio:
Susan Squires is a New York Times bestselling author known for breaking the rules of romance writing. Whatever her time period, or subject, some element of the paranormal always creeps in. Susan’s work has won multiple contests including the Holt Medallion, the Golden Heart and the Book Buyer’s Best Award and reviewer's choice awards from RT BookReviews. Publisher's Weekly named Body Electric one of the most influential mass market books of 2003 and One with the Shadows, the fifth in her vampire Companion Series, a Best book of 2007. Time for Eternity, the first in the DaVinci time travel series, received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly.

Susan has a Masters in English literature from UCLA and once toiled as an executive for a Fortune 500 company. Now she lives at the beach in Southern California with her husband, Harry, a writer of supernatural thrillers, and three very active Belgian Sheepdogs, who like to help her write by putting their chins on the keyboarddddddddddddddddddddddd.


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Sunday's Safe Word Shelf: Dark Soul by Aleksandr Voinov


Love lights even the darkest soul.

A killer's moral compass rarely points true, and among made men, being gay is a capital crime. But Silvio Spadaro, deadly prodigy and heir to a Family fortune, is determined to find his own way—at the feet of the man he loves or by the barrel of a gun—no matter the dangers or costs.

Stefano Marino lives a comfortable—some might even say enviable—life. As a mob boss at the top of the food chain, he has it all: money, respect, a beautiful wife he loves as much now as the day they wed. But he also has a turf war on his hands, and far too soft a heart for this dark business.

When Silvio is sent to help Stefano with his turf war, sparks fly. Stefano loves his wife, but he wants Silvio. It's a desire he hardly knows how to process, but Silvio, ever the patient predator, maneuvers Stefano closer and closer to his bed each day. Stefano resists; giving in to these dark desires means giving up on his marriage, and exposure would surely mean death. Yet there's no denying Silvio's magnetic pull, or the long-repressed urges inside himself. Yielding is inevitable, but he may yet find a way to hold on to everything—and everyone—he loves.

Dark Soul Vol 1
Summary:
Stefano Marino is a made man, a happily married west coast mafia boss who travels east to await the death of a family patriarch. All the old hands have gathered—of course sharks will circle when there’s blood in the water—but it’s a new hand that draws Stefano’s eye.

Silvio “the Barracuda” Spadaro is protetto and heir to retired consigliere Gianbattista Falchi, and a made man in his own right. Among his underworld family, being gay is a capital crime, but the hypersexual—and pansexual—young killer has never much cared for rules. The only orders he follows are Battista’s, whether on the killing field or on his knees, eagerly submissive at Battista’s feet.

But Silvio has needs Battista can’t fill, and he’s cast his black-eyed gaze on Stefano. A fake break-in, an even faker attack, and Silvio is exactly where he wants to be: strung up at Stefano’s mercy, driving the older Mafioso toward urges he’s spent his whole life repressing. Stefano resists, but when the Russian mob invades his territory and forces him to seek aid, Gianbattista’s price brings Stefano face to face once more with Silvio—and his darkest desires.

Dark Soul Vol 2
Summary:
The second volume in the Dark Soul series features the stories "Dark Whisper" and "Dark Night."

In "Dark Whisper," Gianbattista may have broken Silvio's heart and sent him off to the States, but he's still just a phone call away. When Silvio returns from a sex shop with a bag full of goodies, Gianbattista can't resist topping his boy one more time, even if they are 4,000 miles apart.

In "Dark Night," the Russian problem comes back to haunt Stefano, and when a dark encounter leaves him bloody and broken, Silvio knows just the right way to ease his pain.

Dark Soul Vol 3
Summary:
In "Dark Lady I," as Silvio Spadaro plans to take on the Russian hit squad that kidnapped his boss, he decides the best way to deal with four extremely dangerous men is to become an even more dangerous woman.

In “Dark Lady II,” Stefano discovers yet another disturbing – and arousing – truth about Silvio and how easily Silvio uses a man’s weakness for his own ends.

“Dark Brother” brings another player to Stefano Marino’s household. Franco Spadaro has just been released from the French Foreign Legion and is catching up with his little brother. In the middle of a war, a skilled sniper comes in right on time – but two Spadaros might be more than Stefano can handle.

Dark Soul Vol 4
Summary:
In "Dark Rival I," the noose tightens around Stefano Marino's neck. While Silvio and Franco are off taking care of the Russian problem, mutiny brews in Stefano's crime family. It soon becomes clear he can trust only one man in his life, but whether he can hold on to Silvio-and what it might cost his marriage-are questions for which he has no answers.

In "Dark Rival II," Silvio returns from his mission. Job done, threat gone, Stefano knows Silvio has no reason to stay. Or so he thought, anyway, until Silvio makes his move. It seems Silvio wants only sex, but Stefano is well aware there's much, much more on the line. Including Donata, whose suspicions of a mistress in Stefano's life are uncomfortably close to an even more uncomfortable truth.

Hopeless and helpless as his life crumbles down around his head, Stefano gives in to his desires in "Dark Temptation." He isn't any closer to understanding Silvio-and he's farther from Donata than he's ever been-but at least he's come to understand his own needs. Now if only he could figure out how to be himself without hurting the ones he loves the most.

Dark Soul Vol 5
Summary:
"The saga comes to an end . . ."

In "Dark Hunter I," Stefano Marino must face his most dangerous enemy yet: US Attorney Sebastiano Beccaria, who's seeking the total annihilation of the Marino clan in the hopes of purging his own dark past.

In "Dark Frost," a traitor in the organization makes his move, hiring Silvio to kill Stefano. Meanwhile, Silvio struggles to find his place in the Marino home as Donata learns the truth about Stefano's affair.

The game is up in "Dark Hunter II." Sebastiano Beccaria confronts Stefano with evidence that will undermine his power and put his life at risk. Stefano faces a bitter choice: fight and risk it all, or flee and protect himself and those he loves. Also, there's a puppy.

In "Dark Lie," Stefano makes the only choice he can. With the mutiny brewing and his marriage hanging in the balance, he agrees to leave the life of organized crime. Beccaria has won, but the victory comes at high price-for everyone involved.

In "Dark Heart," Stefano and Donata have gone to ground in Paris. When a ghost from the past tracks him down, he knows he won't survive the day if he can't find a way to make peace with all he left behind.

Dark Soul The Complete Collection
Summary:
Love lights even the darkest soul.

A killer's moral compass rarely points true, and among made men, being gay is a capital crime. But Silvio Spadaro, deadly prodigy and heir to a Family fortune, is determined to find his own way--at the feet of the man he loves or by the barrel of a gun--no matter the dangers or costs.

Stefano Marino lives a comfortable--some might even say enviable--life. As a mob boss at the top of the food chain, he has it all: money, respect, a beautiful wife he loves as much now as the day they wed. But he also has a turf war on his hands, and far too soft a heart for this dark business.

When Silvio is sent to help Stefano with his turf war, sparks fly. Stefano loves his wife, but he wants Silvio. It's a desire he hardly knows how to process, but Silvio, ever the patient predator, maneuvers Stefano closer and closer to his bed each day. Stefano resists; giving in to these dark desires means giving up on his marriage, and exposure would surely mean death. Yet there's no denying Silvio's magnetic pull, or the long-repressed urges inside himself. Yielding is inevitable, but he may yet find a way to hold on to everything--and everyone--he loves.


Dark Soul Vol 1
The most annoying thing about all this was nobody knew when the old badger was going to kick the bucket. But to make the wait comfortable, at least, Stefano had secured a nice leather chair near the fireplace, Vince covering his flank.

He didn’t expect hostility. If he had, he wouldn’t have shown up; he wasn’t that brave. But he still liked having Vince at his side. This way he had at least one ally in the room. The others were fleeting alliances or all-out rivals for the business soon to be up for grabs.

