The Forbidden Prince
He’s the prince of the biggest mafia family on the west coast. I’m an FBI agent’s daughter. When my dad asks me to go undercover, I’ll risk my heart over my father’s approval.
I’ve been waiting my whole life for a chance to prove myself. When the opportunity comes, I’m not ready for it to be dressed in black Armani with the eyes of a charming devil and the lips of a saint.
Everyone knows Angelo Rossi. Mamas cross themselves while hoping he chooses their daughter to be the future queen of the Rossi family. His biggest weakness is a pretty woman. He can’t turn down a challenge.
I’m presenting myself as the biggest challenge he’s ever met. My reputation is full of prim and proper while my smile promises sinful fun.
If I play hard to get for the prince who gets everything and everyone, maybe I’ll get the one thing I’ve always wanted – my father’s love.
Be careful, Sofia, the prince is named for an angel used to getting what he wants. He may claim you as his.
The low moon with a red ring was a bad omen. I glared at the night sky. My nonnina always crossed herself when there was a red presence in the sky. She’d said it was a promise of things to come that one didn’t want. Then she would smack her husband, my grandfather, on the hand and tell him he couldn’t have the cannolis cooling on the racks.
I glanced around the alley. Normally, I wasn’t the one dropping the money off. With the extra watchmen out for the Bianchis and their troublemaking and always a second eye watching the Capones, there was a need for everyone to step up and do more.
A breeze blowing in off the sound carried the aromas of Seattle, pungent with the salt of the sea.
Tapping on the metal door, I continuously scanned the shadows of the alley. It wouldn’t be the first time I was spied on, if anyone were out there. It wouldn’t be the first time I had to defend myself. If I were arrested, I wouldn’t be amused, although I also wouldn’t be surprised.
Creaking open, the over-sized metal door revealed an older man with silvery blond hair dressed in a suit that could have come from the highest designer in New York. The man narrowed his eyes and held his lips tight in a line.
“There’s a monsignor in the moon tonight.” The code phrase changed sporadically and the newest term had been texted to me about five minutes before I knocked.
The man’s wariness didn’t fade as he held out an envelope that bulged on the sides. I furrowed my brow and did the same. My envelope was full of money, but I wasn’t supposed to be picking anything up, just dropping off the Rossi donation to the new company we were trying to line up a partnership with.
“Yesterday’s tomorrow is looking grim.” The blond man delivered another code for that was all and time to get out of there.
They traded their packages and I held the envelope down by my side as I turned and loped away. I wouldn’t put it in the pocket of my inner jacket until I was safely inside my vehicle. Holding it where I had it would give me the chance to ditch it if anyone gave chase after me. I could always come back and get it. A little trick my father had taught me a few years back.
My leather Italian loafers designed by a cousin scratched over the gravel on the asphalt of the alley. I had parked around the corner in front of a fish place I wanted to try some time.
As soon as I stepped onto the street where my car was parked, there was a shift in the air. Whatever aura had hidden in the alley was gone as I rejoined the rush of downtown Seattle with cars zooming past and people walking here and there. Pike Place Market captivated many tourists and transient crowds which left the inner workings of that part of the city perfect for doing private business.
Just over the ridge of buildings, the Seattle Space Needle climbed into the sky as if defying the portent of warnings in the moon.
A quick peek at my titanium watch confirmed that evening wouldn’t be the one to try the fish at the restaurant. I climbed into my black and silver two-tone Maserati and started the engine.
As I pulled away from the curb, I finally let myself consider what the exchange suggested. I hadn’t been aware of any need to pick up a package. Normally, my father, The Rossi, kept me apprised of any exchanges or buyouts, but this one felt different. With such a young relationship with the Thompson Corporation, I was understandably leery of any steps the Thompsons took toward the Rossi family.
My sister’s recent relationship to a Rossi family rival, Leonardo Capone, left me unsure just what direction the Rossi family itself should be going. My future was wrapped up in the Rossis. For now, I was the underboss while my father was the dom. As soon as Giovanni relinquished his hold on the empire, I would step into position and take over.
