As the youngest member of the Ferraro family, Emmanuelle has watched each of her brothers find happiness in love while her own heart was shattered by a lover’s betrayal. For two years she’s stayed as far away from Valentino Saldi as possible—until she learns that he’s been shot during a hostile takeover of his family’s territory.
Emme’s first instinct is to call her brother Stefano for help, and soon the entire Ferraro clan arrives to bring Val back from the brink of death and protect the Saldis from further attack. With one choice Emme has re-exposed herself to Val’s intoxicating pull and dragged her family into the Saldis’ private war.
A deadly storm is brewing, and only time will tell who survives…
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Petrov's Pizzeria was owned and operated by Benito Petrov, a great bear of a man, and his son, Tito. Those who frequented the pizzeria and stood in line, sometimes for an hour just to get in, considered it the best pizza in Chicago-and that was saying a lot. It didn't seem to matter what night of the week it was, getting a table was always difficult, and on weekends, it was nearly impossible. Takeout was a brisk business, and that was always a wait as well.
The pizzeria was right in the heart of Ferraro territory, a large section of businesses and homes that were owned, rented, or leased and protected by the Ferraro family. There were whispers and rumors about the family and had been for years. It was said one could go to them with a problem and that problem would mysteriously go away.
Stefano Ferraro was head of the family, and he ruled with an iron fist. They owned banks and hotels, race cars and nightclubs, and they ran all sorts of other businesses, but they could be counted on to take care of the small problems in their territory. They knew the business owners by name and often were seen patronizing the local deli or pizzeria.
Benito kept a booth just for their family and a smaller table set aside for their bodyguards. It was always empty for them, even at his busiest times. They'd never asked him to do so, but then they'd helped him out of more than one problem, and he liked their business. They always insisted on paying, and they tipped his waitresses and waiters more than fairly. It was a win-win situation.
Tonight, only the youngest Ferraro had slipped into the pizzeria through the side door, her bodyguards and Elie Archambault with her. Everyone hoped there would be an announcement very soon of an engagement between Emmanuelle and Elie. Emme was a favorite of everyone in the Ferraro territory and she'd seemed far too sad lately. Elie seemed to make her laugh, and they wanted Emme happy.
Emmanuelle Ferraro laughed as she dipped a salty breadstick into oil and took a bite. The booth in the shadows managed to hide her from most of the other patrons in the restaurant, which was why this particular table was always held in reserve for the Ferraro family. She was extremely grateful they had a place to go just to be ÒnormalÓ when she never felt as if she could truly relax anywhere else. Eating pizza at PetrovÕs with Elie Archambault was the most relaxed she could ever get, and she was extremely happy that she could have this little time to pretend her life was ordinary.
"I can't believe the first thing you put on the plus side of this list was having babies." Elie glared at her.
Her laughter spilled out again at the feigned horror on his face. He was handsome. Shockingly so. All masculine and hard edges. That black hair that spilled across his forehead and made women want to tame it.
"I am not just a sperm donor," he stated with great dignity.
She waved the breadstick at him. "Don't be such a baby. This is very serious stuff. My mother expects little Archambaults running around. Tons of them. Like maybe a dozen. Think about that, Elie. We would make beautiful babies. And since my mother and the devil have some sort of pact between them, and she loves you and the thought of your babies, that tops the list for pros. I hope you're really good with kids and like the idea of staying home with them. I'm sure she'll be around a lot because she's not allowed in any of my brothers' homes. She's been banned from every single one of their houses."
Elie groaned. "That goes on the con list. The staying home with the kids and your mother."
"You already wrote my mother. She's at the very top of the con list." Emme pointed with her breadstick. "Number one."
"Your mother warrants putting down there twice. Add staying home with a dozen children to that con list. I'm a shadow rider. I don't stay home with children. That would be your job."
Emmanuelle made a face at him. "Why? Because I'm a woman?"
"No, because you're the one with the mother insisting on twelve children. Move on or we're never getting through the list," Elie commanded, helping himself to salami and olives. He glanced down at the list and sighed. "Your second pro is that I like the same pizza you do? Emme. Couldn't it be that I'm really damn good-looking?"
