Table of Contents
About The Author
Also by Rachel Van Dyken
Eagle Elite #7
by Rachel Van Dyken
Copyright © 2016 RACHEL VAN DYKEN
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
Copyright © 2016 RACHEL VAN DYKEN
Cover Art by P.S. Cover Design
Noun: Organization, Kingdom, Business. To rule or have power or authority. Command, control, dominate. EG: He built an Empire—he refused to see it crumble beneath his feet.
THE GLOOMY DAY matched my dark mood. Merciless rain pelted my umbrella and cascaded off the edge. I adjusted my grip on the polished wooden handle. Arthritis had crept in and it was sometimes hard to tell when I had a secure hold on something. Age had never been a friend of mine. The clock, it seemed, never stopped ticking, the seconds going by faster than I could have ever imagined, the years disappearing like sand through an hour glass.
The spongy ground sank beneath my feet, pieces of grass stuck to my black Valentino loafers.
I kept walking.
My stride strong.
My purpose even stronger.
The grave was marked well, I’d made sure it would be. After all, it seemed the least I could do — give my brother a proper burial, when it was me, his most feared enemy and in the end most trusted ally — who’d had a hand in watching him die.
It wasn’t my fault.
I hadn’t pulled the trigger.
But I knew the dangers in what we did.
I knew the cost of our chess match.
I just wish it had been me — instead of him.
A few more feet and I stood in front of the large gray stone. I’d known Luca wouldn’t have wanted something elaborate — after all he’d made his way through the world being the silent one, the death blow you never saw coming, until it was too late.
I licked my cracked lips and shook my head as I read the tombstone. “Loving brother, fearless leader…” My voice cracked. “Blessed father.” I closed my eyes as the sting of tears burned.
And only two people here knew.
Phoenix and myself.
“I’m so sorry, brother…”
Would I have done things differently? All those years ago when I made Luca into the man he was, when I forced him into the Nicolasi family, when I stole the woman he loved and turned him against the world.
Knowing what I knew now… would I do it all again?
“For what it’s worth old man…” I pointed to the gravestone next to his. “I’d like to think… that at least in the afterlife — you’ll have her.”
I’d buried my wife next to him, where she belonged. Where she had always belonged.
Every night I prayed that they were finally united in heaven.
While I was cursed to roam the earth without my brother — without my wife, and in charge of four mafia bosses who were younger than I was when I had taken over.
The empire I had built was changing, morphing into something I no longer recognized.
With a sigh I made a cross over my chest and mumbled a prayer.
“Well this is depressing,” came a low voice behind me.
I didn’t need to turn around to know it was Phoenix De Lange, newest boss to the Nicolasi family — handpicked by Luca himself.
“Did you bring it?” I kept my eyes trained on the gravestone.
Phoenix let out a curse, “Yes.”
I held out my hand.
“Are you sure you want to know?”
“Maybe we should talk to Tex about this before—”
“Give it over damn it, I’m your elder.”
“Don’t pull the age line, old man. You can still take me down, and you know it.”
I smirked and kept my hand firmly in the air. The minute the folder touched my fingertips, I snatched it away and held it tightly against my chest.
“They aren’t going to like this…” Phoenix growled.
“They don’t get a say.”
“The hell they don’t.” Phoenix let out a bark of laughter. “But sure, if it helps you sleep at night.” The rain started to pour down in sheets. “When do you leave?”
“As soon as possible.”
“Does anyone else know you’ll be gone?”
I turned and offered him a sly wink. “Secrets, secrets, secrets, what else do I build my family on?”
With a slight shake of his head, Phoenix took a step back. “I can’t protect you if this goes badly — especially if I don’t know where you are… at least bring one of the men.”
“No.” I glanced at my watch. My flight would leave within the hour. “Don’t think I will.”
“Damn it, Frank.”
“Don’t ‘damn it, Frank’ me…” I held out my hand. “Now, leave like a man before I have to remind you who’s older… and more experienced.”
Phoenix offered a sad smile and shook my hand. “Be well, Frank.”
