Empire (Eagle Elite Book 7) - Rachel Van Dyken

March

Frank

THE GLOOMY DAY matched my dark mood. Merciless rain pelted my umbrella and cascaded off the edge. I adjusted my grip on the polished wooden handle. Arthritis had crept in and it was sometimes hard to tell when I had a secure hold on something. Age had never been a friend of mine. The clock, it seemed, never stopped ticking, the seconds going by faster than I could have ever imagined, the years disappearing like sand through an hour glass.

The spongy ground sank beneath my feet, pieces of grass stuck to my black Valentino loafers.

I kept walking.

My stride strong.

My purpose even stronger.

The grave was marked well, I’d made sure it would be. After all, it seemed the least I could do — give my brother a proper burial, when it was me, his most feared enemy and in the end most trusted ally — who’d had a hand in watching him die.

It wasn’t my fault.

I hadn’t pulled the trigger.

But I knew the dangers in what we did.

I knew the cost of our chess match.

I just wish it had been me — instead of him.

A few more feet and I stood in front of the large gray stone. I’d known Luca wouldn’t have wanted something elaborate — after all he’d made his way through the world being the silent one, the death blow you never saw coming, until it was too late.

I licked my cracked lips and shook my head as I read the tombstone. “Loving brother, fearless leader…” My voice cracked. “Blessed father.” I closed my eyes as the sting of tears burned.

Father.

And only two people here knew.

Phoenix and myself.

“I’m so sorry, brother…”

Would I have done things differently? All those years ago when I made Luca into the man he was, when I forced him into the Nicolasi family, when I stole the woman he loved and turned him against the world.

Knowing what I knew now… would I do it all again?

“For what it’s worth old man…” I pointed to the gravestone next to his. “I’d like to think… that at least in the afterlife — you’ll have her.”

I’d buried my wife next to him, where she belonged. Where she had always belonged.

Every night I prayed that they were finally united in heaven.

While I was cursed to roam the earth without my brother — without my wife, and in charge of four mafia bosses who were younger than I was when I had taken over.

The empire I had built was changing, morphing into something I no longer recognized.

With a sigh I made a cross over my chest and mumbled a prayer.

“Well this is depressing,” came a low voice behind me.

I didn’t need to turn around to know it was Phoenix De Lange, newest boss to the Nicolasi family — handpicked by Luca himself.

“Did you bring it?” I kept my eyes trained on the gravestone.

Phoenix let out a curse, “Yes.”

I held out my hand.

“Are you sure you want to know?”

“Yes.”

“Maybe we should talk to Tex about this before—”

“Give it over damn it, I’m your elder.”

“Don’t pull the age line, old man. You can still take me down, and you know it.”

I smirked and kept my hand firmly in the air. The minute the folder touched my fingertips, I snatched it away and held it tightly against my chest.

“They aren’t going to like this…” Phoenix growled.

“They don’t get a say.”

“The hell they don’t.” Phoenix let out a bark of laughter. “But sure, if it helps you sleep at night.” The rain started to pour down in sheets. “When do you leave?”

“As soon as possible.”

“Safe travels.”

“Always.”

“Does anyone else know you’ll be gone?”

I turned and offered him a sly wink. “Secrets, secrets, secrets, what else do I build my family on?”

With a slight shake of his head, Phoenix took a step back. “I can’t protect you if this goes badly — especially if I don’t know where you are… at least bring one of the men.”

“No.” I glanced at my watch. My flight would leave within the hour. “Don’t think I will.”

“Damn it, Frank.”

“Don’t ‘damn it, Frank’ me…” I held out my hand. “Now, leave like a man before I have to remind you who’s older… and more experienced.”

Phoenix offered a sad smile and shook my hand. “Be well, Frank.”

“Be well, Phoenix.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it takes me away to a place where everything is beautiful — and alive. —Valentina

Six weeks Previous

January

Valentina

“SORRY!” I STUMBLED out of the way of an athletic blonde in a pencil skirt and Nikes power walking her merry way along Fifth