‘I shall miss her.’
Raul looked up and saw Loretta, a long-time friend of his mother’s who worked in the family bar.
‘No trouble today, Raul.’
Raul found himself frowning at Loretta’s choice of words and then realised why she suddenly sounded concerned—he was looking beyond the mourners now, to the man who stood in the distance.
At seventeen, Bastiano was a full year younger than Raul.
Their families were rivals.
Bastiano’s uncle owned most of the properties and all of the vineyards on the west of the valley.
Raul’s father was king of the east.
The rivalry went back generations, and yet their black history had been ignored by the young boys and, growing up, the two of them had been friends. They had gone through school together and often spent time with each other during the long summer breaks. Before Raul had left the valley he and Bastiano had sat drinking wine from the opposing families’ vines.
Both wines were terrible, they had agreed.
Similar in looks, both were tall and dark and were opposed only in nature.
Bastiano, an orphan, had been raised by his extended family and got through life on charm.
Raul was serious and mistrusting and had been taught to be fickle.
He trusted no one but said what he had to to get by.
Though different in style, they were equally adored by women.
Raul simply returned the favour.
There had been no rivalry between the young men—both could have their pick of the valley and the fruits were plenty.
Yet Bastiano had used his dark charm on the weakest and had taken Maria as his lover.
Pillow talk had been gathered and secrets had been prised from loose lips.
Not only had Maria had an affair—she had taken it beyond precarious and slept with a member of the family that Gino considered his enemy.
When the affair had been discovered—when the rumours had reached Gino—Loretta had called her to warn her Gino was on his angry way home. Maria had taken out a car she didn’t know how to drive.
An unwise choice in the valley.
And Raul knew the accident would not have happened but for Bastiano.
‘Raul...’ Loretta spoke softly, for she felt the tension rip through him and could hear his ragged breathing. She held on to his hand, while knowing nothing could really stop him now. ‘You are Sicilian, and that means you have a lifetime to get your revenge—just don’t let it be today.’
‘No,’ Raul agreed.
Or did he refute?
Raul’s words were coming out all wrong, his voice was a touch hoarse, and as he looked down he could see the veins in his hand and feel the pulse in his temples. He was primed for action, and the only thing Raul knew for sure was that he hated Bastiano with all that he had.
He dropped Loretta’s hand and brushed past her, then shrugged off someone else who moved to try to stop him.
‘Raul!’ The priest shot him a warning. ‘Not here—not now.’
‘Then he should have stayed away!’ Raul responded as he strode through the cemetery towards the man who had sent his mother to an early grave.
Raul picked up speed—and God help Bastiano because hate and fury catapulted Raul those last few steps.
‘Pezzo di merda...’ Raul shouted out words that did not belong in such a setting.
Any sane man who saw murder approach would surely turn and run, but instead Bastiano walked towards Raul, hurling insults of his own. ‘Your mother wanted—’
Raul did not let him finish, for Bastiano had already sullied her enough, and to silence him Raul slammed his fist into Bastiano’s face. He felt the enamel of Bastiano’s tooth pierce his knuckle, but that was the last thing he felt.
It was bloody.
Two parts grief, several belts of rage and a hefty dose of shame proved a volatile concoction indeed.
Raul would kill him.
That was all he knew.
Yet Bastiano refused to go quietly and fought back.
There were shouts and the sounds of sirens in the distance as the two men battled it out. Raul felt nothing as he was slammed against a gravestone. The granite tore through the dark suit and white shirt on his back with the same ease that it gouged through muscle and flesh.
It didn’t matter.
His back was already a map of scars from his father’s beatings, and adrenaline was a great anaesthetic.
Only vaguely aware of the wound that ran from shoulder to flank, Raul hauled himself up to stand, took aim again and felled his rival.
Yet Bastiano refused to submit.
Raul pinned Bastiano and slammed his fist into his face, marring those perfect features with relish, and then he held him to the ground and told him he should have stayed the hell away from his mother.
‘Like you did!’
Those words were more painful than any physical blow, for Raul knew that he had done just that—stayed away.