Ruin and Revenge, Book 3
Mafia enforcer, Rocco De Lucchi is the best in the business.
Cold, hard and utterly ruthless, Rocco is the most dangerous of men. Feelings are a luxury he cannot afford—until a chance encounter brings him face to face with the only woman who found her way into his heart and touched his soul.
Grace Mantini has spent her whole life running from the mob. Daughter of the boss’s right hand man, she is both a prize and a target. When Rocco walks back into her life, she wants nothing to do with the man who betrayed her and broke her heart. But only Rocco can protect her from the dangerous forces that seek to destroy her family. Can they escape the hands of fate closing around them? Or will love be the kiss of death for them both?
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He stepped into the light. Tall. Dark. Dressed in a leather jacket, faded jeans and a worn pair of boots. His jaw was dark with stubble and the gold cross that he’d worn as long as she’d known him, glittered against the pitch black T-shirt that covered his muscular chest.
The soft beat of Otis Redding’s, “These Arms of Mine” drifted from the restaurant, and the sound brought up far too many memories, ones she had buried long ago. They had connected through music. Shared through music. Loved and lost through music.
She drew in a ragged breath, pushing away the bittersweet memories as she inhaled the scent of him, whiskey and leather, and something so familiar a wave of heat flooded through her veins, shocking her with its intensity. How could he affect her so deeply after all this time?
Grace swallowed hard, forcing her throat to work. “What are you doing here?”
“I mean here in Vegas.”
“I live here.”
Her heart skipped a beat. “So do I.”
He didn’t answer and she had nothing else to say. Until yesterday afternoon at the cemetery, it had been six years since they last saw each other. Six years since he had made a choice that destroyed a friendship and a love that grown slowly over time.
His gaze raked over her, from her hair to her breasts and over her hips to the bare expanse of thigh between the hem of her dress and the top of her boots, and then back to her face. She trembled beneath his scrutiny. This man who had been her friend, her soulmate, her lover. Her first.
He reached for her, his hand pushing back the hair that she always wore down to hide the scar on her cheek. His touch set off a cascade of memories. Eight years of beautiful destroyed in eight minutes of horror.
“Don’t.” Pain that she had locked away clawed at her insides, ripping open the emotional scars that had never truly healed.
His face twisted in a scowl and he jerked his hand back as if he’d been burned. Or maybe it was disgust. She wasn’t the same girl he’d known in New York, inside or outside.
“So you hated all this so much, you decided to become part of it?” His voice was tight and tinged with cruelty. “You and Benito. A match made in fucking mob heaven until he got himself whacked.”
She stared at him, confused. “I never met Benito. His father is my godfather and one of Papa’s oldest friends. We were all going to have dinner together. I went to the funeral out of respect, not because I’m involved. And I’m here tonight because Nico invited me and Papa said I couldn’t refuse or I’d dishonor the family.”
“The family you ran away from.”
She bristled at his accusatory tone. “Yes, I ran away. That’s what normal people do when psychopaths kidnap them, drag them down to Newton Creek, slice up their face and force them to watch…” Her voice caught, broke, but she made herself go on because she might never get the chance again to say what she wanted say. “When she discovers the man she cared for wasn’t who she thought he was.”
“You knew who I was,” he said, bitterly.
“I didn’t want to know so I didn’t think about it. But even when I did, I never imagined…” She couldn’t say those words, couldn’t say out loud that he was a member of the De Lucchi Crew, a brotherhood of assassins that were at once revered and reviled by everyone who knew them.
“If I’d known you’d be trolling the streets of Vegas looking for a wiseguy to spread your legs for, I’d have come after you.”
She slapped him. At least she tried to slap him. He caught her hand before it made contact and slammed it against the wall above her head, pinning her in place. His face, as he stared down at her was cold and hard, his eyes terrifying in their emptiness, and yet as she looked into the darkness, she saw a flicker of light.
In all the years she’d known Rocco, he had never once been cruel or unkind to her. He had never had been rough as he was now. Maybe the face she’d seen that night on the banks of Newton Creek was his true face, and everything she’d known about him in the eight years prior was a lie.
“Do it.” She lifted her chin, wondering who this bold, brave woman was and where Grace had gone. “Hit me back. Hurt me. That’s who you are, isn’t it? That’s what you do. You don’t feel anything so why not teach me a lesson? Then we’ll both know that what we had in New York was a mistake.”
