Energy buzzed through the crowded coffee house and swirled around with the vast quantity of people, some of them decked out in designer labels while others, content in touristy wear, sipped their drinks. Gabrielle had chosen to meet her father here because they wouldn’t need to worry about mixing in with the crowd. This wasn’t an issue for her but something her father cared about.
The coffee shop served as the ideal place for her. She’d be able to have the chat with her father and then get into her shop a few doors down to have it open to customers in a half hour. Ordering their mochas ahead of time saved her a few precious minutes. She handed him the drink before taking a seat across the small wooden table from him.
“I could’ve ordered for myself,” he said with a twist of his mouth. “Black coffee is all I ever order.” He sipped the chocolate-flavored liquid in the white and green colored cup while taking a quick scan of the people seated around him. His face formed into a grimace. “Gabi, I hate this poor excuse for coffee and the establishment you’ve picked.”
“I’m sorry. It’s been a while since we’ve had coffee together and I automatically ordered this. I’ll remember next time though.” Her hands started to shake while the realization of her screw-up sunk in. If she couldn’t get his stupid order correct, how could she work for him?
For Gabrielle Medini, the goal seemed simple. She wanted excitement and glamour, but her life had changed from country hopping as a teen to boring at age twenty-five and she longed to recapture that sizzle. Everything had become clear, leading her believe that her father held the answers. She needed this discussion to be perfect, but their conversation had quickly slid in the opposite direction.
“Don’t pretend this is a casual father-daughter bonding moment. Why did you request this meeting?”
She tapped the toe of her Dior pump against the tiled floor as she glanced at the red lipstick print on her straw. Uncertainty swirled through her as she twisted the straw around in the dark creamy liquid. Just ask him. But his answer would certainly be no. She slowly inhaled and then let the breath exhale slowly to calm her nerves. The trembling in her hands stopped. Yes, she could do this.
“Okay, Dad, since we both have a full work day, I’ll cut to the chase so we can get out of here.” She made contact with her father’s steel glare.
“Is something wrong, Gabi? Are you in trouble?” His voice softened a bit which was rare.
“Nothing is wrong.” Trying to capture another ounce of courage, she took a long drink of her coffee. She replaced the cup on the table and with a faked confident smile, she said, “I think it’s time you tell me about your organization.”
Her father’s jaw dropped in concert with his cup, spewing hot liquid all over. “Damn it!” He jumped up from the table, then grabbed paper napkins from the counter to dab the splotches from his navy, silk suit.
After a quick glance at the long line of customers waiting for service, she decided to wipe the mess from the table herself instead of waiting on an employee’s help. She sighed. With so many interruptions, she’d be lucky if the discussion ever took place, let alone they come to an agreement.
“They provide lids for those cups for a reason, you know,” she snapped as she wiped the table. She stalked over to the trash can and threw away the soggy napkins.
“I don’t like lids.”
“They prevent liquid from spilling, and now I don’t have time to buy you another one.”
She pulled her chair closer to the table as she sat and eyed her father’s posture. His crossed arms and the deepened frown told her he wasn’t happy, but she couldn’t let this go. “I’ve noticed some things about our family and it’s time for you to be honest with me.”
“Why are you wasting my time?” He shot back and glanced at the people nearby. Why did he have to be so paranoid? It wasn’t like anyone would recognize him. Her father looked like an ordinary man with his glasses, sun-induced wrinkly skin, and thinning hair.
“Thanks, Dad. So having coffee with your daughter is a waste of time?” She tapped her foot again, and glanced at her watch, her impatience growing with each second. Even though she’d only been back in town for a year, knowing her father didn’t trust her created pinpricks of hurt in her heart. Sending her away for several years didn’t erase the fact that she was his daughter.
“You’re wasting my time by talking about stuff you shouldn’t be. You need to be folding sweaters in your boutique instead of asking these types of questions.” He took his ringing cell phone out of his jacket pocket and instead of answering, set it on the table.
