Crossing stars, p.1
Crossing Stars, p.1Nicole Williams
Copyright © 2014 by Nicole Williams
Cover Design by Sarah Hansen of Okay Creations
Editing by Cassie Cox
Formatting by JT Formatting
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products, bands, and/or restaurants referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
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Table of Contents
About the Author
I WANTED A normal life. Or at least, I’d wanted one at some point.
Back when I used to admit my longing for normalcy to anyone who’d listen, I got a variety of replies, ranging from normal being overrated to there being no such thing. Maybe that was true, but growing up the way I had, normal didn’t seem so overrated, and even if there was no such thing, there was definitely some standard of living that was less . . . volatile than mine. Less violent.
Plenty of people had said I didn’t have the first clue what normal was, and I’d concede that that may be so, but I knew what normal was not. Normal was not having a father whose work days crawled late into the night, when only shadows or bad intentions lurked. Normal was not ducking into dark-tinted, bullet-proof vehicles that came standard with a personal driver and guard. Normal was not attending funerals every month for some member of the “family”—known as La Famiglia—who’d been shot or beaten to death or sent to the bottom of the lake wearing a pair of cinder block shoes.
Normal was not having no friends, being eighteen and never been kissed, or being home-schooled by a teacher who had to be frisked after passing through a metal detector every day. Normal was not being the only child of the most powerful man in the Chicago mafia, the man who made mob movies seem like bedtime stories.
Normal was not being the daughter of the infamous Blue Krait.
My father had been born Salvatore Costa, but the Blue Krait was the name he’d earned from his enemies. The blue krait was one of the deadliest snakes on the planet—its venom was sixteen times stronger than a cobra’s. Striking mainly at night, it was one of the smaller venomous snakes, but also one of the most deadly. With the blue suits my father wore on a daily basis and his far-set eyes that were as small as they were dark, the name had been too poetic to pass over.
. . . Plus there was the part about him injecting his enemies with the blue krait’s venom, chaining them to some rusted pipe in some forgotten warehouse, and leaving them to die a slow, agonizing death. I wasn’t sure which had come first, the name or the venom, but they were one and the same now. My father was the Blue Krait; the Blue Krait was my father. The hundreds, if not thousands, of men below him, who did so much of his dirty work a permanent stench clung to them, were known as the Vipers.
That was the life I’d known, the one I wished I’d never met. The one I wished I could escape.
Escape, though, was more a forlorn wish than a realistic option. As the only child of one of the most powerful organized crime leaders in the country, I’d had more hits on my life than my father had bullets stashed in his gun safe. When I was five, my tutor almost killed me; that was the closest anyone had gotten. Afterward, my parents had gone to every length to keep me out of the eyes of both the public and the other reigning mob family in Chicago—the Heat.
The Heat, an Irish mob with roots in this city as deep as the Vipers’, had been responsible for planting the tutor who’d come so close to ending my days, I could still hear the sound of the bullet flying past my ear. I could certainly still feel the scar, hidden by my hair, where the bullet had grazed my temple.
The Irish were led by Patrick Moran, an ailing old man whose only child, also named Patrick, had died years back. I had a guess why Moran’s son had died, but I didn’t have the guts to ask my father outright. He liked to pretend my mom and I didn’t have a clue what he did to put a sprawling roof above our heads or lobster on the dinner table once a week . . . but we knew. More than he liked, and a hundred times more than we’d have liked.
After stopping him one night as he was rushing out the door, I’d asked him if he was going to hurt someone. He said that he’d never hurt anyone who didn’t deserve it, and if I asked him that question again, I would deserve it. After that night almost ten years ago, I’d turned a blind eye on the blood-spattered dress shirts, the metal lock box he took with him to “meetings,” and the fancy new things that had been bought with blood. I kept the blinders on, but that didn’t keep me from seeing what was straight in front of me, and really, that was no better than what I’d chosen to ignore.
My family’s legacy in this city was great, but it was not the kind of greatness I wanted to be known for. Drugs, prostitution, arms trade, bribery, extortion, loansharking, obstruction of justice, murder for hire, pleasure, or duty . . . we were the decay of the city, not the greatness of it. We were only great in the fear we instilled in those who knew us. The real us. Not the nine-to-five family who ate dinner together and talked about our days. The five p.m. us who could never completely wash the blood from our hands. The family whose fine china and fancy cars and sprawling mansion had been paid for with loyalty and lives.
Growing up in the upper echelon of organized crime wasn’t normal . . . but I wanted a taste of normal tonight.
