“Jesus, why didn’t Tino just kill him? If he was going to trash my place, he should’ve finish the job.” The Don kicked the bleeding Brambino gangster in the basement. “Fucking amateur hour. Now I have to deal with the problem.”
It was a disturbing sight, because the man was still alive, shirt still in his mouth, sitting there at the feet of Nova and Don, while they discussed his fate. Everything about it was jarring to Nova, because he knew what it felt like to be the other guy.
What a cruel mistake, giving this motherfucker hope.
Nova walked over to the stairs, and the Don followed, so they could speak privately while still keeping an eye on the Brambino. The two of them had left the rest of the Don’s crew upstairs with Monte and Gino.
Carmen sat on a couch in the corner of the basement, out of earshot, but her body language was tense. Her hands were hidden inside the sleeves of Carina’s thin sweater, and her arms were folded over her chest protectively, making her look younger and more vulnerable than she had since Nova met her.
It was clear she knew enough about the inner workings of Cosa Nostra to understand the fall out of this attack could leave her very vulnerable—especially with a last name like Brambino.
Nova hated the pang in his chest that made him want to somehow protect her from everything. Luckily, that little emotional hurt was starting to feel more and more like a bullet wound as the drugs wore off—which helped a lot to keep him level headed where Carmen was concerned.
“I’m actually the one who decided not to kill him,” Nova admitted once the two of them could speak privately. “This is my fault, not Tino’s.”
Did he honestly think there was a chance of saving this guy? This Brambino who saw way too much and would never be able to convince Aldo Moretti that he was trustworthy with the Don’s own jewelry lying at his feet.
Must’ve been the morphine.
Or Carina’s weed.
Maybe just the blood loss, exhaustion, nausea, heartache, not giving a flying fuck about anything that caused it. Seriously, Nova wanted to stretch out on the floor and go to sleep.
Fuck everyone and everything.
They could all drown together.
The Don just arched an eyebrow in a silent, unimpressed question. Nova rubbed at the back of his neck, looking for an explanation that made sense. “Brianna and Carina were down here. I figured they’d seen enough.”
“And this one.” The Don tilted his head in Carmen’s direction. “You protecting her honor too?”
“Not really, no.” Nova glanced over at the body of the dead Brambino he killed with the fire hydrant and gestured to him pointedly. “Carmen helped me take care of this guy first, and we had a pretty interesting couple days before that. Chivalry is sorta moot at this point.”
“You’re saying she’s a friend of yours?” The Don reached into his suit jacket and pulled a gun out of a hidden holster. “You’re vouching for her?”
Nova didn’t hesitate, he just nodded, knowing he was probably screwing himself. “Yes, I am.”
“You trust her?” The Don clarified. “’Cause I’m not losing everything our family has bled and died for. Not for you, not for Carlo, not for anyone. My father died in prison rather than betray this fucking family. It’s not going down with me. We both know you’re smarter than Carlo, so you better think about your answer, Nova, ‘cause this is the kinda shitshow that ruins borgatas.”
Nova’s gaze flicked to the gun in the Don’s hand, knowing he only had one option, because there were too many dead men scattered around the Don’s mansion. Either Carmen was with them, or she was a problem, and at this point, the Don wasn’t going to go gentle with the problems—no matter how lovely they were.
Nova reallywished he knew what secrets Carmen was harboring. This was playing blind and Nova spent most of his life working to avoid situations just like this one. All his planning, layers and layers of protections, and here he was. . . again.
How was that even possible?
Words couldn’t express how fucking pissed off Nova was with the universe at that moment, but outwardly all he did was nod and say, “Yeah, I trust her.”
He made the decision to put his destiny in the hands of Carmen Brambino for a second time. That was quite the tease of fate, because the Don just informed him, in no uncertain terms, that if Carmen somehow lead to any harm to the Moretti borgata—Nova was dying for it.
“I’m gonna need some insurance.” The Don held out his gun as he said it. “I want to see her take care of her buddy over here.”
Nova flinched, knowing he couldn’t watch that.
His stomach still wasn’t that steady.