She did her best to push the waves of pain caused from his declared expectations of her from her heart. “You can answer the call.” She didn’t have the time to wait while he had a conversation over the phone but curiosity voided that fact.
“I can handle the matter later. Let’s finish, so I can get on with my day.” He folded his arms over his broad chest.
“Please stop hiding things from me, Dad.”
The frown on his face deepened. “I don’t have any idea what you’re referring to.”
“I’m not the princess you think I am. I’ve grown up and can face the truth now.” She took a sip.
He shook his head again. “There’s nothing for you to know.”
“Do you think I’m stupid? Tell me how your rental warehouse and cabin in the mountains brings in enough money to finance a million dollar home? Or the expense of sending me overseas to a swanky boarding school.” She took a long drink, savoring the taste of her caramel-chocolate coffee mixed with the satisfaction of being right.
She’d overheard him talking to her mother about keeping her far from the mess. At the time she hadn’t understood what he had been referring to, but she had grown up. Even having dinner each Friday with the members of the business rang warning bells for her, but the men kept it all hush-hush while in her company. Up until now, she hadn’t asked questions. The passive part of Gabrielle had left and she would be demanding answers until she got them.
“This isn’t the place to discuss anything of importance.” His heavy hand hit the table with a thunk. Shaking his head as if she’d failed a test, he said, “Besides, Gabrielle Felice Medini, you need to learn the meaning of trust instead of worrying about my private affairs.”
Her chest tightened but did her best to force the sensation away. She must accomplish what she’d set out to do. Looking around the coffee shop, she forced out a laugh. “Do you actually think these people care what we’re talking about? Everyone has their noses pressed to their laptop screens, listening to IPODs, or chatting with friends about last night’s date. Nobody is listening to us, Enrico Medini.”
He kept his eyes on her as if he contemplated telling her the truth. “Stop pressing the issue.”
Anger welled up in her and she did nothing to hold it back. She knew how far she could push her father to get her way and intended on doing it now. “I want to know.” She pointed at her father. “You talk about trust? Try trusting your daughter for a minute. I have never given you a reason to not have faith in me. I never questioned a single decision you’ve made for me which includes shipping me to Italy for years.”
“That’s enough.” He leaned back in his chair, his eyes narrowed into slits focused on her face, but he didn’t scare her.
Refusing to turn from the burning glare of her father, she asked, “And you say there’s nothing to know? Do you really think I wouldn’t read the papers? Or see your face under the headlines? Don’t underestimate my intelligence, Father.”
He looked around as if checking to see if she’d been right about the people not caring. Leaning forward, he whispered, “Fine.”
Her heart stopped in her chest as she waited for him to say the words. She’d finally convinced him to tell her. Things would now change in her life. The spark of excitement flickered, ready to ignite once he exposed the truth.
Just as her dad opened his mouth to speak, Gabrielle heard someone at a nearby table whispered to his friend, “See that guy behind me? I swear it’s Enrico Medini.”
“Yeah? So?” the guy’s companion asked, not even trying to keep his voice lowered. “I don’t know him.”
“The Mafia boss? My dad follows all that shit.” The guy had to be only a few years younger than Gabriel and wore a University of Nevada T-shirt. “When we get up, take his picture with your phone. I gotta show my dad.”
“See what I mean?” Dad hissed. “Stay out of this, Gabi. I don’t want to see your picture in the papers next to mine.” He swung his gaze to the wall while placing his hand up to avoid having his picture taken as the guys passed.
“Did you get it?” the guy’s friend asked.
“Good enough for him to tell who I had seen,” the college guy answered as he pushed the door open.
She had enough sense to wait until the guys left before whispering, “I want to be involved. Please give me a job.”
He snapped his attention back to her. “This discussion is over.”
Gabrielle glanced at her watch. Almost time for the boutique to open. “How about we continue this conversation over dinner?”
“Why not?” She tapped her foot again. His stubborn refusal annoyed her and she couldn’t help the nervous gesture. Unfortunately her father managed to get her nerves coiled up tighter than a ball of yarn and he didn’t seem to care one bit. “Dad, why won’t you let me work for you? Don’t I seem competent enough in running my own business to do a job for you?”
