Sabina Mancari never questioned her life as the daughter of Chicago’s leading mob boss until bullets tear apart her world and the man she thought she loved turns out to be an undercover Prohibition agent. Ambushes, bribes, murder, prostitution—all her life, her father sheltered her from his crimes, but now she can no longer turn away from the truth. Maybe Lorenzo, the fiancé who barely paid her any attention in the last two years, has the right idea by planning to escape their world. But can she truly turn her back on her family?
All his life, Lorenzo’s family assumed he would become a priest, but he has different ideas—marrying Sabina and pursuing a career in the law. Despite his morals, he knows at the core he isn’t so unlike his mafiosi father and brothers. Has he, in trying to protect Sabina, forced her into the arms of the Prohibition agent bent on tearing her family apart? How can they rebuild what has so long been neglected and do it in the shadow of the dark empire of the Mafia?
Shadowed Loyalty, set amid the glitz and scandal of the Roaring Twenties, examines what love really means and how we draw lines between family and our own convictions, especially when following one could mean losing the other.
Hope had grown grey hairs,
Hope was twelve hours gone;
—Gerard Manley Hopkins, from “The Wreck of the Deutschland”
The wind tore down the alley, forcing Sabina Mancari to hold her cloche hat in place with one hand as she stepped around the corner. Another turn and she’d be at her father’s office—not a moment too soon. Her gaze flicked to the dark clouds knuckling on the horizon. If she were lucky, she’d beat the storm and be able to hitch a ride home with Papa.
She took the final turn but then halted. Cars littered the street, parked helter-skelter in front of the steps to Papa’s building. Men, stationed in formation at regular intervals, clutched guns aimed at the windows. Cops? They wore no uniforms, but her skin prickled.
Every Sicilian, Papa said, was born able to detect a cop from a mile away. And every Sicilian was born with a distrust of them. He said it had come after centuries of government abuse. That kind of instinct, so hard-won, hadn’t vanished from their blood just because they immigrated to America.
Sabina took half a step back, eyes skittering in search of cover. Never cross a cop’s path,her parents had taught her all her life. She lived by that mantra. How many times had she taken one of Little G’s hands in hers, gripped Serafina’s in the other, and tugged them across the street to avoid a policeman out on his beat?
Her fingers flexed against her palm, the habit of reaching for her siblings so ingrained that her hand still felt empty, years after Little G refused to hold it anymore. Years after Serafina…
No. Don’t think about her. The cops, she had to deal with the cops. How could she avoid them? They were everywhere.
The force of it hit her—a dozen policemen, covering every door and window of Papa’s office. Her throat closed. Her brows knit together. Plain clothes could mean only one thing—Prohibition Bureau. But that didn’t make sense. Everyone knew the Bureau was too corrupt to ever make an arrest.
A tall, fair-haired man raised a megaphone. “Come out, Manny! It’s all over! We’ve got you surrounded!”
Sabina lifted a hand to her throat and retreated another step into the alleyway from which she’d not fully emerged, willing the building at her side to keep her out of the sight of those men. This couldn’t be happening. They couldn’t be here for her father. That happened to other bosses—she’d heard the stories, she knew it was true—but not Giorgio Mancari. He ran his operation too carefully. He knit his family too tightly. Omerta, their code of silence, ruled too strongly—no one would ever turn on a Mancari.
So why were the Bureau boys surrounding Papa’s office building?
“Don’t waste our time, Manny!”
Without warning, the familiar tattoo of a Betsy sounded from a second-floor window. Papa himself or one of his many underlings? Sabina winced at the shattering glass and peeked around the corner as answering fire rang out from the cops. Bullets ripped through the battered Fords, turning steel into sieves. The men all ducked for cover.
Sabina jolted when a drop of cool rain splashed onto her nose, followed by another and another. The skies unleashed a steady shower that did nothing to drown the thunder of gunfire. She rested a gloved hand on the brick wall at her side and took another step back, Papa’s instructions ringing in her memory.
