Chapter Eleven

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I clawed some wet hair from my face and inhaled, standing as tall as I could before stalking down the aisle towards Ciro. I would show no fear. Or at least try really really hard not to.

He turned to watch as I slipped onto the pew across the aisle from his. I took a deep breath, ignored the painful thudding in my chest, and I forced myself to face him.

"Took you long enough," He grunted, looking at me with beady eyes full of disdain. He had a sallow complexion, with gaunt cheeks. We had crossed paths briefly at Laura's birthday party but I hadn't been able to get a good look at him since I was staring down at the ground in an attempt at keeping him from recognizing me. He looked older than I remembered. I guess the stress of being a mob boss aged you.

"I was talking to Laura," I said, forcing myself to keep eye contact, pretending not to feel the chill that slid down my spine as I recovered from hearing his voice, the memories of being at his mercy that had surfaced at the sound of it.

Anger flashed across his face at the mention of his daughter's name. "You ruined her birthday, you know," he said, his Italian accent thick as I remembered it. "Is that your idea of extending the olive branch?"

"I ruin a lot of things," I said, offering him what I hoped was a cocky smile, to show him I wasn't afraid. "But," I added lightly, "I can't take credit for my husband's scheme. That wasn't me."

Ciro stared me straight in the eye, then made a show of spitting on the floor. "To hell with Salvatore Lazzari, that snake."

Never thought I'd agree with Ciro Costa on anything but today was just full of surprises.

I held my hands up as if to say, don't look at me, I'm innocent. "Like I said, sabotaging Laura's birthday was all Salvatore. He intentionally kept me out of the loop because he knew I wouldn't agree to it. I'm here," I gestured around the church, "because I want to make peace."

Ciro eyed me with suspicion. The animal on the Costa family crest was a bear, but he resembled a ferret more, with a long face and a thin, lanky body. "And why would I make peace with you?" He made it sound like the very idea was a joke. "What does my family gain from such an arrangement?"

I couldn't help but stare at his lips. Thin. Too thin. The way they had spread into a cruel smile when I had been his prisoner. The way they had felt when he shoved them onto mine for no reason other than to terrorize an already scared teenage girl.

"Something the matter, Signorina?" He asked, his voice taking on a sick, honeyed tone. He shifted in his seat, sitting almost sideways on the pew so he didn't have to keep turning his head to stare at me. "You look unwell." He didn't sound concerned, just amused, a glimmer of delight in his large, round eyes.

My discomfort was giving him confidence. I needed to get it together or he would have too much power.

I imagined reeling back in my terror, like a fishing line, and having it wind up into a tight ball I kept secured in my chest. Better.

I shook my head. "I'm fine, just cold." I gestured to my damp hair. "It's pouring outside, if you hadn't noticed."

He gave me a dubious look. "Indeed."

Clearing my throat, I met his gaze head on and said, "I'm not just suggesting a peace treaty or a cease-fire, but an alliance." He leaned forward, intrigued. Emboldened by his rapt attention, I continued, "When our families fight each other, it weakens us both. This creates a power vacuum that the Nerucci have been able to fill." I moved my hands through the air as I spoke, hoping it would somehow help to demonstrate my point.

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