“You have a good life with the best boutique in town, plus a fancy house. Be satisfied with those things.”
Why couldn’t he see her as more than his little princess? She could do so much beyond selling designer clothes and looking pretty. Now that she had returned home, she wanted to be part of it all. The Mafia lifestyle ran in her blood and the desire to be part of her father’s empire pumped through her so strong she could almost taste it.
“Why won’t you let me do something small? Maybe collect money or something?” Excitement bubbled inside of her.
“I will not talk to you about this again.” He picked up his cell and dialed a number, but before sending the call through he took another look at Gabrielle. “You’ll be at dinner, correct?”
“Yes, Father,” Gabrielle said even though avoiding the weekly event might help prove her point. Pushing her chair back and standing, she mumbled, “See you at dinner.”
She spun on her heel and walked out of the coffee shop knowing she had go to the dinner instead of miss out on a moment to speak with her father. He’d almost told her today so there had to be a way to get her father to share some of the limelight with her. If she found an opportunity to get him alone later, she might be granted the opportunity pressure him a bit and then he’d tell her the truth.
As she rushed down the sidewalk in the direction of the shop, she tried to ignore the cold swirling around in the Las Vegas air. She’d left her coat at home since it usually warmed up by early spring. But today the cold outside matched the chilly conversation she’d just had with her father.
She sighed. Some day she’d get him to change his mind, but how long would her father take to come around to Gabrielle’s way of thinking? She’d wait him out. After all, she’d inherited his stubborn streak for sure.
She could always ask one of the guys. Of course they kept her in the dark about the business, but she could try to get one of them to open up. She might not know a lot about the Mafia Family her father controlled, but she had figured out where everyone ranked in the Family. She shook her head in defeat. Even if she got them to agree at first, her father would quickly put an end to her job once he found out.
What would Mikolas say if she approached him about it? He had to be in on workings of the Family since he’d been around her entire life. After all, their fathers were best friends. If she had an opportunity to talk to Mik, she would bring up the subject. With any luck, if Mik sided with her, they might be able to convince her father to trust her with a small task.
She flipped the open sign on the boutique window and greeted her first customer while she tried to come up with a plan.
The opportunity to visit with Mikolas had taken over her mind all day long. She watched each minute click by on the register, waiting for the boutique to close so she could hurry to her parent’s house for Friday night dinner.
Although the weekly event seemed suspicious to her, Gabrielle hadn’t had a clear picture of the whole Friday night dinner before the meeting with her father this morning. Now everything made sense. The family-friends weren’t friends at all, but employees of her father’s business. They had been able to hide the real details from her because their dealings weren’t discussed at the dinner, but she didn’t doubt the reign of control her father held over the lives gathered around the long dining room table. No wonder why Dad always said to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Holding the dinner once a week provided him the ability to keep tabs on his men while giving her the convenient excuse to see Mik.
Mikolas Russo came to mind again and made her weak in the knees. How could she convince anyone to give her a job for the Family when she couldn’t find the gumption to tell the man she loved him? She shook her head. Just stupid. She tapped her frosty pink acrylic nails on the counter top.
Tonight she would find some way to get Mik alone and lay her feelings on the line. As children and young teens, the two of them had been close, but they’d grown apart after she’d been sent away for high school. Mik appeared to be a determined man, going after what he wants, and he’d never hinted at a date with her. Cleary he didn’t see her the same way. Maybe if she became part of the Family, he’d find her desirable. If he denied her, it might be enough to twist the lock on her heart, giving her the determination to move on with her life.
The clock finally struck six p.m. “Excuse me,” she called out through the boutique to the customers. “It’s time to close. I can ring up your purchases over here.”
Normally working late didn’t bother her a bit. She enjoyed her boutique most of the time and usually stayed open longer if the usual crowd of women continued rushing about with arm loads of clothes they planned on purchasing. Contentment hadn’t arrived this morning when she’d stepped over the boutique’s threshold, making today different.
