Chapter 1 – A Close Call

Hidden deep in the Appalachian Mountains, lived a society of assassins. Like the Spartans of Greece, they trained both their men and their women from childhood how to perfect the arts of quiet entry, quick execution, and a fast get away.

The society known as the Alpalates is governed by a main Chief. Though rule is inherited through generation, the village can vote for another member of the village to assume the responsibilities.

The myth of the Apalates comes from Northern Italy, where the secret village is said to hide deep in the mountains. Many explorers have searched in vain for the village. Most were never seen again. They were said to have gotten lost in the high peaks and perished in the freezing cold.

I closed the book my father gave me and laughed. Why he would give me a book on legends and myths, I could never fathom. It's not like I had any use for them.

My father, though I love him dearly, I could never agree with his life style. At least he wasn't gay. That would be an awkward explanation on how my brother and I came to be. He didn't sleep around either. Well, that I was aware of. He and my mother were happily married, so they seemed to be. In fact, I might have been happier if those were the least of my worries.

My father was a high up member of a New York City mob, the third worse thing for a person's child to grow up and become. But what was even worse, is that terrible child had two children that are in constant danger. He never let me out of the house without a bodyguard and a bullet-proof limo. I never got to just "hang" with friends for fear of my life.

For my schooling, he hired tutors to come to our mansion to teach us academics and whatever else our hearts desired. At the door, they were patted down and thoroughly checked by two huge burly looking men, wearing black suits. They seemed to be used to it, apparently it was their norm, teaching high profile children.

Along with our academics, my brother, Austin and I were forced to learn how to defend ourselves in any way possible. From judo, to fencing, and from shooting a riffle, to target practice with an old fashioned bow and arrow. Okay, so the bow was brand new freshly manufactured from the factory, it was still an ancient past time. Especially when there is high-tech search and destroy equipment. The fencing we didn't really need, but it was the only way I agreed to learn how to shoot a gun. I hated guns, they were loud, heavy, and they killed people. They were even known to misfire and kill the person holding it, either by just not firing and they get shot, or they somehow explode.

When Austin turned twenty-five two years prior to when this story took place, he became my father's apprentice and would inherit his 'business'. Whatever it was, I wanted no part of it. Dad tried to get me involved, and I was interested until I turned fifteen, then I saw what this life was really about. All the drugs, the shooting, the secrecy, it just wasn't for me.

I wanted to move out of the house at eighteen to get away from the danger of being around the gang, but Father made me stay saying it would be even more dangerous to be on my own away from bodyguards. I didn't understand why I was in more danger living on a different continent than living right in the spotlight.

Yes, I loved my family, but I hated their way. I know what you're thinking, 'Poor little rich girl doesn't like dirty money.' I tell you this: I would rather have nothing and live under a bridge in a cardboard box than constantly have my life threatened. I had been shot three times, stabbed twice and nearly raped. I was only twenty.

"Are you ready, Sofia?" Devlyn, my assigned body guard asked.

He was a very large man, not fat, but very muscular. He probably played defense on his high school football team. He stood around five-nine, with short, sandy brown hair and blue eyes, one of the very few non-Italian members of the gang. He was in his mid thirties with a wife and two children. His oldest was a boy around eight, who loved to terrorize his five-year-old sister. I would babysit them on most Friday nights so he could take his wife out on dates. Normally they would have to stay at the mansion, seeing as I was without a bodyguard for the night. I talked Dad into making two of the guest rooms in my hall into children's rooms so they could stay the night.

"I guess. Papa will be mad if I missed dinner again," I replied.

We were in a coffee shop called "Bel Caffè." It was a cute little shop with white tiled floors, little round tables made from dark wood and green cushioned chairs that had dark wooden backs. The walls were painted yellow with green trim. Fancy brass fixtures held dimly lit lights that imitated the glow of candles. Devlyn and I sat at a tiny table toward the back of the room, away from the crowd.

I liked to come here to get away from the house and read while sipping on a French-vanilla capuchino. Of course, Devlyn had to follow me where ever I went. A few times I tried to lose him, but he ended up finding me, flipped me over his shoulder, carried me to the car, and brought me home lecturing me the whole way. Once I returned home, I got a long, loud lecture from my father and a final one from my brother. If I didn't know that Austin was the spawn from our father's loins, I would have sworn they were the same person, one just a lot younger than the other.