“Be well, Phoenix.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it takes me away to a place where everything is beautiful — and alive. —Valentina
Six weeks Previous
“SORRY!” I STUMBLED out of the way of an athletic blonde in a pencil skirt and Nikes power walking her merry way along Fifth Avenue. Business professionals and customers shuffled past me, I nearly collapsed onto the s
Nobody acknowledged my apology, nobody really even acknowledged me. Then again, it was New York. I could be breathing my last breath, and the chances of someone actually stepping in were one in a million. Pretty sure I saw that in one of my Freshman Psych classes. It wasn’t that New Yorkers were mean or rude like people assumed. They were just busy.
And busy meant they didn’t have time to stop on the sidewalk and help an eighteen-year-old girl to her feet because she looked like she was about to get smothered against the nearest window.
I took another deep breath. This was stupid.
I was stupid. It was a bank. How many times had I walked by this exact building and thought nothing of it?
My stomach clenched. Today was different.
I felt like one of the girls I’d read about in my romance novels, the ones who had adventurous lives, were pursued by drop-dead sexy men in full body armor. Hah, yeah that was so not my reality.
I tugged my coat tighter around my uniform just as my phone buzzed in my purse.
Probably one of my uncles checking up on me to make sure I was on my way to the store.
Now or never.
The letter had been burning a hole in my pocket for weeks, and I wasn’t the type of person to ignore things, especially weird things, things that actually made my life seem less normal, less boring. For the last eighteen years I’d gone to school, tried my hardest to get good grades, and worked at my family’s flower shop.
Oh, and I read.
I had no specific talents, unless you could actually count reading, which, is apparently frowned upon when you’re applying for college. I could still hear my Uncle Gio’s laughter. “Reading is a hobby, Val, not a talent.”
My phone kept buzzing.
I clenched my teeth, then pulled it out of my purse and answered it. “Yes?”
“Val?” Uncle Gio’s thick accent wrapped around me like a warm hug. “Are you sick?”
“No.” I glanced helplessly at the glass windows of the skyscraper. “I’m on my way.”
“You will be late.” He stated it like a fact, didn’t ask.
“Maybe.” I said distractedly. “Traffic is… bad.”
“But you walk.”
“I have to cross streets, Gio.”
He was quiet and then. “Did you eat?”
“Gio!” I groaned, already feeling my cheeks burn with embarrassment, when would I ever be an adult to them? “I ate, all right?”
More silence and then. “I don’t believe you. I brought extra cannoli, just in case.”
If I ate any more cannoli someone was going to have to start running to work instead of walking. “Fine, I just — I need to go, it’s hard to hear you.”
“Where are you?”
“Close!” I lied. “See you soon, Gio!”
“Love you, little Val.”
I held my groan in. I would always be little Val.
I straightened my shoulders and shoved my phone back into my purse. Little Val would back away; little Val would have burned the letter I was currently carrying.
Little Val would probably have told her overprotective uncles and brother.
But I didn’t want to be little anymore. I was a woman.
I reached for the door handle just as another body bumped into me propelling me through the doors with an umph.
The crisp smell of papers and too much floor cleaner burned my nostrils as I turned a few circles. Where the heck was I supposed to even go?
I stepped out of the way and pulled out the letter.
Bank of America
Safety Deposit Box 36
There was no return address, and it wasn’t even in typical handwriting, but typed out. Maybe I should have said something to my uncles.
But, and here’s the creepy part, the part that led me to the bank the minute they opened. The part that had me lying to my uncle for the first time, since… forever.
At the very bottom of the page was a quote from Shakespeare.
The course of true love, never did run smooth.
It was one of my favorite quotes. When I was five, I’d stolen one of the old books from Gio’s library and snuck chapters when I could. Again, I was an odd child, so if you knew me, you’d know it wasn’t particularly strange for me to devour words like they were bread and butter.
I’d been obsessed with A Midsummer Night’s Dream ever since then, and that very book was still placed under my bed at night.
I had it memorized.
Geez, I was lame.
“Miss?” A drop-dead sexy guy approached me. His black suit barely moved as he walked, like it was glued to every muscle in his body. The black tie atop the black shirt screamed “danger!” The high end sunglasses hanging out of his front pocket said casual but not careless. My mouth must have dropped open, because a small smile curved around his lips as he ducked his head.
“Are you…” I turned around. “Oh, I’m sorry were you talking to me?”
“You talking to me?” he said in a perfect De Niro Taxi Driver accent. “You talkin’ to me?” He laughed a bit.