If The Rossi changed the direction of the Rossi family holdings and businesses, I needed to know about it. The momentum of success would need to be carried over and that would be impossible if the impetus of the business slowed or altered in any way.
Reaching out, I pressed the call button on the car’s dashboard. “Call The Rossi.” I spoke in a normal tone as the Bluetooth capabilities of the car connected to the phone and I could talk to the system as if the phone were a person sitting right beside me.
The ringing of the other line filled the car and I turned onto Yester Way to get out from under the weight of the city.
When my father answered, he didn’t speak, just waited for me to state why I called so late.
“I completed the drop but got an exchange. It hasn’t been opened. Did you want me to bring it by tonight or just deliver it in the morning?” I casually rested my fingers on the leather steering wheel, comfortable driving the fast car.
“You’re going to take it to the wharf tomorrow. Meet at eleven and you’ll speak with a woman named Sofia.” My father’s gruff voice never failed to mesmerize me. No matter how much I wanted to take over the Rossi family leadership role, I couldn’t help but defer to my father. The man had captured so much of my respect while doing nefarious things. I never understood it, but I’d fallen hook, line, and sinker for the responsibilities of the Rossi family.
I would never be able to get out from underneath its clutches.
“The wharf. Got it.” I went where The Rossi wanted and when. I wasn’t sure what I would be doing, but I had no doubt my father would give me instructions.
“You listen to me, Angelo. This Sofia is dangerous. She’s beautiful and from what I understand she controls the men in the company. You are to stay away from her in any other context than professional. Are we clear? I don’t need your sloppy mistakes ruining this business deal.” The Rossi didn’t smooth his comments to make a point. He just said what was needed, completely understanding that what he said would go.
I had some of that power, but I wouldn’t have it all until my father gave up his seat at the head of the family. Something that wouldn’t happen for a long time.
Swallowing, I nodded. I’d been warned away from a woman once before by my father and, at the time, I had refused to listen. That had cost me more than I’d been willing to give up and all for a piece of tail. I wouldn’t be doing it again. “Yes, sir.”
“Angelo, I want your word. I’ve heard more about this woman’s ability to wrap men around her finger than I’ve heard of the Giovanni Italian restaurant’s famous lasagna. This deal cannot go south, do we understand each other?” The Rossi had already explained the importance of the deal with the Thompson Corporation he’d been working on for almost six months. The doubled-up warning left a raw sensation in my mouth.
“Of course, Father. I won’t mix business with pleasure on this deal. Nothing will mess it up.” The last time I’d made a mistake and placed my trust in the wrong person, she’d screwed us all over and turned things over to the Bianchis, giving them all the information, leaving me embarrassed and lovesick.
She’d never even cared about me. Trust was an ugly thing to destroy and she’d devastated me enough to destroy my trust in any woman but my mother again. “Don’t worry. I don’t trust women anymore. They all lie and cheat.” I clenched my jaw at the painful truth.
The Rossi chuckled, the throaty sound filling the car. “We’ll see, Angelo. I know a few good Italian women who have been raised the right way that you might find would make lovely wives. You need someone docile and ready to take care of your home. Just say and I’ll set you up with a few of them. There are a lot of mothers who would love to have you take their daughter to wife.”
I rolled my eyes. “Thank you, sir, but I’m still going to have to decline your offer. Maybe sometime next year.” I’d never accept my father’s offer to arrange a marriage. I didn’t want a docile wife or a boring woman to come home to.
In all honesty, I’d rather just take over the family and let things go as they were. Living on my own would keep things simple. I liked simple. Women were anything but.
“Remember what I said, Angelo. Sofia is not for you.” The Rossi hung up, leaving me more curious and just a little frustrated that I’d been told multiple no’s on something I didn’t even want.
Hopefully, I wouldn’t rise to the challenge brooked in The Rossi’s tone. I didn’t like being told no and sometimes I did things I wasn’t supposed to do simply because I could. But this time we were talking about a woman and, since I didn’t trust women, I doubted I’d have any problems following these orders.
