A dangerous proposal
In Nico, the first book in the Ruin&Revenge series by New York Times bestselling author Sarah Castille, Las Vegas Mafia boss, Nico Toscani, is used to getting what he wants, whether it is having the City of Sin under his rule or a beautiful woman in his bed. But when he meets his match in the gorgeous, headstrong Mia Cordano, the daughter of a rival crime lord, all bets are off. . .
Sexy computer hacker, Mia, struggles to break free of her ruthless father’s Mafia ties…but she can’t resist the powerful and seductive Nico, who will stop at nothing to possess her. With their families locked in a brutal war for control of the city, Mia and Nico enter into a forbidden game. Will they surrender to the passion that burns between them—and risk tearing apart their families? Or will Nico be forced to betray the only woman who sets his blood on fire?
About the Author
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the dark, gritty biker romance, Rough Justice, Sarah Castille, worked and travelled abroad before trading her briefcase and stilettos for a handful of magic beans and a home near the Canadian Rockies. She writes contemporary erotic romance and romantic suspense featuring blazingly hot alpha heroes and the women who tame them.
Read an Excerpt
By Sarah Castille
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Sarah Castille
All rights reserved.
Mia raced through the Casino Italia, around brides-to-be, newlyweds, old men with bulging wallets, and young women in short skirts. She ran past slot machines, craps tables, and one of the highest stakes poker rooms in downtown Las Vegas. She pushed through the hordes of men crowded into the party pit to watch a sexy blackjack dealer dancing around a pole. And still she couldn't find the exit.
Which was fine if you were operating a casino and you wanted to keep your customers trapped in a never-ending party.
Not so fine if you'd just hacked their security system and stabbed a guard on the way out.
Not fine at all.
She paused by a Big Six wheel to catch her breath. A blond woman in a pink tutu ranted at a casino worker because the waitress hadn't returned with her drink. Mia wanted to tell her to take her chips to any other table. The house advantage at the Big Six was the highest of all the games in the casino. But she'd already caused enough problems today. It was supposed to be a simple penetration job — get into the control room, insert the USB, and go back to the office to hack the system — not an opportunity to avenge all women for every slimy sexist bastard who pinched a woman's ass.
And no, Mia didn't "deserve it" because she was dressed in a tiny black skirt, fishnet stockings, and a corset so tight her breasts threatened to explode over the top. She was just doing her job — although her real job just happened to be hacking into the casino's computer system and not serving drinks to the guys in the control room.
In a perfect world, she would have laughed off the pinch, walked out of the casino, and typed up a report for the owner who had hired her to test the security of his new casino. Unfortunately, very little about Mia's world was perfect, and it all suddenly came to a head when the guard in the control room decided to express his gratitude the sexist way.
So now he had a cute little tear in his security pants, courtesy of the knife she always carried in a sheath strapped to her thigh. Self-defense was a necessity for a girl growing up in a Mafia family, and habit had drawn the blade before her brain could pull the brakes. Big deal. It would give him character, a few stories to share over beer with the guys after work. Who knew he'd be so pissed? Or that a man his size could run so fast?
"Gotcha." A clammy hand clamped down on Mia's shoulder, yanking her back so hard she stumbled in the three-inch heels she wasn't accustomed to wearing. Her hand shot down to her thigh, but the guard was ready for her this time. He grabbed her wrist and twisted her arm up behind her back. "I'm taking you to see the boss. He's got zero tolerance for thieves.
"I wasn't stealing."
"You were doing something that wasn't right." With his free hand, he flicked on his radio and loudly announced that he had caught the "perp."
People turned their heads and stared. Mia's cheeks heated and she focused on the shiny, tiled floor, the looping, nondescript music, and the flashing lights of the slot machines. So much for not attracting attention. She'd never get another cyber-security contract if anyone heard she'd been caught in her own penetration test. The success of her business as a hacker and security consultant depended on keeping a low profile, and being frog-marched by a security guard through a high-end casino in somewhat provocative attire was as high-profile as low-profile could get.
Her captor walked her past two security guards, and through a set of sliding glass doors, into Casino Italia's high-stakes gaming salon. Men in tuxedos sipped on snifters of bourbon beneath crystal chandeliers, and women in evening dresses lounged on rich, red-leather furniture, or punched buttons on the five-hundred-dollar-minimum slot machines. Mia wished she had that kind of money to throw away, but she'd traded her Mafia princess life for the poverty of independence and the chance to carve her own little niche in the world, however small.
They stopped in front of a stained-glass door guarded by two massive bouncers in sleek, black suits. After a few quiet words were exchanged, one of the bouncers opened the door and gestured them into the ultra-exclusive private gaming suite. Exquisitely decorated in rich purple, gold, and chocolate, the design was contemporary in a classic way, with expensive lamps, walls of books with neutral-hued spines, dark wood furniture, and velvet sofas. The sounds of the casino melted away as the door closed behind them.
"Over there." He directed her past the unoccupied roulette and blackjack tables to a large poker table where five men in dark suits contemplated their cards. With a rough jerk, he pulled her to a stop behind a man with thick, dark hair, and broad shoulders, tapering to the narrow waist of his impeccably tailored suit.
