Carmela Santiago reveled in the power beneath her. With both her legs in a neutral position, she concentrated, applying equal pressure against Diablo’s sides to increase her horse’s speed. Hot wind swept past her face. The pounding of his hooves surrounded her, their rhythm a beating heart. She gripped the reins as they approached the first hurdle. Leaning forward, she held on, clearing the fence with ease. Her long, dark braid sailed out from under her riding cap. A smile spread across her lips. She patted Diablo’s side in appreciation.
An hour later, with Mateo’s help, she transferred the horse into the trailer. Diablo, given to her as a peace offering from one of the many drug cartels she dealt with trained well. The world-class Arabian’s stamina outdid Allegra’s. But Allegra, a precious gift from her father, Ricardo, held a special place in her heart. While Allegra’s performances at Dressage Competitions were outstanding, Diablo had neither the temperament nor patience to parade around a ring. He preferred the challenge of the jump, just like his master. Carmela rode both horses with pride.
She found it hard to believe almost six years had passed since Ricardo’s death. The relentless ache inside her burned as she recalled how his life ended from a bullet to his brain, courtesy of Nicholas D’Angelo, the one man Ricardo had trusted above all others. So much so, he’d wanted a marriage between Nick and his only child.
Carmela reflected on how her future might have gone if Nick hadn’t betrayed them both. Her admiration developed from a child’s crush into the cravings of a woman, but she never let her emotions show after discovering he wasn’t in love with her. He’d fallen for someone else. Carrie Overton stole Nick away turning him against her father.
She swallowed hard and chewed her lower lip. Carrie, now Mrs. D’Angelo, stood in the place belonging to her.
She’d found out, besides Carrie’s son, Bobby, they had two children together, Isabelle, a five-year-old girl, and Michael, a two-year-old boy named in memory of Nick’s deceased brother.
Thinking about those children set off thunderstorms in her mind. They were the children she should have borne him. Her teeth clenched, producing the familiar ache in her jaw. Taking several deep breaths, she tried to calm herself.
The past years had given her the freedom to continue to build her father’s businesses into an empire fueled by a steady stream of drug money. She liked to think how proud he’d be to see how much she’d accomplished.
A silver Lincoln sedan drove up, and she climbed into the rear seat.
“You were amazing out there.” His voice, smooth as silk, washed over her while his dark eyes caught hers in the rearview mirror.
“Gracias, Diego.” She sank into the soft leather and admired his jet-black hair dipping below his collar. Her desire rose. She smiled knowing soon they’d satisfy it.
Diego Silva, her most trusted bodyguard, had also become her lover. Not a wise choice, but running her drug business left little time for vetting suitors.
They drove to the stables behind the vineyards in Napa. The winery where her father died became the place to which she devoted most of her life. No one understood her attachment, but she stayed because she needed to keep the memory of his death close. Satisfaction would never come until she avenged his death.
Carmela followed Mateo to Diablo’s stall while Diego leaned against the Lincoln. A musky scent emanating from the horses greeted her and mixed with the sweet-smelling hay. Hooks hanging from the rough wooden walls in the tack area, held bridles, leads, curry combs, and other equipment.
She rubbed Diablo’s muzzle before turning to Mateo. “Make certain you curry him before you brush him. Pick out his hooves. Check his eyes and nose—’’
Mateo held up his hand. He tipped back his large black Cattleman’s hat. The dark skin between his brows wrinkled. “Señorita, I will take good care of him…as always.”
She shook her head and smiled. “I’m sorry, Mateo. I know you are as devoted to him as I am.”
A loud whinny came from a stall to her rear. Allegra pushed his head through the opening in the gate and whinnied again. She grabbed a carrot from a feedbag hanging outside the stall and presented it to Allegra. He chomped it down in two bites, then nuzzled her empty palm, his bristles tickling her skin.
“Mateo, turn Allegra out by the pasture. He seems restless.”
She left the stable, and Diego held the car door open. They drove, in silence, to the spacious mansion. She climbed the stone steps and hurried inside.
The Napa house, larger than the one in Miami and as well-appointed, boasted imported tile plus custom woodwork throughout. Massive windows framed grand views of the gardens and vineyards. Various rooms contained priceless art displayed according to their form, the collections here superior to the Miami artwork.
Her butler, Armando, greeted her in the marble foyer. Dressed impeccably in a white shirt with Windsor cut collar, grey tie, black jacket and trousers, he stretched out his arm.
Employed by her family since her childhood, she was grateful when he agreed to stay on after her father’s passing.
She removed her cap and coat and handed it to him. “Thank you, Armando.”
He bowed and smiled. “Can I bring you anything, Señorita?”