"No, because you already know you're good-looking and that makes you arrogant." She gestured toward the "con" list. "I think that's number like six or seven. Arrogance. I had a difficult time deciding whether or not to put it up at the top of the list. I think I should have."
He stared at her with his dark, gorgeous eyes. They looked almost velvet in the dim lighting. "Really? You put arrogance on the 'con' list?"
"You put 'moody.'"
"You are moody," he pointed out matter-of-factly and took the rest of the salami and olives without a qualm.
She made a face at him. "I suppose that could be true. But I have reason to be. See your number one reason on the con list, Elie. My mother."
"I have reason to be arrogant. My hot good looks that you left off the pro list. That's an asset to you at any event we attend together. Think of all the women you can make jealous."
Emme rolled her eyes. "You just ate the last of the olives. That makes me jealous. You know I love olives. I've told you a million times to stop hogging all the olives." She wadded up a napkin and threw it at him.
He caught it one-handed without even looking up. "You shouldn't talk so much," Elie said, glancing down at the pro side of the list. "You're right, we do like all the same things. That's a big plus. And I can dance. That's a plus on my list, too. I like that you can."
"Pie's up, you two." Tito Petrov placed a large pizza on the tabletop. "Need a refill on your wine?"
"Olives," they both said simultaneously and then burst out laughing.
"The double order of olives on your pie isn't enough?" Tito asked, one eyebrow raised. When they shook their heads, he sighed. "There's something seriously wrong with the two of you-you know that, right?"
Elie waited until Tito walked away and then he nudged Emme with his knee. "He's right. We're sitting in here like two idiots going over a list of pros and cons to decide whether or not we should get married. Bottom line, we can't have sex with each other. Where does that leave us? I can't cheat on you, because I love and respect you too much to do that to you, and I'm not going the rest of my life without sex."
Emme sighed heavily. "I know. I feel the same. What's wrong with us, Elie? You are gorgeous. Totally attractive. Hot as hell. Why do I have to think of you as a sibling? It's just not fair."
"I guess we're going to have to marry strangers. That just sucks." Elie picked up a piece of very hot pizza and regarded her with his expressive dark eyes.
"And then what? We cheat on some poor innocent partner because we don't love them? How fair is that to them?" Emme asked. She broke off a piece of the pizza as well, picked up several loose pieces of olive and added them to the slice.
"When I go with an arranged marriage, I'm not cheating," Elie said.
Emmanuelle noticed he was already acting as if he'd made up his mind. Really, what was there left to them? She tried to make a joke out of it. Keep the night fun. "So, have you considered bringing in partners to live with us? It would be horrifying to my mother."
She danced her eyebrows up and down, a wide smile on her face at that mere thought. "As well as scandalous to the rider community. Can you imagine? It would solve all our problems. They could stay home and take care of the dozens of little shadow rider babies my mother will insist we have. And, we won't be the good couple. All my brothers have managed to be so deliciously bad that my mother wouldn't dare go unannounced to their homes. If we don't do something equally as bad, she would be turning up uninvited at all hours of the day or night. Bringing in lovers for us would be so perfect."
Elie threw his head back and laughed. "Emmanuelle Ferraro, you are a handful."
She took a bite of the pizza and nodded her head, feeling very pleased with herself. "I am. I had to be, growing up with all those brothers. Stefano especially. No one crosses Stefano, not even my mother. Not even when he was a kid. Now, of course, she doesn't dare 'drop in.' She's been banned for being so mean to Francesca, but even if she hadn't been, she wouldn't have dared just showed up. When Stefano wants sex, it doesn't matter where he is, what room he's in, he's all over that and he's very inventive and unapologetic. He's a crazy man, so Eloisa would never drop in on him."
Elie laughed again. "I have to admire your oldest brother. It feels like he's always been in charge of the Ferraro riders. Everyone defers to him."