“You gotta problem with that?” The Don barked at him. “If she’s tough enough to stand guard for our family, if you’re so fucking certain you left my freedom in good hands, let’s see her prove it to me.”
“That’s the thing.” Nova turned to the Don, feeling a small wave of relief when an idea came to him. “I’ve seen her kill a Brambino. She took out one of the guys who shot me in Florida. That’s why I know I can trust her. I don’t just say merda like that, I need insurance too.”
“And who took out the other guy?”
“I did,” Nova admitted. “But there was a witness, a second guy Tino clipped in the hand. He was still alive when Tino went down and Carmen took him out. I saw her do it.”
“Are you lying to me, Nova?”
“I’m telling you we already have the insurance. That’s not good enough for you? Now my word doesn’t mean anything, after everything I’ve fucking done for this borgata?” Nova couldn’t hide the insult. Anyone else, he wouldn’t have lowered himself to explain, but to the Don he held up his hand to God. “On my mother’s grave, I saw her pull the trigger after I got shot, and I know he was dead, because I helped her put the body in the trunk. If you need someone to make their bones tonight, she’s the wrong choice.”
The Don considered that for a second, before he glanced up the stairs. “The De Luca? ‘Cause he’s a problem too.”
It was a shitty trade off, but what could Nova do?
Thanks to Tino, they were stuck with Tony De Luca. Better to have him in the circle now that he knew way too much, and since Nova had to pick, he’d rather Tony have to kill this guy than Carmen—she suffered enough for one week.
“He’s one of the kids I got out with the Brambino deal. He’s very… grateful to the Morettis.”
“And he’s after the Brambinos?” The Don filled in the rest for himself. “It’s not just about gratitude to us. He wants revenge.”
“I’m sure. Not just on the Brambinos, but the De Lucas too. Vincenzo De Luca wouldn’t help Tony get away from the Brambinos. Tony’s pretty fucking pissed about it, considering Don De Luca’s his father.”
He looked surprised by that. “Vinny knew? And he didn’t fucking do anything? For his own son?”
“Apparently not.” Nova felt sick when he said it, because he knew the Morettis weren’t much better. “The thing is, Tony’s a good ally to have. He’s very chill under pressure. He has a lotta connections, and he works well with Tino.”
At this point, Tony was either going to be allowed to stick around, or the Don was going to have him killed for seeing too much, probably by Tino, who might have already cracked under the pressure.
Nova’s life always seemed to boil down to a series of horrific choices, one slightly less terrible than the other, and he did his best he could with it. The only benefit was, he was so fucking ill, he didn’t have the energy to be gutted over it.
“You want me to go get him?” Nova asked when the Don seemed to hesitate.
For a brief moment, Nova wondered what would happen if the Don decided not to let Tony make his bones.
Or give Carmen a pass.
Nova stood there staring at his grandfather, knowing it would draw a line neither of them would be able to cross. They would be on different sides, and Nova wasn’t ready for that. Not tonight. He needed to be a lot stronger for that.
He at least needed a fucking nap.
Maybe the Don felt it too, because he said, “Yeah, go get him.”
“Okay.” Nova turned, giving Carmen a look across the room and tilted his head towards the stairs. “Come on, let’s get you outta this basement.”
Carmen jumped up and rushed over to Nova like a woman who knew her life was hanging in the balance. Nova led her to the staircase, fighting down the urge to grab her and run before his grandfather changed his mind. He followed close behind her all the way up the stairs, making a point not to look back, but he wanted to.
Every self-defense mechanism he had was in high gear, and he could sense the tension bleeding off Carmen too. Trying to stay outwardly casual, Nova reached past her and opened the door to the first floor. He placed his hand on her back when he saw everyone mulling around in the hallway.
Nova spotted Gino talking to the Don’s other soldiers, while Monte was leaning against the wall, hands in his suit pant pockets, like he didn’t have a care in the world.
Something about that turned the gear on Nova’s pissed off meter to dangerous levels. The pain in his chest was creeping up to his shoulders, making every breath hurt, and that wasn’t helping his problem. He wasn’t used to being this fucking uncomfortable in his own body, and looking at Monte, he could feel the fury rolling under the surface, scaring him with every painful breath, because Nova knew how much of his father still lurked in the dark corners of his soul.
