Elite, p.16
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       Elite, p.16

         Part #1 of Eagle Elite series by Rachel Van Dyken
 
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  “What?” I shrieked. “You said that—”

  “Monroe doesn’t know, Trace.” Nixon’s eyes softened for a brief second. “He’d been sick a while. It’s…”

  “None of her damn business.” This from Anthony, who was staring at me as if we hadn’t shaken hands and spoken a few days ago.

  “Gentleman.” Chase cleared his throat. “Back to the reason for meeting.”

  Grandpa bristled next to me. Clearly he didn’t like taking orders from people younger than him but then again how was I to know they weren’t lying about their ages too?

  “As I was saying…” Grandpa put an arm around me and squeezed. “The poor girl lost her parents at six. That’s still old enough to recognize people, you should have known Nixon.”

  “I told you the minute I did,” Nixon defended himself. “And it wasn’t like I could have done anything!”

  “You took her outside school property.”

  “Before I knew.” Nixon sighed heavily. “I didn’t even guess until I saw the damn necklace with Alfero on it.”

  “Then you should have stayed away.”

  “Careful,” Anthony said from Nixon’s left. “You may be within your rights to call him out, but he’s still the boss. Has been for some time. So tread carefully, old man.”

  Grandpa cleared his throat. “Excuse me, Mr. Abandonato.” He spat out the words like they were venom. “But the minute her cover was blown, the very second, you should have locked her in her damn room.”

  What? Why would Grandpa say that? I tried to shrug underneath his arm but he held me firm.

  Nixon’s icy eyes pierced through mine. “She’s just a teenager, Frank. What did you want me to do? Blow everyone’s cover? Ruin everything? And for what? Precaution? We’ve been in this for four damn years.” His eyes fell to Anthony. “Some of us longer. How was I supposed to know you’d drop her directly into the fight? Your own granddaughter? We were doing just fine until you did this to us!”

  “And you still have no proof!” Grandpa shouted.

  “We’re close!” Nixon fired back. “We just need more time.”

  “Time doesn’t give Trace her parents back,” Grandpa said softly. “Time doesn’t heal a broken heart, and time will not fix the fact that you have successfully helped expose my innocent granddaughter to our world. I only meant to appease my dying wife, while at the same time allowing Trace to be used as bait only if necessary, and what do you do? You claim her for your own! An Abandonato!”

  “All I can say is I’m sorry. I didn’t know. But would you rather have me leave her helpless? Admit it. She would have known something was up if I locked her in her room, and honestly we weren’t even sure she was exposed until last night when we almost…” Nixon swallowed. “Got killed.”

  “Until it was almost too late!” Grandpa nodded his head. “So what are you going to do now? How do you hope to make amends?”

  “Easy. We’ll let things die down, and we have to work faster to infiltrate the De Lange family.”

  Grandpa nodded his head as if satisfied. “She must be protected.”

  “We’ve been protecting her.” Chase’s teeth clenched. I thought he was going to break a tooth.

  “And she almost died,” Grandpa repeated. “Last night. Isn’t that right? Or wait, were you too busy sticking your tongue down my granddaughter’s throat.”

  In an instant Nixon had his gun out and pointed at Grandpa. “Disrespect your granddaughter in front of my men and yours one more time and I will end you.”

  Holy freaking shit.

  Grandpa scowled. “I would never do such a thing. I love her. I put her into hiding. Fifteen years of work gone just because of you!”

  Nixon put his gun down and cursed. “She wasn’t supposed to get in to the school.”

  Grandpa joined in with the cursing. “Her grandma was the culprit. She told me on her deathbed it was time for Trace to know the truth. I thought I could give my wife her dying wish and at the same time appease my granddaughter. Allow her to experience the luxury she should have grown up with. The life that was stolen from her. Like I said, I did not think she would be recognized and figured even if she were, we could use her to pull out the De Lange family.”

  Nixon looked from Grandpa to me. “Using your own granddaughter? I think we’re done here.”

  “I think so.” Grandpa rose from his seat. Nixon and Grandpa embraced one another and kissed each cheek before saying something in that stupid language they were always speaking in.

