GOOD MORNING, BEAUTIES!!
If you follow me on Facebook then you know why I’m here today. Lol.
Am I nervous about this …*nods*… absolutely. But as I always do, I will close my eyes and press the post button.
It’s time, ladies. Let’s see the sneak peak of this new couple’s story and see what you all think.
This is not the Dangerous Beauty Series. So while they are both mafia themed, the stories are very different. This is just an idea I had when reading about arranged marriages in criminal organizations, and I was like “I wonder how much fun this would be if it were an interracial romance” (and the h was a black woman)…. lbvs.
So I’m writing it!
SNEAK PEEK IN 3 ….. 2 …. 1 …
Here’s the Prologue:
“I have an idea. I want to do something … Something that will change the landscape of the entire Chicago underworld … A symbol of not only peace between the families, associates, and races, but of the unification of the dark world of Chicago …”
Adjusting the glass of eighteen-year-old scotch in his hand, Aris Carter kept his eyes on his liquor and off his dear friend, who was most likely a little tipsy.
Though, already a man on the more eccentric side when sober, Antonio De Luca often came up with his most outlandish ideas when he was under the influence of strong alcohol, so Aris didn’t usually pay much attention to him.
“You’re not looking at me, fratello. I’m trying to be serious with you.”
Swirling the liquid around his glass, Aris narrowed his eyes on the object finding it more interesting than whatever crazy idea Antonio was seeking to unload on him tonight. It wasn’t that he didn’t think his friend a brilliant man. He did. Despite the fact that he was often characterized as completely unhinged, Antonio was intelligent and calculated. It made him good at what he did. But, based off his words, ‘uniting the Chicago underworld’, Aris could already tell Antonio was going to say something that he was most likely not going to agree with.
He felt Antonio near him as he took a seat in the brown Italian leather armchair next to his. They were sitting in Antonio’s office having one of their occasional sit downs. They usually discussed their businesses and families in effort to catch up after periods of not seeing one another, but it seemed that tonight, Antonio had something else on his mind.
“Will you stop ignoring me? I’m not drunk.”
Chuckling, Aris finally lifted his head and spared his friend a glance.
Studying him for a moment, he gave a nod of his head, noting that Antonio was indeed sober.
“I’m still uninterested in your idea, Antonio.” Aris took a swig of his scotch, wincing slightly from the strength of it. “You’re talking nonsense.”
Antonio raised a dark brow. “Uniting in effort to protect the city that belongs to us is nonsense?”
Maybe, Aris thought. Maybe not.
It depended on the idea, he supposed. The relationship between the Italian mafia and … well, the rest of the underworld was … fragile, especially when it came to the Italian’s embracing other races. They kept ‘outsider’ affiliations as low-level associates, never truly calling them allies or brothers. Aris, on the other hand had a plethora of allies of all races, colors, and creed. He didn’t discriminate as long as the partnership was beneficial, lucrative, and brought necessary peace. After decades of only embracing their own it seemed his Italian friend was beginning to slip over on the side of inclusion, rather than separation. The question was why.
Antonio leaned back in his seat, an expression of offense flashing across his face. “Are we not brothers?” he asked Aris, his wild hazel-green eyes genuine as if seeking an answer. “Have we not known each other since childhood? Have we not grown together, lost together, built together, killed together, bled at the hands of common enemies? Did the color of your skin matter to me then?”
“Maybe not,” Aris answered. He took another drink then sat his glass on the table next to him. “But even still. In the eyes of your people, I am just your black associate. Our association is beneficial to your families cause. My people push for you, have even killed for you. But we are not family. Not in their eyes. We are not brothers. I’m an outsider, not a Made man.” Aris said the words uncaring of how harsh they sounded. He and Antonio had a relationship built on trust and honesty. The last thing he was going to do was sprinkle sugar on his words just to protect the man’s feelings. “Uniting … truly uniting will take more than just a fleeting association with another family and benefiting from the services they offer, Antonio. Uniting the way that I’ve experienced involves putting forth a symbol of trust. A true gesture of friendship and brotherhood.”
It was not something that could just be talked about, nor was it something that could be achieved by a simple handshake. A man had to show that, not only he, but his family would welcome yours with open arms into their circle. They had to earn trust, prove their loyalty.
“You are my friend, my brother, my partner, my ally. My fight is your fight, as yours is mine. My victory is not mine, but ours. And our enemies will fall at the might of our bond. This I swear.” Aris recited the words that he and each of his allies vowed upon achieving peace with one another. “Have you ever spoke these words with me, my friend?” He raised a brow in question, then chuckled when his friend did not answer. “No,” he answered for the man. “That’s because regardless of this,” he motioned between them, “this friendship between us. You are not my ally. The mafia won’t do shit if somebody comes after my family.”
