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. The 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?
“Castille [gives] readers the compelling romance they crave.”—RT Book Reviews
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
"He was a nice boy."
"Yes, Papa." Grace Mantini crossed herself as the pallbearers carried the coffin of Benito Forzani across the grass of the Las Vegas Shady Rest Cemetery. As the daughter of a high-ranking Mafia boss she had attended so many funerals over the years she could go through the motions of the formal burial service in her sleep.
"He would have made a fine husband."
"I'm sure he would have." But not for her. Was she a terrible person for being relieved that the Mafia soldier her father had wanted her to meet had been found dead in an alley the day after her father and brother arrived in Vegas?
"He wore a baseball hat so you couldn't see his missing ear," her father continued, with the faintest hint of a smile. Unlike many other Mafia fathers, Grace's dad had no interest in forcing his daughter to marry into the mob, but that didn't stop him from playing matchmaker any time they were together.
"Yankees?" she asked, hopefully.
"It wouldn't have worked out," she said. "I like winners."
Her brother, Tom, stifled a laugh and reached around their father to poke her in the side. Four years younger than her, he had been groomed since birth to take over the family business. One day he would become a "made man" like their father, Nunzio Mantini, now the underboss of the powerful New York Gamboli crime family. Grace hoped it wouldn't be too soon. Men changed when they became made, and once that line was crossed, the serious business of living in a world of crime and death weighed heavy on their souls.
She smoothed her expression when she caught a few people looking in their direction. The graveyard was filled with members of the Toscani crime family who made up the Las Vegas faction of the New York–based Gamboli crime family, all dressed in black despite the blazing sun overhead and the unbearable ninety-degree heat.
"You could have come home if you married him." Her father sighed. "He had a new job in New York. Don Gamboli asked Benito personally to handle all the family accounting."
"I like it here in Vegas," Grace lied. "I can buy a house, party twenty-four hours a day, sunbathe all weekend, and I have my career ..."
In fact, she hated Vegas. A New Yorker, born and raised, she had been happy with her two days of nice weather a year, the postwar on First Avenue she'd lived in with her aunt, a wallet with no driver's license, and a man she'd loved with every ounce of her being. Now she had an old Mitsubishi Mirage with a pathetic 74 hp under the hood that she had to flog to get anywhere, a permanent sunburn, and instead of a postwar, she shared a characterless ranch house with her best friend Olivia, and two jazz musicians, Miguel and Ethan.
But that's what happened when your family was in the mob. You didn't get to choose the kind of life you wanted to live. You didn't get to do the job you had always dreamed about doing. You didn't get to live in the city of your heart. And you didn't get to keep the things you loved.
She scrambled for a new topic of conversation. The last thing she wanted was for her father to find out she wasn't actually making use of her psychology degree. Instead, she was making ends meet by recording radio jingles during the day, the closest she could get to her ruined dream of becoming a jazz singer. Her father had tolerated her decision to move to Vegas six years ago only because she had been so distraught after the attack that she'd told him was a mugging gone wrong that she could barely function. If he'd known the real reason she'd left — no, run — from New York, he would never have let her go.
The priest finished the last rites, and the crowd responded with the proper prayers. She felt the whisper of a breeze against her neck, the softest caress. A shiver trickled down her spine but when she turned slightly hoping to catch the soothing air, the breeze died away.
"You can always come home if things don't work out," her father said. "You can stay in the house and look after Tom and me like you did after your mother died. We haven't had a good meal since you left. Eight years is a long time to go without braciola the way your mother used to make it."
Grace didn't miss his emphasis on the word "left" or the undertone of judgment that went with it. Her decision to move to Vegas had been acceptable; her abandonment of the family two years prior had not. But everything had changed when, at sixteen, she discovered that her life had been a lie. Her kind, doting father was not actually an insurance salesman; the weekly funerals they attended weren't just because her family was unlucky; and her mother hadn't bled to death in the arms of her ten-year-old daughter as the result of an accidental shooting by an overzealous cop.
And while the revelation that Papa was in the Mafia explained some of her father's behavior — the respect he received when they went out, the small favors that were bestowed upon him that hinted at his real power and influence — she was unable to process some of the larger concepts. How could her loving father be a criminal and a murderer? How could she wear the clothes he bought her, eat the food he paid for, or live under his roof when he had blood on his hands and everything had been paid for with dirty money? How could she even begin to understand the horrifying things he had done to achieve his position as second-in-command of one of the most powerful organized crime families in the country?
After her father had told her the truth, she'd run away. Just as she'd tried to run away after her mother died. Her mother's sister had offered to take her in, and her father, distressed by her total and utter rejection, had agreed. She'd thought nothing could be as devastating as discovering her father wasn't who she thought he was, but it was nothing compared to the night her heart was ripped out of her chest.