Not always a bad thing, he lived enough now to understand that sheer Siciliano audacity had its benefits, but he’d already used up his fuck-crazy-Moretti points in Tampa.
Now he didn’t really have a choice but to stick with good behavior or he was going to start looking really fucking erratic to an organization that already had a lot of reasons not to trust him.
Perfect timing for Carlo to go vigilante.
And Brianna to land in the emergency room.
He was desperate for calm rationality, but it was like a distant memory in the story. A million things were building under the surface, and from somewhere far away Nova’s heart skipped another beat at the thought of Carlo.
He had to push that one far back, and Nova knew if he was on the brink of turning completely feral, his brother was probably that much worse.
“Where’s my brother?” Nova asked no one in particular.
“I think he’s back there with his buddy,” Gino answered for everyone, giving Nova a cryptic look as he tilted his head towards Carmen. “How’s your girl?”
Nova just stopped and stared back at Gino, arching an eyebrow, daring him to ask more questions, temporarily forgetting about his fuck-crazy-Moretti points, and lack thereof.
He glanced at Monte next, who seemed to be silently asking the same question as he eyed Carmen Brambino still alive and healthy with enough information to put them all in prison for the rest of their lives.
“Glad you’re all so relaxed.” Nova gave the dead bodies in the hallway the same indignant look, because he had his own fucking questions. “It never occurs to anyone to take some initiative around here? You’re just standing around like a buncha fucking sheep waiting for Tino to pick up and you’re looking at me like you gotta problem?”
“Okay, Boss.” Monte’s tone was sarcastic and bitter. “What do you suggest we do with them?”
Nova just stared at him, knowing the unspoken message. None of them had the faintest idea how to get rid of dead bodies. They didn’t deal with the messy parts. They left that dirty work for the bastardi of the borgata.
“I see how it is,” Nova whispered, and kept his hand on Carmen’s back, because he really wanted to lash out and sucker punch Monte just to watch him bleed. “Don’t wanna get your hands dirty, I get it.”
Monte sighed and straightened up. “Look, Nova, I dunno what the fuck you’re pissed about this time, but can we put a pin in it? I had a gun to my head for twenty fucking minutes, so I’m not in the best mood either.”
“How sad for you,” Nova barked back. “That’s really fucking tragic.”
Monte pushed away from the wall threateningly. “You’re bitching at me, but we all know why this is happening. Your boy Carlo did this. He caused all of this.” Monte looked at Carmen pointedly. “Doing what we do, I guess. Great to see we’re learning from our mistakes.”
“Don’t go there. I’m not joking, don’t even say his name, Monte, ‘cause right now, I don’t give a fuck. Seriously, look at me.” Nova met Monte’s gaze head-on, feeling the hurricane of fear brewing under the surface, and repeated in a low, steady voice of warning. “I don’t give a fuck.” Nova reached out and clasped the back of his neck, forcing Monte to lean forward as Nova whispered in his ear, “There’ll be no Tino to rescue you if you start with me, Princess. You’ll have to clean your own shit up.”
Monte stared back at him, like he was actually considering it, but he wasn’t a fighter. Fighting was beneath him. His mother raised him to snap his fingers and expect things to get done. His voice had the power of vengeance, and that was all he needed.
Nova’s mother raised different kinds of sons.
And he was sure, if she’d had been able to choose, Romeo, Nova and Tino would’ve all had Monte’s entitlement instead, but life never gave her those options.
Now Nova wasn’t just smarter than all these motherfuckers.
He was harder than them.
And they knew it.
Nova made a point to walk towards the bodies, taking Carmen with him. He held onto her protectively, still not giving a fuck what any of them thought, because there was a voice in the back of his mind screaming to just end it all.
Take it, rather than leave Carmen terrified for her life just for helping them.
End it, rather than stick Tino with cleaning up the bodies once again.
Only, fuck, Nova was tired—so exhausted it didn’t matter how hard he was—he’d still lose.
And he was just sane enough to know it.