“You can’t possibly believe that” Antonio sat forward in his seat. He stared into Aris’s eyes, seeking to show the truth in his words. “You have to know that if anything were to ever happen to you, I would take care of your family. I would protect them.”
“And what of my brothers?” Aris asked. “My legacy, my nation … Would you fight with my son to defeat our enemies?”
The Kings Nation of Chicago was one of America’s largest black street gangs, founded by Aris’s grandfather, Aris Josiah Carter, the first. Aris was a third-generation boss to the gang that now had 100,000 members across the country. He took his family seriously, and he did not let just anybody into his circle. One had to prove themselves trustworthy, and they had to have respect for the oath in which the Kings stood by. Love. Loyalty. Respect. Honor. Sacrificing for your brother. Honesty. Obedience to leadership. They stood strong on the solid foundation of their brotherhood, of their bond as a family; and their allies shared the same values.
“The Italian mafia doesn’t give a fuck about anyone else in our world…or our communities. You align with each other.”
“But I seek to change that, Aris,” Antonio said passionately. Passion often resembled unbalance in the man’s eyes. Most likely because he just had that quality about him. Antonio De Luca was a bit unbalanced; he was fucking insane. Even still, Aris trusted him with his life. “This …” He frowned, seeming to take a moment to consider his words before speaking again. “This separation of worlds is doing us no good, especially with the new threats to our city on the horizon.”
New threats. Yes. Aris was aware of what Antonio spoke of. The Russian mafia and a few other criminal groups had joined forces and were seeking to settle in Chicago…and they weren’t being quiet about their presence either. Not only were they seeking to start businesses, but they were poaching territory, invading communities, and seeking to dismantle any competition that stood in their way. They were purchasing property, aligning with city leadership, and opening new businesses—strong-handing some of the city’s most powerful crime lords. Seeing the strength of the powerhouse group, many were taking the threat seriously and as a result, were making peace with longtime enemies in effort to form alliances. Aris was taking precautions as well to protect what was his.
“My eyes are open now, fratello. I am seeing clearly. And what I see is a war coming. And it is not just any war. It is a war that is threatening to change our very way of life. It will cripple our empires and dismantle everything we have built. Everything our fathers built … if we let it.”
“And what do you propose we do about that?” Aris questioned. “You want to unite families that have been separate for decades. People that have never achieved peace with one another. How do you propose we— you and I— bring Chicago’s best to the table in friendship and unity? How do you propose we fight together?”
For a moment there was silence as Antonio kept his eyes locked to Aris’ and sat back in his seat.
Aris waited patiently, sincerely interested in an answer to his question. He couldn’t lie. Such unity between the crime bosses of Chicago was a real dream of his, especially knowing the seriousness of the threat the ruthless Russians currently posed. But he just … could not see it happening. Not without something huge. Some significant … thing that would be the ultimate show of peace between the very different criminal organizations. Something that would symbolize a bond not easily broken.
“I have a proposal,” Antonio spoke, breaking the tense silence between them.
Aris motioned for the man to move forward.
Antonio obliged. “In my world family is everything. This, I believe is where we all connect. Family. There is nothing more important than that bond and the loyalty that comes along with it. Am I right?”
Nodding, Aris picked up his glass and downed the rest of its contents. Yes. Family and loyalty were indeed the most important things to every criminal organization that crossed his mind in that thought.
“Then why don’t we build a bridge,” Antonio suggested, an untamed excitement brightening his eyes. “A strong, unbreakable bridge that will not only bring our organizations together, but it will pull others into our family, bonding us together to protect our city. We will inspire trust. They will see our trust and loyalty to one another, and they will join us, and we will win this war.”
Aris shook his head, not understanding. “Our family? What does that mean?”
“I’m speaking of a symbol, my friend.” Antonio’s smile was that of a man that had it all figured out. “The only thing that bonds two families for life.”
Aris didn’t speak.
He said the word as if Aris should know what he meant by it. He didn’t. Other than killing someone, Aris had no idea what blood had to do with anything, nor how it would build a bridge for the purposes of uniting Chicago’s criminal elite.
“You want to spill blood,” Aris stated. “Kill people and reclaim territory. How is that supposed to bring us together—”
“The blood I’m speaking of is the blood that runs through your veins, Aris. The blood that runs through mine.”
And still, Aris was confused.
Antonio sighed, resting his elbows on his legs, and clasping his hands together. “There is no stronger alliance, no stronger bond than of one that is formed with blood. A blood bond.”
“A blood bond.”
“Indeed,” Antonio nodded. Then he paused for a moment before saying, “I wish to join our families.”
Aris blinked. Silent.
