Mano di Morte


Bright lights momentarily blinded me as Niccolò shoved me onto the stage. I’d been fighting him the whole time, screaming in terror at the top of my lungs as he dragged me through a narrow, dimly lit hallway. He’d cuffed my hands behind my back and slapped his hand over my mouth, threatening to beat me within an inch of my life if I didn’t shut up.

“I’ll keep you alive,” he’d rasped, “only because killing you would be a merciful act compared to what will happen to you after the auction.”

Now I stood on a stage practically naked. A black chemise two sizes too small hugged every curve and was so tight on my breasts that the silken fabric did nothing to hide the hardened peaks of my nipples. It was freezing, but I couldn’t tell if my teeth were chattering because of the cold or only the sheer, paralyzing panic I felt.

My knees bit into stone as I looked up at the crowd through the thick tangles of curls falling over my face. They were all wearing masks. Some people tilted their heads to peer at me—to look at my body, to try to catch a glimpse between my legs.

Their masked faces blurred as my eyes welled with fresh tears. I blinked them away furiously, only for more to spill down my cheeks.

A clear, loud male voice rang out over the background chatter. “Riccardo has supplied a fresh treat for the party tonight, but this one will be… expensive.”

I found it hard to breathe as I watched the masked men turn and whisper to each other as they examined me like a prized mare and not a human being.

But then I froze, my heart leaping and twisting in my chest before falling into the pit of my stomach. Fear rippled over my skin, causing every fine, downy hair on my body to stand on end.

Oh God. No. Not him.

He was the only one not wearing a mask. Gray eyes met mine and held as I took in that impossibly handsome face that had plagued my nightmares for years. High cheekbones, olive skin, and dark hair swept back from his angular face. Stubble dusted a strong, sharp jaw. Sharp enough to cut. And beneath that jaw along his throat?

A scar that echoed in my memories.

His wide, full lips tilted into a knowing smile as his steel gray stare narrowed on my face. This man—this monster—had killed my brother.

Killian Ricci, the Don of the Ricci family, was a murderer, and the worst kind. He was merciless. They literally called him the Mano di Morte.

The Hand of Death.

And now he was toying with a paddle while he spoke to a masked man standing next to him. Would he bid on my body? Would he take me away, and if so, what kind of punishment would he inflict on my skin and my soul?

Why did my body suddenly react against my will at the thought? Heat bloomed over my belly and rushed to my core as I watched him run his tongue over his lower lip before biting down, all while his eyes stayed fixed on mine.

Not him. Anyone but him.

I held his gaze as absolute desperation flooded my system, leaving me breathless. Shouts lifted all around me. Numbers were yelled, each one higher than the last. But I couldn’t make out who was talking. I couldn’t process anything other than the fear ripping me to shreds. Every sound in the room became the ticking of a clock counting down to my death as I shut my eyes tight and lowered my head to the floor.

He’d take me apart piece by piece, until there was nothing left.

I swallowed back the urge to vomit and fought for breath.

“Sold for one million dollars to number forty-five!”

I sucked in a breath as I was yanked off the floor, and then I was being dragged back down that narrow hallway. I fought. I screamed and thrashed and cried for help, but no one stepped in and stopped what was happening.

Another woman passed me in the hallway, her chin tucked to her chest as she sobbed and sobbed, but the man holding her arms behind her back only taunted her as he walked her to the same stage where my death sentence had just been read.

“Shut up,” Niccolò hissed, shoving me hard against the wall before throwing me through an open door. I landed on my side against something hard and cold. Niccolò shut the door behind him, and I was swallowed by nothing but darkness.

I kicked my legs, which were unbound. I could run. I could get up and try to turn the knob of the door with my hands still bound behind my back. The cuffs were too tight, biting into my skin as I rolled to my knees and tried to stand.

But then the door opened, and a shadowed figure stepped inside. He turned on the light and groaned with what I only describe as satisfaction.

“What’d you do to end up here, pretty little thing?” His voice felt like a snake slithering into my ear, through my skull, and out the other side. I cowered away from him as he entered the room and shut and locked the door behind him. He knelt in front of me, tilting his head from side to side. He reached out and curled a lock of my hair through his fingers, tugging just a little, but enough to make me wince.

He liked that, so he did it again, harder. I whimpered and he smiled

“You’re all mine now,” he whispered, his voice as smooth as fine scotch. I closed my eyes and prayed because there was nothing else I could do. Was this Killian Ricci? I wouldn’t be able to recognize his voice. I’d never heard his voice before.

But this man wore a mask.

Hope burst through my crippling fear as I looked up at what I could see of his face. He reached up, pulling the mask over his jaw so I could see his eyes.

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