Heart of Stone

3 | Thought That Counts

© Copyright C.K. Bennett 2021–2022

Leo’s dark eyes moved in Ferro’s direction, but I couldn’t read the emotion in them. The younger brother merely gazed back, as only Leo had heard me.

Steering his eyes back to mine, Leo leaned closer again to whisper in my ear. ‘We’ll talk about this later.’ His tone was so cold that the hair rose on my arms. He was clearly angry, but I couldn’t understand why.

Why did he care? It wasn’t like he actually wanted me, so why should it matter who I had kissed before? Besides, it had happened two years ago during a game of truth or dare. While yes, it had been a French kiss, but it hadn’t been serious. Ferro and I had just laughed about it afterwards, and never repeated it.

‘There’s nothing to talk about,’ I whispered back, obstinately.

Pressing his lips together, Leo glared at me for half a second. He said nothing else, however, and soon enough, we were both distracted by people who wished to congratulate us on our engagement.

I soon realised that what I hated most about this evening wasn’t that I had to act happy in front of all these people. What I hated most was that I had to stay on Leo’s arm for so long. For some reason, it reminded me of the time we’d travelled to Sicily together when I was twelve and Leo was eighteen.

God, that trip. It had been awful. Leo and I had been travelling alone – albeit with several bodyguards – since Giovanni and Isabella had left with Donna the week before. Ferro hadn’t joined us till a week later because he’d been staying with his maternal grandparents for a week.

On the private jet, I’d got my period for the first time, and I had bled through my jeans. Because I’d been sitting next to him, Leo had noticed it when I stood up to go to the lavatory, but he hadn’t said anything. Instead, he had left me to figure it out by myself; I’d pushed my beige jeans down and seen a pool of blood in them.

None of our bodyguards had known what to do, but, thankfully, a female flight attendant had given me a pad I could wear and had calmed me down when I had started to cry, thinking I was dying. As soon as our plane had landed, I’d been able to change my underwear and jeans.

I had never before, or since, seen Leo as pale as he had been back then. He hadn’t looked me in the eyes for the remainder of the holiday. In fact, the first time he’d met my gaze after that incident was a year later, when Ferro, Leo, Roman and I had been playing a game of poker, and Leo had called my bluff.

I was jolted out of the mortifying memory when a server offered me another glass of Prosecco. Placing my empty glass on the tray, I took another one just as the couple we’d been chatting to turned to speak to some other guests.

‘For you, sir?’ the server asked Leo, which drove me to glance at my fiancé. Only then did I notice that he’d been staring at me.

‘What?’ I asked him as he accepted the offer.

‘Nothing,’ he said, raising the glass to his lips as the server turned away.

‘Creep.’

He frowned. ‘Am I not allowed to look at you?’

‘Not for extended periods of time, and not without good reason.’

I thought I saw a trace of a smile on his mouth. ‘Well, I’ve got a good reason.’

‘Why? Have I bled through again?’

He coughed on his sip, startled by the memory. It was obvious that he didn’t know how to react, as a moment of awkward silence elapsed between us.

‘No, I…’ He shook his head. ‘How’s your day been?’

The question took me aback. I couldn’t remember the last time he’d asked me that.

Nonplussed, I looked at his profile, seeing how perfectly trimmed his black stubble was. He must have gone to the barber earlier today. Well, at least he was putting some effort into this.

Who was I kidding? Leo always looked like he did modelling for a living.

‘My what?’

He frowned. ‘Er…’

I frowned back. ‘Er…’ I echoed, making him seem dumb.

‘I just wondered if you’ve had a nice day.’

I gave him a fake smile. ‘How kind of you to ask; it was fine until you arrived.’

He looked away, square jaw clenching.

‘And yours?’ I continued.

He met my eyes briefly. ‘Fine – until you opened your mouth.’

I had another sip of Prosecco. ‘Well, if you don’t want me to talk, I wouldn’t recommend asking me questions.’

‘I was trying to be nice.’

Trying.’ My lips twitched with amusement. ‘Not really your forte, is it?’

Suddenly he leaned close, his full lips resting dangerously close to my ear. The seductive fragrance of his cologne filled my nostrils, and I caught myself enjoying it. The deeper into my lungs I took it, the warmer and softer my body became.

