The Don’s Dilemma
(The Calegaris, #5)
Publication date: June 7th 2022
Genres: Adult, Romance, Suspense
As head of one of the East Coast’s most profitable crime families, I keep my real family close…and my enemies even closer.
I had plans for the future. Once my rise was complete, no one I loved would ever have to worry about anything. Ever.
Someone else had other ideas. Someone was trying to bring down my organization from the inside. I could handle them. That’s the world I live in, the world I command. But then they crossed a line. It’s one thing to mess with my business; it’s a different matter entirely to threaten my family.
I launched a preemptive strike with one thing in mind – I needed information I could use against the man who’d recently become the biggest thorn in my side. Under the guise of reconciliation, I welcomed his olive branch, but I couldn’t trust him….or, as it turned out, anyone else.
My plan backfired. Suzanne’s sweetness was more than I could resist. One look into her eyes, and I condemned myself for the crimes I was about to commit. I couldn’t bring an innocent woman into the carnage of those who wronged the name “Calegari.”
My name is Gabriel Calegari. I am a mafia don, a son, a brother… and a lover. I can have no weakness – including her. I will stop at nothing to protect my family from those who are out to destroy me – no matter how much it costs me.
Dive into the dangerous desires of the Calegari world with the rest of the series:
The Virgin Clause
The Virgin Temptation
Princess of Pride
Princess of Passion
Gabriel stopped next to a black sport car parked near the curb in front of the coffee shop and opened the door for me.
“You’ll have to tell me about that.”
“About why I came to New York City?”
“Exactly. What enticed a good girl like you to move to the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple?” He held the door while I got in and then he quickly walked to the other side. I put on my seatbelt and faced him when he gracefully lowered himself into the seat.
“Well, first of all, what makes you think I’m such a good girl?” No matter what he thought knew about me, it was an odd choice of words.
Gabriel shook his head as he laughed. “There’s not a damn thing about you that says otherwise.”
I pretended to be outraged, but yes, he had hit the nail on the head. “That’s very presumptuous since you’ve known me for just a few hours.”
He pulled away from the curb but had to immediately stop at the first light on the block.
“This is going to make me sound like an arrogant asshole.” The light changed, and he pulled forward. “But I know women. You’re different.”
“How different? Good different or bad different? I’m not sure I like being called ‘different.’”
“Don’t worry. I don’t mind. It’s a good different.”
“You think I’m weak?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Because you don’t know. You just met me. I could be a badass in disguise,” I teased.
He laughed outright and shook his head. “Yeah. No. No, you’re not.”
I heaved an exaggerated sigh. “Yeah. You’re right. I’m not. But I don’t want you to think I’m a pushover.”
He turned to look at me, his eyes lingering in the dark, lighting up my cheeks once again before he looked back to the road. “I don’t think that at all.”
I tilted my head. “Then what do you think?”
“I think that if I answer that question, we won’t make it to dinner.”
His tone said not to pursue the topic any longer. I faced the passenger window and watched the streetlights and signs blur by, but I couldn’t take the silence. I knew that if I let it linger, it’d take over, and I’d retreat.
“Do you live in New York?” I asked, trying to get some personal information from him.
“Oh. That’s a bit out there. Do you work here?”
I nodded at his one-word answer. He really didn’t like to talk about himself. My next thought was one I shouldn’t have allowed myself to have. If he didn’t live or work in New York City, then I couldn’t expect too much from him.
“I do come into the city for business. Occasionally, for other things,” he finally volunteered.
Excited to hear more, I pounced. “Oh? What other things? Do you like the shows? The museums?”
“No.” He paused. “I like dinner with pretty girls.”
Plural. I couldn’t let it go. “So, maybe I’m not so different after all?”
“That’s my reason for tonight. Normally, it’s business or I’m here with my family.”
My stomach turned, dreading the worst, though I’d have a hard time believing it. He just didn’t seem to be that type. “This isn’t when you tell me you’re married, is it?”
