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Burned Dreams: Chapter 2


Present day


The snow crunches under the tires as I park my car in the driveway of a huge gray stone mansion. It’s almost six in the evening, but that’s the time I was ordered to report for duty. I turn off the ignition and lean back in my seat, regarding the house through the windshield. Given the location and the size of the surrounding property, it’s probably worth five or six million, but it’s smaller than I expected. Only two floors.

It’s a beautiful home.

And it’ll burn magnificently.

I exit the car and head toward the wide stone steps leading to the stained wood double front doors. Earlier, as I drove in, I noticed two guards at the gate. At least three more are positioned on the outside of the high perimeter wall that surrounds the property, but there are none at the front entrance or anywhere around the house. From what I’ve gathered, my new employer doesn’t allow anyone from his security team close to the house. That’s most likely the reason why every inch of the estate grounds surrounding the house is monitored by cameras.

As I set my foot on the first stone step, the front door opens, revealing a man in a light-gray three-piece suit. The yellowish light from the hall beyond illuminates his tall, lanky form as he stands before me with a smug expression on his face. Rocco Pisano. A capo in the New York crime family.

“Zanetti,” he says as he motions for me to follow him. “I’ll brief you in my office. It’ll have to be quick. We have to be at the theater in two hours.”

I walk a few paces behind him as he turns left and leads me across the spacious marble foyer toward the sliding wooden door on the far side. The interior screams opulence, and my steps echo off the walls and the high ceiling adorned with stucco decorations. Fresco paintings on the ceiling show angels in vibrant colors, looking down on us. Pieces of baroque dark wood furniture that’s been polished to a shine are positioned in the corners. A wide stairwell leads to the upper floor, and the elaborate wooden banister has flowers, vines and other decorative shit carved into it.

Pisano’s office is equally large. A massive wooden desk in a deep cherry finish takes up the central spot. On its surface, close to the edge, is a thick, carved nameplate that matches the desk veneer.

The rest of the room displays similar examples of gaudy. There’s an enormous crystal chandelier, which is more suitable for a dining room than an office. Two life-size gold sculptures of crouching lions as if they’re on guard are set on either side of his desk, and massive bookshelves line the wall behind it. The books are protected by golden-framed glass doors.

Rocco takes a seat behind his desk and reaches for the wooden box containing high-end cigars. As he picks up one of the puros, the light from the chandelier overhead reflects off a thick gold ring with a massive ruby stone on his bony index finger.

Eight years. Eight fucking years I’ve been searching for this man and here he is, finally sitting before me. I can barely manage to control the urge to wrap my hands around his throat, snapping his neck on the spot. But I haven’t waited this long to let him off with a simple, swift death. No. I will destroy him, piece by little piece, and he’s going to watch. Only when there is nothing left of his gilded life will he be allowed to meet his maker. And I’ll make sure the path we take to his final destination will be very, very lengthy. And extremely excruciating.

Rocco’s eyes don’t leave me as he cuts the tip and places the cigar in his mouth as if he’s trying to make an impression. He also doesn’t offer me a seat in one of the chairs positioned in front of his desk.

“So, I heard you don’t like women,” he says as he lights the cigar. “Is that true?”

I’ve been expecting the question. The boss told me Rocco was pathologically jealous, and that he killed the last three bodyguards assigned to his wife. The only reason I’m taking over the role is because Rocco believes I’m gay. I’m not entirely sure where the idea had come from, but Ajello mentioned that’s exactly what Rocco thinks of me. Perhaps he heard that I never go to the strip club frequented by the other Cosa Nostra soldiers every Thursday night. Or maybe he figures I’m gay because I turned away the girls that idiot Carmelo sent to my place as a gift for my fifth anniversary of joining the Family. It doesn’t really matter to me what gave him that impression. I hold his gaze and nod.

“Your secret is safe with me.” Rocco’s lips curve upward. “Let’s get down to business. You will be in charge of my wife’s safety, twenty-four seven. As you’ve probably noticed, guards aren’t allowed inside the house. That only changes when we have guests over. Otherwise, the only people in this house are me and my wife. We also have a housekeeper and two maids. They come at eight and leave at seven.”