As we exited the coffee shop, a man grabbed me from behind and pressed a pistol to my head. "Drop it or I'll shoot her," he said to Devlyn, who had his gun raised before I could even react. The man's voice was husky, like talking took a lot of effort.

"If you have an issue, take it up with the Duke," Devlyn growled.

The 'Duke' was my father. A nickname he had since he was little. Why they called him that, I didn't know.

"What good would it do to kill him? It won't get me my money. No, I want to prove a point, so I'll kill her to be sure he gets the message."

I flinched as I heard the gun cocking next to my ear. A survey showed that the most terrifying sound in the world was the sound a gun made when you pulled back the hammer. Well, actually it was a shotgun cocking, but there wasn't much of a difference in that moment.

There was a sharp whizz, the sound a silenced pistol made, as blood splattered on my face. The grip on my neck loosened as the man's body fell to the ground. I stood there, unmoving. My body was shaking uncontrollably. Tears threatened to fall down my face. This has happened way too many times, and yet I could never get used to it.

"Sofia?" Devlyn asked softly, "Are you alright?"

I nodded my head, and then looked down at the man. I knew I shouldn't have, but curiosity always got the best of me. He was definitely Italian decent. The dark skin on his face was un-shaven and dirty. His dark curly hair was matted with blood from a hole in his forehead. The back of his head seemed to be missing, its remnants spread on the sidewalk and on me. My stomach turned and threatened to lurch its contents as I studied the body.

"We should go, the cops will be here soon," Devlyn suggested.

I nodded my head again, but still didn't move. Devlyn touched my arm, his grasp making me jump a mile.

"Let's go," he repeated gently.

The limo turned the corner just in time, stopping in front of us. It was the typical black, with dark windows. Devlyn helped me inside the black leather interior, and then climbed in the other door.

As the limo sped through the streets, I finally came to my wits. Devlyn noticed this and looked at me uncomfortably. He knew what was coming.

"What the hell were you thinking? You could have hit me, or he could have pulled the trigger on instinct! And look, you got his brain in my hair! There's blood all over me!" I ranted.

No I'm not vain. I was venting my shock and Devlyn understood this. He was silent during my outburst. He knew me well enough to know that it was the only way my brain could cope with what had transpired.

"Your welcome," he smiled, wiping blood from my face with his sleeve, like it was going to help anything.

I sighed, "Thank you."

Come to find out, the man's name was Antonius Billings. My dad owed him a great deal of money. I'm sure he owed a lot of people money. To him, this was just one less debt he had to pay. It's not that he didn't care; it was an everyday occurrence in the life of a mob boss.

"Sofia," my brother knocked on my bathroom door.

I was in the shower scrubbing blood and brains out of my hair. The clothes I wore I threw in the trash. It seemed that no matter how much soap I used, I still couldn't get this guy's guts off of my body.

"Father wants to see you when you are finished."

I didn't answer, he understood. All the thugs came after me to get to our father. It was definitely a hard life being the daughter of a member of the mafia.

Twenty minutes later, I stepped out of the shower. The bathroom was attached to my room, but had another door leading into the hall. The walls were painted a turquoise blue with white trim and flooring. Brown decorative rugs sat in front of the shower and sink. The counter was white with the same color turquoise cupboards underneath. The large room was lit by a simple globe fixture in the middle of the white ceiling. Another fixture sat above the mirror for better lighting. I loved this bathroom, I designed it myself.

"You wanted to see me, Father?" I asked icily, entering his study.

It was a large room with wine colored walls that were mostly hidden by book cases and hutches. The floor was covered in dark cherry tinted wood with gold and wine colored throw rugs. His desk was made of dark colored wood. It was a perfect rectangle, the top over hanging the base. Behind the main desk another huge computer desk, that reached the ceiling, stood. Two cupboards filled the top. A huge hutch held a large cabinet where he hid a small arsenal of guns. Of course, it was only a small portion of what he actually owned; these were his most prized possessions. Beside the cupboards stood glass cases where he displayed knickknacks and antiques. Two windows, surrounding the computer desk, were covered in golden drapes, tied back with wine colored sashes. A brown leather couch sat to the right of the room, the hutch on the left.

