Note: I know nothing about the Mafia. Therefore, it is very much an unrealistic story, but I hope you can still enjoy it. Don't take it too seriously 😉
Summary: SLASH. [Male/Male] Afton Conti 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' expectations, 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 sleek remote, a sign of my suppressed anxiety.
My older brother was bringing his boss over for dinner. Despite the fact that I had never met Nick's boss, I heard plenty about him. Well, that wasn't all true. Nick only praised his boss and never divulged anything personal. But I remembered all those Christmases and holidays when Nick had to stay after-hours for his boss as well as those late nights when he'd 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'd distanced himself from me—from our family. Our friendship had weakened and stretched thin the exact day Nick came home, sharing the news that he worked for Luciano Romano.
The man was an asshole.
His name even sounded like he'd be an arrogant prick.
I clenched my jaw. "Do I really have to be here? I have homework to do for tomorrow."
My father stood in front of the television as he adjusted his tie. His height was impressive. Being around him and my brother gave me the constant reminder that I was the smallest of the family and not likely to grow anytime soon, if at all. I gazed up at him casually, feigning boredom at his daunting, looming presence.
"You've never taken such an interest in homework before. You should have done it earlier when you got home." He knotted the black tie around his neck. "You'll do well to behave in front of Mr. Romano, Afton. Do you understand me?"
His dark, brown gaze drilled into mine, and while I tried to challenge his stare, I found myself 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. My family were all tall and beautiful with 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. I stood exactly two inches shorter than my own mother.
It—I—was an anomaly.
My mother proclaimed I took after my grandmother.
My paternal grandfather moved from Italy to America. Here, in New Jersey, my grandfather and father had built a name for the Contis. I don'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 a British woman with blonde hair and green eyes.
She was a good woman, and not one who should have met the end that she had.
She, along with my grandfather, had been murdered a few years prior.
A commercial for cheap airfares caught my attention, reminding me that I was leaving the house this summer. I was currently seventeen and attending my last year at high school. I had been offered a full scholarship to the University of California Los Angeles for my grade point average and entrance exam scores, as well as my speed on the track team.
Before I could get lost in the world of realty tv, the doorbell rang.
In the kitchen, I heard my mother hurriedly finishing off her lemon bars. Her heels clicked across the marble floor and toward the entryway. We were all dressed up for this meaningless dinner. My ratty jeans had been thrown in the trash by my father when I first attempted to wear them tonight. I would have to remember to salvage them before they went out to the bin.
My fingers tugged irritably at my dress shirt and ironed trousers. When my stomach growled with anticipation, I was reminded of the only reason I was looking forward to this evening. My mother didn't cook often, especially not Italian food, usually leaving the cooking up to a personal chief we hired occasionally or 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 could hear the warning in her sugary tone. Of course she would pull me away from the background and into the uncomfortable spotlight. Hell, if it were up to me, I would ask for a plate of dinner and sneak upstairs. It wasn't like I had anything insightful or meaningful to add to the conversation tonight.
Rubbing my sweaty palms on my pants, I stood up and slowly made my way up to the entrance way. The crystal chandelier sparkled in the dim atmosphere, casting dizzying shadows across the small foyer.
In my imagination, Mr. Romano was an old guy with balding hair and a big belly hanging over his pant line. But he stood before me, appearing just a bit older than my brother, who just turned twenty-years-old. What kind of job did my brother have that would involve heeding 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 I shifted with unease.
My mother placed a hand on my shoulder. "This is my son, Afton. Afton, this is Mr. Romano."
I noticed Romano didn't correct my mother and tell her to 'just call me Lucian'.
What a stuck-up asshole.
Coldly, I returned Romano's piercing stare. The man wasn't breathtakingly handsome, but unfortunately, he wasn't ugly either. He had dark hair, but that was unsurprising. The black locks were cut short and parted neatly as if he had never experienced a bad hair day in his life. He possessed sharp, aristocratic features and thin lips. The eyes that leered 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."
I had to remind myself that was my brother's real name.
Lucian Romano's voice was rich and clear as he held out a well-manicured hand.
The hand appeared as if it hadn't seen a day of work in his life.
I looked at the fingers frigidly. "Mr. Romano," I greeted 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 tried to let go. His grip tightened once on my hand before he was the one to let go. Fucking hell. I hadn't thought there was anyone more arrogant than my father. Obviously, when I came to that conclusion, I hadn't yet met Lucian Romano.
As soon as my hand was free, I brushed it not-so-subtly on my pants.
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 dinner." My mother bustled out of the room, her dark eyes glancing once at me. It was all in her look. She was telling me to behave. My father followed her, leaving Romano and my brother in the 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.
"Afton." Nick grinned and stepped forward. With a hard 'thump' to my back, he chuckled. I jerked slightly from the forceful hit and glared at my feet. "It's good to see you again. We don't get much time to spend together anymore."
"I haven't noticed," I replied bitterly, glancing at his boss.
The man stood conceitedly with his hands in his pockets, seemingly unabashed as he stared at me.
Nick gave another dark chuckle. His demeanor was no longer carefree, like it had been years ago, but rather serious and grim. When he tried to be 'carefree', he came off as sinister. That creepy chuckle really wasn't doing him any favors.
With a rough hand, he messed up my hair, gripping my shoulder and pulling me toward the study. I dimly noticed how his body angled 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 used the distraction to run up to my room and draw. My solitude hadn't lasted too long, as my mother called me for dinner not even a half an hour later. Somehow, even the aroma of pasta didn't tempt me enough 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 answered. "He's doing fantastic, aren't you, Afton? Top of your class."
