“Sheila’s Passion” by Lora Leigh
“Deadly Dance” by Cheyenne McCray
“Caught” by Red Garnier
Anthologies from St. Martin’s Paperbacks
It had been so long coming.
So many years waiting, searching.
Ah God, the hatred.
It was like a wound festering deep within the soul, growing more tender by the year, refusing to release the acrid bitterness that filled it.
And it all centered on one man. On a monster who had destroyed countless friends and family. Who had, with a single, thoughtless decision, caused centuries of traditions to be wiped out. Destroyed as though they had never been.
And there had been no price extracted for the betrayal.
There had been no punishment, no atonement; there hadn’t been so much as an “I’m sorry” or a sprig of flowers on the gravesites of those who had died because of the choices he had made.
And many had died.
A son had begun the slaughter as his father, the one so many followed, stood by, helpless, his loyalty centered on the daughter he had adored.
The daughter’s life had meant more to that father than the traditions that had sustained a people for so long. That daughter had held his loyalty, his entire focus, rather than the people who trusted him with their lives.
There was a reason why marriages were arranged within their world. A reason why children were fostered out to other families throughout the years. There was a reason why fathers were often separated from their daughters and sons from their mothers.
To maintain the sanctity of tradition. To ensure that family love and loyalty never came ahead of the decisions which may not be in the child’s best interests.
Giovanni Fredrico had broken the trust of his people in his attempts to save the daughter he had so cherished. The child conceived with the woman he had wed after the death of his first wife—Giovanni had broken tradition and married for love. In doing so he had begun the destruction of all that had been given into his safekeeping.
Had the families known it was a love match rather than a marriage of tradition, as they and her family had sworn, it would have been dissolved with her death. She would have been killed by order of the other families immediately.
Watching Giovanni now—Gio the Giant, they had always called him—regret welled, but it hadn’t paid Gio to teach his son that it was love that mattered rather than tradition. Gio, with his ready smile, his pocket of candies and coins, and his genuine love for children. He had been as treasured as any favored uncle by those who knew him. Those who lived beneath his rule gave him more loyalty than to their fathers, mothers, or kings.
And there were many who knew him, many who depended on him.
No child went hungry as long as Gio ruled the families.
No child was abused as long as Gio’s punishment awaited the abuser. But in the end he had destroyed them.
The world had changed since that fateful summer when Gio had betrayed them, though. Since the day Gio had followed his heart rather than the tradition of the families, and taught his son that the heart mattered more than the unwritten laws.
The sanctity of family was no longer adhered to as it had once been. The innocence of a child mattered to no one. Abuse was rearing its ugly head, hunger was striking families who once knew prosperity, and crime was becoming an act of greed rather than a business.
Because of Gio the Giant and the son who had followed his dreams rather than destiny.
Gio had betrayed the families, the children, the wives, the fathers and brothers, sisters and mothers who had trusted in him, who had relied upon him. He had betrayed them all for the love of the child who had meant more to him and to his son than the responsibilities he had accepted when he had taken the reins of the Fredrico family and their vast holdings.
But even with all his faults, the blame did not lie with Gio alone. He had only severed the final link in a chain that had been thoughtlessly weakened by another.
The blame did not even lie with the fragile, delicate child he had betrayed them all for. The one who had suffered with her blood and with her shame as she was so carelessly used against her father, who loved her more than he loved the people.
No, the blame lay with the son.
It was the son who had set this nightmare in motion.
It was the son, Beauregard Fredrico, named for the childhood friend Gio had so missed after his death and the brother of the woman he had given his heart to.
The friend who had betrayed his own family as well.
Had Gio cursed his son?
Perhaps he had, for Beauregard Fredrico had followed the example of his father and his father’s friend when he had turned his back on the people who had already begun to depend upon him. He had betrayed all their honor and walked away from Italy as though the land and its people had not been burned into his soul.
This search had gone on for eight long, horrendous years, and finally, the end was near.
Here, in this little town called Simsburg, Texas, the prey that had