Shadow riders meted out justice to criminals who fell through the cracks-those with too much money or power or who were just too dangerous to be convicted. Safeguards were in place to ensure no mistakes, and those they assassinated had committed horrendous crimes-at the end of the day, they were trained killers. They had begun their training as toddlers.
There were portals in the shadows. A very few people were born with the ability to be drawn into those portals and move from place to place. It wasn't a pleasant sensation; in fact it felt as if one's entire body was being pulled apart, skin, bones, every cell, as one was taken at high speed from one area to another. Those riders had to be trained physically from an early age and have a tremendous amount of stamina to be able to withstand the pressure of the shadow tubes.
"Stefano's been in charge of our family and our riders since I was born. He was the one taking care of me, not my parents," Emme said. "My mother wasn't in the least bit maternal. Stefano got up with me in the middle of the night. He was the one who set all the rules. Once, I remember, when I was about four, she was really angry with me and slapped me. He came roaring out of nowhere, and she backed right out of the room when he scooped me up. She actually left the house, he was so angry. I realized then the balance of power had shifted from her to him."
"How interesting. Stefano had to have been so young when he started taking care of all of you."
Emme inclined her head. She'd often wondered if her oldest sibling had ever had a childhood at all. Sometimes it made her sad to think of all the responsibilities Stefano had taken on at such a young age. Still, he had met Francesca, the love of his life and the heart of the Ferraro family. All of them loved her. Who could not? Well, maybe not Eloisa, Emmanuelle's mother. But then, Emmanuelle wasn't certain if Eloisa was capable of loving anyone. Now Stefano had Francesca, who doted on him, adored him and had provided him with Crispino, a beautiful son.
"What about Ricco?" Elie asked. "How does he keep your mother from showing up without an invitation? I can't imagine Eloisa not respecting Mariko. She's a shadow rider and a darn good one. I've seen your mother with her. She's curt, but at least respectful."
Emme had a mouthful of pizza, so she nodded while she chewed to indicate Elie was on the right track. Ricco was her second-to-the-oldest sibling, and he was a powerful, fast shadow rider married to a very respected rider who looked like a delicate, beautiful woman when in fact she was a warrior who could cut out the heart of a monster. When Emme managed to swallow the pizza, she flashed Elie a wide smile.
"Shibari. My brother practices the art of Shibari and loves to tie his beautiful wife up without a stitch on. It's a very erotic practice when they do it together, and apparently after warning Eloisa several times to stop dropping in on them, he didn't put any of the safety precautions in the shadows to stop her and she walked in on them. As you can imagine, it was embarrassing for her. Ricco was in the zone and acted as if he didn't even notice her there. She was livid and left, but she never went back." She took another bite of pizza and watched his face as she chewed.
"Sex seems to be a recurring theme here."
"You have no idea. Stop putting all the extra olives on your slice. I'm watching you."
"There are plenty of olives. Giovanni and Sasha? She's a sweet little country girl."
Emmanuelle nearly dropped her wineglass. "Really, Elie? You've been around our family for how long now? There is no way one of my brothers is going to be madly in love with a woman who doesn't have the kind of wicked sex drive he does. And if she doesn't start out that way, he's going to teach her."
Elie's expression shifted. It was subtle, but Emmanuelle had been trained from the time she was a child to notice every detail of anyone around her, and she had come to love Elie Archambault almost as much as she loved her brothers. She hurt for him because, like her, she knew he was heartbroken and he believed whatever had happened couldn't be fixed. Elie had aligned himself with her almost from the time he had come to Chicago seeking to be trained by her cousin Enzo as a bodyguard. Why one of the best shadow riders in the world would want to be a bodyguard instead of a rider was a mystery, but eventually, when Stefano realized who he was, being Stefano, he had managed to get Elie to take rotations as a rider, pulling him back into their world.
Emmanuelle was grateful Stefano had done so. Elie had improved their speed and technique. He was amazing to train with, but more importantly, Stefano had brought him into the family. He'd needed them as much as she had needed Elie. Shadow riders had to provide children. It was as simple as that. There weren't enough of them left, and Emmanuelle was getting too close to the age where she would have to accept an arranged marriage.