She’d watched the clock all day, each passing minute seemed more like an hour while her decision to reveal her need to press her father for more details sprouted seeds of nervousness that she did her best to push away. And she’d see Mik again.
Even though they had grown up together, once she had gotten the beginnings of a crush, he had suddenly decided to stay far away from her without any explanation. They weren’t dating or really even friends since she’d returned back to the States. He only offered her a polite “hello” in passing while she’d love to have a real conversation with him. Where did that leave them? Acquaintances?
At least at the boutique she felt like someone special. This was her domain. She was a respected boutique owner and no one told her what to do. The women who visited her upscale boutique on the popular tourist strip of Las Vegas were a good mixture of local shoppers and tourists. She enjoyed meeting the occasional celebrity and thrived on the opportunity to give fashion advice to the socialites.
The twenty or so people in her store acknowledged her with curt nods then slowly made their way to the register. Clothes draped over their arms along with their designer purses. A variety of garments with hefty price tags attached were dropped onto the counter one by one. Women with designer everything, including lipstick, swiped their credit cards and hauled their pink bags, with the sparkling ‘Gabrielle’s’ written in cursive print across the sides, out the door.
“Why are you rushing us out of here tonight, Gabrielle? You never close the store this early,” Kendra, a local celebrity, asked. Her long blonde hair had been styled in a French twist and her make-up seemed flawless.
This customer remained one of Gabrielle’s favorites because the woman would throw down a few grand on a single outfit without batting an eyelash while treating Gabrielle with the upmost respect. Gabrielle couldn’t help but smile when she noticed the woman’s pile of clothes for the day’s shopping trip.
“Just have family obligations to take care of,” Gabrielle replied as she rang up each item and piled the clothes into bags.
After handing Kendra her packages, Gabrielle grabbed her keys and escorted the petite woman to the door. There wasn’t any time to clean up or do the books. This was it. Her life was about to change. But for better or for worse?
The traffic through Las Vegas on a Friday evening wasn’t anything less than crazy with the stop-and-go movement, reckless drivers, and accidents galore. Gabrielle fit right in with her impatience and the need to speed to her parent’s house. And Mik.
Gabrielle weaved through of the heavy traffic, ignoring the honks on three sides of her, as she pressed on the gas pedal. Nothing on her agenda could be brought up at dinner. She’d have to find the opportunity before everyone took their places at the long dining room table. Being late tonight wasn’t an option.
The thought of Mikolas brought a smile to her lips. The last time they’d any fun together had been at her going-away party when she’d been fifteen years old. Oh, how she’d loved him even then.
No matter how high her hopes had been, nothing had ever happened between her and Mik. Several men had asked her out over the years. Those relationships had led to nothing beyond a casual date and a fling with one of them because Gabrielle had wanted only Mikolas Russo. And tonight Gabrielle’s taking back the control in her life.
The Vegas traffic continued getting worse, forcing her to slow down, but she still pushed the limits. Honking the horn and riding bumpers didn’t help move things along. It did make her, in some weird way, feel counter-productive.
She zipped her silver BMW convertible in and out of lanes. When she reduced speed behind a minivan she laid on the horn. “Hurry up,” she yelled to the driver ahead of her, even though it wouldn’t do any good. She revved her engine to help prove her point. Traffic began to move again, making her hair fly behind her like a black shadow.
She whipped around another car and once back in the center of her own lane, she glanced at herself in the review mirror. Damn it, I forgot to put my scarf over my hair, now I’m going to look terrible when I get there. Oh well. She’d just take back her life with wind-blown hair.
The tall buildings of the casinos faded into a more than less desirable neighborhood. She glanced out at the run-down homes with broken out windows. This part of the city bothered her.
Her fear slowly dissolved with each passing mile, but her body did nothing to relax as nervousness of the upcoming event took its place. Pretty soon she would reach the edge of the Roselyn Neighborhood. Home. Maybe she should stop there to freshen up? She glanced at the clock on the dashboard. There wasn’t any time to stop. Running a brush through her hair would have to suffice.
