Note:I know nothing about the Mafia (well, only what Wikipedia told me). So, of course, there will be mistakes in here and it definitely won't mirror the real-life Mafia.
Summary: SLASH. Male/Male. Afton is at the point in his life where he faces constant barriers in his path of finding his own identity. Not only does he have to push past his parents' expectation,s but he has to deal with the unwavering attention of a Mafia underboss.
1. Chapter One
"All I hear about his boss is shit."
I slumped further against the couch as my mother's shrill warning drifted across the kitchen and into the living room. My fingers fumbled across the black remote, a sign of my suppressed anxiety.
My older brother was bringing his boss over for dinner. Despite the fact that I have never seen Nick's boss, I heard plenty about him. Well, that wasn't alltrue. Nick only praised his boss and never divulged anything personal. I remembered all those Christmases and holidays when Nick had to stay after-hours for his boss and all those late nights when he would come home looking like shit.
I guess the real reason I despised his boss was because he took my brother away from me. Ever since Nick started working for the man, he had never been the same. Our brotherly-bond had weakened and stretched thin the day Nick came home, sharing the news that he worked for Lucian Romano.
The man was an asshole. I clenched my jaw just thinking about playing nice. "Do I really have to be here? I have homework to do for tomorrow."
My father passed in front of the television as he adjusted his tie. His height dwarfed me, even if I would be standing. Being around him and my brother gave me the constant reminder that I was the runt of the family and not likely to grow anytime soon, if at all. Doubtless, I gazed up at him in nonchalance, feigning that I wasn't affected by his looming figure.
"You've never taken such an interest in homework before," he started, knotting the black tie around his neck. "You'll do wellto behave in front of Mr. Romano, Afton. Do you understand me?"
His brown gaze met my green. I tried to challenge his stare, but found I was powerless. Reluctantly, I dropped my gaze, knowing when to push and when to heel. Though, to be honest, it was always submission with him. "Yes, father." I responded dully.
Through lowered lashes, I watched him walk away, taking his tall, dark and handsome looks with him. I hated the constant reminder at how different I was from the rest of my family. They were all tall and beautiful with their Italian dark hair and eyes. I, on the other hand, was gifted with messy dark-blond hair and green eyes. My height also left much to be desired. Standing at 5'6", I was exactly two inches shorter than my own mother!
Plus, my whole family seemed to be bred with the ability to carry themselves with class and elegance. I was, well, not so elegant and classy.
My grandfather and grandmother moved to America from Italy. Here, in New Jersey, he and my father had built a name for the Conti's. I didn't know much about my heritage. Hell, I didn't really care about the family name. I was only half-interested when I learned my grandmother was an American woman with blonde hair and green eyes. Apparently my grandmother's genes took a backseat to the Italian genes until me, her grandson, was conceived.
She was a good woman, and not one who should have met the end she was met with. She, along with my grandfather, had been murdered a few years ago.
Nonetheless, I wouldn't have to dwell long about being an outcast to my family. I was leaving the house this summer. I was currently seventeen, in my last year at his high school. I had been offered a full scholarship to the University of California Los Angeles for my high grade point average and my speed on the track team.
Turning my attention back to the television, I switched on King of the Hill. Bobby Hill, what a fucking pansy, but still, it seemed a bit alluring to have little to no standards to live up to. He didn't have a brother that had an incredibly decent job; he only had a father who sold propane.
Before I could sink further into my pathetic pity-party, the doorbell rang.
In the kitchen, I heard my mother finish off her lemon bars. Her heels clicked across the marbled floor and to the entry way. We were all dressed up for this stupid dinner. My ratty jeans had been thrown in the trash when I first attempted to wear them tonight. I had to remember to salvage them before they went out to the bin.
My fingers tugged irritably at my dress shirt and ironed trousers. The only thing I looked forward to this evening was the spicy pasta my mother made. My stomach growled in anticipation. She didn't cook often, especially Italian food, as she usually left the cooking up to boxed Mac 'n' Cheese and frozen vegetables. I had to savor this as much as possible.