How appealing could this woman be?
I leaned my head forward, slowly stretching my neck as I tried to calm my nerves. Angelo Rossi would be at my office and warehouse in the next fifteen minutes and I wasn’t an experienced enough woman to handle a man like him.
All of the rumors about him would either be confirmed or denied. All of the descriptions I’d heard about him would be put to the test. I wasn’t sure how much of the rumors were expanded and how many were just that – rumors.
My phone dinged as I stood at the large wall-spanning windows overlooking the wharf. Moving to pick up the phone, I used the fingerprint scan button on the top corner to access it. Then I swiped my private email and opened a fast note from my father.
Sofia, remember the time we have all put into this. Don’t give anything away. He’ll be there shortly to examine Thompson Corporation. You run everything. Don’t let me or the agency down.
Everything came down to the agency. For as long as I could remember, that’s all that ever mattered to my father. During my childhood, he was never around because of work. When I went off to school, he only showed interest when he found out my major was in law enforcement with a minor in political science.
Those were the requirements to get a foot in with the Bureau.
The doorbell rang through the warehouse, the sound tinny and like a loud bong at the same time.
Inhaling deeply, I flipped my dark curly hair over my shoulder and smoothed my hands down the front and sides of my deep green sheath-style dress. The tight pencil skirt stopped just past my knees and the four-inch black heels showed off calves I worked hard to keep sleek and toned.
Pulling my shoulders back, I lifted my chin and turned, nodding tightly at my bodyguard, Blue, who was both a cousin and an agent deep undercover. We all were. It was the only way we were going to infiltrate the Rossi family. Collaring a major crime family like the Rossis, the Capones, or the Bianchis was a career maker. Everyone in the district craved it, my father most of all.
While Blue moved with a crisp stride down the steps to the front door, I scanned the upper level. I’d furnished it myself with wall to wall cream carpeting, mahogany furniture, and splashes of color in small accessories on the desk, some shelves, and a side table.
I knew my good side. I knew my looks were appealing and challenging to men. I’d been told once that I could have passed as Snow White, if she were real. There was a level of comfort in knowing my genetic gifts were going to help my father somehow, help me, too.
Curling the side of my mouth with a smile I’d practiced in the mirror, I arched an eyebrow and leaned my hips against the edge of my expansive desk. Lifting my chin just enough to add an obstinate angle to my jaw, I worked on the image I would present and didn’t prepare myself for the possibility that the rumors about Angelo Rossi would be true.
He sauntered up the stairs, the dark waves in his hair carefully controlled but with just enough freedom a few locks caressed his forehead. A tightly trimmed beard and mustache set off the paleness of his skin which only made him look stronger as he turned dark, sultry eyes my way when he reached the top of the steps.
Rather than give into the stuttering in his presence I knew was just under the surface, I pushed away from the desk and let my hips sway side to side as I approached him. We closed the distance between us and I held out my hand, making sure to shake with a firm grasp like my father had taught me. I wasn’t the type of girl to let myself seem weak or prissy.
His touch was warm and sent lightning bolts to my belly. One more clue I would have to watch myself closely around him.
“Mr. Rossi, it’s nice to finally meet you. Your father speaks very highly of you.” I offered him a side-smile like I had a secret, all the while wishing I could just be myself. Unfortunately, the me I wanted to be wasn’t who had been assigned the case. No, I had to be the Sofia Thompson who was the head of an international corporation that was a cover for illegal activities.
He scanned my form while still grasping my hand in his. “That’s surprising, since I’ve never heard of you.”
I almost told him my eyes were up here but I was supposed to be the goods, yet at the same time I was also supposed to be the controller of many men. Taking a chance, I reached out and wrapped my free hand around both of ours and I gently tugged him closer until I was in his space but controlling the moment.
Keeping my voice low and friendly, I arched an eyebrow at him, breathing in the darkly scented cologne wafting off his skin. “If you can’t look me in the eye when you’re addressing me, you can tell your dom to send someone else.” I allowed some of the challenge to come through my gaze as he jerked his eyes toward mine.