He moved Mia slightly to the left and she caught a flash of a gold Vacheron Constantin watch, the perfectly turned cuff of a shirt, the sparkle of a diamond cufflink, and just a few inches of thick, tanned forearm that made her heart skip a beat.
Still holding Mia's arm behind her back, the guard cleared his throat. "I caught this woman in the control room, Mr. T. She was trying to stick something in the main computer."
With the slightest lift of his finger, Mr. T silenced the guard and Mia's heart kicked up a notch. She had grown up around powerful men, but that simple gesture carried with it an utter certainty that he would be obeyed.
The guard mumbled an apology and pulled Mia back a step. "He doesn't like to be disturbed at the tables."
Mia checked out the man's cards over his shoulder and quickly calculated the odds. If she'd been the one sitting at the table with a stack of chips worth two hundred thousand dollars and a twenty thousand dollar bet on the table, she would have folded, cashed out and run. Much like she wanted to do now.
Mr. T threw down three cards, and Mia bit back a gasp. He might look conservative in his impeccably tailored suit, but he was gambler. Not many people would take that kind of risk, especially with so many players at the table.
He turned at the sound, and her breath caught. God, was he gorgeous. Movie-star handsome, he was sleek and rugged at the same time. His ice blue eyes were a startling contrast to the dark hair that curled at his temples and the brows that furrowed at her distraction. Power, fierce and unyielding, radiated from him — and not because of his obvious wealth. It was something she sensed beneath the civilized veneer — something dark and dangerous, wild and ruthless; something that stole her breath, and left only a need so strong she couldn't move.
His lazy gaze slid over her face, to her throat, her breasts barely contained beneath the corset, her waist, her hips and down her legs to her heels. He didn't make any effort to hide his slow perusal of her body, of looking where he wanted with brazen unapologetic intent. Rather than finding it offensive, she found his scrutiny curiously electrifying, her body turning warm and liquid as she sank into the feeling of being caressed by his gaze.
"Enough." She was in this mess because she couldn't stand being objectified. So why was she putting up with it now?
Her words trailed off when his gaze sharpened on her. Christ. What the hell had she just walked into?
"Leave her with me, Louis."
He turned back to the table, considered his cards. He had a deep, movie-narrator voice, the kind that instantly pulled you into another world — a world of infinite possibilities, a world where devastatingly handsome casino owners let cyber-security specialists go.
Louis immediately released her and backed away with a mumbled, "Yes, sir."
Mia figured he must have worked here for some time to obey so quickly, or did everyone respond to Mr. T's commanding presence with instant submission?
Curious, she asked. "How do you know I won't run away?"
Mr. T looked back over his shoulder, and his lips curved. "I won't let you."
I won't let you. Something niggled at the back of her mind. She'd heard those words before, spoken with the same intonation, the same hint of an accent. And his face ... so familiar. As she struggled to place him, he lifted his drink, sipped the rich, amber liquid slowly, his corded throat tightening as he swallowed. Mia's pulse quickened, her mind filling with thoughts of what he could do to her with that beautiful mouth, how he would taste if she licked the Adam's apple at the base of his throat.
He lowered the glass and licked his lips, a predator ready to pounce. "Come." He rested his hand on the leather bumper and she joined him at the table, standing beside his chair.
"Bet." He flashed his cards so she could see he'd pulled two aces and a ten from the risky draw, giving him a full house.
Taking a chance that she'd been right in her assessment of him, she leaned over and pushed all his chips forward. Her breast brushed against his shoulder, and his body tensed, but it was nothing compared to the current of electricity that surged through her veins at the small touch.
"Two hundred thousand," the dealer announced.
Mia almost wept. Two hundred thousand dollars could get her a new apartment that didn't have a giant fungus growing on the ceiling from the leaky pipes upstairs that the slum landlord refused to fix. Two hundred thousand dollars could take her and her little sister, Kat, away from Vegas and set them up with a new, anonymous life where they weren't constantly being watched by their Mafia crime family. Two hundred thousand dollars could buy her a bigger office and pay for additional employees who could take on the growing amount of work her cyber-security company was generating. Two hundred thousand dollars would set her free.
"She's a gambler," he murmured when the man beside him called the bet.
"Maybe, I'm just lucky."
"Lucky people don't get caught trying to hack into my computer system." In one swift movement he stood, yanked the man seated beside him off his chair and smashed his face into the table. "Thieves don't belong in my casino." Blood splattered over the green felt and the man staggered back, holding his broken nose. It had taken only seconds. Silence filled the room. Adrenaline surged through Mia's body, freezing her in place as her mind tried to reconcile such brutal violence in such a sophisticated, elegant place. She had been right that Mr. T's civilized exterior did not reflect the inner man. He was the most dangerous of predators. Beautiful on the outside. Deadly within.
Mr. T hadn't even broken a sweat, but Mia could see the veins in his neck pulsing, his anger kept tightly in check. "Gentlemen." He gave the briefest of nods to the men at the table. "My casino manager, Vito, will be with you shortly to address the inconvenience." He turned to Mia, his narrowed, cool gaze holding her in place. "Come."