‘Trust me, Ade,’ he said quietly, the low bass of his voice massaging my eardrums. ‘You’d rather have me trying to be nice than not at all.’

Chills crawled down my spine. I believed him. Leo had always had a dark aura about him, and I did not want to explore the deepest corners of it.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said, and I meant it. ‘I’m a little on edge tonight.’

He leaned away, dark eyes analysing my face. ‘I get it. I’m not having the time of my life either.’

I faced him properly, deciding to treat him with a modicum of respect. ‘To answer you, my day’s been alright. Isabella’s been dragging me from salon to salon all day, so I’m honestly quite exhausted.’

He sized me up then. ‘Well, your nails look good,’ he commented, as if to help me feel that it hadn’t been for naught.

I chuckled. It was obvious that giving compliments wasn’t in his nature. Out of everything he could have chosen to comment on, he’d picked my nails.

‘My nails? Thanks, I guess.’

‘Aren’t they a bit long, though?’ he asked, dubious. ‘Can you actually use your hands with those?’

I shook my head. ‘I hate them. They’re very impractical. But Isabella insisted.’

‘They look like claws.’

‘Then why did you tell me they look good?’

He shrugged. ‘I thought they were supposed to look good.’

‘Oh my God, Leo.’ I rolled my eyes.

When a chuckle slipped out of him, I thought I had hallucinated. Had he actually just laughed? Genuinely?

‘Thought that counts?’ he said, and I was nearly blinded by his enchanting grin.

‘Nice try.’

Glancing around us, I saw the glares of several other women, wild with envy as they saw Leo Cifarelli smiling – at me. Like them, I had no idea how I’d managed it. However, unlike them, I didn’t care whether Leo smiled at me or not.

I was just about to ask him how his day had been when Tom Adams approached us through the crowd. Seeing him made me tense.

I’d always envied Leo for being allowed to play a part in our families’ affairs – he was Don Giovanni’s protégé, after all – because it enabled him to sit on lots of inside information, as well as sensitive information. However, at least I knew enough to be aware that Tom Adams was a man to fear.

The syndicate he oversaw wasn’t among the Five Firms – which consisted of the most powerful mafia clans in London – but it was notorious for its callousness, nevertheless. The Cifarelli-Valentino Syndicate had never been at war with it, but we’d witnessed it wage war against the Frontliners five years ago, who had since been deprived of any and all power.

Noticing the middle-aged man, Leo tensed as well. Discreetly, he took a small step forward so that I was standing more behind him than beside him.

‘Stay close,’ he ordered very quietly. ‘Whatever you do, don’t leave my side, Ade.’

Swallowing, I gave him a vague nod. This was one of the few positive things about Leo. While I couldn’t stand him as a person, no one made me feel safer than him, because Leo was always in control. I’d seen him in action and in dangerous situations several times before. He’d never once lost a physical fight, and he’d never once been outplayed or outwitted by anyone else. For that reason, I trusted him with my life. Indeed, regardless of how much I hated to admit it, Leo would make an exceptional don when the time called for it.

‘Leo,’ Adams greeted the instant he reached us. ‘Adella, you look fabulous.’

I bowed my head slightly. ‘Tom. I’m so glad you could come.’

‘Of course. I wouldn’t miss this for the world. What a beautiful pair you are.’ Adams bared discoloured teeth behind his devilish grin.

‘I’m not so sure about “beautiful pair”,’ Leo said. ‘Ade tends to steal the spotlight.’

Yeah. Right.

Adams laughed. ‘She’s definitely grown into a gorgeous young woman.’ After giving me a wink, he looked back at Leo and stepped a little closer. With his fingers, he motioned for Leo to lean in so he could whisper something in his ear.

I watched them with the eyes of a hawk, keenly attuned to any movement, so when Leo suddenly froze, I noticed. Alarms went off in my head. Something wasn’t quite right.

Very slowly, Leo leaned away. ‘I’m afraid I can’t allow that,’ he said, his eyes spitting darkness that would put even the blackest shade to the test. ‘Adella stays with me. Always.’

What? I stared straight at Adams. What did he want with me?

Glancing at Leo, I saw his arm move, his hand reaching into his dinner jacket, but Adams noticed, too.

‘Oh, Leo.’ Adams laid his large, veiny hand on Leo’s shoulder. ‘Let’s keep it friendly, lad. I’m asking nicely.’