My cousin—my actual blood cousin, not a cousin by mafia association—was in town for a long weekend, and we had managed to convince my mom to let her spend the night. Serena was a sophomore in college and had been my closest friend growing up, partially because she was one of my only friends and partially because she was everything I wanted to be: free spirited, spontaneous, courageous, and fierce. She’d told me when we were young girls that her goal was to do something each day that scared her, and knowing what I did of the things she’d done, she’d kept up with that goal.
Serena was my mom’s sister’s daughter and had grown up in Chicago too, her dad being one of my father’s most trusted men. With her off at college, our meetings had been few and far between, but it didn’t seem to matter—we’d always pick up right where we left off.
I hoped this visit would be the same. Not because I was worried she’d changed, but because I was worried I had. I couldn’t pinpoint it, and no one else seemed to recognize it, but I felt something shifting inside of me. Tiles being flipped, one by one.
Instead of keeping my pale long hair pulled back with a headband—like I had for years—I’d taken to wearing it loose on occasion. Instead of nodding whenever my tutor instructed me, I was asking questions. Instead of answering my parents with good when they asked what kind of a day I’d had, I confessed the truth sometimes, much to their dismay. And just last week, instead of waiting for my bodyguard to clear the backyard,
That was perhaps the most irresponsible thing I’d done to date, I could see that now, but it hadn’t felt irresponsible at the time. With Serena here tonight, more of that was likely to be expected. It made me nervous and excited. Scared and strong. Apprehensive and eager. They were feelings I wasn’t used to experiencing. I was trained to walk such a straight line that it felt pretty darn exhilarating to slide even an inch to the side. Knowing Serena, she would push for more, but just because I was ready for an inch didn’t mean I was ready for a mile.
A voice interrupted the daydreams I hadn’t been aware I’d been having—or how long I’d been having them.
I shook the daydreams free and came back to reality. The library. School. Mrs. Bailey. Friday afternoon. That last part stuck with me most, making me check the time on the ornate grandfather clock behind my tutor. We were seconds away from the end of the school week. Even though I should have been off at college as a freshman, I was still locked away with a private tutor, wasting away some of the supposed best years of my life. My parents might have gone a bit overboard in their quest to keep me safe . . .
“Sorry, what was the question?” I’d been lost in dreamland for so long, I couldn’t remember what we’d been discussing. Some book. Some underlying meanings. Something.
“What did you take away from the book? We’ve discussed what themes others have drawn from it, but what personal theme sticks with you?” Mrs. Bailey asked in her classic teacher voice, in her classic teacher attire, with her classic teacher expression.
Despite her being a teacher stereotype, right down to the globe earrings she wore on geography day, I liked Mrs. Bailey. Plus, she’d never tried to shoot me. That was a big point in her corner.
I was about to ask her what book—that’s how long I’d been gone—when I noticed what was clutched in my hand. “You don’t get to choose your family, but you get to choose who you love.” My voice echoed through the vast room with book-covered walls. “So choose wisely.”
Mrs. Bailey’s eyebrows rose. “That’s what you took from Romeo and Juliet?” She compared the copy in her hands to the one in mine, making sure we’d read the same book.
“What else should I have taken from it?” Josette-in-transition asked. Before, I would have given her an outline of the themes and conclusions literary critics had taken from Shakespeare’s masterpiece.
“Perhaps the repercussions of falling in love so suddenly and so intensely with a stranger. Or perhaps what happens when one’s loyalty to their family and friends becomes superseded by a series of rash moments and misguided attraction.” Mrs. Bailey sat on the edge of her desk, gracing me with a look that drilled through to my core. “Or perhaps the inevitability of fate.”
A wash of goosebumps rose on my forearms, but I attempted to brush off the message behind her words. “Someone isn’t a romantic.” I gave her a half-hearted smile.
Mrs. Bailey’s smile wasn’t half-hearted. She rarely did anything half-heartedly. “On the contrary, I consider myself to be quite the romantic.”
“This coming from the teacher who just stated Romeo and Juliet’s love was a series of rash moments and misguided attraction?” I shook my head. “Sorry, I’m not buying that you’re a romantic.”
“Buy it or don’t, Josette, but it’s true. I just chose to spend my life with the right person, unlike Miss Capulet or Mr. Montague.”
“But you can’t always choose who you fall in love with. Isn’t that the point of the book?” I tucked my hand under my chin and leaned forward. Technically class had just ended, but the conversation was getting interesting.
“Ah, but what did you just say? You can’t choose your family, but you can choose who you love. So choose wisely.”
I bit the inside of my cheek, realizing the contradiction I’d made in one minute. Why was love so confusing? Why did it have to seem one way, only to seem just the opposite a moment later? Why couldn’t it be as natural as breathing?
Probably because love doesn’t come naturally, most especially in the circles I was a member of. Love and loyalty are dollar signs, sold and exchanged. My views on love might be somewhat skewed, but at least I hadn’t given up on it.