  Nixon took one last look at me and shook his head slowly. My heart was in my throat. I felt tears start to pool in my eyes as I looked from him to Chase. At least Chase mouthed sorry before turning back around and following Nixon out.

  “One more thing,” Grandpa said.

  In a flash he pulled out his gun and shot at Nixon’s feet. Nixon didn’t move. He just stared at the ground then back up at Grandpa with cool indifference.

  “Noted.” Nixon nodded and his group left.

  Chapter Twenty-five

  If I wasn’t so horrified, I may have laughed that my backwoods grandpa just fired a crazy-looking gun at my boyfriend’s feet.

  But it wasn’t funny. What the hell kind of alternate universe did I just walk in to? My legs suddenly felt heavier than before. Spots appeared in my line of vision. I tried to steady myself by holding on to the table next to me, but my arms weren’t doing what I wanted them to do, instead they flopped near my sides, hitting the table. And then my legs gave out and everything went black.

  ****

  “Trace? Sweetheart?” Grandpa was hovering over me with a cold compress against my cheek. “There you go, take some deep breaths. You fainted.”

  I licked my dry lips and looked around. Several men in suits were standing behind Grandpa as he held the compress against my face.

  “I don’t understand.”

  Grandpa swore. “Give us a minute.”

  A man put his hand on Grandpa’s shoulder This time Grandpa stood and very calmly spoke in what I was now beginning to assume was Nixon’s and everyone else’s native language. It wasn’t Italian, that much I knew.

  “What language is that?” I sighed heavily and leaned against Grandpa as he helped me to my feet.

  “Sicilian.”

  My blood ran cold as memories flashed through my fuzzy brain. Memories of a life I had long ago forgotten. The woman in the kitchen speaking to me in a language I once thought foreign. A language I actually knew.

  “I think… I think I know it.”

  “You should. It is all we spoke when you were young, but after the accident…” Grandpa cleared his throat. “We chose to forget in order to protect you. After all, we could take no chances.”

  I swallowed the dryness in my throat and followed him to the couch.

  “How are you feeling?” Grandpa set the compress onto the table and poured me a glass of wine. I examined the glass, feeling somewhat awkward that my grandpa would serve me alcohol, but if it helped my nerves I was all for it. I took a few careful sips, hoping it would take away the nightmare in front of me.

  “How do you think I’m feeling, Grandpa? Really?”

  He chuckled. “Always straight to the point.”

  My nostrils flared as I watched him play with his thick white hair near his ear. The room was eerily quiet now that the men with guns had gone outside for a timeout. My fingers itched to pull out the cell phone in my pocket. Nixon. How could he lie to me like that?

  Answers. I needed answers. Nixon had always evaded my questions. Perhaps it was for my own protection, perhaps not. But it ended now.

  “I want answers.” I gave Grandpa a steely look.

  He nodded once. “Your full name is Tracey Angelica Alfero. You are the daughter to deceased mafia hitman Mario Adele Alfero. Your mother’s full name was Nicola Alessandro De Lange.”

  “De Lange? As in Dean De Lange? And Phoenix De Lange?”

  Grandpa nodded.

  “So… I’m rel
ated to Phoenix?”

  Grandpa laughed. “No, not technically. I guess very, very far down along the line you would be cousins a few times removed.”

  “And they were killed?”

  Grandpa clasped his hands together in front of him and leaned forward. “A hit was ordered on your parents without my knowledge or that of your father. To understand why, you need a bit of a history lesson.”

  I nodded, fully ready for any information he could give me.

  “The De Lange family is the weakest of the mafia families still located in the Chicago area. That is to say, they are the weakest in the states. In Sicily, it is quite another situation. At any rate, your mother was promised to one of the Abandonatos. Nixon’s father. They wanted to make a sort of truce, combine powers. The Abandonatos were, and still are, the most powerful family here and in Sicily. They are also the wealthiest. When it came time for their betrothal announcement…” Grandpa swore. “Your father would not see reason. He had fallen in love with your mother. So he ran away with her. When they returned there was nothing we could do. They were already married, honor-bound to one another.”

