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Silent Vows: Chapter 2

Conner

One Week Earlier

“You know we won’t quit until every last one of them stops breathing.” I held tightly to Aunt Fiona as the last of the family filtered to their cars after saying their final goodbyes to Uncle Brody. Only the immediate Byrne family remained, which was still about three dozen of us. Hundreds had turned out for the funeral. Even my grandparents had been driven the hour outside the city for their son’s burial, though they rarely left their house anymore.

My uncle’s widow shook with muffled sobs. It made me want to light the entire city on fire.

The Albanians had put five rounds into Brody’s chest outside one of our clubs. We’d immediately gone after them and struck back, taking down a half dozen of their men, but those fuckers were like cockroaches. We hadn’t seen the last of them.

“Come on, Ma. Let’s get you home.” Oran, the eldest of Fiona and Brody’s kids, took his mother into his side and gave me a grim nod of thanks before leading her to their car.

As I watched them walk away, my uncle Jimmy came to stand at my side. While the three Byrne brothers and my father had jointly brought our organization back from obscurity, Jimmy was the unspoken leader. He was also my godfather and the man I aspired to be. I respected and loved my dad, but Jimmy had an untouchable quality to him. The world quieted in his presence. As a kid, I studied everything about him. Now that I was grown, I spent every day striving to earn his respect.

“This never would have happened fifty years ago.” He clapped a hand on my shoulder. “Back in the day, when the Irish owned Hell’s Kitchen, no one would dare fuck with us.”

“I wasn’t around then, but I’ve seen what you’ve been able to create in the last ten years alone. We’re close to regaining the power Paddy and the others knew back then, thanks to you.”

“We’re getting there, but the other organizations still think we’re weak. That’s the only reason they came after us. They’d never dare move on the Italians or Russians.” Jimmy began to slowly stroll toward the street with me beside him. “What does that say about us? It says they think we’re vulnerable. A target.” He paused and stood silent for several beats. When he spoke again, his voice was the low rumble of distant thunder. “Things have to change.”

I met his steely gray stare with unwavering confidence. “You tell me what’s needed, and I’ll do it.”

Chin lowering a fraction in approval, he continued walking. “Tell me, how did your dinner go with the Italians? I never got the chance to ask with everything that’s happened.”

The same night my uncle was gunned down, I’d been off at Jimmy’s request to meet my birth mother for the first time. Not only was she fucking Italian but she was also a goddamn Genovese—wife of the Lucciano family consigliere, Edoardo Genovese. I’d been having dinner like the fucking Brady Bunch while Uncle Brody was bleeding out on the sidewalk. I was pissed I hadn’t been there to help him, but Uncle Jimmy had been insistent about me going to meet my birth mother. I had no interest in bonding with the woman who had given me away. But from the minute the adoption agency had contacted us to say that Mia Genovese was interested in meeting her son, Jimmy swore it was fate. The start of a new era in which the Irish and Italians were allied.

I was skeptical.

But as I’d said, I trusted Jimmy and was prepared to do what he asked of me.

“It went as well as could be expected. Edoardo Genovese knew from my choice of restaurants that I was connected to you, and he still showed up.” The dinner hadn’t been as terribly awkward as I’d envisioned. I still didn’t plan on extensive bonding with my birth mother’s family, though my half sisters were surprisingly entertaining.

“I’d say that’s a good sign.”

“Sign of what exactly?” I asked, a niggling sense of unease tensing my shoulders.

Jimmy stopped again, this time pinning me with his impenetrable stare. “I know how you feel about your past, Conner. It’s understandable. But you’re rooted in our family now. Ties with the Italians won’t change that.”

Logically, I knew he was right. But aside from being adopted, I wasn’t even a Byrne in name. My adopted mother was the only sister of the Byrne brothers. Her married name was Reid, which only served to separate me further in my mind’s eye. I doubted the others would have agreed if I’d voiced my feelings, but their thoughts on the subject didn’t change the way I felt. I had already spent my life defending my right to sit alongside my cousins. Highlighting my newly discovered Italian heritage only made things worse.

“I hear what you’re telling me. Doesn’t mean I want to hang out with them.”

His features hardened. “It might be time you work on your perspective, son. We’ve been handed a golden opportunity. A way to ally ourselves with the most powerful families in the city. Think of what that would mean for us.”

This time, I was the one to stop and stare. “What exactly are you getting at?”

His chin lifted and chest expanded before he spoke the words that would change my life forever.

“A marriage. The Italians and Irish bonded by holy matrimony.”

I might as well have been sucker punched in the gut. His statement winded me, tilting the world on its axis.

“You want … me … to marry … an Italian?” I asked, struggling to even say the words.

“I know it’s not ideal, Conner, but I can’t think of any other circumstances that would present this unique opportunity. An alliance like that could cinch our place in this city and be crucial to our survival. Think about it. What happens if the other bottom feeders see what the Albanians have been able to do and decide they want to come after us? We don’t have the resources to fight them all off, but with the Italians at our side…” He didn’t have to continue for me to know how vastly different our circumstances would be. While we were one family, the Italians had the power to join their five ruling families against any common enemy. It made them nearly unstoppable.

An alliance like that would be monumental for us, and I was an essential component. It should have made me enormously proud, but I couldn’t stop the whispers in the back of my mind that my Irish family was just trying to get rid of me. Not fully one or the other, I didn’t fit in anywhere.