She had to get home, warn Mama and Little G. They would gather everything in the top drawer from the desk in Papa’s office—Mama had the key—and flee to the basement. They were not to open the doors to anyone. They were to go into the hidden partition that Sabina had watched the builders install when she was thirteen, with Serafina perched on her hip, and wait. Papa would take the hidden exit out of his office and meet them there, but they’d have to be ready to leave the moment he got home.
He had a series of rendezvous already laid out. All they had to do was get to the right one, and Papa’s men would pick them up. They’d get them out of Chicago until the heat was off.
She knew the plan. She’d recited the plan on Papa’s knee, then from his side when she outgrew his lap. Home. Papers. Basement. Hide. Escape. Words as familiar as the prayer that sprang by rote to her lips, even as her fingers sketched a hurried cross. “Our Father, who art in heaven…”
But she’d never actually had to use the plan. Certainly not while guns barked across the alleyway, surely aimed at Papa. “Hallowed be Thy name…” She spun around.
There was no time to waste. She lurched forward—and collided with a male chest. Strong hands gripped her arms, held her captive. She opened her mouth to scream.
“Sabina? What are you doing here?”
Relief left her limp. A prayer answered before she could even finish it—that was new. She blinked against the rain and fell into the arms of the man she loved. “Roman! You have to help. Papa’s inside, and they’re shooting at him, and—”
“I know.” Roman Oliveri’s reassuring smile lit hope in her heart as he moved his hands down to her elbows, halting her idiotic babble. Even through the steady rain, his eyes gleamed like emeralds and his teeth shone white as pearls. “Come on.”
He used his grip on her elbows to spin her around and guide her forward. Roman would help her get home, help her and Mama execute the plan. She let him tug her a few steps toward the fray—but then reason kicked in. Why was he taking her toward the gunfight? She dug in her heels and pulled against his grasp. “Roman?”
His fingers tightened. He gave her a yank, angling a hard, cold look down at her.
Something heavy and terrifying eclipsed her heart—something she hadn’t felt since she pressed her shaking fingers to the fever burning up Serafina’s forehead and heard the rattle in her chest. It wasn’t just terror—it was the absolute certainty that the world was about to come crashing down. “Roman? What are you doing?”
He didn’t answer. Didn’t even look at her, just tugged her so fiercely that she nearly tripped, pulling her toward the bullets singing out as they kissed pavement and brick. The acrid sting of gunpowder polluted the air.
The Betsy abruptly fell silent when they came into view of the office window; the gunman must have seen her. One of the Prohibition boys shouted out a cease-fire, but they kept their weapons at the ready.
Sabina stumbled along, dreadful certainty swallowing her whole. Ice. Numb. She silently called for it, wishing it could douse the flames consuming her, but it was no use. She could still feel the terror with every stumbling step, every pulse of the veins under Roman’s fingers.
Roman was supposed to have been different. He was supposed to have loved her. He was supposed to have seen something in her, more than who her father was and what he owed him. He’d said he did, he had. He’d made her feel, for the first time in too long, like she was worthwhile.
But now he was dragging her straight into the line of fire, straight toward the Bureau boys, his stride sure and fast. She could smell it now on the rain-heavy wind. Cop.
Her stomach rebelled at the thought, but she couldn’t deny it. Not when Roman, who had waltzed into her life six months ago and brought light back into it, stepped up beside the man who had been shouting and tugged the megaphone to his own lips. “Come out, Manny, or your daughter dies!”
Ice. Numb. For three years she’d been moving through the floes, training herself not to feel the things that would only crush her—why did the ice abandon her now, when she needed it so dearly? But it wouldn’t come. All that came was the burning, panicked dread. Sabina tried again to pull free, but Roman’s fingers—the fingers that had caressed her cheek two days ago—dug in harder.
A sob wanted to rear up, but she had too much practice fending off tears. No. Perhaps the ice wouldn’t come, but she still had pride to fall back on. She lifted her chin, straightened her spine, and glared at him.
The fair-haired man beside them shifted, clenched his jaw. “Roman…”
“Shut up, Cliff.”
