I want to give you the FIRST SNEAK PEAK at Bound for Life! Read the first chapter below 😀
PROLOGUE – BRUNO
I’m not doing this for me.
Drops of rain patter on the crumpled piece of paper I’m holding in my hand as I squint at the running ink on it. It’s the only piece of evidence for what I’m going to do tonight. Written on it is nothing but the address and room number Claudio gave me. Leaning on the back of my car, cigarette in my mouth, my lips curls into a frown at the thought of that smug bastard.
The scrape of my lighter is the only sound beside the rain in the alley where I’ve parked, and once I light my cigarette, I flick the tongue of flame on again to hold up to the scrap of paper, watching the red glow eat away at it and the words on it before there’s nothing but a blank scrap left. I let the little cinder fall to the ground and watch it die out in the raindrops on the asphalt.
I put out the cigarette and stick it in my pocket. I’m not leaving any evidence, even this far from what’s about to take place. It would be a rookie mistake. I’m young, but I’m not that stupid.
And with so much on the line, I will not take any chances.
I set off through the alleyways, staying off the main roads as much as I can as I wind through the streets of the Bronx. I’ve lived here long enough to know my way around, and I know that I need to keep a low profile tonight.
Not that it’s going to matter after I do what I’m about to. The Bronx is big, but my community is small. We’re tight-knit. Word will spread. It’ll be on everyone’s mind when they see me.
I feel anger boiling up inside me as I walk, my footsteps nearly silent. That word cast a darkness over my childhood. I could sense it in every shadow. Now, that’s the very same inky blackness I walk in.
But for her, I’d walk through the fires of hell.
I don’t have far to go. I turn yet another corner, and a cat perched on a dumpster slinks off silently, a freshly-killed rat in its mouth. As I approach the corner, I glance out to make sure the way is clear.
I hold my place and keep still in the cover of the brick wall as a pair of drunk men stumble by, arm-in-arm. As they laugh their worries away, I go unnoticed. I wait for their voices to fade away around another corner before I slip around leaving the sidewalk and stepping onto the filthy, grassy space below an overpass. I can see my goal ahead of me.
It’s a hotel, and not the kind business travelers reserve for ritzy trips or vacations. I’m looking at it from the back under a worn-down overpass, and I know from experience it isn’t much prettier in front. It’s attached to a storage facility with a rusted sign.
I’m tall, standing at least a head over most men, and I have the broad shoulders to match. My clothes hide the muscular build under them, bulked up and toned from years of manual labor. You can see a hint of that life in my rough, powerful hands when I let them slip from my front pocket. I’m clean-shaven, so I have my hood up and a pair of sunglasses covering my eyes. Intimidating as I am, this hotel would let me walk through the front door up to the rooms if I wanted.
But if I’m going to sink into the shadows, I’ll do it with finesse.
I make my way to one of the pillars that support the overpass, and there I wait. I know time is passing, and I don’t have much of it. I glance to the service door impatiently. My window of opportunity is only open so long.
My job tonight is straightforward. A man must die. But like many men who’ve earned the mafia’s crosshairs, he’s skittish. Afraid. Always looking over his shoulder. A man like that could run at a moment’s notice. A man like that could fight viciously. So a man like that needs to be taken by surprise. That takes bait.
Tonight, that bait is a woman. It’s a pretty common tactic for the mafia. They’ll set up a call girl to meet with the the mark as if he’s going out for a good time, usually at a hotel like this. Usually at nicer ones, but this guy is apparently a real lowlife, an old loan shark they found out was taking a little more than his weekly cut. They’re all monsters tearing each other apart.
Except the girls. I know what the mafia can be like with women. And all Claudio told me was that this girl is new, and that she’s not to be harmed, just dropped off somewhere on her way to her next job. I’ve got a bad feeling in my gut. I’m not just worrying about whether this girl will botch the whole job tonight. I’m worried I’ll be driving her to something worse, and that I’ll just be another set of hands sending someone innocent further in over her head.
And if I’m going to be working for the mafia, I’d better get used to it. There’s more at stake than my conscience, in my case.
But I don’t have any more time to think about this woman I’ve never even met.