After a moment, he released my hand and inclined his head. “My apologies. It’s one way of gauging the people I deal with.”
“Really? You inventory all the assets of everyone you meet? What did you think about Blue’s butt?” I cocked my finger in the direction of my cousin who had moved to stand by the top of the stairs. “Didn’t you think his shoulders were delicious?” I half-turned, trailing my finger along the desk as I held Angelo’s gaze with my own. “There are other ways to gauge someone, Mr. Rossi. Checking out my rack is not one of them.”
“Point taken.” He carefully held his eyes above my neckline and I suddenly wanted to tease him. The man was going to be the key to everything and if I could just hold it together, I could make it out of the entire incident unscathed.
I motioned toward my chest and waist and stopped on the other side of the desk. Cocking my head to the side, I grinned. “They’re pretty great, though, aren’t they?”
His face turned red as he avoided looking, as if he sensed I was testing him.
Good for him. I was testing him.
“I’m here to deliver the first package. The Rossi said you’d know what to do with it.” Angelo reached into his jacket pocket and Blue stepped forward, his own hand moving to his hip.
I shook my head tightly at my bodyguard and half-closed my eyes. Angelo caught the movement and looked behind him, displaying the lines of his neck that led beneath the well-tailored black suit jacket.
He held out his hands, in one was a white envelope that bulged from its contents. “Trust me, Ms. Thompson, if I was going to hurt you, you’d know.” A promise in his eyes left me breathless and I swallowed as I took the package.
“Thank you. I’ll have Blue see you out.” I set the envelope on the desk and turned back toward the windows, moving to stare out at the sea. I had been told by the men in my unit to turn my back on him last for two reasons; one, it would dismiss him and remind him who was in charge, and two, my butt was an even better asset than my chest.
He paused and before walking away, he murmured for my ears only, “I look forward to seeing you again, Ms. Thompson.” He left and I refused to turn around as I caught my breath. The man was beyond addicting and I had a feeling I was playing with the devil.
I moved to the desk and pulled out my phone and sent a text I should probably have waited to send.
I got him.
A piece of me was afraid it was the other way around.
Sofia had no idea what a challenge she presented to me. Calling me out on looking at what she so freely offered on display with a hard glint in her eye that suggested she’d been scanned by the worst left me questioning my own effect on women. I didn’t want to upset her. I didn’t want to offend her.
But how did you look away from someone with the curves of a Monticello race track? Even while the sass came off her in waves, there was an innocence to her expression that I craved to taste.
The fact that she ran the entire Thompson Corporation only made her more intriguing. A woman like that would most definitely not be trustworthy. I would have to watch my back even more carefully than my father had warned me about.
But the partnership was going to be interesting.
She hadn’t said anything about meeting again. The next morning, I tugged on the cuff of my white button up shirt as I waited for my father to text me.
Every other day, it seemed Seattle was treated to a deluge of rain. That day was no different. I ducked my head to see through the slant of my windshield up at the sky. A large, low hanging dark cloud seemed to have the lines of Sofia’s rear end. Was it wrong that I couldn’t get pictures of her out of my head?
Instead of dinging, my phone rang. Swiping the screen, I leaned back in the chair. I wasn’t driving since I wasn’t sure what my orders were for the day. The situation with the deal had come down to that was the only thing my father wanted me working on. He’d helped me replace my pickups and even the soldier training.
If I could seal the deal with the Thompson group, I might be in more of a position to take over as dom than I’d planned.
I lifted the phone to my ear, cocking my head to the side. “Hey, Rossi.” Father didn’t like to be referred to as dad or anything else while we were handling business. He even had hours when he expected the line to be drawn between the two.
“Angelo, I got a call from Sofia this morning. She said she will continue working with you. There is a shipment today. I expect you to meet her at Little Bella’s for lunch. You’ll pay. Make it clear you’re there as my representative. She seemed curious why I wasn’t coming. You need to explain that I’m training you.” Training. The Rossi only did what was beneficial to him.
