Page 4 of Ruined Kingdom

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Vittoria Russo is shell-shocked. It’s the only way I can think to describe her. She’s pretty, even scared as she is. Grown into those big blue eyes I still remember so vividly and wearing an expensive dress, expensive shoes, and carrying an expensive bag. All designer. Money. She has plenty of it. I’d expect no less from daddy’s little princess.

She immediately tries to climb out the other end of the SUV, but my brother, who had just reached to open it from the outside, climbs in beside her. He gives her a wicked grin, and she scoots farther from him only to press her thigh against mine. I close my hand over her leg.

“Relax. You’re not going anywhere.”

She freezes between us, somehow still clutching her bag. I take that, toss it into the front seat as we set off for the cemetery where Geno Russo will rot. It’s about a twenty-minute drive along the outskirts of town.

I put a new magazine into my Glock and tuck it into its shoulder holster. Emptying my gun into Geno Russo’s body was satisfying. Not half as satisfying as it would have been had he been alive, but it was something.

No one speaks, and once we arrive, the girl resists when I tell her to climb out of the vehicle, so I take her arm and slide her across the leather seat. She clutches the headrest of the chair in front, but it’s little effort to get her out, and once I do, I let her drop onto her ass on the ground.

Men start arriving in the other SUVs, and the pallbearers are already carrying the casket toward the hole in the earth.

“Don’t you want to see Daddy buried? Isn’t that why you came all this way?” I ask her.

We look at each other. I can’t quite see her face behind the net of the hat, so I reach down and tug it off.

She cries out as the pins pull her hair. I toss the hat aside. She rubs her head and meets my gaze with those blue eyes that burned themselves into my memory so many years ago. It’s strange seeing her in person. I’ve watched over the years mostly online or in magazines. Russo was trying to go legit, to untangle himself from his ties to the mob, and his beautiful daughter was a part of that. But he never could quite clean the dirt out from under his fingernails. He was a thug through and through. Him and his son both. That’s not something you can just wash away.

“Get up,” I tell her, but when she doesn’t move, I reach down to haul her to her feet.

She’s lucky it hasn’t rained here in a while, or that expensive dress would be covered in mud. Once she’s up, she slips her foot back into her shoe. It must have fallen off when I let her drop.

“Where’s Father Paolo?” she asks, looking around. Her first words to me ever. I still remember when she spoke that day so long ago. Holding up a bouquet of dandelions she’d picked from our garden. Weeds she’d thought were daffodils.

“Father Paolo won’t make it,” I tell her, walking her toward the hole.

“What did you do to him? We need a priest. The rites…”

“That priest was getting sucked off by his mistress about an hour before the burial. But don’t worry, we’ll say a few words.” I stop at the foot of the grave.

“Fucking heavy shit,” my brother complains as he and another man open the lid of the casket. Bastian reaches into the casket, and a moment later, he tosses Russo’s ring with the insignia I remember so well to me.

I catch it with one hand, take a quick look at it, then tuck it into my pocket.

“Oh God,” Vittoria Russo says, her hand going to cover her mouth.

“If you’re going to be sick, do not get it on my shoes,” I say.

She doesn’t reply, and she doesn’t get sick as my brother, Bastian, looks at me, and I give him a nod.

“Rot in hell, motherfucker,” Bastian says.

“Like I told you, we’d say a few words,” I tell her as he and two others tilt the casket and her father’s bullet-riddled body tumbles out and lands with a thud facedown in the ground.

The girl cries out. It’s somewhere between a, “No,” and a choked sob.

I put my hand on her back to give a little push, and she spins to shove me away.

“What’s the matter? Don’t want to go in there with dear dead Daddy?”

“What the hell is wrong with you? I don’t even know who you are!”

I lean toward her, towering over her. At five-feet-five-inches plus the heels, the top of her head almost comes to my chin. “Are you sure about that, Dandelion?”

She blinks and looks at me through thick lashes heavy with tears.

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