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Lucas Parette stood off to the side of the wide front steps to the Long Island Trainello estate, watching as people came and went, none of them leaving a particularly lasting impression. It was at times like these when it was all too easy to forget the past seven years existed. Too easy to remember himself as little more than a kid fascinated by, and proud to be associated with, the family. More specifically, the Venuto crime family, one of the most powerful of five mafia families in the New York City area that had been headed by Giovanni Trainello.
Too easy to imagine that he and Gia Trainello were the same young couple in love, stealing a few, precious minutes alone whenever they could.
Then he remembered his younger brother, Angelo, and he felt the warmth leave his blood.
He fished for a cigarette from a pack he'd had for a month and lit up, squinting through the blue smoke at the street.
Angelo. There was a time when not a moment went by when he wasn't acutely aware of the loss. When he went to his parents' small walk-up Brooklyn apartment and felt that emptiness everywhere he looked, including in his parents' faces, and saw the way they appeared twenty years older than they were.
Angelo had been seventeen when he'd vowed to follow in Lucas's footsteps.
Seventeen when he began going to the Trainello business front in Brooklyn begging for odd jobs.
Seventeen when he'd been gunned down, forever losing his rights to turning eighteen.
Lucas looked down the long, curving driveway bordered by lush, mature trees, suddenly surprised that he was out in Long Island instead of in Brooklyn where his brother had been killed. For a moment he could smell the wet concrete sidewalk that had recently been watered down, the exhaust from cars on a nearby busy street. In his mind's eye, he saw the yellow crime scene tape and the stain made by Angelo's blood.
And the spot on his own shirt, made as he'd cradled his brother's head in his arms, pleading for him to come back.
The flashbacks didn't happen as often as they once did. Which was a good thing. Because if he thought about what had happened to his brother every moment of every day, he would never be able to function. Never be able to focus on what he had come back to New York, come back into the family, to do.
Another part of him supposed he'd purposely pushed thoughts of his brother aside over the past month because the entire reason for him being there had changed, and by all rights he should have quit his cover position as Venuto family attorney and have been on the first plane back to St. Paul, returning to New York only to occasionally visit his parents.
A black Lexus sedan pulled up the driveway, the reason why he wasn't on that plane and was instead still working undercover sitting in the back seat. Gia Trainello. He took another drag off the cigarette, watching her black stiletto heels hit the pavement, her black stockings clinging against her shapely calves as she got out. Her gaze locked with his beyond her large sunglasses and she looked surprised to see him. Just as she had nearly every day over the past month since her father and brother had been killed.
Then the moment passed and she'd either nod or say hello, and circumstances returned to normal.
"Morning, Luca," she said softly.
And just like that the driver handed her her bags from the trunk of the car and the connection was broken, restless ghosts chased back into the shadows of the past as she walked up the stairs to the sprawling Italian villa-style estate and disappeared inside the house.
Gia Trainello. The reason why he'd stuck around.
And the number-one reason why he should still catch the first flight out for St. Paul.
The quiet moments in Gia's life were few and far between now. Which wasn't entirely a bad thing. The busier she was, the less likely she was to remember that night at the Seasons when she'd shot Claudio with his own gun and then lay there with his motionless body on top of her until Vito's men arrived. It had taken the sound of them gaining access to the room to bring her around to the reality of the situation. And as soon as they'd removed his body, she'd curled into a fetal position, ignoring attempts to get her to move, to leave the room before anyone started snooping around. Or, worse yet, called the police.
She couldn't remember who had dressed her and taken her back to her place. All she could recall was that when she awakened twelve hours later and clawed her way to the shower, her skin was still covered with Claudio's blood.
And twelve long hours after that, when her known world had refused to start revolving again, and she'd felt the shadows of the Venuto family sucking at her heels, she'd known what she had to do if she hoped to ever return to any kind of sense of normalcy: she had to step into her father's shoes until her father and brother's assassins were brought to justice.
