After that, Tino sat between his brother and uncle and watched Brianna dance while he entertained all his dirty fantasies. Carlo put his sunglasses on despite the dim lighting and stretched out on the other side of the couch. He dropped his head against the arm and put his booted feet on the coffee table. There was no way he could sleep with the noise level, but it was likely he was hoping word would get back to Lola that he did.
Nova was still on his phone, doing whatever the hell he did. He was as distracted as Tino, so neither of them noticed the woman until Carlo jerked. There were so many people, she was easy to miss until she was on Carlo, standing at the edge of the couch and sliding her hands down his chest.
Carlo caught her wrists when she tried to pull up his black shirt beneath the lines of his jacket. She was behind him and Carlo couldn’t see her face, so he was noticeably tense about being molested by an assumed stranger. She exposed his gun and holster, and he didn’t bother to hide it as he said loudly over the music, “I gotta girlfriend, sweetheart.”
Tino grinned, because unlike Gino, he was good at recognizing faces and he knew this one very well. Despite the dark brown contacts she’d worn to disguise her startlingly light eyes, and the blue, Mardi Gras style mask that covered most of her beautiful features, Tino would know her anywhere.
“C'est bon.I heard you’re dangerous, now you let a woman scare you.” Her voice was accented in a way that made Tino roll his eyes. “Who cares about your girlfriend?”
Not that she wasn’t good at playing her game, because she was.
Carlo stared down at her slim, tanned arms and hands before he caressed the index finger on her right hand with a thoughtful look, making it obvious she couldn’t hide from him for long. Her fingernails were painted with little skull and crossbones. She was getting into this Mardi Gras thing a little too much. She even had the French accent to match, though she sounded more Caribbean than Creole, which would make sense all things considered.
And everyone knew how much Carlo liked Caribbean women.
Tino would almost wonder if she was testing him, except she was smiling as she leaned in and whispered something in Carlo’s ear that made him jerk a second time. Then he intertwined her fingers with his and used his hold to pull her closer, forcing her to wrap her arms around him as he turned his head to look at her.
He studied her with a bemused smile, apparently noticing the contacts. Her hair was braided away from her face in cornrows that were as different from her usual style as everything else about her tonight.
“I like the braids.” He caressed her cheek under her ornate mask and said, “But you know this is too risky.”
“You like risk,” she reminded him, her accent gone as she smiled at him. “That’s why you’re here.”
“No, I’m here because the old man told me to be here.” He reached up and tugged one of her braids. “You look very rebellious tonight. What would your daddy say?”
“He’d fucking hate it,” Lola assured him.
Carlo sucked in a sharp breath like that really did it for him. That was probably dead on considering their history with Lola’s father, who among other things, just happened to be the don of a rival mafia family.
Her father also rented out Lola in one of the shadiest corners of the black-market for most of her life and it was a fucking miracle Carlo didn’t blow up the entire Brambino Borgata when he found out. They sold Tino too before Nova put an end to the Brambinos’ racket in the sex trade and nearly bankrupted Lola’s father in the process. Tino was certain Carmine Brambino was still extremely pissed about it.
Needless to say, there was no love lost between the Brambinos and the Morettis, but Carlo never let that stop him with Lola. The two of them had been tangled up in this secret love affair for years now.
“Come here,” Carlo said in a low, gravelly voice. “I like you when you’re being bad.”
“Only when I’m bad?” Lola asked playfully.
“Nah, I like you always.” Carlo gave her a wide, devious smile, before he added, “But especially when you’re bad.”
Tino rolled his eyes again. He moved closer to Nova when Lola came over and straddled Carlo, sitting on his lap with a deliberate, sensual grace that was both her gift and her curse.
“This isn’t awkward,” Tino whispered to his brother.
Tino and Lola had a history—a dark history—from their time on the sex market that no one, including them, talked about, but he would never once begrudge Lola and Carlo their relationship because of it. Carlo and Lola loved each other. Deeply. No one deserved love more than Lola, but sometimes the fact that Lola was fucking Tino’s uncle got uncomfortable for him.
“Pay back,” Nova said without looking up. “Do you hear the shit that leaves your mouth? Your whole life is one forced awkward situation after another. You just don’t notice.”
“You’re a dick tonight,” Tino had to point out. “Worse than usual.”