"Afton!" my mother called in a sing-song voice. I wasn't stupid; I could hear the warning in her tone. Of course she would pull me out of the living room and right into the spotlight. I always preferred the shadows far more than the attention. Hell, if it was up to me, I would ask for a plate of dinner and sneak upstairs. It wasn't like I had anything insightful to add to the conversation tonight.
Rubbing my sweaty palms on my pants, I stood up and slowly made my way up the few stairs that led to the entrance way. The crystal chandelier sparkled in the dark atmosphere, casting dizzy shadows across the room.
In my imagination, Mr. Romano was an old guy with balding hair and a big belly hanging over his pants. But he was standing before me, a bit older than my brother's twenty years. What kind of job did my brother have anyway that would involve having to heed orders from someone so young? I wasn't told much about Nick's job, only that it paid decent and involved accounting and law.
Lucian Romano had just finished shaking my father's hand. My attention dropped to the sparkly emerald ring on his pinkie. It had a sort of crest engraved on it, but I couldn't exactly catch what it was from this distance away. Feigning disinterest, I looked up at the man, noticing Romano had already noticed my presence. He looked me up and down and my lips slanted in unease at the piercing stare.
My mother placed a hand on my shoulder. "This is my son, Afton. Afton, meet Mr. Romano."
I noticed Romano didn't correct my mother and tell her to 'just call me Lucian'. What a stuck-up ass.
I coldly returned the stare Romano was giving me. The man wasn't breathtakingly handsome, but unfortunately he wasn't ugly either. He had dark hair, but what pure Italian didn't? The black locks were cut shortly and arranged neatly on top his head, as if he had never experienced a bad hair day before. His face had sharp planes and thin lips, giving him an aristocratic appearance. The eyes that leered at me were a dark brown, possibly a black.
Overall, his posture, his looks, and the smirk on his face made it clear he was an arrogant bastard. As if I had any doubts before, I instantly disliked him.
"Nice to meet you, little Conti. I heard so much about you from Niccolo."
Niccolo, I had to remind myself that was Nick's real name.
Lucian Romano's voice was rich and clear as he held out a well-manicured hand. The hand made it appear as if he hadn't seen a day of work in his life.
I looked at the fingers frigidly. "Mr. Romano," I greeted softly and shook the offered hand. His hand was cold to my warm. I slowly looked up at him, noticing a tight smirk on his face. "It's nice to meet you," I growled out and let go of his hand. Or so I tried. His grip tightened once on my hand before hewas the one to let go. Fucking hell. Again, he proved he was an arrogant bastard. I hadn't thought there was anyone more arrogant than my father. Obviously I hadn't met Lucian Romano when I came to that conclusion.
As soon as my hand was free, I brushed it nonchalantly on my pants, wiping away the germs I obtained from him. My mother cleared her throat while my father shot me a disapproving look.
"Let's go into the study and pour a glass of wine before." My mother bustled out of the room, her brown eyes glancing once at me. It was all in her look. She was telling me to silently behave. No words were needed to be spoken tonight. My father followed her, leaving Romano and my brother in the large entrance way.
I stood there awkwardly, glancing at my older brother. His shoulders seemed impossibly broad in his dinner coat and his dark hair seemed to have grown slightly. And oh… it seemed he was growing a beard. He once told me that he'd never grow anything on his face.
"Afton," Nick grinned, stepping forward. With a hard 'thump' to my back, he chuckled. I stumbled slightly and glared at my shoes. "It's good to see you again. We don't get much time together anymore."
"I haven't noticed," I replied bitterly, glancing at his boss. The man was standing conceitedly, hands in his pockets, and seemingly unabashed as he stared at me.
Nick gave another dark chuckle. I noticed his demeanor was no longer carefree, but serious and grim. When he tried to be 'carefree', he came off as sinister. And that creepy chuckle really wasn't doing him any favors.