“I want a blood bond between the two strongest families in Chicago. I believe this will be the symbol of peace that we need to bridge the gap.”
Still, Aris remained silent.
Antonio continued. “My third oldest son, Stephan, is twenty-four. He’s a Made man, has been since he was twelve…and he’s my heir. He will take over as boss upon either my retirement or my death. He will be a man of great power, he already is. He is strong, and yes, I can admit that he is a bit intense, but …” Antonio frowned, “he takes his responsibilities to his family and this organization seriously. He works hard. He is a fierce protector, a vicious fighter, and brutal when he needs to be. He knows this world. And in the coming war, he will do whatever it takes to win.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Aris asked, an expression of confusion firmly on his face. “Why do I need to know this about your—”
And, it was that moment that realization dawned on Aris.
He shot up from his seat. “Have you lost your mind!” he yelled.
Raising a hand in effort to calm him, Antonio stood up from his seat. “Be calm. Just hear me out.”
“But you … you’re …”
Aris couldn’t even form the right words; he was in complete shock. Antonio had finally lost his fucking mind!
“Will you just listen?” Antonio placed a hand on Aris’ shoulder. “It’s not that crazy of an idea if you really think about it.”
Aris snatched his shoulder away from the man. Running a hand over his face, he walked to the middle of the office.
“You’re asking …” His words died off. “What you’re saying …” They trailed off again. “You want me to …”
He couldn’t even say the words. The thought of it all was just too … it was fucking ludicrous, right? To even go to such lengths. To put his family through something like that. Aris had never thought of doing anything so drastic.
“Aris,” Antonio spoke calmly. “If you just think about it, brother, then you will see it through my eyes. You will understand how necessary this is.”
“No,” Aris shook his head. Absolutely not! “You do shit like this in your world, but my world is different.”
“Is it really?” Antonio asked, not sounding convinced. “What about your oldest daughter, Trinity.”
Aris shot Antonio a fierce glare. “That’s not the same!” he argued. “Trin and Xavier have known each other since they were in diapers.”
“But was the marriage not arranged since then?” Antonio took a step toward Aris. “Did their union not bond the Kings and the Familia by blood. Did it not form a lasting alliance, thus bringing together numerous Black and Hispanic organized crime groups in the process?”
“Because.” Aris jaw clenched.
“Because they’re not fucking white?”
Aris said nothing.
“That’s the shit I’m talking about, Aris!” Antonio snapped. “Why can we be friends, but not family, huh?”
Aris tried his best to think of a way to explain it to his friend to make him understand, but it was proving to be a bit difficult.
“Tell me!” Antonio yelled, demanding an answer.
“Because it’s not that fucking simple, Tony.” Aris stared into Antonio’s eyes, hoping to help the man understand. “The Italian mafia isn’t well-known for being open minded about race mixing. You know that. And you are asking me to throw one of my daughters into that shit. Racist ass white people looking down on girls that were raised like royalty?” Aris’s jaw ticked. “No,” he said firmly. “It won’t fit.”
“You talk like the black community is all for race mixing. Like the Italian community is the only community with work to do …”
“Well my daughter is married to a Hispanic man, so …”
“So what?” Antonio shrugged. “I’ve been with women of other races. I’ve fucked my fair share of black women.”
“But you didn’t marry one. Probably never even considered it.”
“My marriage formed an alliance. It brought peace, and I honored my family by doing what was right for it.”
“Your marriage is shit, Tony,” Aris said honestly. “You have too many mistresses, and your wife fucking hates you. She’s a damn robot. My daughters aren’t for that shit. Our women aren’t the same.”
Antonio pursed his lips. “So, you’ve never stepped out on Laila?”
Aris snapped back.
What the fuck?
“Why the fuck would I … Have you seen my wife?” Aris loved Laila Carter. She was the most beautiful woman to ever walk this planet. She was a good wife and a good mother to his kids. She, his son, and his daughters were his entire fucking world. Everything he did was for them. “Women in my world aren’t seen as fucking pawns. They are valued. They produce life, and blood bonds can’t be formed without them. We honor the mothers of our organization because without them there would be no us. Is that what you stand for?”
“I respect women and protect them!”
“Not the way I do!”
“That’s bullshit. Things may not be great in my marriage, but I’ve always kept a roof over her head, the finest clothes on her back. She’s fucking spoiled, and I’ve never put a hand on her the way my father did my mother. I taught my son to be a fucking man. A man that values family above all and I can assure you, he is more than worthy to wed one of your daughters.”
Aris took a threatening step forward, his eyes narrowed to slits. “No man, and I repeat, no fucking man is worthy of my daughters. Not even the one who has one of them.”