I understood that. I nodded, glancing out the side window and catching sight of a man lowering a camera and then ducking in his seat. Narrowing my eyes, I lowered my voice. “Got it. I’ll order manicotti.” Any mention of manicotti during a conversation was code to inform the other that we were being watched or followed.
My father’s voice hardened. “Order it without the sauce.” He hung up. His last line left little doubt to what he expected me to do. Lose the tail or take care of them.
The immediate drop into unpredictability concerned me. We didn’t know who the man was with the camera, but judging by the nondescript car, they were most likely government. The Rossi knew better than to order a hit on someone we didn’t have a full dossier on. Impetuous calls like that were the reason I was labeled as out of control. Everyone assumed it was me calling shots without thinking.
I don’t think anyone knew just how crazy my father’s orders could get.
Regardless, I had a few hours to lose him before meeting Sofia for lunch. I was more than little excited wondering just what she would let me say and do that day. The woman was an enigma and I couldn’t help but look ward with anticipation in figuring out the puzzle.
Standing from my seat in Little Bella’s at the arresting sight of Sofia gliding across the restaurant, I inclined my head, careful to keep my gaze trained above her neck. With the ruby red dress outlining the shape of her body as a siren, I found the task of being gentlemanly more difficult than I’d imagined.
Sofia side-smiled and shook her head. She stepped back from the table and cocked an eyebrow. “Mr. Rossi, a woman wears a dress like this hoping the man she’s meeting looks. I’m giving you permission to look your fill.” The delicate tones of her voice covered the power she carried like velvet over stone.
I didn’t hesitate as I scanned her from head to toe, appreciative of every line and shadow. After I’d taken a full minute to quench my thirst, I rounded the table and took her hand in mine, kissing the back as if she were royalty. Staring into her eyes, I had the distinct impression I was getting in over my head. “Ms. Thompson, you are stunning.” I grinned. “But I think you know that.”
Holding out her chair, I waited until she slid into the cushioned seat before scooting it in. Returning to my own seat, I motioned for the waiter. Leaning across the table, I pointed toward the menu. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to order for us both.”
Sofia narrowed her eyes. “How do you know what I’ll like or what I’m in the mood for?” She licked her bottom lip and my stomach clenched.
“It doesn’t matter what you think you’re in the mood for. Life is made better by eating Little Bella’s gnocchi. The sauce is magical.” There was no difficulty holding the intimacy in my tone. I wanted to ignore Blue standing to the side by the wall, keeping an eye on the occupants of the restaurant. Part of me wondered if she was ever alone, but at the same time, if she was as big as my father said, she probably had backup for her backup security members.
“Alright, Mr. Rossi. I’ll let you pick my meal, but only if you call me Sofia.” The flirtation was going to be my undoing. There was too much to appeal to me and I might have to sample her on the side and somehow not let my father find out.
Maybe she and I could keep things casual. There had to be a chance she wouldn’t be interested in anything more concrete than breakfast after our time together.
“I’ll call you Sofia, if you’ll call me Angelo.” The stakes were high, but the physical attraction wasn’t to be denied. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, but I was going to make sure she didn’t want to do business with anyone but me.
The waiter arrived and I ordered for the both of us while Sofia ran her finger along the side of her water glass. A flash of something I couldn’t define but that I most definitely recognized crossed her expression and then was gone.
I leaned to the side, studying the features of a woman I wanted to know, but that I was acutely aware I knew nothing about. “I don’t know you, Sofia. I find that disconcerting.”
She slowly raised her eyes to pierce me with confidence. “What do you want to know, Angelo? I’ll let you ask me three questions and I’ll give you completely unfettered answers. All bets are off any other time.” There was a playfulness to her tone, but I had a feeling this would be my only shot at getting anything out of her – if she played by her rules.
I considered her, tossing around the possibilities. What could I ask her that would get me the most information without offending her? Was there a question that would tell me everything I needed to know or would I just be playing with fire to ask her the ones I really wanted to know?