I nodded dubiously. "You just said it mother." With my fork, I played with a stray noodle, watching as it sprang across my plate like a grasshopper. "Fantastic…"
This was so boring. 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 then again, it wasn't as if the man were giving them any indication to call him by his first name. Actually, for being so arrogant, Romano wasn't saying much at all. I thought he'd be blowing a lot of hot air.
"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 despite my endless attempts of explaining myself. 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.
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 you want 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 as he stared through me.
"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 him." There was an awkward silence and I couldn't help but to grin. Those piercing eyes turned back to me and an attentive gleam shone. "Let me repeat myself, Afton." He rolled my name off his tongue. I repressed a flush 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."
Romano gave a bored 'hmm' in response and pushed his plate away. "Mind if I smoke?" It wasn't a question, more of a jaded statement.
My mother quickly obliged. "We 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 couldn't stand the disrespect and the audacity. "Actually, I mind," I said boldly, ignoring my family's look of surprise and disapproval. 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 and flashed the man a sheepish smile. "No, Mr. Romano, of course you can—"
"If it bothers you, Afton, I'll refrain."
Purposefully, 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 runner. You're in track and field, isn't that right?"
This time, my mother didn't interrupt and answer for me.
I lifted my chin. "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. "It's a family-owned business. I'll inherit the company after my father steps down. We negotiate 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. I also wondered if he was serious. Drugs? I hope he meant drugs for medical usage and weapons…well…
What the fuck?
"You know," Romano started with a murmur, "I'd love to have you work for me."
I perked up, tossing a look at a silent Nick before refocusing on 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. "Or Mr. Conti."
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 as he glanced in the rearview mirror at his boss. Two enforcers, who had stayed around the Conti premises 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 was a spitfire, 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 and all of your business decisions." Nick hesitated as he frowned at the road. "But I would ask you to leave my brother alone. He's far too naïve for this lifestyle."
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 had a decent relationship with both his parents and he had two siblings. But he was the oldest, and therefore, the 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 coldly. And by lovers, the whole Family knew Lucian would never provide an heir. He preferred men over women and he did little to hide that fact.
Unsurprisingly, Lucian preferred dark-haired and dark-eyed men. As for height wise, Lucian always preferred them tall.
Afton couldn't have been more dissimilar from Lucian's preferred type.
Afton becoming lovers with Lucian was the least of Nick's concern.
He was afraid of the environment his brother would get into if Lucian decided to make his interest in Afton public. Moreover, the head Boss wanted Lucian to choose a significant other, and that deadline was fast approaching. Lucian would need to choose a partner who would stand by his side and conduct business for the Romano Family.
Afton wasn't made for this life. Lucian's father would not approve.
"I think you and your parents underestimate him." Mr. Romano's tone turned thoughtful. "When is his next track meet?"
"Boss, please, he's naïve to the kind of business we—"
"I'm not going to tell him about our Family or the business until he's ready. Really, Conti, you don't give me, or him, 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.
Unfortunately, he couldn't do much else to sway the underboss. "Next week, boss," he replied reluctantly.
Next week was when his little brother's life would change indefinitely.
"Tell me you're ready."
The boy's melodramatic whine made me scoff. "I'm perfectly ready, Tony. I don't need you nagging me. Again."
Tony. While I had many acquaintances, many friends—in the loosest sense of the word—Tony was something else entirely. He was the only kid I hung out with after school and the only one I could share my thoughts with. Not that we had many heart-to-hearts. We preferred getting fat off pizza and watching cheesy movies for the sole purpose of making fun of them.
He grinned, running a hand through his fake, beach-blond hair. "It's near the end of our season… 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."
"You can always come to California with me," I suggested slyly before bending down to touch my toes and clutching the rim of my shoes. We were on the infield, having already stretched and completed our warmups. "There is no way in hell I'm staying here." I glanced at the audience. The stands were full. Many of the onlookers were against the fence, getting as close as possible 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 as I reluctantly stripped down to my shorts and jersey. Among all the other members of the track team, Burns favored 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 48.1 this time, Conti?"
48.1 was my personal record and I intended to break it before graduation.
"Do you even have to ask, Coach?" 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 grimaced. I had hoped 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. What the hell was that?" Coach Burns scolded as I settled 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 hard for the first 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, the expectations placed on me were nonexistent. Everything faded 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 loose. And as soon as my spikes slapped the 100 mark, I increased my speed and shot ahead.
The thick white line pulled me forward and I picked up my pace. 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! 47.3!" I grinned, too high on adrenaline to do anything else. He patted me on the back with an enormous grin. "I'm proud of you, son."
I glowed at the praise. "Thanks, Coach."
Fuck, I was pathetic.
Before I could make my way over to the infield with Tony, 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 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.
As I approached my brother, I immediately noticed his grim face.
"Is everything alright?" I didn't even satisfy 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. And when he attended, it always implied we would go to dinner later and pig out on fries and burgers.
But those late-night celebrations had been…distant…almost nonexistent for the past two years.
"Sorry, I…" Nick faltered and 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.
Unfortunately, I had to look at the man. He stood there confidently as he gazed down at me. He was tall, but then again, everyone was taller than I was. 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 don'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 well to compliments, do you? Either that, or you're intentionally avoiding eye contact."
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 daunted. Nevertheless, my knees weakened, but with his hand on my chin, he was literally holding me up.
I pretended I was unaffected. "I apologize," I said sarcastically.
"Afton," Nick warned.
There was something going on and I didn't understand what it 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.
Romano's fingers remained clutching my chin. His thumb stroked my skin before he let go. "I'd like to take you out for dinner," Romano began coolly. "After your meet, of course. Your brother told me that you two typically 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 couldn't argue against free food.
As I turned, I missed Romano's smile and the crestfallen expression my brother wore.
I had no idea what I had just signed up for.