“And you chose wisely?” I asked.
She nodded, a hint of a smile still pulling up her mouth.
“And Romeo and Juliet didn’t?”
Mrs. Bailey did that non-committal side-to-side bob of her head. “In my opinion, no, they didn’t. After all, they both wound up dead days after they’d met. And let’s not forget that their families were sworn enemies, they fell in all-consuming love with basically one look, and married behind everyone’s back. Plus there was that whole thing with him killing her cousin before getting banished, them betraying their family and friends—”
“I think I get your point.”
“But to some people, Romeo and Juliet is the very pinnacle of romance. Sacrificing all for the person you love isn’t the least romantic thing I’ve ever heard. What’s important is that you decide for yourself what you believe.”
I felt my eyebrows knit together.
“Is there a price you can put on love?” she asked.
I shook my head. After experiencing a world where anything could be bought for the right price, I refused to live and believe the same credo.
“Your family?” she asked, tilting her head.
I nodded. That one was easy, mainly because I didn’t doubt my father wouldn’t hesitate to give me “the Bite” of a needle if I ever betrayed him or the family.
I kept nodding, although this question gave me a moment’s pause. It was hard to think of a life without Serena, but I knew I’d do it if love required it.
“Your values?” Mrs. Bailey’s voice had gone lower, almost like our conversation was illicit.
This time, I had to think for a few moments. But a slow and assured nod came after.
Setting the book down on the desk, she scanned the room. “Would you kill for love?”
Her question was asked so quietly, no more than a whisper, but it hit me like a scream. Her words nearly knocked me from my chair, but it was my answer that did the real damage.
Her question was the spark, my thoughts the dynamite, and my answer the explosion.
I’d been so certain I was nothing like him, that not an ounce of his morality swam in me. But I’d been wrong. It might not have been for love, but my dad killed for other reasons. Reasons that were worth more to him than love.
I really was the Blue Krait’s daughter.
When a knock on the door sounded behind me, I almost fell out of my seat again.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but Josette, Serena is waiting for you in your room,” my mom said.
My mom used to move with an envious kind of grace—she’d been a dancer before she married my father. I remembered her floating through rooms like she was stepping from cloud to cloud. But she didn’t float anymore. She bobbed through rooms with a limp she tried to disguise. A bullet to the knee will do that.
“No, it’s fine. We’re running over anyway.” Mrs. Bailey shuffled her books and papers into her bag. “I’ll see you Monday morning, Josette. Have an adventurous weekend.”
I gave her a look of confusion as she passed me. Normally Mrs. Bailey said Have a nice weekend or Have a pleasant weekend, but never anything close to adventurous. I might have written it off as unintentional if it hadn’t been for that glint in her eyes.
Adventurous? Me? No one would use that word to describe me, least of all myself. In my world, in my position, adventurous meant recklessness which meant dangerous . . . which meant death. There were few things I’d risk death for, yet that was when I reminded myself of that day I’d stepped out int
I didn’t have a backpack to bring along at the end of the day like most students because I learned biology, calculus, literature, and everything in between in this same room. My father claimed to have read every book contained inside of this library. For a man who’d supposedly read thousands of books, you would have thought he’d use his mind more and his muscle less.
“Luca is on your watch tonight, so please don’t let Serena give him as hard of a time as she did last time.” Mom slid my hair over my shoulders, placing a chunk of it behind each ear.
Today was a headband-free day, but my mom had been the first to slide that velvet headband into my hair when I was six, and it seemed like she hoped I’d die in one too.
“The whole house knows Serena has a thing for Luca. I’ll try, but no promises.” My cousin was convinced men like Luca confirmed that there was a god, and let’s just say she was hoping to get her hands all over that piece of divinity.
“A thing?” Mom repeated like the words were bitter in her mouth. “Really, Josette. I thought home-schooling and sheltering you from your slang-talking, uneducated peers would keep phrases like ‘a thing’ out of my household.”
I folded my hands into my lap and sat up straighter. Mom was as Italian as they came and nothing if not traditional. She’s the reason I didn’t own a pair of pants, I knew how to make an authentic tomato sauce that wasn’t ketchup with herbs, and I spoke—at least when she was in earshot—like I’d been raised at the turn of the century. “I believe Serena finds Luca pleasing to look at,” I corrected, in the daughter of the Costa family approved vernacular.
“Pleasing to look at or not, Luca isn’t for pining after. He’s for protecting you. Please remind Serena of that. I already have, but the reinforcement couldn’t hurt.” Mom curved her hand around my cheek, a smile moving into place as she inspected me.
Crossing Stars by Nicole Williams / Romance & Love / Young Adult have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes