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Silent Lies: Chapter 2

Sienna

Two months later

 

I’m lying on my bed, playing a Disney movie that’s been dubbed in Serbian on my laptop when an email notification shows up at the bottom of the screen. It’s probably a newsletter from one of my fashion magazines. I close the pop-up window and continue watching.

I prefer learning languages at my own pace, but since I’m on a deadline, I signed up for an online course, as well. It took me five weeks of daily sessions with a virtual tutor to cover the basics. The Serbian language is very similar to Russian, which I understand on an intermediate level, and that helped somewhat. Thank God I only need to be proficient in speaking it and don’t have to know how to write it, because that would take me months. For the past three weeks, I’ve been focusing on listening. I started with Serbian movies and shows, but there’s a lot of slang in those, so they can be hard to follow. I found a Serbian channel online last week, but it’s mostly news and politics. It was so boring that I fell asleep watching it yesterday. Today, I’ve decided to try something else. The Little Mermaid seemed like a nice choice.

The ringing phone on my nightstand pulls my attention. It’s the don.

“Don Ajello. What can I—”

“Did you see the email I sent you?”

“Just a second.” I exit the movie and flip over to the email tab. There’s a message in my inbox, but there is no text, just some attachments. I open the first one. It’s a slightly blurry photo of a man entering a building. Only a part of his profile is visible. He’s dressed in a leather jacket and dark jeans. I zoom in on the image, trying to make out something more than the man’s dark hair and short stubble that is only just visible, but the thing is too grainy.

“Um, okay,” I say. “And this is . . .?”

“That’s your future husband. Drago Popov. The head of the Serbian crime organization.”

“Oh . . . so he’s not a lawyer.”

“No, Sienna. He’s most certainly not a lawyer. For years, Popov’s moved more than half of our drugs to Europe, but after the attack on his club by Rocco Pisanno two years ago, Popov cut all ties with Cosa Nostra. Since then, the distributors we’ve used have been neither as fast nor as reliable as Popov. I want him back in the picture.”

“Okay,” I mumble. “So, I’m . . . an incentive to seal the deal? You don’t need me to spy on him?”

“Of course I do. That’s the main reason why I’ve chosen you for this marriage.” The sound of shuffled papers comes across the line. “Most of the underground deals that are made in this city are negotiated at Popov’s club, Naos. It’s considered neutral territory, suitable for meetings concerning sensitive matters. I need someone reliable on the inside who can gather information on Popov’s business and pass it on to me. How’s your Serbian now?”

“Well, I can watch The Little Mermaid without subtitles.” I smile.

“A little what?”

“Mermaid. The movie.” He’s never heard of The Little Mermaid? “Unless a person is speaking too fast or using too much slang, I can understand most of it.”

“Good. We’ll be moving forward with the wedding sooner than anticipated.”

“What? Why?”

“Popov closed a big deal last week, but no one knows what it is. I need to know about it, and I want to know now.”

Wow. Controlling much?

“I’m heading to meet him,” he continues, “to let him know about the arrangement.”

“He doesn’t know? What if he says no?”

“Then he’s going to die,” Ajello barks. “Nino will come to get you at ten. He’ll be taking you to Naos.”

“Peachy. I’ll take Luna with me. And what—”

The line goes dead. I glance at the phone screen. It took me some time to adjust to the way Salvatore Ajello handles phone calls.

I shake my head and focus on the email again, going through the rest of the images, but they seem to be more of the same. Most are out of focus, probably taken with a phone camera in low light or while in motion. There’s only one clear photo. It shows Popov standing in a hotel lobby, maybe, his arm wrapped around the waist of a red-haired woman. He’s turned away from the camera, so his face is still not visible. At his side, the woman is focused on him. She looks like a movie star, dressed in a tight white dress, platinum blonde hair falling straight down her back nearly to her waist.

If that’s his type, he’s going to be rather disappointed. That woman has almost a foot on me. I also recently cut my hair, so it barely reaches the middle of my back, and I’ve never dyed it. I rather like its dark-brown hue, as plain as it is. It works better with my wardrobe anyway. I check the photos one more time in case I missed one where I could see his face, but nope. I guess I’ll have to wait for tonight to find out what my future husband looks like.

I grab my phone again and dial my best friend.

“Luna bella,” I chirp. “Do you feel like dancing tonight?”

 

Drago

 

I pick up my whiskey and lean back, contemplating the man sitting across from me in my booth.

During the years that I’ve cooperated with the Italians, I interacted with Arturo, Ajello’s underboss. Until the shitshow orchestrated by Rocco Pisano sent our working relationship straight to hell. It was good money, but I have no intention of dealing with the people who turned on me. I thought I was very clear in my message to Arturo—we’re done. It looks like I need to repeat myself to the don as well.

“I’m not interested in renewing our collaboration, Ajello.”

“Do you have another prospective business in your plans? Because I know for sure no one can supply the quantity and quality you used to get from us.”

“The thing is, I don’t need your drugs. My commerce in diamonds brings in triple the amount moving cocaine ever did.” I shrug.

“It’s not about the money. There’s too much bad blood between us, Mr. Popov. I can’t let you operate in my city unless the feud between our Families is settled.”

“Settled?” I take a sip of my drink and regard him. “And how do you plan we do that?”

“Marriage. Specifically, between you and a Cosa Nostra woman.”

Did he forget that his capo shot at me and my men while we were conducting a business meeting, and then sent his mercenaries to attack my club? It doesn’t matter that those mercenaries weren’t members of Cosa Nostra. Or that my men killed all three of them. It doesn’t even matter that Rocco Pisano is dead.

“We lost a man in that clusterfuck two years ago. It’s not something that can be settled by me marrying a cousin of one of your soldiers, Ajello.”

The don places his arms on the back of the sofa, observing me with a calculated look in his eyes. “I’m offering Arturo DeVille’s sister for the matrimony.”

I tilt my head to the side, considering. A marriage to the sister of the Cosa Nostra underboss is a very lucrative business opportunity. In fact, it seems too good to be true.

“And what is Arturo’s view on that idea?” I ask.

“I’ll make sure he sees the benefits.”

“So, he’s against it. What about his sister? Doesn’t she have aspirations to marry within the Family?”

“Sienna is a free spirit. She said she’s open to new experiences.”

“Is she now?” I take another sip of my drink, wondering what’s behind this proposition. Because something certainly is. “How old is she?”

“Just turned twenty.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Are you screwing with me, Ajello?”

“I’m not . . . screwing with you, Mr. Popov. Do you have a specific age requirement for a woman you’d marry?”

“You could say so.” I can’t help but shake my head. Italians and their arranged marriages.

“Sienna and her friend will be coming here tonight with my chief of security. Make sure they’re let in.” Salvatore Ajello stands. “Let me know your decision by morning.”

I watch the Cosa Nostra don leave, wondering if I should tell him right away that I have no intention of marrying a woman nearly half my age. Good business opportunity or not.

Filip takes the seat that Ajello just vacated and motions with his head toward the club’s exit. “What did the Italian want?”

“To settle the feud between us. He wants us back handling the distribution of his drugs. And he offered Arturo DeVille’s sister to me in marriage to close the deal.”

Filip’s eyes widen. “You’re going to accept?”

“No.”

“Why not? The drug supply is seriously low, and Ajello has the best product. Also, the familial connection to the Cosa Nostra will give us a much better negotiation position with the Russian Bratva.”

“The girl is twenty. I’m not marrying a spoiled, barely out of her teens, Cosa Nostra princess.”

The sounds of whatever pop hit fill the room from the overhead speakers. The music isn’t loud because the volume won’t be turned up until the club opens its doors for the night. However, it’s still enough to mess with my already bad hearing, so I have to focus on Filip’s mouth and read his lips.

“. . . and who the fuck cares?” he says. “Bring the girl home, give her a credit card, and tell her there’s no limit. She’ll spend her days on shopping sprees and visits to beauty salons. With your work schedule, you’ll probably hardly ever see her.”

“I would rather never see her.” I shake my head. “Do you recall Tara at twenty? The screaming matches? How she locked herself in her room when I wouldn’t give her the money for a new car until she earned it? I’m too old to go through all that crap again, with a wife.”

“Sacrifices must be made for the sake of business.” Filip leans forward. “Italians take family ties very seriously, Drago. A marriage to Arturo’s sister will ensure Cosa Nostra won’t meddle in our arms business. You shouldn’t let this opportunity pass.”

I squeeze the bridge of my nose. Am I seriously considering marrying a girl young enough to be my daughter? Our gemstone business and other side ventures already generate significant income. With the arms deal in the picture as well, we’ll be damn close to having more money than we can launder through the club. Dipping back into drug transport will only cause more complications. But Filip is right. I can’t let this opportunity pass, and it has nothing to do with the money. Work has been the only thing that keeps me going. The more there is, the easier it’s to get through the day. Saying “no” to a prospective opportunity is out of the question.

“All right.” I sigh. “The girl is coming here tonight with a friend. Nino Gambini will be with them. Tell the men at the door to let them in and make sure they’re seated over there.” I point at the booth on the opposite side of the room. The one in my direct line of sight.

Filip follows the direction of my finger, then clears his throat. “We have some IT mogul coming in. He booked that booth four months in advance.”

“Find him another,” I say and wave to the waiter. “I want to check this girl out before I decide if she’s worth the trouble.”


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