His voice didn't broach any argument, nor did the firm hand he placed on her lower back, or the slight pressure he exerted to direct her where he wanted her to go. He was even taller than she had thought, well over six feet, broad and muscular. She inhaled sharply at his touch, breathed in the fresh, spicy scent of his cologne. Given the violence he had just unleashed in the private salon, she had expected something wild and musky, reflecting the primitive, feral side of his nature.
"Where are we going?"
She hesitated; looked back at the man on the plush carpet, his white shirt covered in blood. "Alone?"
"Yes, bella. Alone."
* * *
She was liquid sex.
Dark hair. Dark eyes. Curves all over the place. Creamy skin. Breasts almost bursting out of her corset. That little skirt barely covering her ass. Those high cheekbones and rosy cheeks. Those fucking long legs in those fucking stockings, the heels ...
Nico hadn't paid much attention to the uniform his casino manager had picked for the waitresses, but on her it was so fucking sexy his dick got hard the moment she walked into the salon.
Usually he didn't get involved with the casino cheats, thieves, or the scammers who thought they could evade the hundreds of cameras and top-of-the-line security system he had installed when he renovated the old Lucky Duck casino on Freemont Street, but then soldiers from rival crime families were usually not stupid enough to walk into his casino much less try to cheat at a high-stakes table where Nico was seated, and sexy women didn't try to hack into his computer system.
He wanted to know everything about her. What she was doing in the casino control room? Why she didn't she flinch when he lost his temper at the poker table? And why she was so goddam familiar?
Nico steeled himself to do what had to be done as he walked the beautiful woman through his casino, a cacophony of alluring stimulation — bells ringing, siren-like lights flashing, slot wheels whirring, digital sounds beeping, the occasional simulated sound of change clanging — all meant to captivate and enthrall, giving the impression that everyone was a winner.
Although Casino Italia wasn't on the Strip, it had the same upscale décor to attract the high rollers who wanted a downtown experience without giving up the luxuries they would get at the high-end hotels. Everything was slick, burnished, and gleaming, from the red walls that were meant to evoke a safe, comfortable feeling, to the patterned carpets designed to mesmerize, welcome, and please the eye, and from the low mellow lighting to the soft, easing soundtracks to help gamblers get into a trance to encourage them to spend money. Nico had never run a casino before buying the Lucky Duck, and the psychology behind the redesign had intrigued him.
The woman didn't speak as he guided her through the maze of slot machines, poker and blackjack tables, past the crowds, around the craps tables and the roulette wheels. He slid his key card into a wood-paneled elevator and moments later they were on the tenth floor.
Nico ushered the woman into his office. Cold, austere, functional, and decorated in the casino colors of red, black, and gray, it had a small meeting table and chairs on one side, and a steel bookcase on the other. A place to do business, nothing more.
After closing the door behind her, he settled in the leather chair behind his chrome-and-glass desk.
"Sit." He gestured to the chair in front of her.
"I prefer to stand."
Nico expressed his displeasure with a scowl. As the Toscani family's highest-ranking capo — captain with a powerful and extensive crew working beneath him — he was unused to be being disobeyed. He answered only to the Toscani family administration: the boss, underboss, and consigliere, and even then he did only enough to maintain the illusion he was towing the party line. His uncle, Santo, now Don Toscani, had become boss after Nico's father's death. By rights, Nico, as the first son of the first son, was heir to head the family, but when he had come of age and made his claim, Santo had refused to step down.
"Sit," he said curtly. "Or I'll make you sit."
"By breaking my nose?"
He fought back a bark of amusement. She was all sass, despite her predicament, and when she didn't move, he was forced to drink in the full beauty of her lush body all over again. She was no ordinary thief if she knew how to find to the control room, what to do when she got there, and how to keep the interest of a man who would ordinarily just have handed her over to the police.
Legitimate businesses like Casino Italia had to be handled in a legitimate way, unlike the businesses in Nico's underground portfolio that spanned everything from loansharking to real-estate fraud, and from counterfeiting to tax evasion. He greased palms and oiled the wheels of business in Las Vegas and across California to Los Angeles. There was nowhere his influence couldn't reach — even in the territories carved out by the two rival Mafia families who were vying with the Toscanis for control of the city.
"Your nose is too lovely to break." He had to stop looking at her. He was engaged to marry a young Sicilian woman in the next few weeks — an agreement made between her father and Nico's father when Nico was six years old to cement a formidable alliance. He had never met Rosa Scozzari, but she was from a Cosa Nostra family many generations back. The alliance would legitimize Nico's status as heir to head the family, and give him the power to overthrow his uncle despite the fact that Nico was a bastard — the son of his father's mistress. A beautiful Italian woman was as much a symbol of status as a large house and a fancy car. Rosa would bear his sons, run his house, and organize social events. Sex and emotional attachment he would get from the mistresses every boss was expected to take as a further show of power.
Excerpted from Nico by Sarah Castille. Copyright © 2016 Sarah Castille. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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