“Security systems?” I ask.

“Alarms on front and back doors, as well as ground floor windows. Cameras outside the house and along the perimeter wall. They’re monitored from the guardhouse at the gate. Three shifts of security guards, five men on each.”

“My tasks?”

“You have only one. My wife,” he says and leans back in his chair. “Ravenna is not allowed to leave the house without supervision. She likes to go for walks around the property, so when she does, you’re to go with her. Also, she often heads out shopping and to do other female shit. Hairdresser. Manicure. You’ll be with her wherever she needs to venture out.”

“Any exceptions?”

“No exceptions. If she needs to go to a fucking gynecologist, you’re going with her.” He gets up off his chair and comes to stand in front of me. “Your job isn’t to simply act as Ravenna’s security detail. That’s secondary. What I need you to do is follow her every step and report anything suspicious to me.”

“What’s considered suspicious?”

“Talking to other men. Or strangers in general, women included. She’s not allowed to make calls from your phone or anyone else’s, either. She has a cell with the only numbers she’s permitted to call programmed into it, and she’s to use that phone only. Her daily agenda is to be confirmed with me every morning. No deviations are permissible.”

I keep my face expressionless as I mull over what he said. The woman must either be a ditz or a pushover if she’s okay with being controlled in this manner, but that’s not my problem.


“You’ll keep this with you.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his wallet, handing me a credit card. “Let her use it when she needs to purchase something, then take it back.”

Maybe Mrs. Pisano likes to indulge herself too much? I take the card and nod.

Rocco tilts his head to the side. “You don’t talk much, do you?”


“Perfect.” He heads toward the door. “Ravenna should be down at any moment.”

As I follow him out of the room, I wonder what the woman I’m going to kill looks like in person.




I tilt my chin up, looking at my reflection in the mirror. Three layers of foundation did their thing. The bruise on my neck isn’t visible, and the wide diamond choker necklace covers what the makeup couldn’t. It’s been four days, so hopefully, it’ll fade soon.

Picking up my coat off the back of the chair, I exit my bedroom. My husband’s room is just across from mine, and I can’t suppress a shudder as my eyes fall on his door before I head down the hall to the main staircase. Soon, I tell myself. I just need a few months more.

Rocco is standing at the foot of the stairs, watching me descend. His eyes do a quick pass over the dress I’m wearing, and his lips widen into a satisfied smile. When he came to my room earlier, he threw the dress and necklace at me, ordering me to wear it tonight. I waited for him to leave before I took a look at the red gown. It’s worse than the previous dress he bought me, and the idea of going out, especially to the theater in that thing, makes me feel so ashamed, but that’s nothing new.

I’m so engrossed in calculating how much money I still need until there’s enough for my escape and what would be the fastest way to earn more, that I don’t notice the man standing by the door until I reach the landing. When I do, my steps falter for a moment, but somehow, I manage to cover up my near trip. My husband is a tall man, but the person behind him is almost a head taller.

“Ravenna, bellissima, you look stunning.” Rocco smiles as I approach and takes my hand. “This is Alessandro Zanetti, your new bodyguard.”

Trying my best to keep my face blank, I throw another look at the man standing with his hands behind his back. The stance emphasizes his broad frame as the muscles in his arms strain against the material of his black suit jacket. He’s probably the largest man I’ve ever met. My gaze travels up his wide chest and stops on his face. Sinister. That’s the first word that comes to mind. He’s cleanly shaven, with a strong jaw and sharp cheekbones, but it’s not his face or his enormous bulk that makes me want to step back. It’s the things I see in his dark eyes. Hate. Loathing. And barely contained rage. I want to look away, but I can’t. It’s as if his eyes ensnare me and keep me prisoner. If looks could kill, I’m pretty sure I would be dead on the spot.

I make myself nod and finally glance away, focusing my eyes on the front entrance. As we pass through the door Alessandro is holding open for us, I can feel his eyes on me the entire time, all the way to my husband’s car. Only once I’ve slid onto the passenger seat and Rocco has closed the car door do I let myself exhale.