Her silver car sped up to the exit leading her into the neighborhood in which both she and her parents owned homes. She rushed by her street where two women yelled at her to slow down. Her hair flung back from her face as she turned the corner and slowed her speed a little as she turned to go up the long driveway to her parents’ house. She came to a stop at the box and jabbed the intercom button.
“Who’s there?” asked the voice the over the speaker. The very guy who made her tingle with only one short sentence. Mikolas Russo.
“Mik, let me in.”
“Who are you?” he teased. The richness of his voice along with his words floated out of the little box.
She tapped her long fingernails against the pink leather steering wheel cover. “Quit messing with me. Just let me in.”
“Calm down, Gabi.” Mikolas gave a hearty laugh. “Come in.”
The gates buzzed and opened inward at a snail’s pace. She nudged her car forward a hair and made a mental note to talk to her father about the gates. By the time they closed, a whole stream of enemies could squeeze between them without anyone noticing. With all the money her parents had, her father could afford a faster moving gate.
With them finally open, she sped up the driveway and pulled her car behind Mik’s SUV. Whew. She’d made it and even lucked out with a good parking spot since most of the driveway would be filled with fancy cars within a half an hour.
Gabrielle’s heart raced as she pictured Mik manning the security gate tonight. The anticipation of having a few minutes alone with him made her heart spiral out of control. The feeling wasn’t new to her at all.
First, she needed to even the score, and then she’d bring up the idea of a date. Prepared to get Mik back for the habitual teasing over the speaker, she closed her car door with barely a click. She tiptoed up the security booth, moving against the small building to avoid him seeing her. “Mik,” she yelled as she jumped around the corner.
With a swift movement of his arm, he aimed a gun at her chest with his finger about to pull the trigger. His eyes were wide while his mouth dropped open in shock.
Fear of the gun aimed at her chest pushed the vile up her throat. She gulped while taking a step backward and lifted her hands up.
Once recovered, he said, “Damn it, Gabi. Don’t ever do that again.”
Her heart hammered in her chest. “But… I… uh.”
He slipped the gun back into the waistband of his pants again. “You what?”
She crossed her trembling arms over her chest and took another step back. “I only wanted to ask if you’d like to go swimming with me later?” The fear of a gun pointed at her chest must’ve pushed the suggestion right out of her mouth.
“Oh.” His cheeks flushed. “When?” He glanced at the computer video monitors when a familiar black BMW pulled up to the gate. Mik pushed the button to allow the car to pass through.
She stepped into the doorframe. “How long are you working in here tonight?”
“Enrico assigned me to security until dinner.” He turned toward the screen, giving her the chance to give him the once over.
She couldn’t deny how sexy he looked with his polo shirt tucked into his tan Dockers. His shiny dress shoes completed the outfit. Even the gun she had seen him tuck in his pants made him seem to hold even more of a dangerous sex appeal. His green eyes pierced hers, making heat rush over her cheeks. Damn it, he’d caught her ogling him. And now she felt like she’d been doing something she wasn’t supposed to. His lips tilted into a half smile while his eyes glistened with something she hadn’t noticed before? Mutual attraction? No matter how hard she had tried to fight it, she’d always been drawn to him. She couldn’t hide her feelings any longer. She had to tell him. Taking a step toward him, her hand found the bulge of his bicep.
“Mik?” She’d never called him by anything other than the nickname she’d given him as kids.
He turned away long enough to let another car through the gate. “Yeah?” His gaze locked onto hers again.
Her heart sped up in her chest as she realized he wasn’t pushing her away. Maybe she’d been wrong about this entire situation. Her lips formed a nervous smile. “I—”
Heavy footsteps approached from behind the booth. “You in there, Mikolas?” Marcello called.
Frowning, Mik answered, “Yeah?”
She dropped her hand. “See you at dinner,” she mumbled, each word dripping with disappointment.
“Yeah, see you at dinner,” he called out to her quickly as she walked away.