She felt a tickle on her neck, not a breeze this time, but something she knew instinctively as a warning. Someone was watching her. She took a quick glance over her shoulder, but she saw only trees glimmering in the sunshine, beckoning her with the promise of a respite from the heat in their cool shadows.
"You can get braciola in any good Italian restaurant. You don't need me."
"I'm getting old." He sighed again. "I worry about you being all alone. I want to see you settled."
"Setting me up with your friends' sons isn't going to do it. You know how I feel about ... what you're involved in."
Her father bristled and his eyes narrowed, reminding her that although his hair had turned gray and there were new lines on his broad forehead and crinkles in the corners of his dark eyes, he was no weak, kindly old man. His shoulders were still broad, his back straight, and he was trim and fit from years of running and eating in moderation. But more than that, he carried himself with the confidence and authority of a man used to being obeyed. She could pretend to herself that she had made the choice to leave New York and that she was free to live her life the way she wanted in Vegas. But in reality, she was here only because he allowed it. If she pushed him too hard, he would drag her back to New York and force her into a marriage with the mobster of his choosing and there was nothing she could do about it. Such was the power of the Cosa Nostra.
"It's not what I'm involved in." He bristled. "It's who we are. It's our family. It's our blood, our heritage. You may not like it, but it's part of you. You can't run from it forever."
"It doesn't mean I have to marry into it."
He shook his head as the first shovel of dirt thudded onto the coffin. "Poor Benito. An incredible coincidence he was whacked right before he was supposed to meet with us. Do you know anything about it?"
"Are you asking me if I killed him?" Her voice rose in pitch.
Her father shrugged. "Maybe you were afraid I would force you to marry him ..."
Only in a Mafia family would a father ask such a question. Yes, he had given her a gun and trained her how to shoot, but she would never have used it for anything other than self-defense, and her father knew that.
"I'm a pacifist."
Tom barked a laugh and then immediately tried to cover it up by feigning a fit of coughing.
Her father's lips curled in distaste. "I thought you got over that years ago."
"It's not a disease."
"It is in our family," Tom whispered.
"Well, I didn't kill him." Grace had no intention of ever getting married to one of the men her father proposed. After being betrayed and broken, her heart crushed and her body scarred, she had no interest in love and even less interest in finding a man who promised to give her the world only to snatch it away at the first sign of trouble. And even if she did find someone, she would marry on her own terms. She would find a man who loved her and could accept that she couldn't fully return that love because she had lost her heart six years ago and would never get it back.
"What about Father Patrick?" Her father gestured to the priest who was now giving the last rites. "He's a nice boy. Good family. He would make a good husband."
"Papa! He's a priest!" Father Patrick was one of the few mob-friendly priests in Vegas, which meant he heard the kind of confessions that would turn the stomach of a normal man, his coffers were overflowing, and his church was full to standing every Sunday morning.
"He came to the priesthood after his wife died. Since he has already had carnal knowledge of a woman, I believe he can marry again and you won't suffer in any way for his faith." Her father opened both hands as if welcoming the priest into their crime family.
"Papa. Please ..." She looked to Tom to save her, but he was doubled over with laughter and no help at all. She'd forgotten how brutally forthright her father could be, something that had been both a curse and a blessing the night she'd finally returned home seeking the truth.
She glanced around to see if anyone had overheard them and caught movement in the shadows behind Father Patrick.
That's when she saw him.
Tall. Dark hair. Black leather jacket snug over wide shoulders. Broad chest tapering to a narrow waist. Black T-shirt tight over hard ripples of muscle. Bandanna, worn jeans, thick-soled boots.
Beautiful. Her body heated in places it shouldn't. Who was he? She didn't know any man who would dare show up at a Mafia funeral wearing anything other than a suit and tie.
She squinted, trying to make out his face, but the sun was in her eyes and he was nothing but a dark shadow on the other side of the grave.
After the service ended, a heavyset, dark-haired man broke away from the departing crowd and approached them with a few companions and two heavily muscled bodyguards in tow. He looked to be in his early to mid-thirties and clearly had a fondness for bling. A diamond ring sparkled on each of his thick middle fingers, a heavy gold chain encircled his neck, and on his wrist he sported Louis Vuitton's Escale Time Zone, which gave the hour in twenty-four time zones simultaneously and had a kaleidoscope-like dial. Grace disliked him immediately and even more when he made a blatant perusal of her body as he shook her father's hand.
"Nunzio." His smile didn't reach his breast-focused eyes.
"Tony." Papa introduced her and excused himself to greet some friends.
