Page 9 of Ruined Kingdom

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I set my hand on his shoulder. He is younger than me. His hate of the Russo family expresses differently. It blinds him. And if we are to win this the right way, he needs to see.

“Fuck their favor. They work for the family. We are the family.”

Bastian squares his shoulders and looks at me. He’s my height, my build. We could be twins but for the color of our eyes and the five-year age difference.

“Besides, how would that make us different than Lucien Russo if we were to gift her to anyone?” I ask him.

He glances away momentarily, then back, jaw set tighter. “Hannah,” he says as if I need reminding.

“How would gifting Vittoria Russo to the men make us different than him?” I repeat tightly. In his heart, he knows what he’s suggesting is wrong. I know he does. “And why would either of us care about gaining favor with the men?”


“No one touches her. She belongs to us now. And we look after what is ours.”

He studies me, and I can see the wheels turning, his doubt clouding his vision. He’s wanted this for so long. We both have. And I understand what he’s saying. She will make trouble for us, this girl.

“Are we on the same page, brother?” I press, squeezing his shoulder because I need to make this very clear now.

He doesn’t answer for a long minute. I raise an eyebrow.

“Bastian, we want the same thing.”

He finally nods. “We’re on the same page,” he says. “I smell Mom’s tomato sauce. Let’s go eat.”

I push open the swinging door to the kitchen to find Francesca and our mother. They’re busy at the stove stirring the bubbling tomato sauce Mom has been making since we were babies. It instantly puts a smile on my face.

“Boys,” our mother says, beaming when she sees us. Bastian is first to go to her, hug and kiss her cheek. She looks at me, smiles, and I kiss her other cheek. “Where is Hannah?” she asks, looking over our shoulders toward the door.

It takes all I have to keep the smile on my face. I glance quickly at Francesca, who gives a small shake of her head, which means it’s been one of those days.

“Is that her friend who’s visiting?” my mother asks.

She must have seen Vittoria. I’m suddenly not sure bringing her here was my best idea. I could have taken her to the Naples house, but I need to keep her hidden for now.

“I told you, Nora, that wasn’t Hannah’s friend. She’s someone else,” Francesca says, turning Mom to face her. “Remember?”

“Oh. Yes. I remember.” Mom looks back at us. “Are you hungry? We made your favorite sauce.”

“With homemade pasta?” Bastian asks.

Francesca gives him a look. “How much time do we have in our day?” she teases him, but I know taking care of Mom is a full-time job. Her decline began the day our sister, Hannah, died along with the baby she was carrying. Hannah was only fourteen. Her body wasn’t close to ready to deliver a child, even if it was premature. If we’d known about it, if we’d known she was pregnant at all, she would be alive today. But shame made her hide, retreating from her family and her life. I still can’t puzzle out what she’d planned to do if she’d managed to carry the bastard full term and give birth. What then?

My throat tightens as it always does when I come back to this. It’s been fifteen years. Fifteen years and still nothing changes. Still, all I have are questions and few answers.

My mind slips to the girl upstairs. Vittoria Russo. The little girl with the bunch of dandelions she thought were daffodils.

“You get started. I have to take care of something. I’ll be down soon.”

Bastian nods and distracts Mom as I walk out of the kitchen and down the hall to the library, where Bastian and I each have a desk. I remove my jacket, shoulder harness, and tie, then undo the cuffs and roll my sleeves up to my elbows, glancing down at the dandelions tattooed on my forearm. The time for our vengeance has come. I pour myself a whiskey and stand at the window to watch the last of the fading sunset as I drink. The stars begin to shine, the few lights of boats far in the distance visible from here. Amalfi begins to light up, as do several lone houses along the water’s edge. It’s beautiful here. Peaceful. The quietest, stillest place I have ever been.

Today was a good day, I tell myself as I finish my whiskey and turn to my desk where Vittoria’s purse lies. It’s a small velvet clutch with a rich satin interior. I recognize the designer. I dump the contents and find lipstick, her phone, and a small pistol. No tissues, I notice. Did she not expect to cry at her own father’s funeral? Not that he deserved anyone’s tears.

I run a hand over the lining to check for hidden pockets but don’t feel anything. I pick up the pistol. It’s small, made for a woman, but just as deadly as my Glock. The bullets are intact. Not that I expected her to have used it. I empty it and lock both bullets and gun in the top drawer of my desk. I pick up her phone, but it’s password protected, so I can’t get into it. I tuck that into the pocket of my slacks, put her lipstick back into her purse, and head upstairs with it.

Time to properly introduce myself.

Tags: Natasha Knight Romance