“True.” Nova glanced up, and a look of longing crossed his face as he stared at Lola and Carlo.
That was enough to make Tino turn back.
No one avoided relationships more than Nova, so Tino knew it wasn’t that he was craving something more than casual encounters. It wasn’t until Tino saw Carlo with his mouth open at Lola’s bidding and the small, white pill on his tongue that Tino understood.
Nova’s first true love.
“How do you know it’s clean,” Tino barked at both of them, because he spent enough time in the club scene to see a lot of bad Molly. Hell, he used to sell the good stuff for his father before he was promoted to mafia assassin. Not that Tino would consider that a step up. He hit Carlo’s leg. “You just open your mouth and take what she’s giving you?”
“Most days,” Carlo said with a grin.
Lola huffed at Tino. “You think I’d give him bad shit?”
“I—” Tino started, because he supposed that could be considered an insult. “No. I don’t think you’d intentionally give him bad shit.” He glanced to Nova for help, but Nova had looked back to his phone so Tino had to ask Lola, “Did you at least test it?”
“Carina has testing kits at the door,” Lola said indignantly. “What do you think?”
“Yeah, Carina did that,” Nova muttered under his breath. “She thinks of everything.”
Tino turned back to Nova, because if Nova supplied them, Tino was more inclined to trust that the night wasn’t going to end with a tragedy. If anyone knew where to find solid MDMA testing kits—it was Nova.
“Did you set up the testing kits? Is it our shit they’re taking, or something dirty from the cartel?”
Nova just lifted his head and gave Tino a droll look of annoyance, clearly insulted he’d even ask.
“Okay, whatever then.” Tino threw up his hands. “Have fun.”
Lola wasn’t heavy into drugs like so many lost girls who were trying to figure out how to survive the lifetime of emotional trauma being born a sex slave caused. Weed, sure, but not much more than that. Tino wasn’t sure what had her feeling so rebellious tonight, when usually she and Carlo never met in public, but who was Tino to deny her a night of fun.
She’d earned it.
Lola pushed off Carlo’s leather jacket, because ecstasy caused body temperature to rise quickly. She tossed the jacket at Tino. Then she worked systematically at ridding Carlo of his guns, making it obvious she’d done this routine a hundred times before. By the time she was done, Tino had a stack of guns and knives on his lap, and people were starting to notice.
Carlo and Lola didn’t seem to care as she jumped off him. She reached for Carlo’s hand, forcing him to his feet. Then Lola turned back to Tino and flipped her braids over her shoulder before she gave him a wide, playful smile under the curves of her feathered mask.
“For you and your pretty girl.” She tossed a small plastic baggie on Tino’s lap that slipped past Carlo’s Beretta to be hidden somewhere in Carlo’s jacket. “Life’s too short, Tino.”
Tino nodded. “True that.”
“Take care of my shit,” Carlo warned him.
“Yeah, ‘cause that’s why I’m here,” Tino said sarcastically. “As soon as my girl’s done with her set, I’m off duty and I don’t give a fuck what happens to your shit.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Nova said like it was second nature to make sure everything got handled. “We’ll put them in your room.”
“Do I have a room?” Carlo asked in surprise.
“We labeled them. Your name’s on the door. Just look. You’ll find it.”
“Nice to have the right last name.” Carlo looked like Christmas had come early as he glanced back to Lola, eyeing the tight black dress she was wearing. His gaze was dark, possessive, as he said loud enough for them to hear, “I like everyone seeing you’re mine.”
“I thought you might.” Lola sounded almost shy about it before she gave him a coy look. “So, dance with me.”
Carlo didn’t need to be told twice.
Tino watched them disappear in a sea of masked partiers, and then asked Nova, “You think the mask hides her enough?”
“Probably not.” Nova sounded as concerned as Tino felt. “But, I doubt anyone is looking at her face. That dress is pretty fucking distracting.”
That reminded Tino of the look of longing on Nova’s face and he found the baggie underneath Carlo’s Beretta. Tino held it up, eyeing the four pills inside, and he saw the same lustful expression cross Nova’s face. Just as quickly Nova looked back to his phone dismissively, even though it was blatantly obvious it was the drugs, not love and affection, that Nova was craving.
So Tino had to ask, “You don’t want it?”
“Nope.” Nova didn’t look up as he said it, his concentration completely on his phone.