In the side-view mirror, I spot my new bodyguard walking to a black SUV, his steps slow and calculated. Just before he gets in, he looks up toward our car. There is no way he can tell I’m watching him, but somehow, I know he does. The vibe of hostility he’s giving off is like a living thing. I don’t remember the last time someone made such a strong impression on me at the first meeting, without even uttering a word. Is he angry about being assigned to this job? He’s probably heard the stories about how the last three of my bodyguards ended up—with a bullet hole from Rocco’s gun in their foreheads.

The driver’s door opens, and I quickly avert my eyes from the mirror.

“Well, it looks like I’ve found the perfect security detail for you,” Rocco says as he takes a seat behind the wheel. “This one won’t fall for your charms.”

I squeeze the clutch I’m holding in my hands and bite at the inside of my cheek, trying to subdue the need to look at him and yell in his face.

“Yes, Rocco,” I mumble, keeping my gaze fixed on my lap.




I lean back against the wall and regard the Pisano couple who are sitting on velvet-covered chairs a few feet in front of me. There are eight seats in this private balcony booth, but the others are empty.

Rocco seems bored. His left arm is resting on the back of his wife’s chair, and he has his phone in his free hand. He’s been fumbling with his device since the woman on the stage started wailing, so, clearly, he’s not an opera fan.

His wife is a hard one to read. Something feels off between these two. Mrs. Pisano sits ramrod straight and avoids looking at her husband. From the moment she took her seat, her gaze has been focused on the stage. She hasn’t moved a muscle for almost an hour, and I can’t determine if it’s because she’s immersed in the performance or if there’s another reason for her stoic posture.

When Rocco listed the parameters of my assignment earlier, I was surprised. The motherfucker had to be crazy in love with his wife, but I didn’t understand why a man in his position would be so insecure that he would resort to such controlling measures. When I saw Ravenna Pisano descending the stairs, however, I barely managed to keep my jaw from hitting the floor. I’ve seen several pictures of her, but they didn’t do her justice.

There are beautiful women. And then . . . there’s her.

The skintight red dress she’s wearing has a deep V-neck, showcasing her firm breasts. It’s also scandalously short, reaching just below her ass. The vibrant color contrasts with her raven-black hair, which she has tied into a tight bun at the top of her head. I don’t think I’ve ever laid my eyes on a more perfect face, despite the excess makeup she’s wearing. Heavy shading around her big green eyes. Blood-red lips, the same shade as her dress. Long, thick eyelashes, probably fake. It’s hard to guess her age with all that crap on her face, but I estimate she’s in her late twenties.

As she was descending the stairs at the house, I noticed her shiny sky-high black stiletto heels and how they complemented her hourglass figure. It was only when she came to a stop next to Rocco did I realize she was much shorter than I initially thought. Even in heels, the top of her head barely reached his nose. Standing barefoot, she would probably only come up to the middle of my chest.

Ravenna Pisano is a pixie of a woman, one who shouldn’t be too difficult to smudge out of existence. And I plan to do it right under her husband’s arrogant nose. Fitting, it seems.

The performer on the stage finally stops howling and a huge round of applause ensues. Rocco stands up from his chair and offers a hand to his wife. Mrs. Pisano rises slowly, the act so regal it’s like watching a queen appear before her subjects. An ice queen, to be more exact. As they pass by me, she holds her head high, looking straight ahead, ignoring my presence completely. I guess she feels I’m beneath her, as “help” usually is for their kind.

I follow the Pisanos down the wide hallway toward the open space at the end where refreshments are awaiting the privileged patrons. Rocco tilts his head to whisper something in his wife’s ear, then joins a group of men at the center of the room as they laugh boisterously while nursing their drinks. Mrs. Pisano moves off to the side, coming to stand in a relatively people-free spot. Her stance is even more stiff than it was inside the theater hall, and her eyes seem to focus on something on the opposite wall. I follow her gaze, wondering what has attracted her attention, but there is nothing there. Just a pristine white wall. Not even an art piece or a light fixture in view.

I take a couple of steps and position myself on Ravenna Pisano’s left. The moment she feels my presence, she freezes, every muscle pulled tight in recoil.

