My grandmother left me a small house outside Florence. It was old, a living antique. The pipes were original, and I could hear the water running through the entire house when I flushed the toilet. There were cracks in the stone outside, and the glass in the windows was so aged that they were constantly blurry, regardless of how many times I cleaned them. It was a short distance from the city, so close that I never felt like I was really out in the middle of the Tuscan countryside, but it gave me the quiet and peace I craved. Every morning in spring and summer I could hear the birds chirping outside my window. It’d been a haven to me for a long time—since I’d turned my back on my family.
But right now, this house couldn’t protect me.
I sprinted up the wooden staircase, the creaks screaming beneath my feet as I moved as quickly as my body could carry me. There was no point in being quiet—not when they knew I was here.
“Run, bitch.” Damien led the chase, his two cronies behind him. “It’s more fun this way.” His sinister tone reached every end of the petite home, as if he were speaking over a sound system that amplified every single syllable.
“Shit.” I made it upstairs and slid across the hardwood floor toward my mattress. Tucked in between the two pieces of the bedding was the revolver I kept for emergencies. I’d disowned my family years ago, so I’d thought I would never need it.
Guess I was wrong.
I turned off the safety and prepared to shoot Damien right between the eyes. I wasn’t the kind of person who hesitated when they squeezed the trigger. It was either him or me.
It certainly wasn’t going to be me.
Damien took his time moving up the stairs, his heavy footfalls beating like the sound of steady drums. “Sweetheart, I would check that gun if I were you.” His deep voice carried down the hallway, his smile so audible I could actually see it behind my eyes.
My hands started to shake.
I opened the barrel and looked inside.
“You’ve got to be kidding me…” They must have hit my house while I was at work, stripping away all my bullets so I would be unarmed when they came for me. It was smart on their part—because I was a good shot. “Fucking asshole.”
His laugh drifted down the hall, the sound getting louder because he was so close. He seemed to move slower the closer he approached, as if he wanted to savor this for as long as he could. He cornered me like a rat—and he wanted me to squirm.
I was no rat—and I didn’t squirm.
I opened my closet and pushed back all my shoe boxes until I found my sword—a samurai sword given to me as a gift from Kyoto. I removed the sheath and prepared the blade, ready to stab my attacker right through the neck as I’d been taught. I wasn’t a master of the sword, but I certainly knew how to stab someone.
I pressed my back against the wall and waited for Damien to walk through the open doorway.
I slammed my blade down fast, aiming to sever his arm right at the elbow.
Damien must have been expecting me to hide there because he dodged out of the way. “Ooh…you look pissed.”
I slashed my sword at him again.
He jumped out of the way and kept his gun aimed at my right shoulder. “And sexy.” The corner of his mouth rose in a smile that looked more like a sneer. He was enjoying this way too much. His jet-black hair flopped down in front of his face and hid some of his left eye from view. He was the top dog in the organization—because he loved his job so much.
I stabbed my sword at his gut, wanting him to bleed out all over my floor.
“And I will stab you.” I put all my strength into the move, preparing to drive my sword right through his gut and into the wall behind him.
He pulled the trigger.
I didn’t feel the bullet enter my shoulder, just the jerk of my body at the momentum. My shoulder jutted back and my body shifted because the force was much stronger than my own velocity. Smoke burned from the tip of his gun. The smell was suffocating—along with that of my own blood. I dropped my sword but stayed on my feet. It was the first time I’d ever been shot, and the shock that washed over my body protected me from the pain.
I stayed on my two feet—refusing to fall.
I held his gaze, my eyes narrowing with a promise of death.
“Damn, you’re a bad shot.” He’d hit me in the shoulder, missing the main arteries and organs.
“No. I hit my mark perfectly.” He kept the gun trained on me, this time aiming it between my eyes. “Drop the sword. Or die.” The barrel didn’t shake as it stared me down. “What’s it gonna be, sweetheart?”
I wanted nothing to do with this life. While I loved my father, I’d told him I wanted nothing to do with his business. By putting some distance between us, I’d thought I could have my own life, a reputation untarnished by the criminal underworld.
It looked like it had followed me anyway. “What do you want from me?”
“Drop the sword.”
“What do you want from me?” I hissed. Blood was ruining my clothes and dripped down my arm. Dizziness settled in my brain. My strength was slowly starting to drift away, but I kept myself upright, like I had something to prove.
“What does it matter?” He tilted his head, his eyes narrowing in irritation.
“Because I need to know if it’s worth dying for.” I wasn’t the kind of person who could be a willing prisoner. Instead of surrendering, I’d much rather die. Maybe it was my family bloodline or my Italian roots, but I was the most stubborn woman on the planet. I’d rather die for what I believed in than submit to anyone.
He shook his head slightly. “You’ve always been a crazy bitch.”
“I take that as a compliment.”
The corner of his mouth rose again. “We have your father. If you want to save him, drop the sword.”
I continued to hold my pose, my heart beating harder in my chest. My father was being held captive, and if I died then and there, I wouldn’t be able to help him. Damien had me cornered, and he knew it.
“Continue this suicide mission and die,” he said simply. “Or come with us—and we’ll work out a deal.”
“Work out a deal?” I hissed. “You’ll just take me and kill me too.”
“Normally, yes. But I have another use for you. Drop the sword.”
My hand wanted to keep gripping the handle, but there was doubt planted in my mind. Even if there was nothing I could do to save my father, letting myself die now wasn’t an option. We fell apart a long time ago, but my loyalty had never waned.
I dropped the sword.
He grinned wide. “Good girl.”