“How’d you just give it up?” Tino started setting all the guns on the coffee table as he said, “I don’t understand how that happens.”
“Hit rock bottom. You’ll understand,” Nova assured him. “I spent several years ignoring that my brother was being tortured and sold on the black-market while I was rolling my ass off. I think I’m gonna skip the molly.”
Tino was sorry he asked, because he had his own little habit to worry about and he tried not to think about rock bottom. Not to mention, Nova’s flippant mention of those terrible years for Tino made his stomach knot to the point that he felt sick. He could feel the icy sweat break out on his body and he rubbed at his forehead and looked away to hide it.
“I’m sorry,” Nova whispered in the next second, like he noticed how much one simple statement could still affect Tino.
“Huh?” Tino feigned innocence, hiding the sick feeling and giving his brother a confused look so he wouldn’t know how much little things like that still got to him. “What’re you sorry for?”
Nova studied him, as if trying to judge if Tino was faking it or not, and obviously decided not to risk it as he shook his head. “Nothing.”
If all else fails, play stupid—It worked every time.
Tino looked back to the stage, watching Brianna dance so he could forget the terrible memories that were churning up in the back of his mind. After a few minutes he had to say, “Have I told you how firm her ass is?”
“No, not that I remember,” Nova said in Italian without his usual sarcasm, even though Tino didn’t need Nova’s memory to know he’d told his brother more than once exactly how firm Brianna’s ass was. Nova set his phone aside and said, “So tell me. I like details.”
“It feels so fucking good in my hands,” Tino confessed, fully aware Nova was humoring him. “I just wanna bite it. I wanna get on my knees and bite it and lick it and worship her until she’s sweaty and begging me to fuck her. Is that a Siciliano thing? I wanna hear it. I want her to be so wet it makes a sound when I fuck her hard. Do you like it like that? Or is it just me? ‘Cause, God, I fucking love it.”
“Nah, I like it.” Nova gave him a guilty smile. “If I can hear it, I can remember it, so trust me, I’m a big fan of the sounds women make.” Then he switched back to English and confessed, “That’s sorta my thing—listening, watching—that’s what gets me off.”
“You like it sweaty,” Tino pressed with a smirk. “Dirty.”
“I like sex any way I can get it. I’m not picky, not about that, but if I’m choosing.” Nova shrugged. “Sweaty, dirty and loud is preferable.”
Tino couldn’t hide his wide, amused smile. “I knew you liked it salty like the rest of us.”
For some reason, it was kinda okay that Nova didn’t think Tino was stupid and oblivious like everyone else saw him. Instead Nova saw through the act to recognize that Tino was hurting and he was willing to sit there and let him talk about something else to keep the demons at bay. Tino wasn’t so embarrassed any more. If Nova wanted to help him, Tino wanted to let him, and it was good for both of them.
So Tino talked about Brianna and Nova listened.
The great thing about being ADHD was Tino usually forgot the bad shit if properly distracted and Brianna was always his favorite distraction. By the time the set ended, and the DJ started playing music, Tino had forgotten about Mary and the years of abuse he endured.
Carina got to him first, maybe because she was on roller-skates for reasons only she understood. Not blades either, but old school roller skates that should’ve ended with her taking out at least twenty partiers before she got to the couch. Instead people parted to her like they knew it was either move or eat tile.
“Tell me Happy Birthday!” she called in Italian as she skated up to them.
“Buon compleanno!” Tino shouted obediently as he jumped up on the couch and held out his arms. Carina leaped at him despite the roller-skates, obviously knowing he’d catch her and he did. He held her off her feet and placed a kiss on her cheek as he went on in Italian, “My baby sister’s finally turning twenty. I love you.”
“A whole three weeks after you,” she told him with a wide smile, because the two of them were less than a month apart in age thanks to their father who was apparently good at multitasking when it came to wives and girlfriends. “I love you too.” Carina was obviously so high on life she kicked Nova in the shoulder with her roller-skate while still clinging to Tino and demanded, “Wish me happy birthday, stronzo.”
“Buon compleanno.” Nova spared Carina a side glance away from his phone. If Tino wasn’t stone cold sober, he would’ve thought he imagined the smile tugging at Nova’s lips, but then his brother said, “Just do me a favor, princess. Can you try not to burn the house down and save me the fucking headache with your nonno?”