“And while I respect that,” Antonio raised a hand, “I do. But can you honestly tell me that knowing the power and strength the Italian mafia has, that the possibility of forming a bond that has never even been thought of is not appealing to you?”
Aris said nothing.
“We both know where the power lies in this city. And as big as the Nation is, my organization dominates the underworld, period. And even with all this fucking power in my hands, I’m smart enough to know that we are stronger together than we are apart. So why aren’t you!”
“I am!” Aris snapped. Then he released a frustrated grunt, turning away from Antonio as he ran his hand over his head. “I’m not stupid. I know what a blood bond between our people could accomplish.”
It would bring about a necessary change. It would all but build a protective wall around their city, and anyone that tried to knock it down would be met with one hell of a fucking fight … But, even still.
His daughter … His fucking daughter.
“I love my daughters, Antonio,” he sighed, shaking his head sadly. “You know that.”
“I love your entire family, Aris. You know that. You’re my friend, my brother.”
Antonio’s words were passionate. Aris knew them to be true. Though they didn’t bring their families together, they spoke of them with one another often. A long time ago they both vowed that if anything were to ever happen to either of them, the other man would step up and be there for the grieving family. Aris believed Antonio when he said that he had love for his family. For his wife, and son, and his daughters. But, even still; the idea of having one of his daughters marry the heir of a Chicago mob boss, the thought of thrusting his child into a world completely different than the one she was brought up in just seemed … wrong.
“How do I know my daughter would be accepted?” Aris asked, eyes narrowed as he took a step toward Antonio. “I don’t see your allies in New York, and Vegas, Philly, overseas; none of them, not even your own people in Chicago and around the country … I don’t see them being okay with this arrangement.”
“They’d have no choice,” Antonio said, his tone firm and confident. “For one. I’m the fucking boss.” He placed a hand on his chest. “My men follow me. My word is law, and my decision is final.” He took a step forward. “And as for my allies in New York and everywhere else.” He shook his head. “You don’t have to worry about that. The threat has become too fucking big for them to break an alliance with me. My organization is too powerful. It is none of their concern what other bonds I form as long as I don’t break the fucking code. Which I’m not. I have already formed a blood bond with New York’s strongest family through my daughter, who is pregnant with her first child. So, you don’t have to worry about that. Any other family who has a problem with what I do…” He shrugged. “Fuck em’. I don’t give a fuck because they won’t do shit. They know if they do, then I’ll take all their shit. And their life.”
“Do you honestly think they’ll welcome her into your family?” Aris couldn’t imagine. They’d view her as an outsider even though she also was born into the underworld. “Would they protect her as one of their own?”
“Absolutely,” Antonio answered, his tone still showing no doubt. “I’m not saying we won’t be met with shock on both sides of this, because we will. But I give you my word that your daughter will be a part of my family. We will welcome her with open arms. As the wife of the next leader of this family, and the future mother of his heir, she will be protected.”
“And her children ….”
Antonio nodded, giving Aris a knowing look as if he knew what he was going to ask. “Her sons will inherit all that they are entitled to, and her daughters would be mafia princesses. A man only has to be of Italian descent through his father’s lineage to be a Made Man. My son is full blood Italian. You don’t have to worry about his children.”
Aris turned away from Antonio and closed his eyes, desperately needing a moment to think.
Would this be beneficial? Yes. That was an easy answer. The last thing Aris or any of his allies wanted was to be pushed out by invading organizations. Aligning with the Chicago Mob would give all of them a huge advantage in this war. It would also serve to ease the tension and hatred the different worlds had for one another while offering them more opportunity to expand, create, and protect the businesses they already had. Businesses that were already being bulldozed by the invaders.
There was a lot of reward in doing what Antonio was proposing … But there was also some risk that couldn’t be ignored.
“They could all call bullshit,” Aris pointed out. What if they didn’t believe the bond was real? “They could think it’s just a trap to get their defenses down.”
A lot of Aris’ allies had little trust for the Italian mafia. They thought them brutal savages only out for blood, power, and territory. Though, they had their own values and rules, few of them aligned with those of the streets.
Antonio smirked, seeming far too at ease in Aris’ opinion. “That’s where the wedding comes in.”
Aris’s brows furrowed in question. “The wedding?”
He nodded. “We invite all of the prominent members of all our allies… on both sides.”
Aris shook his head, rolling his eyes.
“I don’t know about you, but in my world, weddings are sacred occasions …”
“As they are in mine,” Aris said tightly.
“Well,” Antonio gave a nod of his head. “They will witness the bonding with their own eyes. They will see that our symbol of peace and respect is real.”
Aris stood quietly for a moment in thought. He gnawed at his bottom lip ,shaking his head side to side as he brought a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose.
He was considering this. He couldn’t fucking believe it.
“You’re thinking it over, brother,” Antonio murmured, his eyes never leaving Aris. “If you agree to this, there’s no turning back. So, take your time.”
Antonio’s tone was too fucking arrogant as if he won a victory, and that pissed Aris off. He hated that he was considering this. He raised his daughters well and they knew of the world in which they were born into—and what was expected of them because of it, but that didn’t mean that this decision was easy for Aris. Handing his daughter over to another man. Trusting that man to protect her with his life. To treat her the way she was accustomed to being treated.
The shit was hard.
After standing in silence for a very long time, Aris turned to face the man he had known and trusted since he was fourteen years old, with the tightest expression on his face.
“I need to leave,” he forced the words out, his tone devoid of emotion. “I need time.”
He didn’t wait around for Antonio to say anything else to him. He just brushed past him, walking to the door.
He got in his car and waved a hand through the window signaling for his men— who sat in a black SUV across the street from Antonio’s mansion— to follow behind him before pulling out into the street.
On the way home he let his mind mull over his entire conversation with Antonio, then did as he always did when faced with a hard decision. He measured its worth and benefits, weighed the pros and cons of each outcome, and wondered if it was something even worth considering in the first place.
As much as he loved him, his friend was a fucking lunatic. And that was just a fact. Antonio De Luca was known for doing some crazy shit—which was why most sought to remain peaceful with him. Yes, there were plenty of men in other Italian mafia families around the world that wished to see the psychotic fucker dead, but even they weren’t stupid enough to take the step to do it…especially not now that his sons were of age, and all five of them were Made.
Did Aris want to put his daughter in the presence of mentally derange, blood hungry savages?
Aris released a long breath and shook his head.
Who the fuck was he to call another man crazy being the man he was?
A man that had killed, beaten, and broken other men and women all in effort to remain in power. He, in many ways, was the same as his dear friend, which was why they’d been close for as long as they had.
After a long drive to his beautiful community, Aris sighed out loud at the sight of the massive brick wall and gate that enclosed his beautiful home. He waited for his guys to open the gate for him, gave them each a nod, then entered the curved driveway, turning off the car as soon as he reached his front door. He was too spent to park it in the garage. Deciding to have one of the men protecting his home do it, he left the keys in the SUV and journeyed up the staircase to his front door.
Normally, he paused to talk to his men outside of his home to be briefed about the comings and goings of his wife and daughters during the day, but tonight he was uninterested in anything but seeing his family.
His son was home.
He’d seen his car parked at the opposite end of the driveway. Something he often did when he was just coming by for dinner and not staying in the house for the evening. This made Aris happy. He needed to see all of his children tonight, needed to see them together. Then perhaps he would rethink his earlier consideration to go along with Antonio’s bat-shit crazy plan.
Yes, he thought, opening the front door of his home. Time with his family would definitely bring him back into his right mind.
Except… it didn’t.
Upon entering his home, he had found what he’d always found. A laughing and happy family: his wife, son, four daughters, and his oldest daughter’s husband sitting at the dining room table, seemingly waiting on him to arrive before being served dinner.
As always, his most perceptive child noticed his presence in the room first. She always did. It was like he and his middle child were so connected she could feel every time her father was near. As usual she greeted him with excitement, running into his arms, and telling him how much she missed him while he was out. They’d just seen each other that morning before he’d left for a full day of work, but she still acted as if she didn’t still live in the same home. It was moments like this that Aris treasured most. This was the highlight of his ‘every day’—coming home to the love and admiration of his adoring family.
Aris held his sweet daughter close, silently fighting against emotion as he apologized over and over in his mind for a decision, he hadn’t even made yet.
When she pulled back, she looked up at him with a huge smile as bright and as stunning as her mother’s, then turned from him and walked to the dinner table. She was talking, most likely explaining what it was she cooked for dinner since he knew it was her that cooked it. Although Aris was looking at her— even as he greeted his four other daughters, as well as his son and son-in-law— his thoughts proved to be too loud for him to hear anything but them at the moment. Even still, he smiled and nodded as he allowed his oldest daughter to lead him to his seat at the end of the table.
Once seated, he gazed to his right, knowing that he’d lay eyes on his beautiful wife the moment he did. Ever since the moment he and Laila fell in love, he’d never been able to hide his inner turmoil from her, and tonight proved no different. Almost the exact second she looked into his eyes, the warm smile that was normally ever present on her face fell a bit, and her brows furrowed. She went to open her mouth, most likely to ask him what was wrong, but Aris silenced her inquiry with a gentle kiss, and a silent promise of “later”. As always, Laila set the matter aside with him to be revisited once they were alone.
