Calisto had never been a fan of pain, but he found it provided
a certain relief.
It was a high that couldn’t compete with anything else
he experienced. That was why he fought bare-knuckled, why he drove fast,
despite knowing he might crash, and why he still enjoyed looking at Emma Donati—no
matter her current status.
Pain felt good.
He might have been a fool for doing so, but as long as
he got what he wanted from it, he didn’t really care.
When he fought, he was given release. When he drove,
he was given freedom. When he looked at Emma, he was given memories.
All of them brought a certain level of pain. All three
might kill him someday.
Calisto glanced at Emma, taking her in again when she
didn’t know he was looking.
He realized then that only one might actually be worth
Emma kept her gaze on the book in her lap, pretending
like there wasn’t an argument going on across the room. She had become terribly
good at acting like she didn’t hear.
Calisto watched her out of the corner of his eye while
he argued on with Affonso.
She was too focused on Calisto to care about their
His anger. The tightness of his jaw. Searing
The two men were not the same. They might have shared
blood, but their hearts were entirely different. One man never let her out of
his sight when he was nearby. The other acted like she didn’t exist.
This was what it was like, she realized, to be in love
with someone she couldn’t have.
Calisto Donati would never be hers.
This wasn’t a fairy tale that would end happily.
They weren’t star-crossed. They were impossible.
There was something to be said for the sting of pain.
It provided a heavy rush of adrenaline. It swept through the bloodstream like a
drug, fast in some spots, slower in others.
Pain was a reminder of life.
It couldn’t be felt after death.
Maybe that’s why Calisto enjoyed the brutality of fighting.
The satisfying contact of fists to skin, followed by the sharp gasp of pain
from the bastard taking the hits. A crisscross patchwork of scars on the
knuckles that only healed long enough to close before they were opened in yet
another match. The ache in his kidneys that stayed for days after a match was
over, and the yellow tint to his skin where bruises were fading.
Maneuvering, avoiding, and yet the pain still came.
It was almost like dancing, but better.
Smack, duck, block, throw, smack
The routine of fighting was always the same. Make the
right moves. Throw out the right punches. Get the fuck out of the way.
Calisto’s only bad habit when fighting was keeping his
face protected more than the rest of his body. To his own detriment, he kept
his face safe from bruises and broken bones while suffering from body blow
after body blow.
A bell rang, and Calisto let out a hard breath as he
ripped the mouth guard out and tossed it into a trash bin that was in the
corner of the cage.
“What’d I fucking tell you two, huh?” came a shout
from outside the mesh.
Calisto ignored the fool and grabbed the bar of chalk
that was passed to him from a fellow gym member. He rolled it in between his
hands, letting the powdery block soak up what blood seeped from his cut
knuckles and the sweat inside his palms.
“Protective gear needs to be worn at all times,” the
owner said, waving wildly at Calisto.
“So?” Calisto asked. “He didn’t mind.”
“Nope, I didn’t.”
Calisto tossed his opponent a grin, and jerked a thumb
in the younger man’s direction. “See?”
“Not the fucking point.”
“Come on, JD, we’re just sparring.”
“Gio’s got a bloody mouth,” JD barked. “And your
knuckles need ice. You two don’t seem to understand the concept of following
the fucking rules.”
Calisto leaned against the mesh of the cage,
unaffected. “And what about them?”
“You know, we could always take our business
elsewhere,” Gio said, resting against the cage like Calisto was. He’d
interrupted JD with a smooth drawl and a blank stare that spoke of boredom and
little else. Gio sported a cut lip, but the bleeding wasn’t that bad. “I know
how much you would hate to lose out on the bets the guys get going when we’re
up here fighting, man.”
“Truth,” Calisto said, tipping his head toward Gio.
JD gritted his teeth, clearly struggling with a
response. “Could you at least tape your hands next time?”
Gio smirked. “We’ll think about it.”
Huffing, the owner walked away. Most of the other
watchers had already fled from the cage. Sighing, Calisto pushed away from the
wall and tossed the chalk bar over the edge where it landed in a pile of hand
towels on the table.
“You need to stop covering your face so much when I
come at you,” Gio said offhandedly. “It’s not like I’m going to knock out all
of your teeth, if that’s what you’re worried about. Maybe just a couple.”
“You’re fucking hilarious. Really.” Calisto pressed
his fingertips around his right kidney, wincing at the shot of pain blooming in
his side. “Still would have kicked your ass, had JD not hit the buzzer.”
“Next week, same time. We’ll see who the fool is then,
Gio chuckled. “You’re still going to protect your
face, man. I’m still going to give your body one hell of a beating while you do
Calisto grinned. “Hey, if your face looked like mine
does, you’d protect it, too.”
“Tell me something I don’t already know, Marcello.”
Two towels were tossed over the cage wall. Calisto
caught them both and tossed one over to Gio before wiping himself down. He
ignored the sting in his knuckles and the aches in his lower half, knowing he’d
earned them and it was just another reminder that he was still breathing.
“Heard your uncle was having trouble with the Irish in
Jersey,” Gio said.
Calisto shrugged. “Nothing serious.”
Gio hummed under his breath. “Be careful with them.
The O’Neils can be vicious.”
Calisto didn’t respond, because he didn’t have to.