Luigi Ferretti, the old badger’s right-hand man, stepped into the room and walked toward Rossi, an east coast boss. They exchanged a few whispered words, then Rossi put his wine glass down, straightened his suit like a boy being called to the principal’s office, and followed the consigliere.

Stefano was too low on the food chain to receive the call so soon. First the dying man’s old comrades, then the young Turks. No doubt the big pieces of the old man’s empire would be taken by the time his turn came. But even if there were only scraps left, he couldn’t afford not to be here. He had to circle with the other sharks.

His cell phone buzzed. Just short; a text message. He fished it from his pocket and cast a glance at the screen.

Having a great time, but the hotel bed is so empty without you.

He smiled at the thought of Donata in that Parisian five-star hotel, wearing a silken negligee—maybe the one as red as spilled blood—her small breasts and hard nipples pushing against the barely-there fabric. He was damn lucky to have married her rather than taken her as a mistress, even if he did tend to send her away on shopping trips to London, Paris, or New York when he had to get this involved with the family business. Even if, as she put it, she only bought the clothes so she could take them off for him.

His neck was cramping up, so he stood, stretched out, and then headed for the open balcony doors and the salty breeze. In a corner, two men were talking in murmurs, denying him solitude, so he headed down the broad stairs toward the front of the mansion.

The white gravel driveway was lit all the way from the road. Above the rhythmic swell of the ocean sounding from beyond the house, Stefano heard the revving of a powerful, aggressive engine.

A motorcycle, all sharp edges, painted black with white highlights. It zipped along the winding driveway as if it had a race to win, swerving dangerously and then stopping with a dramatic turn, spraying gravel everywhere.

Including across Stefano’s polished leather shoes.

The driver was hunched over the handlebars, wearing a matching full-body leather suit with Kevlar plates.

Like some modernist centaur on wheels.

The driver stepped off, displaying long, long graceful legs and a tiny ass clad in leather. Woman? Lean and angular, but feminine, even when kicking the stand underneath the bike. The helmet came off after a somewhat awkward release. Short, spiky hair beneath. Not a woman—and that jolted through Stefano just as hard as the driver’s cold, motionless, focused expression. In that pale face lurked the blackest, darkest eyes Stefano had ever seen, and lips like they’d been cut with knife blades, perfect, sharp, and deadly.

The driver cast him an annoyed glance—At his proximity? His staring?—but then paused and regarded him longer. No smile, no recognition. Eventually, he turned to hang the helmet from the handlebar.

Stefano backed away, but watched the man unstrap saddlebags just large enough for a proper suit and toiletries.

The driver glanced at him again. “Old guy’s not dead yet?” he asked.

“Not that I know of.”

“Bene.” The driver shrugged. “I’ll go have a shower now. Wanna come?”

What. The. Fuck. He forced himself not to recoil. Think, Stefano. Think. If he’s family. Son? Cousin? Grandson? He couldn’t afford to make enemies here, even if those words—that invitation—could get men killed.

Wanna come? The way he’d said it could have meant anything.

Stefano decided on a sneer. “That would hardly be appropriate.”

The driver shrugged and sauntered past him toward the house. The guards near the door stopped him, but when he produced a piece of paper from inside his leather suit, they let him pass. They even looked a little impressed. Or was it bewildered?

Stefano followed back into the house—not following the driver, though, of course not—and watched him climb the big central staircase inside.

The leather played off his body in interesting ways. He tried to ignore the other details—taut piece of ass, broad shoulders, the V-shape of the back at odds with the first impression of femininity when he’d straightened up from the bike.

Not that women had any reason to be here. At least not attractive single women. Stefano shook his head and turned away.

“What the fuck is he doing here?” one man said, casting a baleful eye up the steps.

“He’s Battista’s boy,” another man said, in the far more hushed tones of respect.

“Gianbattista’s getting senile to rely on him,” the other man sneered. “Fucking wild card.”

“Well, seems Battista’s not coming personally.”

Stefano inched closer, ostensibly to settle at one of the small round tables scattered around the house, and pretended to be interested in the glass of salt sticks nobody else had touched.

“What’s he up to these days, anyway?”

“Breeding roses, they say.” The boss ignored his companion’s incredulous snort. “For all intents and purposes, Battista’s retired. I’d say the boy’s making sure nobody comes calling in favors.”

“Security?”

“Oh yeah. He killed Diego Carbone. In self-defense.”

The other man grimaced. “I’d heard Carbone was dead, but not who did him.”

“I have it on good information. He did Diego. Pumped him full of lead and then strangled him. It was a massacre. Diego shot him, too. Put the boy in the hospital for a few months—blood poisoning or some shit like that. People say he’s just as insane as Carbone now.”

“Cazzo.” The man glanced up the stairs, but the driver was gone. “I believe it.” He looked around as if trying to escape the conversation, then stood and followed a servant with a silver tray of canap├ęs.

Stefano made eye contact with the boss who’d been left behind. “Excuse me, I couldn’t help overhearing that conversation. Stefano Marino.” Stefano offered his hand.

Gathering information beat sitting near the fireplace being bored. The thought that the driver had killed Diego—an enforcer so violent as to be virtually insane—made him uneasy. He didn’t hear much news from the east coast, wrapped up as he was in the microcosm of his own territory and his immediate interests. But some interesting names in all that. Il Gentiluomo, Gianbattista Falchi, cultured on the outside with his mild manners and graying temples, an old-style consigliere like straight out of The Godfather. Stefano had met him only once, warned and aware that Falchi was a trickster and schemer, yet still not immune to his charisma.

How curious that the old consigliere trusted his security to this young killer who didn’t seem to give a fuck about tradition. Maybe as a retiree with still-considerable influence, Gianbattista Falchi could afford to ignore tradition, too.

“You’re still here,” a voice said at his back.

Stefano turned around to find himself standing way, way too close to the driver. Those black eyes were without light, without reflection. The stare punched the air from his lungs, and those lips . . . God, those lips. Distantly, he heard his conversation partner making his excuses, but he paid the man no mind, and neither did the driver. He could feel the heat from the driver’s body. Imagined touching. Being touched. He blinked and stepped away.

Only then did he realize the driver had changed and showered, as promised. His short hair was still wet, and he was wearing a severe black suit over a white shirt. No tie. The suit was cut to hide the gun under his right shoulder, but also showed off a whole lot of lean muscle. Not an ounce of fat on him.

Stefano swallowed. “I didn’t catch your name.”

“They call me Barracuda.” No smile, just stating a fact. The name was oddly fitting for that expressionless face. “Silvio Spadaro.”

Spadaro was offering his hand. Stefano took it, the grip firm and dry, the skin rough. Of course, he was a killer, a sicario, so he’d have to touch guns enough to harden against them. Stefano swallowed. He shouldn’t be thinking about what this hand touched and how. “Stefano Marino.”

“I know.” Spadaro lifted an eyebrow, and didn’t release Stefano’s hand. “How long have you been waiting for the old man to die?”

“Leukemia takes a while. We’ve had some false alarms in the past.”

“This time it’s real. That’s why I’m here.” Spadaro kept holding his hand, and Stefano realized he was beginning to sweat. It wasn’t fear. The man was just so intense. Not freakish, not insane. Just mental games, psychological warfare. A killer’s job.

“So, how—” he forced his hand from the man’s grip “—is Gianbattista Falchi these days?”

“Sta bene.” Spadaro cast a quick glance around the room. When the eye contact broke, Stefano could breathe again. But then the eyes came back, staring him point-blank in the face. “He sent me to pay his respects.”

“Why’s he not coming personally?”

“Want the truth or a polite lie?”