His massive body shuddered and he took a step closer, caging her against the wall with his hard, muscular frame. He was so much bigger than he had been six years ago, so strong, so powerful. She had no doubt that even with her Krav Maga skills, he could end her life as easily as he used to flick the cigarettes she had convinced him to stop smoking as soon as she was old enough to kiss.
“It wasn’t a mistake.”
It was the last thing she’d expected him to say and for a moment she was at a loss for words.
“You’re smoking again,” she said, using the scent of nicotine on his breath to avoid a discussion she wasn’t ready to have.
His eyes narrowed slightly, but he didn’t respond.
“I thought you quit.”
“Nothing has changed in six years, Rocco. Smoking is still addictive. It still causes cancer. And you are still going to kill yourself if you don’t stop.” She swallowed hard and put the mental brakes on that particular topic of conversation. What the hell was she doing lecturing a De Lucchi enforcer on the dangers of cigarettes?
“Why the fuck do you care?”
Why did she care? He was an enforcer. He hurt people and took lives. And yet, what he did for the crew didn’t reflect who he was, at least not the man she knew before she ran away.
“I never stopped caring.” Just like with her father after she left the family home when she discovered he was in the mob. She’d never stopped loving him; she just couldn’t accept what he did for a living. “You were a huge part of my life. You were my friend, my…” She trailed off unable to call him a boyfriend because he’d never been a traditional boyfriend. They hadn’t been able to go out together or socialize together. She couldn’t introduce him to her friends and family. They had only stolen moments—the short drives to and from school, secret rendezvous in hidden places, nights in the darkness of his small apartment wrapped around each other in the refuge of his bed. “You were everything to me.”
He snorted in derision. “I believe that like I believe you’re not involved with the mob.”
“I don’t care what you believe.” She lifted her chin, met his gaze straight on. “I made a new life here. I’m a psychologist now, specializing in trauma. And I sing. Jingles. On the radio.” Anger flared in her chest, surprising her with its intensity. Usually, she buried all her feelings deep inside and only showed the world the face they wanted to see. When things didn’t go her way, she tried to move on. When people annoyed her, she turned the other cheek. Anger was destructive, not productive. Nothing got accomplished when people got angry. Dead mothers didn’t come back to life. Fathers didn’t morph from mobsters into insurance salesmen. Boyfriends didn’t betray you. Scars didn’t fade.
“And if this is person you’ve become,” she continued, struggling to free her hand. “This mean manhandling mobster, I’m not interested in getting involved with you either. Now, let me go.”
Rocco released her and she turned to leave. “Dammit,” she muttered, half to herself. “I should have known better. I try to do one nice thing for Papa, and look what I get. Some crazy nasty mob boss assaulting me in the cemetery, and now you.” She looked back over her shoulder as she walked away, only to see his lips twitch at the corners. “Goodbye.”
Grace didn’t know how he closed the distance between them so quickly. One minute he was near the restroom, the next he had his hand on her shoulder.
“Wait.” He turned her to face him, the heat of his palm burning through her clothes straight to her core.
“Let me go, or you’re going to regret it.” Part of her couldn’t believe the words coming out of her mouth, but the unfamiliar surge of anger felt good, powerful, like it could buffer her from any storm.
“Like you regret wasting all those years with me every time you look in a mirror?”
His cruel words sliced through her, deflating her anger in an instant, sending her crashing to the ground. Her hand flew to the scar on her cheek, and she tugged her hair down to hide it, gritting her teeth to fight back the emotion welling up in her throat.
“I didn’t regret them until now. You’ve become a total jerk.”
He released her shoulder, pain flickering across his face so fast she wondered if she’d seen it. “Fuck. Grace—“
“Go to hell.” She squared her shoulders and walked away, taking a deep breath and praying no one would be able to read on her face how totally ripped up she was inside.
All these years, some little part of her had imagined that one day they would find each other again. That she would get a chance to explain that she’d run away, not because she didn’t love him, but because she couldn’t handle the chaos, brutality and insanity that was the life he had chosen to lead. She couldn’t handle knowing that there was a part of him she would never be able to touch. It had taken six years and a psychology degree to help her deal with that night at Newton Creek, but until this moment, part of her had never stopped believing that the man who had taken a life before her eyes wasn’t the man she had loved from the moment they met.
She’d been wrong. It was finally time to move on with the life she had worked so hard to build in Vegas, and close the door on a past that had started when she was ten years old.