And all was right with the world again.
“What’s my motivation?” Carina asked, like burning the house down was a possibility.
Nova gave Carina his full attention. He considered her for a moment and then said loudly over the music, “I’ll make you a deal. Keep it standing and I’ll talk him into signing it over to you as a birthday present.”
“No shit.” Carina slipped out of Tino’s arms and landed on the tile without busting her ass in her skates. “You’d do that?”
Nova raised his eyebrows pointedly. “If it’s still standing.”
“Oobatz. Why?” Carina scowled at him, like she didn’t dare trust it. “What’s in it for you?”
Nova shrugged. “We need this property to stay intact. It’s important for business, and we will all hear it if it burns down. I have enough fucking problems.”
Carina tilted her head and said, “Maybe it has nothing to do with Nonno. Maybe you’re just being nice.”
“If you wanna believe that go ahead.” Nova looked back to his phone.
“Maybe it’s for business. Or maybe you care,” she taunted, though Tino thought he heard a strain of longing in her voice that made that constant pain in his chest grow a little more as Carina said in a sing-song voice, “Maybe you love me even if you don’t want to.”
Like any good Moretti she sensed the weakness and went for Nova’s jugular. Nova looked up at her again, and Tino could almost sense something cutting and harsh coming out of his brother, like Nova would have to say it, even if a small part of him didn’t want to.
“Hey, where’s my girl?” Tino hit Carina’s shoulder as he jumped down off the couch.
“Huh?” Carina turned back to Tino, looking a little dazed.
“Where’s Bri? How’d you lose her in the five minutes since you got off stage?”
“She’s changing.” Carina still seemed lost. “Going undercover like we did for Lola.”
“You did that?” Tino asked with a smile. “You invited Lola?”
“Yeah.” She shrugged with a smile. “It’s my birthday.” She looked back to Nova and arched an eyebrow in the same distinct way Nova always did, making it blatantly obvious they were siblings if Nova wanted them to be or not. “Everyone’s supposed to be happy on my birthday.”
“Hey, I love you,” Tino repeated, this time in English and hugged her again. Then he kissed the top of her head because even in skates she was still way shorter than him. “Go find Bri and a bottle of something good and we’ll do a shot with you for hitting twenty.”
Carina looked to Nova again, but he was back to staring at his phone, so she shrugged again. “Okay.”
Tino watched her skate away as the lights pulsed until she disappeared into the red smoke, then he turned back to his brother and sat back on the couch. He picked up Carlo’s Beretta on the coffee table and checked the safety for no other reason than needing something to do with his hands.
“Are you really going to get the old man to sign this place over to her?” Tino finally asked in Italian.
Nova just shrugged the same way Carina had rather than say anything. There were times, even now, when it struck Tino how bizarrely similar some of Carina’s and Nova’s mannerisms were considering they weren’t raised together. It made Tino wonder if that was one of the reasons it was easier for Tino to love Carina.
“For real, Casanova, you think the old man would give it to her? You can’t promise her things like that and not follow through with it. That shit hurts her, and she’s never done anything to you,” Tino reminded him for what had to be the millionth time. “If you’re fucking with her about this, I’m going to have a massive issue with that. If this is some sort of power play to make the old man look like an asshole to her or make Carina look like a spoiled brat to him, that’s fucking bullshit. You hurt her on purpose on her birthday and—”
“It’s my house,” Nova cut him off before Tino had to say out loud the lengths he’d go to protect Carina. “We don’t put everything in the old man’s name. The borgata has to spread the wealth a little and this one belongs to me. I get to sign it over to whoever I want. If I say she can have it, then I mean it.”
Tino gapped at him.
He couldn’t find his voice for a long time, but then he finally choked out, “Why?”
Maybe Nova would’ve answered, but Tino never found out. The music skidded to a stop, making that horrible scratching sound that happened when someone fucked up a DJ’s mix. There was a rasp of whispering, harsh and demanding, even if Tino couldn’t make out the actual words.
“Hello, motherfuckers!” Carina was back on the stage, still in her skates. Several guys from her band were working on pulling the cords out of the way while Carina turned on her heel and started skating backwards as she asked the crowd, “Miss me?”
The room exploded with noise as everyone screamed in response, making it obvious they had indeed missed her even if she’d only left the stage five minutes ago.