With a rough hand, he messed up my hair, gripping my thin shoulder and pulling me toward the study. I dimly noticed how his body angled to stay protectively in front of his boss, as if I would somehow attack the man. I grew perplexed as Lucian trailed directly behind me.
Even with my back turned, I could feel his eyes on me.
It was dinner time... finally.
Earlier, when my parents were toasting a glass of wine with Nick's boss, I had escaped up to my room to watch the rest of King of the Hill. My solitude hadn't lasted too long as I was called for dinner. Somehow, even the aroma of spicy pasta didn't tempt me enough to want to enjoy my current situation.
"So, Afton," Nick injected after a short pause from the earlier conversation. "How is school going? Still getting good grades?"
My mother butted in. "He's doing fantastic, aren't you Afton?"
Withholding an eye roll, I nodded dubiously. "You just said it mother." With my fork, I played with a stray noodle, watching as it sprung across my plate like a grasshopper. "Fantastic…" I was bored beyond tears. All I wanted to do was go up into my room, listen to music and draw.
As the minutes rolled by, I was getting more annoyed that my parents insisted on calling Nick's boss 'Mr. Romano' instead of his first name. But it wasn't as if the man was giving them any indication to call him by his first name. Actually, for being so arrogant, Romano wasn't saying much at all.
"Still planning on becoming a doctor?" Nick asked interestedly.
"Of course he is…"
I remained impassive, more amused than angry. My parents knew nothing about me. They didn't know I would rather run far away than sit here. They didn't realize I would rather be a poor and starving artist than a doctor. And they certainly didn't know I got a 'C' on my advanced calculus exam. Yesterday, when I had looked at the C, I had smiled goofily at the test. I should have been devastated; instead, I had felt giddy. I hated being perfect. I hated being controlled.
I had wild dreams of running away and never returning. But I wondered if I would ever have enough courage to do so. My parents didn't know my plans to attend Los Angeles and pursue an art degree.
"Did youwant to become a doctor, Afton?"
The soft, musical, voice startled me out of my hazy daydream. I slowly raised my eyes across the table at Mr. Romano. The man sipped at his wine, his emerald ring on his finger flashing at me. His piercing eyes saw right through me and I knew I was being scrutinized.
"It's nothing but the—"
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Conti," Romano interrupted silkily, his dark eyes narrowing slightly on my mother. "But I was addressing Afton." There was an awkward silence and I couldn't help but to grin. Those piercing eyes turned back to me, the bored spark the man had previously was, and in its place, an attentive gleam shone. "Let me repeat myself, Afton." The way he said my name made it sound as if he rolled it on his tongue. I repressed a blush at the intensity. "Are you interested in a career as a doctor?"
I tore my eyes away from him, giving a shy glance to my stern and expecting father. I looked back down at my empty plate of pasta. "Of course, nothing but the best." I repeated the same words my mother was about to say before Romano cut her off. No one had ever cut my mother off.
Romano gave a bored 'hum' in response and pushed his plate away. "Mind if I smoke?" It wasn't a question, more of a jaded statement that told my mother she would allow him to smoke.
"Of course I don't mind, Mr. Romano."
I clenched my jaw hard. Glancing up, I watched the man dig through his richly-sewn jacket, probably Italian, a cigarette already hanging out the side of his mouth. I hated people who smoked. "Actually, I mind," I blurted out, ignoring my family's look of surprise and disappointment. Black eyes lazily looked up at me. "My good friend died of secondhand smoke." That was a lie, but he didn't need to know that.
My mother shifted in her seat, flashing the man a sheepish smile. "No, Mr. Romano, don't mind Afton, of course you can—"
"If it bothers you, Afton, I'll refrain." Intensely, he stared at me as he took the cigarette out of his mouth and placed it in his breast pocket.
Beside me, Nick shifted uncomfortably. Everyone acted as if we had to fall to this man's feet and lick the dirt off his polished and expensive shoes.
"I heard you were a fast little runner. You're in track and field, isn't that right?"
This time, my mother didn't interrupt and answer herself. Maybe she was getting insulted at how many times Romano had interrupted her.