In the past month, her days had come to look very different from the life she'd known before. She'd packed her penthouse apartment in mothballs and then moved back into the family house in Long Island. There wasn't a time when there weren't at least five armed men around her, and more guarding the compound. It was almost as if the past seven years in Manhattan had never existed except for when her partner, Bona Dea Bryan, came to visit her to discuss company business.
Like he was this morning.
She stood at the window, watching where Luca spoke to Vito on the back balcony. Luca was smoking a cigarette, which likely explained why the conversation was taking place outside. Longing, pure and strong, swept through her veins. Both for the man now, and the man she'd known in the past.
"Gia? Are you still with me?" Bryan asked from behind her. She turned to face him.
That was the question, wasn't it? Was she still with him? Physically, she was in her father's old-world office, the new designs for the spring collection spread out on a polished oak conference table between the two of them, but emotionally she was far, far away.
"I'm sorry. I missed the last part of what you said."
Bryan sighed. "I don't think you've heard a single word since I arrived an hour ago."
"Don't be silly." She took in his dubious look.
"I heard half. At least."
He chuckled and then closed the sketchbook. "That's okay. We can do this another time. I mean, a couple of days isn't going to make that big of a difference."
But she knew that it would. New York Fashion Week was only a month and a half away and it would be then that they would spotlight their spring collection. Which meant important decisions needed to be made. Pieces chosen and rushed into production. Ads taken out. Meetings to arrange. Magazine editors to wine and dine.
Bryan zipped up his case. But rather than kiss her goodbye and leave, he let the case drop back to the table, then gestured for her to sit with him in the chairs facing the fireplace, left cold in the August heat. Gia caressed the arms of the leather wing chair. Her father's favorite.
"I'm worried about you, Gia," Bryan said, watching her closely.
That was a switch. Ever since they'd become fast friends in college, she'd been the one to look after him. Despite his macho demeanor, Bryan was a big softy and she'd often spent time talking him through heartache or an attack of nerves. Their individual strengths shored up the other's weaknesses, making them great business partners. And even better friends.
She managed a smile. "Don't be. I'm fine."
She averted her gaze. No, she wasn't. But she would be. Soon. "Are the rumors true?"
"That you're the new Lady Boss of the Venuto family."
Gia stared at him, his words at odds with his WASPish good looks and friendly grin.
Of course, it wasn't the first she'd heard the reference. The New York dailies had been running pieces on her for weeks following the funeral, most times with bold headlines calling her the same.
"Don't be ridiculous," she said. "I'm just straightening out some unfinished business."
She didn't answer immediately. Then she said, "Something like that."
"How's your brother?"
Lorenzo. Her heart ached. "Getting better." Gia wondered when lying had become so easy for her. The truth was that Lorenzo wasn't doing well at all. He'd developed an addiction to the pain pills prescribed to help him deal with his spinal-injury pain. So rather than seeing to the therapy sessions necessary to help him regain his mobility, he passed his days lying in a hospital bed she'd had set up in his old bedroom upstairs, with twenty-four-hour nursing care, and only doctor visits as the highlight of his days. "Look, Bry," she said, leaning closer to him, "I appreciate your concern. But I'm fine. Really. All this is just temporary. If you can continue to hold down the fort a little longer without me I'll be back on the job in no time flat. You just wait and see."
He appeared doubtful. And she couldn't blame him.
Still, he nodded and then looked at his watch. "I've got to get back to the city. I have an eleven o'clock with Elite to close the deal on the models we want for the show."
Gia stood up to give him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "Thanks for coming out."
He shook his finger at her as he picked up his case from the table. "Next time you come to the office."
Gia walked him to the door, noticing how the armed men blended into the shadows to let him pass. He got into the car he'd hired to bring him out and then disappeared down the driveway.
She turned around to find the last person on earth she needed to see standing behind her. And her throat tightened to the point of pain.