I was joking, but Gabriel did not think my comment was funny.
“I would never disrespect you that way, or my wife, if I had one. Ever. I meant my mother and my sister. They enjoy shopping and the shows and museums you mentioned.”
I felt properly scolded. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“I’m not offended, but respect means a lot to me. I’m old-fashioned. I believe in one man, one woman. In Sunday dinners and holding doors open for ladies. I’m a modern man, but there are some things that don’t need to change. Treating a woman with respect is one of them.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond. Secretly, I loved his attitude. While I certainly wanted my independence as a woman, I didn’t mind having doors held open for me or being treated like I was someone special.
My thoughts were premature. This was a first date. I doubt I was being treated any differently than any of the other women Gabriel had dated. Or was currently dating. Maybe he was a player, although that didn’t match his “one man, one woman” line.
“Stop worrying,” he said softly, as if he could read my mind from the seat next to me.
“You’re not a good liar.”
“How could you possibly know that, in the dark, with just two words?” I laughed.
“Because I know you.”
He was so confident, so sure of himself. “How could you possibly, Gabriel? You just met me. Maybe I’m playing you?”
I watch his head shake in the dark. “You’re not playing me. If I thought you were, I wouldn’t be here. I’m a good judge of character, Suzanne. In my line of work, I have to be. I know when I’m being played and when I’m being lied to. I see you. You’re being yourself,” he added softly.
“Yeah, you’ve got me there. I’m just boring little me.”
“I don’t spend time with people who bore me. Is there some reason why you’re trying to talk me out of getting to know you?”
He turned the car into the restaurant’s parking lot and pulled up to the valet parking. Before he got out, he turned to me and traced the outline of my bottom lip with the pad of his thumb. Warm and tender, the gesture made me melt in my seat.
“Is there, Suzanne?” He ignored the valet as he approached the door.
“Is there what?” I murmured, closing my eyes at his gentle touch.
He laughed again. “Never mind. We’ll discuss it over dinner.”
He stepped out of the car and handed the keys to the valet before he walked to my side and opened the door for me. Was he perfect? Every move, every gesture he made whispered to me like a sensual invitation to get to know him better. Was it the excitement of a new relationship? Those first date nerves that tingled with anticipation…or was it him?
The restaurant he’d chosen was Mitchell’s, one of those Michelin star establishments with an award-winning chef. As soon as we walked in, his hand once again guiding me confidently as it rested on the small of my back, the hostess greeted us with a bright smile.
“Good evening, sir. Your table is ready. If you’ll follow me.”
Not one world. Gabriel didn’t have to speak a single solitary syllable, and he got all the attention the staff could offer. And then some. While our hostess could stay calm, our server was a bit more transparent about her interest in the man by my side.
Gabriel played the gentleman – he pulled my chair out for me, made sure I was settled in. Always touching me – his hand caressed the small of my back, then lingered on my shoulder as he moved to take his seat. Our overly enthusiastic server introduced herself as Lara and while she was perfectly polite to us both, she couldn’t keep her eyes off Gabriel for very long.
And he knew it.
Our eyes met over our menus when she walked away.
I grinned, wondering how the constant admiration made him feel, and he rolled his eyes.
“I can’t blame her,” I teased.
“Yeah, you can. We’re not having this conversation.” He turned his attention back to his menu.
“Really? I’m supposed to explain at least two questions you’ve asked me tonight, but you don’t want to talk about yourself much. Why is that?”
“Because I don’t like to talk about myself,” he deadpanned. “What would you like to order?”
I looked back at my menu. “I’m not sure. It all looks so good. Something different, I think. Something I wouldn’t get the chance to eat anywhere else.”
Gabriel smiled again. “That’s pretty much the whole menu.”
“The quail with butternut squash risotto sounds good. I’ll try that.”
When Lara returned, Gabriel ordered for both of us. The quail for me and a Wygu steak for himself. When she left, he kept the conversation focused on me. “You were going to tell me about your preoccupation with my moral character. Twice you’ve told me to ‘be good.’”