I lifted my chin and gazed just as lazily back at Romano. "Yeah, our season is almost over. A few weeks and we'll be finished." I paused, admittedly uncomfortable with his stare. "So, what exactly do you do at this job of yours? My brother doesn't tell me much about it."
Romano grinned, twirling the stem of his wine glass with long fingers. "My father is the head Boss; I'll inherit the company after he steps down. We do negotiating with other associations for types of drugs and weapons. Trading, more like it."
I remained silent, wondering where the hell that description had come from and why my family was so tense. I also wondered if he was serious. Drugs? I hope he meant drugs for medical usage and weapons as…well…maybe needles for the patients? I didn't like his explanation and it set off warning bells in my head.
"You know," Romano purred, lowering his eyelids as he gazed at me. "I'd love to have you work for me."
I perked up, tossing a look at a silent Nick before zeroing the man with an unimpressed look. "Sounds tempting, Mr. Romano, but I think I'd rather be a doctor." And as much as I hated the thought of being a doctor, I hated the thought of working for him even more.
The man smirked. "Call me Lucian, little Afton."
My cheeks flushed without my permission. Little Afton. That man was a bastard. "And you can call me Afton, just Afton," I hinted.
He chuckled the first time that night and I wondered what was so funny.
"Your little brother is an enigma, Conti."
Nick clutched the steering wheel, glancing in the rearview mirror at his boss. Two enforcers, who had stayed around the Conti premise during dinner, were now sitting on either side of the boss. A lit cigarette was between Lucian's fingers. As the man inhaled, the red-hot ashes cast a deep glow across his features.
"I apologize for my brother's lack of respect, boss." He loved his brother. He wouldn't know what he would do if he was forced to choose between his boss and brother.
"He was a little bastard, wasn't he?" His boss' tone wasn't angry, more amused than anything. "I'd like to get to know him better, Conti."
"With all due respect, boss, I would do anything for you and support any of your business decisions." Nick hesitated as he frowned at the road. "But I would like to ask you to leave my brother alone. He's far too innocent for you." There was a scoffing sound in the backseat. Nick didn't know if it was his boss or an enforcer who made the sound.
Lucian Romano wasn't a typical son to the Boss. He had a decent relationship with both his parents and he had enough siblings. But he was the oldest and chosen child to take on the business after his father left. Being the son of the Boss, Lucian was watched constantly. He wasn't known to sleep around much and he treated his lovers decently, if not a bit too coldly. And by lovers, the whole Family knew Lucian would never provide an heir. He preferred men over women and he made sure people knew as much.
Unsurprisingly, Lucian preferred dark-haired and dark-eyed men. As for height wise, Lucian always preferred them tall. It was unnerving that he had taken an interest in Afton, as his brother was the complete opposite of Lucian's preferred type.
Afton becoming lovers with Lucian wasn't the only thing Nick was frightened of. He was afraid of the environment his brother would get into if Lucian decided to make his interest in Afton public. Without a doubt, Afton's life would be in danger and he wouldn't be able to protect himself.
And the head Boss wanted Lucian to make a decision on a significant other, and that deadline was coming to a quick close. Lucian would need to choose a partner who would stand by his side for life and dabble into the shit that was the Romano Family business. Afton wasn't like that. Lucian would never pick Afton for his partner because his partner was expected to be just like Lucian. Cold and smart about underhanded tricks.
If Lucian dabbled into a relationship with Afton, Nick had no doubt that Afton would be left shattered once Lucian found his intended partner.
"I think you and your parents underestimate him, Niccolo. He's a little flame, that one. All I have to do is ignite it…" Mr. Romano trailed off, sounding slightly thoughtful. "When is his next track meet?"
"Boss, please, he's naïve to the kind of business we attend to—"
"I'm not going to tell him about our Family or the business until he's ready. Really, Conti, you don't give me enough credit. I simply want to attend a high school track meet." His tone grew cold and Nick shut his mouth.
