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Danger's Heir(3)
Author: Mari Carr

In a past life, Rodrigo had considered himself steadfast, well-disciplined, strong. He’d always been capable of compartmentalizing the dark things he’d witnessed as a soldier, that ability drilled into him through his military training. However, after watching the atrocities committed at the hands of his cold-blooded father, Rodrigo’s strength wavered, and he felt his humanity slipping away more and more with each passing day.

Rodrigo had discovered several months earlier that the father he’d been told since childhood was dead was actually alive and actively seeking his long-lost son. Their reunion might have been considered a blessing, a miracle even, if not for the fact that Armani was the don of one of the northern Camorra families, the Capello name synonymous for brutality and immorality. Countless acts of violence and abuse could be attributed to his father’s reign of terror. Armani dealt in drugs, weapons, and flesh, no crime too heinous as he sought to increase his wealth and power.

Every day since meeting Armani, Rodrigo had regretted learning his old man was still alive. Rodrigo’s mother had fled from his father, from Italy, when she was still pregnant with him, settling down in Spain under an assumed name. It was believed his mother had been prepared to testify against his father. However, something had spooked her, so she’d run.

She died when Rodrigo was young, leaving him to be raised by a couple he’d believed to be his aunt and uncle. He had recently learned they were not blood relations, but instead kind strangers willing to help a desperate, pregnant woman.

Rodrigo had been drawn into his father’s world as part of an undercover operation, launched for the purpose of rescuing another member of the Masters’ Admiralty. He should have—could have—walked away once that member, Talya Maes, was rescued.

However, Rodrigo, spying the opportunity to dismantle the Camorra from within, had chosen to go…well, for lack of a better word…rogue and stay.

“Papá,” Rodrigo said, nodding his head as a show of the respect he did not feel for the man sitting before him.

Armani tossed a newspaper across the desk toward him. The paper was open to the society pages, which was surprising. Rodrigo expected to see a front-page story about some horrible crime his father wished to brag about.

Rodrigo skimmed the page, his eyes landing on his father’s name. And his. He read the entire passage, which was only a paragraph. It felt like something so life-altering should have more words.

“An engagement?” Rodrigo asked, fighting for composure.

“An alliance, the joining of two powerful families. I have made a fortuitous match for you, my son. The Russo family is an old one, operating in the south of Italy. Aristide and his wife were not blessed with children, however, his brother, Riccardo, who is his underboss, has a beautiful daughter, Giada. Given the current state of the Camorra in Italy, Aristide and I have decided that the two of you will marry.”

“I don’t understand. Why is this necessary?” Rodrigo asked, as he desperately sought a reason to stop this wedding from taking place.

“I don’t need to explain it to you,” his father replied, slapping his hand down on his desk. “I am your don. You will obey me without question.” His father scowled, his ruddy complexion growing darker, a sure sign that Rodrigo had overstepped in questioning his father’s authority.

“You misunderstand me, Papá. We are the most powerful of the Camorra in Italy. Surely combining our family with that of the Russos only serves to benefit them. What can we hope to gain from this?”

Armani smirked, pleased. Rodrigo had learned very early on that his father was a narcissist, easily manipulated with flattery.

“This union will benefit us as well. We suffered many losses in that recent attack. It was unfortunate timing that the Cosa Nostra sought to weaken us through arson at the same time that billionaire Frenchman, Fortin, decided to harm us with his acquisition of too many of our businesses. Simply to retrieve his sex slave,” Armani spat. “No pussy is worth that much money.”

“I still believe we should have punished the Cosa Nostra for their foolish plot to undermine us,” Rodrigo said hotly, fists clenched as if ready to go to battle immediately. Rodrigo was perfectly aware it was Milo Moretti, a former colleague and friend, not the rival organization, who was responsible for the fires that destroyed many of the Camorra’s properties.

Since exposing Armani’s previous underboss, Cosmin, as a traitor to the family—through an arms deal gone very, very bad—Rodrigo had acquired the reputation of being bloodthirsty, something his father took great pride in. As such, Rodrigo cultivated that image.

Armani raised his hand as if to calm him down. “Going to war with the Cosa Nostra would serve no purpose. They still deny that it was them. Regardless, they’ve realized the error of their ways, and the attacks have stopped.”

Rodrigo nodded, but he made a sound of regret.

Armani heard it, approval shining in the man’s eyes. “Now is not a time for war. It is necessary to rebuild. The consolidation of our family with the Russos will not only prove to our enemies that we are still strong but that we are also growing. The Russos’ interests in the south will expand our territory, increase our forces, and ensure that we are the reckoning force, the most feared family in Italy.”

“And this woman,” Rodrigo said, glancing at the paper once more, “Giada—”

“She is very powerful,” his father interjected, his tone telling him that while he approved of the match, he did not approve of the bride. Armani flicked his fingers beneath his chin, the gesture one of disgust. “Her uncle and father have spoiled her, given her too much freedom, allowing her a voice in the family. Once she is a Capello, she will learn her place is by your side, silent, beautiful, subservient. The only place she need open her mouth is in the bedroom, and only to please you,” Armani said with a suggestive leer.

Rodrigo was well-versed in his father’s opinions about where women fit in the world. In his eyes, every female was nothing more than chattel, placed on this planet to serve men’s carnal needs. Wealthy women like Giada were pawns of the mafia, useful only as trophy wives, while lower-class women were objects who could be snatched up, stolen from their homes, and sold to the highest bidder in order to fill Armani’s coffers.

“She was allowed to express her opinion?” Rodrigo had become quite the actor during his time in his father’s house, and as such, his outrage convinced—and pleased—Armani. “If she is as bothersome as you describe, perhaps we would be better served to wait until we find a more biddable choice.”

“I am certain you can bring her to heel. Capello blood runs through your veins, my son. You were born to lead, to rule. You will snuff out that independent willfulness in her in no time. Put a baby in her belly, keep her busy in the nursery with your heir.”

“Barefoot and pregnant?” Rodrigo muttered, forcing a chuckle when he realized he hadn’t shielded his disdain for that suggestion.

Armani likened himself to royalty and, as such, he believed strongly in divine right. It was that extreme egomania that had made it too easy for Rodrigo to infiltrate Armani’s house, to ascend to his current position as second-in-command.

“I agree that now is the time to rebuild,” Rodrigo said. “You are wise to look to the future.” Rodrigo was a master at ingratiating himself to his father. “However, wouldn’t my time be better served helping my family with boots on the ground as opposed to my cock in some outspoken princess?”

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