I joined him, realizing how ridiculous I was being. I was in a bank, looking like a lost child, and he was in a suit. Clearly he worked there, though his name tag wasn’t visible. I frowned.
“May I help you with something?” he asked holding out his hand, his smile was easy, but something about it had me hesitating. Silky black hair lay against his olive skin, he looked Italian but his stormy blue yes… there was something predatory in their depths. I felt like I should know him, but I didn’t, nor did I really want to know a man who had such a calculating smile. His grin deepened, my legs itched to turn around and run away.
“No.” I said quickly. “I just… wrong building.”
“I’m sorry.” He grabbed my arm gently. “Did I scare you? I didn’t mean to. I work here and you were staring down at a paper and you looked lost, I put two and two together…” As his voice trailed off, he tilted his head, one eyebrow raised.
Tension eased its grip on my body. “Sorry, I’m just…” I waved into the air. “Long night reading vampire novels, didn’t get much sleep.”
“Tell me, how is Edward?” he joked, a half smile tugging up one side of his gorgeous mouth.
“Still with Bella, damn him.” I fired back quickly.
He burst out laughing. “You’re going to do just fine.”
“Now, what did you say I could help you with?” He was already reaching for the paper. I let him have it because I didn’t want to be rude. That was my biggest downfall — my niceness. Let’s just say it was basically impossible for me to pass a homeless guy without giving him every single bit of spare change I had, even though I knew that he’d most likely spend it on something bad.
The man scanned the sheet and then handed it back.
“Weird, right?” I said jokingly, a bit embarrassed that he’d read the whole thing and now probably thought I was insane or had escaped a mental institution.
“Eh.” He shrugged. “I’ve seen weirder.” His smile faded. “You have no idea.”
“I believe you,” I croaked out.
“Safety deposit boxes…” He turned on his heel and started walking, and I followed mutely. “…are right over here.” He scanned a key card over some metal thingy and walked me to the farthest corner of the building. “Go down the hall and find your number. Some have keys, some of the high profile deposit boxes use a thumbprint.”
I held up my hand and then dug through my purse, finally locating the key and lifting it triumphantly into the air. “Key.”
“Fantastic.” He nodded once. “Stay as long as you need.”
“Thanks.” I bit my lip in nervousness, I was really doing this. Holy crap. My heart slammed against my chest as I walked down the quiet hall.
“I hope you find what you’re looking for Valen
My steps faltered.
I’d never told him my name.
Shaking, I quickly turned around.
But he was gone.
I nearly toppled into another lady on my way out of the hall to find him.
“Miss?” She was juggling about a million papers. “Can I help you?”
“A man,” I blurted. “He just left down the hall and—”
“No.” The lady frowned. “I would have seen him, I’m sorry, maybe… you imagined it?”
“Right.” I swallowed the dryness in my throat, my heart really going to town threatening to crack right out of my chest and start thumping across the floor.
“You look lost?” she offered with a tilt of her head, she was pretty, and appeared a bit young to be working at a bank, but what did I know?
“Nope.” I clenched the key between my fingers, sweat pooling around the metal. “I have a safety deposit box to look at.”
“Well,” she said, nodding, “let me know if you have any questions. My name’s… Emiliana.”
“Okay.” I took two steps backward then turned on my heel and made a beeline for the boxes, they lined both walls.
Finally, I located number thirty-six, and without giving myself time to chicken out, shoved the key in the lock and turned it.
Had I known then what I know now — I would have ran toward the bank, shoved my way through the fires of hell, and done just about anything legal or illegal to get to that box.
Shaking, I pulled the box out and went into one of the private rooms and closed the door behind me.
All is lost. Romance. Love. Stories. Endings. All. Is. Lost. —Sergio
“HEY.” FRANK NUDGED me with his elbow, and I glanced at the newspaper rolled up in his hand. Ink smudges lined a few of his fingers. “I need some coffee, did you want anything?”
I shook my head and sank lower in the uncomfortable metal airport chair, unable to concentrate on anything other than the pounding of my own heart, and the sweat that was starting to trickle from the back of my neck.
I flexed my hand into a fist and kicked my feet up onto my suitcase, pulling my beanie so low it nearly covered my eyes.