I hear the click of the door, and I hear footsteps traveling out, along with the loud clinking of a garbage cart full of trash bags.
I waste no time. The second the janitor has his back to the door, I dart behind him and into the building. I’ve stepped inside a small utility room with a cleaner’s cart sitting unattended. Without wasting a moment, I grab a pair of latex gloves from it and move on. A moment later, I step out into the hallway. My hood up, and my heart is racing.
Maybe I was meant to be a hunter after all.
I know I’m going to be caught on camera. Maybe the mob wants me to take the fall for this. But if I’m fast enough and have luck on my side, the only thing the camera will catch is a tall hooded man with unclear features.
Room 232, I recite in my head. I head up the nearest set of stairs I can find, seeing nobody in the hallways. It’s late enough that most are asleep for the night. I glance at the room numbers on my way through the hall, and I feel a pulse race through my veins as I see the number I’m after.
I pass it by, heading to the bathrooms just a few doors down. One more stop, and the timing has to be perfect.
I enter the bathroom and head for the second stall down, entering and closing the door behind me. As soon as I’m in, I stoop down onto the cool tile floor and slip the latex gloves on. Carefully, I reach around the back of the toilet. My fingers brush against something small and plastic.
A janitor’s master keycard. It was planted earlier by a friend of the mafia. At least, that’s what they call the men and women that are either paid off or under threat.
As I take the card in hand, I check my watch, standing and turning around. Right on time. Now I have to wait for the mark to get in place.
But that thought’s interrupted as the bathroom door swings open, and footsteps echo in the ugly little room.
I freeze. My mind races with possibilities in an instant. Did the staff see me come in? Have the police been tipped off? Is it some random joe coming to waste my time? None of the options are good, and every muscle in my body is tense. Nothing can go wrong here.
One wrong move, and everything could go to hell.
Then my eye catches a glimpse of the man in the bathroom mirror when he walks past my stall. Skinny, white, wispy mustache, ropey muscles, graying brown hair, and green eyes.
It’s my mark.
He turns a faucet on and starts to run cold water, splashing some in his face and rubbing it as he lets out a groan followed by an ugly shiver. I hear the rattle of a pill bottle, and he pops something into his mouth. As if there were any shadow of a doubt this is my man, he’s taking a pill to keep him stiff.
My jaw is set. My hand is burning to go to the gun tucked behind me. All it would take would be one swift motion, and I could be out there. He hasn’t noticed me watching. If a man as tall as me were to step out, dressed like I am, he’d bolt. Could I take him down before then? It could be quick, clean, and there would be no risk to the girl in the room.
I see him staring in the mirror, and his eyes flit to the closed door of my stall. I’m bent enough that my head doesn’t stick out the top, but just how skittish is this man?
He peers at the door silently for a moment. Does he suspect something? Will he run? In that instant, I know what it means for the wolf to stare at a deer from the shadows.
The man crooks his arm and lets out a hacking cough, spitting something vile into the sink before washing his mouth off and popping a mint. I feel my muscles start to relax as he turns and makes his way out the door, no more alert than a moment ago. He doesn’t suspect a thing. I know the walk of someone who’s hiding something.
As easy as it would have been to take him, I had to restrain myself. There would be a cleaner coming after me to cover my tracks. They’re specialists who make sure the crime scene was scrubbed clean of any evidence. It’s grizzly work, but necessary for the people who do this kind of business.
People like me, I remind myself.
I check my watch, each second ticking by as if it were a minute. I have to give the mark time to get into the room and feel safe. If I burst out of the bathroom and barrel after him, he’ll run. If I kick down the door the moment he goes in, he might try something stupid. The deer is most exposed when its head is down to graze.
I shudder. It’s a disgusting thought.
But I take deep, slow breaths and let my body focus itself as I count to fifty, visualizing the man’s movements in my head. I imagine him walking down the stained carpet of the hallway to Room 232…his cardkey slipping in…the door swinging open…the terrified sight of the girl on the bed…and he steps forward, closing the door behind him as he slips his jacket off. I can see his yellowed, grinning teeth in my mind’s eye when I can’t keep focus any longer.