Rain dripped down her face, crying for her. It soaked her new hat and dress, likely ruining them. She’d bought them especially for her dinner with Roman tonight. Roman, who had actually looked at her like she was as beautiful as everyone said. Roman, who had kissed her like he wanted to.
Roman, who thrust her forward now like some kind of sacrificial lamb, still keeping his grip on her elbows. “Get down here, old man! If you love her as much as you say you do, come take her place!”
“Roman…” the man he’d called Cliff said again, his voice heavy with warning as he mopped the moisture from his face. He flicked an uncertain gaze to Sabina. As if he cared about her, this blue-eyed stranger who screamed Cop! with his every movement. No. He was only here to ruin her life, her family, all they’d worked for. He was here to steal, like they all were.
Roman snarled. “Give it a rest. Get ready to take him into custody when he comes down.”
Finally, that blessed ice drifted over her—first her limbs, then her body, and finally her very soul. But it didn’t feel comforting anymore. It didn’t insulate her from the pain; it only trapped it inside her.
This was her fault—all her fault. Papa…and what would Mama say, and Little G? All the lieutenants and cousins and uncles? The Mancari operation was their world—how they survived, how they fed their children. With Papa pinched, they would all suffer. All because she’d trusted Roman Oliveri—because she’d dared to believe that he could actually love her.
Her eyes burned, but she forced herself to look to the door of the building. She knew what she’d see in another moment. Her father wouldn’t have had time to escape yet, so he would come down and give himself up for her. Because he loved her. But this stranger, this monster beside her… How could she possibly have let herself be used to ruin her own family?
As if sensing her thoughts, Roman looked down at her. His gaze, though softer than a moment before, had never been so cool in their half-year acquaintance. “Look, Sabina, I’m sorry you got dragged into this. You weren’t supposed to be here today.”
“That’s all you have to say to me?” The words burned her tongue as she spat them, flint and spark and fire that melted her hard-won ice from the inside. “I shouldn’t have been here today? After six months of lying to me, using me—”
She had no intention of stopping there. But the front door of the building opened, and her father walked out with his hands held above his head.
She hadn’t cried in three years, not since the day of Serafina’s funeral. Not since she leaned one last time to press her lips to that precious little cheek and realized that her sweet little sister, the girl she’d given so many years to raising and loving, was gone forever. But a sob heaved its way up now, her tears finally mixing with heaven’s. “Papa!”
Giorgio Mancari should not have come to this.
He walked straight toward her and Roman, his chin up and eyes steady. None of the other agents made a move to stop him. Given the gold and gems sparkling on their hands—treasures no one could purchase on a Prohibition agent’s salary—she wasn’t surprised.
“Get your hands off my daughter.” His words were a low growl.
Roman obeyed with a smirk. “Of course. She’s free to go, so long as you show yourself into the car without a fuss.”
Papa shook his head. “You’re a coward and a rat. After you ate at our table, after we gave you our trust, you would do this to us?”
Sabina forced a swallow as guilt ate away at her stomach. Papa never would have looked twice at this newcomer if she hadn’t asked him to give Roman a chance. She was the one who had trusted him. She was the one who had been duped. Her father’s only mistake had been to trust her judgment.
Roman’s chin went up, his dark, damp hair sticking to his forehead. “I was doing my job.” His gaze drifted down to Sabina. “I don’t expect you to understand that. I never wanted to hurt you, Sabina, but you can’t be the daughter of a mafioso and go through life unscathed.”
Unscathed? Her hand slapped his cheek before she was aware of commanding it to do so. The man called Cliff choked on a laugh. Despite the rain eager to lash her face, she rolled back her shoulders and narrowed her eyes. “Neither can a man who would tell a woman he loves her for the sole purpose of using her.”
She looked at her father, and his eyes were sad and old. He, too, knew this was all her fault. His darling principessa had just brought his kingdom tumbling down. The quaking started somewhere deep inside her and made its way to her limbs.