“Please, move back,” she says, and, for a second, I’m taken aback by how young she sounds. But then her words sink in and disgust overwhelms me. I take a step back. Of course, she can’t have her regal sight tainted by the likes of me. It’s pathetic how entitled people sometimes forget that they are not so different from the rest of us. Especially as they bleed.

I wonder if she’ll feel the same when her blood runs down her slender neck after I cut it open.




I take a deep breath and keep my eyes fixated on the wall across from me. It’s a technique I’ve adopted recently to keep my eyes from wandering and meeting a man’s stare by accident. I can see Rocco in my peripheral vision. He’s talking with another capo, Cosimo Longo, and pretending to be immersed in the conversation, but I know very well that he’s watching me. Waiting for me to slip. I won’t. I’ve had plenty of practice to prevail in this twisted game of his, and I’ve taken a slew of hits and sported enough bruises to motivate me to keep my gaze glued to that wall. But there is nothing I can do to prevent men from looking at me. Or worse, from approaching me. Rocco knows it and he finds great satisfaction in seeing it happen because it means he can punish me when we get home without his consciousness taking a blow.

My husband has a unique outlook on the world. In his mind, he is a good, just man who never does anything without a cause. If I’m on my best behavior, nothing will happen. Well, most of the time, at least. But if I do something wrong, like look at another male or do something to attract their eyes, he feels the need to punish me. Rocco likes to call it “martial education methods.” So, I stand apart, hoping that no one will pay any attention to me and that Rocco will get bored soon so we can head back to the mansion.

“Ravenna,” a male voice says from my right. “Why are you standing alone? Do you want me to bring you a drink?”

I squeeze the clutch purse in my hand harder. “I’m fine, Pietro. Thank you.”

Go away. Please, please, go away. I repeat the mantra in my head. Maybe if he leaves right away, Rocco won’t notice him.

“You sure you don’t want anything to drink?” He places his hand on my shoulder.

I close my eyes for a second, trying to suppress the panic rising inside me, and make myself smile. Pietro worked alongside my father for a couple of years and he even came to our house a few times. He was always nice to me, and at one point, I considered asking him for help, but I never worked up the courage.

“I’m fine, just deep in thought. Thank you.”

Pietro nods and heads toward the group of people on the other side of the room. When he’s out of sight, I chance a look over to where Rocco was standing and find him looking at me over the rim of his glass. He’s smiling. Shit. I take a step back, bumping into a wall of hard muscle. A huge male hand lands on the side of my waist, steadying me. My blood goes cold.

Since I married Rocco, three men have died because of me. The first one was barely twenty-six. Only two years older than me. I still have nightmares about that day. I’d just come home from my manicure appointment, and Gaetano reached out to help me with my coat, brushing my shoulder with his hand by accident. A minute later, Rocco stormed out of the library with a gun in his hand and shot my bodyguard in the head. At first, I didn’t realize what had happened and just stared at Gaetano’s body sprawled on the floor while blood oozed from the hole in the center of his forehead. Rocco started yelling, ordering me to go to my room, but I couldn’t make my legs move.

I learned my lesson after that and made sure I never, even accidentally, touched my bodyguards when Rocco or his cameras were in the vicinity. It didn’t matter, eventually. The other two ended up dead because my husband concluded they were looking at me inappropriately.

“Remove your hand,” I choke out, staring at Rocco as panic rises from the pit of my stomach.

Nothing happens.

“Right the fuck now, Alessandro.”

The hand vanishes from my waist. As I watch, Rocco leaves his drink on the nearest waiter’s tray and heads in our direction. Oh my God. He’s going to kill Alessandro, too. Rocco wouldn’t do anything to Pietro because he’s part of the don’s inner circle. I will be the one paying for that encounter. But my husband won’t hesitate to execute a bodyguard as soon as we’re back home. I can’t live with another innocent man’s death on my conscience. I can’t.

“Leave,” I whisper. “Please. Leave.”

I don’t think Alessandro hears me, because I can still feel him at my back when Rocco halts in front of me. He’s still wearing a sinister smile.

“Next time, when a man approaches my wife,” Rocco says looking over my head, “you’ll remove him from her sight. With force, if necessary. Is that clear?”