Dinner was perfect, as it often was. The men at the table listened to the women take turns and talk about their days. The family smiled and laughed at all their silly stories and got their update on the life of the two young newlyweds at the table. It was so nice Aris actually found himself so engrossed with his family that he’d forgotten about all the shit still lingering in the back of his mind.
That was until after dinner.
After his daughters left to their rooms. After his son grabbed his bags of groceries and leftovers and left for home. After his oldest girl hugged and kissed him goodnight, then took the hand of her husband and allowed him to lead her to their car and eventually off the property. It wasn’t until Aris found himself alone in his quiet office that his mind grew heavy once again with the thoughts of what needed to be done.
Bourbon was his drink of choice in times like these. It was the only drink that calmed him to the point where rational, levelheaded thought was possible in a high stress situation.
Aris poured himself a hefty glass and leaned back in his seat as he thought thoroughly over his troubles, over the threats that his Kings Nation was currently facing. The fact of the matter was that there was a huge threat against his family, as well as the rest of the underworld in Chicago. Joining forces with the Italian Mafia the way Antonio was offering was so … unheard of that it almost seemed impossible. Improbable!
Sighing, Aris leaned forward in his seat to refill his now empty glass, right as his office door peaked open, and the love of his life stepped in.
Looking up, Aris felt an immediate peace upon the entrance of his Laila. She walked in and immediately took a seat on his lap— as she often did— then gently ran her hand over his fade as he opened his mouth and poured out his pain to her the way he always did. By the time he finished a single tear had run down his cheek.
Aris gazed, pained, into his wife’s beautiful brown eyes as she ran her soft finger along the path of the tear.
“She knows what is expected of her as your daughter Aris,” Laila whispered as she lifted a tearful gaze to his. “She watched her sister do the same.”
Aris frowned at that, shaking his head emphatically. “It wasn’t the same, Laila, and you know it.” He swallowed, feeling an unbearable pain in his chest at the thought of what he was considering. “This is more … extreme. It’s asking too much of her.”
“She’s young,” Aris challenged. “And head strong, a little spoiled …”
“But smart,” Laila reminded him, even as a gentle, sad smile appeared on her lips. “Incredibly smart, perceptive, and mature. She can be a leader’s wife, Aris … A good one.”
“Like you?” Aris asked, lifting his brows in question.
Brows furrowed; Laila shook her head. “Better than me.” She took his hand in hers and ran her thumb back and forth in a calming motion that she knew he loved. “She was raised to be the wife of a leader in this world, Aris. I wasn’t.”
While Laila was raised by a man who’d been right hand to Aris’s father, she, unlike her daughters, had planned to live a life far away from anything underworld. She hadn’t been a fan of her father’s lifestyle growing up. The only thing she enjoyed about it was the traveling. It had taken years after being given to Aris in marriage for her to see the world differently. She’d been so against it all, even being Aris’s wife. But falling in love with its leader changed her perspective of Kings Nation, of the Chicago criminal underworld as a whole.
“I had a whole life planned apart from Kings Nation …”
“But you don’t … regret our union do you, Laila Mae?”
“No,” she answered, slight laughter in her voice. “Of course not.” Bringing up her hand, she gently caressed his face. “You, our children … this life that I share with you is so much better than anything I ever had planned for myself.” Kissing his cheek gently, she gave him a warm, teary smile. “I’m just saying that though she will be shocked by who it is she will be wed to; she will not be intimidated by his position … as I was with yours.”
“You were intimidated?” Aris asked.
This was the first time Laila had ever admitted such a thing to him.
Laila nodded. “Very,” she answered in a whisper. “But our girl …” Laila sighed. “She is so much stronger than I was at her age … Not to mention that, unlike me, she’s ready to be a wife at her young age …”
As he often did when falling into deep thought, Aris nodded slowly and bit down on his bottom lip.
Laila always had a way of making him feel less conflicted about decisions he needed to make. She also had a way of always surprising the hell out of him. Never in a million years would he have thought she would go along with this…never. But here they were, sitting here actually considering Antonio’s crazy fucking idea.
“So, we’re doing this?” he asked, unable to meet her eyes as he said it. “We are marrying our daughter off to a Made man for …”
“For her safety … for the safety of our other four children,” Laila finished. “For the safety and well-being of all the families that are dear to us in Chicago, Aris.” She gave a nod of her head. “Yes… Upon her approval, of course …”
“Of course,” Aris agreed.
There was no way in hell he’d make his baby girl do anything she was adamant about not doing.
“Upon her approval, there will be a wedding …”
Finally able to, Aris lifted his dark brown eyes to the slightly lighter ones of his wife.