She had to fix this somehow. Unfortunately, only one recourse sprang to mind. “We’ll have you out by the weekend, Papa. I’ll call Enzo.”
She wanted to agree, to take the out he was clearly offering. But as much as she didn’t want to talk to Lorenzo Capecce right now, he was a lawyer. A criminal attorney, even. It didn’t matter that he’d only just passed the bar—he was in a prestigious firm now. He’d know what to do, or at least who else to turn to.
Papa, the family, was worth it—worth looking into Lorenzo’s cool eyes, worth all the questions, all the uncertainties that would plague her. Worth all the shame eating her up at the very thought of him. “I’m calling him.”
Papa sighed as Roman let go of Sabina’s arm and reached for his instead. “Oh, principessa.” He didn’t say more. But she could hear his unspoken words, and they rang louder than the gunfire.
She should have called Lorenzo long ago.
Shadowed Loyalty$4.99 – $15.99
Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind.
—Gerard Manley Hopkins, from “The Lantern out of Doors”
The light from the streetlamp barely touched Lorenzo Capecce’s heels as he stood on the stoop of the Mancari house. He pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath. Before him stood the door with its familiar stained-glass window, friendly colors glowing. Behind it waited people desperate for good news—Mama Rosa, Little G, Sabina.
An hour ago, he’d stood in front of prison bars with the Mancari patriarch waiting on the other side. Lorenzo had gripped the handle of his leather attaché case and just stared at Manny for a long moment—his godfather. Father not only loved this man like a brother despite no shared blood but respected him enough to treat him as a patriarch, maybe even a king. Manny not only ruled the Mancaris, but the Capecces too. Every aspect of Lorenzo’s life had been dictated by this man. He loved him—how could he not? Manny’s care for the family couldn’t be faulted. He owed him everything.
Lorenzo had only ever demanded one thing. One…blasted…thing. Before he accepted a dime from Manny to go to college or law school, he’d stood in this very house, in the study full of masculine woods and leathers, and made himself stand tall. He’d clenched his hands until they stopped shaking, swallowed back the cough that wanted to rise against the cigar smoke circling the room. He had summoned every last bit of his courage to say, “I want to be a lawyer, not a priest. But I won’t work for you, Papa Manny. I need you to know that—I need to know you’d never ask me to. I want out.”
To this day, he could still remember the surprise on Manny’s face, and the matching expression in his own father’s eyes. They’d all assumed for so many years that he felt a call to priesthood just because he took seriously the lessons of their Faith. They’d talked about it, made plans, made connections for him, never bothering to ask if it was what he truly wanted. They’d encouraged him to learn from his cousin Teo, who had taken his vows and was now Brother Judah.
It had only taken one word to explain why the priesthood wasn’t his calling. Sabina.
But his interest in the law had taken the older men aback. He’d watched the thoughts roll through both sets of eyes—confusion, then calculation, then pleasure. A lawyer, he could see them thinking. That could be handy.
But he would not be used like that. He would sooner choose another profession, and he’d made that clear from the start. Manny had sworn—sworn—that he would never call on him. Yet there he’d stood, opposite his imprisoned godfather, named as his official attorney on the record books. He hadn’t been able to work a single word past the fury in his throat.
Manny had sighed and shaken his head. “I told her not to call you.”
That did nothing to ease his mind. Because she had called. Sabina’s voice had filled the phone line and, for one bright moment, lit joy in his heart. One moment, before she sobbed out what had happened to her father and asked him to help. He couldn’t refuse. He’d always known he wouldn’t be able to, if they asked. That’s why he’d made them promise to keep him out of it. But here they were.
And here he was, on the front stoop of the house he knew as well as his own, his second family waiting for him to come and bring them hope. They would expect him to say Manny would be out of prison within days, that the charges couldn’t stick, that there would be no trial. He couldn’t make those promises.
He’d gone through years of law school, yes, but that didn’t give him the ability to rewrite facts. Manny was guilty of all they accused him of and more. How much more, Lorenzo had never wanted to know—but the facts were against him.
He squeezed his eyes shut. Why couldn’t he have been born into a different family? Or rather, why couldn’t his family have lived a different sort of life? One where a Mafia boss wasn’t his godfather, where his father wasn’t Manny’s best friend and lieutenant, where he didn’t have to choose between his blood and his convictions?
With a long sigh, Lorenzo rubbed his eyes and finally lifted a hand to the door. He hadn’t even finished knocking before the knob turned and the door opened under his fist. Lorenzo smiled down at the teenager standing in the opening. “Hey, G.”
Giorgio Jr. dug up a small grin. He was turning into a handsome boy at thirteen, though still gangly and awkward. Unfortunately, if Manny went to prison, Lorenzo suspected Little G would think he had to become the man of the family—a role for which he was still far too young. “Hey, Enzo. Have you talked to Papa?”
Lorenzo nodded and stepped inside, casting his gaze around for Sabina and Mama Rosa. He heard their voices in the parlor directly to his right, where a fire crackled behind its grate despite the warm June day. He and G turned into the room. The women’s conversation halted.
When he’d last seen Mama Rosa two weeks before, she had looked young and fresh and as beautiful as ever with her dark hair framing her unlined face. She had aged twenty years in those two weeks—probably in the last two hours. Shadows circled her eyes, her skin had lost its usual glow, and wrinkles he’d barely noticed before now looked as deep as the underworld. She stood when she saw him, eyes pleading and hand outstretched. “Enzo. Tell me he’s being released.”
Lorenzo went over and gripped her hand, kissed her on the cheek. His apology came out with a sigh. “Mi dispiaci, Mama Rosa. Not yet. I’m doing all I can, but it’s going to take more than an hour to get him out of this one. O’Reilly did his homework.”
Mama Rosa’s brows knit together. “O’Reilly?”
“Roman O’Reilly—the Prohibition agent who’s been working undercover.”
From the corner of his eye, he saw Sabina wince and turn her face toward the fire. Lorenzo tapped his fingers against his leg. There was more going on than he could see, that much had become clear when he met with O’Reilly. He wasn’t sure exactly how the man had gotten so deep into the Mancari family, but he had. Lorenzo recognized him, so Sabina had to have known him. She would feel the betrayal just as her father did.
Even in her distress, she was beautiful. So very beautiful. The fire lit her dark bobbed waves with red and cast a glow on her already-golden skin. He had made a work of memorizing her profile, but he never tired of gazing upon the perfect slope of her nose, the purse of her lips, the angle of her jaw. Her beauty always took his breath away, even though he tried not to dwell on it, lest it lead him into trouble—or worse, made Sabina think he only loved her because she was gorgeous.
He moved to the sofa where she sat, took the seat beside her, and reached for her hand. That innocent touch was enough to make emotion pound to life inside him, which was why he didn’t allow himself even that much contact very often. “How are you holding up, Bean? I heard O’Reilly used you as a hostage.”
Sabina blinked back tears. “I’m…fine.”
Mama Rosa snorted, an action so uncharacteristic that Lorenzo’s gaze flew her way. He was shocked to see hostility on the elder’s face, aimed at her daughter. “I told you from the start that young man was bad news.”
Sabina sent what looked like a beseeching glare at her mother and then glanced at him, too. “Mama! You may have had reasons for not liking him, but you never thought he was untrustworthy. None of us did.”
Mama Rosa shook her head and turned to leave. “Come, Little G. We’ll let your sister explain to Enzo how this Mr. O’Reilly came to discover all he did about us.”
Lorenzo stared after the two retreating forms, not looking back to Sabina until she tugged her fingers free of his. A furrow dug its way into his brows. “Bean? What’s going on?”
She wiped her palms on her skirt and kept her eyes focused on the flames. “Isn’t that what you’re supposed to tell us?”
He leaned back and studied her. Perspiration gleamed on her forehead, and her pulse skittered in her neck. It wasn’t just residual fear—it was something else, something he had no name for. He was missing something. Something vital.