  At least that part of the story wasn’t traumatizing. I always knew my parents loved one another. They were constantly hugging and kissing, and they were always laughing.

  “So what did the Abandonato family do?” I wasn’t sure I liked that Nixon’s family were the bad guys.

  “Nothing.” Grandpa chuckled bitterly. “And that my dear girl, was the problem. They weren’t the ones in need of an alliance, nor were they going to force a woman to divorce her husband in order to do so. After all, we do not look kindly upon divorce. It is simply not done in the Catholic church, my girl.”

  “So the Abandonato family let them live in peace?”

  Grandpa nodded. “They allowed them their space. After a while everyone forgot the scuffle. Angelo, Nixon’s father, married a woman soon after, she resembled your mother, but that was the end of it. Unfortunately, Angelo had always been an angry sort of man. The De Lange family was a constant burden to the Abandonatos. There wasn’t a week that went by where they didn’t try to rob one of the businesses or even beat up cousins at the school. It got out of hand, and Angelo began to blame your mother for everything. Soon, he took out his anger on his own wife… and his son.”

  Feeling like I was going to puke, I clenched my stomach and told myself to keep breathing in and out. Was that why Nixon couldn’t handle anyone touching him?

  “Nixon?” I asked not wanting to hear the truth.

  “Suffered greatly at his father’s hands.” Grandpa swore. “One evening, the evening of your sixth birthday, your parents were coming home from one of their nights in town, when they were stopped on the road. Your father wasn’t able to pull his gun out fast enough. They shot your mother in front of him and then shot him.”

  Sobbing. I bit my lower lip so it wouldn’t tremble. “Who did it? Who? Angelo?”

  Grandpa rose from the couch and retrieved a box of Kleenex and brought them back to me. He sat down and cleared his throat. “Nobody knows. Angelo wasn’t in the country at the time, and he swore up and down he would never do such a thing, but by that point nobody believed him. After all, his sweet wife had died just a few months before from brain hemorrhaging.”

  “So you see, his word was worth nothing. His empire was at the point of crumbling because he was unable to control his anger. And on top of that, fingers were pointing in his direction that he could no longer control his own businesses. This continued on until Nixon was around the age of eighteen.”

  “And then Nixon took over?”

  Grandpa sighed. “His part of the story is not mine to tell. But had I known history would repeat itself, had I known another Abandonato would fall in love with one of our girls, I would have put a stop to it.”

  “Love?”

  Grandpa closed his eyes. “Yes. That boy. He would die for you. Yes?”

  I wanted to deny it. But I couldn’t so I just looked away.

  “Who killed my parents?”

  “Angelo believed it was the De Lange family. He believed it was a set up. The gun used was engraved with the crest of the family, but there was no proof. We were afraid for your life, not knowing who we could trust. Your grandmother and I decided it would be best to protect you, to put you in hiding until you were of age. But as the nightmare of that night faded and your eighteenth birthday loomed closer, I hadn’t the heart to tell you the truth. Not the heart that she had.

  Four years ago, it was discovered that the De Lange family was in debt to another family from Sicily. It seemed some bad investments were made. Nixon and the others formed a plan to not only bring the family down, but expose the De Langes for their treachery.”

  “And has he?”

  “What?” Grandpa took the wine glass from my hands and set it on the table.

  “Exposed them?”

  “Not yet.” Grandpa sighed. “And the longer it takes, the more I wonder if the Abandonato family wasn’t behind it. But we will never know. There has been too much killing, and now my only granddaughter is in the middle of it.”

  I covered my hand with his. “Gramps, you can’t change that anymore.” I knew he was going to be pissed but I had to ask. “How can I help?”

  “You’ve already done what I needed you to do. You’ve drawn attention to yourself. But now that you know who Nixon is, you are in more danger. I never meant for you to discover who he was. I trusted him to stay away from you. No.” Grandpa swore. “No, you will return to school, you will forget this happened, and you will forget about that boy.”

  I sighed. It would be impossible to forget to breathe, to forget I had a heart, so what made him think it would be possible to forget Nixon?