God, he loved this woman. So strong, resilient, smart … She didn’t know it, but from the first moment Aris had laid eyes on her, he knew that she embodied everything he needed in a wife and mother for his children. This was why he’d asked for her hand in marriage only a day after meeting her. She’d been but eighteen years old, and he twenty-one, but even still, he knew. He knew that Laila Carter would be the love of his life, and he was rarely wrong about anything.
“Laila Mae Carter,” he whispered her name as he gently caressed her cheek. “I love you more than words could ever express, my sweet love.”
As always when he called her his sweet love, Laila’s light brown cheeks tinged red. It always surprised him how the sentiment still got such a reaction from her after all these years of marriage.
“I love you too, Aris, my Aris …”
They kissed for a short time before Aris took his beautiful wife upstairs to their bedroom and made love to her. He needed that, that quality time with her to calm his nerves and prepare him for what he knew was to come.
Now yes, he had just spent the evening thinking and talking to his wife, but Aris still knew that, with a decision such as this, none of what he’d done thus far would be enough to fully convince him that this was a good idea.
Time would only do that.
And time, he took. A lot of it. Not only for himself, but for Antonio as well.
Like he’d stated before, Antonio De Luca was a deranged man, with deranged ideas. Some serious, and some only serious in the moment he said them. Aris knew that by giving the man an extended period of time to really think his words and idea through, he’d meet with his friend again and either find him with a new idea, or the same one because he was actually serious about what he’d said after all.
Five months was what Aris gave his friend and himself.
It was the longest they’d ever gone without seeing each other, which was why Aris was not surprised by the somber look on his brother’s face when he showed up, unannounced at the man’s home …
Standing up from his desk, Antonio’s sad expression turned into a frown.
“How could you Aris?” He asked, his tone wounded. He walked around his desk and stood in front of it. “All you had to do was say no, brother!” he yelled. “You didn’t have to shut me out, and ignore me for five months, Aris. Five fucking months! Do you know how worried I was?” His eyes watered with tears. “I had to send men to spy on you just to be sure you were still living—”
Aris cut him off.
“I want my daughter taken care of—”
He didn’t even get all of the words out before Antonio crossed the room and threw his arms around him in a tight bear hug. The man laughed heartily, patting Aris’s back as he rejoiced in the Italian language.
Yep … Just like that the man…went from sad to joyful … Fucking lunatic.
“I’m serious Antonio,” Aris warned. His tone was still tense, but he hugged his friend back. “I’ve trusted you for decades, but never have I handed you something so precious to me.”
Never. So, this would be a true test of trust. It had scared Aris, for he knew that if Antonio let him down their friendship wouldn’t survive it. He loved his daughter too damn much.
Antonio pulled back and placed his palms on Aris’s face in true Italian fashion. “And you have no idea how touched and honored I am by this, brother.” He shook his head, emotion filling his eyes. “I will never be able to express it.”
He dropped his hands and took a step back.
“I don’t need you to express anything to me,” Aris said firmly. “I need to know I’m not making a mistake …”
“I swear to you, Aris. I have thought this through.” As usual, Antonio was fearless and passionate in his vow. “You and I will speak those words of unity, and finally our families will be bonded by blood. Nothing will ever separate us. You have my word.”
Aris gave a nod. “And you have mine.”
And anyone who knew Aris—truly knew him— knew that his word was something he never broke.
Sighing, as he walked over to Antonio’s liquor cabinet, Aris closed his eyes, slightly feeling the tension easing in the room. Though his mind was still troubled about this, and he knew that it would most likely be that way for a long time, he took comfort in the fact that his friend had never betrayed or disappointed him in all the years they’d known each other.
He wouldn’t regret this. He had no choice but to believe that, since he’d made the decision to agree to it.
After pouring himself another large drink, he took his seat, needing to unwind for a moment before leaving for home. He heard the loud clap of Antonio’s hands as the man took his seat next to him.
“Now,” Antonio released a slow breath, seeming to hesitate before broaching the next subject. “We have to discuss the hard stuff.”
Aris snorted, taking a generous drink of his scotch. “That last conversation wasn’t the hard stuff?”
Because it seemed pretty fucking intense to Aris. He was still rigid as hell from the entire discussion.
Antonio’s expression was strained for a moment before he continued. “I just … I’ll need to know a few things about your daughter before we move forward.”
Aris raised a brow. “You do?”
Antonio blinked; his expression was still tight. “My son knows what is expected of him as my heir. Though he will be surprised with my choice, he will be obedient, and do what is right for this family.” He cleared his throat, clasping his hands in front of him. “Do you … have a daughter in mind?”
Aris’s jaw tightened at the question. Lifting his eyes, he pinned Antonio with a hard look. “Yes,” he answered through gritted teeth.