“Oh, that.” I smiled as I took a sip of the Chardonnay Gabriel ordered for us. “It’s nothing, really. Just something my grandmother used to say. She didn’t believe in saying goodbye. It was too…final…for her. So, whenever we’d leave her house, instead of saying goodbye, she’d say ‘be good.’”
“And you picked up the habit because?”
“Because goodbye does seem so…I mean, I have very few people in my life. My mother, my sister and brother, a nephew. A small circle of friends. I don’t say goodbye to any of them. Good night. See ya later. Be good. But never goodbye.”
When I looked into his eyes, I hastily looked away again. The warmth radiating from his gaze overwhelmed me, leaving me once again melting in a fit of nerves.
“Look at me.”
I blew out a breath, my eyes glued to the small flickering candle in the center of the table. “You’re so bossy.”
“Yes, I am. Now look at me.”
“Gabriel, hasn’t anyone told you eye contact is overrated-”
“You answered my first question. Now it’s time to address the second one. Why are you always putting yourself down, Suzanne?” He leaned across the table. “You’re smart. You have a beautiful sense of humor and no matter how hard you try to deter me, I can’t keep my eyes off you.”
I lifted my eyes to his again. “It’s a long story.”
Our eyes locked.
“I have time.”
That voice. If I were a braver soul, I would have told him anything he wanted when he asked me using that sensual tone, but I really didn’t want to talk about myself anymore. “I’m not sure a first date is the time to psychoanalyze my hang-ups. It might scare you away.”
“I don’t scare easily, Suzanne.”
“No. You’re superhuman, aren’t you?”
“Trust me. Since I met you, I’ve been reminded that I am very much a red-blooded male.”
Heat flooded my cheeks – again! He had to think I was the mousiest woman he’d ever met. I bit my cheek thinking that…perhaps, mousy women were exactly the type he preferred. Though I was drawn to Gabriel like no one ever before, his insistence that I open up so soon after meeting him was a bridge I wasn’t willing to cross yet.
I chose my words carefully, not because I feared his response, but because I valued it. His reaction would tell me more about the man who had so quickly appeared in my life.
“I’m touched that you care enough to ask.” I ran my fingers nervously over the edge of my napkin. I took a deep breath and tried to avoid his eyes. Gabriel wore his soul in his eyes and right now, the depth of compassion I saw was overwhelming. Overwhelming – that was the only word I had for him. My inner shy girl wanted to run away, but my warrior princess stood her ground. I knew I could trust him if I let him know how I really felt.
Why? Why did it feel so easy with him?
But it wasn’t easy enough. My protective instincts were still there. The warrior was on guard.
“Go on,” Gabriel encouraged me with a deep, tender voice.
“I would like for us to get to where I can discuss this with you. I think you would understand, but… we just met. There are things I’m just not ready to share yet. I hope you understand.”
His eyes narrowed for a split second right before his features softened again.
“I understand. If I was pushy, I apologize.”
“It wasn’t that.” I reached for his hand across the table. Realizing what I’d done, I started to pull away, but he captured my hand and held it lightly against the tabletop.
“No. You’re right. I put pressure on you and I shouldn’t have. It’s your story to tell… when you feel like it. I shouldn’t force you to talk about something you choose to keep private.” He rubbed the back of my hand with the pad of his thumb. “One day, you’ll trust me. If you feel then that I’ve earned the right to hear your story, I’ll be there for you.”
He had the perfect storybook response. I couldn’t stop my smile.
“You really are superhuman. Or maybe, a super human.”
He let go of my hand and took a swallow of wine. “I told you: I’m just a man, sweetheart. Just an average, red-blooded man.”
Caprice Langden is a pen name for romance author Debra J. Falasco. Edgier, darker and steamier, Caprice Langden romances feature alpha males and the good girls who bring them to their knees. She lives in a historic home in Colorado with her husband, son and two kitties.