He knew Sabina better than anyone else in the world. They’d been best friends all their lives, whispering and giggling their way through childhood. When he saw how she’d risen up during her mother’s illness when she was twelve, the way she’d taken the toddler Serafina under her wing and stepped into the role of “little mama” to her and G while Rosa was recovering in the sanitorium… She was the most remarkable young woman, with a heart so big he couldn’t help but want to claim a larger part of it.
Maybe that was what made her so jittery now. Sabina couldn’t stand to see her family in pain or in trouble. Every argument, every temper, she’d always tried to soothe away. And she’d always been her papa’s girl, his princess. Principessa, he’d called her all her life. How horrible it must have been to see him hauled away.
That must be it. Not just residual fear, but current devastation.
“All right.” He hooked one ankle over the opposite knee. “Here’s what I know so far. Six months ago, Roman O’Reilly was tasked with going undercover for the Prohibition Bureau, his goal to infiltrate the Mancari operation. His superiors wanted him to come away with solid evidence of your father’s crimes—bootlegging, bookmaking, murder, anything he could find. He was apparently successful. I know I’ve seen him at family functions, which means he found an in. His evidence must be solid, or they wouldn’t have risked an arrest.”
He halted, waited. It took a good five seconds for her to force her eyes to his. Usually when he gazed into those deep sienna irises, his heart pounded. But tonight he saw something unexpected in them—guilt. “This is serious, Bean. They’re charging your father with bootlegging, murder, conspiracy to murder, and a handful of lesser charges for good measure. They get their way and he’ll go to prison for life.”
Assuming he lived that long. Lorenzo wasn’t about to say it, but Sabina would know the risk. The other bosses would seize any chance they got to take over Manny’s territory.
Her lip quivered as tears spilled onto her cheeks. Poor Sabina. He hadn’t seen her cry since the funeral three years ago, and rarely before that. She couldn’t—she had to be the strong one for her family. Lorenzo balled his fingers into fists to keep from reaching out and swiping the tears away, which would ignite all sorts of thoughts that he couldn’t indulge right now.
Sabina shook her head, one of her wavy locks falling into her face. That was another clue to how upset she was; usually her hair was so carefully sculpted that no strand dared challenge her will.
“It’s all my fault.” She turned her face down and gripped her hands together, bathing them with her tears. “I…liked him. Roman. I thought he was a nice man, so interesting, with all these fascinating stories about Italy and the rest of Europe. He’d been stationed there in the war. I thought—I thought his experience would be an asset to Papa, so I introduced them. I encouraged Papa and Uncle Franco to take him under their wing.”
Lorenzo weighed the risks, then put a hand on her bent shoulder. He wanted to haul her against his chest and hold her tight. He wanted to give comfort, not lead them into temptation, but oh, the touch of her… “You couldn’t have known, Bean.”
“I should have. All those hours we spent together…”
A knot formed in his gut. “Hours? What, you were…friends?”
It took an eternity for her to look at him. When she finally did, the truth stared back. It hit him so hard he barely heard her whispered words. “He said he loved me.”
His hand fell away from her shoulder. The truth he’d thought he’d seen so clearly flew to a million pieces in his mind. Everything he thought he’d known…everything he thought he’d understood…everything he thought he’d been doing for years…
He couldn’t breathe. “And you? What did you tell him?”
Her nostrils flared. Her fingers knotted together. All their lives, she’d met his eyes and poured out her heart to him, but now she refused to meet his gaze. Her shoulders sagged. “We…we were going to run away together. Get married.”
Lorenzo had always thought it a cliché to say one’s heart broke. But right now, he could have sworn he felt his splintering, cracking, falling apart. He wanted to stand, to walk away from this whole situation, to lock himself in his room for the rest of his life. Or better still, to wake up and find this whole day had been nothing but a nightmare. But first he had to get one answer.
Shaking with sudden anger, he wrenched Sabina’s left hand from her right and raised it to catch the firelight. The diamond sparkled up at him with cruel mirth. “One question, Sabina. Were you going to bother to give me back my ring?”
Shadowed Loyalty$4.99 – $15.99