Lucian's words didn't sit well with him. Not telling Afton wouldn't exactly be the best course of action either. Unfortunately, he couldn't do much else to sway the underboss. "Next week, boss," he replied reluctantly.
Next week was when his brother's life would change indefinitely.
"Tell me you're ready for this meet."
I scoffed at the boy's melodramatic whine. "I'm perfectly ready, Tony. I don't need you nagging at me again."
Tony. The boy was considered to be my only 'true' friend. Granted, I guess I had many acquaintances, but Tony was the only kid I hung out with afterschool and the onlyone I could share my personal feelings with. Not that we had many heart-to-hearts. We preferred getting fat off pizza and watching movie re-runs on his flatscreen TV.
He grinned, running a hand through his fake beach-blond hair. "It's our third to last meet before the end of the year…before we graduate." He dodged my arm as I pulled off the heavy sweatshirt. "I know you're ready to leave me, Afton, but I can't let you go so easily." He fluttered his lashes at me, succeeding in looking like a dumbass.
"You can always come to California," I suggested slyly, bending down to touch my toes and clutching the rim of my shoes. We were on the infield as the field events continued around us as the running events took place on the track. "There is no way in hell I'm staying here," I grumbled hotly, glancing at the audience. The stands were full. Many of the onlookers were against the fence, getting as close as they could to the events and the finish line.
"Conti, you're up. 400."
Releasing my shoes, I stood up just in time as Burns, my sprinting coach, pulled me away from Tony. The coach hovered over me as I reluctantly stripped down to my shorts and jersey. Among all the other members of the track team, Burns seemed to favor me. Though, he had a sharp and nasty tempter if I didn't meet his expectations. I didn't mind the pressure, simply because I loved running and wanted to push myself just as much as he wanted to push me.
"Can you beat 49.2 this time, Conti?"
49.2 was my personal record, and by any means, I intended to break it. "Do you even have to ask, Coach?" I asked lightly. The man grunted behind me as I settled into the starting blocks. I was pleased to note that I was in the second lane. I always preferred starting further back than the rest of the runners, as it gave me extra drive to push myself faster.
Adjusting my feet in the blocks, I positioned my fingers on the track. I don't even know what made me do it, but I glanced into the crowd. I knew my parents wouldn't be there, they never were. But I could see my brother standing near the fence. He came on occasion, but he certainly never brought company, especially company like that. I swallowed. I had thought I would never see Lucian Romano again. But there he was, dressed in finery and arrogance and looking out of place at a track meet.
A clipboard slapped my head, startling me.
The starter lifted his gun and fired. I stumbled on my feet, barely keeping my balance. It would cost me a few marks…
But the gun shot a second time, signaling a false start. My cheeks burned as I turned back toward Burns. At least I hadn't been the one to false start. Though, tripping on my own feet wasn't much of a consolation. On the infield, I heard Tony burst out in laughter at my ungraceful start, not helping the situation in the least.
"Terrible, Conti! That was pathetic," Coach Burns scolded as he watched me settle back down in the blocks.
The distractions were pushed to the back of my mind as I pressed my fingers into the track once more. As soon as the gun fired, I pushed off from the blocks with far more grace than my first attempt. Pushing forward, I knew I had to run as hard as I could for at least 300 meters and then sprint the remaining 100.
Already, I passed the runner in lane three, inching closer to the curve. The smell of freshly cut grass was strong and I inhaled deeply. This sense of freedom was something I would never get tired of. Running, pushing myself to the fullest…it was freedom. The wind tugged at my body and I was pulled along with it, rivaling it in speed.
When I was running, my father and mother's expectations were nonexistent, as well as their disappointments. Everything faded out and I dimly realized I had finally evened out with the remaining runners. We were inching closer to the last 100 and then I could really let myself loose. And as soon as my spikes slapped the 100 mark, I increased my speed and shot ahead of the runners.
The thick white line seemed to pull me forward and I picked up my pace in response. I didn't look back at the other runners, but I knew they were more than a few paces away from me.