I don’t hear an answer, but I assume Alessandro nods. Rocco places his hand on the small of my back and ushers me into the hallway. We’re leaving, thank God.


* * *


The bedroom door closes with a soft click behind me. I leave my clutch on the vanity table on my right and turn around. Rocco’s palm connects with my cheek before I’m fully facing him.

“Pietro? Really?” he hisses as he pushes me toward the wall. “You need a cock? I’ll give you a cock, you slut.”

My chest collides with the hard surface. Taking a deep breath, I close my eyes and press my palms to the wall. Rocco grabs the hem of my dress, pulling it up, then tears at my panties. I can hear him undoing his belt, and I plaster myself to the wall, making sure to move as little as possible. It excites him more when I fight. A moment later I feel his flaccid dick pressing to my backside. He grinds against me a few times, his breathing fast.

“Fuck! Where are my pills?”

I hear him walking away, probably to get the Viagra he makes me keep in the drawer of my nightstand. A minute passes. I don’t move from my spot. His hand comes to my ass, squeezing. I shut my eyes tighter.

Grunting. Rapid breaths as he pumps his cock behind me.

“You fucking slut.” Rocco lets go of my ass and grabs my hair instead. “I can’t get my cock up for you even with the fucking Viagra.”

I almost stumble as he pushes me toward the bed and throws me down.

“You are not allowed to leave your room until morning. Do you hear me?”

“Yes, Rocco,” I choke out.

The bedroom door slams shut but I keep lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling, and return to calculating how much money I need to get myself out of this horror show. Mulling over the details has become a coping mechanism. Whenever Rocco manhandles me, I detach myself from the situation by planning my escape.

My mind unintentionally drifts to the big silent man who’s going to become my ever-present shadow. Will my husband do something to him? Maybe Rocco was too focused on Pietro and didn’t notice as Alessandro touched me at the theater. If he had, there would have been another death tonight. I move my hand to my hip and brush the spot where Alessandro’s hand briefly landed on me.

I’ll have to be very careful around him, at least until I get to know him better. Hopefully, he’s not an overly attentive person. Maybe I should put my . . . extracurricular activities on hold for a few days. No, I can’t afford that. Every second I spend in this house with Rocco is a living hell. The situation started badly and has only become exponentially worse. I guess the bloodshed that happened on our wedding day was just a precursor of things to come. A foreshadowing of the nightmare that pulls me deeper daily. Drenching me in misery and drowning me in hurt.

I knew from the start that my husband is a troubled man. No sane person would obtain a wife as a payment for a gambling debt. At the time, I didn’t understand why he needed to resort to such measures. Rocco has always been popular and well respected, and since he was a capo, he was even feared. Many women would have jumped with excitement at the possibility of marrying him, but Rocco stayed single. I couldn’t understand why he suddenly felt the need to get married, to me nonetheless—a daughter of a lowly Cosa Nostra soldier. That question was answered quickly, on our wedding night.

Rocco Pisano is impotent. And he is ready to slaughter anyone who may dare to reveal his secret. The only person who knows is the doctor Rocco visits covertly. And now me. I’m not sure if his problem is congenital or a recent development, but I have a feeling he’s been dealing with it for quite some time. His impotency is most likely the reason he stayed away from marrying a woman from a higher-ranking family. He probably feared that she would tell her parents or siblings, and, soon after, everyone would know. But Rocco would never allow his secret to be exposed. And he couldn’t risk raising his hand against such a woman to keep her quiet. If her family were ever to find out, so would the don.

Maybe if my father was still alive, my life would’ve been different. Or maybe it wouldn’t have. Marriage has always been considered sacred by my family. For years, I heard my father say how a woman should invariably respect her husband, no matter what. She should be docile and know her place, never contradict her man. It was so ingrained in me that the first time Rocco hit me, I was convinced it was my fault. After it started happening on a regular basis, I wanted to tell someone, ask for help, but I couldn’t bring myself to defy him.

When we are in public, Rocco always acts as a doting, loving husband. No one would believe me. And Rocco has made it very clear what will happen to my mother and brother if I ever say a word. So, I keep my mouth shut and endure it until I can stash enough money for all three of us to get as far away as possible.



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