He didn’t know why but he had a feeling this part of the conversation was going to piss him off the most. It sounded like the man was fucking shopping for one of his daughters. Like she was a fucking object and not a princess.
Cautiously, Antonio hesitated again before saying his next words. “As you know …” he sighed, running a hand over his face. “You can inform your daughter that my son is a handsome young man. But it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen your daughters—”
Aris snapped. “Are you fucking serious, Tony?”
Antonio raised his hands. “I’m not saying that I don’t think you have beautiful daughters, Aris,” he explained. “I’ve just never seen the women they’ve grown into …” He raised his brows. “But if their anything like their mother—”
“Your son will be pleased!” Aris cut him off sharply.
“Okay.” Antonio kept his voice calm. “And she knows what’s expected of her as a wife—”
“You think I don’t know how to raise my fucking daughter?” Aris shot defensively.
“I didn’t say that, Aris—”
“She has a mother. She knows everything, trust me.”
Once again, they fell into a silence heavy with tension.
Aris couldn’t quite understand why this part of the conversation was causing him equal amounts of discomfort and fury, but all of a sudden, he was finding it difficult to contain his temper.
Perhaps it was time to go home.
“And she’s a virgin—”
That was it.
Aris shot up from his seat.
“Fuck you, Tony!”
Rolling his eyes, Antonio stood from his seat. “I’m not trying to upset you, Aris. These are questions I’m going to need to answer.”
“For your fucking family? Huh?” Aris shot Antonio a fierce glare. “Yes, my daughter is a goddamn virgin. And she’ll remain that way until she’s married!” He pointed a finger in warning. “You better inform your son that no man will lay a finger on my daughter until I give her away at the fucking alter! I mean it, Tony. Not a kiss. Nothing!”
“Got it,” Antonio agreed, his tone slightly amused in the face of Aris’s rage.
“It’s not a joke, you dick.”
“It’s not a joke,” Antonio repeated, giving a bow of his head.
Muttering curse words under his breath, Aris stormed toward the door.
“So, you’re leaving now?”
There was slight laughter in Antonio’s voice when he asked the question. Aris ignored it and threw the door open, ready to charge out of the office, but paused at the sight of someone on the other side of the door.
It was Antonio’s son, Stephan.
Hazel-green eyes widened; the young man’s dark brows shot up in surprise at the sight of Aris. He took a step back, his features immediately going from surprised to hard in an instant.
Taking a moment, Aris took in the man’s current appearance. He looked tired, tense. His clothes—a pair of black trousers and a white button-down shirt— were unkempt with visible splatters of blood, and his dark, honey brown hair was matted to his sweat slicked forehead. Aris had to look up, the young man was so tall. He had features as striking and strong as his father’s, but he also resembled his mother in some ways. His gaze was intense, confident, and unwavering like his father’s. He could look a man in the eyes without flinching or giving way to what was going on in his head.
It was obvious he’d just come from a fight, or maybe he’d been torturing someone, Aris didn’t know. But he couldn’t hide the pained expression that surely flashed across his face.
This was the man he’d just agreed to give his daughter to.
A fucking killer.
Even at the young age of twenty-four, the man had already made a name for himself.
What the fuck was he doing?
It seemed the boy was curious to why Aris was staring at him because his eyes squinted, and he cocked his head slightly to the side.
“Aris Carter,” he greeted in his deep baritone. The way he always did when he and Aris crossed paths.
The boy was so formal, even though Aris had been around since he was in diapers.
He cleared his throat as his eyes shifted to his father, then he took a step back. “I can come back later, Pop. I didn’t know you had company—”
“No,” Aris said, stopping the young man from retreating. “I’m leaving.”
“Aris,” Antonio called, halting Aris’s exit.
Turning to face the man with a scowl, Aris waited silently for what he would say.
“Remember,” Antonio said, his expression serious. “This is forever.”
And Aris knew without any further explanation that those words were the seal that locked him in the agreement he’d just made with not only his long-time friend, but the boss of the Chicago Mob. There was no turning back from the decision he’d made, no changing his mind, no saving his daughter if this went south.
This was forever.
Any break of the agreement from this point on would be a break of trust between Aris and Antonio. Not to mention that once this agreement to bond was made public, any attempt to back out of it would be a slap in the face of the other family and their allies. It would cause even more tension, distrust, embarrassment, and consequences would have to be dished out in order for the rejected party to save face.
So, this was it.
Aris’s daughter would marry a De Luca. And there was no longer anything he could do about that fact.
With a huff of breath, Aris turned away from his friend and stalked out of the office. The only thing going through his mind now was how he was going to tell his family what the hell he’d just done.
Written by Michelle Hardin
Okay so …. What’d ya think? Wanna read?
Talk to you soon my loves!