Home > Queen of Thorns (Mice and Men #2)

Queen of Thorns (Mice and Men #2)
Author: Lana Sky

 

1

 

 

Don

 

 

I was fourteen the first time I ever killed someone. It was a sloppy hit, done at point-blank range with a stolen 9mm. Later on, I found out that was intentional on the part of the man who put me up to it—throw off suspicion by making it seem like a reckless, random robbery.

I’d merely been a pawn in a game I’d been too damn young to even guess the scope of. Such is the way of the world.

Everyone is a fucking pawn.

I don’t recall much of that day, though I sure as hell remember the messy aftermath. Namely, the blood splattered all over the pavement and the pile of puke I left alongside it. Shaking from head to toe, I could barely grip the gun in my hand. Rather than dispose of it like a seasoned hitman would, I turned tail and ran, leaving both the body and the weapon there out in the open, a rookie mistake.

I don’t even remember the poor bastard’s name. As far as I knew, he had been an enemy of Mr. Rossi, a mobster I’d pledged my loyalty to, and that was all that mattered.

Loyalty.

It was my one talent, and what I thought would cement my status as a member of the famiglia, age be damned. Until I learned a lesson they don’t bother to teach in schools, that is. A boy doesn’t become a man the second he commits murder.

No, my old boss and leader of the famiglia, Giovanni Rossi himself, told me the truth from across his desk that night. Later, as I washed the blood from my hands, I realized that some lucky bastards never learn it.

Becoming a man relies on knowing one universal certainty. Understand it, and even the poorest, dumbest son of a bitch can become whatever the hell he wants, be it a doctor, a teacher, or a fucking crime lord.

So what is it? This—all men have the same capacity for evil. No matter what he does. No matter what he wears or says. No matter how good his upbringing is, or how much money he has in the bank…

Everyone is the same underneath.

The true question of morality is whether they choose to embrace the darkness or suppress it—though the Bible tries its damn hardest to muddy the waters. I grew up with the lies, reading every classic moral lesson, which typically ended with all sin leading neatly back to the devil.

A good, God-fearing Catholic woman, my mother abided by every warning and did her best to teach me the same. The only problem? I knew early on that it was all bullshit.

The devil isn’t real. Greed is. At his core, every man is little more than a creature born of sheer greed. A priest and a mobster are both one and the same—a snarling, vicious animal out to satisfy the most basic urges. Strip him down to the bone, and he’ll do whatever it takes to eat. To fuck. To shit. And…if necessary, kill.

God rest my mother’s soul; I wish things were different, though. I wish a simple prayer could cure every act of evil.

The death.

The violence.

The blood.

I wish I could still blame my sins on the devil—though maybe I can. Just one of flesh and blood who goes by another name.

Mischa Stepanov.

He’s the reason I’m here—driving up the west end of Hell’s Gambit in a stolen car with a kidnapped woman in the trunk. I barely remember the how and why. My skull throbs as I pick through the scattered memories, each one as blurred as the last.

Mischa let himself be played by faulty information. He came after me. Vin got attacked...

I left the villa, I think, though I didn’t go see the man I should have.

No, I went right to the source of the lies. The man who tried to have me killed and then framed me for an attack on the Stepanovs. Antonio Salvatore.

I broke into his fancy manor and tried beating any information I could out of him. After that, I strangled him with my bare hands and used his own daughter as a human shield to evade the remnants of the famiglia.

Then I went back to Havienna and…

Groaning, I take one hand from the wheel to rub at my temples, but the grainy images don’t get any clearer. At least one fact is answered—if all of what happened was real, then there are two bodies in the trunk—one being just a child, kidnapped from her own home.

Fuck. I laugh out loud and meet my gaze in the rearview mirror. Ironically, I look like hell. Bloodshot eyes. Hair mussed to shit and dripping with a substance that sure as hell ain’t water. One hard sniff and I can peg the acidic stench—lighter fluid.

That’s right. I doused myself in it.

Maybe I’m the devil in this tale?

If only reality were as neat as the Bible. I’d confess my sins and accept the punishment. God knows, I’ve been down this road before, and the good Donatello, the man I’ve strived to be… He would turn around. Do the noble thing and bend the knee to those who wronged him.

Fall on his sword like a repentant bastard.

I can’t say the idea isn’t tempting. I’m so damn tired. Breathing is a struggle, let alone driving. The car veers from lane to lane as the steering wheel bucks against my grip. My lungs ache with every breath I take, and even blinking hurts. I just want to sleep. I’m so weary of running, and scraping, and suffering. I’m so exhausted of hiding from the past.

From Safiya.

Why not surrender to both in one fell swoop? Let the past have my pathetic soul and allow Safiya Mangenello her pound of flesh. As it stands, I should have died seven years ago, anyway.

Or…

I could say “fuck that” to mercy. I tried the good boy routine once, and it cost me the only damn thing in the world I care about. The only person whose life truly mattered. Vincenzo…

Every time I think of him, it feels like I’m the one taking a bullet to the skull. Over and over again.

I see his face everywhere I look, hovering before me, my smiling boy—only he isn’t smiling now. His dark eyes blaze, his lips moving wordlessly, demanding an answer to just one question—how could you fail me, Don? How?

I swear I see him right now, standing in the middle of the road.

“Vin!” I wrench on the wheel just to avoid him, sending the car into an arc. Mud flies up, speckling the windshield as the tires squeal in protest. Deep down, I know I’m being insane, but the second the car screeches to a halt, I scan the landscape for any sign of life.

Predictably, he’s gone. In his place is just an endless fucking road and a swath of trees looming beyond.

I’m drunk. In my right mind, I’d never be driving, especially not here. It’s what the city natives deem the no-man’s-land—a swath of hills on the outskirts, hugging the bay. There are no guardrails this far out, and my heart races as I glance over to where the shoulder ends—at a cliff. Somehow, I’d managed to hit the brake without driving right off the edge. Though fuck, I should.

A sigh rips from my throat as my toes twitch over the pedal, easing up, bit by bit. Bouncing over the uneven terrain, the car lurches into motion, barreling toward the edge of the drop. Slowly. Faster. Faster…

Right when the momentum picks up, one thing has me slamming my foot on the brake again—self-pity.

A death dashed on the rocks below is too good for me. In my soul, I sense I’m destined for something far worse, an end worthy of a monster.

Giovanni Rossi met his via a heart attack on the eve of his daughter’s wedding. Imagine that. A week before, he pulled me aside, as if he’d seen it coming. In his typical gruff baritone, he imparted one last piece of advice to me, his heir primed to take over.

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