Stefano huffed. “Surely he’d say goodbye to his old friend?”

“He fucking hates the rest of the family,” Spadaro said flatly. “And he hates the smell of hospitals. The lies, the polite smiles. He said he wouldn’t trust himself not to make a scene.”

Seemed Gianbattista had embraced his retirement. Or saw a danger to himself here. Stefano filed the thought away. “So he figures you of all people won’t?”

Spadaro’s lips quirked. “Maybe I’m here to make sure the old guy meets Death properly this time. Do you know what’s going on in people’s heads here?”

“I have an educated guess.” Stefano reached for the glass of salt sticks, more unnerved than he wanted to admit by the killer’s comments. He didn’t expect violence, but you never really knew with the family, did you?

“Yeah, well, fuck ’em.” Spadaro cast another glance at the assembled Mafiosi. “I wouldn’t change places with any of them.”

Was that a slip of the mask? Calculated provocation? “Oh? Why not?”

“You know what they did to Joey D’Amato?”

Stefano straightened. Why would Spadaro mention the faggot? Way too crass and unsettling, especially considering he’d been vanished, not even a body to bury.

Spadaro studied him, head tilted. “That’s why I don’t belong to anybody,” he said quietly, but with the force and conviction of a kidney punch. “I’m not following their fucking rules.” He swept the crowd again with his expressionless black eyes, then fixed them on Stefano’s face.

Stefano’s lips tingled. It was still hard to breathe and he had no idea why. He couldn’t let this man intimidate him. Couldn’t be seen as too interested. Barracuda or not—even Gianbattista Falchi’s protetto or not—he could afford zero suspicion. He’d be dead. Fuck Spadaro for flustering him so, and fuck himself for getting flustered, but he’d never show it. “Well, give Falchi my best wishes when you return to him.”

“Will do.” Spadaro sketched an ironic salute and stepped away.

Stefano fought the urge to straighten his tie, fought harder against the urge to watch the Barracuda cut through the assembled groups of men.

He caught Vince’s gaze, and though his bodyguard relaxed a little, he still looked worried. Stefano could see why. A sicario who belonged to a “retired” consigliere, and not just any pensioner, but crafty old Gianbattista Falchi, who’d been more powerful in his own right than many bosses. That was all manner of disturbing. “Paying his respects” by being anything but respectful. Mentioning D’Amato like killing the faggot was somehow wrong. Mentioning him in fucking public.

He stood around, restless, then noticed Luigi approach Spadaro and touch his shoulder. The black eyes flared and Spadaro glowered at Luigi as if he were about to take the older man’s head clean off. But he reached into his suit jacket, pulled his gun from his holster with two fingers, and handed it to Luigi. The consigliere took it without batting an eyelash, then went upstairs. Spadaro followed.

Vince stepped to his side. “That’s really fucking impressive. Arrives here and gets seen almost immediately.”

“Well, he was sent by Gianbattista Falchi.”

Vince nodded solemnly. “I don’t like his attitude.”

“I fucking hate it.” The way the man’s presence made his skin tingle wasn’t hatred, but that wasn’t something he could admit. Spadaro seemed to have that effect on people. The fact that he clearly carried weight and power was even worse.

So what was this guy’s game?

Dark Soul Vol 2
Silvio froze when the phone rang, his blood crystallizing in a split second. He stared at the curtains, sensed the windows behind them. No movement, no hint of danger.

Billowing curtains. Night outside. Phone ringing in a dark house. Drawing him to the living room. Something striking him over the head.

Diego Carbone, stepping close with his skull-and-death grin, flicking his mobile shut.

The phone rang again. Just like then, his blood unfroze, only faster because Diego was dead. He still checked the doors and windows, wishing he had a gun he could pull like a talisman. A lot of people didn’t live to learn from a mistake.

He exhaled and lifted the receiver, settling his shoulders and back against the nearest wall from which he could keep his eyes on the windows. “Yes.”

“Silvio.”

Silvio blinked, then his legs relaxed and he let his head fall back. Gianbattista. “What do you want?”

“To talk to you.”

Silvio huffed laughter. Yet another ghost from the past. “No, what do you want?”

“Hear how you’re doing over there in America. It’s been two weeks now. How are you ‘getting on’?”

This house has too many windows. “Or—who am I getting it on with?”

Silence. Bull’s-eye. Or Gianbattista was drawing him out, prodding and provoking until Silvio allowed that cold anger to discharge. As much as Gianbattista enjoyed walking around with long metal rods in a thunderstorm, he never got burned, and why was that?

Silvio shook his head. “I’m doing well. How are you?”

“That’s better.” Silvio heard Gianbattista’s smile and it almost warmed him. He remembered the crow’s feet, the silvery hair at the temple he had often brushed aside with his nose or lips when he’d been too lazy to touch Gianbattista with his hands. Remembered being held close against Gianbattista’s shoulder, feeling safe and at home, and willing to pay whatever price it took.

“Here, it’s the same old, same old,” Gianbattista said. “People call me on the phone, I sit on the veranda and read the newspaper.”

And in the evening you sit in the office, drinking wine, gently slowing down those million little cogs in your brain that spin and spin, even during sex.

“Anything interesting?”

“The world is going to hell, of course.” Gianbattista chuckled. “Luca has scared me enough that even I have bought gold now.”

Luca, the slimy Milanese banker who did the money laundering by running it through three or four offshore accounts and then a number of private Swiss and Italian banks that, he boasted, were direct descendants of the banks that financed the Crusades. Seemed all money ever did was buy weapons and men, Gianbattista had whispered to Silvio one night.

“You going to tell me to cut up my credit card?”

“God, no, Silvio, of course not.” Gianbattista chuckled and leafed through some paper. “Although your credit card statements have arrived.”

Ah, the reason for the call. Silvio settled in a chair, still somewhat on edge but gradually relaxing into the familiar game. He’d have to do something about the windows. Or the phone. He didn’t need a landline. The mobile phone on silent was distraction enough without being bait in a potential death trap.

“Let’s see. There’s your new bike.”

“I left the old one at Fiumicino.”

“Is it still there?”

“Who cares?”

“I gave you that bike.”

“Yes, for my twenty-second birthday,” Silvio growled. “That was almost a goodbye present, wasn’t it?” So fuck the bike.

“You loved that bike.”

“Don’t use that word.” You have no fucking right.

Silence again. His pulse was pounding up to his throat now, creating that hollow ache just under his jaw. Adrenaline pumping. This stage of their quarrelling wasn’t pleasant, or at least he didn’t enjoy it anymore.

“The customizations cost more than the bike. At that price, you could have had one built for you.”

“This option was faster. I feel grounded without wheels.”

“When will it be delivered?”

“I’ll pick it up in a week or so.”

“With the leather suit?”

“Oh yes.” Silvio bared his teeth. “Kevlar-plated, matching the paintjob.” Just replacing what he’d lost when he’d left Italy with nothing but a pair of sunglasses and the suit he’d bought at the airport.

“Hmm, and then this . . .” Another pause, as if Gianbattista had to find the item on the statement. “A few hundred dollars spent in a place called ‘Pleasure Dom’—is that a spelling mistake?”

“No.”

“Not that you’d necessarily be able to tell . . .” Gianbattista chided.

“Are we discussing my dyslexia or what I bought? I got the bag right here, in the living room. Let’s see.” Silvio pulled the bag from beside the couch where it had lived. He’d been too busy to use any of it, but he ensured that the plastic rustled as he dug in. “Lube. They had a special three-for-two on that.” He laughed tonelessly; he could have heard a pin drop over in Italy.