Grace recognized his name at once. Tony Toscani was one of two self-appointed bosses of the now-divided Toscani crime family. After his father, Santo, was murdered, Tony had claimed the right of succession. However, his cousin, Nico Toscani, refused to accept his claim. In an unprecedented show of defiance, Nico had taken half the family capos, crew, and assets and proclaimed himself boss of a new splinter faction. Don Gamboli had sent Grace's father to help resolve the situation, either by confirming one or other of the cousins as boss, or brokering some kind of truce to bring the family back together.
Tom obviously knew Tony and they shook hands, but when Grace held out her hand, Tony pressed his slimy, cold lips to the back of her wrist and drew her away from Tom's side. "Why didn't I know Nunzio had a daughter?" he murmured so quietly only she could hear. "Shame about your face. You could have been almost pretty."
Grace's hand flew to her cheek, pulling her dark hair down to hide the long, silvery scar that marred the left side of her face from ear to chin. Although people often stared, few were cruel enough to mention the ugly scar that had destroyed her dream of being a singer.
She glanced over at her father to see if he'd heard what Tony had said. Not many people would have the gall to insult the daughter of the New York underboss, whose vicious and ruthless nature translated into a fierce protectiveness when it came to his family. When Grace was six, her first-grade teacher had informed her parents that she needed remedial-reading lessons. The next day her teacher was killed in a hit-and-run accident. At the time, she hadn't thought much about it. But later she realized it was only one of many incidences in her life where people had to suffer because of her connection to the mob.
Grace tried to yank her hand away, but Tony tightened his grip and pulled her deep into the shade of the trees that had seemed so welcoming only a short while ago.
"Looks like a knife," he said. "Am I right? Who did you piss off? Or was this a message?"
"Let me go." Years of Krav Maga classes meant she knew how to disengage, but the result would be a scene that would, no doubt, embarrass her father and cause a major political incident.
"You got a man?" He tightened his grip, studying her intently. "You'd be lucky to find someone who didn't mind damaged goods, although the alliance you would bring would make it worthwhile."
Grace fought for calm. Anger achieved nothing. Despite the consequences, she needed to deal with the bastard the way she'd learned how to do. After fleeing New York, she'd vowed never to let another man touch her without her consent and her Krav Maga training had been the way she kept that promise to herself.
Gritting her teeth, she raised her hand and grabbed his wrist with the other, turning her hips until he was forced to let go. Unfortunately, her attempt to be discrete meant she left her back exposed. Taking advantage, Tony circled a hand around her throat and pressed his big, sweaty body against her, the sharp edges of his ring digging into her skin. "Sheath those claws, kitten. I like my women to be seen and not heard."
Deep and dark, the power of that voice froze her in place, even as it slid over her skin like the brush of thick velvet. She knew that voice, heard it in her dreams, and imagined night after night that fierce rumble vibrating against her chest.
Even though it was coarser, deeper with maturity, she would never forget that voice.
A name worked its way through the barriers in her mind. A name she thought she had wiped from her thoughts as well as her heart.
No. It wasn't him. It couldn't be. Last she'd heard he was still in New York working with his psychopathic father, Cesare, boss of the brutally violent De Lucchi crew. The beautiful, dark-haired boy she had fallen in love with had become the Gamboli crime family's most feared enforcer, causing the kind of trauma she had dedicated her life to heal.
Tony released her and she turned and saw him — the man from the shadows.
"Rocco," she whispered.
God, he looked even better than she remembered. Beautiful and breathtaking. His angled cheeks and firm square jaw were lined and scarred, and his thick dark hair was cut military short. Gone were the softness from his face, the roundness of his cheeks, and the dimple at the corner of his mouth. But his sculpted lips were full and sensual, and gold still glittered in the whiskey-brown eyes so dark now, they were almost black.
Once upon a time those eyes had looked into her soul, and those lips had touched every part of her body. Once upon a time all that beauty had belonged to her, and then the mob had stolen it away.
"Frankie." Tony released her and spun to face Rocco. "What the fuck? This isn't your business."
Frankie? Why did Tony call him Frankie?
Rocco gave Tony the briefest of glances, as if he were unworthy even of that gesture. "She's not yours."
"Maybe she will be. Look at her. She's disfigured. No one will want her. Nunzio would be grateful if someone took her off his hands. I'd be doing them both a fucking favor."
Wham. Rocco's fist slammed into Tony's face, sending Tony staggering back into a tree. He tried to rise and suddenly Tom was there, his fists flying, shouting something about the family honor. As the assembled mobsters rushed toward the fight, Grace turned and walked away.
"Tesoro." Her father hurried to catch up. "What happened?"
Excerpted from "Rocco"
Copyright © 2018 Sarah Castille.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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