‘Adella stays with me,’ Leo repeated, his tone hostile.

Adams’ lips twitched downwards as he glanced around us. ‘I was afraid you’d say that.’ When he looked at Leo again, his eyes contained a promise of death. ‘You’re just a cub, Leo. Sometimes, bravery is stupid. Hasn’t Giovanni taught you that?’

Leo pressed his lips together, and I saw his arm move a bit further. Was he reaching for a gun?

Adams sighed. ‘Listen, lad. I’ve got four men, each with a gun, aiming at your brother, your sister, your mother, and your father right now. All I’ve got to do is press this button,’ he withdrew his phone from his pocket, ‘and poof! You’ll never see them alive again. I’m sure we’d all rather avoid that, right?’

Leo swallowed while he stared straight into Adams’ evil eyes. Standing behind him, I felt my breath abandon me. True fear spread through my system, submerging me in adrenaline. My heart was beating like it was trying to pulverise my ribs.

Adams had Leo’s whole family at gunpoint? Why? What sort of trouble had Leo got us into now? Or was it Giovanni’s doing?

Gazing around, I saw several men observing us, their stances seemingly relaxed. However, upon closer inspection, I also noticed that their hands were ready to withdraw weapons any moment now.

I swallowed, my eyes searching for contact with one of our men. There had to be a way for us to raise the alarm, to draw attention to the danger we were in. At the same time, if I called for help, it might prompt Adams to order his men to kill Leo’s family.

‘Did Beckett tell you to do this?’ Leo asked calmly.

My stomach sank upon the question, my gut whispering that Leo might have lied to Lauren and Ferro earlier, when he’d said the meeting had gone well. As it looked now, it could hardly have gone worse.

Adams grinned, head shaking. ‘You’re not in a position to be asking questions, Leoncino,’ he said, using the nickname Leo had acquired when he was younger – lion cub. ‘Now, it’s up to you. All I need from you is Adella. If you comply, no harm will come to her or any of your family members.’

Leo turned towards me, and I could have sworn I saw something deep within his gaze. An apology? A promise? Or was it…fear?

Tears of panic formed in my eyes as I stared back at him. I was terribly scared. What did Adams want with me? Why was I a person of interest? I hardly sat on any information regarding our families’ affairs.

It occurred to me then that Adams probably wanted to use me as a means of extortion; he was looking to manipulate our families’ next move – strike some sort of deal with them, and if they didn’t comply, I’d suffer.

‘Make up your mind, then. I haven’t got all day,’ Adams threatened. ‘Your family or your fiancée?’

I drew in a sharp breath. There was no way out of this. Leo and I were trapped in an impossible situation; there was no one we could call for – not without triggering four guns. One way or another, someone had to be sacrificed. Knowing that, it was only logical I agreed to Adams’ terms. If I did, it would buy Leo more time to work out a solution to this mess – preferably before any serious damage would be done to me.

Leo still hadn’t said anything when I took a step forward. ‘I’ll go.’

‘That’s a clever girl.’ Adams grinned, eyes flickering to Leo. ‘You should learn from your fiancée, Leoncino.’

Leo reached for my hand, his tattooed fingers squeezing it like he never wanted to let go. His dark eyes stared intensely at me, spilling with apologies and an unmistakable vow to rescue me before it was too late.

Without taking his eyes off me, he asked Adams, ‘Do you swear no harm will come to her?’

‘That depends on whether you’ll comply with my terms.’

Seeing the fright in my eyes, Leo grimaced and leaned down to rest his lips by my ear. ‘Adella, don’t worry.’ He pushed my long brown hair behind my ear. ‘I’ll find you. I swear.’

‘Fix this,’ I demanded, scared. ‘Quickly.’

He merely looked at me.

Adams offered me his arm then, his smile ever present. I took it with reluctance, my body trembling with terror. When he pulled me closer my stomach churned. He smelled of cigarettes, whisky, and too much cologne.

‘Smile, Adella,’ he ordered quietly as he guided me towards the exit. ‘Laugh. Put on one hell of a show. The Cifarellis’ lives depend on it.’

I forced a fake smile immediately, but I couldn’t help glancing over my shoulder. Immediately, Leo’s magnetic eyes trapped mine, and in them, I saw his promise speak to me: I’ll find you. I swear.


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