“Dildos. One glass, one steel. I do like them hard.” Silvio lifted the box out of the bag and opened it. Maybe he liked steel because of the guns. Maybe that was why Stefano’s trick had rattled him so much. Of all the things he’d put up his ass, the Desert Eagle had been a novelty. The only use for that ridiculous gun, too. Who shot with that apart from movie hit men and fucking ugly gangster rappers?

“Like that time when you put the dildo into cold water first.” Silvio leaned back in the chair, holding that memory for a while, the cold steel breaching him after plenty of preparation . . . to be so cold and so horny at the same time would have seemed impossible.

“I didn’t get the impression that was one of your favorites.” Gianbattista’s wistfulness hurt somewhere in Silvio’s chest. Way to distract them both from the credit card statement. Which Gianbattista would pay. He wouldn’t even feel that money.

“Getting off is my favorite.”

Gianbattista laughed again, softly. “At my age, other things are more urgent.”

“Don’t say that word.” Not young, not old, not age. Fuck you, Battista.

Dark Soul Vol 3
He spotted the hooker first, but dismissed her presence at the bar. Pavel, however, elbowed him in the side and pointed. Stupid bastard, pointing at anybody or anything.

Sergei considered snatching Pavel’s hand and breaking his finger against the table, but refrained.

Vasily must have noticed the sudden swell of adrenaline; he grinned that odd little grin of his that meant trouble or death. Sergei gave him a minute nod. Vanya remained oblivious, staring into his vodka shot as if lamenting the absence of pickles.

Suddenly, the hooker was upon him—literally. Before Sergei could shove her down on the floor, one long leg lifted in his field of vision, clad toe to mid-thigh in black latex, tight and shiny as if somebody had dipped her leg in crude oil. The chrome-plated heel was absurd—only a woman would wear something so like a weapon and yet so useless. Then she shifted her small ass in her tight black skirt onto him.

Pavel’s eyes got all round and he pursed his lips. Sergei glanced at the hooker now settling on his knee, facing him, rubbing her groin along his thigh as she scooted closer, legs wide open. It didn’t even take an invitation; it was all there, right in his face.

“Hey, big boy,” she purred, voice smoky.

Sergei put the shot glass down on the table and leaned back. Dusky mascara and eye makeup contrasted the bob-cut platinum wig. That tight skirt too short to pose a real obstacle to sitting as widely open as she sat now. Her flat belly was bared, however, showing off some nice smooth muscles. Built like a stripper, slim and trim but with power underneath. She wore a dark lace bra on top, framed by a short shirt knotted underneath her sternum, making the most of breasts she didn’t really have. Not even enough to fill one hand.

A black leather collar with a D-ring and chrome plating completed her barely-there dress. She looked like something out of Blade Runner, or possibly a throwback from the eighties, which were only romanticized by people who hadn’t been alive then.

“Lucky bastard,” Pavel muttered in Russian.

That did it. Sergei placed a hand on her thigh, felt her grind against him, subtly, but definitely there. Bitch was getting off on him, and he was amazed at the cheek to just sit in his lap and rub her pussy against his thigh.

“Want drink?” he asked.

“I’d love a drink,” she said, and Sergei motioned for Pavel to refill his glass. Pavel did so, and Sergei offered the shot to the hooker. She kicked it back like a pro, making the D-ring on her collar jingle. She laughed and placed a hand on his shoulder, leaning in. “Can you show a girl a good time?”

The longer she rubbed and ground against him, the more likely that became. “What do you charge?”

“Dollars,” she murmured low in his ear. “Depends if your friends want to join in or not. A blowjob won’t be as expensive as taking all of you.”

Taking all of you.

“What’s she say?” Pavel asked, and the others leaned forward, too.

“She says she’s for sale—and could take us all,” Sergei translated.

“Fuck,” Vasily muttered.

Tension surged, and Sergei knew the others were up for it. Few things he didn’t know about them. They’d trained together, lived together, and fought together for more than ten years. Few things men didn’t share after so much time.

He glanced around, noticed assent in the group and that lithe, nubile body on top of his. Drinking wasn’t his priority anymore. “All of us?”

She turned her head, looking at Pavel, then Vasily and Vanya—slow, provocatively slow, her black eyes unblinking, simultaneously staring at his comrades and into the distance, spaced out or drugged. Then she smiled. “You might break me.” She ground against him as if that idea turned her on.

He slid his hand between her crotch and his legs. She exhaled, a raspy, almost hollow sound, and pushed into his hand. What he felt there wasn’t quite what he expected, but it didn’t matter. He grabbed her neck and pulled her close enough to whisper in her ear. “So are you boy or girl?”

In response, she licked his ear. “Do you care that much?” She ground against him again. “You like ass, don’t you?”

Sergei laughed. “What about a transvestite?” he asked the others in Russian.

“If you do it, I do, too,” Vasily said, always the most adventurous of the lot. But who said snipers were sane.

Sergei grabbed her by the waist, lifted her up—which got a delighted squeal from her—and stood. She wasn’t tall, but now that he saw her from this angle, she did have broader shoulders than most women, and what he’d thought was lankiness were clearly male proportions. Tiny ass with almost no curves anywhere, but she was cleverly dressed to downplay that. And her breasts—well, looked like she really didn’t have any.

He grabbed her neck and kissed her, deeply, harshly, and felt her yield like a woman would. This should prove interesting. “So you much do you charge?” he asked.

“For all of you? Four hundred.”

He had no clue if that was expensive or cheap. Probably cheap, in this country. Precious little else they could spend their money on, anyway. “Pay upfront?”

“Always.” She nodded at him, dark eyes very earnest. “Just a moment.” She walked purposefully to another scantily-clad woman at the bar, touched her shoulder, whispered something in her ear, and got a nod and a smile in return.

One hooker telling another she was heading out to work. Sergei didn’t like the other hooker gazing at him and his team, but that couldn’t be helped now. In the gloom, she wouldn’t be able to give a very good description to anybody if the Italians tracked them.

When she came back, he pulled his wallet out and paid her near the door. Pavel and Vasily stood ready to cut her off if she decided to make a run for it, as unlikely as it was in those boots.

She folded the bills over one finger and pushed the money into a side pocket of the stupid little silver handbag dangling from her shoulder. “I know a good motel nearby.”

“No, you’re coming to our place.”

She paused, a blink that turned into real hesitation, despite the money. Bad experiences? Fear? Caution? “I don’t know you at all.” You could do whatever to me and not pay was what her tone said. She fingered the bag, tempted, reluctant, torn between the money and the fear.

Sergei watched her, realizing that, unlike with a lot of people, he really couldn’t tell which way her decision would fall. She had strange black eyes, pools of darkness, almost as liquid as an animal’s. She breathed deeply a few times, looked up into his face, and Sergei smiled at the realization she was reading him. “I won’t hurt you,” he said in English.

“What about your friends?”

“They play rough, but they don’t kill.” Unless paid to and ordered.

She shuddered and bit her lip. “Let’s ride, big guy.”

They surrounded her on the way to the car, almost like guarding her, and maybe that was how she saw it, but Vasily’s wolfish grin told a different story.

She followed, lengthening her stride to keep up, and slid into the car when Pavel opened it. Vasily went after her, pushing her down and pressing against her. Pro that she was, she just opened her legs for him and allowed him to hump her right there.

Pavel glanced at Sergei. “To the safe house? Really?”

Sergei shrugged. “Most dangerous thing about her are those boots.”

Pavel glanced inside the car. “Guess Vasily will have searched all her cavities before we arrive.”

“Get in the car. Vanya, drive.”

Once Pavel was inside, Vasily was forced to share the attentions, and the hooker was thoroughly groped and touched all over. The contrast between the large men and the slender figure turned him on. Also that her hands were also all over Vasily and Pavel, and within moments she was rubbing their dicks through their trousers.