He’d been keeping an eye on the small Irish family trying to bleed their way
into New York territory from their roots in New Jersey. The best thing to do
was avoid any street wars, but sometimes that shit just couldn’t be helped.
“Next week, you said?” Gio asked.
Calisto nodded. “Yeah. I need something to do on
Gio laughed. “Doesn’t Affonso have some kind of family
dinner thing then?”
. Which is exactly why I need something
to do on Thursday nights.”
“You could always sit down at the Marcello table. We
wouldn’t turn you away from a meal, Donati.”
Calisto knew that was true. Giovanni Marcello came
from the long-reigning Marcello crime family. Cosa Nostra was in that man’s
blood just as much, if not more, than Calisto’s.
“You might not turn me away, but I can’t go wining and
dining with the rival family,” Calisto said, only half kidding.
“Just fighting with them on Thursdays, huh?”
“What are you talking about? I am nowhere near a
fellow family tonight. I am over on Bleecker Street doing business.”
Gio cocked a brow. “Seriously?”
“What Affonso doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”
Calisto swallowed the lump forming in his throat. He
couldn’t possibly explain to Gio how true those words really were.
“How’s the new family member?” Gio asked.
Calisto stepped out of the cage, keeping his back
turned to the man. It was difficult for Calisto to hide the varying degrees of emotions
that ran through him every time he was forced to talk about his uncle’s bride
like she was just any other woman he knew.
She wasn’t any other woman.
Not to Calisto.
Emma Sorrento—now Donati—could never be “just someone”
Calisto had taken Emma from her life in Las Vegas,
uprooted her without a single care, and deposited her to his uncle like a gift
wrapped in a pretty bow. Somewhere in between all of that nonsense, Calisto had
managed to find himself in Emma’s bed, and she had somehow weeded her way into
He couldn’t get her out.
“She’s … doing well,” Calisto settled on saying.
As far as he knew.
“Good.” Gio broke away from Calisto, walking toward
the weights. Calisto went for the showers and changing rooms. Behind him, the
younger man called, “Next week, stop protecting your face so much.”
Calisto flipped his friend off.
Unfortunately, his mind was now in a different place.
A place where he tried not to go, and hadn’t gone since the wedding four months
ago. He’d watched the tuffs of February snow fall to the ground as Affonso
shuffled his new bride into a waiting black car after the reception ended.
For a week, Calisto barred himself from everyone and
everything he possibly could. He tried not to think about the week-long
honeymoon that Emma was forced to endure, or what was happening. He drank his
mind stupid to the point where coherent thoughts were impossible and emotions
It was easier.
And then Calisto sobered up.
Affonso and Emma came back.
Life moved on.
Calisto stayed away as much as possible. Inserting
himself into Emma’s daily life felt like a cruel joke to him and her both. A
reminder of the things they had done, and the lies they told to keep it a
secret. The less time they spent together, the better.
knew Calisto didn’t need to get himself
anymore wrapped up in Emma than he already had been. Once, was all he needed.
Or it was supposed to be.
As long as he kept a distance, Calisto wouldn’t find
himself failing again.
Surely, that was enough.
Every second Tuesday of each month was reserved for a
duty that Calisto had no possible way of getting out of. Tribute was a Don’s
God-given right in Cosa Nostra. There were no questions to be asked about
paying the boss, his men simply tallied the Don’s seventy percent out of their
cash for the previous two weeks, slapped it into an envelope, and delivered it
into a waiting hand.
Calisto’s ritual was the same on every other Tuesday.
He got up before eight, dressed in a suit, stopped at a café right down the
block from his apartment, and then had his driver make the thirty minute trip
to a Hilton hotel across the city just before noon. Being even a little bit
late was unacceptable.
There were a few things in life that Affonso hated
most of all. Losing money, people who questioned him, loose ends, and men who
made him wait. Unless someone had more power behind their name than Affonso
did, he waited on no one.
Being Affonso’s nephew didn’t afford Calisto much
was concerned. In front of his uncle’s men,
Calisto offered the respect that was due to Affonso, but not much else. It was
when they were alone that he rallied against Affonso’s demands, and voiced his
opinions louder than his uncle wanted him to.
Behind closed doors, there was no made man, no nephew
to the boss, and no consigliere doing his uncle’s bidding.
There was just Calisto.
“Five minutes,” Tiny said in the front seat.
Calisto grunted his thanks through a sip of hot coffee.
His enforcer drummed a beat on the steering wheel in time with the music from
“You’re awfully active this morning,” Calisto noted.
“It’s a good day, boss.” Tiny shot him with a wide
grin and added, “And you know, I took a
home last night. Then I
sent her on her way this morning with a pat on the ass and a promise for more.
Makes a man happy to spend his night with a beautiful woman.”
Calisto chuckled. “One of these days, you’ll find one
of those women knocking on your door with a baby in hand, Tiny. You’re too
loose with your nonsense.”
“I wrap it up.”
Tiny had acted as Calisto’s driver and enforcer for as
long as he had taken up the spot as Affonso’s consigliere in the Donati crime
family. The man got his nickname for the tiny knife he kept hidden in his pants
pocket that only came out when he needed it for something. Tiny didn’t use guns
to protect Calisto, he used his fists and a knife.