The silence stretched on until the salads came out with their croutons and parmesan cheese. I lifted my chin, still studying her, the air charged between us as we couldn’t look away from each other. “Okay, I have my questions.”
She picked up her fork, her small smile hinting at a teasing. “Well, they must be good.” Spearing a grape tomato, she carefully placed it in her mouth and chewed, waiting for my first one.
“What is your favorite memory of your childhood?” If I could disarm her with a personal memory, I might be able to jar something out of her for the last two.
“Oh, good move. Starting with something personal. I like that.” She lifted her napkin and dabbed at her lips which were stained the same red as her dress. I wanted to reach across and trace her lips with my thumb, but I gripped my fork instead.
She replaced her napkin and looked down at the table while she thought. After a moment, she met my gaze again. “I was maybe five or six and my father came home from work. He worked so much, we rarely saw him. I couldn’t sleep, so I went down into the kitchen because a light was on. My father stood by the table with a bowl of ice cream in his hands. He glanced up at me and didn’t say anything. Just pulled out another bowl and scooped some ice cream in. He handed me the new bowl and we went out on the back porch and sat in silence, eating our ice cream and staring at the full moon.”
The simple beauty in the memory made me long for an easier time. Out of all the memories she could have chosen, she picked one with her father. Interesting.
“Thank you. My next question revolves around work.” I reached for a slice of garlic bread with its chunks of minced garlic and thick handmade butter. Her gaze flickered like she didn’t want to talk about work. Interesting for a woman with so much wrapped in her work.
I pressed on. “What is your goal around partnering with the Rossis? I mean, why us, why not the Capones or the Bianchis?”
She stretched her long legs out, her shiny heels catching my eye from the side of the table. “Another good question. Well, Angelo,” The curl of my name on her lips was arresting. “I looked at the Bianchis, to be honest. There’s a lot there that the Rossis and the Capones won’t do that the Bianchis will. You weren’t my first choice. However, the newest alignment between the two families through your sister definitely improved your chances. Plus, the underboss of the Bianchis is… well, a misogynist is the nicest phrase I can say. Do you think I made a poor choice?”
Her frankness startled me and pushed me a little closer to pursuing her, my father be hanged.
I didn’t answer her question, choosing instead to study her before asking the third question I could feel in my gut was going to be the catalyst in the relationship. If she answered yes, everything would change. If she answered no, I’d let my father know I couldn’t continue working with her.
Taking a drink of my water, I set the condensation spotted glass back on the tablecloth. “Which is more important, Sofia, loyalty or truth?” How she answered that would determine where we went. I stopped breathing for the space of a heart beat.
Without hesitation, Sofia replied. “Loyalty.”
And with that, she sealed our fate. A woman who openly admitted that loyalty was more important than truth was being honest that she would lie and she expected others to do the same.
“My turn, Angelo, but I only want one question.” She studied me, the green of her eyes hypnotic and stark with the paleness of her skin and the dark contrast of her eyes frame in thick black lashes. I didn’t answer as I waited for her question. She didn’t smile as she leaned forward, lowering her voice so Blue and anyone else couldn’t hear. “Do you feel this between us?”
Her boldness made me drop my fork on the table beside the plate. I wasn’t sure who she was, but she wasn’t a docile Italian woman like the ones my father wanted me to wed.
I swallowed the bite of bread in my mouth and chuckled while staring at her. “You mean the fact that my body is very aware of every move you make? Yeah, I can most definitely feel it.” I could be honest, too.
Much to my amusement, my answer didn’t faze her as she speared another bite of salad. She grinned and nodded in a short up and down motion. “Good. Then we both understand each other.”
“That we do.” I wasn’t sure just what was happening, but I was going to have a heckuva time explaining to The Rossi why I was going to dinner with Sofia every night that week, and probably into the next. This woman wasn’t the type you grew bored of. If anything, she was dangerous in that she might just wrap me around her fingers and I wouldn’t know what hit me.