“No, thank you. Maybe later.”
With each step up the large winding staircase, her heart beat faster. Within minutes, Diego would climb these same stairs to her bedroom.
Carmela closed the door. She pulled off her riding boots and unbraided her hair, letting it fall in waves down her back, the ends dipping below her waist. Stripping off her clothes, she admired her caramel-colored skin in the full-length mirror.
The bedroom door opened. Diego rushed in. He removed his coat, then his shoulder holster, dropping them to the floor. Continuing to peel off his clothes, he shook his head. “My God, you make a grown man weak as a kitten.”
The corners of her mouth edged up into a smile, her skin tingling at the sight of his naked body. “And you make a grown woman blush.”
Diego pressed up against her, easing her onto the bed. He stroked her face and whispered, “Carmela, I love you. I have never felt like this before.”
Her body went stiff, and she frowned. “Why do you have to spoil things?” She moved away and rose from the bed. Grabbing her robe from the pale blue tufted bench at the foot, she slipped it on. She didn’t want to hear his foolish talk about love.
“Carmela, why do you act this way?” His voice held a twinge of anger. “Come back to bed.”
She scowled at him. “Diego, we have gone over and over this a million times. I’m not looking for love. Not now, not ever.”
Diego cursed under his breath. He jumped up and gathered his clothes. “What is this obsession you have? I’m warning you, if you pursue your crazy revenge it will not end well. These things never do. You need to let it go, Carmela.”
She crossed her arms and stuck out her chin. He could never imagine the scene she’d witnessed. Otherwise, he’d agree with her plans.
“This crazy revenge, as you call it, is not something I can let go. My father is dead!” A single tear erupted from her eye.
Diego moved closer. “I know how much you hurt,” he soothed. “But this idea of yours may get you killed.” He wiped the tear from her cheek.
Carmela brushed his hand away. She secured the sash on her robe. “You don’t understand. It is my duty to make his assassin pay. My heart knows he will never rest in peace until I do.” She rushed past him and ran downstairs to her study.
Turning the lock, she collapsed into the leather chair behind her desk. She removed a photograph from the drawer. Her pain still palpable, she studied the faces inside the frame. Nick stood beside her, his arm draped around her shoulder. They smiled into the camera. What a charade. Now, she could see right through his false smile, the too casual way his arm rested upon her. What she once perceived as love meant nothing more to him than a caring friendship. While his feelings floated above the surface, hers ran much deeper.
As an awkward young girl in middle school, she dreamt of a future with Nick. Something she had never admitted to anyone. If Nick had complied with her father’s wishes to marry her, she wanted him to do it because he loved her and not out of obligation.
Those dreams of hers turned into a nightmare after Carrie stole Nick from her. Carmela’s malice twisted itself around her gut, forming a deep chasm nothing could fill until the day she made Nick pay. The desire she once felt for him grew into a bitter hatred, encompassing all those he cared for.
Placing the photograph inside the drawer, she fingered a folder lying on her desk and flipped it open. She stared at still shots of Carrie D’Angelo and another man. She studied his features. His appearance proved him to be much older than her. Below the man’s photo, written in her father’s handwriting, she read the name, Travis Montgomery. Besides being the thief Nick executed for him, what was his connection to Carrie? The time to find the answer had come.
Sweeping the two photos aside, she picked up another one. She recognized the two men lying in pools of blood. Carlos and Eddie once worked for her father. Carrie Overton along with Travis Montgomery had shot them to death. Nick, given orders by Ricardo to find and kill them, deviated from his assignment by killing Travis and allowing Carrie to live.
In teaching her the business, her father had taken off the blinders, making it clear what kind of work Nick performed. He made sure she understood in the drug trade someone like Nick became a necessity.
Since her father’s death, she acquired her own person of necessity, Miguel Medina. Whenever the need arose to eliminate someone, she called Miguel. Trustworthy and efficient, she relied on him to take care of the ugly side of the business. She could have ordered him to kill Nick and his family long ago, but she wanted more. They needed to feel her suffering.
She examined the photos again before sweeping them aside. Underneath them lay a newspaper clipping. Bobby D’Angelo’s smiling face stared at her. The headline read, ‘Young Art Dealer to Show Premier Collection at New York Gallery.’
Carmela pursed her lips and continued to stare at the newspaper. She reached for the phone.
“Bernardo, get my private jet ready. I need to fly to New York tomorrow.” Carmela set the receiver down and closed the folder. She rose and wandered to the window.
“Papi,” she said. “I am listening to you. I hear you crying out from your grave. It has taken me a while, but I will make those words I said to Nick become a reality. I won’t stop until he’s dead. I won’t stop until they are all dead.”