Nobody seemed to mind that she wasn’t actually a woman. In Pavel’s case, that might be because of the vodka. And Vasily—Sergei assumed the sniper didn’t care what exactly he put his dick in as long as it breathed and didn’t go “baaah.”

In any case, Vasily kept her mouth busy, sticking his tongue almost down her throat, while Pavel kissed and licked and nipped at her long, strong neck, one finger hooked into the D-ring at her collar as if to make sure Vasily wouldn’t grab her and carry her off.

Sergei twisted the rearview mirror so Vanya wouldn’t get distracted, and kept watching their surroundings. Running into cops was the last thing he wanted. Yesterday’s shooting was all over the news, and some newspapers were speculating wildly about the cause of the attack. It was definitely drawing heat to that Italian motherfucker, and with the interest of the press and the police awakened, Marino would have to keep his head down. Which suited Sergei’s objective just fine.

However, neither he nor his men were inconspicuous, which meant keeping a low profile, eating in fast food joints, leaving no paper trails, no witnesses, no potential trouble. Sergei didn’t mind being a ghost so much, hovering at the edges of society; after all these years, he struggled imagining being anything else.

The safe house was a bit out of the way, in a rundown part of the city, with no direct neighbors. Just a closed-down printing shop to one side, and to the other a boarded-up apartment building awaiting gentrification or a wrecking crew. This part of the city was holding its breath for rebirth, but would only succumb to cancer.

The car stopped and Sergei stepped out. He watched while Vasily composed himself and got out of the car, raging erection pushing against his fly. Pavel was no better, but he didn’t grin as gleefully as Vasily and actually helped the already disheveled hooker out of the car.

Vasily winked at him. “You’re gonna be first?”

“Yeah.” Sergei usually didn’t pull rank, but she’d come to him, and while that decided nothing really, he figured it was important to show who was leading. Besides, she’d made that possible; his body responded readily to hers.

They escorted the hooker to the nondescript two-bedroom house. Sergei had claimed the master bedroom for himself (having his own shower seemed like the height of luxury), while the rest shared the other double bedroom, or had until Vasily had complained of Vanya’s snoring and moved onto the couch in the living room. It was the shared bedroom they were heading to.

The hooker reached the bed, glanced at it, and turned to Sergei, looking nervous. But then she stepped closer, met his eyes for a long moment, and went down on her knees. Sergei inhaled sharply when she opened his fly and rubbed him through his boxers before pulling down his trousers far enough to pull his boxers down, too.

She didn’t tease much—straight to business, her lips parting for him and taking him in without reluctance. He grabbed her neck, her smooth, long movements much like he’d jerk off when he had time and wanted to make it last. His gaze fell on Vasily, who stared at her face, her lips, and of course at Sergei’s dick, eyes glowing with cold, calculating lust.

Pavel made a rude comment in Russian, while Sergei stepped out of his boots and trousers, allowing the hooker to keep jerking him off while he undressed. “Get on bed now.”

She stood and plucked the silver handbag from her shoulder, then fished out a tube of lube and a long strip of condoms.

Vasily scoffed. “I’m not putting one of those on,” he said in Russian.

She seemed to catch the gist of that protest and looked at Vasily, her dark eyes steady and not afraid at all. “I’m not worried about you,” she said, “but you might want to be worried about me. I fuck men for a living, not you.”

Sergei huffed laughter and responded in Russian. “You put that on. I’m not nursing you through some infection. If you catch anything, I’m putting you down like a dog.”

Vasily stared at him with the “try it” expression he sometimes used when given an order not directly related to a job. Sergei assumed those were shows of machismo. Vasily thought of himself as the second man on the team, while, for Sergei, the hierarchy was flat indeed: him at the top and the other three on the level underneath.

He met that stare, then grabbed the hooker and pushed her to the bed. She lay down on her back, booted legs spread wide. He got on top, noticed her shifting something between her legs, then she reached for the condoms. She ripped one open with skill, then put it on him as she must have done a million times.

She curved her spine, since he wasn’t going into her pussy, but once she was positioned right, he could push easily against her ass. She was lubed up already there, but Sergei still pulled the lube closer. Just in case. She smiled at him and licked her lips. “Give me that fat cock, please.”

Dark Soul Vol 4
“So, this sicario of yours,” Augusto asked, “what’s he going to do in all this? Is he getting involved?”

The others fell silent—all seven capos of the family; some looked up from the pool table, others from the TV screen. As risky as it was, the meeting at his villa had been necessary to induct two new members and discuss their strategy for dealing with the Russians.

The capos were usually pleasant enough. But of course, Silvio’s presence and involvement sat badly with them. He was an outsider, a loose gun with an unorthodox reputation. Still, that Augusto dared challenge him over Silvio in front of the capos made the back of his neck crawl.

“The Barracuda has been involved for weeks,” Stefano said, choosing a tone exactly between “don’t be so dumb” and “what, you didn’t know?”

The narrowing of Augusto’s eyes told him he’d caught that just fine. Stefano smiled and leaned back on the couch, spreading his arms out along the cushions, even though it stretched his bruised ribcage. Dominance posture. Just because he was still on painkillers didn’t mean he couldn’t play that particular game.

“So what’s he up to?” Augusto demanded.

“He’s out there fighting the war.” Stefano kept his smile in place. You gotta be the shark in the piranha swarm, his father had said. The biggest motherfucker in the ocean. Were barracudas solitary? Sharks were. He shook his head and leaned forward again. “You guys do what you do.”

“And if he gets in the way?”

“He won’t.” Surely Silvio wouldn’t stoop so low as to hit a Russian tea room while the enforcers of his various capos unloaded into those Russian bastards. Silvio knew better.

And his brother Franco . . . Stefano summoned up that face without problem. A more masculine version of Silvio, prematurely aged under exposure to heat and wind that had sharpened acne scars sustained during an especially savage puberty. Dark greenish eyes that, like Silvio’s, saw too much. Had seen too much. Gaunt, even haggard, long-legged, but broad-shouldered. Nothing ambiguous about him at all.

Yet, seeing Franco, watching him, had sent a tingle across his skin, which answered that one question, at least. It wasn’t just Silvio who could have that effect on him. Or he was rapidly becoming addicted to Spadaro men.

In any case, he’d never act on it. Silvio had breached his armor, but there was enough of it left to protect him from Franco. And if he’d learned anything in high school when he’d dated two sisters at the same time, that was not something he wanted to get himself into again.

Dating? Really? A killer and a mercenary?

Shit, he wasn’t even dating Silvio. He shook his head and stared at Augusto. “I got Spadaro from Falchi as a completely deniable asset. Over time, the cops will take a bigger interest in what’s ramping up the body count in this city, and the more we can dazzle them with bullshit, the better.”

“We can take care of our own problems,” Augusto said.

“You take care of them on your level—in your businesses, on your turf. The Barracuda is going after the head of the snake. We need to attack them from all sides, not leaving them a single moment to breathe.” Stefano smiled. “Unless, of course, you feel that the strategy isn’t sound.”

Dropping a pin now would have been the equivalent of helicopters playing the “Ride of the Valkyries.”

Stefano forced himself to breathe slowly. In, out. In, out, again. Four times. Still no protest. “I thought so.”

He was about to get up and turn away when Augusto cleared his throat. “I don’t know why you’ve got such a hard-on for this guy.”

Damn if the bottom of his stomach didn’t just fall out, right down onto his shoes. Augusto took a half a step back and mumbled “With all due respect, boss,” but that didn’t put his stomach back where it belonged.

“If we had a sicario of that caliber, I wouldn’t have had to draw in outside help.” Stefano stood and turned to give each of his capos a hard stare. “Falchi always worked with the best.”

“So what did you give Falchi to get his head of security?” Augusto asked.

Now this was really starting to piss him off. He stepped close to Augusto, but the bastard stood his ground.

Potbellied, hair getting thin on top, your average early-fifties Italian who belonged behind the counter of a greasy spoon somewhere downtown. His father’s old buddy-in-arms, though, and Stefano assumed his father had ensured that Augusto hadn’t made his move to become boss sooner. Maybe he’d promised. Maybe they’d had a deal going. But it seemed Augusto felt that now was the time to break his word. Cocksucker.

“A late sixteenth century painting, actually.” Stefano gave a grim, thin-lipped, smile. “Falchi’s out, growing roses.”

Augusto’s brown eyes met his without fear. Which could be good or bad news. Scared men turned violent. But so did men who were more determined to get their due than they were afraid of the consequences. “You don’t know what happened back when Falchi was still active. With Carbone and Spadaro and the others.”

Paolo Spadaro, not Silvio. Even though, for a moment, Stefano’d thought it’d been Silvio. Silvio had that quality about him, like a ghost, or a demon—a revenant moving through time and space. Stefano scoffed. “That was in the eighties. Times have moved on since then.”

“You can’t trust Spadaro blood. That’s all I’m sayin’, boss.”

Stefano lifted an eyebrow, but he noted the last word and that, this time, at least, Augusto was deferring. They could play this as an underling’s justified concern. He wasn’t a tyrant. He was listening to his underboss. Especially since he didn’t have a consigliere. He was struggling to appoint a new one. There wasn’t a man in the organization he wanted in the job, so Augusto was wearing both hats. It was a lot of power for an underboss—bringing the men’s grievances to him as well as running operations and heading the capos. Too much power, really, but taking it back was difficult, and not wise while under siege from an external enemy.

“Spadaro is strictly here as a freelancer to take some heat off.” He patted Augusto’s shoulder and squeezed it, even managed another smile. The capos relaxed, exchanged murmurs, looked around the room. Test passed. No weakness in his leadership as yet.

But damn if he didn’t want to know what exactly had happened back in the eighties, and whether Silvio was indeed the son of a traitor as the rumors had it.

You can’t trust Spadaro blood.

* * *

Stefano sat on what he’d come to think off as Silvio’s couch, imagining Silvio was just in the other room. That he had, like other things of darkness, simply bled into shadows of his bungalow, and would reassemble himself and take that familiar, maddening shape when the whim struck him.

Stefano was only stopping by to check, he told himself, even though the housekeeper had already thrown out the milk and other perishables from the fridge. Oddly, the landline was disconnected. The bed was made, and nothing lingered, no smell he could have picked up, no sense or taste of the man living here. Only a number of his suits hanging in the wardrobe suggested that Silvio would return at all.

Gone off with his brother, yet another cypher. Both men in one room was almost too much, more than anybody could take.

One of them is too much for you.

His phone buzzed in his pocket. He fished it out. Silvio’s number. Speak of the devil.

“How are you doing,” Stefano asked when he’d tapped the green button on the screen.

“Doing good.” Silvio sounded languid, slightly breathy. “How are you?”

“Still sleeping a lot.” Thinking of you. Wondering about you and your brother. What you’re up to over there.

“Sleep is good, means you’re healing. Where are you?”

“Checking in your place. The phone’s disconnected.”

“Yeah, pulled the plug.”

“Why?”

“Don’t like distractions.”

“Because so many people call you,” Stefano chided.

“One wrong call is all it takes.” Silvio sounded a touch tense there. Why was that?

Time to change the topic. “How’s Franco?”

A breathy laugh. “He’s doing well. We’re shooting a lot of bullets, all for practice. It’s hard to distract him.”

“Yes, he struck me as that type. Do you know what he wants in return? I don’t want to use his skills without giving anything back.”

Pause, possibly thoughtful. “He doesn’t like the family much, but he needs a job when we’re done here.”

“I can place him with one of my companies.” Which would mean Franco would stay around. Another potentially big problem. Stefano had a nice collection of those by now. “Or, if he’s too proud, I can get him an interview.” Rig the game somewhat less openly, for appearances’ sake. “Can’t waste a good guy.”

“He’ll never join, you know.”

“I believe I have the best Spadaro already.”

Silvio laughed. “Good save. I’ll let him know.”

Silence again, stretching out. Stefano wanted to reach across the digital divide and touch Silvio. Just smell and taste him. Odd that the most primal of senses were hungering the most for the killer. Touch, smell, and taste.

“It’s good to hear your voice.”

“You’re in some mood,” Silvio said, but his tone was soft. God damn all this, the killer sounded positively innocent, even touched.

“Has anybody ever told you it’s easy to get used to you?”

Silvio chuckled. “No. Means I’m boring?”

“No! No. It means that you leave . . . an absence when you’re not there. Unlike other people, who leave nothing.” He sounded like an idiot, didn’t he. Yep, he did. Donata found that romantic, would have kissed him now, but there was only silence from Silvio.

Stefano cleared his throat. “So, what’s the strategy?” War was easier to talk about.

“Franco and I will stay away while we hunt the Russians. Don’t want them to be able to track us anywhere. Real outlaw-style.” Silvio yawned. “They won’t connect us to you. We’ll concentrate on the boss.”

“My guys are ready to fight, too.”

“Yeah. Hopefully what’s left will turn and run.” It didn’t sound like a hope—more like a prediction. Half-bored, as if the alternative was to kill them all, and killing itself was boring and mundane and mildly annoying. It was so Silvio that Stefano couldn’t help but smile.

“How long will you be gone?”

“A couple weeks.”

Will you call me at least every now and then?

Stefano closed his eyes, fought down a wave of fear and worry. Not for himself but for the two Spadaros. Two. God help him. “Give me an update when anything happens.” Easier to phrase it as an order when the alternative was begging.

“How’s Vince?”

“He’s still very weak. Bullet messed up some things in his chest, grazed the spine.”

“Must have been a pretty good shot. Or lucky.”

Tap the cocksucker.

Stefano shuddered. “Right now, I’m making sure his family’s going to be okay and the bills are covered. I guess that’s the one thing that makes the family better than corporate America.” No wiggling out of responsibility for one’s men. Part of the loyalty that bound them all together, knowing that if one went to prison or the grave, their family would be all right.

“Many reasons, really,” Silvio said. “I can’t imagine getting a ‘real job.’”

Not that he ever had to, as long as Gianbattista kept him as his heir. Maybe some people couldn’t function anywhere but in the jet set or the underworld.

The world out there’s a mug’s game. His father had said that often. And being a mug was being a loser, an idiot, somebody ready for the taking. “In a real job, you wouldn‘t have to worry about getting shot.”

Silvio scoffed. “I’m not worried about getting shot.”

“What are you worried about?”

“Nothing. Nobody can take me.” Silvio didn’t wait for a protest. “I’ll be in touch. Take care, Stefano.”

The call ended; Silvio cut him off before it got too personal. There had to be fears, worries, there had to be things moving in that darkness; those inscrutable eyes were hiding more than the thoughts of a sphinx. But just why did Stefano want to delve deeper into Silvio’s darkness when his own was beginning to overwhelm him?

Dark Soul Vol 5
Dark Hunter I
“Sebastiano, would you come to my office for a moment?”

Sebastiano looked up from the screen to the woman standing in his doorway. “With you in a minute, Mary.”

She could have sent an email, but she was one of those people who made an effort to every now and then to leave her office. Personal leadership style. The best organizations were run by a visible, hands-on boss. Like the Cosa Nostra.

He sent the email he’d been crafting for the last hour, then got up and grabbed his jacket. Walking into her office in shirtsleeves felt wrong. He even closed the button on the way, aware the action was a physical projection of his need to be prepared.

“Please, have a seat,” Mary said, standing in her office, her small frame impressively flanked by law texts and a shelf of her own academic work, separated out from the rest.

“Thank you.” Sebastiano folded into the leather chair she indicated, over on the Persian carpet in the corner. A coffee table sat in between the chairs, a silver tray with water bottles centered on it. Cookies on a plate, arranged so neatly he imagined they were fake, like the food in the windows of Japanese restaurants. A social visit, then, or she’d have seated him in front of her desk.

He glanced up at her, still at peace with the situation. And keenly aware that she triggered none of his old responses because she was black and female. He was bad with Caucasian bosses, worse with male ones. Defensive. There’d always been friction, until his therapist had tracked it all back to his father. She even sent him to a family constellation workshop last weekend, where some poor bastard had to impersonate his father so they could work on the issues.

The stranger had looked nothing like his father, hadn’t been Italian, wasn’t the right age. Compared to his father, who looked like a gleeful devil had made him from bundles of stripped cables, the stranger at the workshop was chubby and friendly, played the father completely wrong. For one, he’d reached out to touch Sebastiano.

Sebastiano wasn’t a violent man, but he’d lost it then, very nearly attacked the man who wasn’t his father, and everybody in the room must have seen it, felt it, even, stupid emotions to get so out of control. His stand-in “mother,” a kindly woman wrapped in a sari with a red dot between her eyebrows, had stepped between them, which was all wrong, too. And his stand-in brother, a gangly black kid, had just watched. Well, that bit was spot on. But really chilling was his youngest brother, a fat white kid, who’d just rolled himself in a ball.

Those people had no clue. The things that were wrong were painfully wrong, and the things that were right were even more painfully wrong.

He’d turned to the therapist leading the workshop and asked him what the fuck he thought he was doing. He didn’t normally use that kind of language. Strong language meant weak character and weaker arguments.

“Had a good weekend?” Mary asked as she sat down opposite.

I almost punched a man who wasn’t even my father. “Oh, great, yes. I went on a retreat to let Irene get on with her dissertation.”

“How far is she?”

“I’d answer that question in tons of paper if I could. I haven’t seen the dog in a while.”

She laughed. “What about your own ambitions? Is the PhD virus catching? Some men struggle to live with an academically higher-qualified partner.”

“I like to apply the law better than further our academic knowledge of it. From where I stand, the current body of our understanding is sufficient to uphold society. That’s really all that matters.”

So you’re the last bastion between civilization and what, exactly? Irene would ask.

My father. That’s what his therapist told him.

“Sebastiano, let me be frank.”

“Please.”

“You have tremendous potential. I’d say you’re the most gifted young man I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. Do you know why that is?”

“I have a guess.”

She weighed him. “You’re tenacious, disciplined, bright. But that’s not all. You’re a believer. Whatever the job will throw at you, I doubt you’ll ever lose the passion, the vision, and above all, the sense of what’s right and what’s wrong.”

My little crusader, Irene would tease. You know I love you for it, right? But do think of yourself every now and then.

“You got me in a nutshell.” Sebastiano shrugged. “What can I say. Everything worth doing at all is worth doing right.”

“The thing is, Sebastiano, I got an extremely big case in today that’s the most important I’ve seen in a while. It really would be Bob’s, but with his health situation what is it . . .”

“Then Sheryl’s?”

“Sheryl has five years on you in this office, and I know I could trust her with this.” But I want to trust you with this, her expression said. Make me.

“Kenneth?” God, not Kenneth, but he had to bring him up, for fairness’s sake. He was nothing if not fair, even if he had to keep his teeth from clenching. “What kind of case is it?”

“Organized crime.”

Sebastiano swallowed, felt his skin’s electric resistance change, an almost unpleasant tingle that made him want to scratch himself all over. “The mass-murder of the Russians?” Talk about a heavy-handed, bizarre crime, spiking the coffin of a suspected crime lord with C4 and blowing all attendants of the funeral to Kingdom Come, or wherever Orthodox Christians went if they were gangsters. Everybody but the priest, who was on TV all night and day now and praising God for the miracle.

She nodded toward a pile of big folders on her desk. “The FBI has been investigating the Russians, and apparently there were very strong indications of an impending turf war between them and the local Cosa Nostra.”

“Which fits the violent attack on Stefano Marino several weeks ago,” Sebastiano completed without thinking.

She smiled at him, proudly, he thought. “That particular attack was the work of freelancers—the FBI didn’t see it coming despite their surveillance. But it does confirm the suspicion that Stefano Marino took over for his father, despite his age.”

“He’s not the youngest boss in the history of the Cosa Nostra,” Sebastiano murmured. “Just atypically educated. He finished college with decent to good grades. I’d wager that went down really well with the rest of the family. Of course, he’s compounding it with his Yuppie lifestyle and looks. If you met him, he probably wouldn’t look any more dangerous than a McKinsey consultant.” He smiled. “Mind you, never underestimate a determined consultant.”

Mary’s face had turned pensive. “How much do you know about Marino?”

“I was cursorily interested in his father, Al ’The Butcher’ Marino. Big player in the meat trade, especially meat that came back onto the market after it had been deemed unfit for human consumption. He was fined, but they never traced anything more interesting back to him, which to my mind makes him very much the previous boss of what we might as well call the Marino clan. It’s easier to nail something to the underbosses and capos, but the boss stays out of the big criminal activities. And nobody ever sold him to the police. Granted, few people have tried taking the Marinos on. They are extremely local, fairly low profile in the bigger game ever since Al’s father lost his seat on the Commission. So, a small, prosperous outfit, and ever since everybody’s hunting domestic terrorists and Islamist conspiracies, the Cosa Nostra hasn’t been high on the agenda. And when it was, people concentrated on the large families and New York City.”

“What about you?”

“I know more about the big families than the Marinos. But I did follow the trial of the Marino consigliere, Rodolfo ‘Rude Boy’ Mancini.”

“And?”

“He had some moral fiber, but not in the right places. He didn’t sell his boss to the police and claimed up to the last minute that he was a victim of a miscarriage of justice. I’d expect him to claim that still, if anybody’s listening. It’s gone quiet about him recently.”

“He’s a model prisoner,” Mary said. She reached over for a bottle of water and offered it to him. He nodded, and she poured them both two tall glasses. “We don’t know who’s taken his place in the organization.”

Stefano watched her drink, then took his own glass, thoughts whirling. He marshaled them back into line, but maybe it was all so raw and right under the surface because of that latest therapy experiment.

“What are you thinking?”

“That the case might be too important to not go to the best person in the office,” he said slowly, fighting back the desire to beg her for it. Yes, he did believe he was the best one in the office, but he was younger and less experienced than just about everybody else. What qualified him apart from his obsession with the Cosa Nostra? Exactly that. For anybody else, it would be just one of those other cases. But this one was special. The body count alone was enormous, quite possibly the crime of the decade in the district. Which, he reflected glumly, was exactly why he wouldn’t get it. Who trusted a rookie, even if he was eager and smart and ambitious?

He inhaled deeply. “I’d love that case.” He’d never say, I’d kill for this case. Not ever. Killing wasn’t something spoken of or offered lightly.

“I just need to know, why? What are your motivations? I know you have history. Family history.”

Of course it had to come up; and it was clearly the reason she’d put him at ease first before talking about the case. Did she have any doubts about him? He nodded. “If anything, it makes me a better hunter. I know how these people think, how they respond. I took this poison in with my mother’s milk.” And with every black-eyed stare from my father. “Which makes me immune to it.” Please, give me the case. He folded his hands between his legs, leaned forward on his elbows. “I know how to take them, too. It’s what I’ve been waiting for.” What I studied law for. Take them all down, rebalance the scales of justice and fate. “I can work with the Feds on this and get an indictment, Mary.” He looked up, met her eyes. He tried a small smile, but knew it did nothing to diffuse his intensity. “It would also get me out of Irene’s hair for a while, so she can finish her work. I’m ready for this.” Please.

Mary sighed, stood and came over to him, placed a hand on his shoulder. “What about your family? Will they be involved?”

“As far as I’m concerned, I only have my wife and her parents for family. I haven’t been in touch with anybody else for years.” He shrugged. “I’m past this, Mary. I’ve chosen between my blood relations and the law, and I can’t say I’ve regretted it for one day.”

“If you need help at any stage, call me. You know I’ll be here to support you.” She nodded and removed her hand. “Tomorrow morning, you’ll find the files on your desk.”

* * * * *

Stefano groaned when Silvio moved on him, sliding slowly down on his dick, clearly relishing every motion. His hands were on the back of the sofa left and right of Stefano’s head, close enough that Stefano could have kissed them.

Silvio was facing him, completely naked, just like Stefano, their bodies joined. Only Silvio really moved, while Stefano dug his fingers into Silvio’s sleek powerful thighs that opened over his. Every movement came from them, the flex and relax of the big muscles accompanying the delicious tension of fucking.

Silvio moved with the deliberation and concentration of a dancer, his long lean upper body taut with the effort and gleaming with sweat. For Silvio, going slow was incredibly difficult, but wow, did he give it his best shot now.

Stefano reached over and grabbed Silvio’s neck, pulled him even closer, Silvio’s breath cool and hot on his face, before he kissed him deeply. Right now, rapt in pleasure, Silvio was utterly pliant, completely focused on the sensations, on moving with the utmost deliberation, riding him as slowly as he’d ordered. And what kind of power trip was it to force Silvio to prolong the sex. His face empty of any other emotion, just pleasure, strangely turned inward as if trapped in his own mind.

“Silvio.”

Black eyes flickered to him as Silvio arched against him. No response, though, just an acknowledgement of the name.

Stefano decided he’d tortured them both enough and wrapped his hand around Silvio’s dick. No lube; Silvio rather enjoyed the dry friction, and Stefano loved that tinge of discomfort that Silvio couldn’t deny. He began to pump him, and Silvio promptly arched against him, offering everything, from his dick to his flat muscular belly to his pecs and that long neck.

Stefano grabbed Silvio’s neck with the other hand and bit into his throat, hard enough to cause real pain. Silvio jerked and tightened, thrust forward, and came against Stefano’s belly. Stefano released him and thrust up, forcing Silvio to bounce on his dick until he was done.

With a groan, he came, crushing the lean body to him, feeling sweat and cum mingle between them.

It was Silvio who moved first—lifting a damp hand to brush some hair from Stefano’s forehead. But he didn’t leave his place on Stefano’s lap.

Stefano blew out a breath. “Shit, that was good.”

Silvio nodded and ran his hand over his flushed face. “Starting to get sore,” he muttered, but it was just a random observation, hardly a criticism.

“We are making good progress on that box of condoms.” Speaking of which. Stefano reached down and secured the condom with one hand, prodding Silvio with the other to get off him.

He got rid of it in the bathroom, splashed some water on his face, then dried himself.

Fourth day of his self-chosen exile, and Silvio and he had mostly spent the time fucking each other’s brains out. Well, it was really him who did the fucking, despite Silvio’s not-so-subtle offers that they could turn the tables.

Living with Silvio in one hotel suite was really like being sixteen again—constant hard-ons, and that mix of trepidation, outright horror, and attraction when it came to sex. By now, though, he figured he had a decent enough idea how to make love with a man. To a man. Whatever. His brain had stopped stumbling over the idea. Secluded away from the rest of the world, he really didn’t care if anybody thought of him as a faggot. Not if Silvio came with that faggot deal.

He returned to the living room, where Silvio was just getting into his jeans, making himself decent. Not that there was anything decent about his upper body, or the livid bruise blooming on his throat.

“Damn, I’ve . . .” Stefano was about to indicate his own throat, but aborted the motion and walked over to Silvio instead to touch the bruise. “Oops.”

Silvio smiled tiredly and closed the top button of his jeans. “I look worse after a caning. Don’t worry about it.”

“That something you want me to do?”

Silvio glanced up. “Maybe. I’ll have to show you how. It’s a bit of an art form.”

“Did Falchi do that?”

Gianbattista Falchi still stood between them. Like his ghost was lingering around Silvio, and Stefano wished he knew how to dispel it. Then again, maybe Donata was his ghost and Silvio sensed her. Against that, the thought of Falchi became so much smaller. The one thing he really wanted was to make things right again between Donata and Silvio and himself.

“Yeah, sometimes. When he figured I needed some real pain. He could make me come like that.”

Stefano licked his lips, tried to imagine Silvio being beaten and coming from it, that expression of pain-ecstasy; the image came easily enough. “Do you need that? I can learn.”

Silvio smiled at him and kissed him. “Right now, I’m good.”

Did that translate into You’re sufficient?

“If Gianbattista did it for you . . .”

Silvio shrugged. “Not here.”

“Why not?”

“Just not safe enough. I gotta fall deep into myself, and I can’t do that where Di— people could just show up.”

“Diego? Carbone? He’s dead.”

Silvio looked away, then back at him. “The place I go when I’m caned or tied up, that place doesn’t remember he’s dead. He could still be around the corner. Waiting.”

How odd to see Silvio so evasive. Silvio took everything else head-on. More, he never cared about consequences. What had made him so wary about Carbone? “What did he do?”

Silvio reached for his black T-shirt. “Nearly killed me, that’s what he did.”

“Silvio. Would that really still linger? What did he do?”

“Tortured me.”

Silvio’s voice was so flat and weak that Stefano only made out the word by combining what was left of the consonants. “Shit. I shouldn’t have asked.”

Silvio swallowed and shook his head. “Took Battista forever to get that out of me. He talked to the doctor who treated me after. Gave him an advantage. He always has that, right?”

Sly way to change the topic away from something that Silvio still wasn’t done with. Silvio didn’t want to linger, and it might be best to simply let him move on. Dragging him back to the only thing he’d ever shown fear of didn’t seem fair. No doubt he’d brought Gianbattista up because he made him feel safe.

Stefano shook his head to clear his thoughts and focus on Silvio. “The advantage? Yes, he does.” In any competition, whether it was about power or being Silvio’s lover. Gianbattista would always win out, even if he was now just the ex-lover.

And yet, he told you what Falchi had to dig out of him. He simply told you when you asked.

Silvio smiled weakly. “Can’t keep a secret from him. Man deals in secrets.”

“Yeah, he’s a shark.” Stefano shrugged and stepped closer, drawn into Silvio’s magnetic field yet again. “Let’s get cleaned up and find a place to eat.”

He ran his fingers over Silvio’s chest, thrilled and nearly incredulous at the ease with which he could touch him these days. Natural. Real. Honest. Like he had a right to. Like there was nobody out there who would kill them both for it.


Author Bio:
Aleksandr Voinov is an emigrant German author living near London where he makes his living as a financial journalist, freelance editor and creative writing teacher. He has published five novels and many short stories in his native language. His genres range from horror, science fiction, cyberpunk and fantasy, contemporary, to thriller and historical erotic gay novels.

In his spare time, he goes weight-lifting, explores historical sites or meets other writers. He single-handedly sustains three London bookstores with his ever-changing research projects and interests. His current interests include bonsais, tailored suits, chess competitions, World War II, Afghan history, Roman emperors and Russian oligarchs. He loves traveling, action movies, spy novels and ponders taking up boxing.


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