The mafia wants to treat girls like disposable things to throw away when they’re used up. But when I think of a young girl being used to lure such human slime in, my gut turns, and even though I have no idea who the woman behind that door is, all I can picture is one girl.
The one girl in the world I’d kill for.
I can’t take it any longer. I slide open the latch of my door as quietly as I can, and I let my legs carry me out of the bathroom, cardkey in hand.
The walk to Room 232 is like pushing through a dream. There’s no going back after this. It isn’t like fighting behind the workshop with the other Italians I call my brothers, my friends. It isn’t like hunting a deer, either. My uncle’s teaching is in my head like a ringing in my ears.
To kill a man is to cross a line there’s no coming back from.
I hold the cardkey up to the slot and listen. The doors are heavy. I can hardly hear a thing through there. That’s good, but-
The sound of a woman’s voice on the other side of the door reaches me, and my blood runs cold. I know that voice.
No. It can’t be.
Without another moment’s wait, I slide the cardkey and push through the door, vanishing from the hallway like a shadow.
“The fuck?!” is the shout that greets me.
Then a girl’s cry of fear, and my eyes fall on the both of them.
His belt and pants are already undone, and there’s the unmistakable look of lust written on his face. But my eyes are only on her.
She’s half-sitting on the bed, one hand up at the beautiful dress that he’s already started taking off her. Her face is turned away, and she’s raising her other arm to shield herself from what she knows is coming. Everything about her body language says she’s terrified.
Instinct takes over.
I forget about the gun I brought. I won’t need it. I lunge forward as the man dives for his jacket, no doubt reaching for his own weapon. Before he can reach it, I’m on him.
I seize his wrist and thrust my palm into his outstretched arm at the elbow. With a sickening crack, it snaps, and he lets out a croaking gasp of pain.
Without thought, pure, raw adrenaline coursing through my body and awakening what I was built to do, I easily wrap my arm around his mouth, muffling his scream as he thrashes in my arms. But he’s nothing compared to me. All the strength in his frail bones amounts to an ounce of mine.
He struggles in my grip, and his good hand grasps at my leg, pounding, doing anything he can, and finally, he finds his wits and reaches for something in his pant leg. I see the flash of a blade.
The man’s knife falls from his hand as his grip slackens, and slowly, I feel his body go limp in my arms. His neck is broken, eyes going glassy as he stares up at the ceiling. All it took was one quick motion, and it was over.
Gently, I lower the body to the ground before standing up over it, looking down at my kill.
My first kill.
I’m still as I look at him. I expected my hands to be shaking, my body to be trembling, but my massive frame is still. Poised. Ready for more. I’m not stupid, I know what my body is capable of. But it’s something different to look down at a corpse and realize your body is ready to do it again.
“Oh…oh my god!” The shuddering cry snaps me out of my thoughts, and my heart comes alive again as I look at the woman on the bed. She isn’t looking down at the body in horror. She’s looking at me.
Our eyes meet. And even through the hood and the glasses, I know she recognizes me. How couldn’t she? Her hazel eyes are staring up at me, as as expressive and deep as the first time I’d seen them.
And they’re full of fear. Fear of me.
How can it be her? How can she be the girl they got for this? Claudio never mentioned her. Of course he didn’t. He knew it would be the one thing that would make me turn down this job. That putting her in danger would be the one thing that would keep me from acting.
I start to reach for her with the gloved hand that just took a life, and for the first time, I watch her recoil from me, clutching her clothes close to her as her lips part, quivering.
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I gave up everything for her, and she never even knew it. When I saved her from the mafia, I traded my freedom for hers. I’ve never regretted it. Never looked back. I cut her out of my life to keep her safe.
I did everything I could to protect her from the retribution of the Italian Mafia, but it wasn’t enough. They’re after her again, and all that’s standing between her and the darkest fate imaginable is me.
It’s scary the things you can close your eyes to. Even after I was rescued from men who wanted to do the worst things to me, I went on with my life. I forgot all about the threats of the mafia, about what they forced me to do, and even the man who saved me from them.
But now, my hero has returned, and just in a nick of time. Because the mafia is coming for me, and this time, I don’t know if we’re going to get out of this alive.
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