I opened my safe and grabbed the loaded pistol. I checked the bullets before I shoved it into the back of my jeans. It’d been a long time since I held a gun—at least ten years. It was amazing how I immediately reverted back into my old ways, grabbing my jacket by the door and putting it on so it was less obvious that I was armed.
My heart slowed way down, like my body knew I needed to focus.
I moved past her desk, down the hallway, and got a glimpse outside.
There was a black hummer parked there.
Not a good sign.
I pushed through the double doors and saw the four men standing there, dressed in all black, all armed. The man in the lead had a bandana hanging around his neck, slicked black hair, and he stood with his thumbs hooked into his belt, his stance casual. His green eyes were glued to my face as I approached, sizing me up. “Crow Barsetti?”
I halted a few feet away from him and stared him down, my shoulders squared, my hostility palpable.
“Having a bad day?”
“I wasn’t until you showed up. What the fuck do you want?” I had no idea who they were or how they knew who I was. My old alliances had died out a decade ago. I’d passed into retirement without question and never heard from anyone again because I had nothing that was relevant. The Skull Kings took our weapons business in exchange for freeing me from Tristan’s captivity. So, I literally had no ties to the criminal underworld.
“Whoa…hostile, aren’t we?” He stepped out of line with his men and came closer to me. “Constantine.”
I didn’t recognize his face, but I recognized his name. He was part of the Skull Kings.
“Good. My reputation precedes me.”
Cane made a deal with him over ten years ago, to give up our business in exchange for his aid. Without it, I would have died. “I’ve been out of the game for a long time, so I have nothing to offer you.” It was strange to think that my life had been normal that morning, simple and peaceful, and then I was unexpectedly thrust back into the underworld.
“That’s where you’re wrong. Because of us, you’re still breathing right now.”
“I paid for that with my weapons business. You must have run it into the ground if you’re here…”
“Business is great. Thanks for asking.” He stepped even closer to me. “But can you ever really be even after saving someone’s life?”
“If they received a billion-dollar business in compensation, yes.”
He shrugged. “I guess we’ll agree to disagree—”
“What the fuck do you want?” I was sick of this wordy conversation. I wanted it to end. I wanted them off my property and out of my life—for good.
“Cut right to the chase, huh?” He gave a chuckle, like this was a conversation between two friends rather than a subtle threat. “The Skull Diamonds have been taken. They were sold on the black market, and now we have no idea where they’ve ended up. All sales are anonymous, so the identity of the buyer is unknown.”
The confusion continued. “What does that have to do with me?”
“We need them back, obviously.”
“Still don’t see what that has to do with me.”
He squinted at me, his skin bright in the direct sunlight. A bit of sweat was forming on his forehead because the heat and humidity was paralyzing to anyone after a few minutes. “You’re gonna get them back.”
I shook my head because the request was ludicrous. “Not enough money in the world to get me to do that.”
“Who said anything about money?” Now his charming nature was gone, quickly replaced by a ruthlessness that the Skull Kings were known for. “You owe us, asshole. You’ll always owe us.”
I’d given up everything, and it still wasn’t enough. Instead of spewing out threats and losing my temper, I stayed calm. “Even if I wanted to help you, I can’t. I’ve been out of the game for too long, as you know. I have no contacts and no leverage. I’m useless to you. Surely, you must see that.”
“That’s not entirely true. The Barsetti name still holds a lot of power—and we both know that.”
“It’s not enough to get back your diamonds. The Skull Kings are worth billions. Cut your losses and forget about—”
“Each diamond is worth six billion alone. They aren’t a loss we can simply cut…as you so naively suggest.” He lowered his voice further, practically a whisper.
“That just proves my ignorance. I’m no help to you. You expect me to scour the earth until I find them? Come on, Constantine. Get a grip. I’m not your bitch, and even if I were, I’m useless to you.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. We have one contact who can locate the diamonds.”
“Then what the fuck do you need me for?”
“Because he won’t work for us.”
I clenched my jaw and felt the vile rise from my throat. “No surprise there…”
Constantine’s eyes narrowed.
“Why don’t you threaten him until he does?” I snapped. “Why waste your time on me?”
“Because threats don’t work with this guy. He’s the biggest jewel thief in the entire world. He doesn’t work if he doesn’t want to work, and if we kill him, we’ll have no chance of finding the diamonds. We’re at his mercy.”
“What a sad story…” Sarcasm dripped from my words like warm honey.
Constantine stepped closer to me, his anger rising to match mine.
“The Skull Kings can’t get him to cooperate, but I can?” I asked incredulously. “This is fucking pointless and you—”
“Your father and his father used to do business together—before they were both killed. He respects your family line. He respects the integrity that is attached to your last name. Yes, you can get him to cooperate.”
My family had been part of the underworld for generations. I was the first one to break the cycle, and I prayed my children never had to know about my criminal past. They could believe they were regular people…just like everyone else.
“You will get him to cooperate—and you will hunt down these diamonds.”
I stepped back, my shoulders heavy because I was about to be pulled into this bullshit again, a life I’d left behind. “I can talk to him, but I can’t guarantee he’ll be responsive. If he knows anything about the Barsettis, he’ll know that we’ve been in retirement. So, I’ll have to tell him about your involvement. I’ll have to tell him you’re forcing me.”
“You should tell him I’m forcing you,” he said coldly. “Because if he doesn’t help you, I’ll kill you.”
The threat settled in the air between us, sincerity in his eyes.
If this was a different opponent, I would regroup with Cane and take these guys out, but I had no chance against the Skull Kings. Their organization was too big. My past came back to haunt me—and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.
“Get him to take the job. Find the diamonds. Then return them.”
“And then what?” I asked. “You’re going to ask me for something else in another ten years? I should just die now if you’re going to keep pestering me for more work. Even if we’re enemies, I’ve always operated with integrity, and if you don’t respect my retirement, then I won’t cooperate. Kill me where I stand. I don’t give a damn.” I called his bluff and hoped it wasn’t a mistake.
Constantine stared at me for a while as he weighed over my words, as he considered the threat. His eyes shifted back and forth before he stepped back. “This is the last time. You have my word.”
“The word of a Skull King doesn’t mean much…”
“Then you’re just going to have to trust me,” he said quietly. “Because from where I’m standing, you don’t have much of a choice.”
It was true. If I didn’t nip this in the bud right now, it could escalate into a much bigger problem, and talking to this jewel thief and recruiting his help didn’t seem like the end of the world. “Name?”
Constantine smiled when he got his way. “Bartholomew Scavo.”
I didn’t recognize the first name, but I definitely recognized the second. The partnership between the Barsettis and the Scavos ended a long time ago when there wasn’t anyone left to continue the partnership. We lost the war, but the blood feud lingered, carried over to my generation. It didn’t surprise me that this guy got out of the business and found his own way. “Where can I find him?”
“He lives in Florence.”
“That’s all you’re going to give me?” I asked, slightly annoyed.
He shrugged before he stepped back to return to his line of men. “Come on, I can’t make it that easy for you, right?” He turned around and walked with his crew to the black Hummer sitting there.
“Then I guess I don’t have to make it easy for you to get those diamonds back.”
He slowly turned around, standing with his hands on his hips. “Touché.” He turned back around and opened the door to the Hummer. “I’ll text you the address.” He gave an obnoxious salute then got into the backseat.
The vehicle roared to life, and then they slowly drove down the gravel and out of the main gates near the road…like they hadn’t been there in the first place.