“Don’t get your hopes up.” She waved down everyone’s excitement. “I’m here with a few important announcements from the administration. One, this house is sacred ground. I don’t care how loaded you are, if you puke, you better clean it up. If you can’t handle that, find a designated sober friend right now and make sure they keep your ass in line. No joke, you fuck up this house and someone’s finding you. Don’t think we won’t know, ‘cause we know everything.”
“Subtle,” Nova said when the entire room fell deathly silent in fear, like everyone was waiting for a mafia hitman to come after them for breathing on a lamp wrong.
It was extra unfortunate, because it felt like they were all looking at Tino and Nova, who just happened to have Carlo’s small arsenal of weapons still sitting in front of them.
“Pissing off the family is no joke,” Carina went on.
“Merda.” Nova closed his eyes, like he couldn’t believe Carina just said familyout loud like it was a thing.
Mafia didn’t name themselves.
Not in public.
They didn’t even say mafia. It was always just Cosa Nostra—Our Thing—and even that was whispered, unless Carina had the microphone.
“Say hi to my brother.” Carina pointed to the couch, like she knew everyone was looking at them.
“Oh my God,” Nova said with wide eyes as he looked to Tino because they both knew she was talking about him. “Does she want me in lock up?”
Tino did the only thing he could think of. He jumped up on the couch again, this time climbing onto the arm of it. Now he stood head and shoulders over the rest of the crowd and held out his arms like they’d planned it.
People all screamed again, and Tino grinned, because Carina wasn’t the only one who gained followers easily. He could be charming if he wanted to be. “She’s not joking.” He made sure his voice carried. “I will find you motherfuckers if you fuck up her house.”
“Next important announcement,” Carina cut in, a smile sounding in her voice. “Everyone has fun on my birthday. No exceptions.”
“Good clean fun!” Tino added from his side of the room.
Now everyone was shouting again, laughing, the tension in the room broke as easily as it started.
“Everyone!” Carina added one more time, like she wanted it heard. “So for the baddest motherfucker I know.”
As she said it, Big Pimpin’by Jay Z started playing and the room exploded. It was so cheesy, so fucking Carina, and the crowd loved it. Tino went ahead shooed everyone back, and then he did a front tuck, because why the fuck not.
It was an impressive trick, that’s why he did it. It sucked all the attention off Nova and it took a while for Tino to break away from the crowd, half of whom were rolling on ecstasy that made them extra touchy feely.
When he finally did, he saw that Nova’s shoulders were shaking with mirth, his face was in his hands as the song blared. Everyone in the room thought it for Tino, but only a few people knew it was much more Nova.
“Everyone has fun on my birthday,” Carina reminded them once more as she skated up to the couch. She set four shot glasses down on the table in front of Carlo’s guns. She filled up the first glass, the one closest to Nova and demanded rather than ask, “Two, one for each decade.”
“What happens if I don’t?” Nova asked with an arch of his eyebrow. “Someone gives you a microphone?”
She arched an eyebrow back at him. “Exactly. Now drink it.”
Nova picked up the shot glass and downed it. He didn’t even wince, even though it was tequila and there wasn’t lime or salt in sight. Carina shouted, and so did half the crowd watching. Tino did too and Nova was taking his second shot when someone jumped on Tino’s back.
He wrapped his hands around her instinctively, holding her there because he’d know Brianna anywhere.
“Hey, sexy,” she whispered in his ear. “Miss me?”
He forced her tighter into him, feeling her small, firm tits against his shoulder blades. “You have no fucking idea,” he confessed with a groan he couldn’t hide. “I was just telling my brother all the dirty, perverted things I’m gonna do for you tonight.”
Brianna laced her fingers into his hair and Tino let her jerk his head back with another groan. She looked at him with a wide, green gaze behind the mask she was wearing as she asked, “What sorta dirty, perverted things?” rather than be offended he’d been confessing his plans to Nova.
Brianna was great about that, she liked Tino just as he was—big, Italian mouth and all.
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” he said and stuck his tongue out.
Brianna licked it playfully, and then bit his bottom lip to make her point. “You wanna show me instead?”
“Hell, yes,” Tino confessed as he completely forgot about Nova and Carina’s temporary truce. “Dance with me, naughty girl.”