  “I can’t, Grandpa.”

  “Why?” Grandpa jumped to his feet. “What has the boy done to you? Has he—” His face flushed red as his hands did a weird sort of flailing in front of my face.

  I chuckled. “Um, no, he didn’t do… that.” I copied his hand gestures and shook my head.

  Grandpa let out a sigh and laughed. “I do not know why the Good Lord left me alone with a girl. I do not think my heart can take it. I go to bed, I worry. I eat my breakfast, I worry. I see a cow, I worry.”

  Swallowing my tears, I exhaled in relief, glad to see part of my old grandpa in front of me. I pulled him into a hug and closed my eyes as I inhaled his familiar scent.

  “Grandpa, you can’t control everything.”

  “I can try.”

  “No, you’ll die of a heart attack and where will that leave me? Without any family.”

  “You are like your grandmother.” He sighed. “So wise.”

  He released me and stepped back. I still had a question, but I wasn’t so sure I would like the answer. “Gramps.” I scratched my head. “Who’s the leader of the Alfero family?”

  Grandpa’s grin was wide. “Are you asking me if I’m the mob boss?”

  I nodded.

  Grandpa shrugged and with a loud laugh walked to the door. “I’ll send Adrian in to show you to your room so you can freshen up before luncheon.”

  Awesome. Add Grandpa to that list of people who ignore questions. I was beginning to realize that if Grandpa or Nixon didn’t answer something, it was usually answer enough. Jerks. Avoidance meant yes, and addressing something meant no.

  I pulled out my phone in vain, hoping Nixon would have said something — anything!

  One new message.

  I quickly hit open and saw Nixon’s number and next to it two words I’d been holding my breath to hear.

  I’M SORRY.

  CAN YOU COME BACK? NEED TO TALK, I texted back.

  He responded immediately. SURE, GIVE ME A MINUTE TO FIND A BULLETPROOF VEST. U DO REALIZE I WAS SHOT AT LAST TIME I WAS IN THAT HOUSE?

  Without thinking, I dialed his number. I had to hear his voice.

  “Trace—” he answered, but I interrupted.

  “Please, Nixon. Please.”
/>
  He sighed long and hard. Cursing ensued, and I could have sworn I heard Chase laughing in the background. “Give me an hour.”

  “Thank you.”

  “Oh and Trace?”

  “Yeah?”

  “Do me a favor. Tell your grandpa you invited me so that they don’t shoot me on sight. You don’t want innocent blood on your hands.”

  “Are you?” I whispered.

  “What?”

  “Innocent?”

  “No.” His voice was shaky. “Not since the day I was born, not since the first day my dad raised a hand to me, not since the first time I watched my mom huddle in the corner, and definitely not since the first time you let me kiss you. No, Trace. I’m anything but innocent.”

  Silence. I didn’t know what to say.

  He cleared his throat. “Do you still want me to come?”

  “Yes.”

  “See you soon, Trace.”

  The phone went dead. I put it in my back pocket just as an attractive man in his twenties waltzed into the room. “Miss Alfero? Your grandfather would like me to show you to your room.”

  “Great.” I managed a small smile and followed him out of the sitting room and up the grand staircase. Once we reached the room, I turned to Adrian and gave him the biggest smile I could manage. He staggered backward but soon regained his composure.

  “Tell my grandfather we’ll have company for lunch.”

  “And who will we be expecting?”

  I grinned. “Mr. Abandonato. My boyfriend.”

  Adrian’s mouth went slightly ajar. To his credit, he only swore three times before giving me a curt nod and stalking off.

  This was going to be interesting.

  Chapter Twenty-six

  It wasn’t ten minutes later that Grandpa barged into my room. “Tell me it isn’t true. Tell me you didn’t invite that boy to—”

  I held up my hand. Surprisingly, Grandpa stopped sputtering, and the red glare from his face faded to more of a pink.

  “He will be dining with us. You will be civil. There will be no guns.”

  “Why?”

  “Because.” I swallowed. “I deserve answers from him as well. Don’t you think?”

 
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