She made her way around to the side door of the house leading to her father’s office. Might as well get it all done while she still had some time left before dinner was scheduled to be served in the dining room. She needed to convince her father to let her work for him. The desire to have a mob job had become so strong, she wanted it almost as badly as she wanted Mikolas.
The silence in the house on a Friday night came as a surprise. The heels of her shoes clicked against the marble tile as she descended the hallway. Lights streamed out of the partially opened door of her father’s office, alerting her of the probability of his presence. Another few steps closer and she heard his voice. Forbidden to interrupt a meeting in progress, she stopped in her tracks. Should she knock on the door anyway? After all, this was important.
“One of our guys has been hired to pop me,” her father said. “If I’m killed, make sure you take care of Gabrielle and Maura.”
Gabrielle’s knees grew weak, sending her against the wall to stable herself. She bit back tears as his words settled over her. Her father acted as the lifeline to her family, she couldn’t lose him.
“Do you know who it is?” She didn’t have to see the husky voice to know who spoke the words. Family friend? Yeah right. Mikolas’ father served not only as her father’s best friend but his business partner as well.
“No, but I’m going to find out.”
Gabrielle wanted to cry out for her father, to stomp into his office, and demand to help. Or anything to stop this from happening. But she couldn’t yet. Instead, she wiped away the tears as she pressed her ear to the wall to get every detail possible.
“What’re we going to do?” Leon’s voice had gotten quieter while some more shuffling went on around the room.
“Start with our own in-house investigation.” Her father laughed. How could he think his life being in danger was funny?
The hairs on her neck prickled. Gabrielle could only guess what an in-house investigation meant and it probably wasn’t pretty either. She didn’t need to be an active participant to know at least one person would die in the search to find the traitor. Fear ripped through her stomach. Maybe being involved with this wasn’t such a good idea after all. Her father had been right with the decision to send her away all those years ago.
“Sounds good. Start tonight at dinner?” Leon suggested.
Footsteps approached the door, sending Gabrielle spinning on her heels. She quickly turned the corner to the kitchen. She had already struck out with one of her night’s goal but didn’t feel an ounce of defeat with the other. Her father had opened up the door for her to prove her loyalty and trustworthiness to the family. Did she want to step through the threshold he provided?
Gabrielle rounded the corner to the formal dining room, and found a few people already seated. “Hey,” she said, offering a small wave. All of the men there looked the same as they had the week before, but she knew them differently now.
“How are you, Gabrielle?” Bo asked.
She took the seat next to him at the table and wondered what role the middle-aged man served in all of this. With his politeness and charming smile, she couldn’t picture him committing any sort of crime. The possibility of him hurting another person bogged her mind. “I’m fine, Bo. You?”
He nodded his head. “Pretty well, thanks. Clarice has been meaning to stop by your shop. Morgana needs a dress for the prom.”
Gabrielle laughed, knowing just particular how his wife and daughter were. “It’s not prom season yet, but they can come in and special order Morgana’s dress.”
He beamed a gleaming white smile, pleased with her suggestion. “I’ll let them know.”
Gabrielle continued with small talk to the people sitting around the table. Michael told her about a recent trip while Lenard wanted to share stories with her. He owned a convenience store off Freemont Street and enjoyed comparing his horrible customers to hers which often earned them plenty of laughs from others.
As she visited with the men, the table quickly filled up, and nobody spoke either to her or within earshot of the plan to murder her father.
She scanned everyone sitting at the table, lingering for a spell on each face, trying to figure out who had enough balls to be a traitor to the Medini Family. Wil took the seat next to the three vacant places reserved for her father, Leon, and her mother. The last seat was for Mik, placing him across from her. Her heart raced as she wiped her sweaty palms on her napkin. For the entire year she’d been back in Las Vegas, neither she nor Mik had missed a Friday night dinner and this would be the first time he would be sitting so close to her.
Relax, Gabrielle! You’ll get through this one way or another.
The door opened and Mikolas sauntered into the room. He paused at the door before his lips formed into a sexy grin as he approached his place setting.
**** Dangerous Flames coming soon****
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