My father sat behind his desk in a dark brown leather computer chair. In front of the desk stood a matching chair but without the wheels and a smaller back.

"Are you alright?" he asked, genuinely concerned.

"Yes," I replied simply. I couldn't let it get to me that was the trick.

"Are you really?" his gaze bore into me as he walked toward me. He wasn't seeing me, but seeing though me, past my barriers and into my soul. I was his daughter, he knew me well.

My resolve snapped and I broke down crying. My legs gave out as I fell to the floor. My dad swiftly caught me as I landed. He lifted my small frame effortlessly, and carried me over to the couch. He sat me in his lap and hugged me tightly. In times like this, it was hard to stay mad at my father, because I knew I wasn't just collateral damage, I was his daughter who was in constant danger because of him.

"Father, Martin is here to see you," Austin walked in.

"Send him my condolences, but I'm a bit busy at the moment," our dad answered, still petting my wet hair.

"He's here concerning Sofia."

"Oh," dad replied, "Send him in."

Martin Bishop was the only man my father answered to. He was the boss of their gang. My father, obviously was right under him, which would have made him the 'under boss' in the mob hierarchy. But my father was special, he was also the consigliere seeing as the original had recently disappeared. It was obvious, but went unspoken that he had been killed, probably on Bishop's orders.

"I'll take her," Austin offered, holding out his arms.

My father lifted my weight of one-hundred-and-five pounds as if I were a mere child. Both my father and brother were very muscular. They looked almost identical. The only difference was the flecks of gray in my father's light brown hair. And of course, the usual age difference in the face. Also the mischievous glint in Austin's greenish-brown eyes. Mom said that Dad used to have the same glint, but then he got old.

I looked more like my mother, with darker brown hair and burnt sienna eyes. My frame was petite. My mom was short like me, but very well curved. Not curved to be considered fat, but there was definitely some "junk" in her "trunk." I inherited the curves, but I wasn't as curvy as my mother.

My dad had the olive skin from being Italian. My mom was a mix of French, Irish, and Italian. Austin and I only inherited the ability to get a really nice tan easily, and without burning.

"Phillip, Austin, how are you?" Bishop entered the room.

He was an older man, in his fifties, with salt and pepper hair cut short, and chocolate brown eyes. He stood just short of six-foot, but was heavier set.

My father was now sitting behind his desk while Austin cradled me in his arms on the couch. I had finally stopped crying, but my body still shook uncontrollably.

"We'll be fine," My father answered.

"Is Sophia alright?"

He glanced at me, "More or less."

"Is she injured?"

"Not physically. Devlyn saved her life."

"Where is he?"

"I sent him home to his family."

"Who was it?"

"Antonius Catalina," My brother answered.

"I'll take care of it," Bishop left to do, whatever it was he was going to do.

"Are you hungry?" Austin looked down at me.

I thought of the brains splattered on my face and in my hair, the gooey mix of blood and cerebellum oozing onto the sidewalk. I was far from hungry. In fact, I felt like throwing up.

"No" I answered barely above a whisper.

"We should get you to bed, you look exhausted."

Austin carried me to my room. It was fairly large and came with its own bathroom as did all the rooms. I designed it myself as well. The walls were painted a medium purple, while the trim was a dark purple. The ceiling was a lavender color. Black strings that were tied to glow-in-the-dark stars and planets hung from the ceiling, making you feel like you were in space when the lights were out.

The furniture, I had my father buy second hand. Of course, under his protest, but that was the theme. It was all old Victorian style, sanded down and painted with silver spray paint so that it had a metallic glint to it. The queen sized bed was made of rod iron, also painted silver. The fragile gauze canopy was died black. The hangings were tied to the posts, revealing a black comforter with silver swirl patterns. The carpet was also black. The curtains were specially made to match the comforter.

Austin tucked me under the blankets, making sure I was warm. "Where's mom?" I asked.

"Still out," Austin replied.

Our mother went out with friends almost every night now that Austin and I were grown up. Tonight was movie night. Tomorrow was dancing. She would bring Dad along on these nights. He protested, but took her to a romantic dinner beforehand. They would come home still dancing then spend the rest of the night in their room, doing unimaginable things that were the reason for my brother and me being here.

"She should be home soon," Austin added

"Tell her I'll see her in the morning."

He kissed my brown and left the room.