As soon as I crossed the line, my senses came rushing back to me. The other runners thundered past me as I slowed to a jog in attempt to slow my racing pulse.
"Damn it, Conti!" My coach prowled over with a stopwatch clutched tightly in his fist. "You broke it! 48.2!" I grinned, too high on adrenaline to do anything else. He patted me on the back again, a pleased smile on his face. "I'm proud of you, son."
"Thanks coach," I breathed, somehow feeling myself glow at the praise.
Fuck, I was pathetic.
Before I could make my way over to the infield where Tony stood, I suddenly remembered the presence of Nick and Romano. Frankly, I really didn't want to go over there. I had nothing to say to either of them, but I guess my manners outweighed my reluctance. Nick caught my eyes, waving me over and I found myself unable to pretend I hadn't seen him.
Giving a sharp nod, I made a quick stop next to my bag to pull on my loose drawstring pants. If there was one thing I wanted to avoid, it was wearing these damn shorts longer than I had to.
I approached my brother, immediately spying his grim face. "Is everything alright?" I addressed him, not satisfying Romano with a glance. From the corner of my eye, I saw the man smirk. Unfortunately my avoidance only seemed to amuse him. "You didn't tell me you'd be coming today." Usually, he'd send me a text message, saying he would be arriving. And when he said he would come, it always implied they would go to dinner later and pig out on fries and burgers.
But those late-night celebrations had been…distant…almost nonexistent for two years.
"Sorry, I…" Nick faltered, his eyes dark. He cleared his throat. "Everything is fine." He then changed the subject, something he did remarkably well. "You did great. From Coach Burns' reaction, I'm guessing you broke your previous record?"
Nick glanced pointedly at his boss as if he was trying to tell me to be respectful. I feigned ignorance and only gave the man a fleeting glance. Like hell I'd lick his shoes like the rest of my family seemed to.
"I don't see your parents here," Romano observed lightly, his sharp voice cutting through my retrieve.
Unfortunately, I hadto look at the man. He stood there, confident and gazing down at me. He was tall, but then again, everyone was taller than me. Though, he was a few inches shorter than my brother, which was the only positive thing about him. "No, they're not too big on the track scene," I said dully. Turning back to Nick, I looked at him expectantly.
"I wouldn't understand why," Romano continued easily, as if this conversation wasn't as awkward as it really was. My brother looked pained and his mouth was tightly shut. Apparently he checked out of this conversation long ago. "You were great, really."
"Thanks," I gritted out. Before I could ask after Nick's behavior, fingers suddenly reached out and grasped my chin, forcibly turning my gaze back to Lucian Romano. The man's sharp eyes studied me intensely, no longer looking amused.
"You don't take compliments well, do you? Either that or you are disrespecting me. I don't take kindly to being ignored when I speak."
I licked my lips, unable to look away from the onyx stare. He was intimidating, completely so, but I couldn't find it in myself to be frightened. Though, I found my knees had turned weak, but with his hand on my chin, he was literally holding me up. I refused to reveal that he affected me, so I gave face. "I apologize," I said dryly.
"Afton," Nick warned.
There was something going on and I didn't understand whatit was. Was Nick and Romano an… item? Was that why they were acting so odd? Was it the drugs they were selling? Hell…was Nick the one taking drugs? The possibilities were endless and I didn't know what to think. I decided to let the situation unfold itself.
Romano's fingers were still clutching my chin. His thumb suddenly stroked my skin before he let me go. "I'd like to take you out for dinner, if you don't mind," Romano began coolly. "After your meet, of course. Your brother told me that you two usually go out after your track meets."
From across the field, Coach Burns called me over, or more like screamed for me to hurry my ass over. I became distracted and flustered. "Yeah, sure, of course…" I agreed distractedly, pulling away from the two and the awkwardness they exuded. Dinner wouldn't be so bad. At least Nick would be there to put a buffer between Romano and myself. "I'll see you soon."
As I turned, I missed the smile that stretched across Lucian Romano's face and the crestfallen expression my brother wore.
I had no idea what I had just signed up for.