Stop your fucking whining and grow up. Who cares if you like the idea?

What Jimmy said was true, and I knew it. This could be huge, and I should be honored to help my family in any way I could. Debating about my feelings was pointless anyway because when it came down to it, I knew I’d do whatever Uncle Jimmy asked of me.

“Tell me what you want me to do.”


Three days later, we sat down to lunch with Edoardo Genovese and his brother Enzo, who was the boss of the Lucciano family and the head of the Italian Commission. Jimmy had spoken to them after the funeral, and to my astonishment, they’d agreed to consider our proposal. I hadn’t expected much to come of his idea. What incentive could the Italians possibly have to enter such an arrangement? Yet they got back to us a day later and asked for a meeting. I was still struggling to grasp the implications.

“Gentlemen,” Jimmy greeted when they joined us. “We’re honored to have you at our table. I wasn’t sure how our proposal would be received, so today is a very pleasant surprise. Edoardo, I know you’ve met my nephew, Conner, but I’m not sure Enzo has been introduced.”

I stood and shook hands with both Genovese men. “It’s a pleasure.”

Enzo nodded. “You’ve given my sister-in-law such peace by agreeing to meet with her. I know it couldn’t have been easy for you. I won’t forget what you’ve done for her. As for lunch today, we’re always pleased to sit down with honorable men such as yourselves.”

“You’re willing to meet with us,” Jimmy pointed out somewhat coyly. “But does that mean you’re actually entertaining the arrangement I’ve proposed?”

Enzo held back his response until after the server had taken our orders. We’d chosen an independent restaurant in neutral territory to ensure we were all on equal footing, but that meant being cautious about what was said near outsiders.

“We are, in fact, very interested in your proposal. We’ve done our best to keep it quiet, so you may or may not have heard, but the Sonora Cartel has recently given us trouble in the city.”

Jimmy and I exchanged a surprised glance. We’d heard nothing about the cartels advancing into the East Coast but could only imagine the chaos that might ignite.

Enzo continued. “We dealt with the gentlemen giving us the most problems, but there is no guarantee that whoever comes to power next won’t continue the charge into our city. Edoardo and I have talked it over and decided a broader network of associates could only benefit us. In addition”—his gaze locked with mine—“we want Conner to know that he has family on both sides of this table.”

Well, I’ll be damned.

I hadn’t expected that. Italians were notorious for their strict delineation between Italians and outsiders. I was illegitimate with no clue who my father was and raised among the Irish, so the last thing I had expected was for the Genoveses to call me one of their own. My birth mother wanting to meet me was entirely different from these men accepting me into the family.

“You do me a great honor,” I forced past my shock.

Enzo smiled. “Well, then. If we’re all agreed, let’s talk particulars. “I’ve spoken to the other bosses and compiled a short list of possible matches for you to consider. We only included women of respectable rank and suitable situation.” He gestured to his brother, who extracted several sheets of paper from a leather portfolio and handed them to me.

My stomach clenched as reality set in that this outlandish idea was actually moving forward. A part of me had been certain nothing would come of our lunch, so I hadn’t worried about the outcome. My gut churned as I scanned through grainy color photographs printed on standard printer paper. Next to each was a list of background and basic information. I felt like I was picking out a used car, not a bride.

Was I actually considering this? Would I bind myself to some Italian Mafia princess I’d never even met?

Jesus Christ.

I scanned each page with unseeing eyes, too busy keeping myself calm to register the faces before me until the very last page. I paused to take in the striking image of a young woman peering over her shoulder at the camera. All the women had been attractive, but something about this one captured my attention. I couldn’t say exactly why. It was an intangible quality. The piercing way she looked at the camera as though she could see right through it.

“You’ll want to take that last one out of contention,” Edoardo offered. “She never should have been in the pile.”

“She in a relationship or something?” I asked.

“No, she was in a car accident six months ago. Her mother was killed in the wreck, and Noemi’s vocal cords were damaged. She’s mute and, from what I hear, pretty traumatized. No clue why her father nominated her. She’s hardly been seen outside of her house since it happened.”

Mute. Now that was even more intriguing. The sheet listed her age at twenty, a full eight years younger than me—a sizable gap but not insurmountable.

“She scarred or have other physical damage?”

“Not that I know of,” Edoardo mused.

Just how traumatized was this girl? I wasn’t interested in taking on drama, but the prospect of a silent wife bore merit. I could lead my life as I wanted without nagging or disruption and allow her to do the same. For the first time since Jimmy had uttered the word alliance, I began to see hope.

“I want to know more,” I murmured, eyes still glued to the page.

“Is that really what you want?” Enzo asked in a wary tone.

I lay down the pages and leveled him with an even stare. “I won’t know until I meet her, but she’s a beautiful woman, and something tells me we might work well together. If her father has consented, and she’s volunteered herself, I see no problem pursuing the match.”

“Very well.” Enzo dropped his chin in a subtle bow. “I’ll have more information to you by the end of the day.”

I took my freshly filled wineglass in hand and held it aloft. “To a lasting alliance, gentlemen, and a new era of prosperity.”

And to Noemi Mancini, prepare yourself. Life as you know it is about to change.


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